After it happened people looked down at the ground the way they stare at the sea after a shark attack.
Astrid stopped going out. It was all people talked about and she couldn’t nod and tut and say – how could it happen?
She knew how it happened. It had started right in front of her.
But the end of the story she’d heard from the media just like everybody else. How Jade had squeezed through the fence, like the living dead, with blood- red eyes, skin translucent from the air of another world. How she had staggered up Regent Street clutching the video camera, holding to her head a chunk of scalp ripped off on her ascent. She had walked for twenty-three minutes before someone helped her. The exact time is known because her camera was still rolling as it hung by her side, recording every step.
Then The Mischief was sprayed on the walls of Sydney’s mind forever: never to be painted over. But before it had been a very different story.
Jade didn’t think of it as running away. She caught the train to Melbourne’s outer suburbs and walked past factories smelling of burnt sugar and plastic until she reached the freeway. Then she just kept walking. She put her thumb out. The borrowed backpack bit into her shoulders. Did anyone even pick up hitchhikers anymore? The cops would probably reel her in before she even got a ride. Even that would be worth the look on her mum’s face.
Wind blew Jade’s hair into her eyes as she set up her video camera on top of the tripod in view of the Melbourne to Sydney sign. She stood in the frame with her thumb out as vehicles sped by.
“Coming to find you Dad,” she yelled into the camera. She wiggled her thumb and held it long enough, like he’d taught her, to make it easy to edit. A car bipped from behind. Jade swung around to see a red Mazda, roof racks piled high with furniture like a precarious bowl of fruit, pull over to the side of the road. It bipped again. Jade’s veins fizzed the way they did when she shoplifted, fear and excitement rushing through at once.
“I’m Ally,” the woman said, turning down the techno as Jade got in. “That’s all you need to know.” She shook Jade’s hand, rattling the bangles on her thin brown arm. She wore huge sunnies and blonde hair hung wet down her back. Jade shoved her backpack under her feet. There was nowhere else to put it, every space in the car was rammed with crockery, bedding, CDs and strappy shoes.
“Music helps get ’em to sleep,” Ally yelled, turning it back up. “We can talk when they crash.”
Jade turned around and waved at two grubby-faced toddlers clutching fistfuls of chips.
Ally smoked and checked her rear vision mirror every few minutes. The music was so loud the speakers in the dashboard rattled. Jade was relieved not to need to talk. ‘I’m Ally, that’s all you need to know’. She practiced it in her head. It was just the kind of line she needed. Ally’s smoke flew out to into the grey mid morning air above farms of blonde grass and skeleton tractors. Her mobile sat beside the hand brake. Every few minutes it vibrated and the same name came up. MIKE. Ally ignored it. Jade checked her own phone. There was a text from Jade’s friend Martina who was covering for her, saying Jade’s mum was suss, and two missed calls from her mum. Jade turned off the phone and shoved it deep into her bag.
Rain had begun pattering on the windscreen. Ally chucked her sunnies on the dashboard. Without them Jade saw how young she was. It was hard to connect her with the kids and all the furniture.
“Finally,” Ally said as the kid’s heads lolled. She turned down the music. “So where you headed?”
“Sydney. To meet my dad.” It sounded good. Jade wanted to say it over and over. She watched the raindrops dance on the road and grinned. It was suddenly possible. It was really going to happen.
“And your mum?” said Ally, “she know where you are?”
“Yeah,” said Jade, but even to her ears it sounded uncertain.
“She does give a shit,” said Ally, “no matter what you think.” Jade stayed silent. “But, I know what it’s like to need to fuck off.” She glanced at her phone. “Why else d’you think I picked you up?”
Jade said nothing. She looked out the window and tried to get back the feeling of the raindrops.
“I’ll drop you at the Goulburn servo before I turn off.” Ally said turning up the music. “Easy to get a truck ride from there.”
Jade put down her backpack at a picnic table and dragged out her video camera – a gift from her Dad when she turned eleven.
“These are my old eyes,” he’d said. “Time you showed ‘em something new.”
Jade still had the first bit of footage she’d taken that day as she carefully pressed record and focused on of her Dad sitting at his desk, papers piled high around his elbows. He was wearing a raggedy Free Tibet T-shirt and a checkered bandana he’d come home in from his last assignment.
“Don’t film me Jadey,” he’d laughed shooing her away with his big hands, “go film the world.”
Jade framed a long shot of the Hume Highway, slowly panning across the rubbish in the roadside grass.
“On my way Dad.” She said, revolving the camera around on her shoulder the way he’d taught her, capturing the colourful rows of parked cars outside the roadhouse.
“Got my sights set on a bigger vehicle for the next leg of the journey,” she said framing the row of trucks. They looked like slumbering metal dinosaurs, flanks hissing and cooling after along run.
Jade packed the camera carefully into the bottom of her bag. She breathed and tried to calm her nerves. Filming trucks was a lot easier than approaching truckies. But if she’d caught the bus to Sydney her mum would have had the cops waiting at the other end. She pulled her grey hoody up against the highway wind and approached the roadhouse….