Friday, November 5, 2010

Pearl, Harbour: Cherry Blossom

*Continued from Pearl, Harbour: Pearl in the Water

He is overcome, overwrought, overtired as she wraps him up with her arms. No words are spoken, it's enough to breathe, to blend, to converge. He's fragile and exhausted and she feels new strength coursing through her veins. She will be his rock, his saviour.

Ill-prepared, she tears a strip of fabric from her skirt and fashions a dressing for his bleeding thigh. For now the makeshift tourniquet will stem the flow, but his wound's slashed deep from contact with concertina razor wire. The prospect of proper medical attention swept away with the dawn chorus, and they know to dare not even try.

Fuchsia sunrise breaks blackened silhouette of gum trees and the laugh of Kookaburras shatters the quiet, mocking the lover's plight. Exposed, she surveys the scene. Brown paddocks stretch before them, dotted with grazing sheep. No habitat in sight. A small dirt road snakes lazily over the ridge. Where it leads she doesn't know, but there is the distant familiar scream of steel on steel as freight train draws to a noisy halt. They need to move.

She's had no contact with her family, but in a world torn by madness, they are now her only refuge. She resolves to bite the bullet and take her lover home. The journey isn't long, but will be arduous with the need to retain low profile. She helps him to his feet. There is worry that his garb will betray his escape, but there's nothing to yet do. They make haste south. Always south.

The station is quiet in this backwater town as they slink between the carriages, careful not to be discovered. The balance of Cowra inmates have wandered north, making way for the lovers to escape. They scramble aboard the guards van, empty, dusty but sheltered and ignored and wait until the train gathers momentum and pulls away from this hellish place. They are on their way.

Wedged close together against the wooden carriage wall, they relax. The rhythm of the steel against the tracks in harmony with the rhythm of their breathing. They sit quiet and contemplative as the wide brown land speeds by, a blur between the wooden slats. Blue skies reign glorious above, but they remain oblivious.  He sleeps, blood soaking through the makeshift dressing and tiny drops of sweat beading on forehead. He is feverish and needs a doctor. The train slows as they approach the Victorian border and is halted by a small posse of militia. She urges him up and they slip silently below the carriage, sheltered by its cold metal wheels until the danger's passed. Again, she hauls him onto the boards, as he was once hauled from sea onto lugger, his weight is heavy and his body weak, but they are now just hours from home.

The train slows once again, amid the cherry belt at Seymour, his fever is worsening. He can't go on. Her decision to depart is hastened, too noisy and wantonly enthusiastic. Puckapunyal recruits board for Melbourne, the safe haven of their carriage now threatened by the invasion of adrenaline-starved young men - only recently boys - eager to enter into battle. The pair make silent and hasty retreat away from the bustle of the station.

They slip towards the Cherry Range. As the density of pink blossom increases, blown randomly by the breeze, it's beautiful. Confetti without ceremony, snow without cold, she can't help marvel at this natural wonder and he suddenly realizes what his father meant.

Secluded, unnoticed and invisible, two shadows lie exhausted beneath cherry tree. Showered in its blossom, she unwraps his wound. Angry and exposed, she masks a silent gasp at the severity of the gash now crimson and glistening. Another tear from her dress replaces his congealed dressing. He strokes her face with palm and thumb, dirty this time, but she doesn't mind. She's the love of his life.

She kisses his lips, longing and intense. He's looking wan and pale but energetic in her arms, feeling her warmth and softness against his skin. Painful heat rises from his wound, but is tolerable with her by his side. She slides a gentle hand under his shirt and strokes his chest with her thumb. It's been so long since, that his lust outranks his pain and he slips her underneath, fingers and tongues exploring. There is a desperation in her lovemaking, borne of absence and fear that this may be the last. She lies supine, arms raised above her head, his hands in hers as he explores her breasts with his mouth and penetrates her with gentleness and ease. Soon they are tangled, engaged, in an intercourse threatened by loss. With the crescendo of their bodies, her heart rises to her throat as the sensation in her loins escapes order into chaos and she begins to cry.

***

He leans alone beneath a flowering cherry tree, waiting for her to return with medicine from Seymour. She didn't want to leave him but his wound and ethnicity made it necessary. Mind spinning, infection and blood loss preventing any clarity beneath the red and pink hues of a false Autumn.

Her own appearance garnered attention within the town, and it is sheer fate that a soldier once stationed at Cowra recognises her in the streets. A world too small in a war too large. Torn garments, smudges of dirt, soot and blood, all conspicuous spotlights in a typical Australian town on a typical Australian day. Silent alarms raise and constables gather. In her worry she fails to notice the hasty posse surreptitiously trailing her steps.

It's not until she reaches the orchard that she knows she's being followed. Panic overpowers her and she starts to run, consideration for deception or leading them away never materialising. She runs through the trees in search of her cherry blossom, ignorant of the concept but familiar with its emotion.

He pulls himself up, groggily, at the sound of footsteps pursued by footsteps and struggles to a standing position, ready to flee. He wants to sleep. The crack and its echo frightens her, but not as much as the sight of Kintaro forced back to the ground. She drops the medicine and kicks off her shoes, doing anything to pick up speed before there's nothing left to run to. The firm grasp of a soldier restrains her.

Kintaro's vision is blurred, but he can see her struggling against her captor's grip, hear her crying. Another shape approaches, rifle leveled at his head. Kintaro reaches, arm and hand outstretched toward Elise. Fear or hatred misinterprets the gesture and bayonet impales heart. An arm drops, limp. Another shot frees the bayonet stuck fast within ribcage and an exit wound blossoms onto the trunk of a cherry tree as its own blossoms attempt to bury one of their own.

***

It's nearly a week before the mystery of her identity is solved, forlorn and laconic with little reason to live. Her father arrives at Puckapunyal to take her home to Geelong, where her family enjoy the fruits of her father's reputation and industrial interests. He's happy to see his once wayward daughter, but doesn't show it. He can tell from her eyes that she's been through much, a thousand-yard stare the result of a final battle that happened mere inches away.

He takes his time with her, letting her settle herself in, even providing interference with an over-anxious mother and curious sibling unable to contain themselves. Paternal concern does not go unnoticed and Elise appreciates the kindness. Of all in her family, only her father could possibly understand the life that she had lived. She fears the others might not even accept it as a reality.

When she is fit to travel, father and daughter embark on a quest for answers, though father secretly knows such a journey is futile. The fate of Kintaro's body is never discovered. His family never found. The only evidence of his existence, a fisherman in Broome who thinks he might remember her lover. But they all look the same to him.

***

She's buried just north of Sydney after the turn of century. Her husband, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren nearly all present. None have heard the story of Kintaro and she never wrote it down for any of them to discover. She loved her family, yet nothing ever came close to what she felt for Kintaro. Her one and only soul-mate. A man who exited her life as quickly and randomly as he'd entered.

At her memorial, a grandchild notices something identical in every photo of Nan. In her wedding photos, in her vacation photos, in her random photos of nothing important at all.

A necklace. Cheaply strung. With three stolen pearls.

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