Tuesday, June 08, 2010


Disclaimer: I wrote this for a uni assignment that I found out about the night before it was due.


Great bigness of air. More than too much to breathe or taste. I had enough on my tongue of it when I opened my mouth and felt those winky fat dust particles and softness of them and browness. That was the only time I left the Plains.

Grey-tongued men in beige, or little redheads in the openings of stairs. So many handfuls of tickets and receipts and other junk they spilled out of my mother’s hands sometimes and stuck like dogs’ tongues to the stones that were the floor. Rattlings like healthy bones when the trains got started in the morning and the only bright things about were leaves and leaves that shone like a child’s gashed knee.

My knee had been gashed early that winter, out on the street. I had walked foward onto the road without looking and a red car had driven by, not hitting me but coming close enough that I spatcheed back not thinking and tripped on the curb. It wasn’t meant to be like that but they were all waiting for it I suppose, me being the little one. My mother had picked me up and held me and shuddered her chest a while against my back but I hadn’t moved, that is not jitterly like her. My chest did pump up and down but in big smoothy bellow-like movements. This while she birded next to me so fast, her face pressed in my hair. I just wanted to feel the air, I didn’t cry. She went inside to fetch a plaster and my sister came and stood there and looked at me and smiled with her lovely square teeth and I stared and my lungs stopped moving. They stopped moving at all.

‘You sinned’ was how she started and then paused for effect and smiled that lovely white smile and hugged her bear. She leaned her face in closer until that was all in my field of like vision and looked closely as if she wanted to protect me in her kindly big-sisterly sort of way. Then she leant back again and stood beside me and I could see closely the hem of her dress and each of the stitches and how tight they were and how close.

‘Look at me,’ she said and I turned my face up to her face and grey-milk eyeballish sky. ‘You sinned,’ she said again, ‘See what this horseplay gets you? Huh?’ and she let two pretty pearl tears burst forth from her eyes. ‘The Lord is sad with you Sister, and so am I. He asks for so little Sister and you cannot oblige.’ She turned away. ‘You know what he tells me Sister?’ and she looked back, ‘He tells me is angry with you,’ and two more tears oozed out of her lovely eyes, ‘It pains me so much when he’s angry.’ She knelt down beside me on the pavement and gripped my shoulder so I could not move. ‘He wants demureness from you, softness. You are a girl Sister, do you not understand you must atone for the sins of your kind?’ She put her bear down on the blue-grey. ‘He wants revenge for your wantonness Sister. He wants you to feel the pain that he feels.’ She stroked my thigh sweetly with her bare hand. My lungs were still frozen.

Slowly she moved down my thigh to the seeping on my knee. ‘If you won’t be a good girl and feel the pain of your reckless sinning through repentance, he will make you feel it in the flesh.’ With that she moved the hand from my shoulder to my mouth and the other hand’s pointer dipped into my wound. She swirled the blood like a painter for a moment and I squirmed and bit down on my lip. ‘Does it sting now Sister dear, does it, does it indeed? Well the Lord wants it to sting much more than that, for you must understand the true pain you have caused him in your knowing childishness!’ and she dug her finger deep into the open sponging flesh. The under-tissue was yellowing already and the cars were rustling in other streets but not in this one. Her hand metalled over my mouth harder. My eyes felt glass fish-like and cataracted. Her forefinger sunk like an oilrig’s prober into the skin until I couldn’t see the nail, and hooked around the edge of the skin. I imagined it as a red pool and her digging up the white banks from beneath. ‘See he gives you pain doesn’t he? It’s only right Sister, it’s only fair.’

She whispered a gentle susurrus in my ear. I watched the edges of the wound rise tent-like on the catch of her finger, away from my knee-cap. I was surpised how cold the air felt on my cuttlefish shinbone. She stroked my lip. My mother came and stared.

My sister said we must leave the city and go back as soon as possible to the Plains. She said she understood my father had had essential business in the city, business that would benefit the Plains, and that this was to be admired, but she admonished him for bringing all of us. ‘You have infected her with the sin of this dripping, lecherous town Father and you see now what she has done. Playfulness, running! How wrong you were Father, how wrong you were. This would not happen in the Plains. Feel the Lord’s tears, feel them! Feel them! Down on your knees Father and pray that he will forgive you for leading your family astray. You took them from the light and into the smut and darkness. On your knees!’

Praying to the Heavens for forgiveness the tears poured wet out of his eyes and jewellishly glistened on is face. All night he prayed by the bed of my sister, kneeled at her feet and once, towards dawn-time, he whispered his thanks to the Lord, for providing guidance in the form of his elder daughter, the chosen one, the prophet.


