Ozzie Harris was an odd little bloke, small and wiry, maybe late sixties, who lived with his brother and sister-in-law in what may have been the last surviving stucco house in Wollombi. Built in the late 1800s, it sat among trees on the town side of Narone Creek Bridge.
With abundant energy and little to do, Oz could be seen wandering about looking for a chat. Often, when you were outside, he would appear, wide smile and cheery greeting to stay for a few minutes or longer, wandering through his mind and yours for as long as you liked. Comments on the weather came first, the price of cattle followed then on to anything else that cropped up. But he always ended by offering his help.
Anyone could expect the occasional visit but women received more visits than average. Sally often mentioned that Oz had called but never hinted at anything untoward, in fact she found him ‘sweet’ and certainly 'non-threatening’.
I agreed with her, but suspected he had hopes.
So, as I was told later, when a youngish woman moved into a small cottage a hundred metres away just over the bridge, Ozzie called in to make sure she was OK.
Over the months, his help was offered and accepted until he was chopping her wood, attending her garden and helping wherever he could. She became dependant on his generosity and he felt the obligation her apparent helplessness engendered.
It was said she needed substances to face her demons and maybe that provided the last link to complete this tragedy. So, as shadows lengthened, she retreated inside to begin her routine that insulated against whatever ghosts shared her existence.
Late on that fateful day, it was also said, Ozzie remembered his promise to cut her some firewood. So, as light was fading, he grabbed his axe and hurried across the bridge to attack the wood pile before all warmth left the lowlands, which it did as soon as the sun climbed away up the hillsides. Tragically, his lateness and two ‘it was saids’ converged to end one life, ruin another and shock scores.
Inside the house, night was close. Lamps were lit, and the dog had settled in by the newly kindled fire. Spooked by the dog’s frantic barking, she grabbed her rifle and joined him at the door. Of course the dog knew Oz and had his tail been wagging, the outcome might have been different. But her dog heard only the squeak of gate hinges and it was the wrong time of day.
Through the glass and against fading light, all she could see was the silhouette of a man hurrying towards her, axe in hand. Fear, confusion and maybe a little substance induced paranoia tightened her finger and the gun fired, bursting apart the big heart of her only friend in town.