Neither I nor our textile collection can stand much UV beaming directly into the house so this newly naked northern aspect needed something to replace the plum's generous shade. As a bonus, I now have a place to house the cacti and aloe oveflow from elsewhere as everything gets bigger.
You don't really think about that as you're amassing a collection of tiny little baby plants; the Aloe alooides in the centre of the above image used to fit in the palm of my hand. Now it could scoop the brains from ten craniums at once with its monstrous extremities, if it were so inclined. If you want to save yourself some hard choices, be wiser than me- take a rational moment in the midst of your compulsive acquisition to wonder about ultimate sizes and where all that arrant vegetation is going to live, long-term.
Half an acre and a knack for building awkward polycarbonate structures mean I can flip moderation the bird for a few more years. Here are some of the fruits of those happenings.
Various Rebutias, Lobivias and Sulcorebutias. I cannot be arsed trying to keep up with their highly mutable taxonomic nomenclature so they remain 'that purple/orange/yellow one' to me. Most are easy to both both acquire and cultivate, so if you're looking to get into cacti, you might as well start with these guys. The flowers are gorgeous and reliable, often repeating throughout the summer months. The pale crustiness you see on a few is supposedly spider mite damage, but it doesn't seem to affect them too much and we are anti-spray, except in the case of losing a valuable plant I couldn't replace (it hasn't happened yet). Mealy bugs are their worst enemies. I squish the bigger ones with tiny twigs and blast them off with a hose or camera-blower thingy.
Metrosideros 'Springfire', a nice little hybrid (?) Pohutukawa from somewhere in the general Pacific; I can't be more specific because every single fucking nursery claims it is something different, ranging from a true dwarf species to a hybrid larger tree. I'm not even sure this is Springfire since it seems to have lost most of its leafular waviness, but I'm enjoying the dangerous volume of that orange and the prospect of extended summer flowering. Bellbirds skulk around it furtively, defying my presence to get at the early nectar. We sincerely hope Myrtle Rust doesn't make it this far south and wipe out all our fantastic Myrtaceae specimens, as it has done in Australia.
Notice the ye olde wrought iron fence panel in the background- that's new too. We bought some online a while back that looked like they were probably yoinked out of some Victorian grave somewhere and painted them up to put up along the front garden. Hot tip: paint your rusty iron panels before you attach them to a fence over a 15 foot drop.
Because we live in a world overflowing with morons and sadistic fucktards, fireworks in private hands are no longer a viable proposition. We're tired of being on tenterhooks every November, reading about animal deaths and out of control fires and rockets being shot into houses etc. It's time to take these pointless things out of the custody of dipshits and retire them to controlled public displays, where they belong. Sign the bloody petition and let's get this over with. Thanks.
Driveway daisies (we don't drive)
Evaporation haze over Sawyers Bay
Rebutia albispinosa OR helilosa OR senilis, too tired to look it up right now.
Yes I know the blog has been somewhat okay very slow of late; that is because I am writing the next book a lot, and R and I are building stuff around the house, renovating the aviary, repotting my entire succulent collection (I am not talking about 5 little cacti on the windowsill, I'm talking epic triffid battles x 100), cleaning up the shitty area behind the kitchen, weeding and planting the whole garden, doing guest laundry, clearing out a tree that fell over and trying to find the right box dye shade for my new hair and it's all very fucking exhausting. It's also rained every day for about 2 months and that has severely compromised our general flow. We're almost on top of it, just the front fence to rip out and replace and that should be it for the major hard labour projects so shit should pick up in a week or so.
Thank you for your patience, constant readers.
Sioux, Bob, Chrissy, Debbie and Viv all back in the day
I can't believe that one of Robert was 1987 ago because it feels like fucking yesterday.
See the rest here
Two birds rendered in black and chatoyant purple stood in heraldic confrontation amongst the ravished trees. Their feet, scaled and pipe grey, cut runic prints into the snow. Its crystals sucked a sweet and thickly-staining pink from the small carcass lying between them, of some luckless stoat or ermine; the ravens had hollowed its eyes and stolen the tongue from its mouth before opening its flank with their blade-like beaks. Their act of disposal was ennobled by hues and textures both stiff and elastic, blue and indelicate crimson, softly furred and dripping. All was pried apart and swallowed, the birds ignoring her observance, dragging the last secrets from between the ermine's ribs, sacred instruments about their sacred task. When she looked up from them the ruin had retreated overhead and she could see nothing of the rooftop yard, though she frowned and squinted until the hollow beating of the ravens’ wings turned her back in their direction. Together the corvids made a concerted ascent and stood amongst the branches, looking toward the south like sombre weathercocks and croaking brusquely. With her eyes still on the birds she sank down, one hand seeking the strap of the rifle while its absence and the rasp of an unfamiliar tread closed her eyes. She remained bedded like a stone even as the sounds described the stiff, braced stance the stranger assumed before her.
