As Janice drives onto the bridge, bitumen hums beneath her tyres, sleek after the gravel corrugations that trail the rest of Mululuk. She barely notices. Too irritated by the blaze of lights.
Out of habit she flicks off her headlights, wishing for quiet black. But there is no relief: enormous globes jut upward from the railing, scorching the night air and romancing insects to a quick, sizzling death. Perhaps if there were water flowing underneath the bridge, a gurgling river, the harsh glare would be carried away over ripples, or reflected gently back. But there is only a chasm of dry red dust, so the hot lights wick what little moisture there is from the desert air and, outside this skirt of light, Mululuk’s houses, pubs, dongas and mining machinery are bathed in black. Gone.
Janice wishes the lights were gone.
Months ago, before the lights were up, Janice would drive across the bridge, cut her headlights and make everything disappear. Just she and the car flying through the darkness, up with the stars.
It was a gift: that stretch of time in the rich black air, suspended between the two sides of Mululuk. The feeling that she didn’t have to choose. So she came to drive over it and cut her headlights again and again, stopping time, quieting her panic. Until the globes arrived, obliterating the sweet black.
And then her baby was born.
The baby she has left at home.
Just until she can sort out her life.
Janice takes a deep breath and leans into the steering wheel, searching for the spray-painted message she saw this afternoon. Anna Pavlova. Dripping red letters on a bit of bridge railing calling to her. And here she is, answering him. Being ridiculous in the middle of the night.
Her hands on the steering wheel look old, every line deep under the glare of artificial light. What is she doing? It will all be talk anyway. That’s all Shane can do. And she has left Flora at home by herself.
This is wrong.
She suddenly swings her car around into the oncoming lane. But the bridge, while very long, is not wide enough for one smooth U-turn and she has to reverse to complete the manoeuvre. She is shifting into drive again when a loud crack splits the dry air.
The night pauses, the car stalls, and her white face looks out, alarmed.
The crack is followed by an ear-splitting screech: tiny rivets shearing through metalwork as though it were butter. The massive concrete span fractures. Plummets. There is a thunderous tumult of crumbling girders and Janice’s car skids sideways, down, falling with pieces of concrete and steel large as boats to smash into the earth.
Those bright lights go too, bursting into electrical fireworks as cabling snaps and wires recoil like hissing snakes. All the lights gone, as she wished.
After blooming from the mouth of the chasm, the violence of the collapse is quickly subdued, reduced to an aftermath of trickling rubble. The red soil that flew into the air at impact now billows, weeping, and for a moment the night is again quiet.
Dark and shapeless.
Then one dog, two dogs, an orchestra of dogs starts barking.