When I got home that afternoon there was a letter from Stephen waiting for me. I raced to my bedroom and jumped on my bed as I ripped the envelope open and started reading.
Stephen told me all about how much fun the plane ride had been and the things he could see out the window as it flew across to the other side of Australia. He told me how he woke every morning just before dawn in the single men’s quarters in the mining village to get ready for work. He said the weather was really hot, but he rolls out of bed every day and does twenty pushups before climbing in the shower to cool off. During the day the temperature reaches over forty-five degrees celcius and Stephen said it was much hotter than the summers we have at home. He talked about how nice it is in the shower with cool water running over his face. He told me he was enjoying the work and felt great from having put in some long days and getting paid overtime. He was already planning his trip home when he had enough money.
He said he has a big breakfast in the mess every morning and then catches a bus out to the mine. He told me about how the iron red rocks shimmer in the early morning heat haze and how amazing it is to see the sun coming up over the hills as the bus crests the ridge and crawls down into the massive hole in the landscape. He sent some postcards in the envelope so I could see how big the mine was and how enormous some of the trucks were.
Stephen said that he works on one of the maintenance crews, fixing trucks, pipelines, machinery and anything else that needed repairs. He told me that a few days ago he was working on a leaking valve on the water pipeline when the pipe burst and drenched him with water. He finished the job and reported back to the foreman, asking if he could go home and change out of his wet clothes. Stephen said the foreman wouldn’t let him leave so he had to finish the day feeling damp. He told me in the letter he could feel a bit of a cold coming on and thought it was from getting wet and being in and out of the cold air conditioned buildings.
He finished off by telling me that he loved me and hoped that I was enjoying my new school and had made heaps of friends. I read the letter over and over again and started writing a letter back to him, trying to tell him all about how big the house was and how much fun we would have exploring it together when he got back. I didn’t want to tell him about school because I didn’t want him to find out that I was dumb.
I read his letter again and then turned out my light and tried to go to sleep. As I lay in bed, I kept thinking about the postcards of the open-cut mine and how I was dumb and didn’t know anything about numbers, and when would I see Stephen again and get to play with him. The thoughts kept circling round and round in my mind as I tried to get to sleep.
Outside my window I could hear crickets chirping and the noise kept me awake.
I thought about getting up and telling Mum that I couldn’t get to sleep, but I was worried that she would just think I was dumb and tell me to go back to bed. So I stayed there with my eyes closed and tried to think of something nice. My head was starting to get heavy when I heard the telephone ring in the hallway. I could hear Dad’s footsteps thumping down the wooden floorboards of the hall and his loud voice said, ‘Hello,’ as he picked up the phone. There was silence for a little while and I strained my ears to hear what was going on.
I couldn’t tell what was happening so I hopped out of bed and snuck across the lounge room to listen and make sure nothing bad was happening. I heard Dad hang up the phone and as I poked my head around the door, Dad told me to get back in bed. But I could see that Mum was crying and I thought she must have been sick or something. Mum walked over and picked me up to put me back in bed and tucked me in. I asked what was going on and she said it was just the hospital in Western Australia and that Stephen was a little unwell and the doctors were doing tests. She told me not to worry and left the light on, but I couldn’t get back to sleep because now I kept thinking about what might have been happening to Stephen. Did one of those big trucks fall on him?
I lay there for ages and eventually I heard everyone else go to bed for the night. I tried to listen to the crickets and just concentrate on the song they were singing so that I could fall asleep, when I heard the phone ring again. I climbed out of bed and snuck to the door again, but then I realised that something really was wrong this time. I poked my head around the corner and I could tell by the way Mum and Dad and all the girls were crying that something really bad had happened. Mum looked up and said Stephen was gone. I was confused, but all of a sudden I felt my legs were shaking and the room began to spin. The last thing I remembered was Mum reaching out her hand for me just before everything went black.