Thursday, January 21, 2010

Children of the Lie - Chapter Seven


The Light Coming Forth In The Darkness.

On the third day the rains stopped and the wind was stilled. The leaves, their dusty coats discarded, glistened in a drenched, exuberant green. Jo leaned against the window and watched the runnels of water course eagerly down the uneven drive. The rain had fallen in thundering sheets throughout three days and nights. It reminded her of childhood winters; the pounding upon the iron roof in a wash of small, wet hammerings. There was a comfort to it but also a ferocity and once, when her father told her that God was angry and was emptying buckets of water on the world, she had almost believed him.

When she asked him why God was angry, he had ruffled her hair and said it was all just a joke. He hadn't meant it. The rains came because it was winter and, if they did not come, then everything would die. Without water there could not be life. She would see, within the day, he told her, the bright green beginnings which would come from the dry, red earth. On that day she had lain for hours, staring through the wire screen of the door, waiting for the sight of new life to come forth from the soil, the first sign of the shy, small growings.

It was the smell she liked most of all, the perfume of fresh-washed dirt. Clean and earthy it had clung damply to her nose even when her mother told her to get up off the floor and stop being silly. She would get her clothes dirty, her mother had said, and anyway, you couldn't see things grow, it didn't happen like that. Her father was always talking nonsense.

She would get nowhere in life if she listened to him. But even now, here in Bombay, the rains still brought a sense of peace and a feeling of hope. She hugged them to herself while wandering through the imprisoned days. She had read, written letters, listened to music ... while Anne made herself busy in the kitchen, preparing pots of soup, and baking a tantalising assortment of cakes and biscuits. It was, thought Jo, a little like the long afternoons in Mrs Nelson's kitchen, although she had not gotten to lick the spoons and neither had the cup of tea, drunk in celebration of the work completed, been quite as companionable.

After the fury of the initital storm, the rains were not so heavy as to prevent Richard from getting to work, but they were enough to make the process of venturing out difficult. There was no great urgency to leave the house and so they had remained, quietly busy, protected from the cold and endless drench and the intermittent winds which whipped the rain into a frenzy and obliterated both the view from their windows and the very substance of the flimsy shelters which so many called home in Bombay. For them, safe inside the big, solid house, the biggest problem had been the incessant leaking of poorly made doors and windows and the occasional dribble of water down damp, stained walls, but outside, it was all much worse.

The monsoon mocked the hovels made of tin and cardboard and ripped with shrill cruelty at the lengths of plastic with which they had been rooved. There was no safe place for the millions who lived in these meagre shelters, no escape from the brown, swirling rains which seemed to issue unceasingly from the forbidding brow of the sky. The gutters flowed with filth as inadequate drainage systems coughed and spluttered in a futile attempt to cope with the deluge and the waters ran strong, around those squalid huts which withstood the winds, in a black flow of mud, faeces and rotting garbage. And when the heavens called halt, and the rains were stopped for a time, the sun beat against the backs of the bulging, brown clouds, forcing just enough heat through their tyrannical ranks to ferment the filth into a stinking, glutinous muck. It was here that the people lived; it was here that they draped their sodden rags on any available fence or bush, or branch of tree, hoping against hope that there would be time for the world to be made dry, before the rains came yet again. But it was all far away from the house on the hill and the small gush of water which wound its way down the drive and out into the gutter was but a mere trickle in the torrential, roaring sludge that tormented millions in the decaying and overcrowded city during each and every monsoon.

The smell of coffee was warm and welcoming as Jo walked into the dining room. Anne sat at the table with the morning papers spread around her. She wore a light, loose dress of pale blue linen with a small collar and three buttons at the neck. She looked up with a smile and said: "Hello, help yourself to coffee and Mary will bring you some toast. The rains have stopped for the moment and I thought we might go out after breakfast. Three days is long enough to be shut up inside the house."

Jo poured the hot and fragrant coffee into her cup, added a generous amount of milk and then sat down. Anne pushed a newspaper toward her. "Here, have a look at life in the monsoon. More death and horror ... it's the same every year, nothing changes. You get the feeling that they don't actually believe the rains will come and so no-one does anything about clearing drains and strengthening walls."

Jo spread the paper in front of her and slowly sipped the steaming coffee. Ten people had drowned, five of them children and fourteen had been killed in two separate house collapses. Some fifty others were trapped for two days when a two-storey house collapsed and severed communication links made it impossible to summon additional help. Uncountable numbers were homeless following the fierce winds and torrential rains.

Anne re-folded her paper, with a sharp crackling, and pushed it across the table."Here, you may as well have this one too, although it is just more of the same." She leaned back in her chair and clasped her cup in two hands.

"It's crazy, but I always feel so guilty," she said, shaking her head. "Here we are, all warm and comfortable, despite an assortment of leaks and there are all these people being washed away or buried under tons of rubble."

"Why do the buildings fall down?," asked Jo, as she put her paper to one side and reached for the toast and butter.

"A number of reasons," replied Anne. "Many of them are very old and not maintained because the lease laws here say that an owner cannot increase the rent once the tenants have been there for longer than twelve months. Neither can they be evicted, hence many of them are paying rents which were set forty years ago. The only escape is that when the building falls down, it reverts immediately to the owner and any tenants, at least those who are still alive, lose all rights to residence. Logical really. The only way to gain control over your building is to let it fall down."

"Would you pass me the Vegemite, please," interrupted Jo.

"Have you been away that long?" Anne grinned as she handed it across to her.

"Must be," agreed Jo. "I never eat the stuff at home, but I woke up this morning with a real craving. Anyway, sorry ... go on."

"Well, the other reason is that corruption is so endemic building regulations are constantly flouted. People get permission to add two storeys to an existing building and then construct four. No-one seems to think that perhaps the foundations cannot take the extra two floors ... greed rules in this place. The problem is exacerbated because everyone cheats at every level ... the construction materials used are inferior, the tradesmen are often untrained, if not downright incompetent, and so you get all these jerry-built places, which would possibly survive a few years in a gentler climate, but which crumble to pieces with every monsoon. Everyone knows what is going on, but no-one does anything about it, and that is because, in India, there is nothing that a bribe can't fix."

"Just be thankful that you can walk away and leave it behind," said Jo, reaching for a second piece of toast.

"I know. It's the only thing which keeps me going. It's just that sometimes I wonder if you really can walk away from something like this. I always used to believe that people, in their hearts, were basically good ... now I am not so sure."

