Monday, June 9, 2008

Musical Musings #3: Voodoo Cowboy

This week's prompt is to combine the elements of voodoo with cowboy - a la Cat Empire. Here's my first draft and please feel free to offer up your thoughts and criticisms (on elements other than first draft spelling mistakes, grammar and I think the odd time incongruity!)

It’s a good day to die. This is my morning mantra, as I roll my swag and kick away the ring that’s protected this small patch of earth while I slept. It is habit that compels me to cast the salt and to wear the St Christopher medal around my neck, rather than a need to cheat death. We’re all going to die - sooner rather than later now. Everyone else feels the same urgency towards death that I’ve carried with me my entire life. I’m just treading the water of time between dawn and dust, waiting for the inevitable. I don’t know what they are doing.

Patience nuzzles my cheek and I smile. She never questions the erratic nature of our journey. Her quiet faith in me is buoyancy in this sea of nothingness, the endless expanse of red dirt, mirages playing deceptively on the horizon. The long black snake of the deserted highway runs along in front of us.

“Off to town,” I say out loud, in faux festivity, and I swear she nods and smiles.
I haul the heavy jacket over my shoulders and push my arms down into the sleeves, pull up the heavy duty zip. The battered hat covers my bald head and shields my face. I’ve had my thick dark sunglasses on since I first opened my eyes.

The map says 10 kilometres, but I’m not really sure how far we came yesterday after the last little green road sign. As we step onto the decaying tarmac, I pull the small GPS unit from my pocket, as I’ve done every morning for the past two months. The screen is empty. I tap the LED screen and it remains blank. The phone went down first, then the GPS – all powered up but useless. This is my final dislocation from civilisation – what there was left of it when I fled the mayhem of the city. Now it’s just Patience and I out here making our way to The Farm, just as I promised Mama before the typhoid took her.

The sun is high in the sky when we arrive in town. Patience and I head for the tiny row of shops that have sprung up haphazardly on the side service road that connects the highway to the township. The shopping centres are obsolete. Electricity is too precious to waste on powering indoor climate control – even if there was anything to sell. Consumerism and instant communication have both suffered a fatal blow.

I tell Patience to wait outside, not bothering to tie her up. She’ll bite anyone who tries to steal her. Better than any car alarm.

The bar is quiet this early on in the day. There’s a couple of blokes, shift workers by their clothes, sipping beer, talking in hushed tones as they deal hand after hand of poker. I wonder if there is a wager and what they would possibly use.

“A lettuce juice,” I order, sitting down on the bar stool, trying to decide whether to take my hat off or not.
“Pardon,” the young girl queries. Her hair is braided into two neat plats, coiled behind her ears and she’s far too young to be in a bar, let alone in charge of it.
“You have juicer?”
“Yea – somewhere out the back, I guess’em.”
“You have power?”
She nods
“I’d like a lettuce juice then please. I can pay.”

The girl disappears and a few minutes later an older woman appears looking defensive – like I tried to touch up the girl, rather than just ask for juice.
“You wantin’ lettuce juice then Joe?” she asks, her eyes piercing me.
I nod, trying not to make a scene.

I lean a little over the bar and slide the dark sunglasses down my nose, just far enough so she can see my eyes. The recoil is physical – she stumbles back a few steps, stopped by the shelves of liquor behind her, which clink as she hits them.
“I’d like a glass now and a bottle to take with me.”

She agrees with a sharp downwards jerk of her head.
“You’ll find what you need out the back,” she mutters, crosses herself and scurries out the back.

The shift workers regard me with guarded scepticism and I can appreciate that. I’ve had that effect on people all my life. In these clothes I look like a gun for hire and that disturbs them. I imagine that not too many people put the bar owner in her place – she’s rougher than those she serves. But I come with an aura of fear now, not the freakdom of my previous life. I like it, the warped sense of respect, because no one’s ever given me that before.

There is a small lean-too out the back of the bar. I find an old and twisted star picket, a sledge hammer and a piece of rope. I quickly tie together a harness to carry the hammer and the steel dropper, so both my hands will be free. I close my eyes and begin to walk, feeling the vibrations beneath me. The energy crackles in staccato pulses as I walk, my arms held at a 45 degree angle to my body and the palms outstretched parallel to the scarred earth. I follow the pull until the staccato subsides and segues into a gentle legato. This is the spot. I hammer the star picket into the hard ground with slow and exact swings. A year ago I wouldn’t have been able to lift the hammer, let alone swing it with the preciseness I’m now proud of. The sweat pours off me, but I don’t risk removing either my hat or coat.

