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The Sun and the Sweet, Black Earth, 1

The Sun and the Sweet, Black Earth

When I think of Orpheus she’s framed by fire.

I’m dancing with our friends, and the flames flicker between us. She sits at the edge of the

circle, bent low over her guitar, curls spilling forward, eyes closed as she plays. We dance, and she

plays, red-tinged by the burning light, the night behind her.

I feel the heat, the crackle, the crunch of twigs underneath our stamping feet. I taste the stars

wreathed in sweet smoke and our beer, cold as water. How our laughter rattles the trees! Our song rises

and falls like fireworks, dazzling, joyful, wordless.

I will her to see me. Look up. Please.

Then I notice there is a me who is dancing, and a me who is watching. Pleading and pale, silent,

unseen. I forgot again; this is only a memory.

Everything before, everything after, it’s all tangled. And I keep forgetting.

I was Eurydice. What am I now?

“Little bastard!” Orpheus cries as she smacks her arm again, and I try not to smile. “Are you all

getting chewed to pieces by mosquitoes too? Or is it just me they’re feasting on? Augh!” She lifts her

arms to the sun and I can’t help it, I laugh out loud. Melie and Balan look back down the trail and grin,

but they don’t slow their pace.

“I’ll take that as a ‘no’ then,” Orpheus pouts.

I feel a rush of love so strong it nearly lifts me off the ground, and I fold her besieged body in

my arms.
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“Thank you,” she murmurs into my neck. I lift her perfect face to mine, round and velvet as a

mushroom. In our kiss I feel her irritation begin to bend and soften. We carry on up the trail hand in

hand, awkward, each leading the other through the trees.

“Seriously though,” she says, “Aren’t you getting bitten?”

“Of course. I just don’t take it personally.” I wonder how to explain. “It’s part of going on a

hike. It’s the price we pay for all this beauty.”

We’re both silent for a moment, as the forest rushes like a stream around us. Creeping ants,

ferns uncurling, the stillness of boulders.

She sighs. “I don’t want to be ungrateful. I was sad Melie and Balan couldn’t come to the

wedding too, and I know we’ll do a proper honeymoon later. But this – the hiking, the cabin, the

bugs…” She trails off. “I just feel like I don’t fit here.”

I squeeze her hand.

“You do. But I think I understand what you’re saying.”

“I miss the city! Air conditioning, internet, the apartment…”

“The studio?”

She looks at me uncertainly. I keep my eyes front, lids placid.

“Well… yes. Yeah, I miss the studio. I’ve got ideas piling up and I don’t have my gear with


“They’ll keep.”

“What if they don’t? What if I’ve used everything up already?”

I let go of her hand.

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A different day. The sun sinks behind the cabin. Orpheus is curled up in the chair under Melie’s

quilt, exhausted by grief. Raw eyes and stinging cheeks. The room grows dim, and darkness hides the

empty bottle, the dead phone, the hardening bread. The still strings. The rifle standing by the door.

She sobs, presses her palm hard against her forehead and whimpers: “Eurydice!”

My heart rakes at my chest. I would give anything – anything – to run over there and hold her.

To kiss her curly head and tell her everything will be ok. But everything won’t be ok. It isn’t. It wasn’t.

And I’m not really here.

The beer cans are empty and the fire has sunk into embers.

“Fine, I’ll go on my own. Let me go!”

I shake Orpheus’ hand off my arm and start walking away from the cooling fire and up the track

through the trees. I don’t look back to see her face because I already know how it will make me feel,

and how it will make me falter.

I make quick work of the trail despite the beer and my bare feet and the dark. Except it’s not

really dark, grey is already sifting through the sky, clouding the stars like ash. That’s why it has to be

now. And why not? We danced and drank and laughed all night long, the sunrise is our reward, our

right. Our bright medallion of life.

