Flash fiction – ‘Something Sent From The Sea’ by Rob Burt

See the old woman.  Long gray tresses framing a face softly sculptured by time. Eyes dark, in a dark face, wide-open, alert.

Behind her, a marble moon hangs heavy in a turquoise sky. In the east, the sun has begun its upward journey over a sea of glass.  Receding overnight the water is now returning, returning to reclaim the shore.

The Kuia begins her descent with due caution, for the grass, glistening with dew, is fraught. She is aware of the whare below, weatherboards stripped of colour, strands of kikuyu snaking up and ensnaring the uprights. A house now bereft of life.

Is it three months? She shakes her head. Work he had said, they’re crying out for us eh. Cash in the pocket, kai on the table eh Mama? Anger surges and fades. Can’t grizzle though, money in the mail each week, no debt at the store. Kapai!

“Come with us” he had said.

“Me leave? This is my whenua, here I live, here I die.”

“So once again, why are we way out in the back of beyond? There’s nothing here but gulls and wild pigs.”

Yet it’s the mokopuna who spear her heart. Small, round, beaming faces shrieks of delight.  Ata marie Nan, ata marie, they cry, clambering into her early morning bed, wrapping their warmth around her frail frame.

Are they eating proper kai down there she worries?

“There’s an old Maori woman, been seen in the town, talking to herself, singing to the sun.”

“So bloody what? Half this country talks to itself.”

Down at the estuary, she squats on its black sands. Her long-still-supple fingers penetrate down into those beds of tuangi, seeking out the plumpest. A promise of succulence. Soon her kete can take no more of this harvest, this gift from the sea.

“Let me finish! It seems, she’s also been parceling up shellfish and sending them off to her whanau in the city. Two days, they’re a rotting, sodden mass, taking everything else in the mail bag with them.”

She struggles up, ancient limbs groaning. Hoisting her bag, she will embark on the climb to her whare and set about cleaning and readying the kaimoana for its journey.

“ The Police got involved, inquiries led them to this woman and stories of her madness. Talking to your self is fine but destroying His Majesty’s Mail is something else. A Court Order was sent to Mental Health and so here we are.”

See the old woman. Her life, as she knows it, recedes into the distance behind her. Darkness descends. She is weary, weary of trying to understand what cannot be understood.

She closes her eyes, leans back against the seat, resigning herself to whatever lies ahead.

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