Western Australian summer is a beast. For months it slumbers, its great curved back a docile silhouette against the greys and greens and bobbing florals. Then it awakens and scrapes its claws across the land in a blaze of heat.
- The water in garden hoses scalds and the cold tap in the shower runs warm.
- Lawns crunch and prickle bare feet.
- Thick metal necklaces become burning collars. Steering wheels and doorhandles and car seats scorch hands and thighs.
- Pedestrians at traffic lights shelter beneath buildings, metres from the kerb, waiting to cross.
- Paddocks stretch into the distance: rolling, fuzzed and tawny; rustling with bleached crop stubble; closely-capped in the pitch black of char or flat, bare and crazed with cracks. And, above them, the deep, rich sky.
- Urban buildings glitter and oncoming vehicles are globs of eye-watering golden light.
- The only clouds are the tiny tufts of cumulus stirred up at the ocean’s edge by the reach and retreat of the waves. People come in their hordes for the cleansing and lightening peculiar to swimming in the ocean.
- The air is an invisible wall, high and hard and hot. It batters and stings…and waits for a spark.
- Fire alerts on the radio warn residents who have remained to fight for their suburban homes not to venture out because the heat will kill them before they even see the twenty-metre flames.
But sometimes the beast slinks into its cave and only its switching tail shows that it breathes yet and will strike again.
- The Fremantle and Albany doctors drift across the land signalling the end of the working day. People dare a drink of red instead of cooling white and know that tonight they will turn off the fan and pull up the bedsheet.
- A storm’s first drops spatter and the world smells of dust.
- The earth is made nubile by the honeyed light of evening.
Eventually, the beast curls up again, a monument to the season. We used to think it immovable, impervious to us, but now our proddings rouse it earlier. It stalks for longer. And we have become its prey.