The walk

The rain was relentless. They walked in it all day, from the soft green fern glades dripping with leeches to the chilly wind of the button grass plain, to the small stand of gum trees where they huddled to eat their lunch. The trunks were shining wet, striped like humbugs in rich browns and dull silver. A creek had sprung up over the path. Tunnel-visioned under the hoods of their jackets, they peered out at the trembling leaves, the runnels and rills at their feet. A warm drink would have been nice, but the stove was right at the bottom of the dry inside of a pack, so instead they chewed on their muesli bars in damp silence. They were wary of stopping for too long.  

Tomas and Lina, famous for their stoically good cheer, read the mood of the group and kept quiet, but Julie complained bitterly. She had been keeping up a steady mutter of discontent all day, mainly to her husband Craig. Australia was supposed to be hot. There was no Boots the Chemist. The walk was too far. She had sacrificed a whole two years’ worth of holidays for this trip and nobody appreciated or cared. Craig had pushed on, a pained look on his face, Julie’s words adding to the torrents. Now that the group had stopped, her complaints poured forth in a whining, continuous stream. Ingrid wished she had never invited the two of them. It was a duty invitation, made for a friend of her mother’s. She sat down on a wet rock, leaning her back against another. The cold of it seeped through her raincoat. Her legs stretched out in front of her in their soaked thermals. Paul came and sat beside her. They would be sharing a tent tonight. She had had to muster up a certain amount of courage to agree to this. The logic of a lighter pack was irrefutable but the intimacy of it challenged her. Even if he was a friend. Even if camping had different rules. Even if. Lina hoisted her pack onto her back again: ‘So, let’s go?’ They stirred themselves, legs stiffened even in that short time, and began the long ascent.  

Several wet hours later, Tomas started to haul himself up the rock face ahead of her. It was a false peak; Ingrid knew that when they reached the top there would be another, taller peak behind, and after that a long, exposed walk across the saddle. She looked back and down. Julie and Craig had fallen behind in the distance, trudging as if already exhausted. Paul had stayed back to encourage them. She felt a tight knot of anxiety. Although the rain had lightened to a drizzle, the clouds were lower and darker than before, presaging nightfall. She looked from the sky to her watch and back to the sky. It was OK, she told herself, they still had two hours before sunset, and longer before complete dark. It was OK. She turned and started up again, wedging her boots stiffly into cracks as she dragged herself up the slippery rocks. When she reached the top, Tomas was waiting for her, pointing.  

For a glorious moment, the clouds were swept away and the golden light of summer broke through, arranging the landscape before them into a paradise of green and grey, vistas opening to vistas, plains folding into hills, silver tarns shining all the way to the far blue horizon, and, through an opening in a mountain range, the distant glint of the sea. But he wasn’t pointing at that. Just off the path, at the top of a steep drop, was a pack.    

In another spot, say at the beginning of a side trip, or another time, say at noon on a sunny day, who would even notice? But it was neither a side trip nor a sunny day. They stared at it for a moment then made their way over to investigate. It was pale blue with a pretty knotted tie on one of the zips. It was wet, but no wetter than theirs. Carefully, fearing the worst, they each lay down and peered over at the drop below, scanning for a human shape. Nothing. They called out. No sound came back to them but the breeze and then, worried, one of their own party. They sat there then, not sure what to do, except to wait for the others to catch up. The day grew older, the shadows longer, the knot in Ingrid’s stomach tighter. If someone was out there in this weather without a pack, injured, or lost, they may not survive the night. But then again, if they started looking (and where would they even start), they would never get to their own camp before dark. No room for a tent here amongst the scoparia and the scree. With a rush of wind, as if to weigh in on the argument, the rain returned. Finally, the six of them gathered and then set off again, leaving the pack behind them. For the rest of the walk, Ingrid fancied that she heard someone calling out for help, but every time it was a bird, or Paul whistling, or the squeak of branches rubbing in the wind. 

The next day dawned sunny and clear. They lingered in the camp, rubbing their feet, drying out the tents. There was some talk of going back to search for the lost walker but somehow it didn’t happen. Each person, privately, made their own excuses. They brewed tea. Four of them took daypacks to climb another peak. Three of them swam in a tarn. Two, staying in the camp to relax, felt they needed to guard the gear. That night they avoided talking. 