"Oh, I think they are," said Jo, slowly munching on her cold but crisp toast. "They just have different values. It would be very boring if we were all the same."

"I don't think a lot of those people out there, soaking wet and sitting in the wreckage of their homes, would find it boring if Indian values were the same as Western values," Anne replied forcefully, leaning across the table as she spoke and clattering her cup back into its saucer.

"You are right, I know," agreed Jo. "I think I go along with things because I don't know how to change them. It makes me feel helpless even to try.Then again," she added thoughtfully," that's exactly where I went wrong in my marriage. We do have to stand up and be counted; we do have to stand up for those things in which we believe. The hard part though is when no-one listens to us."

"Well, no-one seems to listen to me," replied Anne. "Not that I really say much to anyone except you and Richard. Maybe that's why I get so angry. Most of the time I keep my opinions very much to myself ... that's why I hate socialising with Indians so much. There is so much that I want to say, but I can't. It's their country and they can do anything that they like in it. I don't suppose there is any reason why I have to feel responsible for the whole world. Maybe I'm just a busybody."

Jo laughed. "Maybe you are, but at least you care. Look around you and see what happens when people stop caring about each other."

"Oh yes. I do see that. Vividly. I think that is what scares me so much. Anyway, I'm sick of this subject ... it goes in an endless circle, never achieves anything and just makes me feel dizzy. By the way, I almost forgot. There are a couple of letters for you on the sideboard, from the kids I think and there is also one from mother. She has written to both of us together. It was addressed to me so I opened it, but it was meant for you too. I have to organise a few things before we go out so I shall leave you to it."

Jo collected the mail from the sideboard, and then re-filled her cup, carrying both coffee and letters back to her room. She would read her mother's letter first, it was bound to be depressing and save the notes from Sophie and Michael, to read afterwards in order to cheer herself up.

She settled herself back amongst the pillows on her bed and unfolded the small, hard pages of mauve paper and tried to concentrate on the miniscule, close-written script:

“Dear Anne and Jo,

I suppose the two of you are together now. It is nice for you to have each other. It has been very lonely here. Agnes did not come last week because her sister was ill. It was very inconvenient, as I was not able to get out. I have been sitting here, looking at the four walls, all alone, and my arthritis has been playing up very badly.

I hope her sister is not ill for too long, or I shall have to get someone else to come in and help me. I have not seen either of the children. I suppose they are very busy with university and do not have time for me. It is very cruel when one gets old. If only your father were still here. But I must not complain. I do try to keep busy.

We are having terrible times here. So many people are out of work. All the big businesses are closing down. Do you remember the big factory down the road which made fridges...that has gone. Everyone out of work. It is not surprising that there are so many break-ins. It is not safe to go out anymore. Mrs Jones from next door came in to see me the othe day. Both her boys are out of work. They are living with her now. The eldest was married, but that has broken up. The wife has taken off with everything. Bigger fool him for letting her. I don't know what the world is coming to.

I am so worried about the house. Jo will have to come and see what can be done when she gets back. There is so much cracking. We had a very dry summer. The farmers are all bankrupt. Even though the rains have come now, I am sure it cannot be soon enough. The country is going to the wall. Some of the cracks in the living room are at least an inch thick. I am sure it will fall down. It is good that I do not sit in there anyway. The furniture in that room is far too valuable to sit on. I take my tea in the kitchen now, although sometimes I sit on the side of my bed.

I don't know how I shall be able to pay for all this work. When your father bought this house, the agent assured him that it was sound. One doesn't expect this sort of thing to happen, although I suppose it is far too late to sue anyone.

Well, I had best finish. My hand is paining me so much I can barely write. I am going to heat up a small can of baked beans for tea and perhaps make a slice of toast. I do not have any biscuits in the house because, with Agnes being away, I could not go shopping. I hope the two of you are enjoying being together. Does Jo know when she will be coming home yet? I really must get something done about these cracks and I can do nothing until she gets here. Yours,,Mother.

Jo let the pages drop onto the bed and pushed back against her pillows, wanting desperately to scream but forcing instead a cry somewhere between a laugh and a strangled sob. What a truly miserable tragic letter. Poor Agnes. Her sister was sick and all her mother could think about was how inconvenient it was for her. And that line about baked beans for tea ... and no biscuits in the house ... Jo could feel herself becoming increasingly angry. There was a small delicatessan just down the road from where her mother lived and she was perfectly capable of walking down there to do some shopping. No, she had to be a bloody martyr.

It was probably all lies. It was more likely she had the cupboards stacked with chocolate creams and the fridge full of steak and salad, and she was making all this up, just so her daughters would feel guilty. And as for the walls cracking ... good heavens, the house had been bought thirty years ago and this was the first time it needed major work done ... that is if it needed it even now. Jo did not put it past her mother to magnify the problem in order to bring her daughter home that much faster.

"Well, I'm not going back early just to fix her damn walls," said Jo out loud. " She could feel the hatred rising, almost watch it, hanging darkly like the words in front of her. She shook her head, but her mother was not so easily dismissed. She could see her, sitting at the kitchen table of pitted chrome and worn red laminex, with a rug tucked around her knees because she was too mean to turn on the electric heater. She would be drinking tea out of a chipped cup because nothing, but nothing was ever thrown away until it literally fell apart .... and even then, on occasion, it would be saved from the ultimate fate and instead be consigned to some drawer, or cardboard box, there to sit, until the day of resurrection, when all the broken pieces of this world would be made one. Nothing could be let go, all must be held tight, gathered around in sad, faded heapings.

Her wardrobes, all three of them, were choked with all the clothes which she had ever bought as an adult. There was the first important purchase, the long dress in rich, pale blue silk, which she had worn for her eighteenth birthday, its wide collar a little limp, but the soft fullness of its yoked bodice intact; the row of tiny covered buttons still falling from the neck and the puffed ruche of three-quarter sleeves still held out, in readiness, to receive youthful arms.

Her suits hung, one after the other, the line of each skirt ensured with bundles of tissue paper and more crumpled padding beneath each squared shoulder. The fabrics varied from heavy linen to light linen and winter wool, thick and prickly, to autumn wools of gentle weight. The colours ranged through blues and greens and greys and each suit of matronly armour was encased in a shroud of stiff, clear plastic. The coats and dresses and jackets and skirts which constituted the remainder of her past, clamoured for space amongst the much prized suits. Only the blue silk dress, which she had worn into womanhood, and the suits, merited the special attention of paper padding and plastic covers. But all were cared for and each garment would be taken from its dim tomb at least twice a year. Each would be shaken and checked for silverfish and then aired in the sunshine for at least one hour. They would be hung on the rotary clothesline, a circle of empty selves, in a slow but endless turning .A careful ironing would follow and then each would be returned, pressed into place, safely stored for another day , another life.

