Illustration by Matt Weismantel
The Damselfly | Michelle Green
On the last property before the road melts into the ranges, there is some bougainvillea. It's the old fashioned kind, a riot of magenta concealing long woody thorns. It scrambles greedily up the drive to the house before falling at the feet of a poinciana, whose flaming crown bends low in conspiratorial whispers. Together they hold the simmering jungle at bay. Black mountain casts its bruising shadow over lush lawns sloping down to the single tamarind tree. A goddess, bedecked in gold and hung with jewels, presiding over the verdant scene.
A girl, lissome and languid, hangs from a branch, stretching her brown arm high to grip a ripe pod before dropping to the ground wrenching the fruit free. Squatting, her slender fingers crack and flick brittle-grey shell into the grass. Peeling away the last strings she closes her eyes and bites off a piece, sucking at the sticky sour flesh. With a fish face pucker, she spits the smooth seed into her hand, examines it and pushes it deep into her jean’s pocket.
“Ach du Lieber Gott! Mein kuchen!” Snatching up the oven mitt the frau deftly pulls the over-browned cake out of the oven and slides the hot tin onto the table. Throwing a clean tea towel over it, she eyes the clock wearily and heads back to the laundry, her plump face sheened with perspiration and lipstick faded. She tilts her head to listen for the growling purr of the generator, and looks up at the sky for a moment, before settling to her task of filling and loading the washing machine.
He sits on the edge of a camp bed, notepaper resting on knees, silver pen held too tight in a damp hand. A rollie is stuck to his yellowed lip, brow furrowed in concentration, searching his mind for a rhyming word. Then, satisfied with the final flow and rhythm of the poem, folds the paper neatly in half, and shifting his weight, rises. A melancholy waterfall sings a vague song in the distance, and measuring his breath, he closes his eyes for a moment. Sliding the paper into his shirt pocket, he steps out of the shadows.
By the bridge, the creek languishes dark under mangroves. Slimy mudskippers patrol the shoreline, hunting, while the water’s silent current is hidden deep below its smooth, green surface. Thick spiders’ web weave together the tight clumps of guinea grass that line the roadside, and cicadas shriek from the jungle in their desperate bid for a mate. A peacock whoops from somewhere, and a car emerges from the heat haze and speeds past.
Delicate as a damselfly, the girl darts from rock to rock, hovering for a moment over the tumbling cascades of water upstream. Tiring of the game, she stretches across her favorite boulder and lazily looks up at the sky. The sun is already high, and she is hungry and thinks to head home. Reaching into a crevice in the rock and pulling out a small tin box, she smiles, carefully positioning the dark tamarind seed amongst other treasures of horsehair, feathers, and shells. Sliding down the boulder, the seat of her jeans drags on the rough granite.
The cake is turned out of its tin, and the sticky sweet pattern of caramelized pineapple is revealed. The frau smiles with satisfaction and places the cake carefully in the center of the table set with plates and small cylindrical cups. Coffee aroma fills the air as the percolator bubbles and steams, its familiar sound a comforting murmur beneath the shrill of the insects outdoors. Stepping through the beaded curtain into the bedroom, she changes her frock and reapplies the red satin lipstick.
The Landcruiser bucks and lurches over the ruts and corrugations in the track, the book of Ecclesiastes falling to the floor and the mountain lying open and discarded behind him. Sweat glues his shirt to the hard vinyl seat and squinting from the glare, he pauses for a moment to wipe his hands on his jeans before turning north onto the shimmering black road, radio blaring. Fox on the run, you scream, and everybody comes a running. He turns and throws a searching look up the creek as he drives past.
The winding trail leading down to the lagoon lies like a skinned snake, a pale scar cutting through coconut trees, and scrubby banksias. A pair of bush pigs and four striped piglets trot towards the beach. A curlew cries its eerie sound, too early, with the sun only just dropping into the west. For a moment, the wind wakens, sighs sadly through the fine needles of the casuarinas and caresses the lagoon, which breathes deeply, exhaling secrets in return.
Hungry, the girl stands at the kitchen doorway, plastic fly strips rustling around her. She eyes the glistening cake on the table, mouthwatering. The Landcruiser skids up the drive and parks behind the house, and the girl steps through the door and into the warm kitchen.
“Gran,” she whispers.
“Liebling,” comes the reply from behind the beads, as her grandmother enters the room and looks out through the door. “People are coming.” The tin miner steps down from his cab, smiling broadly, and walks easily to the house.
“I’m a bit early eh,” he says. Surprised, the frau ushers the miner in and offers him a seat at the table, while the girl disguises herself amongst the beads. When offered a coffee, he declines with a smile, and presents the poem from his pocket.
“This is a birthday present for little Leisle,” he says, and hands it to the woman, who opens it and reads silently.
“Danke, sehr shon,” then parting her red lips in a smile, she says again, “thank you, very nice.” She hands the poem to the girl and commands, “Thank the man, Leisle.”
“I have a surprise too eh,” he says, “before the other guests arrive. There’s a croc, sunning itself down by the lagoon.” Still smiling, he says, “I thought I might take the girl to have a look eh. It won't take a minute. We can go in the Landy.”
“Go with him” the grandmother tells the girl. “See the crocodile. Everyone will be here when you return. Schnell now.”
He licks his lips and tightens his smile. One leg trembles. His faded eyes look directly at the girl in her bralette and jeans. Her hair is long and loose, gold like a tropical sunset, nose freckled and big eyes downcast. He draws in a slow breath, his body electric. He can smell her.
“You’ll enjoy this” he says standing, and takes her hand.
Michelle Green is a first-year creative writing student and lives in a small beach town in the Northern Rivers region. The environment is a strong presence in her writing. She has had the good fortune of having a story accepted in the Clarence Valley ‘Long Way Home’ short story anthology 2021. She loves to illustrate her stories and poetry and can mostly be found, sketch book in hand, in Yuraygir National Park and surrounding beaches.