Pain and light pierce the fog of my mind. I slam my eyes shut, instantly regretting the impulse to open them in the first place, then sit up slowly, leaning back on one hand while resting my head in the other. My head throbs, my mouth and throat are lined with gravel, and an overwhelming fetid smell fills my nostrils. Whether this smell is real or psychosomatic, I have no idea.
I take a few deep breaths to fortify myself, then slowly crack my eyelids. They peel open from one side to the other, slowly and noisily, reminiscent of ripping a bandaid from a wound. After the stabbing pain from the flare of light subsides I slowly looked around, taking in my surroundings.
A copse of trees: the bottom paddock of our property. The sun, low in the east: it’s early morning. I’m wearing clothes… Bonus! No shoes, only thick woollen socks: not so good.
I’m in the middle of a clearing, mostly surrounded by willow trees but bordered on one side by a creek, the boundary of our property. The patchy grass is covered in frost, and the drooping branches of the willow trees have been eaten up to the point of maximum reach by our cattle. Slowly, gingerly, I stand up, swaying gently as the world rights itself, then set off for home.
One foot in front of the other. Repeat. I keep my eyes on the ground, ostensibly looking for piles of manure but, in reality, just avoiding the glare of the bright, blue, cloudless sky. My socks are soaking wet from the frost, but they’re doing their job and protecting my feet from the burrs that grow unchecked over our property.
I stop and stoop down to tease a large clump of bindis from my left sock. Wait. That’s new. I wriggle my toes and count them through the thick wool. Five! A surge of adrenalin instantly clears my head.
Several years ago, when I was just a Queen Street ringer, I chopped off my two smallest toes with an axe. I like to tell people I was chasing off a crocodile, but the truth is that we needed firewood and I had no idea what I was doing. Now, those toes are back. What. The. Fuck?!
It must be a dream. I’m obviously lying in my warm, dry bed, lightly snoring while spooning my hubby. But it feels real. Hyper real. I pinch myself, then wince. That was stupid. I turn in a circle, checking for inconsistencies, but the dream is rendered flawlessly. The house looks perfect, with smoke rising from the chimney: my hubby is up early. The distant hills are covered in fog. The creek gurgles as it winds its way to the Murray River. The cattle are lowing, the cock is crowing. I step on a jagged rock and yelp. Definitely not a dream.
I rush towards the house, eager to share the mystery of the regenerating toes, but stop. I lift my shirt a little on the right and feel for my old appendectomy scar. It’s gone. Perplexed, I tentatively slide my hand into my underwear and gasp with shock. My missing testicle, the casualty of the testicular cancer that prompted our move to the country, is back! I resume my walk to the house, but slower now… thoughtful, and not just a little confused.
How is it possible to think a million things and nothing, both at the same time? My mind is racing, but stalled. I reach the rickety old wooden steps that lead to the back door, then turn and sit on the bottom step. The sound attracts the attention of my hubby in the kitchen, and I hear him walking to the back door. The wooden inner door opens, then the screen door swings open on its rusty springs.
“Who are you?”
Wait a minute. That’s not my hubby’s voice. I turn to face the person emerging from my house, a question of my own on the tip of my tongue. However, words fail me. The man standing in the doorway is shirtless and barefoot, and he has two toes missing from his left foot. He has an appendectomy scar, identical to the one I’ve seen in the mirror on so many occasions. He has my big, blue eyes, initially squinting with confusion, now widening with surprise. He turns his head and leans back into the kitchen.
“Babe,” he calls out. “You better get down here.”