They moan and cry out, torn from their final resting place in the old burial ground, dug up from the dark earth with callous disregard for the lives they once lived, loaded onto carts by the moon’s dark, as the tired old horses hoofbeats ring out on cobbled stones…..taken from all they once knew as home…..muted by death, none can hear their troubled cries…..and way out across the waters of the Bay, the Plovers shrill pipings echo the lone piercing wails of the old woman as her grieving voice floats out across the waves. She feels the lift and shifting of the bodies deep within, hears her long dead lover, his soul self calling. “Come find me, come my love, my heart, come find my bones”
Later, deep in the night, the children long asleep, she feels him wakeful, turns to him, sees him lying on his back staring at the ceiling…..reaches out, touches his face, “tell me about her, what was she like?” and he rolls onto his side, facing her, slowly bringing himself back from the dark, torturous images fixed in his mind.
“She was the most creative child I ever knew”, he said. “Exotic, so intelligent…..she spoke with her hands like a Balinese dancer…..so eloquent I would forget to listen, as I watched her hands lift and weave and swoop through the air, graceful as birds. Vivid, so full of life. Always making things…..little woven creations, paintings, wreaths for her thick blonde hair.” She stirs, fits herself into his shape, “tell me more” she encourages him.
“She made me a leather bracelet once, plaited, and woven with tiny coloured glass beads, small brilliant feathers knotted into the ties; I wore it for years until it slipped off my arm when I was swimming, sank down…..I looked for it, diving to the bottom of the lake, but it was hidden in the mud…..the lake had claimed it! She loved walking….she would match my stride, but if she couldn’t, she would skip and run, always ahead, beside, but never behind…..and all the while, making up stories. The most artistic, enchanting child. It was pure joy to spend time with her.” “When did you lose touch with them ?”, I ask him softly. He sighs, stretches, reaches for me, groans, holds me tight to him, a protective shield against the painful memories . “When they moved so far away, when her loser husband took up residence in the bottle. I couldn’t bear it, the way he was with them, always on the edge of violence.
I talked to my sister, but it made no difference….for some reason, she wouldn’t, or couldn’t leave him. After that, I really wasn’t welcome. We drifted away from each other and Sophie was growing up. Everything changed, came apart.”
She turns his face towards her, smooths her hand over his hair, “It wasn’t your fault “, then with unexpected ferocity, he says, “It was ALL our faults, every one who knew and loved her….why did we not see, see how she was sinking ?”
There is no answer, I don’t even try, just take him in my arms, feel his tears wet against my cheek, hold him, speak soft words of comfort, smoothing his hair, rocking him like a small child, feeling his body slowly give , sink into the blessing of sleep.
And still I hold him, comfort and shelter against the dark dreams that hover in the corners of the room. And very soon it will be morning, she feels herself relaxing, match his breathing, and her last thoughts as sleep takes her, “dear God I love him, and how will these wounded children ever heal?”
The children stand in a tight little huddle by the car, not sure what to do. Tim, the oldest, Daisy and little Nell. He smiles at me over their heads, then starts unloading bed rolls, sleeping bags, grins and gestures to the canoe on the roof rack. I’ve brought my tent, which we set up beside the Cabin, asking the children to help, handing out tent pegs…..giving them something to do breaks the ice, and talking to them as we work, I unroll a small carpet, just the right size, place inside onto which we lay their bedding ready for the night.
I bought torches, one each, hand them out….the children look pleased, almost happy.
First things done, we sit on the old wooden bench beneath the nearby trees, share food….he asks the children what they want to do?
They don’t know ….so we choose.
It’s a lovely balmy overcast day….”let’s go for a walk, do some exploring”, they nod politely and I give them some cloth bags, for hunting and gathering.
“Let’s see what we can find”, I say to them, smiling….at them, at him, as he takes the smallest by the hand, as she looks up at him, begins talking.
I feel their tension ease, and heading out into the dappled shelter of the trees, I find a perfect white feather, turn, slip it neatly into his tied back hair. The children laugh and so does he. Nell lets go of his hand, starts skipping, then running.
