Saturday, December 31, 2011

Give Way to Wings

Funerals are weird things, a gathering of friends lost and known, a connection between people. Robyn Allcott sits next to her sister, her brother on the left, his former coolness dissolving as they bid farewell to a mother much loved.  There's nothing more to achieve here. A life well lived if cut short. Each pondering the meaning of life, death, the universe and everything. Time's toll taken, yet in this moment standing still.

An  undertaker's rep rather than a preacher reads meaningless words from a meaningless book. She wasn't a religious woman. She tried but nothing suited from Baptist, to evangelical. She'd tried them all but Elizabeth Allcott had never found the spirituality she sought and her family wedged on the wooden pew knew it.  What universe was she entering? Brought up as Anglicans, children as Catholics through marriage, there'd never been a serious discourse on what kind of service they or their mother wanted. It was never discussed.  The droning of a stranger reading predetermined words from an idiotic book had parishioner's dozing and jolting to consciousness and feeling silly that they weren't taking these events in a more sombre view. A Clairvoyant had told Robyn's sister during a 'reading'. "You're mother is in a field of daffodils, tranquil and happy." Her sister had taken it as an omen.
Robyn however felt like she'd fallen down the rabbit hole. The one staple in her life, the glue to her family, the matriarch, no longer around, just wrapped within a wooden box. Funny and stupid at the same time. She's dying for the wake to begin so that she can have a drink.

Red eyed and consolatory, mourners shake hands, offer hugs and are asked back for sandwiches and champagne. The coffin slowly moves through the curtain destined for little more than incineration and ashes poured into a pretty urn.

"Be still dear heart," the voice is one she's heard since the moment of her mother's death. Four days have passed and she naturally imagines it's her head coping with a dire situation.  She never carries a watch and is eager to see the mourners leave this pathetic show of remorse. She asks Uncle Jack the time. He's a fob watch man and takes great pride in pulling the ancient timepiece from his vest, "4:30 my love, shall we go?"

Cars pull out, tears are wiped, the event most dreaded over. It crosses her mind that the birds she'd seen over the past few days were more portends. Her mother loved the colourful Lawries and Lorikeet's that rarely visited their garden yet had been there in profusion after the day she died.

Folks file in, food is laid on the table, glasses filled and dour soon turns to celebration of a life well lived until she sees it. There, beneath the Gardenia hedge, a flash of white; still, frightened, pathetic.

She's bored with the platitudes and expressions of sympathy, and the busy crowd don't notice her kneeling beneath the leafy tunnel to reach for the prize.

"Shit!" her voice still low, the thing's bitten her finger and it's throbbing like the time she jammed it in the kitchen cupboard, "Don't be like that . . " she whispers and clasps it firmly around its shoulders, retrieving its reluctant form, gently but with enough power to prevent its escape.

Each person there has a story to tell, a journey followed or forgotten. These people are little more than pin pricks on the map of her human heart. Some from overseas, some she barely knows, it's a welcome opportunity to escape. With her captive caressed between strong hands, she leaves them to their tea and marmalade; metaphorical of course, since they're all getting pissed on VB and cheap bubbly and devouring the sandwiches made with tears the night before. She slips away unnoticed and takes it into the kitchen.  Beats getting pissed to the point of falling over and she's done that a few times.

Her mother was her universe, her centre, the sensible soul in a life of regret and confusion and having these people invade at a time like this is an intrusion. Isolation right now is not just desired but necessary.

"I know you,"  the thing begins to talk. They often do but not in such an articulate manner. Thousands of tiny hairs raise on the back of her neck. The same way they did when her lover took a finger to her spine and traced it from nape to base. As if something dressed in ice had walked by her, leaving its frigid chill and exciting force behind. All of a sudden the kitchen became sub-arctic, a place of low latitude as she laid it gently, feet first on the kitchen bench. Then the warmth of Capricorn spun a wave over her . . it talks.

Its voice unlike any she'd ever heard, gentle and consoling, weird since the blood on her index finger is dripping from its bite.
"You bit me?"

"Sorry. You scared me a little.
" Its yellow crested head bobbing as if in some weird greeting. 

"Are you hurt? Hungry?"  she finds asking these questions of such a thing ludicrous, but this is a ludicrous situation.

"I'd kill for a sip of champers," his rather odd accent refined and beguiling. Pigs might fly but all she can see is rodents somersaulting, this is the weirdest thing. Just as winter is creeping into her soul, the loss of someone so close, so loved, this thing brings spring.

She wonders where her mother is now, not burning in some incinerator but has perhaps made a passage to something more significant. She looks at it . . strokes it  . . . feeds it . . God forbid, she begins to talk to it.  "I have fallen down the rabbit hole haven't I? Or gone completely mad?"