The sight of Susan Christabel in such incautious isolation seemed illusory to Josephine. She blinked hard, but made no other move to reassure herself.
“Move slowly, do exactly as I say.” she called as she withdrew a heavy black pistol. “Lace your fingers behind your head. Lie face down.” The girl glanced up toward the ruin. Josephine covered her carefully as she rose to stand, charged with the bright, self-conscious rigor of refusal. Her head turned toward the sound of the water; she looked back once at Josephine, then ran.
The dead trees of the clearing were quickly swallowed by the hillside though she did not look behind her, pushing her lead by skidding over a shallow bluff onto the more familiar ground of her previous ascent. Her boots punched into a cracking tangle of wind-banked branches; tipped forward, she kicked free and stumbled on toward the gorge, bursting through fingerling saplings that whipped back at her face. While her headlong velocity left Josephine in her distant wake, the latter's voice echoed down the hillside to direct another; the unseen party closed on her as they emerged together onto the level ground, catching her right arm and spinning her hard into the snow.
Petrouchka suspended her careful ascent toward the yard, lifting her hand to spare her flooded gaze the daylight; though feeble and colourless, it roared and boiled around her, casting the steps in white hot relief and glowing with the infernal hue of crucible steel. It rippled through the liquid in her eyes, her surface guarded only by clothing and the shadow she had followed from inside the ruin. Halted by its failure at the floor of the roof she stood, awaiting Sachiin's attention. He was tying back his returning hair, the handle of the axe propped against his thigh, and formed a pier of scalding brilliance, his eyes rendered in lustreless, infra-red darkness.
"From the way she freaked at me and peeled out, I'm guessing you dropped some epic shit down there." he suggested tersely. Petrouchka lifted the black cloth from her shoulders over her head. "I trusted you not to fuck with her, and you went right at it. I trusted you not to fuck with him."
"You accuse me? Of what?"
"Dépravation." he replied, wearily. "Déshonneur." The charges carried deeply into her empty chest, the day shuddering around them in agreement; she murmured, and lifted her draped arm as much against his stare as the sky, and he spoke more gently to her. "Do you not love me, Belyaev? How have we sinned against you?"
"I am dead, Sachiin." she confessed from underneath her cowl. "You ask so much of me."
The haste with which Kala'amātya climbed toward them drew him past her with none of the inquiry her presence might have otherwise inspired. She watched him confide something to his brother, then catch his arm as the latter broke toward the stairs, wide-eyed and silent, forcing Kala'amātya to exert the whole of his strength in halting him beside the vampyre and pinning his shoulder to the wall.
"What did you tell her?" he demanded of her.
"Sh'ih in'nai'ama. If they have her, they can't have you." hissed his detainer. Their struggle escalated until Petrouchka was sucked into its throes, her two-fisted hold setting her dead weight against him.
"Sachiin! You think she want this? Go now, or you won't."
He dragged them from the wall with him into the sunlight, her right side bared by the loss of her shawl; she sank to her knees beside his leg and clawed it back over her head, her cry prompting him to throw his brother off and aid her, though not before the caustic sky raised plumules of flame on the backs of her hands. Crouching in the shadow, Petrouchka pressed her burnt skin to her dress where it smoked like a brazier of blackened myrrh, uttering advice deeply coloured by the dark purl of her accent.
"They won't give you a cage with her. Be free. You know there is nothing else."
As she tottered back into the ruin Sachiin dropped onto the step beneath him as though suffering the same malaise.
Shaw pressed the girl's shoulder to the ground with his knee while he patted his belt for the cuffs he feared lost in his acquisition of her. Silence settled in the blue shade, the smell of stone and soil flushed from the riven snow beneath them. She lifted her head to look at him, astonished, then incensed.
“Relax. The less trouble you give, the less you get.” he muttered, forcing the cuff down over her wrist.
"Let me go.”
“Can’t do that.”
