My firstborn chokes and wheezes. Watching her, my soul is strangling inside, like a twisting, sucking drain.
We sit on the sand at Shelley Beach, in the heart of God’s Country. With us, is my twin sister, Sky – the two of us born on The Second Day. And, our younger brother, ‘Man, born on The Sixth Day. Our pain bleeds over my child as we crowd in, rendered inert by her struggle to survive.
My name is Salty. I was born Maya, so named after the Hebrew word for ‘Water’, but I have never heard that name on someone’s lips refer to me. Legend says I was a cranky toddler, the constant lowly understudy to my twin, Sky, with her air of grandeur and endless possibility. By the time our brother could speak, he had nicknamed me Salty – which means a little bit cranky, a little bit too sensitive.
Nowadays, I try hard to be less sensitive.
Benjaman is our younger brother’s name. He too has never heard himself referred to by his full name – which in Hebrew means, ‘Son of the South’. Because Sky and I couldn’t say that very long word, we just shortened it to ‘Man. And ‘Man he has been ever since.
In our early years, ‘Man would lay flat on Earth and speak with Sky, for hours. She would caress him off to sleep, warm his bones, try and make him peaceful by gently blowing space through his ever-busy mind. Likewise, he would throw himself into my soft body, wallowing in my love for him, and sometimes we would play risky games, my arms carrying him high and fast, in waves.
We were all close, for aeons. Life was peaceful, we lived in harmony, balanced and respectful.
Although I’m not sure Sky remembers this now.
Sky and I began to grow our families, with many children who blossomed and evolved. Sky’s kids were energetic and flighty; Mine were peaceful, slowly wading and floating through life.
Whilst we enjoyed mothers’ nature, ‘Man got to work on his business, which he called, Man-Made Manufacturing. He started with a bang, and became so industrious we couldn’t see him for the smoke plumes he left in his wake. He made swift progress, inventing all kinds of strange, brightly-coloured, strangely-shaped pieces, big and small, moving and stuck rigid into the Earth. He made more and more and more, hording the manufactured things like a strange featherless bower bird. He generated and harnessed power like a fire/gathering storm. I told Sky we were to be proud of him, growing up and using his one-of-a-kind ‘Man brain so voraciously.
As the years passed, Sky and I grew breathless and hot just watching him work. His capacity was astonishing. In our family’s long history, no one had ever seen anything like it.
Then, ‘Man got married. It was a beautiful day, under all the glory Sky and I could muster. There was laughter everywhere, dancing, kissing, hugging, everyone loving one another.
But Sky got all upset – she didn’t cry, as we knew that was not a good thing to do on a wedding. But, as her twin, I felt it in my waters.
You see, the wedding party released 300 pearl-white balloons off the headland. It looked magnificent, twinkling like diamonds across the blue expanse. They happy couple were so wrapped up in, well, their happiness, that they just didn’t think. I felt Sky’s frown dent the day. “This is no good for your babies, Salty,” she said.
She was right: Later, there was a mishap with one of my children choking on a deflated balloon, which had landed in the water. I did not say anything as I was forever trying not to be that cranky sensitive toddler again, but I knew Sky had seen my devastation. We did not tell ‘Man. But, thinking back, it was then that the band of foggy, suffocting darkness fell across Sky and never left.
‘Man made his first baby. This would make him end his toxic ways, we thought.
Oh, how Sky and I enveloped that baby in our love. I used to tease Sky, that ‘Man’s first child loved me most – “a water baby” they called him. Oceans of joy he bought me. He would fall asleep in my embrace, gently drifting side to side as I cradled him. A peace like no other would come upon him, the beat of his heart slowing to a barely visible ripple. This little boy was like her father had been growing up: Deeply connected with Sky and I. ‘Man, too, could see how important we were to his child.
‘Man was thoughtful and caring during this time; Making his child’s baby food from our nourishing Earth, handmaking wooden toys, playing with him out in the fresh air rather than inside in the electrical buzz. Although he placed less importance on his Manufacturing business during this time, he still accumulated many, many Man-Made plastic bottles, saying the water he fed his child needed to be in its purest form. This confused me, but I knew you did not question new parents at certain points in their sleepless journey. It did torment him to use disposable nappies in those first years of being a father. But by the time the second child came along, he said: “There is no other choice; and the excesses of detergent used in washing cloth nappies is no good”. This I did understand, and had to agree, the toxins were asphyxiating. “In fact”, he said, “the detergent is worse than disposing of the disposables!” On this, I could not comment.
Life went along, as it does. It gets busy. I was busy, Sky was busy. We both had large broods of babies to care for, but were bringing them into a world we increasingly didn’t recognise nor knew how to navigate. We were tired. And getting more tired. My structures creaked – in the North of my body, a frozen shoulder cracked and sheared off, floating around in my body like ice in a drink. Sky’s life force laboured, she wheezed like an accordion. Old age, we said.
