Love #33: Echoes of You
In the beginning there was just 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 own 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 you. Loudly being you. Discordant and troublesome. Carrying the scars of childhood in your ears, lips and cheeks. Angry with a 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 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 strength of voice and claims that my opponent was simply an adherent of reductionist reasoning. Ignoring the quiet critique that behind the argument of 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, 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 her that I blamed her for the sun rising. She blamed me for the rain in spring. I blamed her for the touch of the wind. She blamed me for world poverty and the erosion of political liberties and to stop that awkward truth from being told I kissed her. 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 young angry woman who told me, as I left, that the last hurdle to the movement had finally been removed. I did not ask her what came next because she looked like she knew.
I moved from job to job. After a decade I moved 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 Kathy and her child.
She had bought an old place and lived simply, training horses. She kept to herself.
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 her eyes when casual conversation drifted in that direction.
Occasionally, other friends would evolve and move in with either. None seemed to last for long. They all seemed to end in broken glass and smashed plates.
I had a large friendly stock horse. I kept him for play not work, although I did not tell him that. When he was still able, we would ride up to the high forests, and along the ridges. Increasingly, our path would cross with Kathy, and we would walk along in quiet companionship, knowing that conversation was unnecessary and, actually, to be avoided at any cost. We finished each walk with a race to an imaginary finish line over fences and fallen logs which more often than not left me dumped on the ground.
During this time I got a job working for the state which, years before, I had tried so hard to overthrow. They put me in charge of working out what came next. Not the easy slurred futures dreamed in a bar after a couple of beers or a glass of vodka, but the hard continuous slog of finding scarce resources and shaping each into solid cold reality.
As responsibility grew, I became more stressed, until I finally crashed. In the half haze of anti-depression drugs I kept trying, but starting to fail more often than succeed.
My stock horse was retired to pasture and Kathy, instead, would ask me to exercise some of hers. Occasionally I was invited into the kitchen of her old house. Neither of us were willing to risk tipping the status quo. She accepted my depression without trying to cure me.
She 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 her door and drinking and I noticed an old battered bowl a little further off down her path. When she saw I had finally noticed, flames and rain fought in her eyes.
I took some desperate steps after that to get better. Stronger medication which just made me sick.
A mate recommended a painful traditional ceremony in the high country near the Pool of Tears. I borrowed one of Kathy’s horses, explaining that I had to do this by myself.
You once helped me to forget this nightmare.
I have been to the Pool of Tears a couple of times. It is a deep mountain pool high on the slopes of old Palerang. Secret crystal-clear waters, protected from the winds – a pool that reflects the soul-stars of those killed by the volcano when she roamed the land as a woman.
Last time I went there, I was taught the law of the healing ceremony – organized by my mate.
The trip up the mountain was exhilarating. Through the morning mists and up old bush fire tracks through the bleeding gums at the foot of the mountain. Through the cool of autumn in the grip of recent rain. Past the stone walls made by Chinese gold miners 150 years earlier and up into the denser temperate forests of the higher reaches of the mountain. Then, near the top, through the twisted trees wasted by the winds and cold, dripping moisture in the lifting fog. It was so fresh – so noisy with birds and the sound of wind in the gum trees.
I left my horse, a borrowed stock horse, below the camp and followed the smell of burning eucalypt to a small clearing near the pool, and the Kaditcha.
Kaditcha are the lore holders of the first people. They are not simply herbalists – in the harsh reality of native life, they are part witch doctor, part assassin. They dispense justice – with spears, boomerangs and deadly magic. There are frightening stories of the Kaditcha – they can become invisible when they put on their shoes made of kangaroo hide, with emu feathers glued together with blood. They can will a person to death or turn a person into a rock. Palerang was made stone by Kaditcha – and all around her, the Monaro, the bodies of her victims. Frozen as hills as they fell, their naked bodies become visible as the mists burnt away.
Kaditcha are not all bad. They make and trade aphrodisiacs and hallucinogens, compacts for healing physical wounds and diseases and mental anguish. My mate has told me how they also can heal people, often from afar, sometimes using a form of magic. Transference magic.
I don’t believe in magic anymore. And while I love my mate, I don’t believe him (although he has visited old people out back, and has come back pumped full of knowledge and hope).
There were two Kaditcha waiting for me at the top of the mountain. My mate from town had his back to me – fiddling with headphones and smoking dope. On the other side of the fire, unexpectedly, was a tribal man I had not seen before, stripped to the waist, gaunt, with deep ceremonial scars across his chest.
