Home - 1917

Written for Twelve Shots of Summer

Inspired by the prompts "Caretaker" and "Rival"


With intended honor, I am blending historical events into a fantasy tale of my own spinning - namely, Australia's heartbreaking stories of Stolen Generations.


On the outskirts of Normanton, Queensland, in a southern camp established by unnamed European missionaries in 1917.


"Say it again," Sun urges him.

"I am Earth?"

She smiles down at his small, squinting face.

They are kneeling beside one another in the powdery earth: mother and son; Sun and Earth. She is sable and shadows; he is light and caramel. The gulf - unseen - sweeps in an arc to their right. Spiraling over acres, Bynoe River flows before them and Norman River behind, both sluggishly bleeding into the gulf. To their left is a wide copse of trees and all around there are patches of rough, yellow grass rasping in a breeze faintly kissed with sea salt.

"Now, show me how you weave," her soft, dusty fingers brush the small, fat ones waiting on his bare thighs. Earth presses a knuckle into his eye and peers at her sideways.

"It's hot in the sun, Mama. Can we go into the trees?"

"No, this is a perfect place: water for me and sun for you. Baby, show me how you weave."

With a sigh, he draws his fingertips from his knees along his thighs, skimming them upward along the sides of his ribs and chest and shoulders until they trickle up into the air. Leaning forward, he bows over his legs and gently shakes his fingers into the soil until it's up to his first knuckles. Arms over his head, nose in the dust, he holds parallel to the simmering earth with his arms spread like a heron canopy feeding. His breath whisks the dust out from beneath his wings.

Like ash - like soot - the dust whorls and spins as he moves through a second and third repetition. Again and again, he traces his body and sprouts into the air; he bends low over his legs and waits in the thump of two heartbeats.

In the silty clouds formed by his weaving, light glitters through.

{Eyes closed, he feels the earth around him - its warm womb surrounding them. Pressed down deep, his shins and feet tingle against the vibration of life in the soil. Filaments creep from his muddy mix of skin and knits him to the heart of the earth, binding him to his Mother's people. He finds them all there, woven into the core.

Gulf waters tug on his heart, coaxing a long thread from his breast that twines in the cool tides.

Another thread spirals into the sky and catches the sun's rays, but not its soul because it belongs to someone else and everyone.

He casts another line into the wind and it tethers him to its blue wilderness.

Another thrown higher still and he finds that there's already an iron cord between his breast and something far out into the night sky. Beyond the sun he can feel that he's already held, and the sensation is an anchor he can hang on.

He is filled with them: brumbies and ghosts; roots and grass; fish and crocs and lizards.

His eyes pop wide.}

"Mama."

She's smiling. The dust has all settled and glints on her inky skin.

"Let's go back to Merry and Daddy," she offers, pushing up from the dirt and patting her hands along the skirts of her brown dress. Her belly is round beneath the folds with a third baby.

"My legs are stuck."

"Are they?" she tucks her skirt and crouches down to feel beneath his shins. "You're alright. Let me help you up."

Earth clasps Sun's outstretched hands and clambers to his feet. His gait is stilted - hitched and numb - as he struggles along the rocky landscape beside her, holding tight to her long, graceful fingers. She guides their steps toward the Norman River, to their camp south of Normanton; they had walked a very long way. It was a journey over which her husband had voiced his concerns, but she had armed herself with a spear and quieted him with a look.

"You remember, baby. Tie yourself wherever you go so that you know where you belong."

Earth nods his head, scooping wavy black hair away from his face. Streaked with gold it tangles around his ears like laurels.

"Are we moving again?" His question is small.

"I hope not. If we do, we will move together."

"Even Grandmother?"

"I do not know," she sighs and chances a glance at him through the corner of her eye.

Earth's face is molded in thought.

Rustling grass shushes around them.

"This is our home," his voice finally breaks their crunching footsteps.

"It was," she murmurs and squeezes his hand. "Stay fast to me, Earth. Please don't wander. I know you love to dream and you forget where you are, but please stay close. They're looking for tots like you."

"Yes, Mama."

"When we get home, play with Merry so I can talk to Daddy."

"Yes, Mama."

The wind presses into her legs, shaping them and revealing her full belly. Despite the surplus weight in front, her steps take the world in long strides, drawing up the desert beneath her sandals. Earth clutches her hand and watches his Mama's feet next to his. Caked to the ankles in fine granules of sand, they are the same color.

Sun casts her gaze around the desert surrounding them. Scrub brushes prickle up out of the desiccated terrain, broken and old.