‘Man was the same – busy and tired. His Man-Made Manufacturing had grown to world-wide proportions. His furious working pumped out black smoke, which Sky was sensitive to. She worried about the effects of secondary smoking, which had just been discovered by one of ‘Man’s kind.
“Oh, not you two on the old cancer thing, as well,” he grumbled. “’Man-Made Manufacturing has become the scapegoat for all things cancer these days.” I must admit, it worried my mind that the choking filth in the tributaries and corners of my body was something deadly like this. But, this Salty would not be sensitive!
No such subtlety for Sky though: She closed in on ‘Man one day. “Why do you need to use up and throw around all that smoke and power, ‘Man?” Sky asked.
“Don’t be afraid of it,” quipped ‘Man, bouncing a chunk of coal from hand to hand. “This,” he held the dirty lump up to Sky, “is what makes me competitive! It delivers prosperity! Don’t be coalaphobic, darling sister”.
“But there is something about it, ‘Man, that makes me feel frightened, I come over all fevery…”
“You feel hot?” ‘Man looked up at Sky.
“I do, almost all the time nowadays,” Sky answered, wearily. “And so does Salty.”
‘Man waved his hand, offhandedly: “It just The Menopause, girls”.
Oh! Sky came over black as the coal in his hand, in her fury! Her synapses exploded, sparks flew about violently like a dry lightning storm, and ‘Man ran for cover as her emotions blazed around him.
Sadly, they did not speak for a while after this, because Sky’s fiery outburst had destroyed much of what ‘Man believed he held dear. I tried to comfort him as he mourned the loss of his house, his factory and all his manufactured things. “But you still have your family, they are the most important thing,” I reminded him.
Time stepped in, and, in its usual black and white manner, eventually pushed the hurt between brother and sister into a long time ago.
One day, on a beautiful summer’s day, with his life all back in order and rebuilt, ‘Man found a little time to just lay on the Earth, as he had done when he was a child. Sky warmed his bones and cleared his mind. He came back to my arms as well, and we surfed together once more – he rediscovered his exhilaration, and I relished in spending time with my beloved brother again.
And then life went on. As it was before.
But we burned hotter, Sky and I… And hotter.
Until we could help it no more. My babies were boiling, and Sky was as hot as a blue flame, fit to explode. The sweating in our overheated bodies became more and more pent up, until the densely soaked heat sweltered right out in rivers and rains and floods, all over ‘Man’s place. The top half of his large Australian island home, sank in our deluge and the coastline flattened and shrank as our hot weeping lapped its shores. We could not stop it.
‘Man built big walls to stop the water destroying his structures piercing into the Earth, but, still it bled relentlessly into them.
“Not Narrabeen!” ‘Man cried, watching, horrified. “The lagoon has been drowned by the ocean!” Ancient inland lakes, dry for millennia, filled again. Cities were washed off the edge of the land. ‘Man ran for the high ground in the red centre.
Depleted, the evaporation of our souls finally stopped. We looked upon ‘Mans home in horror.
“Why?” ‘Man now shook up to us the fist that once held coal. “Why?”
We were too weak to argue.
So ‘Man took up the argument within himself. Sky and I heard the squabbling from afar: “It’s fake news, there have always been floods: To stay competitive we need Man-Made Manufacturing!” And, “Save the environment, stop Climate Change!” said another.
“We must try not to flood ‘Man with our worries again, Salty,” she said.
I swirled around our brother, and Sky shrank in. We tried hard to repair the relationship, we really did.
Peace fell for a time. Sky and I bore the burden of our overheating bodies and drank away Earth’s water to quench our thirst in an attempt to stop such overheating and the resulting flood again.
But after a time, it appeared we had caused drought. Cracks ran up and down the dried-out flesh of the country and Earth looked like a deeply-wizened old face. Dam’s and rivers were parched to nothing, like old, cracked lips gasping for non-existent moisture. Wild fires erupted over the Earth’s precious rain and peat forests, the last in in existence, gone forever; and ‘Man’s favourite barrier reef was boiled to death. ‘Man could not be fed, nor feed his offspring from his diminished livestock and crops. They crowded into the last damp places, warring over this new type of liquid gold – once oil, now water.
And still ‘Man argued within. “Let’s use desalination!” they said.
Take the salt out of my saltwater? “They’re sucking out my soul!” I cried, letting my sensitivity get the better of me. Sky comforted me.
Sky and I looked upon the parched Earth in horror. Sky cried a storm of tears, and it tortured the depths of my body with acid rain. We could only watch in panic, as my bones chipped, creaked and finally broke off in the icy North; and as Sky choked, her emphysemic bellows grasping to survive.
* * *
I pat my gasping child’s shell, gently, although I know it does not break the surface of her suffering. Sky, by my side, is caressing my daughter too, and I feel her repressed anger at ‘Man.
“No, Sky, don’t be too sensitive, let him talk,” I caution after years of practice at the business.
