Little Shape Changer

By Kirsten Macdonald 

She was sure she heard someone call her name. The voice had a feminine lilt with gentle humor etched on the edges. She opened her eyes, dry from the flight and the voice bearer was not near. What did the sleep doctor call it? Hypnagogic state. A foggy place. The peripheral. 

This reminded her of when she was tiny, sleeping in the bunk of the truck cabin. The scent of leather cleaner and dust was familiar and warm. She was left there to sleep in the locked metal hulk while he went in the roadhouse. She could not remember why or where she was there, six-year-olds are not concerned about locations. But the girl was snug in her travel space. 

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The veil between dreams and here lifted slowly, and a pale light drew her eyes over to the driver’s seat. Her ankles squeezed as did her little heart. 

A striking tall illuminated shape, something like a person, transparent radiant blue, like a human firefly sat there.  She could not see a face but sensed a watchfulness. A sentry, a nutcracker soldier, guarding.  

Fear was not there, but wonder filled the girl with a particular type of awe like the time she first saw a rollercoaster. Struck with an intense wonder she stayed very still. 

The girl blinked, and blinked and then it was just gone. As she woke, the wonder disappeared like a popped bubble. Who was her visitor? Her human firefly was from that moment tucked under the file called ‘To Be Explained.’ She did not mention it to the busy and faded grown-ups. 

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During the day she was tucked into her world titled The Bunk. 180-degree views through the elevated truck cabin around her made her feel like she was floating above the world,  a princess being carried on her throne. 

Occasionally she was fed small packets of potato chips and bananas, golden with brown splotches, ripe from the heat. Dried banana chips were the best, the squeak they made when you bit down was bliss. 

She remembers her fear of bones, after reading Jack and The Beanstalk, the fierce roar of the Giant grinding Jack’s bones to make his bread. When they got Chinese food, she licked a Prawn Cracker, and it latched onto her tongue, she bit down and wondered if this was what Jack’s bones felt like. She retched. Sometimes she felt like Giants drove trucks too and she was the stolen harp. 

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A tin of hard-boiled lollies warm to the touch was empty when he wasn’t watching she opened the lid. The small popping noise of the lid made her smile; she would lick her finger and dip into the little crystally shards of leftover pieces sitting in the powdery sugar. Like sweet little pieces of glass, they would sit on her tongue, and she would feel them dissolve and time how long it took them to disappear. She did this all with very quiet joy. She was already learning; she had to be careful not to upset him. Princesses were only princesses when they were quiet. 

The crackle of the CB exploded with male conversations, gravelly like sandpaper and littered with swear words and laughter beyond her understanding.  They had a magic to them, messages floating through the air from truck to truck that the little people driving their cars did not know about. They knew where the coppers were, and did you see that Sheila in the blue Datsun? She had no idea who Sheila was, but apparently, the menfolk liked her a lot everywhere they went. 

The hills rolled by, carpeted with green grass then within kilometers were replaced with paddocks, crisp dry clumps of grass and sheep that were skinny after their haircuts. She imagined the lives she had lived here once before where many little animals could speak and be friends. There were no grown-up people there, just grown up animals. Wise and strong Aslan types who laughed hearty laughs and gave hugs that did not hurt but made you feel all wrapped up.  

In the here -now- life the little one knew that animals could bite. Like the spider at school. All black fur and spiky legs, she wanted to look closer but was scared of being eaten. Some creatures bit, not because they were nasty but to protect themselves. How she wished she could communicate that she was different. To the others. 

She did not know why she just was. The mean just didn’t live in her. She wanted more than anything to brush the hair of a lion, to ride on the back of a bear, to be piggybacked through the jungle by a gorilla. 

She once had a butterfly land on her finger. She believed with her whole body it was because she had asked nicely from a gentle heart. 

It would take many decades for her to learn her same feeling for human friendships. Biting happened frequently. 

She created the stories; she lived on that hill where flowers sang her name and tales of Briah Fox were true. Very tall trees were an escape to another world. 

A tree striking up like an old man alone in the dusk challenged her to remember its shape. She held up her hands up like a camera and took a photo with her mind; then it went into a file cabinet in her head. It was a faded green color like the one in Pa’s office. So many files in her cabinet tucked away for later. 

As a grown woman she cannot recall what she was saving them for. Perhaps it was for right now, right at this moment as she sat on an airplane high above the ground remembering the age of six.

The plane is nearly empty, and she looks over the next aisle. He is watching her. He is her Aslan. Sometimes his wildness scares her, his distant self when he needs to walk alone can make her feel like she’s vulnerable. Her fierce woman fury rises from the depths of survival when this happens; her eyebrow raises in haughtiness challenging everything that might bring her undone. He has taught her that men can be good. She is safe and does not need to draw her sword. 

She touched the gold cross that sits on her chest. The full, rounded aching now in sweet and sour waves that is 2018. 

Author’s Note: certain things happen to us on the fringe of life, at the tips of our memory, the edge of awake and asleep that echo of a story. Like a haze above the hot road and the magic of a firefly, if you look directly, it peaks out of view. Peripheral wonder. To remember we were all children once, that wanted to shine, not from attention but for want of harmony and joy is timely.  The wildness of joy may scare people, but your tribe will arrive. You might even stumble across a human firefly together. 

For John xxx

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