Huntress

by Alpheus Williams

Mother is beautiful. Men look upon her and walk into lampposts, walls and parked cars. Some walk into holes and vanish. A lorry driver, smitten with her appearance, veers into a tavern. The lorry explodes into flames, takes the tavern and folks inside with it. A huge funeral follows. People are upset. They want to torch our house.

Some are moved to resentment, some to envy, others to adulation. The constabulary sends a blind policewoman to plea with her to stay indoors, but when my mother speaks, the constable, overwhelmed with the music of her voice, resigns from the constabulary, learns the violin and travels the world. People line up for miles to hear her play, there is a sweet sadness in her music, lamenting that the blind will never gaze upon my mother’s face.

The village butcher hangs himself in our tree, white pants and shirt, spotless black and white striped apron, tongue purple and swollen, a bloated slug, eyes bloodshot, wide and bulging. The tree festooned with fluttering leaves of amber, bronze, red and orange that fall and tumble across our yard, the butcher swings from the tree to the rhythm of creaking branches. Gruesome, horrific, lyrical, moving.

It’s because Mother no longer buys meat from him. She says she can’t abide flesh that tastes of suffering. The butcher pleads innocence. He had no idea, he says. The beasts are delivered skinned and ready for sectioning. He looks no further. To his knowledgeable eye, the meat passes muster. It’s grade A, has been checked and passed by health inspectors. All is in order.

Except it isn’t, says my mother, she can feel their fates, their lives in pens, trapped in wire, food and shit. Livestock up to their chests in dung, heads forced in troughs, destined to a fate of eating and shitting until a bolt blasts through their skulls and they are hanged, gutted and skinned. She feels the horror of their living and the terror of their passing. Sorry, she can no longer patronise his shop. Bereft, the butcher closes his butchery, torches his house, purchases a fine new rope, dresses in his best. You know the rest. Villagers shake their heads. Fear and curse my mother. The fault of tragedy is laid at her door.

After the butcher, my mother raises chickens. Our breakfast eggs taste of sunshine and happiness. When chickens die, they die in my mother’s arms, cradled like babies, a razor across their necks, so swift and gentle, the chickens close their eyes, swoon and slip away softer than dreams in feathery down.

She walks in gardens, vegetables and fruits lean towards her pleading to be plucked, flowers brighten, birds erupt in song. Under a full moon, my mother, archer and hunter, leads me into woods, dense, dark and leafy. We stalk in shadows, peer into pools of light. A deer, soft-eyed and graceful, delicate as slow dance, meanders into moonlight. Mother pulls the bow, the fletching kisses her cheek. Eyes on target, she releases the shaft. A whisper thuds into a beating heart. The deer drops, knowing nothing other than wildernesses and freedom. We feast on venison.

Some say she is a wild thing. I reckon it’s true. They say she is descended from the moon, a child of the virgin hunter Artemis, but I know there’s no science in virgins giving birth. They say my father rose from dark depths, handsome and brooding. My mother broke the dam of his melancholy and brought him laughter and joy for the first time. I can’t attest to the veracity of such tales, I’m only a child.

Mother takes to the streets at night, but when she walks beneath streetlights, those who see her are charmed into deep dreamy sleeps. In the morning, women wake with desire and men with erections, the population in the village doubles, even the old and infirmed give birth. Old men die of heart attacks, old women in childbirth. Orphanages fill with mouths they struggle to feed.

The constabulary sends a letter pleading with her to avoid the lights of night and to keep herself covered at all times.

That night, she strips and paints herself in green and autumnal colours, takes my hand and walks naked into the woods. Deer follow in her wake, birds fluff their feathers and sing at her approach, trees sway and leaves shimmer without wind. The moon lights a path before her. A parliament of owls, white and snowy, descend from stars, swoop her up and take Mother into the sky.

Alone and motherless, a murder of crows leads me home.

Alpheus Williams lives and writes in a tiny village tucked away along the coast of NSW, Australia. He spends a lot of time trying to explore and understand the unseen beauty of things.
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