Thursday, May 24, 2012

Still Waters Run Deep

He came into her life after it had been ruled by violence.  She, too young to know, too old to care but overwhelmed by his attention and affection. She fell hook, line and sinker for a drifter, a handsome younger man. Loved only marginally less than the child conceived by rape; the other treasure of her life.

They were thick as thieves, tight as a drum, joined at the hip. Whatever cliché described the bond between Maria and her daughter Estelle, barely described the golden tie that bound them.  That was Maria’s perspective. Estelle had been born after an encounter with violence yet loved as a child of fortune. Maria was besotted with her daughter. Estelle knew her mother.
He on the other hand, was besotted with Maria.  People never understood how a woman so alone, so destroyed by her past, could find a partner so sweet, so gentle.  The man in her life loved her more than life.  He was gentle, kind, understood the delicacy of her mind.  For her mind was a storm.  Thoughts of mistrust, delusions of grandeur, the fear of the dark, Maria fought persistent and constant battles with the voices in her head.
‘He’s cheating on you,’ they would say. ‘He looks at other women you know?’
She occasionally won the battle but the war raged on as voices persisted. ‘There is another, there might be many…’
She busied herself with domestic duties.  She played music loud; so loud that the walls reverberated.  She read.  She swam, allowing the cool stones of the river bed to massage her back, while its crystal fluid ran over her body.  She found solace in the river.  The trickle of water, the sound of birds, the deafness it afforded as she submerged her head and drowned the voices beneath its flow.
It was on one of those days wrapped in sticky heat, as cricket’s and grasshoppers deafening drone subverted all other sound, that she saw them.  Sherolled against the smooth  pebbles of the riverbed, righted herself and crept towards its grassy, willow-shaded edge.  There they were the child she loved, and the man she adored.  As the sun cast shadow beneath the stony bridge, she crouched beneath the trees and watched their exchange.  At sweet 16, her daughter, Estelle, was in the embrace of a man twice her age.

What she sees, a lucid mind would piece together.  What she knows, the same mind would evaluate.  What she assumes, a cool head would rationalise.  But she does not have a lucid mind nor sane thought, not even a cool head - despite the dripping locks, and droplets of river water massaging her skin, her mood becomes hot and the wiring in her brain begins to arc . 

What she sees is a thoughtless lover.  What she knows is that he is being unfaithful. What she assumes will be her undoing.  She is deaf to their conversation.  The babbling of the brook beneath her feet and the incessant pitch of insects escalating, preventing her from hearing the conversation.
“You know I love your mother, you know I stayed with her even though sometimes she acts crazy?” He holds Estelle close and she nuzzles into his shoulder.  Slender fingers push a lustrous lock behind her ear with the tenderness of a lover’s touch, a father’s care. “I can’t stay with her Estelle.  She is suffocating me with her neediness.  You do understand that, don’t you?”

The teenager embraces him, brown arms clinging as if it is her last moment on earth, desperation and sadness filling her once bright eyes.  She falls to her knees, her hands dragging from his chest, face leaning into his thigh before he gently pulls her upwards and kisses her; wraps her in his embrace.
“I’m sorry my darling, I will stay in touch. I love you as if you were my own.”  He passes her a note which he folds and kisses.  Estelle takes it from him, her hand lingering long in his, and presses the squared paper to her lips.
Maria watches from the bank.  A slow rage begins burning inside, evaporating the cool and quiet effects rendered by a momentarily calming stream.  Of all the people to be unfaithful, she never suspected her own daughter.  The voices chant ‘Cheating child…  Teenage whore…  Devil’s spawn.” As she remembers her own lurid past, she projects the harlot’s curse, “Like mother, like daughter. The voices are evil in their persistence today.

