Thinking the room empty by Cate Kennedy

I am being told a long story of a chain of coincidences.
A friend, losing her way in the desert,
walks out of a dry Alice Springs riverbed into
thirty thousand miles
of flat ruled horizon, blazing heat, waterless saltbush.

She finds a fence and walks along it.
A sign tells her she has reached a rifle range
and, in the distance, the mirage shimmer of a tin shed.
She is thirsty, and she trespasses
climbs through the fence
walks expecting rifle fire
forces the door.

In the dimness she finds nothing but a big empty crate,
and abandoned, waiting silence.
She has one chance, and she see it.
She takes the crate outside, stands it on one end, climbs it,
and pulls herself onto the roof of the shed.
Turning in a slow 360 degrees she catches sight
of the low mountain ranged she recognise as north
elevated over the line of horizon –
the direction back to town –
sets off, swallowing dust,
weak with relief.

The point of the story is yet to come – the birth of her daughter
brought about by a lift, once she found the road back to town,
from a stranger she flagged down, and so forth –
I listen, but part of my mind
stays lingering in the gloom with that crate
and her presence of mind, stilling panic,
recognising it for what it was.

I wonder how many times I have broken some lock,
searched hastily and withdrawn,
thinking the room empty,
overlooked the disguised and waiting gift,
missed the mountain.

I wonder what my stunted sightline
has failed to notice
what path home
I have abandoned.

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