None of them were worn anymore. They had been accorded the same inviolate sanctity which had been given to the living room furniture. Such things were too valuable to use. Instead, the clothes which covered Katherine Blackman were kept behind her bedroom door, hanging on a series of bent wire hangers which she had rescued from the next door neighbour's garbage. She washed them of course ... soaked them in disinfectant in fact, for a day and a night. She tried to restore them to their rightful shape, but her efforts had not been totally successful. Still, they sufficed for her needs and even more important, they had cost her nothing. Her dress requirements, which had never been great owing to her poor health, were quite small, in these her later years. She had three cotton dresses for summer and three of heavier weight for winter. She bought them annually from Woolworths, washing and wearing and washing, until, when at last they appeared pale and drawn and unable to continue, she gave them one last gentle wash and then packed them away in cardboard boxes, layered with mothballs, and pushed them beneath her bed.

For additional warmth in winter she had a number of heavy cardigans which had belonged to her late husband, but which she now found much warmer than any of the light, lambswool twinsets which she possessed. She had some six dozen of these twinsets, many of them bought at end of year sales from the big department stores when she had made her annual trip to Adelaide. They presented a cheerful collection of colour and offered more than one lifetime of warmth. Many of them had been worn at least once or twice, but the last outing for any had been quite some years ago. The twinsets were stored in zippered plastic pouches ... each pocket holding at least two. Mrs Blackman had tried to make the packaging as colour co-ordinated as possible and had generally been able to avoid unsuitable marriages of clashing colour. In this relationship at least she had been successful. It gave her great satisfaction.

The twinsets filled two large chests of drawers, which stood on either side of her bed. They too were brought out for an annual clean, if only because Mrs Blackman was gauranteed one of her rare surges of pleasure as each was carefully returned to its pouch and placed back into its sheltering drawer. That she had a great sense of order could not be denied and in these lonely years she found it best expressed in caring for her wardrobe. Clothes did not need to be worn to provide pleasure, she knew that, and there was always the possibility that one day she might need them. It was important to be prepared. How silly to throw something away when she could live to regret it. She was not a woman who acted in haste and it comforted her greatly to sit in her bed each night and to think of the bounty which surrounded her.

It was not that she was short of money, far from it, her husband's superannuation and insurance had been more than providential. He had often joked that he was worth more dead than he was alive and thankfully for his wife that proved to be precisely the case. Within her modest means she could afford all that she desired. She preferred however to desire and go without. Katherine Blackman, although she did not know it, had a great sense of the order of things and knew that the gods were not to be mocked.

There was no question, in her heart if not in her mind, that the good things of life were in very short supply indeed and if one should seek or even possess more than one's share it was inevitable that at some point, some, if not all of it, would be taken away. She was nothing if not humble in the face of life for she believed that it was important to keep a very low profile indeed if one were not to come to the notice of the fates. This way, and only this way, could one have more than one's due.

But for Jo, such understanding was barely glimpsed. Her mother was mean if not also a little mad. She could feel her jaw clenching at the thought of it all. But any attempt to explain that she was not, in actuality, poor, led only to an instant change of subject, as indeed it must, for in order to deceive the gods, we must also deceive ourselves. Both of her daughters did however believe that, at some level, she knew what money she had, since it was she who kept close and careful watch upon her own finances.

Jo folded the stiff, mauve pages and then pushed them to the back of the drawer in her bedside table, putting her mother away as best she could, before picking up the letters from her children, and giving each a resounding kiss. She looked at her watch. She would have to save them for later. Anne would be waiting for her.

As they descended into the damp shadows of the stairwell, Jo thumped a little harder upon the worn wood of the steps and said through gritted teeth:"God I hate that woman! What makes someone so mean, so selfish? She's mad, quite mad. At least when I was mad I knew I was mad. I'm beginning to think the the most dangerous people are those who aren't in mental hospitals."

"Hmmm," responded Anne with an unconvinced purse to her mouth.

"You can Hmmm, all you like," said Jo sharply, feeling guilty that she had admitted her hatred, but knowing that Anne would probably not recognise it for what it was, " but it is true all the same. You needn't think you are so wonderfully well adjusted... some of the sanest people are in psychiatric wards and some of the craziest are free as birds, out in the real world, destroying everything in their path, manipulating the system and deceiving everyone around them including themselves."

Anne reached out her hand to Jo's hunched shoulder: "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean that. I don't really think I'm all that well adjusted... not anymore I don't. I know I haven't been very sympathetic about the hospital but ... I guess it scares me. I look at mother and I know that she isn't rational and then I look at how I am what India has made me and that scares me even more. I'm not who I thought I was anymore and I don't like that."

Jo sighed, a sad, deep sound and then turned to give her sister a soft, forgiving hug. "It's okay," she whispered, feeling the tension in Anne’s slight body. "We're all mad really, that's the truth of life. Everyone's crazy it's just that most of them don't know it. At best we are no more than fools. You are a lot saner than most, believe me, and I know what I am talking about. Anyway, one mad woman is enough for any family. "

Lawrence, edged the car as close to the gutter as possible, having nudged his way through the surge of the crowd and then hurried from his seat as the engine sputtered to silence and stood by the side of the open door. He beckoned them out with a beam of teeth. "I will wait here, Madam," he said, shaking his head from one side to the other. "I will wait just here. You must not hurry."

He leaned back against the side of the car with proprietorial ease and reached for his cigarettes. A scampering of small children soon hovered around his knees, their sharp eyes running enviously, first over the wide, grey glory of the imported vehicle and then across Lawrence's smart, khaki uniform. Lawrence drew deeply on the cigarette and blew the smoke slowly across their heads. He was a man of importance and he knew it; more than that, all those around him knew it too and that was why he would remain, leaning against the car, in clear view, until the two madams re-emerged from the crowded alley.

Anne plunged into the narrow teem of Mutton Street, with Jo in close pursuit. Chor Bazaar, the 'thieves bazaar', was always a congestion of humanity, even worse in the wet season because people endeavoured to avoid the long, black puddles which laid claim to either side. "It's a bit fruity after the rains," Anne said over her shoulder. “But the place is actually remarkably clean on the whole. Just watch out for the scooters ... they stop for no-one.”

