On a sheep-and-cattle farm, Southern Tablelands, New South Wales: a mother and father know that their older son, a lieutenant in the Australian Army, has returned from his latest tour of Afghanistan; they expect that he will be given leave and hope he will come home because they have tragic news. Meanwhile, at an army base in Sydney, the soldier decides that the first thing he will do on leave is see his family – he has felt the call of home.
While driving a hire-car south on the Hume Highway the soldier thinks about spending time with his mother, father, and little brother. He is looking forward to seeing them; he is also looking forward to feeling ‘alright’.
The soldier stops at a highway diner to get something to eat. While waiting in the line, a young girl stares at him; she appears to know that he is hiding a dark secret. When back on the road, the incident with the girl in the diner forces the soldier to think about his most recent tour of Afghanistan, during which he enjoyed hearing from his brother, but he also gets the flash of a terrible mistake that he made during a military skirmish in Kandahar.
The soldier reaches his home town. At a café in the mainstreet, as it was arranged, he has a coffee with his former high-school sweetheart – they have had an on-again, off-again relationship throughout their twenties. She has organised the meeting because she has something to tell him: she is carrying his child, a result of a drunken night they had six months earlier during his previous leave.
Back in the car and driving on a country road out to the family farm, and knowing now that he is going to be a father, the soldier thinks more about his brother, who was a delicate, effeminate young man nine years his junior. The older brother can’t wait to tell the younger brother about the news of a child.
The soldier reaches the farm, where he finds his mother waiting at the main gate. She tells him that his brother died during the previous winter ‘by his own dear hand/ he slept himself away’ and that they’ve been waiting for him so they can scatter the ashes as a family.
Distraught, the soldier walks off into the paddocks. Not only does he think about his brother, he is forced to recall the event in Kandahar that he keeps to himself: his squad accidentally shot and killed a young local girl – this is what the girl in the diner ‘saw’.
Later, in the middle of the night, the soldier has a nightmare: he believes that the loss of his brother is linked to killing the girl. After calling out, his father comes into the soldier’s bedroom to offer comfort and advice. As it begins to rain, the father says that together they must be strong, because in the morning they will farewell their ‘beautiful boy’.
The next day, the rain having cleared, the family scatters the brother’s ashes.
The soldier’s girlfriend comes to the farm-house and tells him that she’s having twins. Now that the soldier has scattered his brother’s ashes, he has been given a new challenge and opportunity: to stay and be a good partner/parent/son. The soldier says yes, he will stay, but he will need to be carried.
The healing process begins.
– Nigel Featherstone, 2018