It has no ears, no paws, no whiskers just the feathers of an angel, the eyes of a devil and the voice of ambrosia, "Now then," it speaks, "Where shall we start?"

Her legs are wobbly as she closes the doors blocking its escape. This is a catch beyond a catch and she's feeling unbalanced but incredibly curious.

"What are you?"  It eyes its situation, head cocked, windows shut, sliding door shut, no escape through walls of glass or gyprock.

"We had something like you a couple of years back," she begins, "He came and stayed for a while, loved my dad, hated my mother, bit her finger and pulled her hair. Friendly, funny then he left, joined the others and now . . its like you're here again."

"Ah, not me my sweet, this is the first time I've visited you." His head cocks as he eyes the necklace she's wearing, a small golden key given to her by her mother for her 21st birthday.

"There is no light you know."  It volunteers.

Why she believes his revelation she isn't sure but had always hoped there was a light to walk towards and angel wings to enfold.

"What then, what is there? A hole, darkness?"

"It depends on who you are, where you've lived, what you've done. I think your mother is moving in the loveliest of gardens, each daffodil a soul to keep, a reminder of what was."

She's spinning as it talks, "Life's like a telescope," it continues, "We focus on the large and miss the minutia, everything exaggerated and magnified beyond appropriate proportions. We actually crave the simple, the small, but it takes death to make us realise. So few of the living focus on the small. It's like Alice, take the blue pill and all is huge, take the pink and all shrinks. It's perspective my sweet."

"Does it work for suicide?" she's feeling low. Life has little meaning since he left, since she left, since they left. "What if I do it, finally . .just end it"

"What about your kids? You'd leave a nasty stain with such a selfish act." 

She loves her children, grown as they are but they no longer need her like they did. She's sad, useless, ageing and wants escape, to wonder in a garden full of daffodils.  It's time to die, time to fly.

"You don't have to die you know," it postulates, matter-of factly as it struts across the granite bench, "You can metamorphosise. I did. I never fancied passing through, and was always afraid to fly, yet here I am, 250 years later, talking to a lonely girl in a far off land. If you follow the rules, it's easy."

This is stupid. This 'thing' on her kitchen bench having a conversation about the afterlife, offering hints on how to perpetuate the soul. But it's hard to disagree with a soul that lives, is free, does what she's always wanted to do, and opens an avenue of escape.

"If I do this, accept whatever proposition you're asking, what's the price. I mean there's always a price?"

She's lived long enough to know that life is not a cherry pie.

 "Nor Cherry tart or pineapple" he begins to chuckle, "I knew Lewis Caroll you know. Kept me in a cage for years until I finally talked to him like I'm talking to you, poor man fainted and left the cage door open . . I took my chance at liberation."

Her curiosity is overwhelming, the voices of revellers now beyond the dour mumblings of mourners as the wake becomes party and salt stings her eyes, she's ready for a new adventure.  "What do I have to do?"

He dips his head. "Don't go further, it's not all hearts and roses. Dinner and candlelight."  She's overcome with the sadness on such a face. She's leaning, two arms on the kitchen bench, hands splayed against the granite as he slowly climbs sideways along her left arm.  He leans into her face,"No point crying over spilled milk" 

She is crying and milk has long been spilled, "How, how do I do it?"

"An old man once gave me very good advice," his black eyes staring into hers, now stained and forlorn, "Be careful what you wish for .. .there's a fine line between achieving your dreams and losing your head."

"I'm over being the strength, the stalwart, the respectable, the honourable. I've given up so much, enjoyed so little . . "

The door bursts open, "What are you doing?" says her sister, "People are wondering where you are. Oh my god what's that?" The 'thing' on her shoulder bobs its head from side to side eyeing the stranger with suspicion.

"Lou, just leave it for now." Robyn begins to sweat, she doesn't want it to talk to her sister, this is a conversation for two and the interloper isn't welcome. 

"Fine, be like that, but people are wondering where you are!" 

It tip toes onto her shoulder, agitation in its voice, and whispers, "Get rid of her." 

Lou swishes through the door grabbing the width of her flowing skirt as she escapes, miffed and rebuffed, convinced her sister's lost all reasoning. The door is locked behind her.

She listens intently to its instructions which are simple and clear. It is a willing supplicant and she obliges. "I don't want to hurt you..." She's unsure, his suggestion suspends all belief.

