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cassandra-cover

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

Now

 

Cassie holds the leaflet, begins to rip at the edges. Her breathing shortens and she recognises the signs, just as Dr Kennedy has taught her. She catches the anger in her fist and flicks it down the stairs. A frog trills from within the weeds and overgrown shrubs.  Not her garden to keep.

She found the leaflet at the community centre.  They let her volunteer there.  It is good for her apparently. From the leaflet, Athena’s black and white face stares back at her, her hair white like a spotlight in her eyes.  Dr precedes her name.  Not a useful doctor.  Not like Dr Kennedy or Dr Philips. Athena is a Doctor of Philosophy.  She will speak at the university this Thursday.  She will speak of fate, free will, and destiny.  She will draw on Greek myth, Sisters of Fate and tragic stories such as those of Cassandra of Troy to provide a discourse on the cultural impact of beliefs about fate and free will.

Cassie wonders if she should go.  They might let her.

She remembers a reading she did for Athena, all those years ago, how many years? She calculates. Twenty-two years when they argued about The Chariot card and Athena changing her mind. She so wanted Athena to believe her, to help her. She was naïve playing games with cards. With people’s lives.

Philosophy she muses.  She always imagined Athena in a lab coat mixing chemicals and discovering the cure for the common cold or pouring over maths equations a mile long. Athena liked concrete answers to concrete problems.  The answers came to her like her brain was a computer and she only needed to switch it on.  But of course, she realises, Athena also thrived on the quest, the unknown.  Easy answers presented no challenge. There are no answers in Philosophy. She rips a corner from the leaflet. Dr Kennedy says she shouldn’t think of these things.

The last time she saw Poppy, the last time he was coherent before they increased the morphine dripping into his body so that he made no sense, he told her he knew it was her who burnt down the old Schmidt place.  He’d kept it secret for ten years.  He never said anything to anyone, while everyone else wondered what had happened, blamed the weird artist who hid away his teenage daughter and then ran off with the Shultz woman – trying to hide his tracks.  Hide what in particular; no-one seemed able to say.

The farm was lost, all those years ago. How do you lose a farm?  Do you put it down in a safe place and then forget where you put it.  Do you put all your eggs in one basket?  A boy with a gift for the weather and then spend too much time grieving his loss to notice the land around you disappearing. The final straw, the granite face of the bank wanting payments on underinsured chook sheds that lay a mangled wreck.  A storm of feathers and guts and twisted iron. She saw it coming.  She had spent her whole childhood watching it approach — like a speeding car, and she stood in the middle of the road unable to move, unable to change places with the driver.  There was nothing she could do.  She could not change it before or after it happened.

Poppy lived a long life.  The last of his siblings.  His cancer travelled to his stomach and then his brain.  He fought it every time. The last time it returned to his bones.  There was no point in fighting. They slowly euthanized him on morphine and the fight evaporated from his skin like a fading light.

Before he died he also told her about Ida’s baby.  The biggest family secret even Cassie’s father didn’t know.  That’s how he knew there was something more going on for Cassie, that day when she saw the baby on Ida’s hand. He said he wished he’d said something, did something that might have helped – but you can’t turn back time he said.  You can’t grieve for the past.  Living in regret is no way to live.  Nor is living in the future.  He said he was too old to look forward to the future, to plan for the future.  All that was left was the present.  It was thinking of Ida’s boy that made him realise.  They visited him once year on his birthday, until the day he died, only a young man. They didn’t live long when they are affected like that Poppy said.  The boy didn’t know who they were or why they were there.  He had nothing to look forward, to and nothing to regret.  But he laughed.  He had only the chocolate cake in his mouth and the sun on his face and a mind that never grew and he was as happy as Larry.

We are what we are Cassie thinks. Because of who we are we make the decisions we make. Cassie couldn’t have changed anyone’s future.  They would have all made the same decisions.

She should go to Athena’s lecture.  She could stand up in the question time–they would have a question time, and ask a question.  No, tell a story. Her story.  Alex’s story.  She wonders if her mother is still with Athena’s father.  She’s wondered this a million times. Her mother wrote a few times after she left. Begged for Cassie to come visit her. Forgive her. Cassie did not write back. Her mother would not know where to find her now.  Dr Kennedy says she should look for her mother. For closure.  Athena might know where she is.  Perhaps Athena would smile her welcoming smile and run down the lecture hall aisle and hug her like a long lost sister.  Perhaps she wouldn’t recognise her at all.  Her black hair is almost grey already and she isn’t even forty.  She looks old and she knows it. She’s done hard things, been hard places.  Places that age you.

One of the support workers might help her dye her hair.  She would look more like her and…and what?  She couldn’t turn back time. To turn it back would undo what happened.

The first star of the night waves from between the trees.  Cassie remembers reading about how stars are born, in an article in the paper.  Little bundles of dust like egg sacks. Just like a spider might send into the world.  Everything created in the making of stars – the carbon, oxygen, nitrogen are they same as what she is made of too.  The bony lumps on her wrists, her scar tissue built over her snake bite, the fine hairs above her lip.  All living and non-living beings, made of the same matter, communicating without knowing, drawing on the power that connects all things. We are all stardust, she muses, connected in every way to the universe.  The sun is a star. We bask every night and every day in starlight. Were The Sisters of Fate there at the birthing of the stars?  Weaving a future for them and the worlds they would sustain.  She thinks not.  She thinks The Fates are ignorant of the birth of stars.

They’ve told her if she still this well at Easter they would find her a place of her own. With a garden, she’d asked.  They couldn’t promise anything, but they would try.  It wouldn’t be a big garden.  Maybe just a courtyard they said.  She hoped there’d be a garden, but if there wasn’t, well, there wasn’t.

Beyond suburbia, the sky is tinged mauve and orange, still and quiet but for the white noise of traffic, the murmur of the television. The leaves of the gum play in the twilight breeze. The breeze brushes her skin, a soothing hand and Cassie takes the stillness within her.

Moments could be perfect if you allowed them to be.

“Cassie, I’ve been looking everywhere for you dear, come inside our tea is ready.” Cassie turns to the support worker whose arms cross over her chest, her foot tapping. This new support worker doesn’t know where it is Cassie likes to sit.

“I’ve been here the whole time,” Cassie lifts herself from the top step.

She follows the woman inside.  In the kitchen, her housemates sit around the table waiting for her so they can eat.

“What’s that?” Helen asks, pointing to the leaflet.

“Nothing,” Cassie says, “Rubbish.”

She screws up the leaflet and throws it in the bin.

 

End