The following story is a guest post by Victoria June Norton. If you enjoy the story, check out her book “Purple, Emerald, Gold” on Amazon.
I have a secret place. It’s a short walk from the clearing where I park my car, in a scrubby spot overlooking the lake. I call it the Headland and I come here to play my flute.
I thought I was the only person to spend time here, but today I found cigarette butts and empty peach vodka mix bottles so it is likely a teenage retreat. Somewhere they can defiantly test their boundaries. Just as I do.
It’s been so much effort just to get here. The twins whinged when I dropped them at day care, and my boss didn’t believe I was really sick. I’m taking a sickie from Robert as well. Sarah and Rubin are only three, and it’s going to take forever for them to be grown and gone. I wince as I consider that I don’t enjoy motherhood like I’m expected to, but I might as well be honest with myself – I need a break from them too.
A sandstone block makes a clearing where I can sit cross-legged. It’s not quite level and as I set down the wine bottle, it falls. I grab at it and miss. The bottle I took from the back of Robert’s cellar cracks open. Damn. What a waste of an expensive red.
Native shrubbery surrounds this space and you can eat the sweet gum from the silky-oak here– it’s a little like chewing gum. There are some little straggling plants that have lolly-like fruit in the spring; a pink lilly-pilly, an orange kangaroo apple and the purple fruits of the native grape. The outcropping that makes this a headland contains an age old midden of oyster, mussel and cockle shells, broken by time and bleached chalky white by the sun. The bunya pine was a bonus for the first inhabitants many centuries ago, linked with seasonal feasts of ripe fruits, bunya nuts and shellfish.
He is of the Currawong… He asked permission of the guardians to enter the forest, to bring me with him. He sang a secret, sacred song, then whirling and swirling from above came the answering cloud of shimmering blue black backs, and I fell on my knees to the ground, but softly, feeling the earth pulse in time with my breath, Currawong…“I am of the Currawong people,” a hundred wings in rhythm and song, so sweet, so thrilling, the sharp sandy earth on my face so starkly contrasting with the soft feathered whoosh of white flashed wings. Leaving, he held my hand and took me, “Currawongggg…”
I have lessons and sheet music and I practise my instrument every day. Painstakingly, so I get my husband’s money’s worth. Purposefully, so the children know to leave me this half-hour free from their twinned wanting.
The flute begins as three pieces of silvery sculpture that when joined become My Precious, my beautiful escape machine. I start by creating mournful trills and phrases, the notes long and low. The water’s gentle splash, in and out, is a soothing sound. I mimic with my music the breath-like movements of the lake rising and collapsing, rising and collapsing.
My fingers fly with renewed vigour and it becomes an allegro sonata by Handel. The grey-green canopy of the vegetation catches the wind in the slender foliage, flicking the needles as it passes, making a reverent shushing sound of encouragement. The greenery surrounds the clearing like velvet curtains in a concert hall, and the mat of needles underfoot swallows the sound.
The intricate music of my flute solo spins out melodic sound lines, alive with tone and texture, and it becomes a physical form, a wave of sound, wrapping around me, merging, melding, mending me to this place. Bright and rich, my sound colours the atmosphere. Purple. Emerald. Gold. It is the Aurora Australis. I am the concert flutist. I am the conductor. I am the audience. The applause is mine.
Today the lake offers a palette of grey with silver flashes and tea rinsed edges. It reflects low hung clouds pregnant with showers. Where the land meets the salty waters are some rocks, fallen and smashed. It is difficult to climb down but I do, determined to clean up the rubbish collected there. I slide a little and set off a flurry of dirt and stone.
Down on the shore a small blue swimmer crab keeps nipping at me as I work to untangle it from some fishing line. He mistakes me for a predator and strikes at my thumb, so I reluctantly let him go. I’d have to break his nipper claws to save him and I can’t do that. He is trapped – just as I am.
Close to shore a pod of pelicans snap-happily gorges on bream. I slip on the slimy rocks as I pick up rubbish discarded by humans and rejected by the lake. I’m balancing gawkily with my arms outstretched, like a pelican’s bedraggled wings on landing.
My nostrils flare at a sudden bad smell. A bloated porcupine fish floats in to view, skin sloughing off in pieces with the movement of the water. It tumbles in a clumsy half turn and floats off. The bad odour remains.
I find a child’s sole-less sports shoe, made in a far away factory by a shoe-less child working for a soul-less company. The same sort my children wear. There is a soft drink bottle with a piece of garden hose attached – a homemade bong, lost over the edge of the Headland, by out -of -it teens. I rip out strips of torn plastic from the embattlement of seagrass and sand. Plastic that will not biodegrade – just become millions of ever-smaller pieces destroying the seascape and all life within it.
I shove the rubbish into a rusted chocolate drink tin, and I clamber awkwardly back up the bank. The high calorie drink is made by a company with shares in a diet product. They recycle their own bio-feedback network of fat and thin, and make money in both directions. I wonder will my children lay waste to their environment; they certainly leave a mess at home. I feel a panic rising and I think our planet is running out of time.