"I'll be fine. To be born again, first we must die - just make it quick,"

She strokes him with a lover's touch before firm hands dispatch it with a twist of its neck leaving it lifeless on the black bench top. She feels stupid, angry, sad. What has she done? Killed an innocent thing due to voices in her head in a moment of grief and depression. Tears dampen perfect plumage as the room begins to spin.  A tunnel - that's how she'd describe it. A vortex emanating from the painting on the wall, clouded and dark, menacing. Not the ethereal walk into the light she'd imagined as she holds the tiny corpse to her breast.  The tunnel encroaches as a middle class kitchen gives way to tumbling and pain and fear. Her heart races, as she's sucked into its pull. Day gives way to night, the spiral consumes them both in deafening noise.  Her shoulders hurt. Legs shorten, face lengthens, fingers fail and toes freeze, bones creak and she shrinks. She's fallen through the looking glass with him still clasped to her breast. The spiral envelopes them both, retreats into the wall as she blacks out.

There are 50 of them raping the orange tree and dropping luscious fruit to the floor in favour of their seeds. She understands their squawks and banter. She loves their look, but none speak to her the way he did until . . .

She moves to feel her face, yet feathers now form fingers. She flexes and the yellow crest atop her skull widens. She speaks but her voice has changed. She knows it's happened. She is born again, the way he promised.

"We made it .. how do you feel my love?"  He's hanging upside down from the citrus branch in a comical yet athletic pose. A feathered trapeze artist, before releasing his grip and gliding to her feet. Black eyes meet black eyes, wings enfold. She's swears she's smiling if a bird can do so and she's never been happier.

A little whimsy...thanks Jeff.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Watchful Gaze of a Sheltering Sky


He stares at leathered hands, coarse and calloused.  Once steady now trembling with advanced age and the rigours of a disease that won't be cured. What a piece of work those hands. He'd held his sweetheart close and stroked her hair, their tender touch had felt her body. They'd lifted children onto the stockyard fence where he'd broken horses with a settling whisper and a gentle palm. They'd made whips and ropes, stitched leather with a craftsman's skill. They'd stroked from wither to flank along stifle and fetlock. Gloved they'd been wound in rope to bring down calves. They'd grasped a tankard close and helped to quench his parched mouth along the dusty trail. They'd blistered with the burn of a billy, taken too late from a campfire and bled too often through the carelessness of nail and hammer.

He's a weathered man in the outback, living a life he wouldn't trade for quids. No regrets.  The lure of fast paced cities never tempted him away from the slower state of rural life. A horse breaker, a steer roper, a builder, a farmer, a father and a husband. A simple man with simple needs and a love of the great outdoors. He's the only one left now. No hospice or palliative bed provides him comfort and the news received is fatal. It took all his strength to ride out here to make a stockman's choice. He needs the night air to clear his head. Focus on his task.

He gazes up at a blackened sky set twinkling by the Southern Cross' companions. Clear, wide, endless. Hands still shake, painful and weak as he unpacks his swag. His back cringes with each bend as he gathers tinder from ever vigilant eucalypt. Trees which so easily surrender their fuelling bounty. Amid the red dust he strikes a match and watches the pyre begin to catch. A slow glow that grows into a warming flame. A beacon of light and dancing gold before he surrenders to the dark.

He strokes the stock horse's muzzle and unhitches the bridle with the flick of a throat latch. The horse doesn't move as the bit is slid from a peach furred mouth. "Good lad," he coos and pats his equine companion on the shoulder. "Move on now...don't need you any more." The horse turns tail and wanders slowly into the night. Head low as if he knows this is goodbye.

The fire now crackling its explosive fuel creates a chimney trail. Orange stars reaching for those of silver as they blend into the night sky. Thin lips force a wry smile as he nods towards the stars as sparks fly upwards. He loves this place. The dirt, the trees, the billabongs few and far between. The constant chirp of crickets, the smell of red dust and smoke. It's been his life, he knows no other. It's here he needs to die, among the wallabies and bandicoots.  He unrolls his swag close to the fire and unlaces boots that have as much character as his sun-lined face. His trembling hands hold tight the gun and massage its barrel with kindness rather than fear. Resolution rather than trepidation.
A shot unheard, a man unmissed, a horse let loose. A good life, lived well. A death of his own choosing, free and final beneath the watchful gaze of a sheltering sky.

Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Smiling as the Sparks Fly Upwards"

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wasting Time

She wonders where the time went, this odd human construct designed around the rising and setting of a tiny star. "Jesus, can't remember what I did last week." she talks to her dog because those she loves are no longer living in her space. "Who came up with 365 days, and leap years, and peak hour and 24/7" She doesn't understand what time has to do with it. "Time, flexing like a whore, falls wanking to the floor..." David  Bowie had it right. For her however, time is running out.

She's lost all concept of time. Seventeen years old, a forgotten curfew and an open car door. Rather than wake her father up and face the inquisition, she sneaks into the Valiant and curls up on the back seat. To young to drink, but drunk. Too intelligent to smoke, but stoned. Embracing the cold leather and pulling a thin picnic blanket over her to retain warmth. He won't punish her but the lecture will be too much, and the night has been so much fun. So she sleeps, oblivious to the hour until the sun rises. The car becomes an oven, and she's slow-roasting before she leaves and raps on her sister's bedroom window to rouse a sleepy 9 year old from slumber. The reluctant sibling threatened to the point of unlocking the back door. Finally she sinks beneath the duvet. Just in the nick of time.

