Fiction

Leaving

Sitting out the front of their small fibro house, Albert heard his wife open the door and walk towards him. The old man was engrossed in reattaching a spearhead to a long, narrow piece of wood that held the memory of his hands. He could sense that Vic had something to say.

“Those girls are growing so quickly,” she remarked.

Albert looked towards the twins, Maggie and Victoria, playing on a blanket at their mother’s feet as Brigid hung washing on the line.

“She won’t listen,” said Vic, with a sigh. “Have you noticed?”

He nodded, returning to repairing his spear. He had noticed. And it worried him. Brigid was a keen hunter, asking lots of good questions. She was also very interested in navigational skills, how to find her way using landforms, or the sun and stars. She had an excellent sense of direction. And she was competent at finding drinkable water. Brigid soaked in all that learning but ignored other things. She seemed to have no interest at all in language. And she would change the subject or just wander off if anyone started to talk about lore, law, songlines or anything related to cultural knowledge. She wasn’t even interested in stories of her father.

“We can’t force her to listen,” said Albert. “Perhaps once she’s learnt all the things she’s so keen to know, then she’ll be more receptive to the rest.”

“I’m not sure she ever will be. That one is on a mission, all right. It’s that fella, the girls’ father. All she wants is to learn what she needs to keep on walking, keep on looking. She’s not going to be here for too much longer.”

“Brigid is stubborn. Remember what her father was like at that age? I reckon they both get that from you, old woman,” Albert chuckled.

Vic flicked a tea towel at his head, hitting him lightly before going back inside. As the door shut, Albert heard her laugh.

 

Because Brigid wouldn’t listen, Nana Vic turned her attention to her great-granddaughters. Her granddaughter would have left sooner if not for Maggie. Unlike Victoria, who, like a thin-legged colt, had been walking at an uncannily early age, Maggie took her time learning to stand on her own two legs. This gave Nana Vic more time to infuse her sweet bubbas with the fragrance of essential stories.

When bathing them, she’d tell stories of animals and plants. Each had its own story of its origin and purpose. As Maggie and Victoria lay down to sleep, the old lady would whisper tales of celestial serpents and seven starry sisters. She would fill their ears with maps, instructions and long-held lore. If they misbehaved, Nana Vic would tell them about sharp-toothed creatures that lived in watery caves, and other ancient beings that craved tasty children. The babes’ eyes widened, soaking it all in before asking for more.

Knowing that time was against her, Nana Vic took every chance she could to top up Brigid’s survival skills, to add to what Albert had shown her. She taught her the signs of bad health, and the causes. Her granddaughter refused to believe there were places where spirits lurked, that could cause someone to become ill. She thought being fearful of whistling in the dark was just foolish nonsense. Instead, Nana Vic showed her how to find the right leaves for the smoking that cleansed a person. She told her about dryness and death. She spoke of how to stay healthy, how to be safe, how to care for the young ones the proper way. She showed Brigid how to harvest the good plants, the ones used for medicine. Nana Vic showed her all this and more.

Brigid took most of it in, except if Nana Vic tried to teach her language or lore. Then Brigid would ignore her.

 

Brigid and her daughters stayed through the wet season and then through months of dust. They stayed for a few more cycles of dust and rain until one day, as water soaked into the desert and bright flowers bloomed overnight, Brigid felt a warm wind sweep through the community. As a strong gust flew out over the red landscape, she felt that old restlessness once more. By the time the next truck drove in, she’d already packed her worn suitcase. And another that had been given to her, for the twins’ clothes, along with a cloth bag for cooking utensils.

Her grandparents knew it was pointless trying to persuade her to stay. Albert helped Brigid carry the suitcases and placed them in the back of the truck. Nana Vic’s favourite digging stick poked out from the cloth bag and Albert pushed it back in. The driver started up the truck, warming the motor before the long drive.

“Wait,” called Albert and scuttled back inside the house.

When he returned, he was carrying his rifle. He handed it to Brigid, who at first looked confused.

“No,” she said. “It’s yours.”

“Those young ones will need good tucker to help them grow strong. Digging for small animals and roots is not going to fill them up. You’re a good hunter. I know you’ll use this well.”

Brigid nodded and took the gun. While Grandfather Albert patted Brigid’s shoulder, her grandmother fussed one more time over Maggie and Victoria. The old couple knew they’d never see them again. Brigid gave Nana Vic a quick hug before she climbed into the truck’s cabin with her two sleepy daughters. As the truck drove out of the small community in the desert, she didn’t look back.

 

This is an edited extract from Where The Fruit Falls (UWAP).

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 26, 2020 as "Leaving".

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Karen Wyld is an author and freelance writer living on the coast, south of Adelaide. She is the recipient of the 2020 Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript.