Excerpt from Hard

Words by Ellen van Neerven-Currie

Pictures by Simone Bensdorp

Published on November 30, 2012

Jolte and the eagle

She’s seen the wedge-tailed eagle on days like this. Circling the sky above while she travels down the range. Coming back to her line of vision. Circling, as if crying. The wedge-tail’s open wings pass over her path, the shadow dripping into hers.

The wedge-tail sang her home to her mother lying on the chair outside with blood at her sides. Jolte touched the dry flesh on her mother’s shut face. By then it was too late to pressurise the wound, but she did. By then it was too late to run up to the mill screaming, arms clenched for the dagai but she did. Her mother and the women before her had lived there by the creek all their lives, didn’t get the memo they were meant to be nomadic. After, Jolte thought for a while she might stay there too, stay for her mother. Feed the goats and walk the trails to the creek and the hill. But how could she stand in the rocket-shaped shadow of the mill and not see the slips of the man in the gums? Jolte shared her mother’s things with the people that cared for her; the goats went with Monie on the island. When Jolte had satisfied most things excluding her grief, she rode on-jumped on the fish trade-lived the fluctuating luck. The wedge-tail followed her no matter how far she roamed, even out of country.

Not so long ago she walked the wetlands in the quietest part of the day. When she went to look out at the water she saw a pair twirling around each other. The male would dive down at speed and pull out real sharp, the female would flip over mid-air, showing the light side of her wings and her stretched-out talons. It was the cusp of spring, and Jolte was leaping into the weak human pursuit herself, within a fortnight she was staying with the girl from the inn board-free. She’d never been good at keeping someone close, but they’d worked it out well enough, the seasonal meeting by the coast.

Down to her side, Jolte can see the constellation of the first town in the buttery valley below. Parting the mountain is, as always, like stepping into a strange pair of trousers.  She eases her foot on the brake as the decline recedes, the road flattens. The trees magnify and she sharpens her focus on the dark bird. These are not native trees here. A line of elms-wiry, dark, sickly. Witches trees.

The layers of the sky meet; it’s well past feeding time, yet the wedge-tail dives across. The scruff of its wings tug at the shelf along the grey haze. And Jolte feels it in her feet as she moves. Somewhere, beyond this road, she will know.

NB: Rather than share a excerpt from her novel, Ellen has written a response to Simone’s illustration, who initially responded to Ellen’s writing, bringing the whole operation full circle. 

Ellen van Neerven-Currie is a writer, editor and Brisbane Roar FC fan. Her mother’s family is Mununjali of the Beaudesert region, and her father is Dutch. She works at the black&write! project at the State Library of Queensland, fostering a Indigenous writing hub. Ellen’s own writing has been published in McSweeney’s(US), Masacara Literary Review and REX, and she was shortlisted for the David Unaipon Award this year with her manuscript Hard.

Simone Bensdorp is the illustrator.