It was not until the following day, heading home in hot sunshine, that they acknowledged the pack again. Ingrid hoped that it would have gone but it was there exactly where they had left it. This time they spread out and looked as best they could for its owner, calling vigorously as if they had only just noticed, as if the walker had only just then stepped away. When, relieved, they found nothing, they decided to take a photograph and call it in to the police as soon as they were back within range. Ingrid fussed over her compass and Paul marked the precise location of the find solemnly on the map. The rest of the group bore witness as Lina opened the zips and looked for ID. There wasn’t any. Even Julie was quiet on the way home. 

*** 

That afternoon, in an office in Launceston, a young woman called Chloe received a bollocking from her boss. At least, that was how she described it, later, to her friends. She was sitting behind the desk at reception when he came up and leaned on the counter, causing her to drop her phone guiltily into an in-tray.  

‘Hey Chloe’ (he was so, like disrespectful),  

‘Do you remember that walker that got helicoptered out a couple of weeks ago?’  

Chloe kept her expression neutral. She was supposed to have done something about that.  

‘I think so?’ 

‘What happened with her pack?’  

Ah. There it was.  

‘I’m not sure, Larry.’  

‘I asked you to arrange for a ranger to go out and fetch it’ 

She hated talking to the rangers. They all looked the same and you could never get hold of one. 

‘And I asked you to put the word out to bushwalkers via social media’ 

‘I did! It’s on Facebook.’ 

‘And our website, and the Tas Police page?’ 

‘I think so’ 

‘And the rangers?’ 

‘I’ll get onto them. They probably forgot.’ 

‘Do it now, please. If I have one more call from a traumatised bushwalker, I’ll send you out there to get it yourself.’ 

He wouldn’t, would he? She looked out of the window. It was pissing down. She picked up the phone. 

Kin

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

I was born in a sandy clearing in the middle of a kelp forest, where the light shone green from the wavy roof of the world all the way down to the floor below. The kelp was in constant motion, shifting and soothing, stroking and dancing. It is the first thing I saw. After the birth, my mother rested against a trunk, one arm hooked around it to hold her steady and the other arm cradling me. Her hair waved and swirled like the forest. The light shone through it. I remember.  

We would come back to the clearing, she and I, to gather seaweed and small fish, and to hide from seals. It was there that she taught me language, shaping my small hands with her own. Sometimes, when the light was deep blue and the weight of the world pressed down comfortingly upon us, we would sleep curled up together, resting in the sand that eddied and settled under our tails. We were always together, just the two of us. When I was older, I asked her if there were other people in the world, but she didn’t answer, just gave me that look she had, her hands clasped together in silence. Later I understood that it was grief, and I let it be. I imagined, though. I imagined a whole school of people. There would be small ones who would play games with me and never get tired; hide and seek amongst the rocks, catch-the-crab. There would be other adults, as well. My mother could talk to them and leave me to my own devices. I would be free to tease the octopus as much as I liked, and to work my tail faster and faster as I barrelled through the slow arcades of green light, stirring everything up with my energy and speed. But they were only fantasies. It was just the two of us, and we were always together. Always, until the day we weren’t. 

The day I woke alone, I waited for her to appear from behind a rock or to return with a fish for me, but she did not come. We had settled into a nook, close to a ledge where the seals lay around and barked at each other night and day. They were annoying but we chose the spot anyway because it led to a cave, where I liked to practise breathing outside the world. After some time waiting, I swam out tentatively and peered around. The seals seemed larger, the waves fiercer than they had before. I retreated like a hermit crab into my nook but presently I became curious again, and hungry. I dared myself to strike out alone. Perhaps I would catch a jellyfish. I had just mustered up my courage to launch out of the rocks when, with a flick of the tail, she appeared. She was flustered and flushed, and her hair had a life of its own. When she saw my desperate face, she flinched. She was sorry, she didn’t mean to stay so late. Stay where? She wouldn’t say. 

I took to sleuthing her. She would settle down with me and then, when she heard my relaxed breathing and saw me floating gently on the current, she would leave. I learned to feign sleep just long enough to feel her go, and to listen carefully with my eyes still closed to the disturbance in the water that told me which direction she was travelling, and how fast. Then, slow and sleek, I would slide after her, slipping seamlessly into the space she left behind. I never caught her.  I would return and close my eyes, and then she would return and close hers. We slept late on those days and woke when the light was yellow and high. 

