Women's Empowerment Stories ...
Piled out of the truck in the middle of nowhere not too far from where Harvey built his dome. Kids carrying wieners and marshmallows, David authoritative with matches and kindling, me fussing about jackets and blankets. Why on earth had we decided on a wiener roast in the middle of winter, just because it's the second full moon this month. Daft I call it; we should be home warm by the fire watching the moon spread coloured shards through the stained glass window.
Janey can't keep up with the boys and starts whining as usual. David turns rough-edged to her and my stomach knots, old familiar clutch; I can't bear the way people in this family talk to each other. By that I mean I can't hear it one more time, can't stand by and listen to the hurting saw-toothed nagging, can't see how my guts can survive another tight hard clutching squeezing.
David has the fire lit now and Joe threads a wiener on his coat hanger. Rod, my quiet ancient firstborn, touches my shoulder as he goes to the truck for his guitar. Don't worry. Mum, I'll stop playing when my fingers turn blue, promise."
Joe and Janey pick a fight - something about the right way to roast a marshmallow, but it could have been anything. I hear Joe's sneer rip Janey's confidence apart "you're so dumb and so fat! You just want to eat all the marshmallows before the rest of us who know how to cook them properly can get to them." I sit bathed in misery clutching my old coat around me for warmth, on the end of one of the logs pulled up to make a rough circle around the fire pit.
Dave, pleased with his fire, comes and sits beside me. Rod has his guitar tuned now, though how long it will keep in tune in this cold is anyone's guess. He starts singing - country music, they call it here, not like in the old country where that meant folk ballads, raunchy tales of shape-shifters, rollicking whiskey songs. I miss the old ways more in the winter - perched here on the earth's cold shoulder instead of close to its heart where I was born. Dave nuzzles my neck and I freeze. "Aw, come on, honey! It's a blue moon! You promised!" and again the cold clutching, the sure knowledge that the life I wanted for myself is over before it starts and I'll go self-conscious and guilty down hill all the way.
The moon is high above, pale, perfectly round. Reminds me of that drum I saw last May eve when Janice, my neighbour, persuaded me to go with her to the park. Reckon she just wanted a ride, but Dave was away and the kids are OK on their own if Rod's there. "You'll need six yards of ribbon" she said "and musical instruments if you have them." Well, I knew Rod wouldn't lend me the guitar, and six yards of ribbon, just on a whim on our budget? I tore strips from an old flannel nightie and sewed them together to make six yards - never asked why, but when we got to the park other women were gathering, displaying rainbows in velvet, taffeta, satin - my soft blue flannel almost disappeared beside them.
We chose a tree - they called it "her" - first I knew you could tell with trees. One woman climbed on another's shoulders to tie the ribbons high up the trunk. The rest of us stood around asking if anyone knew how to do it. It seemed one had done it in Australia, another in England but she'd been so humiliated by her teacher for not getting it right that she almost didn't come tonight. "Never mind, Kate, we'll reclaim it for you" the women said and hugged her till her cheeks turned pink laughing.
Then we started, holding our ribbons, dancing first slowly then faster around the tree, weaving over and under each others' ribbons chanting something I didn't catch, changing, touching - till the tree was quite wrapped in a cloak of jewel colours and washed-out blue flannel, and we were close enough to the tree and to each other for what they called a grug - a circle of women hugging the tree and each other.
I went back a couple of days later, just to see the tree we'd made so beautiful, but I guess the parks guys had taken the ribbons down - must be in their job-description to do that. Only a few strands of frayed flannel clung to the bark - all the bright colours and luscious textures gone, to some green plastic garbage bag.
Later in the truck I found Janice's drum in its red bag. They'd moved by then, Janice and Don, and I kept hoping to hear from them, but I guess they were glad to shake the bush off their feet and get to the city. I forgot about the drum till now, under the moon which is pale and round like Janice's skin drum.
It's still there, miracle of miracles. Shows how often anyone cleans out the truck. I take it carefully to the fire and hold it close to its heat - I heard it works better when it's warm. "What's that? Mum?" asks Joe. "Your mum's roasting a drum seeing as she can't eat wieners since she became a veggie terrorist." Dave, miffed by rejection, getting a few digs in.
Gently I tap the skin with the leather-wrapped stick. The skin is thicker in some places than others, making a different sound wherever it's touched. I listen carefully to the voice of the drum. "Louder" it whispers. "Harder. Let that beat quicken, see, you have a rhythm, like a heart beat, again, again, listen, feel your heart beat, let yours beat with mine."
The fire is dying and the kids and David are packing up,
looking at me strangely. They pile into the truck but I move toward the
glowing fire, swaying "changes, touches, everything we touch can change" -
where do I know that from?
Dave flicks the headlights at me but I turn away and slowly start to circle the fire anti-clockwise - what did the women call that? widow- something? For banishing, they said, letting go of what you don't want so you have room to bring in what you do want when you turn to dance the other way. Well, heck, if I emptied out all I don't want there wouldn't be much of me left to turn - think I'll stay with the widow thing a bit longer.
The truck lights are gone - did he do that? Did he really drive off and leave me three miles to walk in the freezing cold? Maybe Harv`s dome is sleepable - he's been gone a year or more, he wouldn't mind. But I'm not done drumming yet, and dancing the widow dance, faster and louder and the drum calling my name till I'm empty and clean and ready to turn around.
In the dying glow of the fire I see them, or I think I do, and then they're gone again. Huge. Silent. Unmoving. Look like they're carved from wood, but their eyes gleam and I can feel their warmth. Monkeys, like, only seen anything like that at the zoo before, and never so big and never so still. Sitting in the spaces between the logs, just like they sit round fireplaces everywhere, all over the world, to keep the circle when the people with the noise and fights and junky food and litter have roared off in their smelly vehicles. The Guardians. They're always there, but people hardly ever see them. Just once in a you-know-what. And only if you desperately need a miracle.
~ Mair Smith
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