She rises from the shadows and dresses with haste.  Maria creeps unnoticed through the curtain of draped willows until she is beneath the sandstone bridge.  As he walks away, her daughter falls once more on to her knees and sobs into a tiny square of paper, scrawled with words of affection in his hand and a contact number, should she ever need him.
“What have you done?  What have you done?” Her mother screams.
Taken by surprise, Estelle knows the nature of unbalanced love.  Estelle well remembers the hand of unjustified punishment caused by little more than tensions, alcohol and hormones.
“Mom, what’s wrong with you, what’s the matter?” The question from Estelle is fraught with faux concern.  Her own heart already broken by the departure of the only man she knew as her father.
“I knew I couldn’t trust you.  I knew I couldn’t trust him!”  The hatred in her mother’s eyes is enforced by bitter words, “He was mine, mine alone!"  I’ve seen the way you look at him, the way you idolise, the way to flirt and tease.  It’s enough, it’s too much.  He is all I have once you've gone.”
Maria rushes at the girl and catches her as she rises to her feet.  Her hands around her throat, still tear filled, and push her backwards into the free flowing stream.  Estelle struggles between sobs and a newfound terror.  She knew her mother was unbalanced, odd.  She knew her mother heard voices.  She knew her mother was jealous, difficult and possessive, but above all she knew her mother loved her –until now.
Maria’s bony hands clasp tight around the girl’s neck.  Strength summoned through demons turned the petite body face down into the water.  Estelle’s struggle is short lived and feint. Within minutes she has been claimed in violence, as she was in conception but by the same stream that only moments ago, had brought her mother peace.
The drums begin pounding inside Maria’s brain.  Where is he?  The traitor, the paedophile.  She looks up from her handiwork and scours the path beside the bridge.  The stream once with its quiet lulling rhythm is now pounding in her head.  Rapids rushing, thundering falls; they are an ominous call to a battle that must be won.  He must pay for his infidelity; he must justify the end and the means.  Crazed, confused, she resolves that no woman will have him, none than other than her.
She looks back once more at the place where her daughter lay, the body has disappeared beneath the river’s surface.
Trent Marshall has fished here for many years.  May through to July the trout run and he becomes a popular man at home.  Mrs. Marshall happy to claim the product of his leisure allows him to indulge and spend hours making flies, casting lines and enjoy rare solitude beside the languid river.  As he sits beneath the willows chowing down on homemade rye bread sandwiches, swilled intermittently with homemade Ginger beer, he sees her.
A woman.  The glimpse of red fabric beneath a dour grey trenchcoat, muddied at its hem. She is pale, thin with a hint of fading beauty, and kneeling beneath the bridge. Her bony hands frantically separating the bull rush reeds that have accumulated during dry times, and the slower pace of water flow.  Her face is distraught and her movements frenetic.  He wonders what she’s looking for but he’s never had the courage to approach her.  Like so many observers of odd behaviour, he is a watcher, a waiter, not one to become involved.
“Just another crazy.”  He assumes .He packs a rod and reel and the day’s catch of two sizeable trout into his tackle box. He glances once more over his shoulder at the woman who has become a familiar sight.  He mumbles something to himself about how these people should be taking care of, put somewhere safe, and how he pays taxes to provide facilities for such weirdos.  And yet he is somehow fascinated by a woman who could have once been beautiful yet has clearly lost her mind.
“Trent, do you remember that young man,” his wife asks as she dutifully scales a trout in preparation for frying.
Her husband is preoccupied with the precision of winding a fly. His burly fingers are struggling with the delicacy of such a task. “What young man?” He doesn’t raise his head.
“That young fellow that came to do some yard tasks for us, you remember, he was a musician or an artist or some such thing.  Painted the shed, tidied up the attic, even got that old Buick going?  Nice young man he was.”
“Indeed he was, what about him?”
They found him dead.   Throat cut and face down by the side of the road near Maria Markham’s place.  I wonder what became of her?  Odd woman that but I heard they were an item once.” Her prattling continues extolling the virtues and woes of age differences as he winds nylon around feather and holds his handiwork up to the light
“Stop your gossiping woman.  Tragic about the young fellow but no point wondering.  The police will sort it out soon enough.  None of our business it isn’t…  None of our business.”
A rational mind would never have committed the act.  A rational mind with criminal intentions would have far better covered her tracks.  A passionate mind filled with voices and misconceptions followed a young man and his suitcase to a lonely bus stop, late one Friday night.  A mind halted by jealousy, assumption, misconception, guilt and the delusion of betrayal, followed a one-time lover.  The confrontation began with tears and pleas, followed by accusations and irrational ravings.  No matter how he tried to explain the constriction she had caused, how patient he had been, how he held her during the nightmares and reasoned with her during her outbursts –no matter how he told her that he loved her how beautiful she once was, how she needed to get help, but he just needed space, her blue eyes glazed. They had even embraced and her pleading ceased.  He had kissed her and told her he’d be back before he saw the glint of steel and felt its stinging cold.
After, she meandered with vague purpose towards the river washing her bloodied hands in its cool embrace.  She began mumbling about fish and whores and begging for the return of a daughter bonded by a golden thread.  It was there that she felt the grasp of invisible juvenile hands around her ankles.  It was there that she surrendered willingly to the call of a water nymph, and slid silently beneath the crystal flow.
It was there that Trent saw her up close for the first time, face down, her body entangled among the reeds. Not the odd rambling woman in nondescript clothing, but a slim red sati-clad corpse, her lipstick still apparent on water-swollen lips.  Her hair, dark and wild, swept across her eyes by the flowing stream.  She was beautiful and peaceful. He swore she was smiling.
He never told his wife that he was the one who discovered Maria's body.  He feared she would not scale the fish that he caught there had she known.  Yet for years afterwards he would cast his flies, reel in his line in the hope and wild fantasy that somehow she still existed beneath the rivulets. Occasionally, he’d catch a glimpse of red…and wonder.

Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory Under The Water's Surface, Heartbreak; The War That Follows

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Same As It Ever Was

Arilla sits beneath the fateful tree, a small parcel in her arms and glances skywards. She remembers the day the heavens rearranged and familiar constellations danced with unfamiliar light as their world changed. She remembers the day when the two familiar suns became several and the stars descended from the sky. She remembers Archorid slinking into the shadows beneath the stillness of the water as glistening transports blew the surface dust; their downdraft deafening and forcing spiral swirls. She remembers the scream of engines subsiding to an unknown hum as each metallic monster came to rest on the arid floor of Tamin.

“What are they Mani?” Arilla asked her father.

“I don’t know,” he’d said whilst brushing the child backwards and bidding her stay silent behind a boulder.  “Stay there. Keep quiet.”

Arija Malrik, might be father to the inquisitive Arilla, but to his people, he is a leviathan of a man, a Goliath, a warrior, a leader without equal. He is flanked by tribesmen, armed with little other than pliable Mali spears, dipped in the numbing but non- fatal poison of Ranwol venom; all that is normally required for the hunt.  He’s resisting the urge to flee as these first invaders of a peaceful planet make their presence known.

The Tamin are a passive population, small, close to their environment, and making less impact on their surroundings than the twin suns that beam down upon them. The arrival of pale-skinned bipeds with gloved hands is more quizzical than disturbing. They are gingerly placing samples in airtight containers and occasionally jumping backwards as an agile Wispworm emerges from the soil and takes flight. Their inspection, prodding and poking of the landscape appearing comical, odd; their suits and gleaming equipment, strange, and yet fascinating.  The appearance of what would soon be known as colonists raises curiosity rather than fear.

By now, others from the tribe have been aroused from afternoon slumber as the hiss of teleporters and swarms of silver-suited humans  arouse curiosity as they begin probing the soil, and frown while holding metallic objects in the air.  They busy themselves erecting barriers around the now-grounded ‘stars’ prodding antennae into the red soil, establishing what would soon become known as killing sticks to fend off would-be aggressors.  Except here, there are none.  Here, there is nothing to fear save fear itself, and the Archorid.

So began the invasion. Men the Tamin tribes would come to know, came from earth and would now occupy their haven. The foreigners had deemed the planet Terra Nullius until first contact with what they considered to be, primitive inhabitants,  the  aborigines of Tamin. 

The first fleet was small, just 7 galleons protected by half a dozen fighter escorts.  The galleons brought intrepid engineers, tradespeople, scientists and breeding couples. Also, they brought a small stock of strange animals and birds for food and company. Two craft had not stayed more than a few months, returning to the stars with samples of vegetation, bovinoids and ruminants. The rest had remained; erected agri-pods and habi-tents, gleaning local knowledge from the Tamin by trading trinkets. They were to be the first humanoid settlers on a small brown planet so far from, yet so similar to their own.

