Forked Creek – Chapter 1
The Iron Rule
There’s one iron rule I have: Do not sleep with your employees. Even the volunteers. Especially the volunteers.
So, Javier can flash me that dimpled grin over his coffee mug, and follow me around the kitchen with those seagreen eyes under their long, dark lashes. Ain’t nothing doing, Mister.
Like most life lessons, I had to learn this one the hard way.
A young man can be as woke as you like, as biddable and compliant as you could wish for, as sensitive a male feminist as you can imagine. Fully in touch with his feminine side. What we used to call a New Man back in the day.
Yet, when he gets cosy in a woman’s bed, he’ll try to take over her life and her farm. It will soon be ‘Can’t we just stay in bed another hour, babe?’ and ‘The steers don’t need moving today: there’s still good grazing in that paddock, sweetie.’
Before an independent, capable, self-reliant woman can blink an eye, the man in her life will be making decisions on her behalf. They just can’t help themselves, I guess. But darn, it is aggravating.
Trouble is, a girl gets horny, out here in the country, doing hard, physical work alongside fit, eager young men. Often intelligent, sweet young men with cute, exotic accents.
WWOOFers, that’s Willing Workers On Organic Farms, come to New South Wales from all over the world, prepared to work their butts off – their muscled, lithe little butts – for board and lodging and the chance to learn some practical on-farm skills.
I’ve tried to avoid temptation by employing more women or couples. Or couples of women. But it leaves an ache. And young women can be every bit as troublesome as young men. More so. At least you know what’s on young men’s minds.
It’s not like there’s a lot of off-farm talent to choose from, I reflect, as I pull on boots, oilskin vest and battered old Akubra, and head out the kitchen door into the dewy morning.
The women in the scatter of farmsteads that make up the ‘township’ of Black Swamp all worry that I’m out to steal their husbands or seduce their sons. At CWA meetings, I can see their lips pursed in disapproval like a bunch of chooks’ clackers. I’m not only a single woman in the prime of life, but a blow-in as well, having been here in the Blue Mountains a mere eight years. Doubly suss.
I hate to break it to you, ladies: your hairy-eared, pot-bellied old man is about as attractive to me as your thick-necked, red-faced son. Which is to say, not at all. The flower of Black Swamp manhood is safe from this shameless hussy.
Deep barking from over the brow of the hill interrupts my thoughts.
Something has set the Maremmas off. Or someone. Probably that silly Emmi from Munich, twenty-two, Daisy Dukes, blonde pigtails and no common sense. None at all.
She will not understand that those cute, fluffy doggoes are livestock guardians, not pets. Keeps on trying to make friends with them. Sooner or later that girl’s going to get herself bit. Hopefully not today.
I jump on the quad, gun the motor and head on over to the orchard to take a look.
As expected: Emmi. Sancho and Zorro have got her bailed up in an apple tree. Skinny legs dangling just out of reach of snarling muzzles. Funny, if I didn’t have work to do.
‘Maaarg!’ she wails.
‘As soon as I get you out of there, you’re getting your marching orders, darling,’ I mutter under my breath. Tears or no.
I call the dogs off. They respond to my command instantly, as always, but seem strangely agitated.
Emmi scoots down the trunk and points, tears running down her face, almost hysterical. She says something I don’t catch between the sobs. I follow the direction of her outstretched arm.
A distant mound of white with a patch of red. Then, ten metres further on, in the dry creek bed, another.
Oh, God, no.
I find myself running, Sancho and Zorro at my side.
Bright blood on white fur.
It’s Ferdi and Bella.
Something — or someone — has killed my dogs. My beautiful dogs.
I bury my face in Bella’s matted, dew-wet fur and completely lose it.
With thanks to Susan Fendt for the audio reading.
Next week in ‘Forked Creek’
Tea with Aunty Glenda
Marg goes to her neighbour for tea and sympathy – and returns with a plan.