“Not too fast Nell, watch out for snakes”, and she stops still, frozen in place . “It’s ok, don’t be afraid, just watch where you’re walking, look ahead, down on the ground….snakes lie asleep, curled up, sometimes they’re the same colour as the earth, the leaves”.
They have to know, but I try and make it into a game for them, before they freeze back into their earlier discomfort. And inwardly….
*Christ, these kids have been through so much, how to navigate a path through their trauma, teach them about safety in the bush, and still encourage them to have fun*
He’s looking at me, serious, intense….feeling it too. The heavy weight of light and shade, to give something to these kids, something different, freedom….yet keep them safe. This moment of awareness hangs over both of us, and then Daisy cries out , in a high excited voice . “Look, ohhhh look, I’ve found a nest!!!”
The fragile link restored between them, they sit together over breakfast outside in her garden. She watches the light touch the thick silver streaks in his hair, stores up images of him for the times when he’s not there ….watches the deft way his hands peel fruit to share, pouring the coffee she’s made….lifting his eyes and grinning at her, as he catches her watching, and she hears the memory of him, saying , “I love to see you watching me”, reaches out for the coffee, smiles back at him, wants him, feeling a sudden fierce rush of desire. He sees it, smiles, puts down his coffee and reaching out, leads her back inside.
Coupling on the unmade bed, she stifles her screams against his chest, takes his nipple between her teeth, hears him groan, feels him sink down amidst the tumbled sheets, until head between her parted thighs, he hears from a distance her stifled cries, as his beard rasps against the soft skin between her legs, tasting her sweet, salty spiciness, beyond thinking, but feeling her pulling him up, bringing him into her as he settles deep, as he kisses breasts, throat, mouth, tear streaked cheeks and then, asking, as he plunges deeper….”why are you crying “, but she has no words, pulls him to her tight, weeping, moaning like a felt but not heard singing, singing, bringing him home, moaning.
and as they lie tangled, gasping at the end, he looks to her and asks again “Why were you crying “…..
“crying with happiness “, she says and turns once more to him, as he holds her close, smiling.
Days pass, she lives as she did before, if you can call it living…..enduring. Straightening her spine, easing cramped muscles, walking the dogs…..remembering to breathe.
Working in the garden, digging with a fork removing weeds….replenishing green feed for her little hens, housework, shopping. All the ordinary daily doings…..forest walks in the evenings……and turning on a narrow bush track, as she searches for wild orchids, there he is, blocking her way.
Sees his piercing gaze, turns from it, wants to run, hide from him….but who is she kidding, neither herself or him. Heart thumping against her rib cage, struggling to breathe, legs weak and trembling, face flushed….she faces him. And making a decision he moves quickly, surefooted as a deer, closes the space between them, reaches, grabs hold of her, murmurs against her neck, “Maggie”…..and fiercer now “Maggie, you’ve got to talk to me!!!”
“I saw you….with her, saw how it was.
I saw you together, damn you!!! What can you possibly want with me, and why are you here….WHY ARE YOU HERE.???”
He shakes his head, moves in closer, holds her tight against him.
“You told me you didn’t care, remember? You said so, to me”
“But that was before, and you know I was lying….even I, in my deluded state, knew I was lying. And then to see how it is between you”, he stops her with his mouth, hot and urgent, she tastes his tongue, his lips, feels his hand reaching beneath her skirt, the lovely hardness of him, pressing against her belly.
Biology always wins, mind emptied of everything now but this, her hand unzips him, closes around the delicate silky skin, feels his pulsing match her heartbeat, and right there between the ancient Ironbark trees, he lifts her up, settles her onto him….she is beyond regret or anger, beyond thought, simply moving to life’s oldest rhythm ….the dogs, noses to the ground leave them be, as joined together they sink down and down into blessed comfort of moss and leaves, gasping, her sobbing, pulling at his hair, as he thrusts deeper, kissing her mouth, eyelids, neck, moaning…. “I need you, do you not understand that I need you….I need you, or I can’t breathe”, she hears him from far, far away….lost in the wild primeval tangle of two bodies struggling to hold on, to stay one, even as they peak, they come, the roaring in her ears fading, hears him, still, gasping, saying “I need you”, as his head falls back, as his limbs relax, yet still inside her, now turning her face to meet his gaze, she sees it….knows he speaks the truth, sees him now, soul bared to her, and gives in utterly spent, gives in to him, all the way.
