11.55 PM, 8 March 2023*
Tick. Tick. Tick. She watches the clock. The moon is full, painting the damp blades of kikuyu in a soft pearlescence. She is sure she has it right; collected the correct weeds.
She had had to work hard to convince the foraging guide. He had thought it was a little unusual. “Curiosity,” she said when he raised an eyebrow at her “vast Eastern European knowledge.” She softened the edges of her mouth and eyes to private-girl-school mode, flicked her blonde hair, and smiled.
He shrugged. “Zere is a little behind ze old milking shed, but for you alone eh?” He turned his back isolating her from the others. She could hear him mumble, a French accent long since garbled by an antipodean existence. “Rich kid, won’t bloody kill her.” His broad arms are outstretched, shielding her direction from the group. “Excellent feast of saffron milk caps and thistle this year. Come. We harvest.”
Later, when they assembled for a shared “foragers’ feast”, she had offered only a few leaves in her upturned palms; their serrated edges neatly lined up against the blue ink that began in her palms and wound its way to her armpits.
“Cool tatt! Where did you get it?” The others were easily distracted by the intricate maze that traced the flow of her blood.
“Authentic! Check this out!” She knew it didn’t matter how she responded, it was really just an excuse to show you their art, to tell you their story, their journey. She nodded and oohed and aahed in all the right places as the foragers compared notes. Foraging always attracted people like that. Looking for something. An answer, a secret no one else knew, she was never sure if they were foraging for weeds or a personality. She hated having to go with them. But her prize was on private property and only revealed itself when nature’s clock decreed. Odd that it even existed in Australia, but somewhere, some time, somebody had brought it from their old world and scattered it in the rich black dirt of an extinct volcano.
She had already crammed what she needed in her sack, so chewed her way through sow thistle salad and pasted on astonishment and delight as the foragers’ feast was washed down with dandelion tea and waved a hurried goodbye.
Now, here she is, waiting. A salty trail of expired sweat is caked against her neck. The meditative grinding of the pestle against her weed harvest had sucked time from her universe, but she was ready. A glass of goopy, green has been scraped from the mortar to rest in the moonlight. The door has been bolted in the little hidey hole on the edge of the valley – “wilderness at its best” apparently – a tiny house nestled against peeling mountain ash. Stars splinter across a black curtain and the second hand of her iPhone clock ticks its way toward midnight. It is her time.
She lifts the glass and gulps.
The tingling begins. She can feel life rushing through her veins, iron filings pushing at the thin walls. It hurts. The avenues of her tatts are enveloped by a freeway of blue as her body stiffens and swells. Oh, how it hurts, but the power! She falls to the ground, her head and body overcome by vertigo as blood hammers in every direction. Her eyes lower and watch as sharp claws pop from swollen cuticles. She digs into the wooden floorboards, clinging as her body rejects its centre of gravity. Her thighs burst from flimsy tights as blood pumps and burns. Muscles stiffen and she bends.
Cat Flex. That’s what the yoga guys call it. Downward dog. Inhale and exhale. Her breath is filtered by a mesh of sharp white points strung from the edge of bleeding gums. Now arch. She throws her head back, her long golden mane flicking in the moonlight against her naked back. She opens her mouth and a howl pierces the night air.
Now bridge. She purrs into her chest as her head lowers. The years of “yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir,” melt in her mind, till she sees herself standing tall, commanding. She laughs, a howling guttural release, and begins to pace the floor, admiring herself in every pane of glass.
She must record it. She must capture every moment, so she can relive it. So, she can know it was real, it happened. Not a photo though, but what it felt like. Scientific observation. Moment by moment. To be a creature of power, of unfettered freedom, of instinct. She picks up a fat black marker and a magazine advertising the unparalleled freedom of her wilderness retreat.
She checks her phone. 1 am. Jesus, where did an hour go? Luckily, she thought about this. She has already lost an hour. She begins to scrawl the time and day on the magazine, then stops, blinks at the thick marker lines and roars with laughter.
1 am Woman
She clasps the pen tight, feeling blood rush through each digit, a staccato rhythm that soothes her. In the moonlight she finishes the line.
Hear me roar.
*08 March is international Women’s Day
Photo by Ganapathy-Kumar on Unsplash