He is waiting for me again this morning, out on the same post, watching me with one eye slanted as always, my jet black crow. He is out for what he can get, the crow. I give him titbits, a piece of meat or a worm or two that I dig up in the garden. He sits there and eyes it until I go away. Then when I come back the meat is gone, and he is still there eyeing me. As if to say:
“You’re a fool, you know. Why wait around in a godforsaken place like this?”
I wait for the moon to come around again, and then I am satisfied. The moon is like an old friend, full-blown, expecting, and reminds me of all the love in the world. I wait for the cooling autumn breezes to come sweeping up across the plains from Antarctica. And at last it is winter and I am back to longing for spring and summer once again.
Now I am constantly on my own, with only the crow, the dog and the loaded rifle for my companions.
I know it is Easter in the world I have come from. I think of the figure on the cross, the blood dripping from the wounds to the palms, the gash in the side, and the forehead with the crown of thorns.
Is Hell really a place of fire, a red place?
Here in this world, I have no way of celebrating or of giving thanks. I must live by my wits and, if I have to eat meat, I must learn to kill.
I know it is the time when I must choose which one of the lambs I should kill. Will it be Rosette or Anzac or Pascal? The lambs are doing marvellously well, their bodies plump and strong. The old ram that I had to get rid of after the attack has left his spirit behind in these young ones. They will provide good eating for the cold months ahead. I have at last learnt how to cut the throat of the animals, quickly and without fuss, and drain the blood onto the ground. I have learnt how to strip the carcasses and hang them in the room I call “the chapel.”
Pascal is the obvious choice this day.
I have managed to harvest all the walnuts from the trees. They say that if a man goes to sleep under one of these he will never wake up again, so treacherous is the poisonous sap that drips from them. They are the ugliest of trees; their black knotted trunks and dark foliage remind me of mean-spirited trolls who have inhabited my space. They belong to a different hemisphere, brought here by a foreigner many years ago. There is nothing redeeming about them apart from their fruit, which I am learning to pickle.
I till the soil in little patches, then plant seeds in one part and seedlings in the other. I’ve fenced off my garden from the animals and Salome is not allowed to dig there. The breezes have come and gone and deposited the dead leaves on the ground. These have been crunched into the soil by boots and hooves. I rake them up and deposit them on the garden as mulch. The soil is rich and black here.
The crow eyes me now and hops one step closer, as I turn and ignore him. I can see his shadow out of the corner of my eye as I go about my gardening. He follows, at a safe distance, watching me.
Always watching and waiting.
I look out on a world transformed. All is white about me. Salome is white against white outside in the cold. Whining and pawing to get in, and the sheep are holed up in the sheds. The branches of the eucalyptus trees are holding onto the snow like sacrificial giants in penance. I will put on my rubber boots, coat and hat and go out into the lightly falling snow to check the animals and feed them. Salome will dance about me in the snow.
It is hard to imagine where all the little throbbing hearts of birds have gone. Where all the stalks of grass are hiding. I often think of the people that once trod these paths, their black bodies gleaming in the sun as they hunted fish, spears poised against the backdrop of the white sands. There are none of them left now. I wonder if the ghosts of these people still haunt this land.
How strange to have watched from the shadows of gum trees, as pale-faced spirits spilled forth from white-winged craft onto the sacred shore
Further up in the wilds I know where there are caves. At the base of a giant gum tree that has been uprooted by natural causes, I once found tool-like instruments—knives and scrapers in quartz and stone—remnants of a past culture. I left them there.
Unwise to disturb the spirits of the land.
The moon is out. It is a silvery moon. I sit at the window and stare at the wise full face of it. How can such a pure visage stare down, without flinching, on the evidence of such sorrow and grief as this poor world contains? I can see the shape of a deer at the edge of the bush and I am afraid for her. The hunters will surely find her and kill her. I finger the box and take the handgun out of its holder. It contains blanks, but they will at least serve to frighten away whoever is lurking out there.
I talk to Salome and feed her, the blood-dripping meat that she so loves, in the bowl that I place next to her kennel, or the leftovers from my meal in the evening, vegetables included.
