THE FENCE (SUBURBAN TOURS EXCERPT)
At Thornbury's limit, there was a dark-bricked anomaly of conjoined townhouses moated by speed humps and signs.
Emboldened by the darkness and quiet, and his endless voyage through the ordinary, One searched for a way through. Townhouses planted in concrete, no yard, no lawn. The quiet made it seem like an abandoned display village, a failed concept preserved as a cautionary relic.
Either side, a cyclone fence stretched up and across, guarding the darkness beyond. There was no way in, no way over—the thing was twenty metres high, and leant in and over Thornbury. Merri Creek was off-limits.
One yearned to leave streetlights behind and commune with wilderness, see how it fared so close to kerbs. He wandered, exasperated, finally gaining access near some humble two-storey factories. No lighting on that unofficial path, created by hundreds of scuffing journeys into the weedy verge of the bushland. He stumbled down feeling rebellious and triumphant. What could be so dangerous about Merri Creek that it required such an oppressive fence? Was it even legal for them to make it so inaccessible? This wasn’t the bloody Amazon.
After a dozen sliding steps, One could not see a scuffing of pathway, or anything else. He could hear a drip and splash that must have been the creek, but he couldn’t tell how far away it was. He was getting brushed by hanging stickyscratchy... His steps became a hesitant shuffle, and he recoiled as if attacked when he walked into a spider web.
So then he walked with his hands raised in front of his face, which made him feel unbalanced, meaning he overreacted when he tripped, and he stumbled into a crouch to activate his night vision. Which didn't work, so he resorted to small shuffles forward with eyes closed. Which delivered him into a tree.
Nature, at least at night, was too interesting by half—an ostentatious minefield, a commando course set to test every phobia and self-doubt of the senses. It was no tour of wonders, no passive spectacle, but an active perversity out to humiliate. Thirteen metres from civilisation, One needed helicopter rescue. He was already appreciating praise for his survival common sense: ‘Let the experts do what they do best. Do not try to walk out—you will just get more lost’.
Good thing he had paid attention during all those survival-in-the-wilds docos. Such musings lasted a couple of minutes. The two minutes after that he thought about cold, and hunger.
It was four minutes and ten seconds, then, before he stumbled on, eyes open, trying to take proper, bold, daylight steps... But his elongated stride touched on something squishy, which caused an alarmed leap, which laid him on his back.
In his prone moment, One realised he was thirsty as well as cold and hungry, but Merri Creek, metres away, was surely deadly despite the gallant labours of greenies.
As a matter of urgency, One moved uphill, away from temptress Merri, towards the lights of civilisation. He went at it low and fast, with eyes closed, and ran into only three trees with his shoulders, and one with his head. Triumph came after another bruising minute, when trees stopped attacking.
But returning to streets and lights proved almost impossible. He couldn't find the makeshift path. One traversed The Fence from the wild side, gazing with yearning upon the little boxes of ticky tacky that would contain cheap microwaveable victuals, unending cool, clear, safe water, a bed, a TV, a ceiling and a shared wall that could sustain the illusion that everything was under control.
It took him some time to register the smooth, open space to his left, and the sign proclaiming it to be the Northcote Golf Course, green fees payable at the clubhouse. The sheer wonder of it, all that landscape altered and tamed for a game, kept him going until Normanby Road, and he was back in the world without having ever conquered the Fence, without ever having learnt how to abseil, use bolt-cutters or oxy-welding to get through it and break down the barriers between the suburb and its sliver of hinterland.
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