"Let me go." she hissed, provoked as much by the ease of his refusal as her own predicament. When he did not reply but sat back to consult his com, she suddenly contracted, planted her feet and threw herself sideways, tipping him onto his rear and scrambling over the top of him. Wedging her elbows into the snow, she sprang up and ran off along the slope toward the drop, the cuff chain flapping from her arm. Josephine leapt free from the saplings on the hill overhead and caught the fugitive from behind, seizing her hair and taking her once more to the ground. “Get off me!” she snarled through bared teeth; in reply her captor smacked a black steel truncheon across her elbow. The pain left her rolling and coughing snow from the back of her throat while the webbing was strapped around her right arm. As it compressed the small bones of her wrist the girl's dark eyes flicked open; she snatched the stranger's jacket front and jerked her downward where she bit hard into her cheek, her teeth skidding, then tearing into the smooth skin. Josephine punched her stomach with a knee until Shaw pared them apart, keeping her assailant pinned where she lay.
The blonde woman pressed a hand to the lush colour smeared across her face. It bled through the crooks of her fingers while she tore supplies from her pack, the girl spitting its raw taste into the snow.
"I want their location." she hissed, slapping tape across the gauze that had stuck to her wound. Susan's eyes found Shaw again. "Where are they?" Josephine shouted down at her, fingers blanching on the handle of the baton. Her victim's red-stained teeth flashed as she cracked the weapon across her shins; at its impact she stared wildly and gasped for breath, but uttered nothing more. Shaw turned from her, keeping his remarks confidential.
"This was too damn easy."
"They're here." Josephine assured him, scorn lowering her voice.
"You don't know that... you think they're just going to sit this out while you go hard on her?"
"Look at her neck. That's a fatality right there, and there's a bad contact on her arm. Where do you think she'd be right now if they weren't committed to her survival?" She waited for him to conclude his incurious survey. "Take all the time you need."
"That's not what I got at the house." he insisted.
"What you got at the house put us out here. Now get on her. I need bloods."
Josephine's pack yielded a number of discreet kits, each sleeved in a different shade of green from which she slid a selection of tools and appurtenance. With a small black camera she bent down again, grasping the girl's throat and snapping detailed shots of her face, front and profile, disregarding its expression and the blood around her mouth. The subject lay so indifferent to the blinking shutter that Josephine began to suspect her acquiescence and stowed the camera; with a plastic bag over her hand she grasped a section of her hair, winding it around her gloved fingers and ripping it free from the braid.
"The tent lab can get all this." Shaw muttered from his position at her feet. The girl saw nothing of the collection tube pressed to the skin beneath her ear, its cannula drawing a snaking line of blood into the plastic.
“She’s a warm ride, she could be holding both their DNA. If we have to cash her in I want her swabs on file so get her fucking feet.”
Their captive twisted from the hands that grasped the front of her jeans, thrashing hard and catching Shaw in the throat with her boot when he lost control of her legs. He sat back, struggling with the insult to his airway while Josephine cursed them both, winding the miscreant with the baton and climbing to her feet.
The conscripts negotiated the slope within formation in response to her summons, their thickset, pale-eyed uniformity suggesting them as the product of some failed fascist métier, their defects almost sarcastic. One by one they took a moment from their slit-eyed vigilance to look the girl over, returning their interest to their surrounds as circumstance dictated the emphasis. Their leader shrugged while shaking his head in rueful illustration of his misgivings. Built like a massive bipedal saurian, he sported a white blond crop and eyes that seemed perpetually inflamed by some chemical irritant.
"From point... looks clean." he reported, watching Josephine consult the compass on her wrist. Shaw shook his head at her ascending glance.
"Set up sensors... I want coverage at thirty metres." she instructed. "We'll tune her here. If it moves, get on it."
The conscripts spread away from them, placing laser-sighted units in a perimeter and hunkering down with their weapons to their chests. Fighting the acquisition of her hands until she was flipped onto her stomach, the girl blew snow and loosed hair from her mouth against the ground. Shaw stood peeling the plastic from an energy bar and planted a cursory boot on the back of her knees as per instruction; Josephine uncuffed her left fist and prised the thumb from it.
"You can see where this is going..." the former explained to the subjugated party with his mouth half-full, favouring his bruised throat as he swallowed. "I can't help you if you won't give back. Anything you know is good."
Josephine unclipped a multitool from her belt, setting the deeply-cleated plier jaws around base of Susan's thumb nail.
"Where are they?"
