Sunday, February 13, 2011

For Trees Have No Tongues (Muse 9)

First Muse Part 1
First Muse Part 2
Deep Sleep, Deep Space, Deep Shit
Reluctant Titans Part 1
Reluctant Titans Part 2
Fuck Origami
Ein Plein Air Part 1
Ein Plein Air Part 2
A Faint Hint of Ambergris 
Space Illiad 
Threepenny Bet
 Gotta be Careful What You Wish For
Percocet and Pudding

No birds roost in her foliage, no animals crave her shelter. She is old. Her time is past and the encroaching rim of suburbia means a bulldozer may take her down before natural forces end her life. "No hope for it I'm afraid. Needs to come down. I'll give it five years but one of these days that branch will hit your carport." The 'Tree Doctor knows. The Wisteria has done its job and time has taken its toll. "Just a matter of weather before she falls."  Three hundred years of silent watch; murder, intrigue, love and loss.  Wisteria no longer blooms and dying boughs sink low enough to almost kiss the ground. She has no tongue but she has memory.

Nathan Sedgewick wheels an old blind sailor across the property upon which he once lived. Now leased and waiting for the developer's machines to clear and subdivide. Angela is gone and Peter is in third stage residency at Castle Glen. God's waiting room.

His adopted son brings him here every Sunday to sit in beneath the grey gum and to listen to the river and the birds. Time, to recall the memories. Peter's tired. Two strokes have rendered him useless but he still has a brain. "Hello old girl," he greets the tree, now almost devoid of leaves but wrapped in voracious wisteria clinging close. It's 1988. Nathan is married and living in the suburbs but shows great loyalty to the man he now considers his father.

"Son," the old man forces words, slovenly and difficult to pronounce, "If that tree could talk . ." He reflects. She's hung a man, witnessed a killing, sheltered lovers, reunited a family.  She's stood silent witness to the lives of eight generations and still stands where others have fallen.  A point of amazement for the wheel-chair bound old man. "Dad? Why do you hold onto this place. Why not sell, live somewhere more salubrious than Castle Glen, enjoy your last days?" The old Seaman looks hard into his adopted son's eyes. "Because this is your mother's country. Bidjigal lived here. Their handprints are on the stone. Their blood beneath the tree." 

Nathan doesn't understand. The land is prime and ripe for development but his father won't hand it over. Around 66, 700square metre blocks would net him a tidy profit. Clear the house and the trees and perhaps he could squeeze in another 2 blocks or more. The old man won't budge. "Dad, I could sell it tomorrow. The market's ripe. It's worth a fortune and you'd want for nothing." Nice guy as he is, Nathan's in a hurry for his inheritance.

"Nate," his father rasps, "if this old girl could talk, you'd understand why I love this place. I might be doomed to a life of painkillers and pudding but this is where my heart is. This is home.  Right here is where I feel at peace. Promise me something?" Nathan, used to the ramblings of an old man thinks 'yeah yeah, whatever'.  But Peter is insistent, "Nathan promise . . keep this. Keep this place, keep this tree.  It's heritage, country, history, hang onto it for you and yours."

In a white room, with nobody around Peter Vale takes his last breath. On a property just north of Windsor, a tree groans as lightening strikes and splits her into two.  The ghosts of the past are released. Gulgil dances, Crossan curses, his daughter sighs. The convict is free, the prospector smiles, the doctor laments, the sailor salutes as the grey gum falls hard and heavy and comes crashing down.

Here lies a hardwood corpse, an aged behemoth. Her memories freed. Her voice always silent, for trees have no tongues, just memories.



 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

For Trees Have No Tongues - (Muse 8)

First Muse Part 1
First Muse Part 2
Deep Sleep, Deep Space, Deep Shit
Reluctant Titans Part 1
Reluctant Titans Part 2
Fuck Origami
Ein Plein Air Part 1
Ein Plein Air Part 2
A Faint Hint of Ambergris 
Space Illiad 
Threepenny Bet
 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.
Angela

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

Continued at:
 Percocet and Pudding

For Trees Have No Tongues (Muse 7)

First Muse Part 1
First Muse Part 2
Deep Sleep, Deep Space, Deep Shit
Reluctant Titans Part 1
Reluctant Titans Part 2
Fuck Origami
Ein Plein Air Part 1
Ein Plein Air Part 2
A Faint Hint of Ambergris 
Space Illiad 
Threepenny Bet

Mahogany lines the hills while Rattan and Palm covet white sands. Languid and lazy casting shadows with loose fronds on sun kissed beaches. Ignorant in bliss beckoning the traveller to stay and bask under their dappled shade. Ignorant trees. Unaware of the flotilla and destruction across the blue break. They've stood tall through quake and eruption, survivors oblivious to the carnage beyond blue.



Kate is about to wave her favourite son farewell, his departure breaks her heart. "Mum, I'll be back honest . ." assures Peter Vale. His uncle now an aged guest of Her Majesty and his father cold in the grave. Kate hugs her son as banners wave and streamers ribbon from the side of HMAS Australia. "Mum I have to go . ." her tears now streaming wild and bloodshot eyes staring into those so eager for battle, "Darling, come home . ." she whispers into his stalwart neck, "Please come home . ." He reaches into his pocket, "I'll make  you a bet, I'll be home by Christmas." She feigns laughter through the tears and takes the threepence he offers for the wager, "Be careful my darling boy. Come home, safe and sound." He turns and doesn't look back for fear she'll see the doubt in his eyes. A meld of excitement and fear are causing water to well,

Peter Vale enlisted at 17 one year ago and now walks the plank aboard the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia bound to sort the Japanese at Leyte  in the Philippines. His mother doesn't know where he's headed. Her last born son is leaving and she is at wits end.

Fondly known as 'The Aussie' his heart can't wait to broach the heads and set to sea. Although his head acknowledges that the ship has a jaded past.  Commissioned in 1928 she was the second ship to bear the name of her country and had already sailed the Atlantic and fought in Dakar and Senegal. She'd been targeted by the Luftwaffe in Liverpool during the blitz, sailed the Indian Ocean in search of German raiders. "The odds are looking better" he thinks hoping the law of probability will mean safer travels into dangerous waters.

Oceans away as blossoms fall from the cherry trees,  Kaneshiro Shingen is prepped and willing for 'shimpu'. He doesn't want to die but Imperial orders dictate that if he cannot disable allied ships he must use his fighter as a bomb. His wife is weeping as he prepares. "Don't do this. I love and honour you. Your children need you."  A moment of doubt fleetingly shows upon his young face, "I do not yet want to die . . .but this is an important mission. I will do what I have to do to retain the honour of our family, our village, our nation. Don't weep for me woman. This is a splendid way to die." She kneels and weeps silent tears. He is a good man, loyal, loving but to her mind has a misguided allegiance to an Imperial force that is mistaken in its quest to rule the world. She is moving towards modernisation. She no longer dons the kimono but respects her husband on the outside, resents his fervour deep within. He wipes her tears and holds her close but there's no solace in his embrace. He is going to die and she will be left alone. Honour holds no purpose for her.

Pete's enjoying the ship-board life as they sail north along the Townsville coast and towards the Coral Sea. He's always liked condensed milk and there's plenty on board. Being a ship, the cold rooms are full of beef and lamb and the cooks aren't half bad at putting on some hearty tucker.  Then there's artillery training.  He's ready for this and the fear and excitement of actually seeing combat are playing see-saw with his stomach. He's not afraid but he is afraid.