Crouched on his toes, staring at the fire, the old man raised his hands to his face, warning me not to make any sounds. He rose silently, leaving my mate still trying to sort himself out with his cigarette in one hand fighting with a can of beer and a walkman in the other.
The old man took me into the bush, among the calls of the bell birds and the honey eaters. We collected herbs. We found a gum laden with mistletoe – from a leafless shrub with green stems and small flowers he took a number of round yellowing fruits. On the trunk of an ancient tree, a belgravea (a large evergreen with big glossy leaves), he cut deep into the bark and took some of the green wood. We collected bark, bluebells and the inner fronds of tree ferns. As we collected the plants, he stored them in a small possum bag tied to his waist with a hemp belt.
We returned to the camp, about mid morning.
Coming into the camp a second time I stepped on a branch and if cracked like a whip. My mate spun around, loosing his beer and almost falling in a heap. “Jesus wept!”, he said (he is a very polite man, not given to swearing) – as he tried to avoid looking at me. Eye contact is not permitted between males – a rule strongly enjoined, but very difficult. The old man retraced his steps and started to prepare the herbs on a stone pestle.
My mate called me over. “Ok – lets get this over with. First we paint you, then we sing the songs” – motioning to the walkman, now hooked up to a pair of speakers. I had been warned about what would happen next.
We have known each other for ages. I respect the old traditions. More so though, I once saw the old Law Rock, the spark that controls the weather and holds the world together. But there is another reason why I have been invited back to this secret place, one I cannot speak.
We both stripped off to our underpants – it was surprising cold, and we moved closer to the fire. Neither of us have the ritual scaring strictly necessary for these ceremonies – he talked incessantly as we rub our bodies and faces with red clay – and he then painted the scaring onto our chests. He has a new girl friend – I should come round and have dinner with them. He is thinking of going to Cairns this winter to avoid the cold. He went to the cricket in Melbourne recently – saw the Indians on tour. Slowly his chatter starts to fall off. The sun is getting higher but not much warmer.
The old man finished pounding the herbs and sat a little way from the fire, staring into the distance. You can see the Pacific Ocean from here – on a clear day. Already storm clouds are piling off along the coast and the afternoon breezes are starting to push the clouds toward us.
My mate feeds the fire, stamps his feet - raising the dust - and turns on the music: tribal. I do not know the words, but the beat is clear. The old man picks up his music sticks and plays along to the beat, murmuring words.
We sit listening to the sounds, my mate lights up another toke, and the smell of eucalypt and dope hits me. The old man throws some of his own mixture onto the fire, and opens my mouth, placing a piece of bark under my tongue. A whole new set of sensations fire my mouth and chest.
My mate turns to me. I have told him what I want. He wants more than me. He says, “Your soul has been pinched mate – we should get that back for you as well”.
But I shake my head – my soul is old.
My mate gets out some notes, and reading them aloud takes a woomera from his backpack and starts his dance. He spins the woomera on a sting – in ever widening circles, until the roar of the woomera and click of the music sticks drowns out all other sounds. He lets the woomera fly, and then in the new silence comes and stands in front of me.
He looks me in the eye, breaking the taboo. I fight back the urge to run. He clenches his fist and drives it into my upper chest, just below my shoulder.
I feel no pain. What ever I have been chewing has made my whole body numb.
But the force of the blow wrenches me off my feet and into the dust. My hand hits the ground really hard. He switches off the music – helps me up and we go off to the Pool of Tears to clean up.
“Sorry about that mate”, he doesn’t look all that sorry about the bruises and cuts on my body – the fall cut my hand, and there is a huge welt where he has hit me. Instead he is nursing his hand, which must be hurting to blazes. “You right to get back?” He has come by ute – I saw it back some distance far below us on the track. I tell him I need to return the borrowed stock horse, and, in silence, we pack him up and put out the fire.
The old man left some time earlier – pressing bark and herbs into my broken hand, indicating silently how I should use them later in the day.
By the time I get half way down the mountain the afternoon mountain mists have recloaked Palerang. I had to get off the horse - feeling returned to my body and I was in serious pain. Back at her farm, I sort out the horse and explain my hurt to Kathy by saying I fell, something she thinks I am quite capable of doing.
By the time I got to my home, the pain is almost unbearable. My shoulder has completely seized up – and there is a terrific bruise forming. I got undressed to go to bed, remembering at the last moment the old man’s parting gifts.
