Masks

Corella dons a rainbow mask. Says the adoption of a mask works by conferring freedom of anonymity and enabling projection. The mask, she adds, liberates the wearer from caged emotions emotions such as pain or anger, but above all, confusion. Because she rubbishes ideological positions posturing as social criticism, the underside of her mask is black. She waits behind a glassed door, texting the crows and ravens of the voisinage, curious to see whether she’ll be charged with violation of taboo, which incurs social and religious restraint, even censure.

 

– Dominique Hecq

Not Far From Bells

In lockdown a van parked for days at the edge of the car park near the river flat might have raised suspicions. But everyone along that coast knew the converted school bus and its paintwork – a patchwork, in psychedelic fonts, of the names of surf towns and breaks around the country. The couple who drove it were locals in a way most travellers could never be. Everything was strange at that time. Their untended van seemed just another layer of weird.

The surf continued rolling in as if nothing had changed. The world, being indifferent to a little suffering among a single species, turned the sun as always, and churned swells near its southern axis. They built and rolled up along the west coast of Tasmania, took a turn across the Strait and looked to hit the continent with as much force as could be mustered.

Self-isolated by nature, Frizz and Rae wondered how they’d been the ones selected. Maybe it had been that single trip to town to sort out the bank’s misunderstanding of the loan on the van. Whatever, they’d felt the change coming after a morning at deserted Winkipop (clean, 3-metres, and cold as ice). They had embraced in the saltspray beneath their canvas annexe, arms turning to wings entwined. When they disentangled the alteration was complete, and there would be no return to what they once had been.

This came when the virus, having reared once and then been all-but sent packing, returned a much angrier and more determined thing. It was known, by those who rode the southern breaks, that in any decent set the first wave was unlikely to be the largest. So it proved with the corella virus, which came the second time as a rolling giant, fuming whitewater in its wake.

By the time authorities investigated the empty van, an void had been formed by the flattening and bending of a thick patch of spinifex beside one tyre. For someone who knew what to look for it was the only sign of the van’s owners. Across the ocean road, and out beyond the point, a pair of petrels skimmed the roiling water, riding updrafts that ran ahead of waves Rae and Frizz would have happily waited years to ride.

– Richard Holt –

Squawk

When she wakes up, he’s singing. She curls up, enjoying a cocoon of warmth, wonders if she’s ever heard him sing before.

Cuppa? he says, popping his head in the door.

Yes please! She slides up, trying to keep as much of her as possible undercover. Outside the window, the sky is solid blue, and a gang of birds lines the electric wires.

Here you go, milky tea, two bonus shortbreads.

She smiles up at him.  Thanks. Hey, did you sleep on your hair?

What?  He runs his hand through his curls, but they stay wildly upright.

You know Grandma always said to leave your hair on the bedpost overnight.

He snorts. Don’t think you remembered either – look at your hair when you get up. I’m off to cook breakfast.

She cups her hands around the green mug, blows rising steam. The shortbreads are homemade, she dunks one in her tea, listening to the singing and bacon-sizzling and plate-clattering from the kitchen. This virus lockdown does have some advantages.

She looks out the window again, the feathery line-up has expanded, the Magpies and Currawongs have been joined by four Lorikeets and a couple of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos. She finds herself humming quietly, and when the Cocky on the right ruffles his feathers and screeches, she screeches back.

You alright in there?

Yep, just talking to the birds.

He laughs, but when she looks up, the birds are watching her.

She slides out of bed, keeps her eyes on them, walks to the bathroom in her fuzzy slippers. Splashes water on her face, meets her eyes in the mirror. He’s right, her hair is wild. She brushes it down, but it springs back at once. Must be static she thinks, maybe a storm coming.

On the way to the kitchen, she sees more birds on the side fence. She frowns as there is a thump on the skylight in the hall, she can see claws skittering against the opaque window, a layer of feathers like stained glass.

Kookaburras are laughing overhead, and swirls of Corellas are swooping through the garden, their blue-ringed eyes bright against white feathers.

He stands at the stove, his back to her when she comes into the kitchen.

Hey, have you seen the birds? Bit creepy…

He turns towards her, his eyes round and glittering.

I saw them, he says.

Her heart starts to beat faster, she can feel it pulsing in her throat. What’s wrong with your eyes?

He squawks, walks fast towards her, toenails scritching against the floorboards. Nothing…. he says, hair bristling, three green feathers twined through his curls.

He flings open the back door. Clouds of wild screeches and two Brush Turkeys fly in.

She looks up at him, sees herself mirrored in his eyes. Smiles, gives a Squawk.