"Once, there was green here. It was tended."

"I know," is his matter-of-fact response.

"Oh?"

"Grandmother told me."

"Did she already teach you her secrets, little one?"

"Some of them," he shrugs. "But I already knew them."

"Oh? You already knew them?" She clucks softly, "Are you going to pick up the line your forefathers and mothers left for you?"

He nods, peering up at her.

"You know, the Saltwater Crocodile told me you would be Earth."

"I know," Earth nods, trotting around a skittering beetle. "I found more lessons today in the sand. They were dark and hard, left by the Crocodile."

Sun beams from within, wonderment dancing in her eyes.

"Did the Saltwater Crocodile say that Merry would be merry?"

"No," the word crawls from her lips carefully as she squints briefly at the pale, blue sky. "I couldn't make it to the beach in time and he was gone when I went to look for him. So, I decided her name would be Merry. She is a delight after all, isn't she?"

"I guess," but he scrunches his face and studies their fingers twirled together. "I want to be dark like you. Like Merry, too."

"But you are a lovely color, my dove. You have more of your father in you than you have of me, and that is just one thing of many that makes you precious to me."

"But Merry is dark."

"Merry is more of me."

"I want to be more of you."

"But it shouldn't matter to a little one like you," she chides. "How strange and how big you sound."

"The others say I am dead."

"You are not," indignation gnaws on her words.

"They say I am dark on the inside, that I am evil."

"You are not."

She stops short, swinging to face him on her knees. "You are not."

She clasps his slight shoulders, glimmering gold in the heat. She wraps her hands to cup his chin, lifting his face. Her eyes consume him, flicking from tangled black waves to intelligent, charcoal irises - eyes sculpted in a hooded slant like his father's, like Cosmos.

Her chin wobbles and she buries his face in wet kisses because the tears have pinned her lips shut.

"Mama, why are you sad?"

She sniffs, palming the saltwater away.

"Because you are my child and your heart beats in my own chest. I love you more than myself."

Earth directs his attention to where his heart is beating in her breast, and she ruffles his hair with more kisses, insisting on sweeping him into a crushing embrace. She pulls back and studies him again, forcing a crooked smile. She strokes his chubby cheeks with her thumbs, leaving streaks of dust like the ash he was born into.

"Don't listen to what anyone says. You are who I say you are, and you are Earth. The ties to the land will remind you. Listen to them and you cannot lose your way even if you lose me."

Eventually, Earth's small legs tire of the long walk home and Sun carries him to the outskirts of their camp while he sleeps in her arms. She breathes him in, savoring the warm scent of sunlight on his neck. She buries her nose in the crook of his shoulder as she trudges through the camp, smothering more offending odors. Stale urine and feces bake in the hot sun. Sloppy tents thrown between the eucalyptus trees are broken up by a few sturdier homes cobbled with frail wooden planks and thin sheets of scrap metal. Some shelters are lain in brick, and those are filled with the elders.

Sun slogs through a rancid mud puddle and grunts as it slides through her toes.

"Sun."

She turns as Flower approaches, slinging her portly baby higher up on her hip. "Keep Earth and Merry inside today. The boys saw some white men sniffing around."

"Thank you, I will," Sun grimaces. "Have you seen Grandmother Moon?"

"She's in town."

"Sun."

She is called again and Flower dismisses herself, hiking her plump baby once more.

Cosmos approaches, his gait casual, hands in his trouser pockets. A limp breeze tugs on his white shirt, revealing the copper hollow of his throat.

"How did it go?"

"He did so well; he did it," she murmurs as they fall in step, heading for their tent. Cosmos' slippery, black hair falling from its ponytail draws Sun's smiling eye. It isn't long enough to be pinned back like a gentleman's, but Cosmos isn't quite so. He guides her with fingertips on the small of her back. Merry emerges from their home and grins. Her ebon skin is a mark against the ivory tent.

"You're done with your nap?" Cosmos croons to her.

She nods and waits for them to draw near. Cosmos sweeps Merry off her feet and squeezes her with kisses.

Ducking beneath the flaps, Sun cradles Earth onto their shared, dirty pallet, brushing away bits of grass as she pulls her hands away. He rolls to the side and continues his slumber, undisturbed.

"Cosmos, I want to move to China," Sun is nursing Merry who wriggles impatiently around Sun's full-moon belly.

"We can't," Cosmos shrugs, squatting beside her and picking lunch from his white teeth.