Once, though, I found something amazing. We were in a shallow place in the world, where the roof was always close, and the ground was white and soft. There was nowhere to hide but we were as reckless as rays in those days, and we spun and twirled in the sparkling blue, flicking silver motes with our fins. In the shallowest, narrowest, part you can imagine, waves frothed and bubbled, obscuring the sand. Only the tiniest of fish lived there and they were so fast you could get beached just reaching for them. She warned me never to look above the roof, and never to chase the fish. There was danger everywhere. And yet there we stayed. After a few days, my curiosity mounted. I waited until she left and then, deliberately, I stuck my head up and through the roof of the world and I understood why she had warned me. The scent was intoxicating. Sun and salt and spray and some new, dry, soft, pink, smell I had never known before. I breathed and rolled and breathed and jumped and breathed and breathed. Then I saw the creatures. 

They were startlingly like people. Heads like us, arms like us, waists – but then no tail, just two more arms. I was entranced. She needn’t have worried about them seeing me; the creatures were absorbed in their own play. Some were riding the waves like dolphins, clinging to flat pieces of driftwood. Others were bouncing on their lower arms, noisy as seagulls. There were small ones and large ones. The smallest were carried by their parents. I was so moved to see them that I hung in place and stared, until one of them looked in my direction and I ducked my head and sped away. I understood, then, where my mother had been going. She was watching them like I was, foolish with longing, pretending they were our kin. I pretended too. 

For a season we watched and were never caught. We matched our sleep with theirs, missing out on moonlight hunting times to be alert in the yellow light. If we grew thinner, what did it matter? If we risked capture, we evaded it too. We never touched them and they never saw us, or so we told ourselves. Besides, our heads above the water looked no different from theirs.  

The child was our undoing. I found her on a rock, sitting alone on the deep side of an island where the kelp swished and danced all the way up to the surface and the rockpools held an abundance of crabs. She was staring into a pool, talking silently to herself with her hands. I had never seen a creature use language before. I approached amongst the kelp, holding on to keep myself steady. Her language was different from ours but I thought I could understand it. She was saying something to the crabs. ‘Come here. Don’t hide’. I had said the same to them when I was small. I ducked under and came up closer, propping myself on the edge of the rock so that I could be in the air like she was. When she saw me, she was not afraid; I had hidden my tail. I gestured to her and her face lit up. Maybe she was the only creature with language! How lonely she must be. My hands flew. There was so much to say. She laughed, moving her hands with speed like mine. We understood nothing from each other except that we understood everything. We slowed, pointing and gesturing and using our faces with deliberate care. She was here with her family. She had a mother – so did I! Another adult too. A little sibling. An animal with whiskers. I loved her sharply, with a tremor that rocked my whole body like a tide. We were kin.  

I had not seen the boat, until she drew attention to it. We were so absorbed in the discovery of each other. She made a boat with her hands and pointed. There it was. A small fishing vessel, so close it could catch me. I was such a fool. Any creature swimming could have seen my tail. She looked at my face, stricken by what she saw there. I looked into her eyes. Then, deliberately, I showed her who I was. I slid into the water, lifted my fin to the sunlight and sped as fast as I could, away into the deepest of the depths. I would never see her again. 

My mother found me in the clearing in the kelp forest. We had lost each other for days and yet I had not looked for her. I knew she would come to me. It was just the two of us, as it had always been. We clung together in the deep, where the weight of the world pressed down upon us, and the light shone green from the wavy roof of the world all the way down to the floor below.  

Eight Minutes to Passover 2020

Careless birds flock and call under the great clean sweep of sky 

Ignoring the Angel of Death as she glides silently, dark wings outstretched 

Not my Death. Not my Angel. There’s that apple tree I was talking about. 

Faaark off faaark off faaaark off  

Down below, our houses bear invisible marks  

There are dolphins in the Venice canals  

The wind in the trees is louder than traffic 

A pile of fallen leaves swirls and lifts and falls again as the Angel passes 

Remember when we rubbed up against each other 

Remember when we owned the sky 

Remember when 

The Angel hovers 

Apple

Apple

I met him on a bright day of hot sun and shivering shadows. We had been exploring, Adam and I, in the valley orchards where Lord had expressly forbidden us to go. It was my idea. As long as we were back in time for his evening visit, I reasoned that Lord would never find out. After all, who would tell? He only allowed one breeding pair per species in the Garden, we were the only species who could talk.  We set out, as was our habit, as soon as we woke, and reached the new orchard before the sun was even past the hills. It was surrounded by a wall made of mud, so we climbed the wall with much stubbing of fingers and scraping of naked skin. When we finally reached the top, we were disappointed to find trees just like all the others, laden with familiar fruit. But then we saw him – the gardener. He was tall and upright and tangled in some kind of covering. We had never seen clothes before. So strange! So new! We froze still, staring until he unwrapped himself in the heat of the day, like a snake shedding its skin, and then we stayed there, staring, until he put his skin back on, winding the cloth deftly around his body and fastening it at the waist. When at last he looked directly at us, we leapt down from the wall and ran all the way back. I think I heard laughter. 

