Red dust mushrooms as the battered hatchback barrels along. Larni squeezes her collarbones together, and stretches her neck. It’s a long drive from Perth to the small coastal town she still calls home. She sees the sign for the Hamelin Pool Road turn-off. Shark Bay is only just over an hour away.
Larni’s fingers grip the steering wheel, knuckles whitening. Nanna didn’t sound well on the phone. She sounded old and tired.
A large shape on the road catches her eye. A full-grown wedge-tailed eagle picks at the bones of a mangled carcass, the latest road-kill victim of a hurtling road-train. She doesn’t have time for this.
The wedgie’s at least a third the size of her car, and all beak, talons, and arrogance. She doesn’t have a choice. She slows the car, she knows better than to plough into it. Oh well, this is a good opportunity to take a break anyway. She pulls the car over to the soft shoulder of red dirt and gravel. It’s too hot to turn the engine off and extinguish the breath of ice wheezing out of the air conditioner.
Larni settles in for a long wait. Her mind drifts back to the phone call with Nanna. What had she said about the old fellas out at the community? Something about magic? A body? Bones? She’s too tired to focus.
She rubs her eyes wearily. It’s been a long drive, and she left very early this morning. She puts her head back, stretches her legs as far as she can, and closes her eyes. Just for a minute.
Larni hears her name being called gently. It’s a man’s voice, not one she recognises immediately, but she isn’t scared. He says something low and soft to her. She can’t hear him, or can’t understand him, she’s not sure. She makes out the word Gathaagudu, “Two Waters”. He’s speaking in language. She knows that word. She’s heard Nanna use it to talk about Shark Bay.
He’s beautiful, with skin so dark it glows blue, and a strong, broad face, serious and lined with age. His eyes are kind, a twinkle of laughter and mischief shines in them. He’s holding an animal’s bone, a femur she thinks. Her eyes trace the line along his hand, the bone, and out. Nanna! She’s smiling. Larni gasps, cries out for Nanna, reaches out to her. Nanna shakes her head slowly, still smiling, and gradually disintegrates. Larni screams.
She sits bolt upright. She’s in the car, the wedge-tailed eagle has finished its feast and gone on its way. In the core of her being, she knows something is changed. She feels suddenly bereft and alone.
Her phone rings. Her cousin Tommy’s name comes up on the display. A knot forms in her stomach, her palms are sweaty, her heart beats so hard, her chest hurts. She answers. Tommy’s voice is low and soft, filled with kindness and grief. Nanna was gone, suddenly, in her sleep, a smile on her lips.