An overgrown baby sits in a supermarket trolley. Long legs hang from an ill-fitting baby seat; a pacifier plugged firmly into his mouth. He cannot speak; cannot question nor protest; complain; request; reason; discuss. He can speak no evil.
His hands hold a portable DVD player. It plays a cartoon. Over-sized ear phones are rammed into his delicate ears. He can not respond to external noise; he is deaf to its calling. His world is insular, one in which only he can hear and understand.
Upon his machine, the action plays. To me the actions are nonsense without sound, but the eyes of the overgrown baby are fixated upon the screen, captivated by a sequence he has undoubtedly witnessed a million times over. He sees none who surround him. We move in his periphery like trees on a windy day; invisible like a breeze.
His parent drifts down an aisle, busy gathering necessary objects and foodstuffs from the shelves. His child is set up, armed and occupied so as not to bother anyone....and yetI am bothered, though for reasons the parent might not expect.
The streets trail endlessly behind me -
A prisoner on a tight leash.
A rubber high rise bends
To leer in jest through tinted windows.
Wardens wield coloured lights,
To hold the weary captive to their whims.
Conspiring concrete blocks crowd,
casting malicious shadows
From every street corner.
I've tried to outrun the city -
Reject it; forget it.
It will not cast me out -
And I am caught
In its continuous pattern -
Its infinite, mesmerising maze.
$600 a week? Since when did $600 a week become good rent in this cunt-of-a-town? $2400 a month - Christ! It's a decent enough joint I suppose, but when did $600 a week become do-able, desireable; something to punch the air about?
'Heaven knows, its just bricks and mortar', he says offhandedly, taking a swig of beer in the process.
I've got bricks and mortar, but they don't cost me $600 a week. My place is a dogs breakfast but. Needs a bloody grenade so I can start again. Perhaps I should be paying $600 a week?
'Some people pay much more', she says, 'much, much more', she adds, eyebrows raised, head doing a slow nod, as if she knows what she's on about.
I nod too, mechanically, trying to get my head around her justification.
'Rents are crazy', he said.
'Fucken oath Mate', I think, 'it's only bricks and mortar'.
Crude graphite scratches a harmony onto paper;
A tattoo of thoughts and ideas,
A scarring of images; internal rage and pain,
A lingering kiss filled with joy, humour and love
An etched still of lingering observation.
Fibres entwine here.
Graphite smudges across a perfect surface.
A trio of essences collide;
Mineral, mind, material.
Words are formed
Within the sacred bounds of my notebook.
Their decisive combination develops into meaning.
Spidery scrawls lumber across the manuscript.
Dark retractions blemish the page;
They symbolise process, not mistake.
Tear not a page.
Neither scrunch nor discard it.
Savour the process.
The pendulum will stop swinging at centre.
When energy ceases to swirl
The process, she is complete.
'The angels are having a pillow fight Mumma,' calls Neve, in a voice beckoning me to come see.
Drying my hands on a tea towel, I amble over to the sitting room window; a giant mouse summoned by a pint size Pied Piper. Neve is leaning against the back of the couch, her little hands propping up a face full of wonder. Her eyes sparkling like beach pebbles newly washed ashore. I sit down upon the armrest and loop an arm around her waist.
Outside, the streetlights luminate a stage dressed in white; the snow drifting silently before us like a mesmerising troupe of whirling dervishes, as we sit with our heads resting together like a pair of bookends.
'They look like feathers fluttering down to Earth. Don't they Mumma?' she speaks dreamily.
'They sure do, Honey. Those angels must be having one hellava fight up there, huh?' I squeeze my girl into me. She giggles with delight; my favourite sound in the whole world.
'Did you know that snow is a living thing?' says Neve.
'How so, Doll?' I reply, glancing down at her gappy toothed smile.
'Well,' she enthuses, 'today the snow is born and when it melts it dies,' she states, full of authority.
'Well, I'll be darned! You're right,' I tease with my hands on my hips. 'How about you give that snow some privacy while it's getting born and go brush your teeth!' She hops off the sofa and I pretend to growl at her like a big old bear, chasing her up the stairs with her dressing gown fanning outward like a phantom's cape.
I go back to the sink, and the mindless task of washing the dishes. I gaze out at the falling snow, contemplating my child's insight. Indeed, snow does seem to be a living thing. When born, it is new, fresh and light. Everyone loves it, young and old; it can not be helped; hours can be lost just gazing at it. Eventually people start wondering about its future...will it still be there in the morning? How long will it stick around? Will it cause much destruction? How high will the snow pile grow?
