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.
"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.
"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."
"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"
"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.
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.
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.
A little whimsy...thanks Jeff.