~ Mair Smith
A woman feeling alienated from her family finds her own way to release her trapped emotions and find her peace.
Piled out of the truck in the middle
of nowhere not too far from where Harvey built his dome. Kids carrying
wieners and marshmallows, David authoritative with matches and kindling,
me fussing about jackets and blankets. Why on earth had we decided on a
wiener roast in the middle of winter, just because it's the second full
moon this month. Daft I call it; we should be home warm by the fire
watching the moon spread coloured shards through the stained glass window.
Janey can't keep up with the boys and starts whining as
usual. David turns rough-edged to her and my stomach knots, old familiar
clutch; I can't bear the way people in this family talk to each other. By
that I mean I can't hear it one more time, can't stand by and listen to
the hurting saw-toothed nagging, can't see how my guts can survive another
tight hard clutching squeezing.
David has the fire lit now and Joe threads a wiener on his
coat hanger. Rod, my quiet ancient firstborn, touches my shoulder as he
goes to the truck for his guitar. Don't worry. Mum, I'll stop playing when
my fingers turn blue, promise."
Joe and Janey pick a fight - something about the right way
to roast a marshmallow, but it could have been anything. I hear Joe's
sneer rip Janey's confidence apart "you're so dumb and so fat! You just
want to eat all the marshmallows before the rest of us who know how to
cook them properly can get to them." I sit bathed in misery clutching my
old coat around me for warmth, on the end of one of the logs pulled up to
make a rough circle around the fire pit.
Dave, pleased with his fire, comes and sits beside me. Rod
has his guitar tuned now, though how long it will keep in tune in this
cold is anyone's guess. He starts singing - country music, they call it
here, not like in the old country where that meant folk ballads, raunchy
tales of shape-shifters, rollicking whiskey songs. I miss the old ways
more in the winter - perched here on the earth's cold shoulder instead of
close to its heart where I was born. Dave nuzzles my neck and I freeze.
"Aw, come on, honey! It's a blue moon! You promised!" and again the cold
clutching, the sure knowledge that the life I wanted for myself is over
before it starts and I'll go self-conscious and guilty down hill all the
The moon is high above, pale, perfectly round. Reminds me
of that drum I saw last May eve when Janice, my neighbour, persuaded me to
go with her to the park. Reckon she just wanted a ride, but Dave was away
and the kids are OK on their own if Rod's there. "You'll need six yards of
ribbon" she said "and musical instruments if you have them." Well, I knew
Rod wouldn't lend me the guitar, and six yards of ribbon, just on a whim
on our budget? I tore strips from an old flannel nightie and sewed them
together to make six yards - never asked why, but when we got to the park
other women were gathering, displaying rainbows in velvet, taffeta, satin
- my soft blue flannel almost disappeared beside them.
We chose a tree - they called it "her" - first I knew you
could tell with trees. One woman climbed on another's shoulders to tie the
ribbons high up the trunk. The rest of us stood around asking if anyone
knew how to do it. It seemed one had done it in Australia, another in
England but she'd been so humiliated by her teacher for not getting it
right that she almost didn't come tonight. "Never mind, Kate, we'll
reclaim it for you" the women said and hugged her till her cheeks turned
Then we started, holding our ribbons, dancing first slowly
then faster around the tree, weaving over and under each others' ribbons
chanting something I didn't catch, changing, touching - till the tree was
quite wrapped in a cloak of jewel colours and washed-out blue flannel, and
we were close enough to the tree and to each other for what they called a
grug - a circle of women hugging the tree and each other.
I went back a couple of days later, just to see the tree
we'd made so beautiful, but I guess the parks guys had taken the ribbons
down - must be in their job-description to do that. Only a few strands of
frayed flannel clung to the bark - all the bright colours and luscious
textures gone, to some green plastic garbage bag.
Later in the truck I found Janice's drum in its red bag.
They'd moved by then, Janice and Don, and I kept hoping to hear from them,
but I guess they were glad to shake the bush off their feet and get to the
city. I forgot about the drum till now, under the moon which is pale and
round like Janice's skin drum.
It's still there, miracle of miracles. Shows how often
anyone cleans out the truck. I take it carefully to the fire and hold it
close to its heat - I heard it works better when it's warm. "What's that?
Mum?" asks Joe. "Your mum's roasting a drum seeing as she can't eat
wieners since she became a veggie terrorist." Dave, miffed by rejection,
getting a few digs in.
Gently I tap the skin with the leather-wrapped stick. The
skin is thicker in some places than others, making a different sound
wherever it's touched. I listen carefully to the voice of the drum.
"Louder" it whispers. "Harder. Let that beat quicken, see, you have a
rhythm, like a heart beat, again, again, listen, feel your heart beat, let
yours beat with mine."
The fire is dying and the kids and David are packing up,
looking at me strangely. They pile into the truck but I move toward the
glowing fire, swaying "changes, touches, everything we touch can change" -
where do I know that from?
Dave flicks the headlights at me but I turn away and slowly start to
circle the fire anti-clockwise - what did the women call that? widow-
something? For banishing, they said, letting go of what you don't want so
you have room to bring in what you do want when you turn to dance the
other way. Well, heck, if I emptied out all I don't want there wouldn't be
much of me left to turn - think I'll stay with the widow thing a bit
The truck lights are gone - did he do that? Did he really
drive off and leave me three miles to walk in the freezing cold? Maybe
Harv’s dome is sleepable - he's been gone a year or more, he wouldn't
mind. But I'm not done drumming yet, and dancing the widow dance, faster
and louder and the drum calling my name till I'm empty and clean and ready
to turn around.
In the dying glow of the fire I see them, or I think I do,
and then they're gone again. Huge. Silent. Unmoving. Look like they're
carved from wood, but their eyes gleam and I can feel their warmth.
Monkeys, like, only seen anything like that at the zoo before, and never
so big and never so still. Sitting in the spaces between the logs, just
like they sit round fireplaces everywhere, all over the world, to keep the
circle when the people with the noise and fights and junky food and litter
have roared off in their smelly vehicles. The Guardians. They're always
there, but people hardly ever see them. Just once in a you-know-what. And
only if you desperately need a miracle.
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