Once it stops falling though, we are left with the reality of it - a messy mass, that won't clean up after itself.
Later on, as it dies, the once crisp white, fluffy snow; once so pliable; so enchanting; so delightful in our hands, turns grey, and kind of decays into a slushy, muddy, repulsive slop. It is not fun anymore and we wish it would hurry up and soak into the ground so our lives can return to normal.
I look out at the pretty snow, falling passively and gently in erractic swirls, and consider it unfortunte that many will soon be cursing this little gift from nature - the secret life of snow.
‘Why do fellas these days, have to wear those bloody horrible long shorts?’ asks Dad glaring down the passage to Nigel, who was wandering in our direction.
‘I dunno Dad‘, I sigh. ‘It’s the fashion. They are all wearing them like that. Forget it….Did you have a read through those brochures?’
I attempt to bring Dad back to the matter at hand. I know he is struggling with the idea of his own mortality. It’s not my favourite subject, but it was his idea to get matters sorted. He said he didn’t want us to deal with it; not after what he went through when Mum died last winter. I said I’d help him, but I don’t think either of us is ready for this discussion.
‘Don’t they realise how bloody stupid they look?’ says Dad, completely ignoring my question, and sniggering as Nigel approaches.
‘What?’ asks Nigel, wondering what the joke is.
‘Nothing Love’, I say, waving him away.
‘It’s them shorts, Son’, Dad is laughing so hard he dissolves into a coughing fit.
‘What about ‘em? Don’t you like me shorts Grandpa?’ Nigel smirks and does a little jig.
‘They look shithouse!’
Nigel stands there for a moment looking at his Grandfather, who is now coughing and wheezing like a madman.
‘Settle down Dad. You’ll cough up a lung in a minute.’
‘Grandpa, me old mate’, says Nigel slapping his Grandfather on the back, ‘trouble with you is…. you’re old!’ Nigel scoffs in his Grandfather’s face before grabbing the keys to the Commodore, which lie on the kitchen bench. He laughs all the way to the front door, continuing his pants jig.
Dad stiffens, feigning offence, ‘Cheeky bastard!’
‘I’m off’, calls Nigel from the front porch.
‘Bye Love’. The front door swings shut and the V8 engine revs outside.
Dad leans in with gritted teeth and eyeballs me across the table. He’s not laughing anymore.
‘If he turns up to my funeral wearing those bloody pants, I’m gunna jump out of my fuckin’ box and kick his arse!’
I sit across from my father, holding his stare. Casually, I turn to the casket page in one of the funeral home brochures, ‘Pine, oak or mahogany?' I ask dryly.
Dad is silent for a moment, before a smile spreads across his face.
You arrived four weeks early; without fuss; without drama. This was your intention. You have always been very definite about your actions.
I knew you were a girl. I could not think of a boy’s name to save my life, and it worried me that I was unprepared, but we “spoke”, you and I, before you were born; soul to soul. You told me you were a girl and I needn’t bother with boy’s names. So I didn’t. I trusted our communication. I even dared buy a tiny pink cardigan, which I packed in my hospital bag for your first trip home. You were perfect in every way- my beautiful girl.
Chelsea loved hearing her birth story. She’d sit transfixed, astounded by details she’d partaken in, but had no memory of. This was my gift to her.
My own birth story begins on the day my sister chose me...... I was seven weeks old.
Sarah was insistent. She only wanted you. You were the prettiest baby in the hospital, Mum would recall proudly; my sister sitting beside her, blushing on cue as she’d squeeze us into her.
Dad always said Mum was naturally maternal, but after five miscarriages in four years she conceded, receiving a baby in the normal way was unlikely. Mum never made my sister nor I feel like conciliation prizes. Rather, she made adoption seem like a spiritual act of fate:
‘My angels simply took an unintended detour. I just had to find them and bring them home’, she’d say matter-of-factly. I secretly worried about the three unfound angels. I wondered if Mum did too.
In my family, it was easy not to dwell on adoption, though it was a fact I could not ignore; more so since becoming a mother myself. I thought carrying and birthing a baby would help me reconcile a missing piece of myself, but in the days after my daughter’s birth, the overwhelming bond I felt for my child only brought confusion and despondency, as I struggled to understand how my birth mother could have abandoned me.