When we returned I felt like the sun was watching me, leaning into my skin and following me. Everything was white or yellow and the brightness was absorbed in nothing. The surfaces seemed patent, oiled somehow and I missed the sponginess of the cities stones and woods and clouded over cover. Here you had to tense and squint all the time, the refractions escaping nothing. You could not look to the sky for help. It rained only once a year and that was the only time one saw clouds. It was strange to see them so often in the city. No one pointed or stared at their profusion.
The Plains, our Plains, stretched from some part south in Nebraska to some part east but the climate was somewhat different here from everywhere else. You couldn’t farm much, and there were no hills so only white rock and yellow grasses from horizon bowl to horizon. The Plainsmen had struck oil early here and brought their wives out to live and found a pilgrim’s community. They were far away from everyone as they’d bought all the surrounding land for oil drainage and nothing changed or would change ever. We felt secure for we knew without thinking about it that the oil would never dry up. The dust covered my face again on my return and I had to re-accustom myself to it, the ghostliness of white dust on white face suspended over long white dress. When my mother came in the first day back I jumped at the eternal wind that woo-ed through the door and banged it shut and Sister remonstrated me for gasping at God’s touch. I sat forcibly calming myself and watched my mother take off her kerchief and tease the whiteness into the sink, like piles of dandruff shaking off. My father snapped his sock suspender thoughtfully.

When the dust came at you it was like falling. It flew at your face like when one looks up at raindrops, bits bullet-zooming at you and the sky so blue behind them. It’s hard to focus on such an intense, pure blue. Sometimes our eyes would fail and tire and we’d walk closed eyes through the town, along the boardwalks, one foot in front of the other, feeling hands sinking through the thin air of the Plains.

After my ninth birthday I came to prefer the darkness of shut eyes and the remembrance of the warm maroon city so I stopped opening the lids. When my mother finally coaxed me to try seeing some weeks later, to look at the new whitewash on the church, I found the darkness had come over everything. The Plains doctor said my retinas had been numbed but he could not explain why. From then on I walked with my eyes open but unseeing. They would froth rabidly from the dust sometimes, it gathering on the sweet wetness of my unfeeling lenses and pooling, congregating like tiny insects on a pool and finally overflowing. It tickled my undereye (the orbital eyelid) and foamed lovelyish like a growing living thing, like white flowers. My eyelashes were covered completely white after a day because I never blinked or wiped anything off anymore, was only still. I enjoyed the warmth and knowledge and secrets of the darkness. I knew the town better now that I wasn’t distracted by the jerking-steady blueness of the sky and the flapping draping clothes in the wind. I could walk about feeling the points of the colourless stones in my boots and touching the splintering yellow woods in the material yards. I loved to touch, touch many things. I would finger the scar on my knee at night until my sister found out. She beat against my jaw with the frying pan and screamed the Lord’s name over and over. I did not cower or protect myself but held out my hands to her in the lamplight, palms damp and limp, fingers contorted. I held her face and felt her tender reverence and the ferocity of her strokes and I smiled. My parents prayed and prayed.

The Plainsmen were severe and righteous and the rules of the Plains were ordered. Identical white hats hung on the hatstands in the tavern and the Plainsmen murmured business to each other. They believed in my sister and she believed in them so far as in their ultimate superior manliness. By the time she was fifteen she was the only preacher at the Plains church and she stood before them every Sunday with the smell of dry heat and sweats and calico. Alcohol would sing smoothly through the air from the men’s breath and women’s necks until my sister banned the wearing of perfumes. She wanted to turn us away from the Devil’s playthings and she was so sure and so full of fervour the women obliged. They were afraid of her. I could smell that sort of thing, like a dog, that bitter tensity that sprung up when she was around. Yes, they feared her but they revered her, O Lord, and so she gave her dictates in her gentle voice and they were obeyed. Each other day was the same but on Sunday I would sit at the front of the church, next to the strength of my sister and let the wind push my skirts around me and flick at the strings of my kerchief. Taking shallow breaths in the littleness of the air I smelled the talcs on the ladies and felt the boards of the stage vibrate as my sister paced in rushing passions.
Sister was nineteen when our parents died, I was fourteen. Our mother died first and the house became stiff like a muscle the day after hard work, then father two months later of something similar. Some days before Mother died she went blind. It had been forbidden that I sit by her; Sister told her ‘what she already knew’ which was that ‘you need no more support on this Earth than that which the Lord can give you.’ It was the blindness that made Mother bold. She called out. I was embroidering at the table. ‘Come to me child.’ I moved to her side and knelt there with her hand. I pressed the popping grape-ish veins and kissed her knuckles. We looked into the darkness together and smiled.

