I jumped. Then, I had that sinking sensation that I had left my mobile behind. Then I hit something hard.
|Falling star, over the Coalsack, Milky Way|
I dreamt I was back, sitting around the old farm table, at my Grandmother’s place. Far out near the western deserts.
My great aunt Victoria Edmonstone and my Grandmother Blanche Bootle were serving morning tea. There was tension in the air, a feeling of falling.
Grandmother started by asking the assembled grandchildren what would happen if one of them were to climb the water tower and drop a bullet and a feather at the same time. Which would arrive at the ground first.
We could see that trap a mile off. All of us had some experience with feathers – whether through pillow fights or chasing her chooks until the feathers flew all by themselves. The watertank was a slightly different proposition. It was strictly forbidden on account of the rusty metal ladder.
So all the children shuffled their feet or looked into their tea cups.
My Great Aunt came to the rescue – Oh! not that old chestnut, Blanche.
We had never seen a chestnut.
Grandmother resorted to direct questioning – Righto, You there. What gets to the ground first? The bullet or the feather.
Ross went guilty red. Just before tea, he had pinched a couple of bullets to put on the Narromine railway line. He stammered – I don’t know grandmother. I wouldn’t drop a bullet there.
This was too much for the little kids. They blurted out semi-confessions. They had seen feathers fly, “somewhere else”. They confidently affirmed that feathers would not fall to the ground (they never did in a pillow fight or when you were chasing chooks).
Grandmother looked sternly at us all, and started her lecture – The most famous man in the world once proved that a feather and a bullet fall at the same speed. He dropped them from the tallest building in the world and they both landed at exactly the same time.
My Grand Aunt didn’t believe this story and called for a practical demonstration. Perhaps Blanche would stand on a chair and drop the two items. Grandmother countered by a call to her authority in related subjects, such as baking.
My Grand Aunt turned and smiled, reassuring. She said to me - Dont forget the dragons. Catch a falling star.
And as the argument grew the grandchildren quietly evaporated, retiring into the cool of the central rooms of the old farm house far away from the blistering heat outside.
It was hot out west. I remembered. Then I remembered, I was falling, slowly catching up to the cats, on some ledge. There were shadows on the ledge.
I could feel the heat of the sun on my face, and something furry rubbing my cheek. A moment later a soft tapping on my shoulder.
I opened my eyes.
I was lying on a wet grassy area. Nearby a creek was rushing past. My eye caught a ruined tree on the other side of the creek. Hit by lightning, branches flung carelessly, years before.
All around the smell of a summer storm just past and a soft glow in the sky. Blanket was sitting upright watching me. It reached over, tentatively tapping me, asking for food.
No sign of Waylander, the white cat. The creek entrance into the old cave was hidden by blackberry briars.
I reached up to my head, remembering bandages. No bandages or scabs. A little unsteadily I climbed to my feet. I called for Waylander – but she knew the way home – so I started the climb down the mountain.
I remember my lost mobile after a couple of hundred meters – nothing in my pockets but an empty wrapper. No missing cat.
I remembered bites on my finger and arm, from somewhere. I stopped and looked carefully. No marks, my arms pale and feeling like they were going to burn in the sun.
I must have tripped. For some reason I thought it might have been worse. I started to move again, still stiff, but the fogginess of the past couple of hours had lifted. I started to feel better than I had for years. I even smiled. I might have whistled.
I met Kathy’s daughter coming down the road, close to my farm. She was riding a new horse – I almost didn’t recognise her – she looked tired.
She looked at me and said – So you came back. When did you get in?
I said – Been here for a while – not planning on going anywhere soon.
She shrugged her shoulder as she passed – Check in some time, got a quarter-horse you might want to try.
I was going to ask after Kathy – But she kicked the horse and they were away.
I cut across the paddock, carried Blanket over the creek, made a mental note that the last storm had brought down a lot of branches.
And I looked up to my farm. It looked strange.
Someone had put a chain around the back house gate, the grass was waist high, tin blown off one of the sheds. I stood and looked, shaking my head. Had I gone the wrong way?