My family celebrates birthdays with presents and cake in the usual way, but they also acknowledge our adoption anniversary. On this day, Mum and Dad would pick a posy of flowers from the garden and leave them in our room with a simple note of affection resting against the crystal vase. It read:
‘So glad you are mine’.
I looked forward to that ritual every single year. Even now, as adults and Mum passed, Dad still pops around with flowers from his garden to mark the day; ‘So glad you are mine’, he’ll whisper in my ear as we embrace. ‘Me too Dad’, I reply. ’Me too’.
One night, when Chelsea was five, she asked me about ‘the flower day’, and I told her about my adoption and our family tradition. Chelsea was quiet throughout my story, lying back on her pillow with her honey coloured curls spiralling outward like a fan. When I was done, she lay looking at me with concerned eyes. Then she sat up and hugged me, her thin arms draped around my neck.
‘I am glad you are mine too Mummy’, she spoke softly into my ear.
‘I am glad you are mine too Poppet’, I returned.
Chelsea is ten now, and they are discussing family at school. Grandparents on both mine and her father’s side have been fantastic in helping Chels pad out her research.
I am sitting at the kitchen table, only distantly interested in the Suduku puzzle from the newspaper, while Chelsea glues photos onto a family tree project.
‘Mum’, she asks. ‘Have you ever thought of finding your real parents?’
This is not a new question. I have been asked this many times over during the course of my life. I answer in the rehearsed way:
‘No Darl, it doesn’t interest me’, I lie.
‘But don’t you want to know why your real mum didn’t want you?’
Your real Mum didn’t want you. These are the words that resonate in me. They burn with the ruthless ferocity of a rampaging forest fire, but I steady myself and follow with my stock standard retort:
‘As far as I am concerned, my real Mum and Dad are Grandma and Poppy. They have loved and raised me my whole life. I know no other parents’. This response usually suffices to shame the enquirer, and draw the conversation to a swift close - but not today.
‘You could go on that show Find My Family’, she suggests helpfully.
‘If others want to go on that show then that is okay, but it is something I do not feel necessary to enter into’, I reply self-righteously .
‘Okay’, she mumbles shamefully.
‘Besides’, I add, ‘how would Poppy feel?’ I wait for a response. Chelsea shrugs with resigned, withered shoulders.
‘Well I think he’d feel very hurt”. Chelsea says nothing, but continues to look down at her project. Smiling couples gleam back at her; happy portraits of the generations before her, and a candid shot of my sister and I at the beach, with Mum holding her sun hat, preventing it from blowing away. She is laughing at the awkwardness of her pose, with two squirming girls on her lap. This was my real childhood; my only childhood. What ifs can never be, despite the unspoken yearning to know more, and the unrelenting desire for understanding, which lurks below the surface and never leaves, like a menacing crocodile with its beady eyes peering out from the water; disturbing the tranquillity of a superficial paradise. Who am I to throw rocks into the water to torment the crocs?
‘Mum’, Chelsea chimes in. ‘Don’t be mad, but…’, she hesitates, and my stomach turns over like pages from a book made of slate. ‘The other day, when I was talking to Poppy about his Mum and Dad, I asked him if he’d be sad if you tried to find your real parents.’
‘Chelsea! You didn’t’, I throw my pencil down in disgust, and glare at her with a mix of fear and intrigue.
‘It was only a question’ she insists, sounding irritated.
‘Well!’ I blurt ‘How did he react?’ Chelsea looks up from her project, uncertain about sharing her information.
‘Well….. he asked if you’d looked into it, but I said I didn’t think so.’
‘Of course I haven’t’, I interrupt.
‘He thought for a bit, and said he might be a little sad, but he could understand someone needing to know about their birth family. Then he said he was surprised you hadn’t looked into it already. He reckoned he would want to know.’
‘Really….?’ My voice trails off. I sit there considering the possibility. It was an unspoken agreement, between my sister and I, that we never discuss our birth families; it was a loyalty thing; a respect thing. We were already part of a family story, as Chelsea’s project clearly illustrated, but I could also feel my absence in my birth mother’s story; we were like magnets pulling together through a thick sheet of cardboard; an irresistible attraction that others can neither see, feel nor understand. Then there is the other draw; the need for understanding and rationalisation; traits that seem at odds with other family members. Such as my rotten temper, when all others are mellow. My honey coloured curls, which my daughter also inherited, but who gave them to me? And what about Dad’s diabetes, present on both sides of his family? What pathological traits have my genes set me up for?
