Bel picked up the turtle from the middle of the road, where she feared it might be crushed by a car, and carried it to the verge. The turtle’s shell was green as an olive, the plates of its carapace indistinct under a layer of moss. It had turned itself into a stone, its head and legs tucked inside, but its body was lighter than she’d imagined it would be, and more slippery. She couldn’t resist looking at its underside, where the shell was a surprising corn-yellow. This was the way the turtle was going — to the dam beside the road — and Bel set it in short grass on the other side of a wire fence, backing away so that her shadow no longer fell across its body. She rubbed her hands on her jeans, got back into the car and drove down the escarpment to where the town lay invisible, veiled by low clouds. It was almost eleven o’clock, but the lid on the valley hadn’t lifted. Six months she’d been here now, and she loved the worn-down hills rising to the west, the insectivorous bats that flitted over her backyard at night, even the wind that poured cloud into the valley.
Twenty years have passed, but the memories are still a chisel in the skull, opening a portal to another place and time. The flashbacks are sharper than ever as Claire drives north through the tunnel under Sydney airport. She’ll see Gen tonight. They haven’t exchanged a word since they were both twenty-six.
Jackie fears she might fall asleep standing up like a horse. She arrived in Dubai from Melbourne at 1:45am and it is now 8am on the same day. She wears the required white lab coat, with a stethoscope looped over the back of her neck. In the green treatment area of the horse hospital, she waits to be told what she should be doing. First, a man who is also dressed in white—a groom’s uniform, she thinks—leads a chestnut filly through the barn doors. Next, a man in a suit emerges from a long green hallway. He’s a horse vet, Jackie guesses, because approaches the filly and slides his hand down its leg. Once he’s inspected the horse, he walks over to Jackie and seems to inspect her too.
MEG’S BROTHERS WERE lucky. They joined the army when they turned eighteen: first Liam, then Stuart. When reveille sounded, they sat up in their bunks and pulled on their boots. They washed their faces with a towel dipped in cold water, raised their arms and rolled on deodorant, then drained cups of sugary coffee in the mess hall. They weren’t required to consider existential questions; they simply had to do their jobs.
When Meg’s alarm sounded, she felt like a caterpillar, safe on the underside of a leaf. The central air kept her cool, so she slept cocooned in blankets. She sat up and lifted the window blind to look out at the night sky. It had a brown tinge: suspended dust. She’d seen the same sky two months earlier, on the night she’d arrived in Abu Dhabi.