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Kirsten Reed's The Ice Age, published by Picador, is shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers' Best First Book Prize.

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Riding bucking bronco style

When we hit the road again Gunther headed off in an entirely different direction. We had been going east. We were now going south. Southwest, if anything. Within two hours, we were pulling up to a shack, situated in the middle of an expanse of barren grasslands. It looked like a military testing site. Barely fit for human habitation. But then, it seemed to suit the inhabitant. And there is something strangely calming about environments that sparse. And something clearly maddening...

Her name's Delilah. She has dozens of wind chimes hanging from the roof of her seriously basic wooden cabin, encasing the front porch. I can't imagine them ever chiming here. The wind doesn't seem to ever blow. The sound of flies buzzing is the most prominent sound out here. The occasional plane flies overhead. And jets, too, to complete the military outpost feel. It is dreamily fucking boring here. After one glass of her Kentucky bourbon I felt like running around the porch yelling and smacking wind chimes, like a hyperactive three-year-old banging pots and pans. Environments that calm are anything but, in my book. Gunther says I have an active brain that requires stimulus.

Delilah was as drunk as a sailor's whore when we got here, and insisted we reach the same state, ASAP. She fixed Gunther up with a bourbon on the rocks, and when she pushed one on me, I glanced at Gunther. He gave me a pointed but reassuring "where are your manners" nod. I guess this was one of those "when in Rome" situations. Alcohol is probably Gunther's least favourite intoxicant. He considers it poison, and generally doesn't encourage me to partake in it. But that doesn't stop him, on occasion.

Delilah was damn glad to see Gunther, but she was also so drunk the impact of the occasion seemed lost on her. She was acting like he just wandered over from next door or something. Like she saw him every day. But liked him a lot nonetheless. Thought he was a good sort.

"So, little kitten," she slumped toward me. She was seated in a big wicker extravaganza. She gripped the arm of my rocking chair. I had to brace my feet on the floor to keep from toppling backward.

"Gunther usually travels alone."

That hung in the air for a while. Then I said, "Yeah, well, he's giving me a ride."

"Tha's nice," she slurred. About thirty seconds later she blurted joyfully, "I'll bet he is!"

Gunther and I both looked at her in reproachful silence.

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