Baban

A short story, copyright Rose Brimson 2016


“Take it and run. Grab it. Run. Get away. That tree is Naji; spirit. It’ll kill ya.” Billy’s voice whispered words Immu didn’t want to hear. The tree whispered other words; beautiful, triple-trunked, iridescent white – a ghost gum in full glow under a full moon in mid-Yurluurrp. The cold season. Immu didn’t feel the cold. He should’ve. His clothes were thin, many holes in places there shouldn’t be. No shoes. He splayed his hands on the middle trunk, the thickest trunk, leaned in and whispered his own words.

The air smelled of dry dust, of kangaroo dung, not fresh, and rich, rich, rich bush honey. His mouth watered. No. There was something he had to do. What?

Listen. The whispers descended into sighs; meaningless. He had to get it back, learn what it meant.

“I’ve come, baban. I’ve come for you.” The tree didn’t respond. It knew Billy stood behind Immu, and Billy wasn’t meant to be there.

“Go home, Billy,” Immu said aloud. “He doesn’t want you – you’re not the right blood for this country.” It was cruel, but Immu had to get him away, had to find out why this tree wanted him, wanted to teach him the ways of Naji. He had to know. The native bees sashayed and zubbed in a lazy arc; followed the smell of their hard work. He brushed them away.

“Just grab the honey, Im. We gotta go. Gubba come.”

The Gubba weren’t coming. It was just said to scare him into leaving. Immu pushed Billy, shoved him hard, chucked the sugar-bag honey at him. The little black bees followed the lump as it flew through the air.

“Go – take it. Get outta here. You’re not welcome. Not baban. Not nanga mai. That’s me. This is for me.” The words were not his – they came from somewhere else, something else. He did not know what the words meant – yet.

Dust from Billy’s running feet sifted onto Immu’s skin, settled on the bark of the Naji tree. Iridescent white, triple trunked; his baban. The tree sang its high notes, welcomed him. This was the one. The tree for his journey. The boy named Immu would learn from this Naji and become a man. He would rejoice in the knowledge of his song-lines, or he would fail. Die. Under this ghost gum. His tree.

Immu sat. The dry creek-bed sand crackled and squealed as it adjusted to his shape. It was time.

Legs folded under, hands at rest on thighs black and brown, bare feet that waggled in the red dust. Immu didn’t know what to do. He felt the stir, the need to do something. Eucalyptus drifted down, tickled his eyes and nose. The smell of dry dust filtered through the dark rays of the moonlight.

“What?” he yelled. “What do you want me to do? I don’t know what to do! I’m here for you – help me!” Tears rolled down his face, caught the light in prisms of colour that reflected back to his eyes from the three trunks. Purple clearly defined, then the blue. A rainbow. The colours moved along the veins of the tree; swirled and curled and danced into existence.

Nothing happened. Immu sobbed. He wanted it. Needed to be part of it, as he had been part of nothing before, as he had needed nothing before. Not like this.

Lost. That’s what they said about him. The Lost Boy. No family, no country, no songlines. Billy, too, but Billy was gone now. Immu had sent him away. Maybe it would be better if they did this together. He would go. Get Billy. Come back later.

A hunger that dragged at his memory of all things grabbed him, cramped his body and mind. It would be death if he disobeyed.

Whispers on the wind laughed at him, scolded him. It wasn’t smart to be alone with Naji, with no knowledge of the songline or the ritual or the power of the place.

He was in trouble. He would die here.

The ghosts rose from the tree, pointed at him, laughed, danced and pealed their voices in song. They sang his death. How did he know? He felt it. His heart slowed to nothing. His lungs didn’t take in air, his body slid to the ground in a thump of lump. He would die. Immu let go.

It would be an end to the life of his lostness. At least out here there were spirits, other spirits, people of the land spirits. Maybe some of them would belong to him, or him to them. Maybe not. Did he have to be in his own country to find his own family of spirits? How would he know which was his country? He couldn’t know. He had no one to ask, no family to tell him where he came from. When he was taken from his birth mother at two and placed in the home, he lost it all. All memory. All belonging. And no one came to take him back. They left him. Abandoned him to his fate. A baby in a den of dingoes that smelled blood on the crippled pup.