At first there had been skirmishes as Marik’s tribes were warned from their settlements and wondering grounds  to make way for irrigation and mining.  Newcomers fenced enclosures for strange pets and created habitats so alien compared with the indigenous bush retreats. But after time, the invaders realised the innocuousness of the Tamins and allowed them to integrate. They even became useful when imparting their indigenous knowledge. Some were in the employ of settlers as domestic help or labourers. Others kept to themselves and maintained the old ways. Tamin superstitions were easily tolerated, as long as the humanoids could perform their experiments unhindered and choose supplicants among the natives to do their bidding. There’s much to be done in a new world.

The Tamin also benefitted from their visitors.  They exchanged local knowledge and sated their curiosity for what lies beyond the heavens. Humans cure the itch on their skin, offer them chickens, stock their pools with fish, and teach them to read. They provide doctors for their pains and school for those who wish to learn.

This new breed of travellers has learned from their mistakes and is intent on peaceful coexistence. It seems their ancestors had learned little from the subjugation of their own indigenous people.  Wars had been endemic and their third worlds had given way to fourth and fifth as the planet began to starve.

Attempts to thwart global warming by injecting massive amounts of sulphur into the atmosphere had failed. Deflection of life-draining heat from their tiny star through the immersion of trillions of mirror shards in the upper atmosphere, resulted in little more than space junk, heating up the surface and forcing exploration into the heavens. The only recourse for what had become the worst virus on the planet – humans – was to create an ark, and reach for the stars.

With their technology, the humanoids brought their beliefs and moral code. The powers that be, permitting the inclusion of Clerics, intending to provide comfort to new settlers; sanctify their marriages, baptise their children and send their dead to meet their maker.

But Tamins have their own religion, one that binds them hard and fast to the land and all upon it.  Unlike the invader’s invisible God, theirs is real, tangible and respected:  A living omnipotent God.

The most revered creation tale is that of their spiritual father, benefactor, judge, juror and executioner - Archorid.

Legend has it that Tamin was created after a fiery battle between two suns. The physical conflict between them so passionate, so violent that it produced a shower of stars that formed a raging torrent, spilling landward and filling the craters of a barren asteroid. The stars liquidised on impact and streamed into each indent, leaving sweet and sparkling freshwater pools.  The duelling stars were confused when looking down upon the many newly created waterholes. Their own unrecognised reflections danced frenetically upon their fluid surface.  Thinking the reflections were a great army, gathering to keep the peace, the suns abated and sent Archorid to abide within the watery depths to keep the perceived enemy at bay; Archorid, the guardian and taker of life, the protector of the  pools, a terrible being that dwells in the sparse but deep waterholes on Tamin. The ruler of all things; benevolent by day, a force to be feared and respected by night. The giver of life and the harbinger of mortality.

No humanoid will approach the pools, day or night. Not since Ray Portland and his new wife decided a moonlight dip might cool their skin and ignite their passion.  He thought she was playing the fool when she submerged and he felt her hand against his thigh. Archorid appeased his appetite as stealthily as he’d slid beneath the surface, punishing young lovers for their invasion. Only Arilla had seen the heavens reflected in the water dance, as they had the night the two suns fought. Only Arilla saw the surface punctuated by scales and spikes of a creature beyond description as two human lives were dispatched swiftly, deftly, silently, by the great one.

The Tams have no fear of the pools as long as their guardian suns are bright. They bathe and play within the sacred and cooling waters.  As evening draws, they pay tribute to Archorid to appease his appetite.   No longer are the dead and dying offered up as sacrifice, a concession to the newcomers made many years ago. Archorid’s appetite is now sated by straying animals or domestic poultry.  Some settlers had tried to rid the settlement of Archorid, spearing his hulking form. Yet he’d re-appear…another pool…another night, when the heaven rearranged itself upon the Doppler waters, or one of the old Protectors made an illegal offering; his scaled and glistening form barely visible before jaws emerge, hungry and in need of sustenance. 

