KATHRYN HIND Hitch: extract
This week’s extract is from two-time prize-winner Hitch, the debut novel from Australian author Kathryn Hind.
Hitch was the inaugural winner of the Penguin Literary Prize (you can read more about the prize and the 2020 winner, Sophie Overett, here) and published last year.
Last week it collected another prize, winning the £10,000 Betty Trask Prize for a first novel by a writer under 35, as part of the UK’s Society of Authors’ Awards.
Elanor Dymott, Betty Trask judge, said: ‘An extraordinary take on the picaresque, Kathryn Hind’s Hitch is 100% a winner. At times I found the book so intense I had to pause to catch my breath. Moving at a pace that’s relentless, the controlled, crafted storytelling provides an elegant masterclass in how to write a novel.’
Hitch is the story of Amelia, a young woman hitchhiking with her dog Lucy along the highways of outback Australia. Is she in more danger from what she has left behind than she is from relying on the kindness – or otherwise – of strangers on the road?
In this extract, Amelia and Lucy are looking for a lift at a service station in Glendambo on a remote stretch of the Stuart Highway when they come across Ron and his wife. The couple’s car is pointing in the right direction, and after a distressing experience in the town that morning, Amelia is keen to leave.
Extract courtesy of Penguin Random House
Ron stepped further away, spread his legs into a wider stance. The woman resumed her flat stare. Ron’s face was lifted to the sky and Amelia followed his gaze, tried to find whatever had grasped his attention up there. She gave up and looked to the car park; Will’s ute was in the same place as the night before. Acid rose in her throat. She focused on the rise and fall of Ron’s shoulders, wishing on each of his breaths for a yes.
‘Fine,’ the man said. ‘Fine, fine, fine.’ He turned and walked in the direction of the shop, digging in his back pocket and pulling out a wallet. He turned again, pointed a short finger at her. ‘Don’t get in yet. I’ll put a towel down.’ The tone of his voice brought a flush to her face, as if she’d already done something wrong. He continued walking and pushed open the door of the servo.
Amelia breathed deeply through her nose. Blood pounded in her ears. She shifted her weight from one leg to the other.
‘Sweetheart . . . what’s your name?’ The woman’s voice was soft. Amelia stepped closer, ducked down to the window.
‘Amelia. Well, what a lovely name.’ The woman paused. ‘Look, Amelia, I hope you know that we’d love to help. I do wonder though if you’d be better off trying someone else.’ She looked up from beneath thick, wiry eyebrows. ‘I know my husband, you see, and, well, he’s had a big few days.’ The woman blinked three distinct times, as if each one held a secret message. ‘He really is very, very tired.’ The woman gave a slight nod, setting her pinned arrangement of curls jiggling. ‘I know him better than he knows himself, you see . . .’
‘We won’t be any trouble,’ Amelia said, trying her stiff smile. ‘Promise.’
The woman slid the window up. Amelia knocked lightly on the glass. ‘I’ll be back in a sec,’ she said, getting Sid’s postcard out of her pocket, pointing to it. The woman blinked, looked away.
Amelia walked over to the postbox at the edge of the car park. As she neared Will’s ute, she could see herself sitting in the front seat, feel the coarse material beneath her, smell the car’s odour of fried food; she wished she could reach into the car and shake that girl.
She pushed Sid’s postcard through the slot, listened to it flutter to the bottom. She stood for a moment, rested her head on the warm red metal, peering into the gap. She could picture him walking down the garden path at his place, his fingers finding a corner of the card in the cobwebbed letterbox; his face lighting up, then sinking in disappointment as he read her effort. At least she didn’t have to disappoint him in person.
Lucy barked and Amelia looked up; Ron had returned to the car and was scrabbling through luggage in the boot.
She worked up a fresh layer of sweat as she jogged the few metres back to the car, her skin irritated beneath the scratchy material of her replacement T-shirt. Ron was spreading a dark pink towel over the back seat, pulling the material tight and straight. The name Brenda was stitched in purple cursive in the corner.
‘I wonder if I should use something of mine . . .’ Amelia said. ‘That towel looks pretty special.’
‘Yes, it’s a very nice one – a wedding present from my great- aunt,’ the woman, Brenda, said, turning round in her seat.
‘It’s fine,’ Ron said. ‘Just make sure your dog enjoys it.’
He threw a lime-green towel at Amelia; she caught it, then held it up by the corners, letting it unroll. ‘For you,’ he said. It took her a moment to comprehend. She spread it across the other half of the back seat.
Ron settled in behind the wheel, rolling his shoulders back, moving his head from side to side until his neck cracked. As they pulled out of the service station, she caught the eye of the cashier; the woman shook her head.
Amelia leaned back in her seat, let the tick of the indicator wash over her. As they turned onto the highway, she looked out the back window, watching Glendambo as it was swallowed by desert. She patted her pockets, pretending her unease might be lifted simply by assuring herself she hadn’t left anything behind. Ron accelerated hard and blasted the air conditioning; the fan was loud, making conversation difficult. She dropped her persona, sinking into the seat and back into her own skin.
The kilometres racked up as the car bumped over uneven patches of the highway, setting Brenda’s curls bouncing. Ron drove fast. Amelia closed her eyes and submitted to the thrust of the vehicle. If they were to crash – if Brenda’s head were to be bobbing on an airbag, her legs broken and trapped beneath the dashboard, if Ron’s delicate eyelids were to close, blood dripping from his temple, and Amelia was to finally leave her body, watching the scene from above – then at least she was rushing towards something. Amelia reached across the back seat and rubbed Lucy’s neck, causing her back leg to twitch when Amelia reached the itchiest places. She took hold of her collar, huddled in closer; Lucy couldn’t be part of that scene.
‘You’re lucky it’s me picking you up, you know,’ Ron said, his voice raised over the roar of the air conditioning.
‘Thank you,’ Amelia said.
‘It’s not safe for a girl like you to be out here alone.’
From Kathryn Hind Hitch Penguin Random House 2019 PB 256pp $32.99
To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.