Unrelenting questions swim around my mind like stray letters in a child’s alphabet soup. I could scoop them out and attempt to unite them in a long lost word or slurp them up as the inconsequential pieces of pasta they really are; something to chew on in an otherwise clear broth. I am leaning toward the latter, knowing there will always be something to justify my yearning, but at what cost? The umbrella that has protected me from all matter of stormy weather remains - my life is good. I am surrounded by a loving family; I have an abundance of happy memories that glitter through my life like the Milky Way on a clear night; Strong role models who have shown me what a family should be, enabling me to confidently parent my own child, with the support of a loving partner and sound advice of generations echoing through the one before me. I might have been given up at birth, something I find difficult to reconcile, but I am accepting, for I know from where I have come, spiritually not biologically, but still, in this I know I can never be alone, for I was not so much abandoned as received.
After a tiresome afternoon cooped up indoors, Amy dashes outside to be the first to stomp in the puddles brimming in the backyard. While pulling on her pink rubber boots, she peers up into the clearing sky and spots the familiar arc of a rainbow. Captivated, she reaches out, wishing to take the rainbow in her tiny hand. She imagines it to feel light and fluffy like the coloured candy floss her Nan had bought her at the fair last spring, and she hopes it will dissolve into the same sticky sweet residue upon her touch, which she’d lick from her fingers with glee.....
The horses in the stable neighed spiritedly, as the wind picked up outside. The sound rippled, black and white, down old Jimmy's spine, like a finger running through the octaves of a piano; from High C to low.
Green eyes glint in the darkness, betraying the malevolence obscured and watching deep within the shadows of the leafy undergrowth. An evil presence lurks, blending into the landscape; stealing into the scene with a creeping slipperiness, like a menacing oil slick spreading its vile intent atop a benign ocean.
An oblivious emerald parrot fans its jewel-coloured feathers on a low branch, while other avian varieties, sensing the depraved, spontaneously flee, screeching for others to follow suit and escape to higher ground, but the warning is unheeded by the emerald parrot .
All is too quiet in the forest now; an uneasy hush has spread throughout the lush woodlands; only the low tinkling of leaves and haunting creak of damp wood rubbing against damp wood can be heard.
The emerald parrot is lulled into a false sense of serenity as it is gently swayed in the branches; natures conspiracy. Even the orchestrating frogs inhabiting the reedy pond nearby, appear to be caught, mid-croak, holding their breaths and waiting in anticipation for the regrettable; the inevitable.
Glimmering eyes hold fast to the object of its desire. A supple body lowers, crouching in readiness to strike. Glowing green eyes fixate; ebony pupils dilate; a heart within an agitated chest, hastens; muscles tense and adrenaline courses through plump veins.
Without warning, a lithe, auburn body springs from the dark conspiring brush. A solitary screech rings out as a single emerald feather drifts upon the invisible crest of a final breath.
Falling. Spinning. Drifting.
In final flight, the feather gently comes to rest. It lies motionless upon the damp forest floor; hidden and blending with the moist mosses, Baby Tears and unfurling tendril of ferns.
For a moment all is quiet, but for the sound of quick loping footsteps padding stealthily back into the cover of dark shrubs and shielding leaves. A Lark calls from a distant treetop. It is a question. It is a query as to whether the deed is yet done. Somewhere through the foliage, desperate grunts and tearing ensure, and the sounds of beastly gorging soon follow.
The pond frogs breathe out. Their simultaneous sound is a symphony of disquiet, functioning to obscure that unbearable partnership of sound: consumer and the consumed.
I remember when Charlie died. It shouldn’t have been as traumatic as it was, considering I was raised on a farm where death was a necessary and demonstrated way of life. Chickens were beheaded and plucked, on demand; pigs were slaughtered and strung up on hooks; rogue brown snakes had their heads blown off with a .22, and kangaroos lay bloated and mangled along the highway. These occurrences were known and accepted, but Charlie was not like the other animals. He was one of us.
Charlie, an affectionate ginger tom, fathered most to the farm cats that inhabited our yard, along with many of the feral varieties that squealed in the scrub in the night. Charlie was the only pet allowed inside, and could be found sunning himself on a bed, bathed in a shaft of light thrown by half drawn curtains. The burnt orange fabric casting a glow about the room, making his ginger fur alight like the sun.
Of a winter, he would bask in the warmth of a crackling fire and he would lap up the endless stroking provided by my younger brother and I; content to hear him lulled into a melody of gentle purring.