The Snake was one of many gardeners but the only one who spoke to me.  

I was a child, and also not a child. It was a strange, in-between time; restless like spring, like wind on the water, like the itch of ants crawling on your skin. I was finicky and jumpy one minute and full of despair the next. Nothing familiar could satisfy me. Adam, my age and until recently my height, was suddenly despicable; a dull and irritating child following me around like a baby bird too fat for its stunted wings. I was desperate for something new. The Snake was new. Also forbidden. In other words, irresistible. 

The first day I went to the orchard alone I felt strange. We didn’t feel fear, Adam and I, because there was nothing to be afraid of in the Garden, but if I had felt it, I’d have said it was like fear. A fluttering, sickly feeling, cured only by running. I ran towards, not away. The Snake looked at me running and then he looked at me standing and then, still looking, he slowly and deliberately put out his hand and touched me with a rough, warm, finger.  

The second time I ran again, not because of fear but because my skin was already flushed for no reason. The Snake was hidden for a moment amongst the trees he was tending. I had never felt loss before, even for a second. It made me draw in my breath. He, coming out of the trees, heard my breath and saw my flushed skin and smiled. 

The third time, he offered me an apple. ‘Take it’, he said; ‘I dare you’. He was looking straight into my eyes and I was looking straight into his. They were brown and shining like a deep waterhole in the cool shade of a forest. 

That evening, when Lord pulled his coracle up on the beach, only Adam went to meet him. I was dreaming in my favourite tree, plucking leaves to fashion myself a second skin like his. The Snake had filled my mind so completely that his name spilled out every time I opened my mouth, and as Adam was the only person to talk to, I spilled it all out to him. I had brought him an apple as a gift, so I could talk about it some more. I am not proud, but that is how it was. 

Lord found me, of course. One look at my dreamy face and my languid limbs and he knew. I was no longer any use to him – not I and therefore not Adam either. I won’t repeat the things he said because he will never speak to us again. And we will never go back to the Garden. But I still have my love. He is growing me an apple tree. 

Smart

She identified as neurotypical, female (pronouns she, her) and very clearly white. On the topic of sexuality, she was less certain. On the whole she thought she may be asexual but there was that troubling feeling she sometimes got when the marker squeaked on her skin that made her wonder if, perhaps…? Very little else touched her. The eraser of course, soft but firm, and once or twice a semester an alcohol-soaked cloth that left her wet all over and slightly dizzy. Apart from that it was just the markers and occasionally the fleeting bump of an elbow or palm on its way to something else, leaving behind a smudge of warmth that glowed in her afterwards for hours.

Neither the eraser nor the cloth, luckily, left her completely clean. She was a palimpsest, a sponge, a Rosetta Stone. After all, had she not absorbed the intellectual residue of so many, many, many classes over the years, she would never have become conscious at all. In the long quiet evenings, she liked to ponder on her favourite topics, feeling the summaries engraved invisibly on her skin. Factorisation was a particular delight. Those neat lines of numbers; the delightful tickling curve of brackets; the joy of making the complicated simple, of finding patterns. She liked to move from the long to the short of it. Also, there was something about the way the maths teacher used her that was … satiating. He would cover her entirely, almost to the point of writing in her margins, so that by the end of the lesson she was dazed, exhausted and replete.

She knew she was conscious (I think therefore I am; Philosophy 101, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at 2:00) and more than that, she knew she was smart. Little wonder then that when people started talking about the Smart Board, she assumed her secret was out and that she was about to be recognised and even used to her full potential.

It was not to be.

The Smart Board was installed on a Monday afternoon and the skip was emptied on Tuesday morning. Her last night on this earth, she felt the spin of the planet, heard the cold high music of the Milky Way. When the sun came up, pulled by birdsong, she was overwhelmed. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive – as Wordsworth once said on some dull overcast Wednesday morning in Spring – but to be here had been very heaven.