I’m about half way up the bank, when, out of the corner of my eye, I spot a bright yellow bauble, bobbing at the edge of the water. I can’t sit up on the Headland with garbage below me, so I shuffle back down to check it out.
The weight of an iron key pulls the plastic float under the water. The key is strange, quite large and heavy. It looks more like my grandmother’s door key than the kind of key used to secure the cabin of a small yacht or cruiser. It has a single flat tooth, a cylindrical shank and the part you hold is shaped like the number eight. It isn’t rusty so it hasn’t been in the water very long.
The plastic float has some words and numbers etched into it. I can make out ‘All–ro 5-78.’ I’m not sure what it means. Perhaps it’s a mooring number. My mind fills with romantic visions of Johnny Depp, pirates, maps and treasure chests.
Furl the mainsail, scrub the deck, a barrel of rum, a drunken song, swords clash and gunfire flash and canon boom and decks creak, walk the plank and scrub the deck me hearty.
I laugh at myself. Get real. Still, I keep the key. The mystery has captured something in me, given me a feeling of hope that I might work out the riddle, and by doing this I might sort out the other puzzles in my life. Like why did he cheat on me? And will he do it again?
Blast. I’ve cut my hand on the tin. I wrap my hankie around the rush of blood. Anxiety fills me and I sulk. I’m at risk of infection, of tetanus. Will I need stitches? Will it affect my flute playing? I’ll have to see a doctor, and will I have to tell my husband how it happened and tell him about this place? I could lose it now, this place. The tentative thread of calmness I have been hanging onto all day has snapped and I start to weep.
I will go home later today. I will make dinner and settle the children with baths and stories. I will make conversation with the husband I have come to despise. The cheating, wayward husband who thinks he can buy me with three pieces of silver and tie me to him with the forever debt of children. Robert reminds me every day that it was me who wanted the twins, me who spent his money, me who underwent the trauma of IVF, me who nearly died giving birth. But I’m not going home yet.
Waiting anxiously at the doctor’s surgery, I keep pressure on the still bleeding cut. The niggling feeling of guilt at having skived off for the day isn’t helping. Not one to read the dog-eared, out of date celebrity magazines, I look around me for the distraction of pictures on the walls. A large black and white photograph catches my eye.
The yacht is sailing hard on the wind, all sail up and drawing, the gunwales dipping into the water. Head sail and mainsail deployed, it scythes through the water. With a sizzle of sound the waves move apart and we slice through. Sailing, sailing to the new, sailing away, somewhere far away, and free.
It’s a beautiful shot and it’s the heeling of the yacht that draws my attention. I feel like that sometimes and more often of late. It’s a precarious balance. I am that boat. I fear that if I tip too far I’ll lose my sanity. My life at the moment is just like that boat. But that boat has a skipper while I’m lost at sea.
I move closer to the photo and notice the signature. Williams, 2012. I wonder who it is. Then I see the boat’s name. Allegro. What a coincidence. It is aptly named, swift and bright. Under the name-plate I can barely make out some numbers. Oh, how can that be? They match the numbers on the yellow float –5078. The name Allegro fits the scratched on letters. Could my mysterious key have a connection to this beautiful boat?
I walk toward the receptionist’s desk to ask if she knows who owns the boat. I have the key out to show her, but the doctor emerges from his office and invites me in. I put the key on the desk and untie the sopping hankie from my hand. The doctor’s name is Brian Williams, new to the practice he tells me. This little clue escapes me. I’m concentrating on my hand, which he cleans and he tells me he’ll need to suture it.
He keeps glancing distractedly at the key on the table and I realise the link … it’s his boat, his key! Our eyes meet, he is smiling and I am excited.
“This is yours, isn’t it?” I ask.
“Where on earth did you find it? I lost it sailing two weeks ago.”
I tell him I was tidying up the place where I play my flute. I keep talking, telling him why I go there and how sad and stuck I feel in my rapidly unravelling marriage. How tired I am and how I don’t want to go home. My mouth keeps going. I’m uttering words and I wonder if I’m telling the truth. Do I really feel so bad? Am I that depressed or just plain selfish? That’s how Robert describes my moods.
I stop speaking. My words have become a mangle of petulant whining and I am crying. Again. Is there no end to this? I force myself to settle down, and I notice the doctor is playing with the key.
“What is the key for? Surely your yacht doesn’t need such a large one?”
“It’s my front door key.”
Gone the journey through time itself; gone the musical interlude; gone the romantic swords-smith; gone the escape by sea.
He’s just a week-end sailor with an old fashioned front door key.
My hand burns as he finishes stitching. He gives me a tetanus shot. All matter of fact. Tells me I can go home now.
Didn’t he hear me? I don’t want to go home. I tell him this. I glare at him. He pats the back of my good hand.
“Mrs Riley, you will feel better when you’re at home with your family.”
I don’t believe him.