Daddy spent the winter planning our move to Australia, a place so far away it was already tomorrow. That was the winter after the miners’ strike was crushed, and pick-and-shovel men like Daddy hunkered aboveground so restless they might’ve up and dug a hole straight through to the other side of the world if it weren’t for whisky, cold weather, stern women keeping them fixed to the spot. All them things pinning a man to a place. Australia was known to us only through doomsday movies that somehow managed to make the outback look better than mud-rutted Kentucky. That was enough for Daddy.
I was eleven and broadening in the shoulders. Momma loaded my plate with mountains of mashed potatoes where the meat used to be and Daddy eyed me squarer while I shoveled them in. They talked about the cows, the acre of pasture they could sell at the head of the holler. Feed’s expensive for muscle with no return. If we was going to go it was better to go before the boy got any bigger, before things got worse.
There are two kinds of ends of the world – one that vibrates like a desert alive with danger, and the other that embeds a life in the frozen mud. Daddy smacked a quarter vicious hard against his hand veins, peeked at it like it was a half-smashed horsefly. Grinned at Momma: Tails. She sighed. We’d go. Momma wasn’t set on nothing; she just wanted him happy. Maybe happiness was already waiting on the other side of the world, even if it was the end of the world.
I checked out a picture book All About Australia and Momma and Daddy studied it together like a travel brochure, knees touching, cigarettes and big plans bouncing in front of the Franklin stove. In the outback people lived in underground bunkers, which Daddy said would be easy enough to build. Hell, he dug a nuclear fallout bunker in back of Papaw’s house when he was just ten years old. Daddy’s eyes delivered a glancing blow over my slouching frame. Digging’s in the shovel-points of our shoulderblades, if they’re the only things we can carry out on our backs from this place. We got the power of our labor. We got our power whether the coal bosses want it or not. We’ll walk it right out of here and not look back. We will, by God.
Daddy’s vision tunneled on and on.
In the outback we’d all work together to build us an underground bunker bigger than the singlewide we lived in here. A sprawling rabbit-hole mansion to expand whenever we felt like it – and we’d be safe, too. No mudslides, no downwind chemicals or slurry floods. Down in Australia, the only things to worry about was spiders big enough to boil like crawdads and snakes we could milk for venom like the primitives at the back of the holler.
The holler was yesterday. Down Under was already tomorrow. Daddy dreamed of our sight-unseen burrow until he grew sharp-boned in the stove-light. By winter’s end, we were running out of potatoes and I returned All About Australia four weeks overdue and stained with smoke like a pirate’s map.
Kentucky flipped its weather like a coin, decided for us different. Stern women sent their men up the hill. Daddy hunched over his cap at the guard shack to beg back his pick-and-shovel job.
I guess part of being a man means shoving the end of the world off to a point somewhere past payday. Daddy bargained with Momma, sent away for a Saskatchewan land parcel catalog so they had groundbreaking plans to make for summer, just in case.
Then the mountain yawned, cleaved its mud, and made him a place down in it.
Edie Meade is a writer, artist, and mother of four in Huntington, West Virginia. She is passionate about literacy and collects books like they’re going out of style. Say hi on Twitter @ediemeade or https://ediemeade.com/.