The "Aussie" is one of a small Australian fleet taking part in a massive invasion preparing to land American troops at Leyte Gulf, in the Philippines, enabling General MacArthur to honour his promise made two years earlier to return to liberate the Philippines. The frigate HMAS Gascoyne and motor launch HDML1074 form the hydrographic survey group, plotting the approaches to the landing beaches and then the landing ships HMA Ships Kanimbla, Manoora and Westralia are among hundreds of transports and landing craft. The cruisers HMA Ships Australia and Shropshire, the latter having been transferred from the Royal Navy as a replacement for HMAS Canberra lost at Guadalcanal in August 1942, and destroyers HMA Arunta and Warramunga are part of the covering force.  As he stands on the deck surveying the waterscape, he's in awe. So many, SO MANY.

They will shell enemy positions on shore and protect the landing craft taking soldiers to their designated landing beaches in Leyte Gulf. Plans are afoot, strategies considered, seamen at the ready.  What they didn't expect was assault from the air.

Anchored just off a bombardment point, late in 1944, "Aussie" receives its first taste of a new weapon of warfare. Out of the blue skies of Leyte comes a 'Divine Wind" piloted by Kaneshiro

He prays, takes aim and flies the missile into the foremast of of the "Aussie"', spewing burning fuel and debris. The fuel fire explodes in hellish flames across the foredeck and the bridge begins to burn. Screaming men burning alive flee in all directions as others frantically tackle the fireball.  Peter is forward and cops the edge of the flac as the type 273 Radar lantern falls onto the compass platform, pinning his leg to the deck and dangerously close to licking fuel flames. Both high-angle directors and the director-control tower are put out of action, and the port strut of the foremast is broken. Able bodies fight the fire which is quickly brought under control. Thirty are now bent, burned and broken, 64 lie injured and begging, Peter lies motionless beneath the radar lantern, charred and twisted but alive, a 19 year old boy who looks like he's about to lose a bet.

The injured are hurried to the rec room where sick bay attendants work  furiously tending their burns and wounds and the dead prepared for burial. Thirty bodies have a 40 inch shells put between their legs for weight, then stitched into white canvas. Tomorrow they will be laid on top of a board in the shape of a table top and covered with an Australian flag.  After short words regaling their bravery and God given purpose,  they will slide into the depths. Food for sharks.

The campaign continues but the Kamikaze are sporadic. Peter is still comatose in the rec room, his toes are turning black and his burns weep while medics do what they can to keep him unconscious. Morphine doesn't stop the pain, it just confuses the mind. He doesn't think, he doesn't dream, he's just in a state of stupor. Stinging yet comfortably numb.

Raids resume and a kamikaze aircraft crashes and explodes not 30 metres from the side of the ship, blowing a hole in the hull. Flood waters wash in and cause a list. The fifth and last attack on the unlucky Australia  lops the top off the ship’s funnel. No casualties as another devotee of the rising sun forfeits his life but the "Aussie" can remain no longer and limps on to Espirito Sancto for repair, rest and relaxation. Vale has lost half his bet, he won't be home for Christmas and he won't be in one piece but he is alive.

He wakes in the open air hospital to the sound of harmonious hymns. For the first time in 2 months he feels OK. His head is clear, his wounds bandaged and less painful. He's been washed and is wearing someone else's pyjamas, he can tell because they're far too large. A nurse smelling of sweet frangipani and coconut oil adjusts the saline in his drip. "You come round fast young man. You looking good." She says and flashes a Melanesian smile that he cannot see. "Where am I?"  He hears the scrape of a chair being drawn as she sits beside his bed and takes his bandaged hand, "You're in Espirito Sancto, Port Vila . . this is the field hospital and you are looking very, very good." Why did she comment on his looks. Self doubt or paranoia, he hasn't even thought what's wrong. The last memory he has is the radar mirror pinning him on the deck and the freezing heat. Strange how burns feel cold before the heat sets in.

"Have you got a mirror?" he's suddenly aware that his face is wrapped and his arms are bandaged.  "Now young man,  you don't need a mirror just yet. You still need rest." She pats the bandaged hand, offers him some juice which his parched tongue relishes through a waxed straw then she retreats.

It's dark, crickets chirp and remind him of home. The air is warm and the breeze cool. He needs to pee and he's sick of the bottle and the bedpan. The ward is quiet and he raises himself into a dizzy sitting position, posing for a while, waiting to get his bearings and let the blood rush from his head. He swings his legs over the side of the cot and places his hands on his knees . . . his knee. "Fuck! Fuck . . Sister!  Fuck!" there's little more than a thigh stump where his right leg used to be although he swears he can feel his toes. "Fuck me, fuck me dead . ." he screams. "Why did you take my leg?"  She comes and calms him down, his fuzzy wuzzy Frangipani Angel. "There now Mr Vale, you're alive, you'll survive. I't's just a shock. We'll help you with your leg." He cries and he doesn't know why. He knows 30 comrades perished, he knows he's lucky to be alive but still the self-pity pours like typhoon rain and he is in the pits of despair. She takes his head against her bosom and holds him as if he were a child and rocks while he sobs. He hasn't yet seen his face.

"Right Mr Vale, time to change these dressings and let your skin see some fresh air, " says some pompous idiot posing as the medical officer at the infirmary. The bandages are unwrapped and there's a crisp sting across his eyes as the last gauze is removed. "Hmm, healing nicely but a little way to go. Can you see my finger?" He sees nothing. No light, no movement, just dark swirls and shadows as you do in that moment between closing your eyes and unconsciousness. "No, can't see anything. Nothing." This is just as well, because he can't see the disparaging looks on their faces. His eyes have literally melted shut. Scar tissue has formed and sealed the lids, he looks asleep and as if his face were made of butter and some cruel child has smeared a knife from temple to temple. He is horribly disfigured  but sweet lips have been saved and from his nose down, he has a beautiful face. "Mr Vale, you have been badly burned. You're healing well. Some fresh air will do you good but . . " He knows what's coming and after the hysterics about his leg, he's more relaxed about bad news. "I don't think you'll see again."

He doesn't see the palm trees or the Azure lagoon, he can't see the lush mountains or the smiles of locals. Once again aboard the 'Aussie' he is heading home.  He thinks of  the Kamikaze pilot. He was lucky, death was his choice, fortunate he was. He'll be hailed a hero. His family will be proud, they'll build monuments to his courage. Peter Vale returns an invalid not a hero.

Kate is waiting, this time no streamers and banners just her, as a precious boy limps down the gangplank, aided by a wooden crutch, trousers neatly tucked up one leg, led by a comrade, head down and sad, so, so, sad. "Pete, . ." He 'looks' at her but sees nothing. She looks at him and is grateful he can't see the expression on her face."Oh my darling. You're home, it'll be alright" There are no words. There is nothing to say as she embraces him with mother's arms and cries tears of regret.

Peter moves back into the maternal home and his mother becomes his nursemaid but this arrangement will not do. He is morose, depressed, won't go out. Spends hours listening to talking books on the gramophone and fondling the Threepenny bit. She gave it back for luck but he fears his luck has run out.

His sister Elaine visits often and brings the children in a hope it will cheer him up. It does not. He's realising that his 'impediment' as he calls it means he's destined for a life of loneliness. What woman will kiss that face, what hand will grace that stump.He's 20 years old and useless, ugly, alone.

