First Muse Part 2
Deep Sleep, Deep Space, Deep Shit
Reluctant Titans Part 1
Reluctant Titans Part 2
Ein Plein Air Part 1
Ein Plein Air Part 2
A Faint Hint of Ambergris
Gotta be Careful What You Wish For
Peter and Angela's marriage is a happy one, despite the stares and whispers. He cannot see them averting their eyes from his scars, she can see them disapproving of her colour but they have each other in this mismatched partnership and now, they have Crossan's farm.
They drove out to the farm shortly after the wedding. She linked with his arm and led him forward to the great tree, "There's a wonderful grey gum here Pete. It's tall and old with beautiful wisteria wound around it like a violet cloak. . I wonder what it's seen over the years. If only it could talk. There are river oaks on the banks and the river's low, so you can see the striations in the sandstone. Quite lovely." He can feel the warmth of the afternoon sun on his face as he stares skywards imagining the scene, "The old house isn't here any more, just some old timbers and a little broken glass. But there are some fruit trees in the orchard, it wouldn't take long to get them into shape. The grass is very long but it looks like someone's allowed their cows in here to graze. And right here is pretty level, so once it's cleared you could wonder around unaided, no potholes or hillocks to trip you up." He smiles. The last time he walked without leaning on someone else was the day they went down to Palm Beach and he ran, crutch and good leg, on the hard flat sand, the feeling was exhilarating and free.
The weatherboard homestead is built, grey slatted timbers and a corrugated roof that sounds wonderful when it rains. Wide shady verandah and life is good. She finds work rehabilitating soldiers at Parramatta and he learns his way round the garden and unwittingly follows in Crossan and Cartwright's footsteps, planting vegetables and pruning peach trees. Happy trees to have tender hands once more ply their trade, nurture their growth, pluck their ripe fruit. They live there for years but never have children. He'd wished he had. The place is built for kids, running in the sun, a semi-rural life. He'd have loved a child. Someone to carry on the line. Take him to the pub, walk arm in arm and chat about the world and its changes. It's rarely discussed because he's sure that it's he who's impotent. But they're happy in their seclusion and want for little. He has his pension, she earns a good income and the land was a gift. A wonderful gift from a daughter they never knew.
It's Sunday, and warm. Wattle birds warble in the big grey gum. The garden restored with Grevillea and the warm scent of Frangipani wafts across the verandah as they sit on the porch swing. He absorbing the sounds of spring, her, enjoying the view. He can't see the sadness in her eyes but he feels the heaviness in her heart, "What's bothering you?" his sixth sense kicks in, he can feel that she's tense, the silence is prolonged and she's normally prone to talking. "I wish we'd had children."
"There's something I've never told you," she says. He tells her it's fine and he wishes she would." I saw a young man in Kurrajong this morning. Tanned, tall, clearly a half caste and I couldn't stop staring at him. He looked so familiar. Something about him reminded me of my father but I couldn't put my finger on it. "Haha . .that's your confession? A cat can look at a King darling, there's no harm in admiring youth." She slaps his thigh in mock disdain, "No that's not it. He looked like me." He chides and jokes, "So, all you boongs look the same!" She slaps him again on the stump this time and he turns and licks her cheek in play. "Peter I'm serious, there is something you need to know."
"When I was a child, I lived a long way out west in a bush camp with my family and community. It was a wonderful existence, wild but full of love and warmth and kinship. There was traditional dancing, stories and food-gathering. I remember getting into trouble when I insisted on dancing during an initiation ceremony rather than sitting and watching. I was thrashed I can tell you and told to sit and be quiet," he smiles at the imagery, "But one day, when I was about 6, a car drove up to the camp. We'd only seen one once or twice when the local priest came to visit. He'd bring us clothes and try to make us say prayers but we were too busy fiddling with frills and laughing each other in ill-fitting skirts. This time the car had two white men in it. We didn't know who they were. Behind the car was a truck, like a small cattle truck. My Auntie told me to run, I had no idea why but did as I was told. The men chased me and the other children and when they caught us, they began to pack us into the truck." She begins to tear up at the memory so long suppressed, "My mother and aunties were going crazy but the two men held them back and bundled us in. We were crying and confused and the women were hysterical. The men yelling and shouting. We had no idea what was going on. I remember my mum clinging to the side of the truck as we sped away."
He's aware of the white Australia Policy but stories of abduction hadn't reached the city, she was the only aboriginal he knew and she was sophisticated, educated. Why would they remove her of all people.