Jo, who had been busily watching her feet, did as she was told and fortuitously, as she raised her eyes, caught sight of Anne making a quick jump to one side as a large man, in flapping white shirt and trousers bore down upon her astride a blue scooter. Having missed one sister he seemed intent upon mangling the second, although such an assessment was perhaps unfair given that he did not seem to be looking at all where he was going, his head bowed low as it was, down over the handlebars. Jo scuttled to one side and nearly collided with a chipped strip of a man carrying an enormous cloth-tied bundle upon his head. When she reached the safety of Anne's side she felt an overpowering urge to take hold of her hand, but decided upon the instant that it would be somewhat cowardly. Instead she mustered as much calm as she could and said: "Bit of a crush, isn't it?" Anne, intent upon reaching her destination without too much pushing and shoving, merely grunted and put her shoulder to the crowd.

The lane was one of many which threaded through the confusing warren that was Chor Bazaar, each with its rows of shops, no more than holes in the wall at times, but each close-filled square, swept clean across the front steps. It was a brooding mass of people, mostly on the move, but some simply sat . on the steps, or squatted by the sides, watching the passing of the crowd. Many waited, some worked, hammering, or polishing, or sorting whatever it was that needed attention. There was a purposefullness about it all and no doubt whatsoever that each and every person was intent on business....whatever that business happened to be.

When each lane finished, there was another, and another, one to the left, one to the right and one ahead, nothing completely straight, all veering, curling just a little down, around, in and out, in a moving maze of faces and buildings. Above the shops were the paint-faded apartments with their rotting balustrades decked with the day's washing. As Jo passed one shop she saw, sitting on the step, a small girl in a filthy dress, with the face of an angel, plump of cheeks and innocently smiling ... her tangled hair pulled into place with a bright, red ribbon. She was about two years old, with eyes so black, they beckoned; offering extinction.

The noise was a constant, always the noise, the chatter and clatter of voices in greeting, in buying, in selling in bargaining and the food-sellers, with their big baskets on their heads of fresh fish and small, sickly-sweet bananas. They passed a fruit barrow loaded with what looked like lumps of coal, but with some cut in half revealing a centre of garish white. This fruit of the underworld had the purest of hearts.

At last Anne stopped and turned into one shop which looked to be no different to any of the others which they had passed. The shadows hung heavy in a dusty dankness until a shaking of white, deeper within, formed itself into the figure of a man, who with a couple of sharp clicks, threw off the cloak of gloom. "They don't like to waste electricity," muttered Anne, as she wound her way along the narrow pass which ran between mountains of furniture. "They never turn the lights on until you go into the shop.”

These many remnants of the past had been raised in solemn ranks and there they would remain, year in, year out, gathering a new skin of dust and mould, until, one day, some New York dealer would walk in and buy it all, and carry it off to a new life in the new world. In between such joyous moments, and they did happen, that should not be doubted, business was generally slow.

“Hello Mr Khan," Anne called in that loud manner which people use with those who are hard of hearing or those who do not share the same mother tongue. "How are you?"

Mr Khan, reasonably lit as he now was, by the yellowing glow of light, smiled a silent greeting in return. He was not at all hard of hearing, and he did, in fact, speak English as if it were his mother tongue, but then Mr Khan was many things which he did not appear to be. For one thing he was immensely wealthy, having attracted, through luck or through good managment, more than his fair share of New York dealers. There was a little less dust and mould on Mr Khan's furniture mountains. He had been in the business a very long time, as had his family. He had, many years ago, learned the value of the goods which he had available for sale and he pored over antique manuals and books throughout the long, quiet hours. He knew as much, if not more, than the dealers who came to buy from him, but that was his own pleasant little secret. It served his purposes to maintain a humble, almost ignorant image. Mr Khan believed that it gave him a better bargaining position. Perhaps it did, perhaps it did not, the important thing was that he believed it did and that in itself gave him greater confidence.

He wore plain white trousers and a white shirt which were rarely clean given the close rub of dust in the cramped confines of the shop. He could smile to himself at the knowledge that his customers would not recognise him when he went on his annual trip to New York, for then he wore the smartest of Italian suits, the very whitest of shirts, the most elegant of silk ties and the best, English leather shoes, polished at the toe to a brilliant gleam. He did not look at all out of place in the antique galleries of New York and London, but then neither did he look out of place in his own small gallery within the grimy heart of the Chor Bazaar.

Mr Khan believed that people could live in more than one world; they simply needed to know how to do it and they needed to remember which world was their real one. Anne, who had been sorting through a collection of chipped porcelain bowls on top of a cabinet turned toward him: "Mr Khan, I was wondering if you had those light shades in yet. Do you remember, I was here some months ago and asked about them?"

But of course he remembered. He was a man who forgot nothing. And he had, in fact, received exactly what Mrs Thompson was seeking some weeks back, but it had been sold for a far higher price than he knew she would have been prepared to pay. “I am sorry, Mrs Thompson," he replied with a slight bow. "I have had nothing like that. Such things come and they go. I have not forgotten you. You have given me your card. I will call you when I have something."

"Oh well," said Anne, sounding disappointed. “I guess something will turn up eventually. Thank you anyway.” She turned to Jo who was inspecting an assortment of brass padlocks, some of which were of the most enormous size. She picked up the largest and waved it in the air. "Heaven knows what you would want to lock up with this," she laughed. "Perhaps it was for somebody's chastity belt. Did they have such things in India?"

Anne, who noticed the shadow of a frown crossing the normally placid face of Mr Khan, took the lock from Jo's hand and placed it carefully back amongst its brethren. "I am sure they never had any such thing," she said firmly. "We must go," she added, giving Jo a nudge in the direction of the door. "Thank you Mr Khan. I will come back again soon."

As they walked back down the alleyway, Jo said: "Did I say the wrong thing?"

"Oh, it's not so important, but they can be a bit funny around here. The Muslims seem to take offence very easily, so we try to be discreet when we come here. I mean, within their religion women aren't even allowed to show their skin, let alone make somewhat lewd comments."

"It wasn't at all lewd," said Jo, with a spluttering of surprise.

