We’ve been walking along this road for hours. You’ve stopped complaining, finally, your throat too parched to force sound out. Small mercies.
It’s my fault. I knew you weren’t outdoorsy from our first date. Movie and dinner, your choice. I don’t wear makeup, but I made an effort for you.
On our fifth dinner date, fuelled by one too many glasses of pinot, I suggested a weekend hike. Offered to loan you the gear (my ex’s, but you didn’t need to know). An easy track, nice hut. You agreed, reluctantly.
My feet are blistering and yours must be agony. You’ve already snapped a shoelace and had to replace it with the ribbon from your ponytail. I’m too scared to look back, but your heavy footsteps and breathing reassure me that you’re following.
It *is* my fault, but I’ve hiked this track so many times I never thought to check for updates online. How was I to know the hut burned down? Or that bushfires had obliterated most of the track markers?
I thought the bivouac I dragged together was pretty good. It wasn’t the clean, dry hut I’d promised, but there could have been romance in pressing ourselves together for warmth on the damp ground. You just turned your back, muttering about your gym gear getting stained with leaf pigment. I don’t know why you thought Lulu Lemon or whatever was good for hiking.
And I got us out of the bush unscathed. We had to cross the river more times than I anticipated, but we dried out on the bank after that last crossing. You seemed to enjoy building that little stone stack, like some kind of river god icon. And you’ll have amazing photos to post on Instagram when we get back into wifi range. I’m sure your phone will work once it dries out.
Sweat is dripping into my eyes, and I push my fringe back, again. I realise the rumbling I can hear isn’t my stomach, and turn to see the outline of a vehicle approaching from behind. I stop, and you turn to look. I point, mute with exhaustion.
The driver is a woman, short and muscled. You pull yourself into the cab with more energy than I’ve seen in two days, and scoot over next to her. I stay silent as you explain our predicament. The driver listens and nods. She hands you a battered Tupperware bottle and what looks like a stained apron, and you splash your face and pat it dry as enthusiastically as if it’s Evian and a spa towel.
When we arrive at the car park, I swing out of the truck with my pack. You don’t.
I wave as the truck pulls back onto the road, but you aren’t looking. I load my backpack into the car, turn up the volume on the music you hated, and head for home. Alone.