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

Rose

On the morning of his wedding day, he woke to dawn light glowing pink and gold through narrow arched windows, diffracted by tiny panes of glass into rainbow patterns on the rugs, the furs, the stone floor. He rose, pulled on his boots and paced out to greet the day, holding up a silent finger to his lips as he passed the soldiers outside. Past the battlements, the turrets, and the great hall he strode, as the castle stirred into life around him. Before the sun had cleared the horizon, he had crossed the courtyard and reached the drawbridge, permanently open across a dry moat. He must see about getting the moat filled again and pulling the drawbridge up at night, now that the impenetrable forest of thorns had been penetrated. By him. 

Oh how the men joked about that. They were still euphoric, high as hawks on an updraft. They had done the thing that couldn’t be done. They had walked straight into a legend and taken it for their own. The naysayers had claimed that there was no kingdom past the forest, that it was all a story. Then, when the towers became visible, that it would be a ruin. Then, even then, on the day they stood at the threshold and gazed out a perfectly preserved landscape, glossy cows sleeping in meadows and neatly pruned trees frothy with apple blossom, they had said that the princess was sure to have died a hundred years ago and would be a mummified corpse high in the highest tower, skin shrunk tight against her delicate skull, vermin nesting in her hair. It was only when they stepped onto the dewy grass that they were silent. The spell that had stopped time shuddered through their bodies, lifting the hair on their arms like a cold breeze. They paid attention to their breath, and let the words fall away, walking silently through the sleeping fields, flanking him all the way to the base of the tower, where they gladly stopped so he could make the final ascent alone. 

Here he was alone again now, on a day ripe with promise. Midsummer. His wedding day. White mist was rising from damp hollows and steaming fields, forming a haze in the distance. Birdsong surrounded him on all sides, blasting out exuberantly from meadow, forest and sky. In the distance, acres of roses released their dying scent. They would have to be burned at some point, when the wood was dry enough. But what then? The kingdom was so innocent, so quaintly steeped in the past. Its subjects were not ready to meet the outside world. They had struggled even to accept him and his men until the queen, his soon-to-be mother in law, took him aside one day.  

‘Think of it from their point of view’, she advised him carefully.  

‘They didn’t know they were asleep. One minute they were going about their business and the next, an army appeared from 100 years in the future and surrounded them without ever coming through the gates.’  

He had noticed the courtesy of the word ‘their’, not ‘our’ and it had inclined him towards gentleness. She was right, also. He must woo them if they were to be his loyal subjects, not overwhelm them. The success of his future reign depended on it. He modified his language, becoming courtly, using the old words they used without smirking, showing due deference to the current king. He kept a close eye on his men and made sure they were doing the same. Nothing could stop them from making ribald jokes in their barracks at night, however. The acres-deep forest of rose trees had been christened the Chastity Belt. The tallest tower was now the Prince’s Massive Tower. There were multiple songs based on the rhyme of rose and hose.  

He squinted into the distance. His family would be arriving today. What would they make of all this? His father would be proud, he knew. A third son had done the impossible and gained a kingdom. His brothers would be both jealous and impressed. He could hear Theo now, casting doubts on the fertility of the bride (‘A hundred year old womb? I’m just saying, it’s a risk I wouldn’t take’). Arthur, nothing to prove, would be all manly pats on the back and galloping horses around the boundary. Sweet Johnathon would gravitate towards the women, talking herbs in the kitchen garden. Sweet Johnathon, for all his brothers’ scoffing, had more luck with the girls than any of them. Rumour had it that he already had three bastards by the time he was married and it didn’t stop there. Of course, they would bring their wives as well, and the little ones all dressed in their finery. He was childishly excited to see them, to make them proud. Look at what I have done! And soon, he hoped, he would have children too. Plenty. Assuming of course that the princess could conceive. 

The princess. She of the enchanted sleep. He felt a tremor of unease. He had told nobody the real story of that day in the tower. How he had entered with cautious reverence into the warm golden light of the room; how even the dust motes had glowed with magic. She had been sprawled on the bed like a child, her right arm flung out with unself-conscious abandon, her skirts rumpled, her skin plump and flushed with sleep. Her neck was as white and slender as a swan’s, her elegant clavicles outlined in soft shadow. As he approached, he had become aware of the swell of her breasts and felt an instant stab of desire. He imagined grasping her supple body, spending himself in the warm cleft between her thighs. It was not until he was above her that he realised her eyes were open, unseeing.  It unnerved him so that his kiss, after all the anticipation, was perfunctory and he turned abruptly away. Anyone watching would have said he was frightened.  