"It wasn't to you and it wasn't to me, but it probably was to him. One of the first things I learned living in a foreign culture was that humour does not travel well. It seems to be the hardest thing of all to communicate across cultural barriers. Even more so with Australians because we are so irreverent ... we make fun of everything. A lot of people don't understand that. And you can't explain it to them. I have had many Indians say to me that we Australians take nothing seriously, and yet, when I tell them that we take MANY things seriously, but nothing TOO seriously, they just look at me blankly.We believe that we should be able to laugh at everything, including ourselves ... including our God! But let me tell you that is not the way of most of the world. It's very easy to offend people without even trying."

"Yes," said Jo defensively, "but surely they do and say things which offend us."

“Of course," Anne agreed, "but generally we’re a bit more tolerant of other people's differences. Neither do we take offence all that easily. We usually put it down to the fact that the other person doesn't understand. We make allowances. And anyway, I think it is different when you are living in someone else's country. I think you owe it to them to respect their ways. As far as possible without making yourself miserable."

"So," teased Jo, "that's why I see you walking around in saris." Anne made a face in reply. Jo pushed on regardless. "And shouldn't we be wearing a chador in Chor Bazaar?"

“I said," returned Anne slowly, "without making yourself miserable. Within reason. I guess if we were in an Arab country we would have to cover ourselves in black rags ... here it is optional. No-one expects it. Even the Muslim women in India don't have to cover their faces ... well, not all of them. Anyway, I'm hot enough as it is, let's get a move on."

True to his word, Lawrence and the car remained exactly where they had left them. At least, Jo assumed that they did, since she had been unable to develop any sense of direction whatsoever as they wound their way through the bazaar, and now, emerging on what was apparently the corner where they originally had been deposited, she could find nothing which triggered any sense of having been there before. But the car was ready and waiting and that was all that mattered. Lawrence quickly crushed the butt of his cigarette beneath one heel and opened the back door.

“Just take us over to Mr Dadajee's please, Lawrence and then we'll go on to the Oberoi," said Anne as she slid onto the back seat. "I just want to look at one more shop and then I thought we could go to the Oberoi for some tea," she added, as Jo settled herself beside her. "We may as well make the most of it because the rains will soon be back."

The drive was slow, but relatively short and when they pulled up outside their destination the car successfully blocked the narrow, one-way street. Lawrence moved even faster than usual in his bid to open the back door as the angry blare of horns trumpeted from two stopped taxis. "I will have to move the car, madam," he puffed, perspiring just a little above the bridge of his nose, perhaps in fear of being manhandled by one or other of the taxi drivers. "But I will watch for you. I will not miss you," he called as he threw himself back into the front seat and revved the engine aggressively.

Mr Dadajee's shop was in reality a warehouse which was entered by climbing up two exceptionally steep cement steps and then ducking beneath a rusty, metal security door. It was a ramshackle place full of furniture and antique pieces, both authentic and reproduced, the latter as well blessed with dust as the former. To one side leaned high wide doors made of decorative inlaid ivory and fitted with a grille of knotted iron; rows of wooden elephants and silver and shell ornaments were ranked across shelves upon the walls and a tumble of chairs in richly engraved silvery metal were piled to one side. From the street outside came the sickly sweet aroma of rotting garbage mixed with the smells of roasted chick peas and rice and vegetables from the street corner stalls. There was a definite sag to the walls, as if suddenly one day, it had all become too much to bear. But they had not fallen, not yet. Perhaps they would weather one or two more monsoons.

Some six or so men, old and skinny and young and skinny, filled a back room where they sanded and polished and lacquered with a vengeance. And heaped in a corner, resting peacefully upon a pile of broken timber lay a carved wooden head of Christ. The curve of the mouth and the turn of the eye bestowed a beauteous expression upon the broken face. Somewhere in the pile lay the rest of him; the dismembered body of the dead and risen Lord, waiting for a day of resurrection when he could rise once more to his full, re-membered height. The price, said Mr Dadajee when asked, for this not yet risen Lord, was some sixty thousand rupees.

"Perhaps you could make do with the head," whispered Jo.

Anne who, had been pondering exactly where she could suitably place some six foot of Christ, and feeling guilty about doing so, shot back:"That wouldn't be right." Mr Dadajee, who was listening intently even though he was making every effort to appear absorbed in the efforts of his workmen, quicky responded to the threat: "Oh I could not do that. I could not sell you just the head. What would become of the body? Who would want a body without a head? "

"Are you absolutely sure the body is in there?" asked Anne who was poking and prodding at the pile with an increasing conviction that any remaining bits of body might not necessarily be suitable for salvation ... not without one or two miracles anyway.

But Mr Dadajee was firm: "Yes, it is there. It is very much there. They must stay together ... the body and the head. I cannot let you have just the head." He shook his head with such vigour that for a moment Jo wondered if perhaps he might be Christian and therefore so much more concerned that the Son of Man be resurrected whole. Then again, perhaps it was just good business. One would have to work hard after all to sell a headless body.

"Come on then, let's go," said Anne with a toss of her head. She had in the short time allowed, rather grown to like the idea of buying just the head and having it mounted on a brass stem, with a polished wood base. It would have been perfect for the corner of the living room. That room was still a little bare and would have benefited greatly from the addition of Christ's head in the corner. As a committed Catholic and a convert to boot, she was also less than pleased that he should be left like this, to lie in pieces, his broken body buried in the dusty debris, his head, unhallowed, atop the pile. She was irritated enough by the entire experience to say to Jo as they left the godown: "Humph. I'm sure there is a factory somewhere in outer Bombay where skinny little brown men churn out heads and bodies by the thousand. I don't believe for a moment that it is 16th century and from Goa."

As they walked along the street in search of Lawrence, a man crossed their path, walking briskly, head down, wearing the same baggy cotton trousers and loose overshirt worn by most Indian men. What made him different, and what caught the eye of both women, was his skin ... it was a mottle of black-brown and pinky-white. His lips were completely edged in skin of pale rose and large blobs of the same were dotted over his face and neck and upon the length of arm which emerged from each of his short sleeves.

"Did you see that man?" whispered Jo when they were out of earshot. "How strange. I've never seen anything like it ... like a magpie."

"It's not so uncommon in India," replied Anne. "I've seen quite a lot of people like that. It's some sort of skin disorder ... lack of pigment or something."

The magpie man, he who did not know which he was, black or white or possibly both, disappeared within the rough embrace of the crowd. His was a sacred burden, though he did not know it, he carried the mark of Feirefiz the Angevin, he who shared a father with Parzival, the seeker of the holy grail. Christian and heathen came of the same blood and yet they knew it not until the final battle. Feirefiz had been conceived when the white king embraced the black queen, when light reached out to welcome darkness; he was the child created by the union of opposites and he came into the world piebald, proudly bearing the colours of both although there were many who ran from him in fear. It was his body which flew as a sacred banner, revealing the sacred marriage: a symbol of the two made truly one. In the mythical story, the son of the black queen, mottled like the moon, he that was called Feirefiz, did find his way to India, in the time beyond deep rememberings, and it was here that he joined with the grail maiden, Repanse de Schoye and from the union came forth the son known as Prester John.

But that was long ago and the holy markings were no longer honoured for that which they revealed, but were instead, despised, and reviled as no more than imperfection; a taint from birth. And yet, while they were not borne proudly, they were carried still, and could, for those who chose to seek, reveal yet again, the miracle of union, the coming together of black and white, of the darkness and the light.

As they drove through the city the tree-tops were ablaze with colour, the rich saffron blanket claiming easy victory against the distant glow of a rain-faded sun. It was an unexpected blossoming, a vibrancy of colour which overshadowed the crumbling grey of the worn and ragged buildings. It boasted of impossible beauty, resting as it did in a brilliant orange crown upon the heads of the high, wide trees which lined the road. In their newborn royal richness the blossoms were more than a sign of the season, for they also heralded an eternal message: the everlasting theme is not the suffering of the quest but the rapture of revelation, and it does not speak of death, but of resurrection.

“Did you see the blossoms as we passed?" Jo asked, as they eased themselves into seats at a small table overlooking the ocean. "They looked glorious. So beautiful."

"What blossoms?" responded Anne, with a quizzical furrow to her brow. "I didn't see anything."

Jo shook her head, more than a little bemused: " I don't know how you could have missed them, they were everywhere, those huge trees with the wonderful orange blossoms."

“Well I didn't see them," said Anne stiffly.

"Perhaps," Jo added with a small smile," there are none so blind as those who will not see."

"What utter rubbish," huffed Anne, waving one hand in the air to signal the distant waiter. "What do you want, tea or coffee?"

"Tea please," responded Jo, still smiling. "I don't think I'm in the mood for roasted wheat."

The order given to the waiter duly summoned, they both turned to look out across the steel-grey sea which wound in a half-circle past the hotel, following the line of Marine Drive and returning on the other side, to stop once more at the edge of the green spit of land which played host to Government House. The waters were not still at this time of the year and they crashed and spat upon the sea-wall in a shattering of spray, beating endlessly upon the alien earth.

Anne felt irritated ... a mood not necessarily soothed by contemplating the rise and fall of the angry sea. She really hadn't seen the flowers, not that it was important, it was just that she had not liked the way Jo had teased her. It was not that she did not want to see, that was ridiculous, she had tried to be fair to this city, to this country, more than fair ... it was just that there was so little of beauty to be found ... was it surprising that she should overlook its all too rare appearance?

That she was Saturn's child there was no doubt. The old father sat solidly upon her psyche, limiting, restricting, feeding her fear of life. She did not know that she feared life, but it was true nonetheless. It was a vague and shadowy thing, but its power was great. His way was dark and slow, he was time itself, the cosmic clock, devouring his children. And yet, while the sinister old man seeks to hold youth prisoner; helpless unfulfilled, immature, locked in the dungeon of the forgotten unconscious, he offers yet, at the lowest, darkest stage, the opportunity for transformation. It is here before the terrifying prospect of surrendered youth that all which is precious is liberated from the dross. And it is the old man's salty tears which wash away anything which is not essential, to reveal the purified and true self. That it was he who had brought Anne to India was without question. That she knew of his presence was doubtful; that she felt it was a certainty. He was the dark shadow of herself and though she named him not, he wielded his sickle all the same, bringing her to harvest through the long, waning nights of the moon.

Anne was annoyed that her sister should even suggest she had been unreasonable. She knew in her heart that she had tried hard, so very hard, not to see things in terms of right and wrong, if only because she did not believe anyone had the right to judge another culture. She had finally settled on a definition of just and unjust, rather than one of right and wrong, when assessing the society, but had begun to suspect of late that she was simply using different words to say the same thing. In a very deep part of herself a voice kept saying: 'But it is about right and wrong.' In simple terms it was about morals, about ethics, and they were about what was right and what was wrong, what was just and what was unjust ... things which seemed to play almost no part in Indian society.

She had reasoned that a belief in an endless cycle of sorrow, over which one had no power, nor any right to seek power, could not be divided into right and wrong ... and yet, the voice kept hammering in the hollow void:'It is about right and wrong.' Their beliefs were wrong, they weren't simply unjust, they were wrong...anything which condemned so many people to such miserable, helpless lives, was, simply wrong. Justice was about fairness and the rightness of actions...ultimately justice was about right and wrong. It was wrong to treat people badly for any reason, even worse for reasons ascribed to God and that was exactly what was done in the name of caste. It was wrong to deceive people, to lie and to cheat, simply to make money, gain power or manipulate a conversation; it was wrong to believe that life was no more than misery, so much so that people were called upon to live amongst the most horrendous filth, corruption and cruelty and to call it God. This was not any God that she knew, nor any God that she would wish to have in the world.

She did not condemn the people, but without a doubt she condemned the actions and she was very close to returning to the place where she had first begun and calling right and wrong upon the world around her. But she did not simply condemn those who created and maintained this cruel culture, she condemned herself, because she knew that in making her life bearable, she played the game to a degree. She aided and abetted the way that was called life in this country and for that she was also responsible. She was called to account but she did not know how to be other. She did not want to be told that she was unreasonable, that she was unfair. That this country had made her hard, unyielding, was perhaps true. Her anger was so great that she did not want to give it an inch ... did not want to concede that there could be anything about India which held merit. More than anything, she did not want to be changed by it.

She told herself, there must have been more of the flame trees on Jo's side of the car and she was also shorter so it was not surprising that she would see the tops of the trees through her window. Anne felt immensely cheered by this rationalisation of her own suggested failing and turned toward her sister in a measurably brighter mood: "What did the children have to say? You had letters from them didn't you?"

Jo nodded, but continued to look out across the bay." I haven't had a chance to read them though. I've saved them up as a special treat."

"Letters are so much more important here," said Anne, while directing the waiter in the correct pouring of the tea."A link with the real world I suppose, and of course, I always love to hear from the children."

"Do they write much?" asked Jo, turning away from the watery tumult which lay just a short distance from the window at which she sat and which was beginning to remind her of her own emotional state not so many months ago. It reminded her of the dreams she had had about drowning, lost in a raging sea from which there was no escape. She began to feel a hollow sickness in the pit of her stomach and reached instinctively for the comfort of hot tea and conversation.

Anne was already answering her question and, while Jo missed the first few words, she gathered that the gist of the answer was in the negative.".....they are busy, and I am glad about that," Anne went on," and they are happy and that is the important thing. I've got some good friends who keep an eye on them so I don't worry too much and they do write of course ... the school insists that they send one letter a month, so I do have news from them. It's just that they are so far away, so very far...."

Her voice trailed off and she looked, thought Jo, to be very far away herself, or at least wishing that she was and sad as well, deeply sad. Jo felt sorry for her. She looked so small, so lost. She wanted to reached out to her, to hold her, to kiss it better as she had done so many times so many years before. But that time was long past and Anne now bore wounds which could not be comforted with kisses. Jo reached across and stroked her hand: "It must be hard to have let them go so young."

She was unsure for a moment as to how her sister would react; Anne did not take kindly to people feeling sorry for her and generally gave sympathy short thrift. Those in need of sympathy were those who were not equipped to master life, Anne had once said. But, in this instance, at least, she returned to the maternal bosom for a brief but blessed moment and placed her other hand on top of that of her older sister.

She spoke quietly, as if she were talking to herself but not minding if Jo should overhear: "It was hard. Much harder than I thought. I never thought it would be like that. I had worked it all out in my head ... I wasn't going to be that sort of pining, doting mother. I read all the books on parenting ... I knew how it should be done. It happened sooner than I expected with the girls ... perhaps that was the problem. I just needed more time. I had worked through it all, rationalised it all in my mind, but it still hurt. It wasn't meant to hurt ... or perhaps, I just hoped it wouldn't." She drew in one short, sharp breath and began to smooth out the tablecloth, as if in removing its unseen crumples she could remove them in her composure: "Time helps though ... it gets better with time," she added, rescuing both hands and attending to an unnecessary straightening of her hair. "Look," she said suddenly, reaching for her bag and rising to her feet," I want to see if the current magazines are in yet. I'm just going round to the bookshop. Do you want to come?"

"No. I'm comfortable. I'll wait here," Jo replied.

Anne walked a few steps and then stopped and turned: "It's funny you know, but I feel as if I'm being stripped of everything in this country."

Jo watched her walk away, head held high, hair in place, tall, elegant; confident in her graceful stride. Whatever confusion lay inside, there was certainly no trace of it to be seen in her smooth and shining exterior. She would hold out against the raging forces to the bitter end. Anne's battle was all the more desperate because she believed that once one fell it was the end .She had always been that way but this time the stakes were higher.

And her sister had changed. There was now a restless ebbing and flowing; she came and she went, she touched just a little and then she fled. She had this teasing way of revealing a little of her real self and then snatching it away . She had revealed more of her insecurities and doubts in these last few weeks than Jo could ever remember her doing in the past. She was bleeding out of herself, slowly, in a trickle, but it was a purging all the same. If she did not keep a close watch, then she might well bleed to death. It was easier done than people thought.

But such thoughts were wearying and as Jo reached up to rub at the tension which stretched across the back of her neck, she began to look around her. The hotel lobby was enormous. It had a wonderful sense of airy space with highly polished granite stretching from one side to the other. In the centre the light streamed from a glass ceiling, some twenty stories overhead, and a constant movement of people threaded across the floor. A group of teenagers passed close by, the high, bright twitterings of the girls leading the way. All wore faded jeans and stylish T-shirts -- the uniform of the rich young things in any city.

In one corner of the coffee alcove sat four businessmen, deep in conversation. Two were dressed in safari suits, one elderly gentleman wore a vivid white dhoti, sharp with starch and the fourth, a suit, in double-breasted navy pinstripe. They represented the eternal mix of India, the taking in of the new with the retention of the old. Nothing is wasted in India. Nothing is thrown away. Even when something new is introduced, whatever has sufficed through the centuries past will be retained. It is a society which takes all that it can and blends and stirs it into a chaotic melting pot which combines the useful with the useless, the necessary with the unnecessary, the good with the evil. Nothing is thrown away, everything remains, somewhere, and yet frequently all is lost within the amorphous mix of the overloaded pot.

The rain began before they left the hotel with its first tentative touch no more than a fine spray upon the tall windows which overlooked the snapping sea. It dribbled down the windscreen as they drove home, sliding in slow blobs along each side. By the time they reached the final turn it was beginning to take itself seriously and within the sudden rush from car to door it found once more its torrential self and begun its furious pounding upon the resolute earth.

"Would you like some real coffee now that we're home?" said Anne as they shook the last few drops of rain from their clothes.

"Sounds great," replied Jo, who was enjoying the delicious feeling of being warm and safe while the heavens opened in an endless, drenching pour. "There's something cosy about the rain, don't you think?" she said as Anne headed toward the kitchen. "It's not so cosy for all the millions out there," Anne flung back before disappearing around the corner.

Jo felt a surge of irritation. Anne was nothing if not obsessive. It wasn't her fault that there were people out there. She did like the rain. What was wrong with that? There was something about the clattering hum of heavy raindrops on a tin roof. It soothed her, brought a sense of safety, but now it was all spoiled. Damn Anne and her rotten guilt. What made the whole thing even worse, was that Anne was right. There were people out there suffering through something which gave her pleasure. Still feeling a hot prickle of annoyance between her shoulder blades, she walked in the direction of the verandah. She could watch the rain at least, even if she were not allowed to enjoy it.

The rains had also fallen on that day long ago. She had been unsure, only partly mended, fearful of company and after leaving the hospital had accepted the offer to recuperate in a friend’s country house, a few hours drive to the north.It was an old homestead, long since converted into a holiday home and it lay on the broad plain which spilled from the spine of hills running along the length of South Australia which fell, finally, into the ancient arms of the Flinders Ranges. Some six hundred million years ago this land lay beneath the sea and the shadows of a multitude of tiny creatures lie locked in the dry, white limestone. They offer still, the creep and crawl of fine-drawn legs, of close-fit scales and waving hairs: a memory of death and yet of life.

