The day was dark and grey, as any day in the month of Gipsha, when the humidity came heavy, and the gas lay thick on the banks of the horizon. Burble, only 80 Taipodian years old, was sent out to collect an evening’s harvest. Yet they stood stagnant within the tall swinging bushtails, gazing at the purple skies with a netted bag hanging off their shoulder; their thoughts travelled up and away from them, to the pink and yellow stars winking in strange delight.
Burble never understood the stasis of their body and the fluidity of their mind. Though raised to understand the risks and woes of wandering thoughts, Burble could not help seeing more than what was there, more than what they had. Burble reached out their hand, and attempted to grasp at the air, as if they could contain it, as if they could keep it in their net. Baabaa came out from her hut, a woven basket of dried fruit in her arms, called out to Burble and heard no reply. She called and cried out again, but there was only silence. Burble’s mind was burdened, but Baabaa didn’t understand what for, or why for, or where for. Wherever Burble was, Baabaa could never reach them until she grazed her four fingers along their skin, the friction of touch and temperature jolting them back to sometime real, some place tangible. In that moment Burble looked to Baabaa, their pupils flickering from black to blue, and announced in grounded silence,
“Baabaa, I am afraid.”
“What for, my bitty Burble?” Baabaa said, running her fingers up and down Burble’s arm. Her actions mimicked the sounds of the wind that would push at the tante trees, allowing their leaves to clap in applause for this song of the breeze.
“I cannot say, my mind escapes me. But my net is dry, and something cruel hides within it.”
“Nothing hides within your net, bitty Burble, you have yet to go out and collect the dol-se nuts.”
Burble looked down, and their mind widened in shock at their empty net. What was it that Burble thought they had caught? Why was it gone? Their hands pawed at the strings, unravelling it until the neat ties came loose and it could hold nothing no longer. They continued to dig, to search, to pull and pull at the meaningless knots, until all that remained was the limp twine that once held it in unity. Burble looked up in dismay and caught Baabaa’s sullen eyes. Burble realised they had done this before, and they would do it again until the end. But only in that moment could they see everything as it was and as it is and as it will be. Baabaa sighed and pulled the meaningless strings from Burble’s hands. An igneous fly buzzed by, performing a dance with a damaged fern, receiving a gift in return.
“Let’s get you inside, for the sun shall die in an hour’s time and we must wait for her to return.”
Inside the hut a small fire burned in the corner, casting subtle pink streaks of light across the floor, and Burble’s and Baabaa’s faces. Burble lay on a mat of curled cradle leaves, their legs tucked close to their body, tail between their legs, and their hands outstretched before them, their fingers still reaching for something. Baabaa sat down cross-legged at the edge of the hearth, weaving a new netted bag for tomorrow.
On that particular night the clouds gave them rain, hailing heavily on the brittle roof. The noise smothered Baabaa’s worried cries, she was not sure if her child would ever come out of their own mind. Burble woke and finally saw Baabaa’s tears fall onto their new netted bag, a line dug its way deep within their brow and their eyes stayed confused.
“Baabaa, the bag will rot.” At Burble’s small words, Baabaa looked up.
“It will not Burble; you are seeing something not here.”
“But what if it rots as I’m picking the dol-se nuts, and I have nothing but my hands to contain them. You will grow angry at me, for I can only carry so much.”
“But it will not! For you have never picked a dol-se nut, and you will not!” Baabaa said, her voice was hoarse with a carnivorous sadness. She was in pain and was growing sicker and sicker each day from Burble’s mind.
The innocence in Burble’s voice stung Baabaa and she remained in that stasis for minutes or hours. She could not answer this simple question that she had asked herself many times. So instead, she smiled, and in that smile Burble saw the pink and yellow stars from the morning sky.
The next morning Burble stood again within the tall, swinging bushtails, and stared at the stars. A netted bag sat on their shoulder once more, as they stretched their arms out, hands grasping to collect the stars. Baabaa silently watched them from the hut and hobbled over, grazing their arm with her four fingers once more.
“Baabaa, I am afraid.” Burble uttered, and was met with silence, and the continued stroking of her fingers on their shoulder. “My net is dry, and something cruel hides within it.”
Baabaa gave no reply.
Burble looked to Baabaa, who remained face down, and silent. They gazed at their bag, and began to unravel their mother’s weaving.
At each knot a tooth fell out, polished until they shone with the colours of pink and gold. Burble screamed, their face twisted in confusion, stuck between delight and disgust. At the unravelling of the bag there were twenty teeth within Burble’s hand. They looked to Baabaa, who faced them now, smiling a big empty smile. They looked to the purple sky to see that the pink and yellow stars were gone.
Sehaliah Plume Du Ressac @swe3etfuzz (they/them) is a Wakka Wakka Aboriginal Australian who grew up in Bundjalung country and has been studying creative writing on Wurundjeri land for 3 years.
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