The Scrub

Originally appeared in White Horses

I don’t know why we call it The Scrub since it’s really just an old quarry.

Dad paces up and down the corridor like a madman, muttering under his breath. “Why won’t someone tell us what the hell is going on?”

On a sunny winter day when the grass is green and long and smiling families with clean hair ride their bikes like they’re in a Big W catalogue, The Scrub looks like paradise.

But now in summer, when the grass is brown and the earth is cracked and caked with angry un-killable weeds to your armpits, it’s easy to imagine you’re stuck alone on a distant planet.

Keep an eye out for snakes, dad always says to me and Wes when he knows we’re goin there in summer. We listened to him until we didn’t.

A nurse strides out from the double doors with a clipboard and flashes dad a smile as she walks straight past him, and his shoulders drop.

It’s only a thirty-second walk to The Scrub from ours and it’s one of the few places round here that hasn’t been swallowed by grids of identical boxy houses in new suburbs with names like “Seaview Heights”.

The farmland is disappearing and the roos are moving on, sometimes only as far as the roadside.

But The Scrub remains a haven, our little gateway to the beach.

Dad says it’s only a matter of time before developers have another crack at plonking a marina smack-bang in the middle of it, like they tried a few years back.

He says the only good things that’d come of it would be, 1) our shitty house, all the shitty houses in Mackel’s Beach, would triple in value. And 2) they’d have to build a breakwater, which would create a mean little right-hand wedge in the corner.

They don’t sound like good enough reasons to me.

If Wes dies, they can do whatever they want with The Scrub because that’ll be the end of us. That kid’s the glue that’s held us together since mum died.

Dad’s been good, trying really hard, but he’d be back on the wine in a flash if we go home without Wes. There’d be no turning back.

He’s rubbing his calloused hands together now, anxiously, like two bits of sandpaper.

Sandy, an old fella down the street with the legally blind wife, told me a story once about brown snakes. Said he was in The Scrub in summer with his two dogs – a couple staffies – a few years ago, when the dogs started going mental. He rounds the corner of one of the tracks that zig-zag through the trees, and they’re barking in the face of this huge brown snake that’s angry as hell.

The first dog gets bitten on the nose and goes down for the count and the second dog, who’s just watched its best mate in the world get attacked, goes in to help it. Dog #2 cops a bite to the leg and now Sandy’s standing there in the middle of The Scrub with his two dying dogs by his side. He had to wait there until his wife came with the car. How was he gonna carry ’em home? Horrific.

I thought he might’ve been talking shit, dunno why, but now that Wes is in there surrounded by doctors with tubes and drips coming out of him, I know he wasn’t. Why would you make that up?

Sandy said cats can survive snake bites easier than dogs for some reason, but he didn’t say anything about the chances for six-year-old people.

Dad’s at the reception desk now, trying not to lose his shit. I want to walk over there and tell him it’s all going to be OK, like in the movies, but how would I know that?

They found a rare plant in The Scrub last year. Some native pea, sort of like Sturt’s Desert Pea only no one’s heard of it because it’s not plastered all over our stamps and stuff. It made the local paper and everything.

There are Aboriginal bones and artefacts out there too they reckon.

I did a project at school saying they should get rid of the weeds and rabbits, turn it into a national park and build a big dome over it, like they did with this cool place the Eden Project in England.

Wes stuck my poster on his bedroom wall for some reason. Shit, don’t cry, Jim.

There’s still so much we have to do together. He’s only just started getting to his feet on dad’s old twin-fin.

The double doors swing open and this time it’s a doctor and she’s looking right at dad, but her face tells us nothing, either way.