The hospital seems to lie in the middle of nowhere, but it is four am. and everywhere seems to be the middle of nowhere at that hour. Another squat, serviceable building, it materialises out of the rain like a ship, a couple of weak lamps light the near-abandoned carpark and a red sign points the helpless to emergency. You could certainly film a zombie film here. Inside is warm and bright and dry. I fall into the reception chair and begin descriptions of my pained head, they take copies of insurance forms and collect a lot of signatures. Everyone is friendly and pretty laid-back – I think the rain has kept the usual Saturday night knife fights home. The broken water fountain dribbles a streak of bright orange rust down its side. I am soon given a couple of shots and told it is actually just muscle strain and take it easy. I leave feeling both relieved and pretty damn embarrassed.
So, the next night - pumped full of pills and still moving somewhat like a dalek – we’re off to the birthday of the local juke joint owner. Almost everyone in town is here and has brought some delicious plate for the pot luck dinner. Everyone is smiling and laughing and drinking and dancing. Even the normally taciturn owner is grinning brightly behind his opaque sunglasses. Outside, the wind howls down the empty streets.
Another freezing-cold evening, another cozy juke joint. It’s like a Tarantino film. The tiny space is decorated with damp stains and mould and the bunting of some festivity long-since forgotten. The band is squeezed into the corner, playing wildly for the tiny crowd who’ve managed to brave the icy winds to get here. The bartender scowls at his pitiful earnings and moves with a slowness that is part-arthritic-part-sulkiness. The cigarette smoke is still thick in the air. A pair of burly men play the pokie machines in the back, ceaselessly pressing the one single button and watching coloured shapes swirl their meagre earnings away in a flurry of bleeping chimes. A lady of the night is soliciting business among the handful of people in the room – a tall, dark Amazon with brightly sparkling earrings. She is lame in one leg and carries a hunting knife strapped brazenly to her thigh.
Another day, a friend drives out to Montezouma’s Landing – a gorgeous spot on the river, named not for the Aztec Emperor but for a paddle steamer of the 19th Century. The sun is setting and the sky is burning red. The river is an enormous stripe of mercury. A barge as big as a town lumbers slowly along, churning the liquid metal into sparkling flurries. It’s bracingly cold and as we leave we pass a caravan settling-in for the night – its tiny little windows glowing warm and domestic against the darkening blue of the sky.