Alone. Lost. And soon to die.

The body was stuck in the dirt. Things crawled on his skin, sucked on his blood, grew roots through his bones. He could not move. His tears gave them life, grew them stronger. They lived through him, through his body, through his heart, through his words.

Sticks and leaves rattled, whispered, littered the air with little sounds, tiny words that ticked and tacked. Immu spoke the words with a mouth that didn’t move, tasted them in a soul that didn’t have a body, sent them beyond the void, beyond the frame of reference. The words spun out into strings, became one word, one song, one history. His history. His story.

Abandonment. Loss. Aloneness. Mourning. Life in desperation. Fear. No connection. No purpose. The trees were in death throes. The bushes were dead. Insects didn’t come here anymore. Birds long gone. Grasses struggled, barely alive, waited for a guardian. Were there guardians who would come, who would know?

No. None left. The ones who were and did not know would not come. Could not come. The guardians were lost. No one to show them the way home, back to country. Country died, guardians died. Immu died.

No one came back to save any of the Naji. All Naji gone – all but one. The last one. The tree and Immu, the last link to the spirit of place.

His heart stopped beating, became stone. The red stone, the red granite. No feeling, no wind to shape the story into him. No words to bring life to his limbs, his body, his mind. Rocks of the earth, of sand and soil and stones. He was grey, brown, striations of gold and hues of ochre. Stone and earth with no life. Immu was there to deny the movement of time, to be sentinel, a foundation of strength and memories. Immu, as rock, placed there to claim the age, the history of place. Forever. Forever. Now.

Tears became streams, streams became rivers, rivers fed into the ocean, joined with the immense Naji of salt water. Immu cried more. His hurt came from the pain of all the abandoned Naji, left to die without guardians. But what could he do? He was one person, a boy with no blood, no kin, no country. His body rocked and shuddered, racked with sobs and agony.

“Im, wake up, kid.”

It was Billy’s voice. Billy had come for him. He wasn’t alone. Immu jumped up. It was dark. Night. The tree, triple-trunked, iridescent white, glowed at him with a smile of lament.

“No,” Immu said. “I’m not going. This is my place, my country. And if it ain’t now, it’s gonna be. I’m gonna be guardian for this place, this piece of country. I’m gonna be here for all the Naji to find. To come home.” Immu sat, folded his legs, rested black hands on his thighs, brown and red, striped with ochres of yellow and white. Marked. Owned by country. Owned by the tree. This tree. This place. His place.

Billy walked between Immu and the tree. Sat with his legs folded under, hands on his thighs. Words sprang into the air between them. Big words, words of place, words of peoples, words of birds and animals and shrubs and grasses and insects and snakes and lizards and . . . all life, all creatures, all things belonging to this place brought their words.

Bodies sprang up. Feet flung out, lifted and fell, tromped and thumped. Sticks clacked and cracked, hands held them up, threw them down, tapped them together. Birds sang, crickets screaked, snakes smoothed the sand. They came. They all came.

Billy’s sounds, Immu’s words, the magic of the tree Naji, the joining of spirit to soul, of soul to earth, of earth to everything. Home. It was home.

Tears fell, became creeks, creeks became rivers, rivers fed into the ocean. Fish swam from the ocean to the river to the creeks – hid in holes made by red-gums, swished their tails, laid their eggs. Life came to the water. Life that fed the Guardians.

Immu and Billy danced in circles, in shapes and colours and sound. Their movements shaped animals, insects, birds – showed them how to be home. Established belonging, connection to place.

Billy’s hand held another. A girl hand. A woman. Now three of them danced around the iridescent white, triple-trunked ghost gum. Three for three. Guardians of the tree, the three.

Immu reached out and held one hand of the woman, pulled her to a stop. Billy and the woman stood still, heavy and solid, chests heaved and breathed.

