Academic journal article Hecate

The Cradle Arms of Strangers

Academic journal article Hecate

The Cradle Arms of Strangers

Article excerpt

We always prayed for rain. The monsoonal rains that used to sweep in from the north in the summer, never came. There was only a short, bombastic burst of rain. A hard rain that crashed on our roof and gurgled in our down-pipes for a day and a night. The crashing rain was almost frightening. Inside it was a humming sound, like voices.

Me and Sherrie stood at the kitchen louvres and watched the houseyard quickly turn to a brown pool. I thought about the family, camping out on our land. Sherrie must've thought the same thing. 'I wonder if that mob will be washed away,' she yelled, and laughed. We could hardly hear ourselves over the rain-sound.

We did not give too much thought to the family. We threw back our heads and breathed deeply of the smell of rain. Then we ran outside, like children, and played and danced and pushed each other over until we were sodden with milk-coffee water. But the ground had become too hard to absorb the rain. The ground was like concrete, and the water washed over it but not into it to refresh the roots of grass or trees. Though the rain revived our tanks; it put water in the dam.

Sherrie was my sister, she was twenty-one, six years older than me. Her husband Tom had left. Had driven off to work one day and never come home. They hadn't been married all that long. I was staying on at 'Margot' to keep her company. The farm-house was half-derelict. Most of its rooms were kept closed-up, were full of junk and smelt of old suitcases.

Winter was on its way now. The days had shortened; the light was changed. Objects stood out in sharp focus: every tree, every bush, seemed lit from within. The sky was swishy with mare's tails.

At dusk the paddocks darkened, but the sky above was lit like TV. The still filigrees of dead trees stood out against it - every twig in relief, like cobwebs against the bright sky. The sky turned green at the horizon, and a midnight blue above. The dark shapes of possums scrambled through the tulip trees, searching out sweet nectar.

On 'Margot' the winters were short and bitter - the days bright and hot, the nights sharp and chilly. The night mists rubbed against the sides of the house, lay low under trees, coiled round the shapes of cattle as they ripped up grass with razor tongues.

I lay next to Sherrie in the big bed. Since Tom had gone away, my sister and I slept together. We were sure there were ghosts that crept from dark corners and roamed through the house in the night.

This was Tom and Sherrie's room. The room that had bulged with their secrets, their arguments. The arguments that had unravelled all night long. This was the rumpled, pock-marked bed I'd often glimpsed through their half-open door.

In the moonlight, the room's heavy furniture was softened and transformed. The edges of the furniture had become fuzzy; the oval mirror of the dressing table seemed to waver and swim in mid-air. We too had changed, although I'm not sure how.

I bent over Sherrie and combed her hair with my fingers, gently and rhythmically, brushing it back from her forehead and smoothing it behind her ears. I felt her eyelashes brush my wrist as my hand moved over her head.

I leaned back and regarded her: 'You look like a boy now, a very good-looking one.'

Sherrie giggled, and shifted in the bed. In the moonlight, her teeth were very white. Then she stopped smiling and rolled onto her back.

'Do you ever think about our father?' she whispered.

I was startled - I hadn't expected her to mention Dad. 'Yeah, a lot', I lied.

'I think about him all the time,' she said. 'I wonder where he is, what he's doing, if he misses us. I even remember the smell of him. Cigarettes and old sweat.'

I tried not to wrinkle my nose at the smell, but all the same I could feel it drifting around us, hanging in the air between us. I wished I could share this with her, this love of our father, but in truth, I hardly remembered him at all. …

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