One day, when Storm was still young, Jon walked her to the school bus stop. It was some distance from her farm, but his car had broken down, and he was looking for a way into town.
He told Storm a story as they walked.
My Great Aunt, Catherine Victoria Edmonstone, had a garden on the edge of the desert. She was a keen gardener, and observed the passages of the sun with great interest, as all those near the Australian deserts once did.
When I was four, she explained to me the organization of the garden.
The great vines and ferns along her verandas kept the house cool on the hottest day. Here I learnt to chase butterflies and pick the strawberries she hid for me to find.
Her flowers, daisies and grape vines formed a first great room around her kitchen (in those days, kitchens were separate to the main house, to protect from fire). These were her delight and it was in the nooks and crannies of this room that I stalked the small dragons, the ones that drop their tails and run if you get too close.
It was my Great Aunt who first suggested throwing salt on a bird’s tail. She encouraged me to chase the small birds that dared to enter her inner domain. She left a bowl of salt to hand and encouraged me to throw it at their tails. For, if your salt lands on the bird’s tail, it cannot fly away. So too, my little dragons.
Storm looked at Jon suddenly, and then bit her tongue.
In the second great outdoor room, further from the house, was an orchard of fruit and nut trees. Palms from Palestine towered over the almonds and walnuts. My Great Aunt would look at the palms and shake her head, complaining that despite the care, none had produced dates away from their homes, and that even if they did, no one would be able to retrieve them.
In the final room far from the house and next to the old lane way that wandered behind the row of houses, she prosecuted war on the elements. Here she kept her chickens and her prized fig trees. And it was here that thieves and rogues would lurk, hoping for a free meal.
They came in all sizes, those with tails and fur, those with wings and beaks, and the old tramps that wandered the lane ways looking for an easy meal. She prosecuted the war by way of a variety of different means, occasionally stopping and taking a note of a new bird and admiring its plumage before pitching a stone in its direction.
One day, she caught me talking to an old tramp, who had stopped to sample her figs. He was a rough man, with eyes askew and clothes that hung loose on his lanky frame. I was telling him about how I tried to catch birds, and he was telling me that it was an old wives’ tale. She marched down to him, and told him off soundly, then brought him to her kitchen and while he ate a meal, she washed his clothes.
After the meal, he split wood for her fires until late in the day, when he quietly slipped away.
I remembered her laughing as we watched him make his escape. She said, “He will not be back, I have put salt on his tail”. She turned and walked away, just as the tramp paused and looked back. His eyes found mine and he smiled.
Storm and Jon walked on in silence for a while.
Storm said, conversationally, "What really happened to the little birds when you threw salt at them?"
Jon smiled, "They flew out of reach."
Storm asked the wind, "I guess people drop salt on you all the time. Why are you still here?"
Jon thought for a while as they walked on in silence.
That night Jon lay awake, imagining Kathy arguing with him til morning light:
In the beginning, there was just Jon. Me. Quietly being me. Satisfied that I had left childhood behind and that I had survived the random pitfalls of early adulthood. Confident that the world was out of control in its predictable way. Happy to let rogues and thieves beat up the rest of the world as long as my hearth was not crossed.
Then I became aware of Kathy. You. Loudly being you. Discordant and troublesome. Carrying the scars of childhood in your ears, lips and cheeks. Angry with the world that failed to live up to your slightest expectations. Uncompromising with principle, at the front of every protest and barricade. A moth on fire.
We had nothing in common. It was an error that we met. It was to spite others that we danced. Our lovemaking was to prove earnest warnings wrong. Only in argument, could we agree.
When finally we quit the mistake we had become, we had both become different people. Now I held the flag of revolution against everything while you sought the company of wealth and power.
In that end, a new beginning. For a time there was just me. Loudly being me. Angry with the world, determined to reshape it first one way and then another. Learning the lexicon of the rhetorician, believing in every new cause, and none. Warning first of the approaching ice age and then irreparable global warming and then just catastrophic change. Winning every argument by the strength of voice and claims that my opponent was simply an adherent of reductionist reasoning. Ignoring the quiet critique that behind the case for change there was no real agenda, no economic plan, no concluded curricula of education, no road map of infrastructure building, no understanding of how to get things done differently. Just a misplaced hope that when we got there, someone would be able to point to the chapter in those unrelenting political manifestos entitled “What happens next”. But, the reality was, the writers never got there. “What happens next” has never been written, just dreamed.
A couple of years later we met again. This time with a smile in each other’s eye. I told you that I blamed you for the sun rising. You blamed me for the rain in spring. I blamed you for the touch of the wind. You blamed me for world poverty and the erosion of political liberties and to stop that awkward truth from being told I kissed you. We spent a winter locked in captivity together, loving and arguing. But, when spring arrived, left in different directions, agreed that blame was properly placed and that however much we might try, we could not be life mates.
So I began again. I left the revolution behind in the hands of another angry young woman who told me, as I left, that the last hurdle to the movement had finally been removed. I did not ask the young woman what came next because she looked like she knew.
I moved from job to job. After a decade I ran far out into the countryside, into a farmhouse old and battered. Somewhere to retreat from view and tie off loose ends before the end of days.
I had been there a year before I noticed you and your young child.
You had bought an old place and lived quietly, training horses. You kept to yourself.
We did not talk about the past. We did not talk about the strange way our lives had ended up twisting around each other. We did not talk about her child. I could see the flames rise in your eyes when the casual conversation drifted in that direction.
Occasionally, other friends would evolve and move in with either. None seemed to last for long. They all appeared to end with broken glass and smashed plates.
When my stock horse was retired to pasture, you asked me to exercise some of yours. Occasionally I was invited into the kitchen of your old farmhouse. Neither of us was willing to risk tipping the status quo. You accepted my depression without trying to cure me. You quietly put a feed bowl out for the black wolf that dogged my every step, even though I protested that was madness. But, then I noticed the wolf resting outside your door and drinking, and I saw an old battered bowl a little further off down your path. When you saw, I had finally seen, flames and rain fought in your eyes.
I took some desperate steps after that to get better. But, the strongest medication proved to be those quiet rambles with your child, Storm.