The first –mistletoe fruit mixed with charcoal. I smear it on my chest and down the sides of my legs. It has a strange arousing smell. The second - the green wood we had collected earlier. I lay on my sheets and chewed it.
Unlike the bark the old man had put under my tongue, the green wood was acrid. As I chewed it, a violent intoxication overcame me. The pain in my body was not released – instead I began to hallucinate.
It was night. I was back on the mountain. The fire had been restarted and made huge. There were a number of men around the fire. Old Kaditcha. As they donned their emu shoes, they became insubstantial – only shadows cast by the fire and dust rising from the ground showed where they were. I felt a hand drag me to my feet. I started to dance. I remember the dust and the beat of the music sticks, the sounds of the didgeridoo, dingos snapping at my body, howling with hunger. I fell – and standing over me, one of the Kaditcha raised a spear and drove it into the place my mate walloped earlier in the day.
One of the Kaditcha pressed emu feathers and clay onto the wound. Before unconsciousness overtook me, the Kaditcha told what I must do.
I slept straight through the next couple of days – traveling in the dream time – to a land of fire and ice.
My mate came around a couple of days ago, a cigarette in one hand, his dark skin with a sheen a sweat from the walk. “So, how did you pull up”, he said, shaking his hand. I showed him my bruise. He was impressed. In the center of the bruise was scar tissue. “Must have hurt”, he said. “You told her yet? You know, the way you treated her, I was like doing her a favor mate. Tell her we cut off your balls as well, chicks like that.”
I thanked him for his concern and smiled. He said, “Learnt the ceremony out in the real country. Guaranteed to dull those echoes of love. Old bloke. Taught me to make me shoes, and to step inside whirly-whirlies.”
I thought about the other Kaditcha on the mountain and asked my mate to thank him as well.
My mate shook his head, “Weren't no other bloke mate – just us two up on the mountain.”
All for nothing. I won't believe in magic.
end Dream Sequence
I do not know what the turning point was. One day her daughter, Storm, called for help. Kathy had been bitten by a mob of bees and was grey and sick. I raced her to hospital, and waited while she regained life-hue. It took a long time.
Storm and I sat with her a lot around the old table in her kitchen in the following weeks. Reading her stories and talking. In turn, she told how she had explored the forests from top to bottom, and had struck up unlikely friendship with some of the old folk living in the isolated valleys. With a sly smile on her face she told how she had seen some strange things.
She said, “Hey Pete.”
I said, “You remember my name?”
She said, “I remember lots more besides, but let us not complicate the present with the truth, nor the future with the past. Will you promise me something?”
I said, “Will you forgive me for the rising sun?”
She laughed, “Never. Be serious. Will you promise me something? Promise me you will not laugh at me.”
I said, “I laugh at you all the time. But, ok, just this once.”
She said, “Maybe laughing is not what I meant. I want you to believe me. Even though I am a bit mad. Will you believe me?”
I said, “Sure.”
I suddenly had a terrible premonition. I imagined she was going to tell me she was leaving.
She said, “There are elves living in my garden.”
This 'braided' short story explores several types of relationships and affections, that lie on the boundaries of pop culture notions of love (eg "Evie Part I, II & III)" ) as a prelude to introducing the classical archetype of love (Penelope and Odysseus).
This piece deals with a couple of different relationships and concepts.
Firstly, it explores the impermanence of many modern relationships, often established without solid foundation by happenchance, status seeking or security seeking. It touches on the love of society, local community, friends and children, and touches on how such love can sometimes overwhelm both unprepared and the expert.
Secondly it explores deeply ingrained social practices to heal a broken heart. Here, those being healed are the hearts of the story teller and another person (off-stage and only hinted as indirectly as 'you'.) Within Western history, we still sing songs that hint at herbal concoctions to forget a lover, or procure a miscarriage.Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine
The pharmacology of the elders encompassed ceremonies that were believed to have a distant result (transference magic), to kill a foe, bewitch food or to dim longing. Scattered records suggest that the pharmacology relied on commonplace rainforest plants known to have fatal or debilitating long term effects. The knowledge of how to use these plants safely (perhaps by neutralizing or leaching poisons through preparation) is not recorded in colonial writings. There is no evidence that the pharmacology discussed cures longing beyond leave those concerned with headaches and new bruises.
Some have asked whether this is semi-biographical. I can't remember if it is.
Copyright Dark Aelf, 2021
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