She has an idea. "Peter, I have a friend, a good friend. Her husband was killed three years ago and she's alone. She's attractive, she has money and she'd be perfect for you". He cringes, "For fuck's sake, why would you want to set me up. She'll be disgusted. I can FEEL what I look like." She winces on his behalf but continues, "You don't look that bad. Your eyes are stuffed but seriously, you look alright. She's worked with people like you. She does rehabilitation, works with guys who've lost limbs or been disfigured, it's an everyday thing to her. Let me introduce you?"  He doesn't care but she's determined and Elaine on a mission is not to be trifled with. Angela is contacted and invited to dine at the Vale's. She comes not out of pity but because she herself is lonely and lacks the support of family. She knows what it's like to be ostracised, not part of the crowd. Angela is aboriginal in a very, very white world and the introduction to a blind man? Perhaps he will not judge. "I'll bet you that threepence you'll get on?" He smiles, reluctant but knows there's no dissuading a persistent sister  once she's on a mission.

Dinner is polite, Just family and a new friend.  Naughty children muck about under the table and solicit a flick with a tea towel. Ageing Kate is frazzled in the kitchen and he feels helpless in his armchair. Once seated, calm returns and deep in conversation the words flow. It's a good night. He likes her. She says little that's judgemental, helps cut up his food. Talks of programs for returned veterans and how he should join in a therapy class. She tells him she's from the country where it's wide and brown and hot but loves the city and its buzz and would love to live somewhere in between. He speaks of Vila and coconut crabs and mangoes, the latest books and the love of his gramophone that reads them to him every night. "I have a talking book you might like," she volunteers.

Within a week she's back the latest release tucked under her arm. "The Blood of Others" Simone de Beauvoir, "Peter it's not a talking book but I'd be happy to read it to you." He indulges her and she does. Each afternoon they sit on his bed, he reclining, her sitting on the edge as she reads. Her voice is calming, the story intriguing and he imagines how she looks. "Can I touch your face?" He stops her midstream and leans towards the warmth on the edge of the bed, "Yes of course." He takes two hands and gently uses thumbs to trace each eyebrow and lid, feeling tenderly across her cheekbones. He traces her nose with his index finger and then her lips, slightly parted. He uses open hands to form the shape of her face, her neck, her shoulders, her breasts. This is dangerous territory she knows but he is lovely.  As hands move from underarm to waist he can feel her body beneath his palms and smell the faint waft of perfume from her wrists. Tactile as he is, he can 'see' her. He moves towards her and she guides his face into a kiss, his hands into her groin and fate is sealed. Hands, mouths take over what eyes cannot see and within moments, the embrace is charged with lust.  He will be alright. She is good for him, she loves him, she doesn't care about his looks as she lowers herself upon him. He is grateful.

"Things will be difficult you know?" He doesn't understand why, "Peter, I'm Coori, Dharug no less. You're white. People will talk, this isn't a common thing." Her concerns are real within a nation that has a policy of genetic dilution, "My family aren't like yours we're not accepted. The only reason I have any credibility is because I help veterans but I'm still treated like a maid, a supplicant." The words hurt. With his new perspective he judges by smell and feel and sound and sense. He places value on personality since looks are irrelevant.  The visual has no importance. "I'll take care of you, I need someone to get me out of this rut. We'll be fine. Marry me." Again, he takes the threepence and gives it to a woman whom he loves. "I'll bet we live to be a ripe old age. Have a hundred kids and a house between the country and the city, everything will work out." She isn't so sure but her answer is irrefutably "Yes."

Kate is not phased by the unusual union. Quite contrarily she is pleased. As she scrounges among her husbands papers, locked safely and hidden until long after his death she finds them. Deeds to a small landholding in Windsor, 25 acres near the Hawkesbury with an old Settler's hut. Probably long gone by now but the land holding firmly in the family. "Something old. . " she sighs.

The service is small and he's wearing his dress uniform and for the first time in a long time, proud to have served. Fellow sailors form a guard of honour. She is stunning in white although he cannot see, he can feel the softness of the silk and the tickle of tulle when she brushes against him. He smells the scent of Chanel and hears the whisper in her voice as she says "I do." Hands are shaken, congratulations given. And for the first time, in a long time, he is happy.

Written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory - River of Mnemosyne Challenge
Continued ad;

Gotta be Careful What You Wish For

Thursday, February 10, 2011

For Trees Have No Tongues (Muse 6)

Plane tree's hand sized leaves flutter waving in the sunlight constrained by concrete beds lining rough slab pavements. Light and lush linings to a seedy street. Her boughs, bedrooms for parakeets who flock in carnal habitation while the lust of humans plays out below. They suck in carbon as the inebriates snort cocaine. As morning breaks, they're ready to breath light with the golden kiss of dawn. To flutter once again, flirtatious under sunlight's gaze.



He had a nasty mouth that curled in a perpetual sneer. He was flashy and ostentatious, clad always in the best of suitings, and the most iridescent of shirts and ties. He was just a dapper little braggart, but he wielded amazing influence over gunmen, burglars and pick-pockets. They elevated him to the stature of a demi-god. To an assorted crew of morons he became a hero, a legendary figure, an exemplar of all forms of criminal daring, the new lord of the underworld.

One who thought him a demi-god was Alexander Vale, the twin brother of Thomas, Jack and Kate's first born by five minutes. Always in a rush to enter the world, then in a rush to conquer it. The antitheses of his younger brother. Thomas was the gentler soul, a quiet man with purpose and dedication. Studious and serious with a sense of honour and respect.

"Chalk and cheese, those two," Kate would say as one played peacefully in the sand pit while the other sprayed the yard with imaginary bullets.

How one became involved in Melbourne's underworld and the other joined the force was anyone's guess. Thomas says it began with a girl.

Marleine Strouthos was beautiful. Petite with dark brown hair and a complexion that gave away her Greek heritage but Australian born and bred. Beautifully manicured and even in these hard times managed to look like something straight from an Anthony Hordern's catalogue.  In their late teens, both identical twins held some fascination for the flirtatious Marleine. They enjoyed playing tricks on her pretending that one was the other. Most times the deception worked until she became intimate with Thomas. He had a small strawberry mark on his thigh that only she'd explored with her hands and tongue.

One evening when such an escapade was in progress, she succumbed to the seduction of Alex, only realising at the point of no return that she'd been fondling the wrong twin.  Too late for turning back, Alex' mean streak took over and despite her protests, he'd slapped her hard on the side of the head and pressed her against the seat in the back of his father's Bugatti Type 38, before forcing himself inside her.  The hand over her mouth disguising all but horrified eyes as a supposed friend violated her body and made her whimper. The drive home was silent. Neither spoke until he pulled up outside her house. "Say nothing bitch, Tom'll kill me if he finds out and I'll kill you if you blab. You're mine, always were, always will be and don't forget it." Terrified, and aware that he was capable, Marleine nods in acquiescence and flees the car in tears. It's the last she sees of Alex for two years.  Yet each year on her birthday comes a card, "I want you back. Happy Birthday."

Sydney is growing up and while they make movies about gangsters in Hollywood,  Sydney's underbelly is more subtle.  Anyone can own a pistol in New South Wales, making it the weapon of choice for gangsters. A more silent dispatcher of undesirables became the cutthroat razor and the Razor Gangs begin to catch public imagination as they slash their way to power in an attempt to break the lucrative vice market. Prostitution becomes controlled and Kings Cross is the hub. One small area, so much crime. Cocaine in particular is the drug of choice and profit.  Harry Newman was at the top of the corruption pyramid, the demi-god invisible with an armada of eager thugs to ply his dirty trade. Importing 'snow' at £1 a packet and selling it for £50, using a stall at Paddy's Markets where he sold gramophone records as a front. In these times possession of cocaine is not an offence and Police are powerless to act unless they actually catch him selling. He never touches cocaine, just pushes it on others.

