Friday, October 28, 2005


They had all gone out to the dance. She sat in the peace and held her embroidery on her lap. A bright crimson and green Waratah flower had emerged under her hands on the pure white linen – unplanned.

The middle aged hands stopped… for a moment. Her large round blue eyes looked out. Unseeing. Beyond the orderly vegetable garden, the rows of gladioli, the spots of pansies… beyond - they looked into another garden, a garden reached only by her heart and by no other route.

Through a haze of golden light, so it seemed, she saw her father and self turning into the circular drive on a late autumn afternoon. Leaves blew in gusts of colour across the large well kept lawn. She sat in her father’s Sulky, waiting for his return. She was too young to be invited in with the business to be done, but too old to spin away and run into the leaves and wind, as she really wanted to. She sat still as a photograph, her white dress seeming translucent in the strange autumn light. Deep notes of song came from her, unconsciously and ran away from her in circles of sound, with her at the centre. Her Welsh soul resonated with the beauty around her and she felt the rightness of this place.

The large sprawling, faded homestead needed repairs, and would go on needing repairs. In the far corner of the grounds, four young men were bent over playing some game, and erupted in raucous shouting at some regular point in the proceedings.

They had not noticed her, or chose not to, because they could not have missed the stamping of the horse which pulled the Sulky, not the crunch on the gravel driveway as her and her father drove in.

They would have noticed her more had she been a year or two older, but a young girl sitting… a child… no possibilities of interest there. But she saw possibilities no child would see, and as young as she was she had instantly decided that she would live in this garden when she grew up.

As she sung her songs in undertones, she willed herself to be noticed, for one head to turn towards her. Slowly one head turned. Beneath the clump of rich auburn curls his face shone white.

Standing slowly, using his brother’s shoulder for a handhold he turned towards the distant white clothed figure sitting still in the sulky. Borne on the wind, he could just hear the faint strains of her singing. Singing him out – he thought – that’s what it felt like. He smiled towards her, his handsome young face felt as if it were turned towards the sun’s heat.

He was never to know her white shock as he stood and took a step forward. A shock, which she covered quickly and which remained, covered for the rest of his life. He was used to his pronounced limp, a birth defect that few locals ever noticed anymore. Someone who looked like he did, and had his background found many things overlooked in this insulated country town. But for the girl a fierce possessive love flung out at him from the gap between them and he felt it like a punch in his chest.

She would never live in this garden, except in her dreams. Many meetings would take place between them in the wild spot down the back of the place, and a child would be conceived in the faery place.

Now and then, she wondered at what would have happened had one of the other brothers been the one to stand. Where would she be now? Much better off financially no doubt, but would she have felt the love… would she have the memory of that first meeting? With hardened thickening fingers she stroked the embroidered Waratah flower she had made. But another real version was placed into her smooth young hands, and the young man smiled up at her. Whether the feelings were lust, or the faery dust of youthful longing, or love at the time, these two were to draw in to each other, till he was to die, too young for her to become contented with her life.

Her father climbed up onto the sulky and muttered under his breath and snatched the flower from her lap flinging it out onto the road. “You’ll not be setting your heart on a cripple, girlie – lifes going to be very hard for the woman who marries that one.” But all she could see was his face when he alone turned towards hearing her singing, feeling her willing.

“That’s what you think dad,” she thought to herself.

The middle-aged woman slipped her already aching hands into the wooden handles of the buckets. She stood up slowly and prepared herself for the long walk up the hill to collect the run off water from the Meatworks. This was a daily job during this long drought and during this prolonged Depression. For the people living in this small town on the Hunter River, water was severely rationed. No longer could they draw up from the river, which had ceased to run and had become a string of shrinking stagnant pools. Those, whose water tanks still held water, used this only for drinking, cooking and washing.  All other needs were being met with the run off from the Works, which ran steadily down the gutter in the main street of the town. The water was tinged pink, and used on vegetable plots, essential for family survival in the harsh times. She used this water for many things, after repeatedly boiling it, and quietly substituting it, as did most.

She was a tall, square-shaped woman. Her hair was straight and sensible pinned to one side. Her mouth had a definite set to it, which reflected how she felt inside about how unfairly life had turned out for her. Her large flat feet were hardened, and used now, to the holes, which had almost replaced the soles of the shoes. Outside the house she wore the shoes, uncomfortable as they had become, to hide the dire poverty of the family.

She had many sources of meagre income, all requiring a superhuman effort on her part, and all necessary for the survival of the family. She kept bees, grew vegetables, and took in ironing and washing. Along with this there were children to care for, to school, to feed, clothe and to love – if there was the time.

She walked deeply into the ruts worn by her many trips up the hill, and her feet scuffed along from an aching, never-ending bone weariness. And bitterness came.

Later in the quietness of the evening her hardened hands would flicker in an out of  cascades of exquisite cream lace, or followed a needle in and out of the white linen, she embroidered, for pleasure, for gifts and to keep her hands busy. The tablecloths, a few which would last for generations would remain, bright and beautiful a stark contrast to the embittered old woman she was to become.

She was then still pretty enough, but already the eyes although appearing bright and large, see little hope for her own life, for her own dreams.

Therese Mackay

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