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Story by Karen Simpson Nikakis (Read author interview) August 15, 2004

I didn’t bury her in a box; wood offers no comfort, even when lined with satin. It’s cold and slippery. Too much like me, like the life we had together.

I came back when she died. It was mid year when the days are cool and the nights bright with frost. Everything was the same except me: the ironwoods, the saltbush, the red sand. Her people came, but not mine. I speak white fella tongue now, live white fella way. Not my mob any more.

I can see her mob from my motel window, gathered in the dry riverbed. I can hear their endless squabbles even above the News of the World on T.V. I can smell the smoke from their campfires. I want to tell them that I’m no different, that when a snake sheds its skin, it keeps its heart, but I have no white fella words. I remain silent, like the Rock. Their squabbling reminds me of our arguments; Ayres Rock or Uluru; The Olgas or Kata Tjuta. White fella name versus black fella name.

The smoke smells of eucalyptus. When I was young I wriggled my toes in the warm river sand and watched my father heft branches onto our campfire. Orange sparks swirled, as dizzy as moths. My cousins played chase along the margins of the light and my mother’s hand stroked my hair. My uncle’s voice told the story of Kata Tjuta and Uluru.

They were lovers once. There was nothing dividing them: no desert oaks, no saltbush, no mulga. But the wind was jealous. It carried the sand from all about and heaped it up till it ran like a river between them; it seeded the desert oaks and the mallees so that the butcherbirds came, and the corellas, and their voices drowned the lovers’ song.

Kata Tjuta sent out trails of pink heath and desert rose, and Uluru gave her paddy melons, green as emu eggs, but the wind stole the petals of her flowers and sent them away into the great emptiness, and it rolled the paddy melons over the plain until they broke open and the ants ate out their hearts. There is silence between them now.

I remember asking my uncle what we called the wind. He said the wind had no name, that names were for things you wanted to summon, for things you wanted to remember.

The wind was in me but I didn’t know it. I named it Freedom, and I rode its restlessness away from the riverbed, away from my mob, away from her. The wind left me out on the plain alone among the ants. It took me a long time to find my way back.

I brought stones with me for white fella law. I laid them inside the box on the white satin and the red sand fell from them like petals. White fella law sealed the box and buried them deep. I brought paperbark back too, soft as possum pelt.

I took her with me to the place between Uluru and Kata Tjuta and I stood in the blood-red sand and screamed the wind’s name: Liar, Traitor, Coward. I broke his silence.

I gave her back to the earth in the black fella way. I lay paddy melons in her hands and wrapped her over with paperbark. I spoke black fella words. She looked gentle, as if she slept.

About the Author

Karen Simpson Nikakis lives on the western edge of Melbourne on 30 acres of rabbits and rocks. She is fortunate to have a creek at the bottom of the ‘garden’, a pair of visiting wedge-tail eagles, and an uninterrupted view of the moon rising. She loves visiting central Australia, where the red sands and open spaces provide endless inspiration.

About the Artist

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison’s work here.

This story appeared in Issue Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Five

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