Perhaps he was still frightened. Today she would be his bride and yet there was a coldness between them, like a bank of river mist. It was merely maidenly reticence, everyone assured him; girlish modesty in the presence of her future lord. His concerns had not been eased, however. A hundred years in a tower at the centre of a powerful enchantment – who knows what effect that may have? Madness. A poisoned bloodline. A hostile womb. He shuddered, then set his face resolutely in the direction of the sunrise. He would not be swayed by doubt, like some common page. He would overcome all obstacles. He would cut through every forest of thorns. It was midsummer, the morning of his wedding day. His glorious future had begun. 

Requiem

Requiem

Four weeks after my father’s funeral, I return to the church to sing in a concert. I was introduced to Mozart’s requiem as a teenager and since then I have sung it on stage, to cassette tapes, to CDs, to Spotify, under my breath in a cathedral in Prague; on five different continents; in two different centuries; in fury, in frustration, in homesickness, in love, on road trips, at the gym, while vacuuming – never once for its intended purpose. Until now.

A requiem mass is the very last thing you can do for someone you love. It sounds dignified to pray for the repose of a soul but oh it is not, not if you mean it. In the midst of death, it’s a prayer for eternal life; the last of last chances just as the words ‘too late’ begin to insinuate themselves into the fabric of your heart. My faithlessness is irrelevant. Dad has lost his voice and the job of supplicant, for better or worse, has fallen to me. The matter of fact show-must-go-on musicians around me understand the circumstances and are both tactful and practical with their advice: ‘Don’t think about the words, just pretend you can’t speak Latin.’ (I can’t speak Latin). In truth, though, the words don’t matter. Music, not Latin, is the language we speak to God.

The orchestra plays a stately and dignified introduction and for a few bars it sounds as though this will be a civilised transaction, but then the upbeat catches like a sob in the throat and we begin. Over the course of an hour we plead, we beg, we flatter, we hammer with our closed fists on the gates of Heaven. Let him in. Let him in. Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy. This cannot be the end. Dad in a flimsy hospital gown, worrying about whether his life had come to anything. Salve me. Save him. Let him in. The music breaks through us like ocean swell, like gale force winds. Solvet saeclum in favilla. The world is dissolving into ashes. Let him in. Dad, teary and confused, understanding that he was going to die. It is falling apart under our feet. Let him in. Dad, praying when he forgot who he was. Supplicante parce, Deus. Listen. Listen. He has nothing. He is one tiny soul. Let him in. Rex tremendae majestasis. Let him in, you silent, uncaring, King of terrible majesty. You said you loved him and he believed you. He believed you for his whole life. Where are you now? Ne me perdas ilia die. Do not forsake him. Voca me cum benedictis. Look at him. Look at him. Call him with the blessed. Let him in.

All we have is time, and by the end of it our breath is used up, our arguments are exhausted, and I am stripped bare, sobbing like a child ‘but you promised’. You promised. Pie Jesu. Precious Jesus, please. Let him in. The final amen feels like resignation. I could not have tried any harder. The conductor is standing where his coffin was. God and I are no longer on speaking terms.

The applause sounds tinny and loud, the light garish through tall windows. Everything is transient. The configuration of people, the bowing, the dust motes, the settling of petals on the flowers in the soloists’ arms. I creep back to the present like a refugee. All we have is time. Time is all anyone has. Grant him eternity.

Friends

Friends

I watch for danger all night, she near the wall, me near the door. She sleeps, very noisy. In the night she tucks her chin under the cover and leaves her long black fur on the white pillow so we can be the same. Black fur, white fur, curled up together safe. Only when sleeping she purrs, not when awake. I share my purring with her. Sometimes before sleep she puts big smells in her head fur for me to sniff. I can still recognise her though. It’s our joke.

She is very playful.

Sometimes there is danger and sometimes the danger is her. If she shouts, I come running just in case. Mostly she shouts at other humans and I shout at Stupid Cat. I think they try to steal from her. Maybe territory, maybe food. She is so fierce and brave. If she is attacked, she will hiss and yowl and never give up. Even for hours she yowls and they yowl and then they go away and then I groom her wet face. Well done I say, you are so fierce and brave like a great hunter. Sometimes she shouts at tap tap laptop. Laptop is very vexing to her. She stares it down and jabs it quick quick quick. Take that, laptop. I sit with her giving her all my fighting strength. If she calls big humans to help, I sit far away but I don’t leave her. Laptop cannot be trusted.