Back in the bar the glass of lettuce juice awaits me on the bar – there’s even a couple of ice cubes in it. I ask the young girl for a large glass of water to quench my first before I drink the lettuce. She watches me with open curiosity and I smile at her.

It has been almost a week since I’ve had the juice. My sleep has become a distorted mess of insomnia and paranoid dreams. It means I don’t think so good and I’m prone to make stupid mistakes. There is a bustle from out the back and the older woman comes through the dirty curtain that sections off the bar from the living quarters.

“So?” the older woman asks, holding an old brown tall-necked bottle full of lettuce juice in one hand.
I nod and she passes me the bottle.
“There’s a star picket driven into the spot. It’s deep down, perhaps 100 metres of more and a lot of rock.”
She snorts and goes back out the back.

I take the bottle and leave. The lie sits like quick sand in the base of my stomach, ready to devour me from the inside out. I tell myself it was justified. It always is.

The water is dead - poisoned. The town will be gone before a rig could even be found to drill her well. She’ll have the hope of water to tide her over in her last days and I will have given her that. Hallelujah. She’ll won’t ever find out I didn’t tell her the whole truth.

The Farm is another 20kms further out to the west, up into the hills and the wind corridor. I’m in no hurry to get there, so I walk beside Patience. The bitumen road has become a gravel road. It wondered if it was once sealed – if this was the way all the machinery and men came? Or maybe at it another way.

We walk until I’m exhausted. It doesn’t take much in the heat and sun, and the lettuce juice has made me sleepy. It has the effect on me – but leaves me feeling sharp and refreshed in the morning. I swig from the bottle as we make camp in a small thatch of trees by the side of the road. We’re at the foot of the hills here and marginally safe. I know that I have to sleep well, dream deeply, before I can get to The Farm. I’d go further but I’m tired and I don’t want to risk Patience in the bush just yet. She’s as ferocious as a dog if provoked.

As I lie on my swag watching the sun go down and Patience cropping at the short tough grass I long for my music. To wish I could be here, with my ear phones on and ? assaulting my delicate ear drums. “You’ll go deaf,” Mama would holler. “You’ll be drug fucked, you’ll never amount to anything you stupid shit.”

Well Mama, I’m not deaf, I’m not drug fucked and I’m going to make it to The Farm - just like you asked me to. And this goes round and around in my head as I succumb to sleep.

I’m staring down into the water … sometimes it is a river, a slow moving line of water, and other times it is a well. The water is an illusion, but I reach out and touch it. And it’s wet. It’s not an illusion. There is a woman in the water …. With long dark tendrils of hair crowning her face. Her skin is pale, like mine, but her eyes are green. I hear her in my head, calling my name, over and over – she feels my loneliness, she feeds on it. It makes her powerful and I struggle to resist her seduction. “Come ….” She reaches her hand up to mine. Her voice is hypnotic and I stretch my hand out, into the water. And she has me in her grasp… her hair travels up through the water and wraps around my wrist. Her hair is pulling me down. I scream … it is not my time. I’m not ready to die. “Oh yes you are” she screeches from the depths and I’m covered in her hair, being dragged into the water …..

I lash out and my hand strikes a rock. I bolt up right in pain, my knuckles skinned and bleeding. Patience snickers and brushes her large nose against me.
“It’s OK,” I say, for my sake not hers. The sound of my voice settles her.

The sun has sunk below the horizon and the sky is aglow – violent tangerines and vivid scarlets in the polluted and overheated atmosphere. It is the same colours every night and morning – a delight at night that I’ve made it through another day, and warning in the morning that it could be my last day. It reminds me of the bush fires when I was a kid … and the sunsets that came with the smoke suffocated air. That seems like an eon ago.

Patience and I walk through the night, sometimes on the gravel road and other times, when I think I’ve heard something, a few metres in from the road through the bush. Both of us are spooked and I’m not sure what it is. I’ve faced down all matter of scum who are prowling along the highway, preying on the refugees moving from town to town. And I’ve held my own against superstitious townfolk. There’s something about this place, the ancestors are unsettled and angry here. I don’t understand?

I come upon The Farm at dawn. There are rows of massive wind turbines as far as I can see through my binoculars. The massive sails, that look like giant propeller blades turn lazily in the gentle breeze that blows across the plateau and into the wind corridor. I know, from the information I’ve gathered along the way and Mama’s ramblings that the residential compound and gardens are over the ridge to the west and the sequestration farm to the North. There they mine the carbon dioxide from the air, and sink it back into the ground. This is the oldest and largest Wind Power and Sequestration operation in the Southern Hemisphere. Why on earth has she sent me here? ... to be continued (sorry!)
© Jodi Cleghorn 2008

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