Academic journal article Hecate

Old Black Rock

Academic journal article Hecate

Old Black Rock

Article excerpt


Where did I meet her? -- Sibyl?

I remember walking down Rusland Straat near Amsterdam University, to a cafe, going into the cafe to avoid leaning into the snow wind for one more moment, a Rusland cafe. It was crowded. I squeezed along a narrow passage by the bar and manoeuvred up precarious stairs to an eating platform. People stood and sat and moved and smiled. Slow sleepy people, slow smiling people, slow, lurching peculiarly. She, too?

I don't remember seeing her until...

I ordered a pancake and coffee.

The smell of the smoking weed was sweet to me.

I read once, in a novel or a feature article in a travel magazine, that Australians and the Dutch are mutual lovers of cleanliness. Perhaps. Cleanliness, perhaps, hygiene. Australians more disinfected, the Dutch more scrubbed. Perhaps there is a mutual admiration for those dream families advertised as if comfortably at home within their shining bright surfaces. For me, I thought, the affinity remains with those, and they may be Dutch, who wish for an altered, an exotic consciousness.

The pancake came and I ate it, but slowly. With the coffee.

Then that Sibyl floated in from nowhere, out of the haze, across my table, a tall melancholic Australian grasping at my wrists, a creature born of the myths enveloping me with the bitter side of the bush idyll.

I dared not disagree with her almost outrageous assertions of desolateness, and her depressing obsessions. The bush, she elaborated loudly, receives the psychopath and creates persecutionists out of poets . . ! It is too primeval for creatures accustomed to civilisation!

I didn't want any of this. Besides, she was shouting, an embarrassing loud voice.

I stumbled out of the cafe with her at my back wrapping her madness around mine and whispering into my head her history.

Half way up the hill behind her house and shaped like a table it sits, the the square black shape of rock.

When she was little Sibyl would go there with cup cakes and orange cordial, her books, pretend to see fairies and goblins, talk to imaginary friends...

But now?

Now. Sibyl is tall and thin. Never eats. Except when the moon is full. Then she eats mounds of sweets and cakes.

The girl perches on the black rock and allows her eyes to rove. The valley, beautiful as ever, the bitumen road and the railway line black tracks across its greenness. The gentle rolling hills, and the one high sharp hill in the distance where the scrub had bever been cleared. Creeks and streams, willows spread on their banks...It is all so, so beautiful. So motionless.

So silent until her mother calls wanting help to feed the chickens and house them for the night, bathe the toddlers, peel the potatoes, string the beans, her voice irritable, exasperated -- at the end of my tether!

Sibyl runs through the long grass to the barbed wire fence between her mother and the black rock. Echoing around the valley cracks the shouts of a farmer feeding squealing pigs, yer bastards! yer bluddy bastards! And she stops. Looks back to the black rock, her table rock, looks back to her dreaming.

The farmer abuses his pigs, the valley is still except for a magpie flying to its roost.

Sibyl kicks the tangling grasses, walks sullen to help her mother.

That morning, alarmed by the sight of blood, her hands shook, and she carefully removed her pyjama pants, the pretty ones with the rosebud pattern. Left them on a chair, and chose a dress from her wardrobe of shorts.

Mum! she shouted. She showed her mother the pyjama pants, aah, said the women, her face slightly victorious, you are now a woman.

The mother left the room with the pyjama pants. The daughter shrank, not trusting the offered sisterhood -- rough hands? too many babies? an awful sense of betrayal.

The mother returned with a packet of sanitary napkins and a home made broad elastic sanitary belt, you wear these. …

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