Alex being fond of the ladies of the night was a regular visitor to the Grand Hotel, a well known cover for the women of the night. It was here he met Newman. Whilst standing at the bar, he'd ended up in a stoush with another man and drawn a razor. The vanquished left shivering with a nice gash across his cheek and Newman invited Alex over for a congratulatory drink. "Alex Vale" the handsome stranger introduced himself. "Well Mr Vale, I could do with a few men like you, unafraid to defend themselves." The two proceeded to get drunk and talk of profit and potential, how to get rich quick and the rest as they say, is 'history'. Alex soon found himself driving a flash Dodge with a police tuned radio and became Newman's front man, warning of impending raids on the lucrative dealership.

Tom took the noble path and joined the NSW Police. He married Marleine who never spoke of the rape. They were happy, comfortable, three nippers at their heals and a nice house in Bondi, life was good. Until Newman who's ability to evade arrest was legendary. The Force had been briefed and an ambush organised although their intelligence was weak. This day, a shipment had been received and at Woolloomoollo Wharf, ferried by an immigrant boat and passed on by a mule.

Customs were told to let it through. Newman's ostentatious car not hard to spot in the tight backstreets had been seen picking up the loot.  Tom is assigned to wait and apprehend Newman as he leaves. He sits patiently on the corner of William Street. As the Dodge rounds the corner, he lunges at the door and forces himself inside. Fast and surprising. But it wasn't Newman in the driver's seat, it was Alex, the evidence neatly packed in a shopping bag at his feet. "Alex what the fuck?" Time to pull over. "Tom, turn around, turn a blind eye. You didn't see anything. You bust me and they'll come for you, Marleine the kids . . they'll kill  you all! Fuck off let me go."  Tom know that look in his brother's eyes, menacing and serious, a look that says, 'I'll kill them myself if I have to'. A look that takes him back to the time when Alex tortured a rabbit with a pocket knife for the sheer joy of making it suffer while he himself had sat there crying and pleading for him to let the screaming feral go. He knows what Alex is capable of. "Duck down Plunkett, they're waiting further up and for Christ's sake, get rid of this shit. You stand out like a sore thumb and they'll be down on you like a ton of bricks once you turn the corner."   Alex mindful of his brother's advice hurls the shopping back into a back alley, he'll retrieve it later. Tom leaves the car as a snide and victorious smile leaves Alex' lips. Back-up apprehend the twin but there's no evidence and the smooth-talking, sweet-lipped Alex is left free to leave. Newman's given them the slip once again.

Relaxing in their sitting room, Marleine and Tom are listening to the radio, things are getting tough around the world as depression sinks in and there's trouble in the north as Germany rises against. They agree, they're lucky to live where they do, far from the madness although times are tough, life is good to them. Food in their bellies, a roof over their house and three lovely children, all tucked tight and sleeping. The peace is shattered by a brick which smashes the front window a dangerous projectile delivering a threatening note. "I want her back" says the note, "Deliver her to 85 Bayswater Road or I'll come and get her," clearly in Alex' hand. "What does it mean, 'I want her back' who?" says Tom. Marleine knows better. She'd lived with the black shadow, the sword of Damocles above her head and knew he'd never let her go. "He wants me," she says, dipping her head in guilty shame, "Why?" Tom's naivety making him all the more charming. "Tom, remember when you used to make fun and date me. pretending you were each other?" He sits, he's worried. "Well I never ever did anything with Alex. Except one time. I thought it was you. We were in the back of the car and, well one thing led to another and then I noticed there wasn't a birthmark . . " Tom is turning pale, feeling nauseous. "As soon as I realised I stopped but he didn't. He swore if I told, he'd kill me. I thought this was all over. I thought he'd gone away I thought . . ." she can't suppress the hysterics and Tom can't suppress the numbness of disbelief. Then rage . .finally . .one thing the twins have in common.

Nothing happens. Nothing. Life goes on after the brick incident. Kids are scurried to school, the banality of housework is completed. Tom heads off for three weeks rotation, days, evenings nights. All seems well until . . .

A two-toned Dodge follows Marleine as she walks along the Beachfront on Campbell Parade and turns left up Wellington to pick the children up from school. It's a familiar walk to the driver who's been shadowing her for weeks.  She's looking fresh and pretty in a floral dress, tanned arms, slender legs, new shoes. She looks much as she did 10 years ago when he took advantage of his twindom.  The dodge crawls to a slow but she doesn't notice. The sun is shining in all it's glory, one day before it will be darkened by the moon's shadow. So . . . slow, so . . quiet. She doesn't hear the back door open, nor the body of the man behind who puts an ether stained cloth to her mouth and drags her once more unwillingly into the back seat.

"Mr Vale? Your children are still at school, nobody came to pick them up." says the voice on the end of the phone. Officer Vale's face drains. She always meets them at the gate, always. "I'll be right there." Feigning his professional voice, he makes apologies for leaving early and takes a police car to pick up the kids. "What happened? Where's your mum?" Puzzled faces of  Elaine, George and Peter stare blankly, "She didn't come". A feeling of foreboding and an almost instinctive knowledge of why, swells over Tom like a king tide.

He's a religious man and before making any hasty decision he takes pause. What he's about to do could cost his life, her life, the lives of countless others but it has to be done and he needs the blessing of the Gods, or more particularly one God. He walks purposefully, uniformed and resolute into St Mary's Cathedral. It's quiet in the late afternoon. He kneels before the Blessed Virgin and thinks how her image reminds him of his beloved Marleine. He looks sideways at the body of Christ and in a dark moment sees his twin crucified and speared, suffering for his abduction. He prays to a God he is beginning to doubt.

As she comes round, Marleine knows not where she is, but knows exactly who her abductor is.  In the back bar of the Grand,  she's tied to a chair, hands and feet bound and mouth gagged. A flotilla of well dressed pin stripes smoking and drinking, some gathered around a table, wads of cash exchanged for chips. None pay her attention - except one. Alex moves in close, breath reeking of booze and cigar. He brushes her face with the cigar hand and she feels it's heat near her eye.  She winces in a poor attempt to avoid contact. "Hello baby. . I told you and I warned him . . . I want you back." She has the same stare as that night which terrifies her but clearly excites him, even in the smokey room he struggles to control the urge to once more have her, anywhere, anyway.

April 22 in1922 and the Gods interfere. A total eclipse darkens the already dim room. What sunlight danced on dust through each window fades and the room is swathed in black. Within moments, there are screams. The ladies of the night used to fleeing during raids are frozen.  An army of blue suits surround the bar. They're heavily armed as are their adversaries but at this point mutual respect or fear of death or the dark hold them at bay. Tom emerges. "Alex! . . " No one comes forward, nobody moves against the battalion of police, "Alex! . . .Bring her out. Now! Bring her out and we walk away. Refuse and Newman's Empire is dust. Bring her out, no retribution, no punishment. Just bring her the fuck out."

The backroom stirs, quiet but purposeful as arms are loaded, switchblades unfurled. Pin stripes load. Alex, knowing of the danger releases Marleine. "You fucking bastard, you prick!" a swift swipe shuts her up and she cowers against the wall. Inching towards the door. This is going to be a bloodbath. She ducks and covers and waits.