He grabs her in his arms then, singing, and whirls her out across the step into a tornado of feathers.

Laughing, they twirl down the street, whirling together, surrounded  by birdsong.

©️Danielle Baldock, 2020.

Danielle Baldock’s atmospheric writings capture small and vivid moments of time. She has been published in Spineless Wonders’ Landmarks, Shuffle and Scars anthologies, lives in Sydney and takes lots of photos. Her favourite colour is green. She speaks semi-fluent Cockatoo. 

Of Cork and Corella

Patterns of interlocking numbers thread through Corella’s fabric in thin helixes and all I can think of is Yeats’ widening gyre and Russian roulette, though it is remiss of me to harbour such thoughts when I really mean to say that this shimmering checkerboard is just a figment of my imagination. Still, engraved bodies swell and bubble in what I can only call empty creeks where water evaporates in plain sight and memories sink out of it. High-performing modelling names this the corkscrew-effect, which I reckon is unfair on Cork and Corella.

Dominique Hecq

Plumes

As days lengthened and warmed those with feathers lost them. One by one, or in downy clumps.

Idris asked that they be sent to her. First those from friends who had suffered and survived. What others considered disease-ridden she saw only as beautiful. She arranged them onto medical things. Onto syringes and kidney dishes. Onto stands that had once held bags of plasma and anaesthetic and liquids to sustain people laid out beneath them.

She posted a group of them as an online installation, and sold the lot, when other artists were struggling to even see a clear future.

People began sending her feathers. Survivors commissioned works from their own moult. Others sent the fallen feathers of fallen partners along with pleas, and apologies in advance. She did what she could.

Idris found a larger studio.

She made plans for a commissioned installation. Five feathered rooms that would celebrate the reopening of the Museum of Art. When the time came.

Still the feathers arrived.

Idris rented a warehouse.

No date could be set.

It would be magnificent.

But it would have to wait.

RH June 2020

Half Baked (part 2)

Interest in what quickly became known as the Four-and-Twenty Theory spread rapidly. New evidence emerged of the medieval bird virus. Cultural theorists, partnering with epidimiologists, uncovered references in sonnets and in the gold-encrusted illustrations of ecclesiastical manuscripts. Clear as day, they said.

And then, because it had gotten out of hand, Simone ‘Simmo’ Pierce, an out of work comedian from suburban Melbourne, posted images of the notebook pages on which she’d concocted the idea as an idle amusement for herself during isolation. Her original post was confirmed by story-hungry journalists as the one and only source of all the fuss.

And then a strange thing happened. In a world where malicious politics had replaced certainty and truth, Simmo became a pariah, the fall-girl for a sceptical public, strained as it was by the disease. Her sin was not that she had lied, because lieing itself barely raised eyebrows these days, but that she had done so for no purpose. Outrageous. Every tenet of the new morality identified untruth as a legitimate strategic position. But Simmo had no strategy. No endgame. No purpose to her fibbing. And for that it seemed the wrath of the whole world, led by the loudest of the purposeful liars, fell upon her.

And all she could do, in return, was laugh.

– RH

Race/Humanity

“I can’t breathe,” said the mockingbird
but the bluejay didn’t care.
And the other birds wept bloody tears
for yet another cross to bear.
There are two deadly viruses
floating in our air –
One doesn’t discriminate,
the other’s always been there.

– Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Half Baked

At the height of its global spread it emerged that the bird disease had likely struck before. The evidence had been hiding in plain sight, in a popular nursery rhyme no less. Ring-a-rosie had been a precedent. An inquiring mind wound through the same rhythmic woods until it came to the blackbirds. Four and twenty, the number of days, or near enough, the virus ran, in those cases where the transformation did not become permanent. The baking of the fever. Sixpence or rye with which to try to buy the time of some overworked physician. Even the amusement of the king struck an uncomfortably familiar chord.

12 Bar

If I had a bird in the hand
Wouldn’t let that bird fly
But those two in the bush
Seems I’ll chase til I die

Yeah I don’t wanna be chasing
No bush birds no more
Ain’t wastin my time
Got less time than before

’cause I got feathers for fingers
– I win but I lose –
I get to sing like a nightingale
But I can’t play the blues

[chorus]
Yeah I got the birdie blues
I’m so low I can’t fly
I ain’t gonna be takin
No more to the sky
Ain’t gonna be takin
No more liberties
Ain’t gonna be shakin
This corella disease
In this year of infection
Just ain’t got no excuse
For this low disaffection
‘cept those old birdie blues

(12 bar blues in E: repeat ad nauseam, continuously amending and altering to build maudlin intensity)

RH

benefits

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- Richard Holt