In the sunset's glow the town was golden. Pink-gold buildings lined the main street like sentinels. Only a dog moved, lifting its body to turn then slump down again, outside the general store.
Meg brought her car to a halt, near the dog which took no notice at all. She looked around, searching for human life. There was none. She pulled out her sketched map. River Road was one of the two streets that crossed the main street. Finding Number Five would be easy, but first, a drink from the store.
“You must be the new teacher.' It was a gravelly voice from a big man. 'Welcome to Royceton. I'm Jack Riley. I hope you'll like it here. Probably not quite what you're used to but you'll soon feel at home.'
'Thanks Jack.' Meg extended her hand. 'I'm Meg Jordan. Pleased to meet you.' 'The strong hand-shake type,' she thought. 'A man who means business.'
'You'll be heading for Enid Strahan's place no doubt,' said Jack. 'She's a good soul. Got a heart of gold. You'll be happy there.'
Meg headed back into the street. The gold was turning orange. 'Golden town, and goldfish bowl,' thought Meg. 'I'll have to watch my Ps and Qs around here.'
Around the corner she turned into Number Five's driveway and before she was out of the car Enid was there, smiling broadly, a tall woman in a brightly coloured dress.
A warm welcome, a salad dinner, a room with an old wooden bed and a free-standing wardrobe. This was to be her home away from home. She was to make herself at home, to just ask if there was anything she needed. Then, at last, her head was on a pillow. Rest.
But sleep didn't come easily. Meg thought back on how she had ended up here. Her job prospects were dim when she finished her training last year. She applied far and wide but the only offer came from Royceton, four hundred kilometres from home. So here she was, ready to start her teaching career.
Home was in the hills of Higgland and green was in her soul, green trees, grass and rivers. But here was flat. It was the flattest place she had ever seen. The last fifty kilometres on the road into town were flat and dead straight, and the countryside was completely flat and dry as toast. The flatness went on and on.
'I'll get used to this landscape eventually,' Meg muttered hopefully. And at last sleep came.
She had allowed a few days to get organised, meet the other teachers, get a feel for the place. She woke early and headed out for a walk around the town. Curtains moved back and faces peered out of windows.
'What's it matter,' she thought. 'Everyone in town will know I'm here and what I did this morning.' In half an hour she had explored the town, seen the river, the football oval, the pub and the one church. 'So that's Royceton, an oasis in the middle of a flat, flat desert.'
It wasn't long before Meg knew every child in the little school. She learned that the Billings were related to the Maceys, that Tom Rogers couldn't keep still and that Susan Ward would burst into tears at the drop of a hat.
She felt welcome in Royceton and soon struck up a friendship with Kate, the Anglican minister's wife. But when she was tired and alone she shed tears for home and its hills and planned for a weekend back in the green and the familiar.
The only slope in town led down to the river. On sizzling evenings the waterhole was crowded with students and other locals, swimming. Maintaining her decorum as a teacher, Meg avoided the place.
But, the heat was intense and the flat, flat landscape wore her down. She longed for slopes and cool water. Late one evening, in cohorts with Kate, she sneaked down to the river for a cooling dip. But they weren't alone. Others were there in the semi-darkness.
'You're a true Roycetoner now Meg.' It was Jack, from the store. 'You've swum in the river and you'll have to climb back up our only hill. Three cheers for Meg.' And the swimmers cheered.
Meg felt a sense of belonging, a second home. She still missed the green hills of Higgland but she was warming to her new home, her flatland home.
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