Tonight I will bake a leg of lamb, one that I have kept frozen for two months. The names of the lambs are marked on each bag in the freezer. Which one will it be tonight? I think it will be Calamity, which makes me feel better, knowing that she might have got herself killed soon anyway, considering the scrapes she managed to get herself into. And I will eat her flesh and give thanks to God and to her and to her brothers and sisters, for providing for me and for my dog. I throw the dry logs onto the fire and set it roaring. I play a record on the ancient gramophone player and set to work baking bread, knitting and cleaning.
There are noises outside from the wind. I go outside and look around. Nothing. Trees like skeletons, arms outstretched. Swaying. Shadows from the moon.
I am suddenly aware that I am a woman alone. Out here in the mulga.
I feel a splinter of fear shoot up my spine.
I go inside.
I wonder what colour fear is? Is it grey like the colour of my old woman’s cheeks at this moment, when the courage is drained from them? A trapped colour—like that of purgatory, a no-man’s land caught in between two extremes.
Life and death: Black and white.
If he comes, what shall I do? Shall I resist and put up a fight? Or succumb and die alone here in the bush? I can feel, already, his hands—a butcher’s hands. They are covered in thick black hairs like the fur on the animals that he shoots. His hands are clenched tightly around my throat and I can utter no sound. A shiver of fear runs through my body from top to toe and I stiffen and hold my breath. I know this is wrong, holding onto the fear. I think of the way a rabbit first stiffens when faced with danger, as if smelling it, then shakes its body to release the fear, once the danger has passed. I try to shake the fear from my body, but it is firmly lodged between my breast and my rib plates. My heart is banging like a door in the wind. I imagine him lurking around the house ready to spring on me. I seem to hear heavy footsteps on the pebbles surrounding the house.
The dog barks.
There is a pounding outside, a banging like a thunderstorm trying to gain entry. The dog has become a barking tornado, trying to protect me from what it sees as mortal danger.
“Who is there?” I shout in the deepest voice I can muster. There is no reply. I look over the front steps from the window upstairs. I see a dark form slumped against the side of the house. I run downstairs, gun in hand. But when I go outside, there is no one there
I return to my bedroom at the top of the stairs. I know I should go to bed, and sleep and dream, and forget about my fear. But I sit upright on the bed, my back against the wall, wide-eyed, staring at the moon out through the window.
It has become a haunted moon. Lost its sheen—slid into dark.
I sit there for a long time with my shotgun nearby. Outside the moon illuminates the night. I go outside again and walk around the side of the house and see footprints in the snow—huge footprints made by a hunter’s boots. I am following the giant footprints in the snow. They become intermingled with spots of blood. He is carrying the deer he shot. I turn the corner of the house and walk towards the back door. And there it is: a dark furred shape lying in the snow near the wall. A young deer. The one that I saw at the edge of the forest. A pool of crimson circling out from underneath the throat, tongue hanging out. And further on another shape, a crumpled human form, fallen beside the back steps. A man’s black-bearded face, cheek down against the ice, pale and drained of colour. The hunter is injured. Blood pours from his wound, changing the pure white of the snow where he lies into a red red pool.
Like a splotch of colour on a painter’s palette.
I drag the heavy body of the hunter away from the house. Many times I think I will not manage to reach the corner of the paddock. I will leave his body there. While I light the fire. His body will become part of the landscape, of the universe. He will become one with nature, just as I am. His remains will supply the fodder and mulch to make the earth, to feed the worms and slugs that the crow will feed on.
The fire is already licking at his chest, his gently curbing chest with the black hairs, beneath his shirt.
It is too cold and sad for me outside now, watching the orange tongues of flames licking at the air and swallowing him up.
The exertion has exhausted me. The moon has shrunk into a blanched almond crescent. I must rest. I will go inside, wash my hands and face in soapy water in the ceramic basin, and sleep next to my dog on the sofa a while.
I see the hunter’s face flickering in amidst the flames. Not complaining. Accepting his lot in life. Letting go. Surrendering. To the flames. Submitting. What must be must be. His features are disintegrating bit by bit. All aglow now.
Now I must sleep.
Tomorrow I will look for my crow. I will tell him about my find. He will surely know that what I have done is right. I look forward to seeing my crow once more. He will understand.
My black black crow waiting for me on the post.