The Pages

The Pages by Murray Bail

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Authors: Murray Bail
Tags: FIC000000, FIC019000
We’ve been looking over the property, that’s all, the extent of it, the scenery. We saw sheep and trees.’
    â€˜Yes. And?’
    Erica couldn’t explain it either.
    â€˜The creek’s turned into a torrent. Apparently it was a fox in the distance, running at an angle. Overall it was interesting.’
    â€˜You’re not saying anything. Try me again.’
    To get a result, Sophie occasionally used a small amount of dynamite.
    For when Erica spoke it was as if she wasn’t interested in herself. She barely said ‘I’. Instead, Erica’s absorption in thought as a subject made her appear impersonal – which in turn was beginning to concern her. Already she was having doubts about her reaction to Roger Antill. She didn’t know what had got into her. If it had registered with him at all he’d see she was a stony, opinionated woman who flew off the handle – and she wasn’t like that, not really.
    The smaller woolshed of unpainted corrugated iron, patched with lighter grey sheets, had a slight tilt and two blank windows (no curtains). A woman could never fail to be amazed at how close it was to the house. Imagine: during shearing and crutching all those sheep crowding the yards, as more and more arrived, the dogs running around in semi-circles, and the rich collective smell of sheep, the clouds of dust kicked up, and the extra flies – not to mention the constant foul language of men knee-deep in sheep that the women in the house could not block from their ears. For this reason, and as the property grew in size and the flocks multiplied, the shed in the mid nineteen thirties was replaced by a much larger one, positioned at a good distance from the house.
    Machinery and buildings no longer used on sheep stations are left where they are. Over the seasons they change colour and subside, attracting rust, weeds and patient shadow, as they return to the earth, though not entirely.
    On the afternoon Wesley returned in his lightweight suit, and after washing his face and hands he went over to the small woolshed with Roger and Lindsey in tow, and pulled open the door. They stepped inside. Lines of silver light from the loose-fitting sheets of corrugated iron, and the various nail holes piercing the walls, intersected the brown stillness, silent from its previous activity, and illuminated the wool table like an altar. Along one side the wooden pens were in shadow.
    â€˜Almost, but not quite cathedral,’ Wesley reportedly said, which had Roger and Lindsey scratching their heads. Evidently, Wesley still had one foot back in the old world. If it was all right by them, he’d like to take over the shed as his place of work.

17
    FOLLOWING HIS struggle with Wesley Antill the orderly known as Sheldrake didn’t appear again in the courtyard. His stool stood empty. Surrounded by the different chairs occupied by figures each producing smoke, the chrome legs supporting a red vinyl seat took on a stubborn, accusatory presence. To Wesley the slit in the cheap red seat seemed to be pointing the finger directly at him. After all, it was he who…The other orderlies appeared unconcerned, but since the little scuffle to regain his chair he felt they had accepted him less easily, even though he hadn’t before taken much notice of them.
    Without Sheldrake there to crack the whip the conversation was certainly desultory.
    Then one of them sat down and came out with his name.
    â€˜Poor old Hendrik, I hear he’s got cancer.’
    â€˜Who told you that?’
    â€˜Cancer where?’ Wesley asked.
    Hendrik – has a Dutch ring; an English father, by the look.
    Someone made a sympathetic clicking sound.
    â€˜You can’t possibly think it’s your fault,’ Mrs Kentridge cried out, as soon as he mentioned it.
    And when Wesley had told Rosie about the chair incident and the altered mood of the others she stopped what she was doing – writing a long

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