“I believe you” and with nothing left to lose, she comforts him, as he has done for her…..holds him now, tender as a mother, strokes his hair, his face, touches fingers, then mouth to lips…”I believe you, my love…..I need you too.”
And later, lying behind him, her arm around his chest, fingers feeling his heart beat, listening to his breath as she slowly eases into sleep, still holding him….”there is no room here for jealousy, only a giving and receiving….a mutual need,” then sleep takes her with him, perhaps to mingle with his dreams.
Waking, in the predawn dim, he finds himself looking straight into her eyes…so close, all he sees are the colours of her iris, golden green.
“Hello you” he says, voice husky with sleep. She doesn’t answer, and he sees the colours change, washed with tears.
“What? What is it?”
And still she says nothing as they well up, overflow, spill, wetting his hand as he reaches, touches her cheek.
“Tell me, what is it?”
“You know you’ll have to leave me….soon…..eventually. You’ll want your own children, a family.” He doesn’t speak, just gathers her in to him, holds her, wipes the tears, now falling freely…..murmurs small words of comfort, doesn’t try to rush her, just holds her close until her crying ceases.
“And no matter how I view it, intellectually, I will be broken ….I cannot bear to live the way it was, before”
“You’re wrong” he says, “listen to me!!! You’re wrong. I have children. I had a family. A girl and a boy. I hardly ever see them….children and a wife, family life. Gone. I have no desire to do all that again. I had them and I lost them.”
So, he understands….knows about loss and grief. The helplessness of life robbing you of everything you thought you had. She doesn’t ask for reasons, she knows enough to let it be.
They’re both quiet now, looking into eyes revealing all the untold stories, naked to each other’s pain.
“I’m sorry” she whispers against his chest, hearing his steady heartbeat.
“I need you,” he says into her hair.
“I need YOU.”
And exhausted from all this day has brought her, from crying, she falls back into sleep, comforted by the warmth, the smell, the strength of him.
He calls me, late at night…”How are you ?,” I say, voice croaky with sleep.
“Arrrgh, sorry, so sorry to wake you, it’s just…..I’ve been thinking “
and coming fully awake now “it’s all right, tell me?”
“I want to spend time with my sister’s kids….get them out of the house. I don’t know if I’m asking too much of you….but I want you there with me”, I hear the breath catch in his throat, the hesitancy, but I also hear the need, and even deeper down, his knowing, knowing I’ll agree.
It’s a simple straightforward request, I could no more refuse him, than I could refuse the three children, so, I tell him “Yes”, adding “ it’s not a matter of helping you out, although I am happy to. I WANT to do something for those children, who’ve already seen too much, of one kind of life….not enough of the other” and then, inspired “let’s take them camping, what do you think?”
“Come see me, soon as you can…..we’ll figure it out”, and then another small silence, “What? What is it?” I ask him….
“I want to be with you now”, and I hold the phone, listen to his breathing, speak very quietly to him, “Come, come now, come and sleep the night with me, we’ll make some plans tomorrow “, and his voice, rougher now, “I don’t want to sleep “, and me “neither do I,” so, “come, drive carefully, but hurry,” and then there’s laughter…..I end the call and lie quiet, in the late night pre dawn dark, waiting, waiting for him.
Over a shared breakfast, they talk about the children….the cabin by the lake comes to both their minds….with the addition of a tent for the children, for one thing, the cabin is one tiny room, for another, they both want time alone, together. Hiking, canoeing (he can get hold of a canoe)….”big enough for five?”, she asks, and he laughs, “we’ll manage.”
He licks honey off his fingers, leans over and kisses her mouth, then suddenly business like, he has to go. “Things to do,” he says, looks away.
She leaves the table, walks up to him, but he avoids her eyes, turns briskly, opens the door, walks outside.