He was my mother’s cat, but he surpassed my history, so I remember him as ‘ours’. It was my mother who found him that day.
‘Dead’, she said.
‘Old age’, she said.
I was six, and in the middle of my evening bath when she appeared in the doorway to tell me the sad news. It was the first death-of-a-loved-one I had experienced, and I suddenly felt more naked than I had been only moments before.
‘Charlie’s dead. He died of old age’; as simple as that.
She left me there to wallow and wail; exposed and alone. No comfort was offered; no hugs through shuddering tears. I was in the bath. What could she do? Her timing was like months old milk.
I remember calling for Charlie the next day. Shaking a carton of dry cat food like a maraca, I did so in the vain hope that a promised meal might lure him from hiding. It did not.
Charlie seemed, quite simply to have vanished. I had not seen him dead. We had not buried him together, and my mother did not think to talk to me about my understanding of death, despite my obvious distress. Neither did I seek her wisdom on the matter, although an independent wondering about the afterlife began to fester in me; a theme that would become a considerable fixation some decades on. A fixation stemming from that timelessly puzzling first question, ‘but where did Charlie go’?
“You appear to have yielded a crop of green umbrellas”, teases my husband on the way to watering his prized roses. “At least vegetables are useful”, I scoff after him, rolling my eyes. This is my patch. Travis, being the experienced gardener in the family, reluctantly surrendered the daggy part of the garden for my project.
I gaze at the apparent “umbrellas”. Their edges ruffle in the light breeze, like elephant ears mindlessly swatting flies. Many leaves have flopped, exhausted from heat; remaining upright only with assistance from tubular stems; the leaves, hanging over them like a sleeping toddler draped over the shoulder of a loving parent.
An organic aroma hangs in the air; earthy and pungent. It smells of comforting things; blue skies, flitting white cabbage moths and crumbly soil.
A phallic-shaped object peeks out from a jungle of leaves. With great anticipation, I wrap a quivering hand around its firm shaft and give a gentle twist. I am quite unsure of what I am doing – virgin gardener that I am.
My arm grazes a plant stem. Fine prickles irritate my skin like an old man’s beard during an obligatory greeting kiss. The discomfort forces me to acknowledge the mother plant, while my hands wrangle among her leafy petticoats.
The fruit comes away in my hand with a satisfying snap, leaving a warm green object to lie across my palm. Moist, white flesh lays exposed and glistening from whence it had been torn from its parent.
Delighted, I go in search of others, and find six more playing hide and seek in the thicket. Possibilities for tonight’s dinner file through my mind; saucy and sweet.
With my haul clutched greedily in hand, my plants suddenly appear even more despondent. Guiltily, I utter some token words of gratitude, though my guilt is fleeting. Ratatouille and zucchini cakes simply do not make themselves.
I found her driving gloves in the drawer of the hall room table. They lay neatly beside her keys; soft, smooth leather contrasting the sharp edges of cold metal and steel.
Carefully, I lift them into the light. It feels like a sacrilege. It is too soon. Too confronting. I am holding her hands; cold and limp.
I imagine her slim, elegant fingers outstretched in them, as I have seen many times in the past. These gloves are synonymous with her - a second skin.
Iconic images forge through my mind; her leather clad fingers wrapped around the steering wheel - leather upon leather squeaking with each flex and tightened grip, like sure, taut ropes against a ship's rigging.
A long elegant finger stretched skyward pointing out a hawk circling overhead as we huddle on a mound of ancient seaweed under a red woollen blanket spread over our knees; a brass wrist buckle glinting in the restrained winter sunlight.
Tentatively, I slip a glove over my clumsy hand. My hands are not slight, my fingers not elegant . The leather is tight around my fingers; snug and comforting. Bending my fingers, I wonder if the creases in the leather matched those of her palm and whether I could read her life through these same creases....if only I knew how.
The familiar aroma of well-kept leather is heady. She looked after her things as she looked after me.
Gently, I pull the glove from my hand. I stare at the gloves and swallow hard, contemplating the necessity of placing them back in the drawer; surrendering them to darkness for the final time.
"Keep 'em", a ragged voice strains from behind me.
I turn feebly toward the voice. Our watery eyes meet. Same eyes in different skulls.
With a barely detectable nod my eyes cast down to the gloves. "Thanks..... I think I will". Carefully, I fold the gloves into my coat pockets, quietly bid my farewells and leave.
I walk home with my hands in my pockets; her warm hands holding mine.