The pools are the playground of Tamin youth, a proving ground for strength.  Archorid ignores their raucous play, he's no match for so many midday revellers with their rough-house splashing and flailing limbs. He'll rest upon the bank, jaws agape but not ready to snap. This predator stills his soul until night, while prey plays devil-may-care upon a swinging rope.

The sky reflects  on the limpid pool, only the tiny ripples rearranging the heavens dance upon its surface. Their aquatic park and playground an oasis, tree-lined and lush. A sacred place avoided by outlanders, a place to stem the arid heat and avoid punishing radiation.

Tamin boys brew up a maelstrom as they plunge and play, their laughter answering back from mighty layered cliffs above, before laying sprawled on moistened rocks as quiet envelopes.

Sliding gracefully along the outstretched limb, a native arboreal commando shimmys, with the dexterity and grace of a tree-borne predator. Sleek and confident, glistening droplets on his cocoa skin, soaked dreadlocks drip into the now-placid pool below.  He lowers his body onto the snaking rope and winds adolescent limbs around its spiral. Once in place, he begins to swing. His body becomes a pendulum, each arc gaining momentum as he's encouraged by his fan club's chants, emanating from below. Swinging free and strong, the arc is right . . then back, release.

His world moves in still frame, onlookers  gasp in awe, as he draws knees up to his chest, tucked beneath his chin made small  by a beaming smile, prehensile tail wrapped tight around his folded knees. White row upon white, flash luminary against his charcoal face. Jewels of moisture are released, twinkling in his wake as he begins his descent. His fall commences, contrived, controlled and practised. He has no fear as he makes contact. A human meteor making waterfall. An impermanent and liquid crater marks his landing and closes rapidly over his sun-bleached hair leaving circles to expand, then fade to calm.

He doesn't surface. Only moments pass before it's clear something's awry. Friends scramble splash and dive. His name is called, screamed, cried until finally he is retrieved, lungs soaked, limbs limp, the rag doll youth is dragged onto the bank, motionless but alive. Archorid casts an eye, jaws gaping but remains motionless.

Arilla hears the call. Her grandson, bent and broken and despite her instincts she seeks the comfort of medicine offered by humans.

Tears no longer fall from his glazed eyes, saline and Vaseline emulate their formation.  Respirators rasp, drowning out his pleas as he slips in and out of consciousness. He feels no pain she knows but he also feels nothing. It is this she cannot bear. Nothing below the neck. No urge to urinate or defecate, no pain, no pleasure. No childhood pleasure, no diving, no racing  with the wind; unable to embrace. This is no life. 

She weeps and sings a funeral song but he shows no recognition. Her tears fall where he has none as she leans across his tiny shape, hand on his shallow chest and turns off the respirator. He sighs two sighs and passes. There's no time to waste. There will be no Cleric’s burial for her once playful boy.

The ward is all but empty, a single human at the desk. An orderly patrols the corridors with the disinterest of Archorid in daylight. Aware that no alarm will sound, just a console light ignored by the distracted nurse, she knows what must be done.

She enfolds the inert corpse and lifts him from the bed. He has no weight or  substance and even with her advanced age he is no burden to hold. She navigates the cliffside muru dusty trail and slips quietly along the pool’s still edge.

The water is still and turquoise, darkening with the fading light.  No children frolic here at evening as Archorid begins to rouse, watching, waiting, fixed with jaws now closed. Arilla lays the child beneath the killing tree. This is now his sacred place where his spirit can be free to swing and sway.  This is where his life began, this is where it will continue. This is where they'll share their souls since all things are connected.

Cradling the lifeless child, Grandma Arilla sings a funeral song, her wails echoing along the pool's whispering escarpment. Archorid opens an eye.

That fleeting light between day and night encroaches and red eyes begin to shimmer, she waits, silent and becalmed, holding a parcel beneath the bough, waiting for Archorid to come.

The reflection of four moons once again rearrange the heavens upon a sacred pool as Archorid slides silently into the water, arching his body, flexing his scales and claims two souls; as it has always been, and as it ever will.

 Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Rearranging The Heavens"