I helped Blanket over the fence and she bounded up to the house, calling. Vines had choked the verandas. The blood drained out of me. I checked the doors of the main house – locked and the electricity was off. I kept walking slowly, the cat stayed back at the farm house. Through the overgrown grass, past my truck in the drive way, a pool that had evil written all over it and the front gate with a chain. I jumped the fence and kept walking.
I stopped and looked back at it. It was my farm, my car, my trees. It looked like I hadn’t been here for years. It looked older and I felt younger. It didn’t make any sense.
I turned and kept going till I reached the next farm house - my nearest neighbours. They greeted me with a smile, then she turned away.
Over tea, he said - We didn’t know where you were. So we put some locks on the gates and collected your mail. Turned over your truck from time to time – like when you travel.
He stopped for a moment.
He continued - In the first year, a couple of folk came out to see where you had got to.
I could hear the questions - Look, I have a bit of work to do over there. I really appreciate all you have done. Let me get settled first. I will sort out the jungle a bit and maybe get you over for a curry. Um – do you have a recent newspaper I could borrow?
I tried to smile.
She looked at him, and I could see a tear.
She said – Tell him.
She got up and left.
He said – Look. I need to tell you something. I know you and Kathy were mates.
I cut in – We liked bushwalking and riding. She knew stuff about the back country.
My memory hit something. She knew tracks and paths and – the fog was there. But we searched the – and the fog was back.
He waited for my eyes to return to his and said – Did you hear she is dead?
He said - she was riding up the mountains. Tree got hit by lightning. She got hit by a falling tree. She shouldn’t have been out in that weather. About the same time you left.
He looked into my eyes, searching for something.
I choked. Men don’t cry here. I stood up, the chair falling.
He said – I am sorry. You need to go talk to her daughter – she need to talk to you.
His wife passed me an old newspaper as I stumbled out of the house. I don’t think I even thanked them.
The spare key was still sitting inside the hollow ceramic frog Kathy bought me as a joke. Inside the house, a thin layer of dust lay over everything. I walked through the rooms remembering.
I had forgotten something important.
I turned on the water, it still worked. I cleaned the table and a chair methodically. I opened a tin of cat food for Blanket. Then I sat down and opened the newspaper.
I didn’t look at the date. I read the news. People I had never heard of. Old disputes disinterred. Wars I didn’t know about. And when I was finished I read the date.
I curled up in an old seat, the cat next to me and slept, a song in my mind, just out of reach.
In the morning, I got to work. Slashing, cutting cleaning.
It took me a week to make the place liveable. I drove into town (my neighbour had started the truck periodically while I was away) and restored the electricity, put the net back up and coaxed the computer back to life. I bought a new mobile.
But it was all wrong. I could not remember anything.
So I tried to call you.
Your line was disconnected.
I searched on-line until I found a mutual friend.
He was a centred man – nothing could rock him. So I explained. Not much to explain. Just a gap of years. And a memory that could not remember.
But he remembered you, and me. He reminisced – We talked about you when you disappeared. She said you were badly hurt in some sort of accident. The hospital stayed in touch with her – told her you fell down something – an elevator? She was worried about you.
I asked – Do you know where she is now?
He said - She went a little crazy. She found out where you were. She started to talk about spiders. Then she disappeared. Pity, she posted great pictures. Except the last one.
He send me her last picture.
She hadn’t taken it.
It was a picture of a node in a network of webs. In the distance, the shadow of a spider, out of focus. The XIF information attached to the picture showed the picture was taken by my phone, a couple of days after I went into the mountains.
I sat looking at it. Trying to remember.
A song just out of reach. You will forget things.
A flash of movement in the garden. Your memory pursued.
On fine days I could see Kathy’s daughter riding in the distance. I had to go talk to her. Why her mother was up in the forests.
> Part five
Image - Star fall, this week
(No dragons or cats or spiders were hurt writing this.)
Image - Star fall, this week
(No dragons or cats or spiders were hurt writing this.)
An index to the parts of the story is here.