Her silence closed the jaws and crushed the nail frozen white, then concentric blue and red. The girl almost tore free in the comprehensive violence of her response, writhing behind her arm with the demonic strength of some inviolate possession. Blood fled the split that buckled open in the half moon of her nail but her expression conferred nothing beyond agony; Josephine released the jaws, knowing circulation would reprise the sanction. In Susan's stare the looming birches came to sudden life, branches bleeding like veins of watered ink into the sky.
"Last time. Where are they?" Josephine's reiteration sounded as though spoken through a wall; she looked out along the slope, then selected another finger, adjusting her grip on the tool.
The girl's eyes flew open; her teeth appeared behind her lips and Josephine loosed the jaws, then struck her dripping finger a swift blow with the tool. Susan lapsed slackly onto the snow and away from her hand into a spinning, silvery daze while the conscripts kept their wary eyes on the hillside.
"Down there." she gasped, spitting out the words along with the saliva that had slid into her airway.
Shaw dispatched himself down the slope and blew hard as he toiled back to them while Josephine unrolled a slim chain from her belt and dragged the girl's dead weight toward a tree, securing her to the trunk. He took their discussion to a discreet remove.
"Like I said... tracks go right down to the drop." he smirked. "They cut her loose."
Around them the corps stood like some crude henge, fists closed tightly on their weapons.
"Did I tell you to come in?" snapped Josephine, turning her attention back to Shaw's gloating reportage. "How is it possible for her to have a hand up your ass when she's tied to a tree? I could do her like that all day and she won't make a sound. Ask yourself why."
Snow had began to fall again, drifting between them, and she paused, turning to look through it at the conscripts that had begun to scratch at the edge of her attention like a hatched blur; they cringed hard and doubled over as though her anger had effected it, weapons forgotten at the cold burn of the screaming tone inside their heads. Shaw's hands retreated to his rifle and Josephine looked down at the split ring hanging from her belt, gaping, misshapen and emptied of its orange fob. The missing unit almost glowed in Susan's bloodied grasp as she slid her thumb back from the button, sitting on her knees in the half-regarded distance and watching the tormented men recover, her mastery of the effect becoming clear, like something patiently explained. Looking up at the pistol in Josephine's grasp while the latter strode toward her, she hoisted her swollen elbow onto her knee and used both arms to throw the fob to Shaw.
The men said nothing to the baton blow that knocked her onto her side.
"Get back out on point!" Josephine shouted over her shoulder. The command met a thick, shuffling silence. Shaw nodded toward Susan, stowing the orange unit on his own belt.
"Get her up." he told them. "We're done wasting time."
Two conscripts lurched forward uncertainly, trudging past Josephine while she blew a dry breath at the sky.
"What now, Nathaniel?" she laughed sourly. "Slay us with your exit strategy."
"I... We call this in..."
“You don’t dial in a jugfuck, man..." A Two volunteered. "We come up empty, they’ll frag us from the fuckin hawk. I seen them do that shit three times.”
"We're not empty... we got her." he reminded them, nodding to the base of the tree where Susan lay on her side. Taking the small locator unit from her breast pocket, Josephine offered it to Shaw.
“So call it in. Thirty to pull pitch, two hours flight time... they'll be here before we lose the light.” Conscious of the eyes on him, he made slow time in checking his watch and compass, setting his rifle strap across his shoulders and ignoring her demand for a decision. "Call them." she insisted. He turned toward his abandoned pack, speaking with her scathing stare still crawling on his profile and muttering in reply.
"I'll make the call tomorrow early. We pitch here tonight."
CONTINUED NEXT WEEKISH
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
The waterlogged Sea Scouts barge was finally chainsawed into nothingness a month or so ago. RIP its rotten old timbers. We will miss its picturesque obsolescence.
Port's domestic structure is a whacky Victorian labyrinth of narrow little streets draped over the bulbous topography like a lace doily. Some are no more than lanes to this day, with mossy banks encroaching on their shitty tarmac and insufficient room for two cars to pass abreast. Frost can mean you slide backwards on the steep dips in the shade of the blobby ridge that runs lengthwise along the centre of the peninsula. It's about 60m above sea level according to topographic maps, but it feels much higher than this, as you can probably see. This represents yet another annoying discrepancy between my expectations and physical reality, so I just add another 200m or so in my mind in order to approach the preferred 300 m +/- range.
People have won presidential office with this kind of stuff, so I'm just waiting on the whole salary and acclaim package.
Bellbirds and Tuis rattle the dead branches of the blue gums as they clamber around them, looking for insects and shouting at each other; their language consists of fluting, bill clapping, cackling, sneezing, warbling, chiming and diving flights full of intimidating wing sounds like taffeta swooshed hard past your ear.
