Grey pony-tailed, his tattooed arms folded across his chest, Brian sat at the kitchen table stripped back to his singlet and jeans. The hot weather got them going early in the day before the heat sizzled their sweat and crisped their skin. There were eight of them, all volunteers, helping to re-build the farm's fences.
Fire had ravished the hills and valleys of the farm, a roaring fire-storm sweeping down from the north and the west at once. Hundreds of sheep lay dead or injured. Many had been shot to put them out of their misery. It was a miracle that the house escaped unscathed and no-one was hurt.
Brian, a Vietnam veteran, had lived a difficult, chequered life. He had never really held down a job, or not for long. He had bounced around the country living here and there, then moving on. He had been married and that had lasted a while.
Beth was a woman of laughter and forgiveness. She had weathered his moods for a long time. She knew he was scarred by the war but he could never share those memories with her. He locked them away and the door only opened in his nightmares. She heard him shouting in his sleep but there was nothing she could do.
Then he walked out on her. Said he couldn't put her through any more. Said he had to sort out his demons. But he still loved her and maybe, just maybe,when things were better in his head, they could start again together. He bought a Harley Davidson and headed off down south living in cheap, short-term rentals.
It was from the television, on a blistering hot evening, with a beer in his hand, that Brian learned of the fires in the Tambo Valley. Jill Rollins was telling how the fire had come frighteningly close to their house. Her sons had saved some cattle. but they couldn't save their sheep. Fighting back tears, she told of the blackened corpses that littered the paddocks. The camera panned to her husband Tom.
'Nearly all our fences were burnt, about thirty kilometres.' He spoke calmly but exhaustion showed in his face. 'It'll be a huge job, the fences, but that's the first thing that needs doing.'
It was not often that Brian let things get to him. He barricaded himself inside his shell. But this story moved him and an idea took root in his brain. He could go and help them. It was about time he did something good. But would they want his help?
Next morning the radio put out an appeal. Volunteers were needed to help farmers rebuild fences. There was a number to ring.
'Right on!' thought Brian. 'I'll ring that number. I'll do it.'
So here he was at Jill and Tom's kitchen table. He was chuffed to be sent to their place. They were the ones that got him into this gig. It was their story that reached into his heart. Breakfast was over and some of the men were outside having a smoke before heading off to build fences.
Brian had started hanging around after breakfast for Tom's morning devotion. Tom had invited them all to stay. It was a family tradition Tom said. After the early morning farm chores Tom always came back to the house for breakfast. Then he led the family in devotions. He would read the Bible and some comments from a little book, then he would pray. It touched Brian to see this family praying together. Not a praying man himself, he was a watcher and a listener.
He'd been at the farm for five weeks and something was happening to him. He was opening up to the idea of something good and considering his future. He was thinking about the God that Tom and Jill prayed to. Tough-skinned, seen-it-all Brian Withers was softening.
At last the fences were finished. It was his last morning there and Brian made sure he was at the kitchen table for the devotions. He surprised them all by offering to pray. It was a simple prayer asking God to bless the family, and his eyes were moist.
'I'll never forget you guys,' he said.
'And we'll never forget you,' said Tom. 'You've done so much for us. Keep in touch, won't you.'
Back on his Harley, Brian headed down the road. He'd do it. He pulled over, got his phone out and rang Beth.
(This is loosely based on a true story.)
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