The pin stripes burst through the two-way mirrored door, guns blazing and eradicating anyone in their wake. Flashes fill the void. Prostitutes fall like felled trees, innocent punters hit the floor to avoid the spray. Police open fire and the exchange is cartoon-like as each side faces off and cuts each other down. The thrash of mutilation, crash of glass, the unmistakable ping of projectiles cutting through smokey air and the occasional thud as they pierce their victim's skin.  The walls are alive with splatter, the floor crawling with damage, the bar mirror shattered and the cacophony unbearable. Until there are two left.

"Fuck you, fuck you to hell you bastard" Tom is inconsolable as he peruses the carnage in new post eclipse light,"I just wanted my wife back. I turned a blind eye to the drugs, the prostitution, the killings . . I just wanted her back." He sinks in tears, sure that she's dead. "Tom. You were always the weak one. The soft one. You don't get anywhere that way. Look at me, look at me! I get what I want. Women, booze, a table in an nice restaurant. I get respect because I instill fear. You're soft. You don't deserve her . ." He cocks the pistol previously hidden in his jacket pocket and the sound of the last gunfire reverberates through the room.

He kicks the body of his twin and smirks disrespect. Once a child, a sweet suckling thing has turned monster. How it happened he doesn't know but blood lies bleeding on the floor. They're all dead. Every damn one of them. Except her. She creeps quivering and quaking, teared with panda eyes and dishevelled hair. Rope still tied to her fragile wrists, "Shit Tom . . . is it over?"

He walks to her and embraces her. Squeezes her tight and kisses the top of her head. "Darling it's fine. Everything will be alright . . I have you back."

It hits the newspapers as the greatest gangland bust up in history. A Trojan war where nobody won. A fight over a woman, misguided and misplaced, brother against brother, friend against friend. A pyhrric victory that bit at the Achilles heels of gangland Sydney.

She and he are now at peace. The children sleep upstairs in the safety of their Bondi home. She lies in erotic anticipation on their bed, silk nightgown pushed gently upward by his loving hands. She turns expectant of sweet sex and a lover's sensual touch, until she sees his thigh . . .

Written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory - River of Mnemosyne Challenge
Continued at:
Threepenny Bet

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

For Trees Have No Tongues (Muse 5)

First Muse Part 1
First Muse Part 2
Deep Sleep, Deep Space, Deep Shit
Reluctant Titans Part 1
Reluctant Titans Part 2
Fuck Origami
Ein Plein Air Part 1
Ein Plein Air Part 2
A Faint Hint of Ambergris

Santalum spicatum, sweet sandalwood’s scent begins to fade. Diseased, her loose leaves curl and fruit falls far from the tree. Her fragile limbs in synchronicity with the pain below, she weeps and silent lips tell a tale of woe. Surrounded by black death Banksia waits for the liberation of fire in need  of Hellish heat to fertilise hungry seed. Heath and herb, long used by Aborigines to cure, lie now as view for modern medicine will cure their ills, nature's apothecary neglected.



Bedraggled and befuddled they are ushered into the North Head Quarantine Station, usually the preserve of immigrants suffering Small Pox or Spanish Flu but these aren't immigrants.  First their clothes, removed and steamed in carbolic whilst the now naked wearers are showered in light acid and segregated. Some already show the tell tale sores and pustules of Bubonic Plague, others in close habitation during the breakout are quarantined just in the event of infection.

The view is fantastic, the harbour sprawling from North Head across to South, dotted with boats and activity. The landscape scattered with wind swept Tea Tree and scrub, fresh air, fresh winds, fresh dressings.  It is a good place to die, a good place to recover. This will be home for the rag-tag citizens who chose to come for treatment rather than stay prisoner at home from Millers Point east to George Street, along Argyle, Upper Fort, and Essex Streets then south to Chippendale, covering the area between Darling Harbour and Kent Streets, west to Cowper Street, Glebe, along City Road to the area bounded by Abercrombie, Ivy, Cleveland Streets, and the railway.   As the foreshore is cleansed of poisonous rats, residents sick and well disinfect burn and demolish. Chloride of lime, carbolic and water, sulphuric acid replace the masking perfumes of the past.  Rat catchers make a killing, metaphorically and in fact.

Jack Vale has the pragmatic sensibility of his mother and the adventurous spirit of his father. He is nothing like his benefactor Jonathon Vale, save the cut of his jib and his height. His mother, now almost 70 is still at Richmond, long after Vale’s death and he is unaware that he is Cartwright’s son. That secret went with his birth father, to the grave.

Determined to be his ‘own’ man, Jack has completed his medical Studies at the Sydney Hospital, the colony’s first yet still impressive infirmary, now extended with the most recent wing opened less than a decade ago in 1896. He loves medicine. He loves alchemy and chemistry. He loves working with new technologies. He’s excited at the prospect of a blood transfusion saving lives. He’s enthralled by Mendel’s work with heredity and genetics. He’s particularly interested in the work of Pasteur and the science of immunity, a field that put him on the front line as Assistant Medical Officer at the Quarantine station on North Head. A curiosity that did not prepare him for the things he was to witness.

Here 'inmates' are segregated, those showing symptoms isolated and the balance accommodated in makeshift dorms.  Despite growing scepticism, his charges still use perfumed oils and aromatics as remedies and the faint hint of ambergris can be perceived wafting amid the smoke of burning clothes. One 'patient' even carries a ball of the rare stuff in his pocket believing it will prevent disease. Jack is a man of science, administering SmallPox vaccines and preferring quarantine. Forty days will tell the difference between death and recovery.

The Q Station has been open since the mid 1800's and many immigrants have been granted quarter there to heal or die before being admitted to the colony. Talk of ghosts and strange goings on are frequent among it's inhabitants. The complex houses a labyrinth of accommodation first, second and third class. Even an Asian quarter for the Chinese disembarking from the orient. There are two infirmaries, the shower block and fumigation room, dining quarters and of course a mortuary and a graveyard. There is the Dutch girl with the plaits who grabs a hand or waves goodbye. The Chinaman with the long plat and silk gown who promenades along the Asian quarter deck. There's the woman in her nightgown who plays the flute on the infirmary verandah and the Post Master's house where strange orbs can be seen at night. Of course, he believes none of it. Silly superstition and the result of delirium.

It's whilst making his rounds one evening in what's referred to the 'dying room' where patients with little hope are made as comfortable as they can be, he sees her. She is efficiently folding hospital corners around a bed who's inhabitant has just passed. Pale and almost translucent. She wears no veil but the tell-tale red cross upon her apron marks her as a nurse. Sleeping patients oblivious to her presence, she tucks and tightens with alacrity. "Sister?" he calls but she scurries attentively about her work, ignoring him completely.  He is a Doctor and not used to being ignored. Moving closer from the ward doorway half-way into the room, he sees her clearly as a hurricane lamp will allow, shadowy and staccatoed against it's flickering light. "Sister!" he insists, the light extinguishes and she is gone. He's a man of science and the comprehension of what he's just seen escapes him. He shakes off his suspicions and acknowledges that he's tired, very tired. He's been working double shifts for two weeks now and must be hallucinating. Over 300 patients, some with plague, most with  Spanish Influenza. He feels his own pulse and brow and wonders if he's coming down with an affliction. He continues his inspection and retires.