“A name. They want a name. Not a name from the other world. A name that belongs here. We have to choose a name.”

The woman laughed, twirled.

“I am djanaba – I laugh and bring joy to my place, to my country.” Djanaba danced away, swung her arms and words and music around the tree. Leaves trickled down, garbed her in muted hues of viridian and cobalt.

Billy closed his eyes, breathed a deep intake of red dust. He smiled as he opened them again.

“I am Barra. I bring food to the people of my place, of my country.” He grinned at Immu. “And what is your name, kid?”

Immu couldn’t think. No. He didn’t need to think. He needed to feel. What should he feel? Solid, unyielding, permanent. A foundation.

“I am Giba, the stone of place. The holder of now. I am sentinel and guardian. I am home.”


three trees3

 

Tiny

“A teeny, tiny little house.”

“Just a Tiny House – that’s what they’re called. Tiny Houses. It’s a lifestyle choice.”

“What?”

“I can live here, be debt free, wander when I feel like it – and  my snail shell will be here when I come back – or I can be like you, do what everyone else does, and spend the rest of my life trying to ‘manage my money’ and not sink.” He frowned at the look of shock on Cassida’s face as she stuck her head inside. “Maybe you should look beyond your platinum credit card and see life for what it really is.” He shook his head as he walked down the track to check if the sign was still standing.

Was it a mistake to ask his group to come here? Did he think they’d approve of his choices? Was that why?

No. He didn’t need to get approval.

Matt was here because it freed him. He owned the tiny house, he owned the land, his bio-diesel vehicle was enough to get him around when necessary. He was free.

The house was tiny. Adobe-mud walls, rounded over so from a distance it looked like a giant snail – or a desert-style hobbit house – with a semi-circular door, two main windows – and the eye-spikes at the end of the snail-walkway were helical wind turbines. The water tank was hidden below the walkway. He had water, power, peace. He had a small income from his military pension.

It was enough. Almost.

The inner sanctum had an open space on the main level. What wasn’t immediately visible was the bathroom, hidden behind the door that looked like a half-pantry. The kitchen was a sink, plank shelving that followed the curve, and his two-burner electric stove top. The  crazy-pattern step-stair that followed the line of the helical shell went up to his private zone, the sleeping space. There was a barbecue outside, on the north side, near the vege garden.

It was enough. Except for one thing.

The small mound was the first thing he saw each morning on his daily walk. From the front door the rising sun sparkled on the granite. The rocks were laid in patterns of colour to reflect the spiral of the snail home shell home they’d built together. No marker.

The sign was still up, tall and clearly visible, despite the best efforts of the wind. Matt raised his hand over his eyes to check. Not many came this way, and the low roll of the hummocks of stony hills didn’t hide anything bigger than a rabbit. He’d see if a vehicle was within ‘cooee’ – nothing.

Maybe he’d have to tell Cassida it would be just the two of them. She wouldn’t like that, would she? If he didn’t tell her, and they sat down to start the work while they waited – to get ahead, he’d say – would she stay and not realise until too late?

No. She’d go. He walked back. She wasn’t outside waiting for him, so maybe she didn’t find it as claustrophobic as he’d thought she would.

He opened the door. Cassida sat at the slide-out table reading his work.

“This is so good,” she said. “And so sad.” She looked up at him with glints of tears in her eyes. “I didn’t realise Tiny wasn’t here. I didn’t realise he’d …”

“He died last month,” Matt said.

“Are you … do you … It’s just … there’s this person who went into a nursing home, and his dog … it’s going to be put down … do you …?”


