There are some afternoons, interminably long summer ones, where the lower horizon shows Melbourne’s distant hills in a smudged, faded-denim blue, and just above that there forms a band of frayed brown or burnt sienna. On such days people are cranky and suspicious. Lawns crunch and the sun glares down and down so everything is baked hard and unrelenting: nerves, patience, the very soil. It’s easy to believe the infinite universe is offended. Trees and power lines wilt in unison. Meanwhile, scent has been broiled out of the atmosphere so that the brown air could be smoke or city smog or northern red dirt blown to holiday on the coast from 1000 miles in land. One is never sure and it’s too hot to argue. Beyond the traffic snarls and buckling train tracks, the suburbs are hushed. Tense. Waiting for the sun to sink from the bleached sky to below the haze into a cooler evening. There is waiting for the southerly. There is waiting for the news. Waiting especially for good news: all is well. All is safe.
The change. Overnight – or just before dawn – the winds shift and desert dust blooms into an ocean breeze. In the alps, there is the hint of snow, even snow, but in the city, streets become corridors for gusts lifting up the dirt and rubbish only for it to settle further out, coating the houses as far as you can see. Along with the rain’s dirty blatter, there’s relief, and perhaps a casual disregard as roads turn treacherous as morning dew mingles with the deposited grime to make them slippery. By mid morning it’s sunny and exiled smokers shiver again in the shadows of office towers. By lunch the heat is forgotten.
Another front. More fears. Talk of intensity, electricity and checks on the elderly. Warning signs and containment lines. So it goes. So it goes into Autumn.