Their fire smolders and crackles with leaves and twigs, the flames barely visible in the high, afternoon sun; choking, grayed smoke is the only evidence of its presence.

"We have to make a way. I'm so afraid for us - worried sick for Merry and Earth. What if they take them? The northern camp was raided last week and Flower just told me that whitefellas were spotted near here today."

Cosmos' eyes narrow at the fire, his jaw tightening.

"We have to find a way out of here," Sun pleads.

"I will look for a way. I'm not welcome in China, but I will find another country that makes us free."

"Whatever it takes," she urges.

"Yes, whatever it takes."

Sun sighs through her nose and withdraws her hand from his to rub her temples.

"Don't you miss your people?" she asks quietly.

It is not the first time she's posed this question; this is a familiar conversation. It is heavy - a mantle of sorrow that humps her shoulders and draws down the corners of her mouth. This exchange began rolling across their tongues the day they realized they were being sent to this southern camp.

Cosmos turns to scan her face, to hunt through her furrowed brow and water-limned eyes. Understanding swallows his visage and he nods.

"Yes. Very much. I miss the landscape most of all. I wish I were not an outlaw. I would take you there in a heartbeat. You could meet my grandmother and see just how kind a grandmother-in-law can be."

Her grief fractures for a moment, letting a sunshine laugh come bubbling from her belly, making Merry jostle.

"Oh, Love, she wouldn't do with someone like me - like mine with you."

Cosmos tosses a broad grin, "I like it when you laugh."

Her lilting lips buckle a little when their gaze hooks and lingers.

"Oh, but Cosmos," she moans, fixing her elbows to her knees. Merry pops off Sun's breast and toddles toward a commotion of children romping in the scraggy trees. Sun adjusts her dress over her shoulder and resumes her broken posture, palms pressing into her eyes. "I don't know who I am here. We don't know who we are anymore. We've forgotten. It was a mercy when they raped my mother to death."

Cosmos drops his gaze to the fire.

"Grandmother is one of the few left to carry on the old ways," she continues. "I feel whiter every dawn - closer to death. I remember so many things about how to care for the land and my people, but if we can't practice, what good is it? I can't go anywhere without fear, without threat. I can't be - I can't be in the land I love and know. I have no rights.

"But who of us ever cared about rights before this? Who of us ever cared about what was owed? Not the Kurtijar. Not the Kukatj. Not the Gkuthaarn. And they are all here; we could ask them. But with all these whitefellas trying to crush us out, they have made it clear that they are owed something. Like they have a right to this world that never belonged to anyone.

"This land is me. I don't belong to them but here they are pushing me into a filthy corner in a dying camp, saying they get to put me here."

Sun takes a breath and lifts her face to Cosmos, shaking her head.

"No, Cosmos. No. And this land is us. This land is its own and it has always been, but it is us. Look at me - look at me!"

She pats her arms and face, tears streaming and blurring with dust.

"I am dark - I belong here. I am this world, I am this land. But I am festering like this bloody camp - if you see me breaking, you know the land is breaking. This is not how it should be."

Cosmos waits as her attention drifts toward Merry who is dancing with the other children; she mimics the girls as they guide her. In unison, they creep through the undergrowth with a hand over their eyes, flicking their gaze down and then up at the sun in one of the traditional dances. The boys fling and flail, mock hunting. Sun is lost in the past, her arms crossed over her knees and her breast rising and falling in deep, slow breaths.

Earth groggily stumbles from the tent, rubbing sleep from his eyes between wide yawns. He drops into Cosmos' lap and leans back against his father's broad chest. Cosmos nuzzles the top of his head and places the remains of a fire-roasted rabbit in his small hands. Both parents watch as Earth lazily picks at the carcass and eats it bits at a time.

"And Cosmos," she whispers. "Will it ever get better? Will we ever be safe?"

Her questions hang like scythes, swinging in the air between them, even though the passion has faded.

"I do not know, my Love," he reaches to brush her tears away with his thumbs, cupping her shapely face. "The future is a distant secret that we cannot know. All I know is that right now, we have our beautiful, growing family. These children are for the future, and they are the soil we must till when the rest of the world is rotting. We can seed them so that they carry each other through these hard times with long roots that reach back to the way it was.

"You are a passionate and wise woman. What you are doing - it is enough. You are teaching them everything you know and what matters to you. If you teach it to them - they will be the torches that change the future when we are dust."

"Hope," she sighs. "There is hope, you say."

"Always," he smiles. "And I say that you are my home, Sun. I love this land and I love you. I will lay my life down for this land and I will lay it down for you."