Rose Brimson 2017 copyright

Gram’s Wisdom

“It’s a pumpkin, kid.”
“What’s a punkin, Gram.”
“It’s a big fruit that grows on a vine all summer until it gets so big that the vine dies off.”
“Why does the punkin kill the vine, Gram?”
“Because it spent all that time to make seeds on the inside, and when next Spring comes, it can make more vines with the seeds, can’t it?”
“But don’t we eat it? Are we eating the punkin babies, Gram?”
“We eat the flesh, not the seeds. We keep them for next year.”
“What would happen if we didn’t eat it?”
“The pumpkin grows until the vine is knackered. If we didn’t pick it, the thing would sit there and the flesh would rot over the winter, until it got warmer. Then the mushy, mouldy flesh would melt into the Earth, and the seeds would sprout, and new vines would grow.”
“So, shouldn’t we leave it to grow like it wants?”
“If we left it on the ground and all the seeds tried to sprout at once, then most would die. Of the two or three that survived, there wouldn’t be enough nutrients to grow a good sized pumpkin without a lot of care and attention. If even one pumpkin doesn’t get to a good enough size, there are no seeds. If there are no seeds, there won’t be a chance to sprout the following year. The end of pumpkins.”
“So, we eat them because it’s good for us, and it’s good for the punkin, and we take care of the babies and make sure there are more for next year, and that’s our job?”
“Close enough, kid.”
“Is that why I’m here?”
“Yep. So the baby can pop out of that big belly and grow into a proper person – like you!”
“Do we grow from seeds, Gram?”
“I suppose we do, kid. I suppose we do.”
“Do you think I should plant my brother or sister when they come out?”
“Do you think it’s wise to plant something that’s not grown to full size and doesn’t have time to make seeds?”
“No, I suppose not.”
“Don’t you want a brother or sister?”
“What would I do with one? It’s not like I don’t have enough toys. I don’t need more friends. And babies are so noisy. My friend Jack says his baby sister screams all night …”
“That’s like when the leaves wilt on the pumpkin, kid – it needs a water and a feed, that’s all. And she’ll grow up and -”
“I don’t want a new brother or sister, Gram. I don’t want to share. I want to be the only seed in the garden.”
“And that’s why brothers and sisters are necessary, kid.”
“You don’t make sense, Gram.”
“Nope. I don’t have to, because I’m almost at the stage of knackered, an20160722_130353d my vine is getting a bit wilted – and you are …?”
“A seed.”
“Of a seed.”


Rose Brimson copyright 2017

A Move to the Country

A Short Story by Rose Brimson

The way they wrote about it, Anna thought it’d be easy. Well, at least easier. It always went the same way – they waltzed into a country town, bought a run-down place, got it all fixed up real schmicko – and all while they completed novel after novel. Because of the peace. Because it was country. Because that’s how it’s done when you’re a writer.

It hadn’t worked for Anna.

She’d bought the house – a run-down old place that would once have been a queen, and could become one again. The list of tradies in the window of the one and only shop that sold any type of food product was so old the paper wasn’t just yellow – it had gone crackly and grey at the edges, softening off to baby poo yellow-orange in towards the centre, but the actual centre was unreadable – a dark urine brown-yellow that hid the letters as effectively as solid matter.

When she spoke to the proprietor, he’d laughed. Not a bit of a giggle laugh, a big and hearty from the bottom of his soles laugh.

“What? You wanna tradie? ‘Round here? That’s a good one, that is.”

The stamps of dust she’d created on the march home sat in the still air. When she turned around she could clearly see her path laid out. No breadcrumbs required in this town. A small group of locals stood outside the shop, all roaring with laughter and pointing her way. She sucked in a breath.

She’d sell it and move … somewhere else.

The real estate agent tried hard not to laugh; Anna tried not to snap at him. A question niggled at her until it popped out.

“How long was it on the market before I bought it?”

“Eight years.”

The thump of her body as it hit the floorboards and caused a rolling creak in the old timbers was the only thing that told her she’d fallen. She felt no pain. The words rang in her head like a bell plummeting from a belfry. Hit her on the head. Gong. Again. Gong. Again. Eight years. Eight.

If she had to live in this place for eight years – no, the place wouldn’t last that long, it’d fall to pieces; she used her fingernail to scrape away a layer of soft timber from the floor. If she just left it and walked away? Could she start again?