And here it is, reality, like a punch in the guts.
A storm of self abuse rains down upon her, as she holds onto the table, feeling her legs give way.
Here it is, REALITY.
“You stupid, stupid, deluded old Woman, could you possibly think you could have him….hold onto him?
Ha!!! Marry him, have his children.
Go look in the mirror, DO IT!!!”
And she does, and sees many many things….a lifetime etched into her face, tears, rage at all the feared impossibilities, the agony of aloneness, the visceral need of a man. Her mirrored image stares back, ruthless……she sees a face ravaged with loss and grief, and still keeps looking, until she sees her soul self, feels some small relief, some grace.
And looking back once again…..” I am more than a young body, a pretty face. I am ALL that I am, and I am enough.”
Quietened now, she clears away the breakfast leavings on the table, washes dishes…..makes the bed, refusing to change the sheets, remove the stains, the scent of their recent lovemaking….smoothing the old, faded, cherished quilt…..folding the doings of the night in, keeping them tucked away between the sheets…”for now”, she hears her inner voice say. “For now”
And later, she goes out, to the movies….enters another reality, loses herself completely.
The credits roll by on the screen, the lights come up, and there he is, arm around the shoulder of his girlfriend, leaning down to her, as she tilts her face up to him, laughing.
They are beautiful together….she stays in her seat watching them….so lovely, both of them. Watches, waits until they leave….is amazed to find she can stand up, walk down the theatre steps, breathe.
Finds her car keys, drives home, finds some peace in being alone…goes out into the darkness with her dogs, turns on the outside light….and walks among the spring flowering plants, smelling their perfume in this quiet, stillness and realises, “I am all right”
A few days later, a message on her phone, “sorry about the other day, the way I left. I’m sorry…..for being rude, for leaving you that way, I didn’t want to hurt you……
I’ve got hold of a canoe, talked to my sister. She’s grateful and the kids are keen.”
She finds no answer, can’t respond….the image of his other life etched into her mind’s eye.
She’s neither angry or sulking, a wall has dropped down between them, and she cannot navigate a way back through to him….the beautiful stranger she saw just nights ago, arm around his young lover.
And so she does, says nothing.
AND IN THE AFTERMATH when he is gone, she takes her dogs, goes walking in the nearby Forest…..breathes great lungfuls of ice cold air.
The Forest floor transformed after the last few days of rain…..mosses, dried brown through the long harsh summer are richly plump and vivid green, and infusing everything, the heavy scent of Eucalyptus, strong, sweet and healing. She turns her mind to simple things, watches her dogs change from bored domestic creatures into their wolffish origins as walking turns to running, their noses lifting, scenting the air, then loping wild things…..stopping, scent marking “we’ve been here” they say….”THIS is our territory…..WE have been here,” as they piss and piss again, marking ground, grasses and trees, triumphantly.
“Oh yes” she says quietly, “Oh, Yes…..we have been here, we have lived” and cannot remember a time before, when she didn’t carry him inside her….the very essence of him.
AND ONCE MORE AT HOME…..Folding clothes, making the bed, removing the pile of books she’s read and read, finding peace in simple things, and soon she’ll pick flowers, fill vases, grace each room with them….because he exists. She lights a daily candle, stares into the flickering flame, speaks his name…..blesses him.
And remembers that first, unexpected phone call….
“It’s Brian….if I’ve read you wrong, I could lose my job.”
“That won’t happen, but tell me….what did you read?”
“That you are interested in me…. like me”, there is both laughter and hesitancy in his voice.
“I do. Yes, I AM interested in you…..Very!!!”
“Then will you come and have a drink with me….somewhere private, not local” ( and I can immediately see all the tongues wagging, like some ghastly cartoon)
“Ahhhh, what a good idea”, I say….”name the day.”
“Yesterday ,” he says, and then we both laugh…..the early unsureness easing.
“Yes, I respond….. I feel the same way, yesterday can’t come soon enough.”
Then, emboldened “Or right now, if you can?”