As cleansing, quarantine and sustenance do their work, he tends his patients, studies their pathology, writes papers for the Medical Gazette.  Evenings spent pouring over his research papers and manuscript until one night, the flame begins to fade. He rises to replenish the lamp oil and sees her once again. Just a glimpse through the infirmary window. She too is holding up a lamp, her face illuminated as she gazes directly into his darkened quarters. This apparition so intent on being seen disappears the moment that she is. The following night the same and so he follows.

He is a man of science and sure this is a practical joke. The infirmary door is open about six inches ajar and he sees her walking the length of the room, hurricane lamp slowly swinging, the noxious fumes of the room assaulting his olfactory. She stops at the foot of the fifth bed on the left. Stands still and silent in the low throws of light and removes her mask then fades, flickering and fast. He forces the door and hastens to the bed, the patient alive, just moments ago, is now dead. Again, his scientific mind in a whirl, he retreats to the safety of his quarters and ponders the phenomenon in disbelief. No, he had definitely seen a ghost.

Late upon the following afternoon, after an arduous shift of care and cleanliness he peruses the small library of books and records.  His hands sore and red, with acid wash, sift through each with care, in search of the mysterious nurse. Logs of previous inmates, stories of previous staff. The records are complete but so many since its opening. Then, amid a series of old sepia photographs he recognises her. She's standing proud with other staff in full regalia, cape, veil and the red-crossed apron.  Hurricane lamp in hand. The Matron, the one and the same, she who walks the dying room and helps souls to their rest or pushes them beyond the brink of life. He is not sure.

"She was my mother. . " Jack  jumps out of his skin! His chair and three precariously balanced books accompany a splay of photographs as they cascade onto the wooden boards. He thought he was alone. "She died six years ago of influenza after nursing patients." He turns and is relieved that the source of confession is a young woman. She's in her 20's, sweet soft voice, kind brown eyes, slim waist, simply dressed and carrying an unlit lamp,  "I'm sorry? " is the only phrase Jack can muster as he begins to 'collect' himself. "Why is she still here? Forgive me, I'm being rude. I'm Dr. Jack Vale, Assistant Medical Officer." He's embarrassed at his clumsiness and brushes himself off. She extends a hand, covering a girlish giggle with the other and introduces herself as Katherine Morton, daughter of Matron Mary Morton who after being quarantined herself took on the vocation of nurse at the station. "I've never seen the apparition," she says with a little sadness, "Others tell me about it but no matter how I try, I've never seen her. I'd like to. She was a good mother, a little preoccupied with her position but kind, caring and a good provider. She raised me alone after my father went to sea. No mean feat for a woman alone."


"I was born here," she continues unsolicited, "Right here in the Quarantine Station! I only lived here a few years before we moved down the hill to Manly. My mother was always concerned that my playing with detainees would affect my health, and of course I was never allowed in the infectious zone." He thought her something of a medical miracle to have survived even the remotest contact with contagion. "Ah, hardy stock then" he joked, still feeling a little jittery and flushing and Immediately regretting the assumption for she was delicate and feminine.  He enquired as to why she was there at the moment amid an outbreak of the plague. "I came of my own volition after suffering a fever, I thought I had the disease but subsequent investigation has found me suffering little more than a cold and I'm to be discharged tomorrow." Jack is relieved. She's very attractive and after working amid the pustules and sores of the afflicted, not to mention nights tormented by an apparition, he too is due for a sabbatical once his medical is clear and his carbolic shower completed.  This is the end of his stint at the station and meeting Kate is serendipitous. "Perhaps we could meet on the outside?" he asks, "Indeed," she replies and hands him her card.

As she leaves him to his thoughts, and to tidy the cluster of books and photographs, he glances over to the infirmary and sees her face. Matron is at the infirmary window, lamp lit and she's smiling. At least someone approves of his intentions.

Posted for Tenth Daughter of Memory - River of Mnemosyne Challenge
Continued at:
Space Illiad 

Monday, February 7, 2011

For Trees Have No Tongues (Muse 4) (Part 2 of 2)

First Muse Part 1
First Muse Part 2
Deep Sleep, Deep Space, Deep Shit
Reluctant Titans Part 1
Reluctant Titans Part 2
Fuck Origami
Ein Plein Air Part 1
Ein Plein Air Part 2

What magic wends its way beneath dew-dropped whispering oaks. Their sighs sing soft to lover's strokes. Dew-dropped as they mirror lustful perspiration on pale skin. Pliant and serene, they sing a sweet arboreal serenade.

He's on the porch in early morning light drawing the tree where a young man once was hanged, unaware of its significance but enamoured, ironically by the beauty of strangling Wisteria around its trunk. Lilac flowers hang heavy like ripened grapes. He hears someone approach. A sulky. A single horse and lone driver, kicking up dust. He rises to his feet and his heart gives way to joy, then disappointment as he notes a mature man, someone he's never met, draw to a halt at his front gate.

"Mr Cartwright?" the man is tall and greying. Well turned out and oozing new money. The horse is petite and well bred, the sulky gleaming and new. "Er yes Sir, and you are?" The stranger begs his pardon and asks if he might present a proposition to Cartwright and introductions are made. "I'm Jonathon Vale. I live in Richmond and pretty well known in these parts. I breed driving horses and raise sheep in the Kurrajong Valley". The men shake hands and Jeremy invites him to sit. "This might seem a little odd but I have a proposition for you." Jeremy is intrigued and begs him to continue.

"You  recently travelled on the Cobb and Co coach from Bathurst and struck up a bit of a friendship with my wife, Eliza." Jeremy maintains composure while within his chest his heart races at the mention of her name and sinks with the dismay that she is taken. He had no idea his companion was married and now feels guilt for the lust he'd felt. Why she had not contacted him now becomes clearer. "Your wife? Well yes, we did strike a few conversations on the road." The grey man continues, "My wife was taken with you. She about you and the trip quite often. She liked your gentleness, your companionship and your talent as an artist. And you've probably already noticed, she's much younger than me and has," he pauses to think of the right word 'er needs.' Jeremy is perplexed and confused about where this conversation is going. "Mr Cartwright, I'm a wealthy man. I have considerable holdings and have amassed a considerable fortune but I have no famil, no heir. Eliza wants for nothing except . . " he tries to discreetly mouth the words, " she needs more intimacy than I can give her and frankly, I need a child." Jeremy now feels that this is far too much information from a man he's never met and tries to interrupt. Vale is persistent and commanding as he continues his conversation, "the crux of the issue is that I'd like you to seduce my wife. I'll pay you two thousand pounds." This time Jeremy does interrupt, "Vale, I . . " The volume of his voice drowned by the forceful presentation of his visitor.

"Please! Hear me out." Vale continues. "She's aware that I've come to see you today. We've spoken long and hard about this but there's codicil to this agreement. She mustn't know that you're being paid, nor must she know that you will disappear once she's pregnant.  I'm willing to let her take a lover, I'm willing to let her have another man's child and I'll call it my own but I can't allow the relationship to continue once she's conceived. Do you understand? If you accept my offer, you have to disappear and never contact her again.  Take your time with your affair but depart once she returns to me.  I'm asikng you to take Eliza as a lover, get her pregnant, treat here well, give her the things she wants and me the heir I need and then vanish."