How many times would that make it? The first time she’d ended up living on the streets and barely survived. The second time she’d lived in a shed with only three sides until … The third time was after the bushfire and the house she’d built and all the things – everything – she owned gone to ash. When she’d been allowed back to check on things, there was nothing. Nothing. She didn’t recognise it. And no insurance, no heart to do it all again. Walked away. The fourth time she’d left with nothing and changed her name and the way she looked (and carried a hidden weapon for a long time) until she got used to the new person. The fifth time was another fire, not a deliberate fire, an accident, bad wiring. All gone. Everything. That time there was insurance, but that was worse than walking out with nothing. They didn’t give her the choices she would have made for herself, and because she didn’t like what they offered, no payout. No recompense for the loss of everything. Again.

Now. She was here to begin again. To do something with her life. To follow her dream. And it had all turned to shit. Again.

Why? Why did she keep going? What had she ever done – in this life or any other – to deserve this again? What?

Her feet stamped up and down on the old floor as she lay on her back. The disembodied voice of the agent gurgled for a while and then stopped. The screen went dark. The room went dark. Anna lay there, her torso still, but hands and feet smacking against the wood in a rhythm that matched her thoughts and the pound of her racing heart.

Again and again. Over and over. Everything gone. Everything. Everything.

A small amount of cash, but not enough to buy another house – not even in this town! No wonder the place had been so cheap! Another lesson learned the hard way!

A single hot tear slid down the side of her face. It plopped onto the floor and raised a blob of dust as heavy as oil. Something hit her cheek, scratched.

“Ow!” Anna sat up and felt her face. Wiped. Looked. Just dust. No. Something sparkled. She shook her head. That little spike of hope was something she’d have to learn to ignore. Nothing good every happened to her. Ignore it.

“Hello in there!” The deep voice rolled like thunder through the hall of the tomb of a house. She chose to ignore it. They’d go away. Eventually.

Thump, thump, thump.

Anna leapt up.

“Hey!” she yelled. “I didn’t say you -” she stopped when she saw him. Huge. So tall he had to duck to get under the door frames. Deep blue eyes that looked almost black with a silver twinkle as he looked down at her. A half-smile hid in the cracks of a face that laughed a lot, if those lines were any indication. Glimmers of grey in the whiskers on his chin. He leaned his long arm towards her, hand open, palm up.

“I’m Bud – Rod down the shop said you’d be needing a hand.” White teeth peeped out from the full lips when he flicked his tongue out to lick his lips. “I’m the local fixer-upper – can do anything you want.” He leaned down. “Just don’t tell the Council that.”

Anna realised she’d slid to the floor again. She saw her hand lift into the air and grab his, felt her body as it rose like a zephyr into the space of the real world. His skin was hot, his hand was firm but not ragged, not hard. Not what she expected.

“Don’t dig up the floorboards,” Bud said. “Ol’ grump used to own this place is ‘sposed to have buried all his gold dust under there!” He laughed, the sound a warm rollick of gentle waves.

Anna dusted herself off.

“Hi, I’m Anna,” she said. “And I think I could definitely do with some help.”


copyright Rose Brimson 2017

The Wall

A way through the crowd opened up. Issa kept her eyes up and stared straight ahead; she walked into the gap between the scrabbling, stinking bodies. If she didn’t get out soon, it would be too late. Lunch would end up on the shiny, slippery linoleum. Then there’d be a gap, wouldn’t there? Maybe she should go through the motions, see what happened. That was something she wouldn’t do because every face in the whole mall would turn towards her, would make sounds of derision, laugh or pity or … attract their attention.

No, keep going, get out into the wide spaces, where no opacity existed – not to her view. The people who walked the malls, who shopped ’til they dropped, who took up the air she needed with their perfumes and frowns – they stayed inside, in the cool, air-conditioned controlled environment while she needed to get outside to smell the dust, and the eucalypts, and the way home.