“Just let me take care of a few things….give me two hours, then I’ll be free”, and then laughing, relaxed, he says, “Hurry.”
The day dawns, overcast , cold and grim, storm clouds banked overhead, rain threatening. The body is laid in a simple, unadorned, pinewood coffin, covered with home made posies from relatives and friends.
The time it takes, unendurable as the Priest rambles incessantly, as the funeral moves on to the final resting ground, the local cemetery. Maggie once again takes the reins, finds a song from long ago, a soulful tender ballad of love and death and the beating of wings….the final transformation.
And then it is over. Nothing more for them to do. No wake.
He drives her home, won’t stay, and at her door, pulls her to him, kisses mouth, nose, her hair.
Turns, turns again and calls “I’ll see you in a few days “, then turns again, retracing his steps, holds her hard against his chest. “I am a selfish bloody fool”, he says, “I forgot to even thank you”.
“And I was so very happy to do this for you….go now, I’ll see you very soon”, she turns his shoulders, watches him close the gate, reach his car, wave, and then his pirate’s smile, that flash of teeth. He slips into the car, drives away, and she stands for those last few moments, gathering herself, seeing the empty space, then walks inside, closes her door, still feeling him holding her hard , the strength of fingers clutching her arms and the bitter sweet taste of him, lingers on her lips.
It has always been this way.
An ordinary house in a quiet suburban street, no garden, just a concrete path leading to a thick glass front door. He takes her hand, locks fingers with hers as they walk inside.
The child’s father, drunk into a stupor, sits slumped in a chair against the far wall.
Her mother, his sister, eyes red and swollen, face blotched from weeping greets, hugs him….meets her, acknowledges and accepts her presence here in this house of desperation and despair…..leads them into the young girl’s bedroom, where she lies, dressed in a long simple white cotton nightgown her Grandmother has made for her final sleep. Arms straight by her sides, her cuts hidden now, surgically bound.
Face still and stark in death, showing nothing of what went before as she slashed her wrists….as she saw the dark blood gushing, tried vainly to get up off her bed, to reach the door, where she, not long before in anger, had locked herself in. And now as the blood pools ever faster onto the floor, she cries out, calls to her family……but each and every one is enclosed behind their own doors, transfixed by their flickering screens.
She screams, once more cries out to them, then lies down, weakened, drained…..her thick blonde hair dyed metallic black falls back across her ashen face, as she slips away, as death takes her, and her last whispered words….”what a shit of a life” as she dies.
The air in the house is suffocating with guilt, with blame and shame.
She stands trying to still the need to run, to rid herself of the horror of this place, this house from where nobody will ever recover.
How can she help, how can she be of service, to bring something healing, to become more of herself than she feels….for him, fingers still locked with hers, head bowed, ashen faced by her side. To this beautiful, snow white child.
Turning then first to him, Brian, then the mother, the aunties who stand at the doorway looking in, heads bent, weeping.
“I would like to do something, bring something of myself, to offer some Healing.
May I ?”
Heads nod in acquiescence ….they are all frozen, unable to think, to move.
“Bring me her favourite summer dress, some scissors, needles and thread.” and to the other children, brother, sisters, “take this basket, go down along the street and pick as many flowers as you can….everything hanging over fences, fill it to the top….can you do that?” and nodding yes, pleased to be released they rush outside, into fresh air and momentary freedom.
A moment alone, she turns into him, feels the sob rising in his throat, his heart hammering in his chest, places her hand against his cheek, touches his lips…..
“I will see to it, I know what to do now, I will take care of everything …..you will get through this, I will help you” and he grabs her hand, kisses her fingertips, his eyes fierce with unshed tears, trusts her, leans down to her….breathes her in.
All is in readiness, the beautiful young dead girl, Sophie’s favourite floral print dress…..a scattered pattern of wild flowers, ferny leaves, butterflies and bees. He brings chairs, circles them around the bed, as Maggie instructs Mother, Grandmother, the Aunties….”tear the skirt into long wide strips, as many as you can, and then we’ll hem them, and rebind her wrists” and to Brian and the children, “come, bring the basket here” and placing it by the bed, she begins, weaving flowers through the young girl’s hair, nods to him, “will you take over with the kids, while I start sewing?” He’s only too pleased to have something to do, to work quietly beside his nieces, his nephew……then he finds something more….a quiet inner peace fills him….unafraid now, as he adorns her hair, he looks his little Sophie fully in the face, finds solace and tranquility there.