Jeremy is speechless, all this swimming in his head and waiting for the catch.  "But Vale . ." Jeremy is once again cut down. "I don't want to talk about this any more, it's painful thinking about Eliza with another man but I've worked too hard, built too much to get where I am just to let it to fall through my fingers and into the hands of Government or Squatters.  Besides, she's young and in need more than I can offer in the bedroom.  Take it! Take the money!" He places a wad of notes on the rough table. "Do we have a deal?". Jeremy is fazed. He's long dreamed of a liaison with Eliza but had never imagined it would be under such circumstances.. A wanderer at heart, he thinks about the implications of leaving Maeve's farm. Caretakers are available, the money would allow him to travel and he has the opportunity to bed the woman of his dreams. Is this the time for morals ans scruples? It appears not. He counts the cash. "We have a deal Mr Vale." Solemnly Vale shakes Jeremy's hand but makes no eye contact. He is clearly perturbed by his own suggestion and withdraws politely, leaving an elated, and slightly bewildered potential lover in his wake.

Jeremy trails towards the sandy bank of the Colo River, guided by Vale's map.  Sure enough, she is there. He's come prepared canvas and easel in hand and a small folding stool. She hears his footfall and turns from her easel, "Jeremy?" He smiles and removes his cap, "Eliza, Vale told me you'd be here. Can I join you?" She asks that they don't mention Jonathon, these times should be for them, as far as she's concerned she will take a lover and has no knowledge of the plan for his departure once she conceives.  Reintroduced, they sit, painting the she-oaks on the bank which form stark green contrast to the layered hues of golden sandstone. The filigree trees whisper their sweet seduction. "I was hoping to have seen you before now," he says, "I gave you my address, why didn't you contact me earlier?" Eliza turns. "Do you know what it's like to be married all these years and never feel the touch of your lover?" Not quite the response he had expected, Jeremy feels a pang for her as her tears well.  He's sure she cares about Vale and actually fulfilling his obligation to both Eliza and her desperate husband is not going to be easy given his own enamour. "No, I'm sorry Eliza, I can't imagine," and he brushes an errant curl from her brow. She smiles and kisses his cheek. The seduction begins but it will take time.

Hand in hand they walk along the shallows, shoes in hand and wade carelessly in the clear waters of the stream.  "Have you ever had your portrait painted?" he asks on one of these riverside walks. She replies in the negative and he expresses an urge to try, "I'd like to paint you, out here in the open," She looks down at her soaked feet and agrees. The sun is warm, the spot secluded. She rests relaxed against the trunk of a tree so gnarled it's branches reach perpendicular over the shallows. "Here?" She asks. He positions her in a pose he likes and gently tugs the neckline of her dress revealing alabaster shoulders which immediately turn him on.  Although the word's are unspoken she knows he wants more flesh revealed and twists to give him access to the buttons on her bodice. Her provocation is unexpected but he's prepared and slides the bodice to her waist. She doesn't resist. His fingers glide over both shoulders then breasts, thumbs massage her nipples as she throws back her head exposing a delicious throat. Lips find neck and then tongues as she unbuttons his shirt. He is no longer in control as she forces him to lay into the grass and lifts her skirt straddling his hips without letting him enter. Thighs bared he's losing control and more than likes it. She runs her tongue across his chest, arms reaching up to massage his shoulders and he is powerless to stop her.  The trees have no tongues but they see all as two bodies combine.  Like Crossan's daughter in the orchard, she is receptive as a ripened peach and allows him in. Sweetly but with purpose there's an urgency to her needs. Hands guided by each other, tender yet knowing in their purpose, the scene plays out to the point of exhaustion and both are replete.  Not wanting to move, she folds onto his chest, wild locks splayed loose across his skin.

There are other encounters over ensuing weeks. Some mechanical and contrived, others romantic and unforced but he is always aware that her motive is not love and guards his feelings. But not enough. He is smitten and wants her more than he's wanted any woman. He watches her sleep beside him, the curve from shoulder to hip invisibly traced with wanton eyes. Her breathing slow and steady in the half light of dawn. He wants to keep her, always. She rolls at the touch of his breath and opens sleepy eyes. His hand strokes from sternum to her now slightly swollen belly. "Eliza, stay . . I have money, I have property and now I have a child on the way. Fuck Vale, stay with me."  She props herself up on her elbows, shameless in her nudity and her expression begins to change. "Jeremy you knew this couldn't go on. You knew this was a happy arrangement. He's my husband, my benefactor, my mentor. He's everything to me. I love you but I'm not 'in love' with you. I have to go back, I want to go back, I need to go back." She begins to talk of how he'll find someone else and get over her . . .the room spins and he is rendered momentarily deaf.

Words he knows to be true slice mercilessly through his soul. He's been kidding himself for weeks but hearing the words spoken hits like shook lightening. Flowers fade before his eyes and the welcoming room becomes a cage. He throws back the covers, dresses hurriedly and walks into the crisp morning air to clear his head. He finds himself beside the Wisteria covered tree and feels just as suffocated by her pragmatism. He didn't expect to feel this way.

By the time he returns, she's gone.

Archie Moore is a henchman, there's no other word for his thuggery and dirty deeds are done cheap and with the relish of a madman. Vale doesn't associate with his kind unless he needs a 'favour'. He's been handy in a stoush and does Vale's bidding on occasion. Rich men are targets. Rich men in a rough colony must be ruthless. It's dog-eat-dog and every man for himself. The cliches he often regurgitates to justify sometimes spurious methods in order to get his way. Vale never wanted to sully his own hands eliminating competition or undesirable attention. Moore is summoned and given instructions.

Eliza has returned to Vale who's overjoyed at the news of her pregnancy but livid that Cartright even tried to whisk her away. Her loyalty remains with Vale. The man who rescued her, assured her of a good life and a secure future. A man who has clout and influence and can see her, a scullery maid, become part of 'civilised society'. He never doubted her. Had he, the arrangement would never have been proffered but he doesn't want Cartwright hanging around like a love sick puppy. He's taken the money and needs to be persuaded to leave. And fast.

Moore finds Jeremy, rum-soaked and lamentable sitting on his porch, slumped and grimy, he hasn't shaven or bathed for days.  "Mr Cartwright?" The sorry soul looks up from his bottle but says not a word. "You had an arrangement Sir. You are to leave now that Mrs Vale has returned to her husband. I'm here to make sure it is so." Unfazed by the appearance of the thug, he takes another swig and hurls an insult. "Now now Mr Cartwright, no need for language. On your feet Sir. Saddle your horse and be on your way." Jeremy's expression darkens as he rises to his feet and hurls the half empty bottle which connects with Moore's cheek. The thug wipes the sting from his face and lunges at the inebriated soul, slamming a fist into the side of his neck and hurling him across the verandah. Furious as the bruise begins to form he is relentless. Jeremy tries to rise but fist after fist is brought down like the hammer of Thor upon his face. He is beaten to a pulp, unrecognisable. "There now Mr Cartwright. Perhaps now you'll saddle up and be on your way." Jeremy doesn't answer, blood fills his head and leeches from his ears and nose. Moore has done a number and he'll not see the light of day again. Crossan's farm claims another innocent as the purple blooms of Wisteria weep and fall, sad violet confetti blankets blades of green beneath the slowly strangling gum.

Written for The Tenth Daughter of Memory - River of Mnemosyne Challenge
Continued at:
A Faint Hint of Ambergris 

For Trees Have No Tongues (Muse 4) (Part 1 of 2)

First Muse Part 1
First Muse Part 2
Deep Sleep, Deep Space, Deep Shit
Reluctant Titans Part 1
Reluctant Titans Part 2
Fuck Origami
Ein Plein Air Part 1
Ein Plein Air Part 2

The glory of the river and plain spread before them, far below the silken tops of river-oaks and waters like black opals. Noon's sun bearing down and the brightness of the sky a blinding contrast wrings them to a pitch of excitement as if in a fiery trance then pause, as they stamp their impression upon canvas and each other. 



