She thinks the strange thing about Western Australia is that it looks a lot like Eastern Australia. This was not what she had expected. She has had so many friends over the years who have told her, “Oh, you should really get out to Western Australia, it’s so much different. It’s like a whole different country.” But now, standing in Western Australia, really being there, with her actual feet on the ground, touching the hard, rocky soil beneath her, she just can’t see what everyone else saw. The air seems to be so much the same. The clouds, the color of the sky, the smells, even the way the air makes her skin feel: really just more of the same. And what does she see? Mountains, and off in the distance—if she gets up on her tippy toes—the ocean. And which ocean? Whichever body of water it is. The Australian Ocean? She knows for sure that it stretches around the island to Eastern Australia. And so, Cindy, who told her once, “It was when I saw the ocean that I really noticed the difference between the two,” was full of shit. But Cindy was never someone she trusted. Still, people she had trusted and had considered very trustworthy, had often told her about how much more wonderful Western Australia was than Eastern Australia. Had they all been lying to her? An elaborate ruse? A coordinated act of misdirection? But why? For what purpose? Those fuckers.
She looks around, takes a few deep breaths, removes her hat, and sits down. She leans against her back pack, and spends a few minutes just watching Western Australia exist. And it is at this moment, during this watching, when she thinks that maybe Western Australia and Eastern Australia just aren’t different, but so many people have been to Eastern Australia (Matt and Carlos and Gloria and Maria, god, Maria with all her Eastern Australia hooded sweatshirts and shot glasses) that the few people who have made it to Western Australia, taken the high-speed Australian train, departing from Sydney and shooting out West, with a few early stops, then fewer stops, then stops that seem farther apart from each other, until finally, several hours without any stops, and then just a final stop, where even the tracks stop, and there is only a cement bench inside a cement structure and a sign hanging from the half-shingled roof that says Western Australia, yes, that those few people, once they’d finally arrived, just needed to make it a little bit more special. Wasn’t this, after all, why she’d come out here in the first place? To find something special?
And so, here she is and she has this information (what she’s realized about Western Australia), and what she decides is that she’s going to send a message back home. She’s going to blow the lid off this Western Australia myth. She’s going to crack some skulls or blow some minds or whatever she has to do, but she’s going to set the record straight, she’s going to level with her friends. No more beating around the bush. She’s going to tell the truth about Western Australia. And she’s going to start with Stephen, little Stephen, who has never left the United States, never stepped onto foreign soil, had only just traveled outside Pennsylvania for the first time earlier that year. Poor, little Stephen, who’d inspired her to travel to Western Australia in the first place. Yes, Stephen, who wanted desperately to go, but couldn’t get together enough money. She will do this for Stephen, unknowing Stephen, who appears to have a limp even though he does not. The same Stephen who dropped her off at the airport, who even walked her to the security check point, and who, as she walked towards the gate dragging her suitcase behind her, called out her name, and with tears in his eyes, said, “Take lots of pictures.”