“Sky, Salty, what is happening to us?” ‘Man cries, falling on his knees on the sand, right next to my dying child but not seeing her. “You are ruining this world!” He holds his head in his hands, shaking it, then his eyes focus up on us in accusing disbelief.
“Us?” Sky bellows. “We are ruining this world?” I try and wave Sky’s fury down, attempting to bring calm to the situation.
“Yes, you! All these floods, and then drought…. The fires… the dead livestock, the cyclones… why? Why?” He bows down, bending double, then he holds his arms up to the Heavens, hands spread, in pleading. “You’ve taken everything from this country!”
Sky closes her eyes, folding in, darkening, in her broken heart. She does not say anything, as I try and will peace over our situation. We must not be too sensitive!
A small, pained sound interrupts our stand-off.
I fold over my child as I hear her choke. The plastic tube in her nostrils, bright and fake-friendly, appears as if it is pushing oxygen deeper into her body, as if she can suck life-giving air through the straw and it will nourish her. But it is not. It is sucking the life out of her. I try once more to gently nudge it out of her cavity, but it is deeply embedded and has not, and will not, move; it is staying there till it takes all the life from my child.
I let some gentle tears release in waves around our little family sitting here mourning the loss of my firstborn, my heart. They swirl around, enveloping us. Swishing rubbish into us.
“Oh stop sniffling, Salty,” says ‘Man crankily. “What’s wrong with you, gone back to the cranky little toddler who was never as good as her sister?” he laughs, without happiness.
“’Man, look at her daughter, she is dying!” Sky says, her anger giving way to disbelief that ‘Man has not yet noticed. She claps angrily, loud and wide.
“Who, this one?” He throws a hand my daughter’s way. He yanks at the plastic tube in her nose, and then at the flimsy plastic bag hanging from her mouth which is caught deep and irretrievable in her throat and stomach. Salt-filled tears begin to well in my daughter’s big soft brown eyes.r The tears rise slowly, like a dam behind its walls. Then, they gently spill, out of the corner down her face , a river of bottomless sadness in our ocean of pain. This gentle soul of mine, who has only ever wanted peace, never harming another, just swimming softly through life, staying away from the fight, tucked humbly under her shell. She is done.
“She’s an old dinosaur anyway,” ‘Man scoffs, “her time has come, let it go my silly old sisters.” He stares out to the horizon, absent-mindedly picking up plastic bottles and straws strewn about in the sand around us, and throwing them, one by one, into my heart.
Sky exudes a deep coughing rumble, choking on the poisonous gas that has infected the bellows of her body.
“You should get that emphysema looked at, Sky,” says ‘Man, eyes still focused on some distant plan to conquer, and throwing wrappers and food containers without thought. “You should never have ingested that secondhand smoke.” Sky this time coughs in disbelief at ‘Man’s ability to forget his previous words and actions.
“Maybe your time is up too, sisters,” he says, “You can’t live forever you know”.
My child takes a shuddering breath that might be her final. Sky begins to close down, kissing the last of her own clean oxygen into my baby.
‘Man continues polluting my soul, idly throwing rubbish, without even a glance goodbye at my daughter or a hand out to help his sister.
My sensitivity, which I thought to be permanently pushed down deep in the Abyss, reverberates and swells, in an urge I cannot control. “’Man…” I gasp. “’Man, look, please, look!”
A bottle. A clutch of straws. A foam food packet. He eyes the smoke stack of his great industrious business in the distance.
It is not the kind of looking I want, and the swelling in me churns, rising out of my deep trenches, an army collecting for battle, gaining force untold, until now. No longer can I make sense, this physical reaction has swallowed my thoughts, my reason, my ability to be strong.
“What would you know, sister,” says ‘Man.
The surge is coming further, faster, up to my shoulders making them rise, filling my heart to bursting, swelling, rolling, pushing, raising my arms in a wave so large it frightens me. I don’t think I can stop it.
I suck back a deep inhale, pulling my children far out to sea, to safety, away from my uncontrolled emotion. And the animals on Earth run high and far.
I cannot hold it in; the tight tether of restraint deep down is unravelling at a rate of knots. My emotions are going to erupt, I have no control over what’s coming. All I can do is watch:
A colossal watery slap on the Earth, dissolves the coastline into nothing, pummels up the alley of ‘Man’s ‘Corso’ in an unstoppable wave, grabbing the fetid smoking ferries, trains and cars and forcing them into an underwater cyclone, like little disappearing cigarette butts. The tsunami pushes ‘Man’s white sail buidling and surrounding towers inland in smithereens, like my dead coral under a foot – crushed, just as ‘Man is crushing the breath out of my daughter.
My rage is torrid and hysterical, and I cry and cry and cry, wild, frenzied, unstoppable. I can do nothing but watch destruction unfold. Life is being changed forever.
And ‘Man’s kind sits in wait.