Beauty and time tread the same path; as neither, cannot, will not, stand still.
12 miles west of Williams, Western Australia, late spring, 1872.
An evening full of deadening light, mosquitoes, and children covered in dirt and play induced scratches swarm around Maggie. Through happiness and laughter they cling to her skirts with sticky fingers and grubby hands vying for her attentions, politely climbing over one another, eager for her ministrations. The brown paper bags of store bought boiled lollies she hands to the smiling grubs at her knees disappear after being joyously grabbed, vanishing on winged feet as the lucky recipient ducks for cover either under the veranda, or within the green folds of the mulberry tree at the bottom of the garden.
Their laughter delights Maggie as she walks across cool green grass to the adult filled table brimming with happiness and familiarity; duties fulfilled. She appreciates the sheer exhilaration of the moment, noting the November sun filled with stealth and cunning, slinking gently over the horizon, leaving pools of gold for all to see. She stops momentarily, letting her gaze take in the paddocks surrounding the house block; the majority heavy with golden ripening crops of wheat and oats. Sheep surround a dam in the foreground with cattle at a trough some mile and a half away. Three generations of men are returning home to her on foot from their day’s work. It amuses her that the smallest of them is leading two of the enormous Suffolk Punches back to the shed to water and wash and curry and brush; filling the feed boxes, freeing them into their paddock for the night. Maggie knows of the ladder he will be standing upon to get over the withers of the two gentle draught horses. His final chore will be to go over all leather work with dubbin, making it pliable, clean, and long lasting.
Enjoying the moment, Maggie takes in the view of her flaxen haired daughters. They are carrying plates and dishes brimming with food to the table they laid with love earlier in the day. She glories in the efforts of them. The bread and butter they made together before lunch still casts a faint and warm aroma. The creations of Maggie’s beautiful waifs has earned them praise from all, reducing them to shy, bare foot wiggling bundles of nerves, not yet mature enough to accept compliment.
The wave to her makes her smile. This, the second youngest of her brood adds one or two more pieces of wood to the fire beneath the spit roasting body of mutton; careful all the while not to burn his bare feet on the mass of coals. Not yet old enough for long pants, his bare legs are filthy with the dust of the paddock he has worked in since the first light of the morning, and of the milking yard he visits twice daily to milk the three out of four Jersey cows, calves now weaned.
Maggie turns slightly. She can see her husband at the trough, washing the dirt of the day from his face and arms and hands. Her love for him is complete; rarely said, yet all encompassing. His actions alone tell her that his feelings reflect similar adoration for her. Far too polite to show affection in company, he brushes against her on return from his ablution. Broad strong shoulders, narrow waist, and heavy muscular arms carry his calloused, large and thick hands. This evening he wears a smile just for her. It is more in the eye than the mouth, yet the mouth surrenders to the eye and his lips rise at the corners, allowing light onto his teeth. Even though she is unable to fully hear the whispered word he left in her ear, she knows it is one of affection. Not to smile would have been akin to not breathing.
A dark movement near the distant milking yard catches Maggie’s attention like a fly to a trout. It is swift and fluid and raises her curiosity. She turns to face its direction and glories as the delicious breeze fills her hair from behind. For a moment or two, her staring leaves her curiosity unsated, seeing nothing more than the breeze rippling through the crop, like waves on the sea. Again she is smiling at her ridiculousness and the trickery of her mind on such a perfect afternoon.
Her meandering finds her seated between her sisters at the adult surrounded table, set up on the back lawn, in the shade. It is the very same table her beautiful and gloriously innocent daughters had attended only minutes prior. She laughs at the wit of her siblings, elated at the companionship she finds with them. The image of her laughing mother; standing, turning, and lifting one of the smiling urchins back to its feet with a kindness only family can bestow.
The explosion of blood and exposure of spear tip standing proud from her mother’s chest startles her. Maggie’s mother, swaying but standing, presses the child still in her hands beneath the laden table. She sees her mother fall gently backward to abruptly stop, the length of spear ceasing her fall, leaving her propped semi upright.
Maggie begins to run screaming across her beautiful green lawn to capture one, then another of her babies. Ahead of Maggie, the scene through her eye is one of mayhem and terror; tall, slender black men, all bearing the marks of manhood across the chest and upper arms running into the party. Spears and Nulla Nullas held high. The slickness of their red coatings scares her deeply with fear for her other babies that she cannot see.
At the periphery of her vision, out to the east, she notes smoke starting to rise from the middle of a crop filled paddock. Her forward movement brings her husband. The love of her life is now lying face down, two spears extending from the centre of his back. In a shock filled breath she briefly wonders how his body held so much blood.
Noise surrounds her, yet none of it she hears.
Across the back veranda of her home Maggie bolts. Entering through the fly screened back door at pace, a long spear thrown from behind her touches the top of her ear, tearing it in its passage of flight. It lands impotently in the carpeted passage before her. Maggie drags her wee ones with her as she runs to her sanctuary. Her holiest of holies that was the birthing suite to every one of her babies, even now there is a cot made up in the corner, for the new arrival in less than a month. Her babies are pressed forcibly beneath the bed she has shared with the only man she has known and loved.
Standing and turning, babies now secure; booted feet carry her lithely toward the bedroom door. She finds it moving quickly inward, swinging sharply toward her. Maggie’s nose is tainted with the odour of smoke and kangaroo and sweat and dirt. A tall black man fills her vision as he swings his nulla-nulla with extreme force, striking Maggie across the side of her lovely twenty eight year old head.
On her side on the floor, tasting blood, she looks on helplessly, hopelessly, as the black man drags her screaming babies from beneath her bed.
This, Maggie’s, last scene through her eye. Her life expiring there on her bedroom floor.
Death sighed sadly to herself, she exited her battered old VW beetle. Secateurs in hand, she strolled through Maggie’s ward unseen by all. Mr. D’arcy trotted at her heel, a large doggy smile on his face.
Maggie’s ethereal form stood beside the corpse of Maggie Trout. Her face a picture of wild and terrified expression; her eyes too wide, as she stared down at her mortal remains. Her mother yet to notice Maggie transformation from living spirit, to that of a corpse.
In the space of a minute, Mrs. Trout placed ‘Misanthrope’ back into her shoulder bag, and began to gently shake Maggie’s shoulder, with the notion of telling her she was going to go home. The lack of response caused her to speak slightly louder, and hold her shoulder more firmly.
“Now Maggie my dear,” Death began, speaking directly to Maggie. “I granted you life, and you squandered it through delving into stories, living within the written word, only to be rendered dead by it. Look down at your mother, feel her pain. The loss of a child is eternally worse than the loss of a limb, yet, you have thrust this on her. Her grief for you is now there to be borne upon your shoulder, from this moment until the end of time. And to think, all you had to do was to live.”
Death, as she had done since the world was conceived, severed Maggie’s necrobilical cord, and freed her soul from her body, but not from the place nor the time.
Death left as silently as she had entered.
Maggie began to fade.
Click the picture above, I cried the last time I saw DAAS sing this.
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