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You’re at the hotel-motel, Violet Town, the night you meet her: the tall woman with the silvering hair. The place is sleeping apart from the air-conditioner hum, a few Commodores parked out front, and an old thoroughbred, dappled, in the neighbouring paddock. You’ve always loved grey horses the most. Will end up a pale beaudie, that colt, one of your father’s mates down at the track once said, unloading a flecked yearling from his flaking truck. Years later, you still think of it when ‘Silver Stallion’ by The Highwaymen drones through the freightliner dash.

Grey horses start off dark—usually bay or chestnut or black. As a grey foal grows, it ‘greys out’—white hairs replacing the base or birth colours. You remember this, watching white hairs sprout—wiry, bright—through the few patches of ginger stubble you still have left.

It’s been hours, fourteen of them, spent driving the truck of cylinders through—No-Doz and sugar-free V buzzing through your veins. Insurance only covers the twelve hours on the road, so by Violet Town it’s time to clock off. The chip shop’s fluorescent pink lights are still on when you pull into the road stop. There’s the smell of salt and canola oil, maybe a little animal fat, in the air. Walking towards the hotel-motel, you think about the road you’ve just crossed—nine-hundred kilometres fuelled by stale blueberry muffins and petrol station sausage rolls.


Her name is Cheryl, but you don’t know it yet. She’s just a stranger you’re drawn to in the same hotel-motel, sitting at the same bar. She could be a Janine or a Crystal, a Paula or a Claire. The low drone of FM country music plays—the kind of songs about broken hearts you hate to love. A few locals even older than you are gathered at the back of the pub. They’re huddled in dress shirts and Rossi boots—chatting quality and circling cows in a newspaper over half-drunk beers.

Hey darlin’, you practise saying in your head, settling in a few seats up from her, arranging yourself in a pose to look more muscular than you are—stronger-looking, more assured. But you’re too old for the blokey country banter you never really mastered as a footy kid, always so proudly on the piss.

Onya sweetheart, your father, now eighty-odd, would’ve so easily said to her. But that’s the other end of things; it was all muscle memory for him. Gi’ us a smile then, love, he would’ve said. C’mon love and I’ll shout ya a drink. It’s been so long since you’ve seen him now, always sitting on his valley front porch in work boots and faded hi-vis. Sometimes, at 3am, you wonder if he still drinks from those warm maroon tins, his thick fingers always struggling with the ring pulls, thin.

Grey horses are considered unlucky in horseracing. Some thoroughbreds, however, have made a name: Lavender Weather, Desert Orchid, Galah Wing. ‘Bet a grey on a rainy day,’ some of the older bookies say, hope fogged by weeks of unpaid electricity bills, Wonder White meals and trackside grit.

Make it big. Make it big.

TAB reruns play in the adjoining room: colourful silks and bays stretching out across the TV track. The only person left watching is a man in a faded Mercedes cap. He’s pink-cheeked and smiling, his mouth hard like most of the men’s around here. Maybe mine looks like that too, you worry, taking another sip of beer. Maybe it is his old silver mare in the paddock outside. She’s tied to the loop of fraying bailing twine, bright Bunnings-tarp blue. You feel soft around your middle, thinking about the skipping rope you’ve kept rolled up in the truck’s sleeper cabin. Unused.


All the streets are named after flowers up here: Lily Street, Rose Street, Orchid Street and Iris Lane. There’s even a Honeysuckle Creek. You wonder what the first people called the place. Can’t think too much about that, though. It’s what your people do: forget and paper over—florals, a putty knife and Dulux creams.

We like to look away, hey, your old boss once said as you passed a broke-down bus, navy blue, on a swap-over ride one Monday. The heat was already shimmering at 8am. The mossy smell of death—the local tannery—filled the air as the two of you bobtailed down the Hume.

You wonder if you smell okay. You wonder if you look like a man who looks away. You wonder if you should say where you’re living: a Mack Truck cabin truck with a pinecone-shaped air freshener hanging from the rear-view. You wonder if she’d think there was a kind of carefree romance to it all. Maybe if the truck had been an option, not a choice. An early retirement of marmalade toast and weekday golf sessions isn’t something on the cards.

White hairs usually first appear on a foal’s muzzle, around their eyes and sometimes flecking white through spreading flanks. The greying sometimes starts shortly after birth, yet is usually substantial by the time a horse is one year old. A year can hold a lot of things.

The air’s laced with Dettol, hops, roast chook and the remnants of someone’s vanilla perfume. Maybe it’s hers. She looks both older and younger than you—her wide back’s slightly bent to the left and her silky shirt ripples from the air-conditioner stream. You think about what to say, how to say it, and if you will seem like a man who’s lost his way. How’s your day been? What brings you here? Not drinking tonight? No, of course not; you shouldn’t say that.

A drunk couple appears almost out of nowhere: two women by the hotel-motel entrance wearing tiny bright dresses. They have fake-tan shoulders and thin silver chains dangling from sun-creased necks. Maybe they’ve been at the races. Maybe they’ve been at a wedding, a home show or their daughter’s 21st. You picture them standing in paddock sun, drinking Midori mixers and smoking menthol cigarettes.

Fuck ya, the taller one smiles.

All right, c’mon’ then, the other says—soft enough to barely hear. You remember going home to someone, being accountable. Being accounted for. Being held.

Maybe it was the pale pink glow of the chip shop that’s made you reflective tonight—the soft light and thought of a shared package of butcher’s paper: hot chips passed over from the passenger seat. It would be nice to have someone to ride the hours beside. You’d make sure the truck cabin was kept clean, that the glovebox was hers for whatever she wanted to store in there. Maybe a paperback, a tin of mints and her phone in its glittering plastic case. You want to be someone’s screensaver again; hers even. But that’s getting fuckin’ far ahead. She’s got her own road.

You’re just another one of them now, you realise—an old bloke sitting at the bar in Violet Town. One of those barrelling-towards-sixty-year-olds: the CD collection you once carefully alphabetised going mouldy in overpriced storage; a Harley T-shirt faded across your shoulders; rissoles and a single carton of custard in the fridge. You need a clean-out. Why would she want anything to do with you—your truck smelling of cigarettes, sweat and chemical pine? She should be with a man who owns a three-bedroom red-bricker, a backyard barbeque and a car you can actually park at the beach.

The changing patterns of white and dark hairs on a young horse have many informal names, such as ‘rose grey,’ ‘salt and pepper,’ ‘iron grey,’ or ‘dapple grey.’ The Silver Brumby was actually a light palomino, or what’s now called ‘cremello’ or possibly ‘smoky cream’. Silver’s a stand-in for many things.

She’s sweating darkness into the edges of her perfect pale hair. You shouldn’t keep stealing looks at her, but you do. She looks comfortable in her body—not like you, shifting in your seat. The humidity in here reminds you of being small and sandy and with everything still ahead. Then the same syrupy air takes you back to being twenty again—being up north with the girl you thought you’d spend it all with. But that was decades ago, back when you had a body that still looked like it could carry things.

Halfa til closing, the bartender says straight at Cheryl—or it could be Janine or Crystal, Paula or Claire; you don’t know, not quite yet. Final drink?

She asks for a soda and there’s a nodding to say yes, of course—Lemon or lime?

Both. Thanks.

Her voice is lower than you’d imagined, like gravel roads and salt flakes on sand. Like cheap ginger wine, sipped straight from the paper bag. You try not to glance over, anticipation humming across your skin. Instead, you look at the chalk bistro menu, written in all caps: catch of the day, soup of the day, roast of the day, something lemon, wedges with sour cream.

It’s then that the woman at the bar beside you looks back your way.

These places always have the same fuckin’ menu, hey?

Turning to face her, you feel the low-glow of her voice somewhere deep in your middle, down beneath Marlboro-marked lungs and the pinks and reds of other fleshy, hidden things.

Ha, I reckon, you say.

She smiles. The lines on her face show below dimmed bar lights and you see she’s wearing blue mascara, piled on thick. She looks at you straight on. There’s not a flinch. You think of bare feet in saltwater after a long drive. You think of slicing pears, of morning maggies warbling, of rusting tin.

It’s always the same shit, hey—what’s for brekky, you think? Kooka’s cookies? Tea in polystyrene?

Sitting there, shifting in your too-tight jeans, you wonder how it would feel, holding her—or anyone, really—in the night. You imagine telling her about the horses you always look out for on the highway—palominos out near Wallaroo, their coats gold in morning light. Sometimes, in the sleeping cabin, you rethink the commitment you’ve made to always being alone. Maybe there could be shared petrol-station coffees at dawn, and country music about horses, whiskey and dogs. Maybe there could be a hand—hers—on your leg.

What kinda brokenness brings you here, 1am, then?


Morning light leaks through the hotel-motel curtains of Room 14. You wake to an unfamiliar phone humming through a glittery blue plastic case. It quietens to rest on the bedside table by your head, along with a room key, some paper cups of warm water too. You wonder if the track racers have started for the day—young horses already frothy with sweat and adrenaline. Beside you, her neck smells like vanilla oil and a little of sweat, something close to home.

Your faded jeans, marked with truck grease, lay crumpled across the hotel-motel floor. You’re both still in your underwear though, nothing fancy, just clothesline-faded cotton covering untouched skin.

You okay? you quietly ask, not sure if she’s awake yet—her sun-marked arm is still heavy across your middle, and her silk shirt rolled up as a makeshift pillow underneath her perfect head.

We’re both okay, hey? she says.

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