Each week the court-assigned counsellor exhorted her to go to somewhere that held these ‘others’  so Issa acclimatised. The escort took her into the concussive crush of people who had no mind open, no eyes to see what stood before them. People who consumed, but never became. Issa could have objected, she could have fought the control, but …

Their plans had yet to work on her. Issa hadn’t even touched the devices she’d been given; she wasn’t blind. She could see through them all, in the mall and in the offices, as if they were pieces of glass. The outer coverings, the layers of labels and colours and aromas didn’t cover up the inner core.

What lay inside each of the shells was an emptiness that lit up with a little spark of light only when the plastic card was offered to the line of AI. A tiny spark, but it was an addiction no other living soul seemed to see.

Issa couldn’t even touch the plastic. She felt the links it had into the very hearts of all these people in her community. Links that manipulated and pushed, that rallied to a cause – or not, that shone guilt or shame on some things and not others. The little pulses that created pleasure or pain – whatever floated the boat – for the shortest time.

How many people walked in the mall with their accessories glowing with a connection to that thing? No, wrong question – how many people did she see who weren’t connected to it?

Her eyes blazed along the lines in the air – millions of little zings of energy zapped through, in, around, over, under – she felt them on her skin when she had to walk through them – millions, even if there weren’t millions of people there were millions of connections. Never turned off. Never out from under the influence of the over-brain that no one knew existed.

And she was the last of the no one tribe, wasn’t she?

Copyright Karel Jaeger 2017.

The Music of Death

spiderweb2 007.jpg“It was the music,” he said as I leaned over him. “The music touched me, emptied me out, filled it back up.” His voice softened at the end. I had to lean forward to hear the last word. “Different.”

Binit wasn’t the first one to go through it, but he was the most spectacular. On death’s door, waiting for the Whites to collect him for burial. No heart beat, no colour, no sign of life at all, and then the music came for him. Apparently.

We all heard it from the chapel. My heart pounded because I knew what it was. I ran through the shocked and silent bodies who didn’t move fast enough.

I was the first one in the door, saw him sitting up and wiping the wisps of flaking skin from his now pink body. Naked. Pink. Eyes bright blue. As always. My vision blurred. Was it real?

“The music,” he whispered in my ear. “It’s the passport to a second chance,” he swung his legs over the side of the gurney-table and stood. He smiled. “I have a second chance, just like him,” he pointed at Eric, “and her,” he pointed at my mother.

“We have a task.”

And the three of them reached out to each other through the crowd of white-faced onlookers, clasped hands to elbows in the way of a greeting in triptych – a painting of movement, in this case – and grinned so hard at each other the creases in each face outlined the depth of something other, something different. Obscene.

But he was alive.  I should be glad of that, shouldn’t I? Alive. Eric too, I suppose; he was – is – my friend. And my mother, although she’s too different now, and she doesn’t live with us anymore. I don’t know where she lives; I don’t know if she sleeps at all, or if she walks the forest each night and the village each day. She never stops.

Would this happen to Binit? Would he be that different? Too different for me to understand?

The crowd separated as Binit – still naked but for the soft white death-cover – Eric, and my mother walked through the villagers and down the green track towards the river. They didn’t look back. They didn’t stop smiling.

I ran after them, called to Binit, tried to remind him of the life we had, but he either didn’t hear me or wouldn’t.

When they reached the river and walked in, deeper and deeper until they disappeared and didn’t come back out – on either side or on top of the fast current – that was when I knew. They weren’t alive anymore. They had a task.

Would I ever know what the task was? Would I ever share those lives again? Did I want to, if they were so different to the people I once knew?

Yes.

I walked into the river after them, felt the pull of the water as my legs flew out from under me and my head sank below the surface. I didn’t close my eyes – I didn’t want to miss them – and I looked and looked.

What I saw was … I don’t think I can tell you that, but the doorway, the light to … somewhere else – it wasn’t what I expected. And it wasn’t what I wanted!

The darkness reached out with a cold hand, touched my heart and my ears, sang to me in a voice that compelled, with instruments that tingled every muscle and sinew in my body. I heard the music, I felt the pull, felt the emptying; I wanted to join in, to sing, but I saw that hole for what it truly was, and …

 

Copyright Karel Jaeger 2017