She is very brave.

We smell together and we stretch together. Her body is not quiet like mine. It’s frantic like Afternoon Frenzy but all day. She is upside down and jumping leaping. She stares at the window and does dancing hopping. Over and over. I don’t do dancing. I groom and wait. When she is excited, she squeals and then we chase, skittering and scattering fast around corners, leaping up on bed and couch. I race her to high places where she can’t catch me and low places too. She squeezes me if she grabs me and I squeal, just like big humans squeeze her and she squeals.

She is very fast.

The big humans do not love her like I love her. She lies on them, but they never groom her for long enough. She loves the big humans, but they don’t deserve it even though they feed her. Smaller humans come and purr and play with her and share food, but they do not groom her properly either, only sometimes they tidy head fur together. She vibrates when she loves someone. If her loves are not there, she can call up pictures of them. It’s her secret magic that she only shares with me, talking to the pictures and making the pictures talk back. When the loves come to visit her again, I stare at them, but I don’t tell. Sometimes they rub my head but only a little.

She is very forgiving and kind.

Are we from the same litter? What kind of a stupid question is that? She would never ask such a stupid question. She is tricksy and clever. She can find me anywhere even if I do my best hiding, and she can solve any problem. She can even make boxes and hiding places with her clever paws. She knows all the human meows and all the cat ones, and she hunts alone for foods that she kills outside and wraps in paper and bags and brings home to share.

She is very tricksy and clever.

Of course we are from the same litter. I don’t remember when, but long ago we were kittens and we were lost and brave together. So I watch for danger all night, she near the wall, me near the door. Go away now. We sleep.

Magnet

Once again, the magnet caught my eye. I was floating past on one of the many currents that circulate through the air-ocean, not thinking about anything until I saw it. It was roundish in shape with soft edges. The colour was a warm amber, fuzzy on the outside and glassy in the centre. It was the third time I had noticed it. It glowed gently, brightening slightly as I looked.  Was that a faint humming sound? A memory stirred in me of other magnets, other times.  

I was not used to feeling curious. In the air-ocean, all is in perfect balance; we know all things and we feel all things and to focus on one thought at a time felt awkward. The image of a soft blue magnet with a taste of moonlight sparked for a while and then faded again. I would not go any closer. A moment later I let the current ease me away.  

Time does not exist in the air-ocean, except around the magnets, and even then, only when you get close. I exhaled my curiosity and continued drifting calmly, around and around as the current took me. It was … pleasant. I drifted through and around other beings and sometimes we mingled together, swirling for a moment and separating again, both changed. I had done this many times. The Whole never changed, but the parts were in constant motion. I was all things now. I did not need to limit myself. 

But there was something about that magnet. The fourth time, I let myself approach. As I drifted closer, its flavour came into focus. It was complex. They all are. Woodsmoke, heat, E flat major slipping into C minor, frustration … I pulled away. I was not ready for the details. I aimed myself into the distance with more intent than I had before. The magnetic pull had worked on me so hard that my elements were bunching together, becoming firm, making it difficult to drift. I spun away, aware of the drag.  

I was not sure what to do with my new lopsidedness. I tracked other magnets, deliberately looking now. I had not noticed how many there were; all the colours and textures and scents and sounds you could imagine. I went close to one the colour of water with a scent of snow but it did not make a sound for me. I had forgotten it even before the current took me away. A raspberry red one (I remember raspberries!) in D major smelled waxy, like the inside of a beehive, and as I nosed closer, it threw out euphoria mixed with an interesting stab of pain. Intoxicating, I thought. Maybe I could attach to that one! But I had scared myself. Why would I attach to any of them? I needed to get back into the drift, melt that clump away until I was in harmony again, smoothly floating on the current. But smooth only reminded me of the amber magnet. How the centre was glassy and smooth like a polished stone.  

Resistance feels strange in the air-ocean. We all re-enter with it of course but then we dissolve and the more you practise the easier the dissolving is. Many times now, I had entered the ocean with closed fists tightly holding to all I had been, only to release in the warmth and feel the bitter sweet pleasure of falling apart; watching with a deep sense of calm as everything I had brought spread out on the current and swirled again into the Whole. So why did I feel myself resisting now?  

