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Horse. Saddle. Dog. Bottle.

Andy’s been photographing creek signs all morning. It’s a way of gauging our progress, he says, hard evidence of where we’ve been. When he sees a sign up ahead – black letters on white background – he makes a noise like a ship’s hooter and I know to slow down.

All the signs look the same to me. All the creek beds are dry.

He’s out there now, running down the road towards another sign, eagerly trying to work out how to make each picture look slightly different. I watch him moving around in the dirt, changing his point of view. It’s strange to see him like this, a tiny speck in the distance like an insect in the dust. Most of the time he’s inside with me, sharing the same space, breathing the same air, and I never really get to see him. Out there though, he’s in a different world. I could easily drive off and leave him. He wouldn’t even know until it was too late.

I try to imagine what he would do if he was left alone. I try to imagine what I would do. It’s impossible. I can’t picture myself alone. For as long as I can remember I’ve always been with somebody and, as far as I can recall, that person has always been Andy. Was I alone before I knew him? The question is meaningless. I didn’t even exist before I knew him. He invented me, created me – the clothes, the hair, the phoney stares... I must try to remember that.

I suppose you could say it all started by accident, although Andy always maintains that it was my fault. I reckon that’s what the police would have said too. I tried to tell him about the other car I’d swerved to miss but it was no good. He didn’t believe me and I had no witnesses. Besides I couldn’t be sure and the more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed that I’d imagined the whole thing. We leant against the body of his car, still warm and freshly wrecked, and swapped addresses. After that, he was calling me all the time, hassling me about money and papers, making sure I knew how much I had ruined his life, how much I had hurt him. It wasn’t like other relationships. We did all the accusations at the beginning.

When it was all over, he came round one night and picked me up in his new car. The only thing we had in common was the accident but somehow it was enough. I curled up on the front passenger seat and closed my eyes, let my body sway with the turning, speeding and slowing of the car. The headlights of on-coming vehicles slid across my face like tender caresses. It felt so soothing, so restful. We had a string of green lights and at one point I heard Andy murmur, ‘Why don’t we keep on going?’

Anything seemed possible then. There was nothing to keep us.

Now I sit and look out of the car window, waiting for Andy to finish snapping. Off in the distance I can see a mob of sheep, tiny blobs of white so small and plump it’s almost as if I can reach out and squeeze them until they pop. Out here, my world is foreshortened, trimmed at either end until everything seems so near and yet so far away. The only thing left for me is the present, the here and now, which is barely enough to live in. To believe in. When I think about the man and the woman – which is most of the time now – they always seem more real than the road, this car, Andy, me. And yet I know they don’t exist outside my head. When I’m driving, it’s so easy to be with them. I feel as if I’m right there even though I know it can’t be happening...

In the morning, when the man returns to the house, the woman is lying on the settee waiting for him. He stands silently beside her and stares at the television screen. The black cat blinks at him and starts to lick itself.

There is a man lying on the ground. Any second now, somebody will remove his balaclava and we will get a good look at his face. Our worst fears will be confirmed. I want to know who it is but I am afraid to learn the truth.
‘What’s this?’ says the man.
‘I dunno,’ says the woman without looking at him. ‘Some crap.’

The man and the woman continue to stare at the screen together.

During the day, the man and the woman try to sleep but find it impossible. The anxiety of waiting for sleep makes them restless. They listen to the sound of the cat licking itself. Lick, lick. Lick, lick. The cat licks its whole body and then starts again. It is unable to stop. The man and the woman hold the cat to stop it licking. The cat starts to lick them.

Eventually the man gets up to make some tea. He pads quietly downstairs and goes into the kitchen. He picks up the kettle and jiggles it to see if it needs more water. If it does, he will fill it (but not so full that it takes too long to boil), leaving the water running to rinse the cups. The cat follows him into the kitchen, looks up at him and starts to lick its belly. The man puts the kettle on the stove and lights the gas ring, extinguishing the match with a slight flick of the wrist. Sometimes he misjudges the flick and must do it again to make sure. The man selects two tea bags from the tea caddy and places one in each cup, making sure that the tags attached to the tea bags are dangling on the outside of the cups.

Soon it will be time to go to work. It is always nearly time to go to work. The man walks along the dark streets, listening to the police sirens wailing in the distance and the sound of fireworks– or is it gunfire? – reverberating through the night air. Once inside the glass box, the man is alone and vulnerable. The door is locked so that nobody can get in and the man cannot get out. He is trapped. Nobody comes to the service station except a few late-night hoons who screech across the forecourt and disappear into the darkness.

There seems to be no reason for the service station to stay open. It has no function, serves no purpose and makes no useful contribution to society. Nevertheless, there is a need for this tiny patch of forecourt to remain illuminated. It’s as if we are waiting for some event to unfold and, for that to happen, the station must remain open. Only then will we know the reason why.

The man sits and waits. He stands at the window and stares at his own reflection in the toughened glass. He paces up and down, willing the time to go faster even though he knows that this will only make it go slower. Just before dawn, a car pulls in and the man invites the driver in for a cup of tea. The man and the driver stand at the window, sipping their tea and watching the empty highway slowly materialise as the sky turns gradually lighter.

Outside I can see Andy running towards me now. He’s keen to get going, to find more creeks, more signs. I watch him getting closer and closer and, for a brief second, I feel uneasy. Perhaps I was wrong about all this. Soon he’ll be alongside the car, opening the door, and the external world will come flooding in once more. He’ll be hot and breathless, filling the space again with his noise and the smell of the earth that makes me gag. I can feel him before he gets here. It doesn’t matter where I am now, I can always feel him. There’s no escape.

Perhaps when he gets back this time, I’ll take the camera and walk away from the road, straight out into the desert. I don’t want anybody with me. I don’t want to think about where I’m going. I don’t need anything to guide me, no maps, no signposts. And when I’ve gone far enough, I’ll look back at where I’ve been walking. Maybe I’ll take a picture – just for the record – and if you look closely enough, you might just be able to see where we were.