‘Flight Path’ by Alice Bishop

Alice Bishop is a Melbourne-based writer and a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk fellow. During her fellowship, Alice has been working on a collection of short stories, A Constant Hum, that focus on the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires and their aftermath.  

The manuscript for A Constant Hum was recently commended in the 2015 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. Today, we’re pleased to publish one story, 'Flight Path', from the collection. 'Flight Path' is set at the Yarra Glen Racing Track in Yarra Ranges.  

Photograph by Alexia Delfino (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Those morning horses, they’re floating: aluminium shoes glinting in Ron’s makeshift track light. Small Ruthy Reece, she’s leaning against the humming Ford Falcon – training float looming behind her, paint cracked like her mum’s hard-boiled eggshells, always lacing the bench, the bluestone kitchen tiles, the sink. The girl’s fingers are pink from Yarra Glen fog. Trainer Ron’s nose, it’s always that way, from months, now, of whisky-warmed evenings – spent alongside 774, turned down low, for company. Go on, the woollen-fingered, leather-booted men call from frosty trackside, hands tensing around scratched-up flasks of Nescafé. Pull her up, or Use the whip, or Get some cool-down fleeces unfolded, Young Ruthy – quick sticks.

Go on, the woollen-fingered, leather-booted men call from frosty trackside, hands tensing around scratched-up flasks of Nescafé.

A ridge of fire-stripped trees surrounds the morning track. Twists of limb and charcoal trunks, they glow – silhouetted by climbing sun. Like their mounts in blinkers, though, those riders keep their eyes on the track – skinny limbs padded with Safeway flannel, with fleece. Ron’s newest filly, Kodak Moment, she’s been put out to watch today, her bulky head strapped down by PVC martingale, by rusting snaffle. Her legs are bound up tight from recent falls. Want her to win big in the nursery race, this one, Ron says to Ruthy. Young Ruthy though, hasn’t yet learnt to always smile – she nods.

Valley ibis are already up, picking the turf for track workers’ breakfast scraps: ripped up Coles crossaints, crusts of the bakery’s first bread, and staling Vegemite sandwiches made in bulk, nights before. Then the earliest McKenzies school bus – still empty –  sails by trackside fog, making the young filly, galloping long, shy wide. Get her listeningPush herThe turn, Ron calls over icy track – his call scattering clouds of ordinary birds from trackside railings, from the tops of parked Falcons, one-tonners, and rego-less trailers. Young Ruthy is startled, too. Her quickening breath blows morning fog like smoke while watching Kodak’s ears: not flickering to listen but flattening, further, with something like determination. That horse’s head, it lowers – long. 

A strapper, unawares, somewhere calls; coffee orders: Jack, Pinga, Bruce. Meanwhile older horses in the filly’s path disperse, dancing, before getting pulled up by rein, by flash-band. Then both track-bound horses and riders, they recognise the faint crackle in Ron’s voice – Pull her up now. Shit – that high-pitched hum that comes with contained breath, with tightening chest. A single valley truck, its brakes squeal at a nearby intersection and Ruthy, she begins to feel that heady thrum – the one of things to come.

The ridge above – bushfire-stripped, blackened – it shadows the fall. Cows in neighboring paddocks turn their heads, slowly, towards that impending crack: one of bone, of barrier. Ruthy doesn’t look up at the running of riders, or at that roan filly Kodak, landed, on her back. She tries to get up but is stuck, that horse, like a jam-jarred butchy boy, an uplifted silverfish, squirming, amongst reeling jockey – amongst all that tack.


Hear more from Alice and the other Hot Desk fellows at our upcoming event: The Next Big Thing: Hot Desk Edition.

Portrait of Alice Bishop

Alice Bishop's work has appeared in Australian Book Review, Overland, The Suburban Review, Visible Ink, Seizure and Voiceworks.

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