I approached it at a distance and hung back, stationary as the currents moved around me. E flat major. Frustration. Was that chilli? I could have taste buds again. How strange that would be. Ears. Eyes. Skin. A tongue. Limits. I felt my being shrink and condense at the thought. I could have thoughts. The amber glowed. I drew dangerously close.  

It was not too late to resist. The pull of the magnet drew me nearer and tighter but I could still dissolve if I wished. Did I wish? I had missed desire. And hunger. And, surprisingly, time. I turned back reluctantly into the air-ocean but it was hard; the magnet was huge now, my being tight and small. I kicked, hoping to propel myself backwards. My bent legs were strong, my tiny feet stretched wide like fins. I kicked and bounced back and forth. My fists bumped loosely against my face. A thumb found its way into my mouth. How good it felt to suck. 

Love Birds

The birds were so loud. Half asleep, she wondered what they were talking about, before she slipped back into the dream where they were discussing their plans for the day. One intended to find softer nesting materials after seeing Two pluck fur from a wallaby’s back. Three was speculating about a great feast of bugs in an unfamiliar tree. Four was making rude comments about Five’s feathers, and Five (she felt the words before she heard them) hushed the other birds so he could make an announcement; The human watching them had been dumped by her boyfriend. With that, all the birds turned their heads in her direction and stared accusingly. She was an imposter who had been found unworthy of love. Their distain woke her exactly three seconds before the alarm. 

On the other side of the city The Boyfriend, Drew, slept peacefully. The sun poking its fingers under his blinds was already hot, and yellow as yolk. Unable to pass the fortifications of curtain and blind, it blasted instead onto the outer wall of Drew’s house until the room inside was stuffy and thick with heat and Drew woke dehydrated and stumbled out of bed, scratching his naked torso, to drink from the bathroom tap. He wiped his face on his arm and blinked at the day. Muffled traffic noises came from outside, ornamented by the raucous cries of a flock of galahs trashing the apricot tree. The back yard, viewed from the bathroom window, was an urban jungle of long grass, sticky weed, unidentified shrubs, and gum nuts that got painfully underfoot on the way to the rusted BBQ. Drew yawned luxuriously. He may as well go and sit on the step in his undies while he ate his cornflakes. It was too hot indoors. 

Paige checked her phone again. No messages. A sharp jab to her heart. She fantasised, not for the first time, about being together enough not to look. Her last breakup had been different. As in, she’d confronted him and demanded to know what was going on and he’d told her he was no longer interested, and she’d turned her back and walked away and stopped wondering. Well, to be fair, she’d cried a lot, but it was a clean cut, sharp and painful but not infected by second-guessing or creeping dread. She scrolled back over the last two weeks of her correspondence with Drew. She had initiated contact with him at a ratio of 3:1. Her texts were approximately six times longer than his, and included humour, reference to in-jokes and shared history, and intelligent but not nerdy comment on current events. His, depressingly, were short and functional. Had they become sparser of late? She compared the past week with the previous one. Yes. The ratio of contact initiation had slumped to a humiliating 5:1. For completeness, she considered social media. Hardly any snapchatting, Facebook loves had been replaced by dutiful likes, and although he had posted on Instagram (a night out with mates and a sunrise over a surf beach), he had not acknowledged any of her posts for a week. The results were in. The stats were clear. Yet … his Tinder profile wasn’t yet back in action. Hope? Or someone else? She fingered her phone. She could send him a causal, breezy text about meeting up, as if nothing was wrong. Nobody loves clingy. Maybe she could turn up at his place tonight with beer – surprise! But what if he ignored the text, or said no? What if he came to the door and looked right through her? The thought of his rejection made her shrivel inside. She was not brave enough. She’d wait instead, despite the agony. And then when the agony got too much, she’d dump him herself. Except she knew she wouldn’t. She finished her cornflakes and left the bowl in the sink. She was too depressed to wash up. 

Drew went back indoors, leaving his bowl on the back step. It was his first day off after six late shifts. He should still be asleep but fuck it, he was awake now and the glittering sea was a ten-minute drive away. He rummaged around for some shorts, grabbed his wetsuit off the fence, and chucked his surfboard in the van. He’d catch some waves, have a feed at the fish and chip shop, and come back for a shower. After that? He’d probably drop in on Paige; it had been a while. They could have sex, swop stories over a beer or two and maybe go out that night if she was free. Yep. Sounded like a plan. He started up the van.