And the day slips by in a slow dream filled silence, but for the occasional murmured word, the soft sounds of sewing, people shifting, someone crying.
And the wrappings are done….again Maggie shows the women what to do.
A slow, methodical winding of the lovely floral fabric, completely covering the surgical bandages, then she, Maggie, neatly folds the ends in.
A white clothed maiden, flowers woven through her jet black hair, on her wrists her flowered gauntlets, and flower chain anklets. Ophelia, lying before them, waiting, in stillness, in deathly silence, but waiting.
Opening her bag, she brings out a bundle of herbs, a shallow ceramic bowl, dried grasses, matches…..ushers everyone out of the room, except for him, who closes the door, waiting. Dried leaves piled upon a bed of grasses, she lights the match, ignites a tiny fire of eucalyptus, lavender and sage…..blows to fan the flames, then lets it all die down as the cleansing smoke rises, as she walks the room, smudging the body, each other, the four corners….constantly blowing the smoke, and the blessing comes unbidden…..”go with love and peace, go with love and peace child, go now, blessed Sophie, and she nods to Brian who opens the bedroom door, who opens the front door wide, as she brings the healing smoke all the way from room to room, and then finally outside.
And all the doors hang open, letting the soul leave the body, leave the house in peace.
As quickly as it is done, she puts the fire bowl down, drops to her knees and howls with grief…..at the terrible waste, the futility, and he bends down beside her, lifts her up, enfolds her, carries her out of the house, into the car, takes her to the hotel room they are staying in for the night, undresses her like a small child, places her in the bed, covers her, draws the curtains…..sits to watch beside her, as she sinks down and down and down, deep into the blessed refuge of sleep.
Waking late in the night, she finds him, still sitting there in the bedside chair, doubled over, head in his hands. She slips out of the bed, goes to him….he’s stiff with cold, frozen from the horrors of the day. Touches him gently, her hand stroking his hair….”where was I when she needed help, I could have helped her but I wasn’t there” and lifts his face up to her, stark white in the dim light, face tormented with grief, with the relentless unanswered, never to be answered questions.
“Why didn’t somebody know how bad things were for her….how angry and alone she was feeling……ahhhhhh we were all so goddamned fucking busy. It’s like a blighted religion…..the religion of busyness.” And scathingly….”I could have paid more attention, visited more often. But of course, I was so busy.”
She cannot fix it, all she can do for him, is listen, touch him lightly with her hands….a blessing on his head, and allow him to speak, to rage, to weep. Until he reaches up for her, pulls her down into his lap, wraps arms tightly around her softness, holds her close to keep the damning thoughts at bay.
She turns her face to him, hands lightly caressing face, neck and shoulders, easing cramped cold muscles, lending him strength.
Feels him stiffen, as grief becomes need, as he stands up still holding her, takes her back to bed. And still she holds him, holds back the tides of grief that threaten to engulf, to drown him. “I’m choking ” he says against her hair, “I can’t breathe ”!!!
Then she covers him, unable to still his mind, she can comfort his body….give him release from the sorrow, the pain, the cutting blade of grief, covers him completely with her body, feels him slip between her legs, enter her deep….cleave to her, like a man drowning. This is what I can give him, an anchor in his emptiness, as she rocks him gently, feeling the horror and the tumult of this terrible day fade and fade and fade away…..and still she rocks him till she falls in and in and into him….one flesh, raw grief, lust, sweat and tears, and frenzied now, wanting only to be devoured….to disappear into that single blinding point of light. And weakened, trembling, gasping for breath, the gracefilled blessing of sleep comes down upon them….and her last thoughts, a prayer for the lovely lost child, “holy Mother of God, bring this blessed child peace….bring her peace”, and still she holds him, deep inside her, she holds him