"I was taken to a school, a boarding school, near here in Wilberforce. My sister went to a Methodist Mission in Goulburn. They made us all dress the same, taught us English and to read and write. If we misbehaved, we were beaten with an iron chord. It was hell. Then, before the war, I was taken to Richmond and put into service. I was 13 and never saw my mother again." He was stunned that she'd never told him this before but it was hardly a guilty secret, "So why haven't you told me this before?" She bows her head and admits that this isn't the whole story.
"I was taken in by a white family. They were good people. They supported me through college, fed me well, looked after me. I was their housekeeper and maid - looked after the kids when they went out, that sort of thing." He interrupts, "At 13 years of age?" She nods and admits she had to grow up quickly. "I was with them for four years, now listen. There was a young man in the house. A sort of handy man who had the room next to mine. He was pleasant enough and when he'd finished his chores, he'd follow me around while I was making beds or preparing meals and chat. He seemed harmless." In her absorption with chores, she hadn't noticed him ogling lasciviously. Watching every curve as she bent over the bed corners, staring at her cleavage as she tucked in the blankets. She never noticed the elevation in his trousers or the sly smile on his face as he checked her from behind.
"One afternoon," she continues, "before the kids came home from school, he came into the kitchen while I was preparing the evening meal. He'd been drinking and crept up behind me. Put his arms around my waist and started kissing my neck. I was 15. I squealed and turned and slapped him and he hit me back with a force so strong, I fell to my knees. He came up behind me and pushed my face to the floor. I can still feel his hand on my cheek, my head sideways, pushed onto the slate. I could see him from the corner of my eye. He pulled up my dress and tore into me . . "
The tears are now real and he can hear the quiver in her voice. He touches her face as he often does, "You don't have to . . " She collects herself, "No, you need to know. I've had this secret for nearly 30 years and it needs to be told. He forced himself into me, raped me then and there. It was disgusting and painful and embarrasing. I fought but he had me pinned and was too strong. When he'd finished, he kicked me and called me a slut and a fucking 'gin'. Pulled up his pants and spat on me and left me there bleeding and crying. That was my first sexual experience. Violent and horrible." She continued to tell him how when the family came home they were horrified both at the act and the boy who was instantly dismissed. "A few weeks later, I'd missed my period, I was pregnant."
Now this came as a surprise. He'd wondered why there were no children from her first marriage but discretion being the better part of valour and being a man, he'd never asked. Her first husband died young and he figured it was an issue of timing. "So where's the baby?" There's a silence longer than silence should be. He knows, his hearing is acute and he notices these things and the absence of things. "Where's the baby!" She pauses then sobs, "I don't know" she repeats, her face in her hands, "I don't know, I don't know . . ."
After all these years, she remembers the wrench. Her confinement was kept a secret, the family attended to her needs but in her third trimester she was forbidden to leave the house. She blooms. The swelling belly becomes her companion and she coos and talks with every squirm and kick. The life inside, ill begotten is sweet and gentle. She loves her maternity, the feeling, the pressure, the fact that life dwells inside her. She sings lullabies and apologises when it's irritated by a hot mug resting on her belly. She imagines play and swings and the delights of childhood. She imagines land and country. She tells it dreaming tales of how the Kurrawong turned black and how Baru begat his teeth. She is in love with a child she'll never see and writes a letter.
You are my light, my love, my life. I know they'll take you when you're born. Know that your mother loves you. She is not a drunk, a whore, an ignorant, she is a stolen child in an alien world and cannot care for you alone. Although you were conceived through pain, you will be born out of love.
As she folds the note and cuts a lock of hair, a sad smile creeps across her face. Her child will not be stolen. Her child will be adopted, live a good life, be educated and hopefully loved. The sadness is overwhelming as she seals the envelope and asks her mistress to pass it on when the time comes.\
She is in labour and pain is unbearable. She's barely 17 and cramped and crimped, sharp stabs along her back. The midwife is called. The delivery does not go according to plan. The baby, suffocating by its own chord, the mother's labour too long. Instruments are employed as a young girl screams. Exhausted by the time the child crowns, she hears, 'It's a boy,' she hears him cry, healthy and hearty, before he's swept away and she loses consciousness. When she comes around, days later. The child is gone and not spoken of again.
Her milk flows on the fourth day with no child to suckle she is inconsolable and sad. She is bound from breast to hip and given Stilboestrol to dry the milk. It's calming effect keeping her in a stupor for another week. She remembers signing something, which in retrospect she assumes were adoption papers.