It was the sense of peace drifting off the land which first reached Jo as she drove along the road toward the house, which stood, marked in the distance by a tall, lone date palm. There had been a smell of freedom in the emptiness of it all and a sense of possibility in the enormous sky-capped space. On one side stretched farm lands, full with green at this, the final edge of winter and on the other ranked the rise and fall of the ranges, tinged with a blue-born greyness. From the lower slopes spilled a roll of land, cloaked in the purple weed which was both the farmer’s curse and salvation, brought to blossom by a breath of summer. The march of post and wire across the land bespoke the mark of man, but otherwise, it was free, empty and unattended.

She had felt as if she and the land were one, sitting on the verandah which shaded the front of the house, listening to the withered rustle of the palm leaves overhead. They were common these palms, throughout the mid-north, but often only as a solitary emblem which marked the place of some lonely farmhouse. Perhaps in the early days they served as some sort of beacon across the vast emptiness of the endless land. Further to the north, where many had gone in the last century, drawing closer to the dry, red heart, hoping to grow wheat, the palms marked no more than the spot of some abandoned ruin. Thriving in the dry dust and burning heat of summer, the palms had endured where wheat and human beings could not. But this 'tree of life', this 'birth tree,' beneath which gods had been born in other times and stranger lands, could bring little life but to itself in the thirsty, rust-dirt reaches of this country

Jo did not leave the house for a week after her arrival, sleeping, reading, listening to music, eating very little and only when she remembered. She had woken to the full, syrup-throated joy of the magpies and watched the corellas, swoop and glide in a dance of pink and white through the gum trees in the distant paddocks. A family of sparrows had taken up residence in the roof of the verandah and the small, brown birds took no offence whatsoever at her intrusion, ignoring her presence even as she sat nearby, busying themselves with the ordering of their lives in a shriek and a twitter and a shake of soft, brown feathers. But the day came when the fridge was depressingly empty and she knew it was time to drive to the small town some few miles down the road.

She met him in the grocery shop. He had looked like a young god with his thick shock of bleached blonde hair and the golden tan of his skin. He recognised her as a stranger and asked what brought her to the town. A holiday, she replied, and then, when she explained where she was staying, he had nodded and said he knew the family. His parents also had a property in the area and he was back on a short visit, helping out at the farm.

He was a professional hunter, he said, working in the Territory, culling the various herds of animals which ran wild there. There were many animals which had been brought into the country for work by the early settlers and which, like the camel, had either been set free when they were no longer needed, or, like the horse, had found freedom and now roamed far and wide, breeding without halt because they had no natural predators in the land. The wild pig was the most dangerous to hunt, he said, as they talked further over a drink at the town's only hotel. He came back when he could to help out at the farm because his father was getting older and times were hard. It cost a lot to hire staff. Whatever he could do for a few weeks meant money saved.

He would not stay long, just a few weeks more and then he would go back. He missed the outback. There was something about the land. It could be cruel, but it was always just. If you respected the land then it respected you. It had its own language and you had to learn it. The Aborigines were right about that. They said that the land sang to them and he believed it. He hadn't heard the songs, but he would one day. It was a strange place, but with such wild beauty. It was forbidding and mysterious. It was like no other place on earth. It looked like a wasteland, but only to those who did not know how to see. Its treasures were hidden. You had to seek them out for yourself. The land gave you little unless you sought to know her as she truly was. The desert was just a dress that she wore. You had to look beneath it. And he missed the silence. You could hear the silence out there, he insisted. You could also hear your own heart beat and the sound of the blood coursing through your veins.

He liked his work, not because he liked killing, but he liked to hunt and it was a job which needed to be done. There was a nobility to it, an honour, he had maintained, with man and animal fairly pitted against each other. It was a better death than many animals had; breathing one last soft time in a warm bed of blood-red dust.

His name was Christopher, he had offered at last, as he walked her down the empty broadness of the main street. He carried all her groceries and placed them carefully on the back seat. He kept talking as they stood by the car, with the red strokes of sunset spreading across the horizon, in a great, wide wash. It had been as if he did not want to leave her and so she had asked him to dinner, because she wanted to see him again, at least one more time before he went back to that which he loved, the land of red and blue, the land of life and death, where the heart of the mothering earth opens always to the burning embrace of the sun.

He arrived the next evening, just as the last pink face of the day settled itself across the clouds. She stood beneath the rustling palm tree as he walked across to her. He came with gifts, a basket of apples and a bunch of peonies, those big, white flowers with crumpled petals and wine coloured tongues, both of which had come from his mother's garden.

They ate in easy silence, moving at times to the lilt of Handel's flute sonatas which played in the background. She had cooked chicken in red wine and mushrooms and tossed a salad of crisp, green leaves in a dressing of garlic and mustard. Afterwards they sat on the chintz covered sofa and finished the bottle of cabernet sauvignon which she had bought from the hotel bottle shop. He talked about what he wanted to do with his life. He didn't want to be a professional hunter forever, but he did want to stay in the outback. The farm was the problem ... he did not know what to do about the farm. His parents wanted him to take it over, when the time came. He did not know if he could do that. He did not want to disappoint them, but he had to be free ... it was important to be free. Jo had listened as he talked. She did not tell much of herself. He did not ask and she was content with that.

He stayed the night. They had both known that he would. She was nervous; there had been no-one else but David. She had been wary of relationships, that is when she had been stable enough to consider such things, but she was drawn to this man. He was younger than her, but neither expected more than one night could offer, so it had not mattered. He was a gentle lover and slowly led her back into tender, forgotten places. Within this shining young man there had been a love of life and it pervaded the soft hold of his arms, the warm caress of his mouth and the gentle strength of his moving body, to seep through finally, into that frozen part of herself .. and in the long delicious moments of melting she at last remembered what had been so long forgotten.

Later that night, held still in his arms, she heard the arrival of the rain, crashing suddenly from the unseen sky, to fall in thunderous exultation upon the corrugated iron roof. And when he left, she wept with an inner keening, a lamentation of the heart for a ritual done and now mourned with the memory cast upon the still, silent waters of forgetting. But even within this vale of tears, she knew that what he had given was more than enough ... she had not been ready for more. She cried not so much for him as for herself.

There were times since when she wondered if it had all been a dream, when the memories seemed to drift across the rolling fields of wheat and disappear into the secret blue of the ranges. There had been no other man since that day. It was still too soon. He had offered her a precious gift, this secret lover and with his going, his death to her and her life, he promised that once again the grain would grow fat and full and the fields, fertile once more, would bring a bountiful harvest.


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