As dark encroaches, the red Concord coach draws to a halt. Jeremy hurls the carpet bag to the waiting groom and takes a seat among the 8 passengers bound south. The team of six harnessed and at the ready would take them 16 miles at a time before being swapped for fresh horses and permitting short breaks. It will take them a good three days to arrive at their destination. The 'whip' shouts 'ahoy boys' and the team moves into action. 

Jeremy removes his hat and greets his fellow passengers. A prospector returning from the fields, a matron in black accompanied by a small boy and a woman. A woman of some substance he assumes judging by her sartorial elegance and the jewellery around her neck.  She smiles, removes her glove and extends a hand. She introduces herself as Eliza Vale.  Conversation flows. Beside her rests a small folded easel and a neatly packed wicker basket, he assumes crammed with pastels and paints, "You're an artist?" he quizzes, "Trying to be," she retorts. "I'm on my way to an artist's camp in Richmond."  He's delighted that she will be travelling the full distance and to the same destination.. "I sketch a little but need to work with pastels and paint.  I have a little place on the Hawkesbury near Windsor, you should visit. The views a are beautiful and the tranquility conducive to painting." She nods and smiles a wry smile, "I'll do that."

Being in constant company, enables them to become well acquainted. They compare sketches and draw together while teams are replaced and sustenance provided at each coach stop. They speak of their desire to paint ein plein-air as the Heidleberg painters have, absorbing the unique colours, light and character of the Australian landscape. They speak of a lifestyle in the sun, Bohemian, carefree and away from the increasing financial strains caused by the onset of depression and the dull social mores demanded by high society. They build an Elysian dream and wonder if it will come to fruition.  He watches her mouth move as she talks of love and life and promiscuous ways. They wash over him as his concentration fades. She is striking, not beautiful but a head-turner nonetheless. Complexion flushed with youth and the moist, pinkness of her mouth distracts him from her discourse. Her hair swept up and neatly tied, he longs to see it cascade over her shoulders or better still over his body. She too seems to enjoy his company and occasionally a hand will brush his thigh or stroke the sleeve of his shirt.

As the final coach draws into Windsor, the weary travellers alight. Unwilling to be permanently parted from his new found friend and potential lover, Jeremy hastily pencils his address and hands the scrap to Eliza. She smiles and shakes his hand. "Thank you, I shall look you up. It's been a pleasure." Her politeness fazes him a little as they've been close these past few days and he had hoped for a warmer assurance that she would stay in contact. She on the other hand has every intention of pursuing an intimate relationship but more pressing matters require her attention. He tips his hat, she turns and blows a teasing kiss as he watches the elegant sway of ruffled shot silk taffeta, disappear into the Post Office.

The ride to Maeve's orchard is short and he arrives unannounced. The caretaker, no longer living in the house after being forwarned of Jeremy's arrival, has left fresh fruit on the table and clean linen on the bed. Water has been drawn and flowers vased upon the sill.  The house is old and small but clean and a new hearth and chimney have been installed. The cottage garden once tended lovingly by Aoife is still intact and in need of weeding and a little care but he doesn't mind. The sun is shining in all it's glory on this wonderful spring day and he has all the time in the world to repair fences and to revive the garden. After months in the Gold Fields, toiling, he's ready to relax.

The property is beautiful. Now partially cleared after 44 years, the orchard is gnarled but bearing fruit which is currently swathed in blossom, heady scent intoxicating bees. The scrub is gone and eucalypts stand majestic. Their mottled bark in dancing colours of green and gold and every shade of brown appear to change with every aspect of the sun. The mighty Hawkesbury's banks are draped with weeping willows curtaining the shore. They remind him of Maeve's resting place and a small dart pierces his heart as he feels a pang of pain. Then he looks, lord of all he surveys and silently thanks his sweet benefactor.

He has means and property and time on his hands, a little cash in his pocket.  At least enough to stay a while and indulge his need to paint.  He spends days on the escarpment painting, along Bells Line of Road and the blue forest below in a palette of dancing impressionist light and shadow. It's not long before he's recognised as a talent and accepted by his peers. His contact with the artists in the area leads to a cluster of tents, a garden, woodstock and a water tub hidden in the trees looking out towards the great gateway of the river's banks. Crossan's daughter's farm has become an artist's camp but the province of men. The woman in silk taffeta remains elusive. She does not call.

Written for The Tenth Daughter of Memory - - River of Mnemosyne Challenge

Continued at:
Ein Plein Air Part 2

Sunday, February 6, 2011

For Trees Have No Tongues - (Muse 3)

First Muse Part 1
First Muse Part 2
Deep Sleep, Deep Space, Deep Shit
Reluctant Titans Part 1
Reluctant Titans Part 2
Fuck Origami


How poignant to pass beneath a weeping willow and its cool cascade of green. Secluded beneath the sighing curtain, Crossan's daughter is ill. Barely does their sojourn begin and her rasping cough gives way to spasms and fever.  She begs him to slow down and they rest on the riverbank beneath the embrace of the willow fronds, she is on the point of collapse. "Take it," she gasps and hands him a neatly folded paper package.



"Fuck the gold . . "  he says, thrusting the tiny parcel back into her palm and folding her frail fingers around it. "You're the precious one," he whispers, "Stay with me!"  She strokes his youthful countenance and stares deep into his eyes. "No, you have it. It's yours. You've brought me joy and friendship. You're my sweet companion, take it . . start a new life. There's no spending this trifle where I'm going." And once more presses the parcel into his hand.  This time he accepts and sits.  "There's more . . " she rasps "I have land in Windsor, the deeds are in the dilly . . ." Her words wash over his sad eyes as he can see she's dying. He doesn't want her land or her gold he wants her to survive. Tears well and he holds her in his arms and looks intently at her ashen face.  "Do you know what they do in Japan to ensure good fortune and good health?" The question seems so shallow given that she's mortally ill but he continues, "They make 1000 origami cranes all in a long string." She musters a wan smile and lets him continue, "Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand cranes will be granted a wish such as long life or recovery." He wishes he had the paper to fold ten thousand cranes but it's all too late. No wish will be granted as she slips away quietly beneath the verdant branches.

Now he sits, almost afraid to untie the string and press its gentle creases back. Folds she made with her own hands. He undoes the treasure chest with heavy heart. "Oh Maeve," he sighs, "I'll do you proud my girl."  He digs a shallow grave and lays her soft beneath the tree, the pain of covering her frailty sees salt and dust combine. He takes the wrapper from the nugget and folds a tiny crane and places it between her clasped hands. "Fare well my lovely angel . . my sweet and faithful friend."

He's a alone now, travelling light and heading south. His gold exchanged at the survey, he's cashed up and ready for adventure even if with a heavy heart.  He's had time to visit the barber and is now neatly trimmed and shorn, a new shirt on his back and polish on his shoes. Quite the sartorial city slicker as he waits for Cobb and Co, carpetbag at his feet and the moleskin under his arm. Night falls and the familiar triangular lights loom orb like in the distance, he sees them long before he hears the clatter of pacing hooves and the pall of dust behind the wagon.

Posted for Tenth Daughter of Memory, River of Mnemosyne Challenge

Continued at:i
Ein Plein Air Part 1