A fresh crest of anger breaks over me and I ball my hands into fists. Such a small distance from

the cabin to the ridge. Just a few minutes walk to the dawn and she still wouldn’t come. A few steps to

trade for a miracle! But she still can’t see what I am trying to show her. She won’t join the dance. She

doesn’t understand that’s she’s part of all this too, and no matter how deftly she assembles her notes, or

how perfectly she plays, life’s rhythm is unfolding through us. There’s nowhere outside the circle.

When I offer her my hand, she won’t take it. She won’t dance with me.
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Images tumble like water. Crisp blue and white among the trees. Melie’s tears. Balan holding

her, holding her up. A blonde woman in a uniform standing over… Crumpled black plastic with a

silvery zip, a stretcher tilting down the trail. Tired, bleached faces.

Orpheus’ howl echoing over the mountain.

At the cabin. Waiting. Pleading. Stern, loving voices. Shouting. Four trips for supplies. A week

and another week and another week and another week. Bourbon. Tyres. Silence. The rifle.

I can’t see myself in these pictures. I am watching from somewhere else. All I can do is watch.

More and more now I feel something tugging at me, like I’m leaning. Like I’m falling except

there’s nowhere to fall. Sometimes I look down, just to check, and see my feet are not quite where they

should be. Sometimes they are a little above the ground. Sometimes below. It doesn’t hurt, but I don’t

know what it means. My skin is wintry blue, even in the summer heat.

Is it still summer? Have I forgotten again?

Where are my shoes?

Orpheus kicks the empty bourbon bottle across the floor and roars, frightening me. She sways

for a moment, then lunges for the rifle, tears open the door of the cabin and staggers outside. I follow

her up to the ridge. The sun’s high and soon her curls are damp with sweat, but I feel cold. I’m afraid. I

shout at her to stop, to go back, to plug in her phone, to call Melie, call anyone. But of course she can’t

hear me.

When she reaches the ridge she leaves the path and wades into the grass until she’s standing

under the wide sky, the whole range opened like a palm in front of her. She’s boiling inside. Cocks the
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rifle and aims it unsteadily at the ground. She fires and almost falls backwards. A flock of birds shatters

the sky. Fires again.

“Come here and face me!” She shouts at no one. Fires again into the grass. I try to pull the gun

out of her hands but it slips like silk through my fingers. She fires one more time then drops it and sinks

to her knees with a groan.

“Why?” she asks the earth. No one answers.

I wrap my arms around her, although I know she can’t feel it. We cry together.

I remember now. My scattered memories line up like lenses and I see it; what happened, what I


“Let me go,” I whisper, and press my forehead against the fuzz on the shaved side of her head.

It’s here, the miracle. Only reach for it, darling. Please.

She tenses, and her head jerks up as if a string has been pulled taut. I recognise the light of an

idea in her eyes but this time it chills me. She scrambles to her feet.

“No,” she says quietly. Then shouts: “No! I won’t let you have her. It isn’t going to end like

this. I refuse to let it end like this.”

I look up at her. The falling feeling is back, it’s making me dizzy. I lie down in the grass. She

picks up the rifle and marches back to the trail and the trees and the cabin and I watch her go. I can’t

reach her now.

The ground calls to me. I let myself sink into the sweet, black earth.

Up on the ridge I’m walking, drunk and angry, towards the dawn.

Grass tickles my ankles, and the dew starts to soothe me, when the soft arch of my foot is

answered by another softness, smooth and warm like a pebble in the sun. Before I can name it ‘snake’,
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there’s a pulse, a twist. My ankle explodes into pain. The last stars reel above me and I’m on my back

in the grass. My legs are burning. All I can do is gulp for air like a fish.

Where the venom blazes through me numbness follows. I can’t move. As I fade, the morning

floods my eyes with glory. Dark night air flows into pale golden light. Soft grey shades into luminous,

secret blue. Lilac clouds catch pink fire.

I’m dying. I feel tears run down my face, and a twitch in my throat that would have been a

laugh. I want to shout. This is the price we pay. The dance. The miracle. I wish I could have explained

it better.

As I drift, I hear her music. And with the very last part of my life, I smile.


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