"Peter . ." her voice now calming with the relief of having told him. "This is why we've never had children. I couldn't conceive after that." He's feeling slightly relieved since it's not his infertility that's prevented them having a family. He'd always blamed himself, war damage or trauma. They'd talked about children but it never happened and now, there is a child? A son? Not his but hers. They have family, somewhere.
"I need to find my son. He'll be 28 years old now and the trail has gone cold. I never knew where they took him. But this man I saw today . . brought it all back. He looked so familiar!" Peter is reeling taking all this in. Too much information doesn't cut it but he's curious now. A son? A son? How is a blind man going to find the love of his life's son? He smooths her hair and tells her not to worry, he has contacts, there are records, they'll find a way. "What about his father?" She hasn't seen or heard from the violator of her body for years but might he have kept tabs on events? The question preys.
She sits in the cafe every day hoping he'll walk by once more. She's sure it's him. Instinct? Intuition? The walk, the look the expression? She can't put her finger on it but the man she saw a month ago has such familiarity, such similarity she is obsessed and needs to see him again. Six degrees of separation? A small world after all . . how often have you run into someone you know in circumstances bizarre? These questions swim endlessly in her head. He's nowhere to be seen.
"Mrs Vale? Angela Vale?" She doesn't recognise the woman who approaches from behind, "May I join you, My name is Susan Verity. I live on a farm, down but one from you and may have some information of value," Intrigued and a little surprised at the stranger's approach, Angela invites her to sit. "Please don't think me presumptuous but it's obvious that you are of aboriginal descent." Angela nods, there's no denying her looks which in this semi rural community set her apart, "But I have a young man working in my dairy. His name is Nathan Sedgewick, does that ring a bell?" Angela's face drains. Sedgewick was the name of the midwife who botched the birth. She remembers her face, an older, matronly woman, frosty and unforgiving, all forceps and fuss. "Yes. It's a name from my past that I'd rather forget." Verity begins to explain, "The fellow working for me at the moment is also of aboriginal descent. We were talking the other morning, since he often comes in for breakfast after milking," Angela is getting impatient with the embellishments, "Anyway, we were chatting about this and that and he began to open up in a rather unusual way. He told me that his mother was a midwife in the 40's and made a practice of delivering babies and adopting the illegitimate progeny of young girls, particularly aboriginal girls, on to white, well-to-do couples and that he'd suspected perhaps this had happened to him. He'd seen a black woman up here last month and wondered about her story." The words were beginning to drone as the woman sounded more like a busybody than a genuine informant and Angela begins to back her chair in preparation for a hasty departure.
"Mrs Verity . . I really . . " the woman asks that she is heard out. "He showed me a letter . . " Angela, is stunned, "You are Angela Widgegarra?" Small world, small space. The room collapses around her as her head spins. "Yes . that's, that was, my name. Do you have the letter?" The woman denies ownership but leave her address. "Come visit, tomorrow. Come for tea and scones and meet the man whom I believe might be your son." She sits numb, excited, trepidacious there are no words for the emotions coursing through her veins.
"Peter what will I wear?" So frantic for this all to be true yet still cautious that it's mere chance. "Sweetheart wear the blue dress with the white collar,"
'I don't have . .oh you little shit, you have no idea what colour my clothes are", they laugh nervous laughter. "Do you want me to come with you?" he's willing but a first meeting with a disfigured stepfather might be a little too much. "It's up to you. Come if you want," he declines, this is a reunion for mother and son. Introductions to his new family can wait.
She walks along the Ridge road in her Sunday best. Ironically the dress is blue with a white collar. She has on her pretty hat, her best shoes. She smells sweet in 4711 and she's filled with trepidation and terrified of disappointment. Mrs Verity greets her at the homestead door and invites her in. The house is old and filled with antiques. It has that musty smell that takes her back to boarding school but the aroma of freshly cooked scones makes it more welcoming. "Please, Mrs Vale take a seat." She sits at the scrubbed wooden table, much like the one she'd prepared food on so many years ago and runs two fingers across it's surface, trembling with the memory. He walks in.
Dirty from the dairy and carrying an urn of cream, he flashes a cheeky smile. "Good afternoon ladies." . . She is breathless. His smile is like her father's. His face like her mother's. Tall, coffee coloured man, strong and confident and she resists the urge to leap from the table and hold him close. "Do you have the letter?" asks Mrs Verity. He carefully unravels its aged folds and offers it to Angela. Her teenage handwriting faded but definitely hers. "I think you are my mother." She stands as he approaches and wraps strong arms around her, "My son" is all she can say. His arms are all she feels. Her tears are all he cares about.
Written for The Tenth Daughter of Memory - River of Mnemosyne Challenge
Percocet and Pudding