A year later the oil dried up. It happened suddenly and without warning, although some say the night before there had been a queer purple sunset. It’s true the wind was a little more placid than usual. It was a Saturday and the men who worked the rig were there as normal when the hole spluttered up some last dregs spontaneously and the pipe stopped cadaver-cold. The men tried to get it going again but it was completely immobile, no matter what their efforts. They broke a hole in the boards and sent someone down who reported the thing was ditch-empty, nothing but a film of drying mucousy oil that they scraped off to show the other Plainsmen.

They, the Plainsmen of the town, did not care. They had enough money to last them for a long time. The wives however, usually able to manipulate their feelings in order to coincide with those of their husbands got spooked and rumours ran rampant about a ghost and a curse and many other things. In my darkness I heard their hurrying footsteps, heading home and the crunching of the stones beneath their feet and their shortened breaths and imagined their eyes funnelling downwards. The fear grew and passed like a disease and the Plainswomen became sure something had bewitched their well. Their husbands told them to be Christian but in truth they did not know how to look to God for guidance; nothing had changed for so long. There was talk of the unthinkable, of leaving. The families took it as a sign. The children were hushed. Spare sheets begun to be packed.

Sunday was a cooler day than usual but every Plainsperson was at the church. My sister was slim but bosomy and her breasts bounced and her cheekbones danced proudly under her expressions. Her lips were pink as a child and I imagine they remained so. She had beautiful lips.

‘You will not go,’ she told them. ‘It is not the Lord’s will that you leave this Christian homestead for elsewhere. This is our Garden of Eden, this is our Paradise. Would you shun it once more? Would you cast off God once more for vile superstition? Let not the Devil speak in ye citizens, Plainspeople. You are disgusting in your ways but you may be cleansed. Redemption is within your grasp. The heavenly realms await those who obey our Lord and stay to live on the Plains as he intended. Those who accept the Lord into their hearts and shun the tormenting fires of Hell, cast off the Devil’s rumours that this oil dry-up is the cause of some sorcery.’ Her voice trembled with real terror at the thought. The thought of the Devil but more the thought of the Plainspeople disbanding. I felt it in her and I found it paralysing. She gripped my hair from where I sat and dragged me to my feet. ‘Or perhaps it is witchcraft and sorcery that has caused this mess. Who amongst you claims to have done it? Who? Who, who who?’

She had only frightened them more and she knew it, and already the wives were getting up to leave, shuffling their feet timidly but surely towards the door. ‘Don’t leave, don’t you dare leave! The Devil will come for you in your darkest hour, he will drink your blood and that of your children! He will burn your profaning flesh alive until it bubbles and bursts! You will feel the brimstone pour over you and watch the decapitations of your husbands. Chained for eternity! Don’t leave!’

A week later they had all got out in the only migration to or from the Plains since settlement. Somehow it had been decided. To me the town seemed no emptier than before, but my sister felt it, I knew. For three days she wandered up and down the main street silently, not making a sound when she trod on the ground so I had to call out to her to find her. On the fourth day I found her at the rig. She was tugging feebly on the kelly. I scratched my knee absently.

‘Why are you doin’ that? They’re all gone anyway you know.’

‘They’ll come back, I’ll make them come back. I’m telling you. They’ll come back, why in the Lord’s name…’

I pulled her off the slats of the floor and down onto rocky grass.

‘C’mon let’s go home.’

She turned her face to me and gripped my chin.

‘You don’t even care do you, spawn? You love it in your comfortable darkness. Well I have seen the light! And I showed them the light. They were finding their way because of me. How could it ever change. How could it ever change so suddenly?’

She fell to her knees and I fell too and cut my lip and tasted blood in my mouth.

‘It’s going to be alright.’

‘No! It’s not! I don’t understand. I’m from the Plains, we’re from here. What are we going to do? Sister, sister what will we do?’

I knew then what to do and I did it, pushing her down onto her side and tucking my face into her hair, breasts into spine, pelvis into buttocks, knees to knees, feet to feet. I put my arm around her and I began to squeeze tight and I listened with my sharp ears and knew that indeed there was no one around. I squeezed tighter and tighter in our first loving embrace and under my breath I whispered to her, to us: ‘You are a Plainswoman, You are a Plainswoman, You are a Plainswoman.’

After a time her breathing quieted, slowly, slowly, her eyes dulled, and finally, finally, there was only the sound of the wind to stir me.

1 comment:

  1. I've given you the "One Lovely Blog" award - I'm not sure how to post the award here but go to my site and grab the fantastic picture of roses in a teacup, post it somewhere prominant! And pay it forward.
    Thanks for having a freakin' sweet blog, always.