He was lovely. Attentive. Thinks her  exotic in her fancy dress harem girl's costume and funny accent. "When are we going to make love," he asks ad nauseum. She wanted to, but isn't on the pill, has a boy at home. Doesn't trust the horny Englishman.  Their timing is never right. They party, they pash they pet, but never actually 'do it' until the final rendezvous. Well-planned until, all goes pear shaped with the hurl of a pan and a relative's blackened eye  To this day she regrets having not fucked him the first time he asked.

"It's time we...." she knew what was coming and she wants to. He's, beautiful, brown eyed and long haired, surf tanned with a VW combi and a double bed.

"Yeh, " she agrees during a camping trip in the far west of NSW,

"Do you know what you're doing?" She says it meaning - "Do you know that this simple act is one of making love and of the utmost importance me?" He takes it as a literal caution and assures her he's wearing a condom. Not so romantic at all.

He leaves her shortly afterwards. Time has a place in that as well - two-timed and oblivious until his calls stop, his visits slow. The bastard doesn't have the courage to break it off while she watches the clock waiting for him to come. Oh he came... and went. She feels dirty knowing she's put her mouth around that which another woman also caresses. 

The clock ticks above the mantle. His parents in bed. Her in a red and white uniform, reeking of fried chicken from the casual job that feeds her urge to travel.  A thick, constant, rhythmic tick and a chime every 15 minutes as they sip Tia Maria through a thin layer of cream at 2am. His hands slide along her thighs, his lips tight against hers, the moisture in her body unbearable, the love in her heart fit to burst, the lust in her loins eager for his entry.

"Play Baker Street," she says. And he diligently obeys.

Not because they have a love of Jerry Rafferty but because it is the longest 'A' side LP available and allows them 35 minutes of lovemaking on the couch. The clock ticks and marks time.  The same clock that stops on the day he dies after nine years of marriage, happiness, children....snuffed out too soon. The silent clock still clinging to his parent's wall. No battery will revive it. A constant reminder that her great love is no longer.

Time has little bearing after that. School, children, work...punctuated by moments of fun, hilarity, affection, friends and then the quiet desperation with time passing too quickly, loneliness hovering too slowly.  Time covers like a damp blanket. Suffocating inspirational flames, as the hands on clocks spin wildly, the digital numbers flick and click and before she knows an empty house is echoing like a tin locker.

Then he comes along. Comfortable as an easy chair and persuades her.  She looks at the clock. It's 3pm, broad daylight and the risk of someone coming home, but it happens. Clumsy, quick, dispassionate. She's out of practice. It's been a long time between drinks for him. Still, she is fucked and he is beautiful. She's not for him, and he not for her. Just a fling because he's there. She regrets it even though she loves it. A moment of madness, more moments of madness before it's all swept beneath the bed.  She deludes herself into believing she's in love. He becomes distant because it was just a fuck.

"Meet me at 7, Gleebooks in Glebe Point Road..." She doesn't know him. She's met him online but he looks nice enough. Gives her his Facebook account, his mobile number. Tells her she's 'terribly pretty' and she falls for it. High hopes that it might work out this time. She stands outside in the pouring rain for half-an-hour before she musters the courage to call.

"Hey, It's Elly. You stood me up already?"

"Oh God no," he sounds like he's forgotten completely, "I came down earlier and the shop was shut, I thought you were a no show."

"I messaged to say I'd be a little late, the traffic was awful,"

"Five minutes.....I'll be right there."

"Hi... you look lovely, want a drink?"

So.. all is good until he runs out of time.  "Sorry, I have to go. Opening a shop next week but I'd like to keep in touch."

They walk down the street, he puts his arm around her, "Am I what you expected?"

She nods agreement.

No invitation is forthcoming, just a kiss on the cheek and, "It was great to meet you. Will you be alright walking to your car."

"See you on Facebook...." are her parting words. Her smile is sad and unrecognised as she pops her broken umbrella and walks another 100 metres to her car, "Well that's two more hours I'll never get back!" She holds back tears.

She arrives home, empty, jaded. The house quiet and dark, then reads the messages on her iPhone:

"Hey Mum, how was the date, did you have a good time?" Her son  wants to see her happy before her time runs out.

"You alright? Coming home?" Her friend's waited up on another continent to console her.

"I liked you, let's do it again"  The new man messages.

Perhaps it wasn't all a waste of time.

Written for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Under the Cover of Time"