People dump their green waste in historically-designated slash unofficial middens on the side of the road, where it merges down into the tangled scrub below.
From Island Terrace, the view becomes quite bougie, almost Riviera. Well, it does if the fucking ugly Port Otago warehouse carbuncle is factored out. At the present time, these are mostly grotty yachts, which is not as pejorative as it sounds. They are the kind of hobby and old-school craft middle-aged people might remember their parents and grandparents owning, sitting quiescent for most of the year and puttering out into the greater harbour for a bit of fishing on summer weekends. A few people live on them semi-permanently but there's not really a huge culture of that here, probably because housing was cheap until recently. They are hauled up onto the tiny local winch dock for loving maintenance before being returned to their relatively affordable moorings.
It occurred to me the other day that the gentrification quickly gathering pace around Dunedin will sweep rich boaty twats and their launches into these scenes in a few short years. They're turning up now on the weekends, so it's just a matter of time until Port becomes bland and middling enough for them to dimly recognise its advantages. I know I always say doomy shit like this, but it's inevitable, isn't it? They will demand upgrades and memberships and wharf extensions and all this will become another marina for property speculators in black 4WDs. All those peculiarly unhappy tight-faced white men with disregarded golden retrievers and boats on trailers parked up on their double drives under spotless canvas covers, emblazoned with names like Blade, Samurai, Sea Eagle and Moonraker II. And Vixxen. With two x's, which is probably more apposite than they realise.
It's never Goodbye Remaining Equity, Bought This Fukken Thing To Impress My Side Piece or Half A Metre Smaller Than My Brother In Law's Boat, is it? Lol.
A fine stand of Cabbage Trees. Not Cabbage Palms, confused northern hemisphere people. They are in fact Lomandroideae or Agavoideae, depending who you talk to. Once again the chilled goods warehouse shits all over a formerly nice view; I cut it out below.
A lot of people destroy their Cabbage Trees or refuse to plant them because they drop their leaves. Why not shoot the dog for breathing while you're at it?
I can't remember who built this hull-shaped rock sculpture on the southern end of Back Beach; think it was a local artist? There's not much reference to it online and I don't think many people actually notice it for what it is. Which is okay; sometimes art should sneak up on you. As someone ruthlessly opposed to whimsical expression, I took a hard line at first and disliked it, but we've come to appreciate its moody ironies and also the kind of workpersonship that has seen it last in good shape for quite a while now. It is appurtenant without being overly literal and seems perfectly content in its own mystery. It thrives in the wild, coming and going with the tide. It's not plastered with credits and sponsors. It's the best piece of public art in the area.
Parsons Chameleon / palm / Black Lemur
see the rest here
It is bitter-free, punching down the brilliant, UV-soaked flavours of raw citrus into a slightly caramelised gloop swimming with soft chunks of chewy, jellied, padparadscha goodness and peppery, perfumed ginger. We both love it and it's possibly my personal all-time favourite jam. You can't really fuck it up either, so feel free to have a go.
As a confirmed citrus freak, I burn my oral membranes out each and every winter, sucking down every variety I can lay my greedy paws on. If you've never tasted a blood orange, you will possibly be surprised by the literal nature of their flesh and their lack of upfront acidity. Their complex, dirty undertones can creep almost toward umami; they're not super-weird, but they're not for everyone. It isn't absolutely necessary to go hunting them down for this recipe; those brilliant late winter Navels are just as good, if not better preservation prospects, due to the persistence of their high notes and clean sweetness. I like the bloods because they're a bit exotic and the colour is more intense.
Use a sterilised ladle and/or jam funnel (just buy one goddamit) to get it into oven-sterilised jars (100 celsius for at least 10 mins including lids). I filled 9 medium to large jars here but it varies every time, so clean more than you think you'll need.
Mine still slops around in the jar after a notional set, but you can boil it down to rubbery firmness; while I personally think this is gross, you're the one eating it. We like to spoon it out and let the syrup soak into the toast while the fruit sits on top, smiling at you. Refrigerate once opened. Use liberally in poultry recipes, sauces and on cakes, too.
* More Kitchen Bitch, bitches *
Though she had risen slowly, Susan had to stop halfway up the stairs to catch her breath, leaning over herself as she struggled with the asphyxia pursuing her amid the ascent into her throat of the contents of her stomach. When she emerged into the clear air of the yard a distant sunrise had slid fingers of gold and ibis pink beneath the cloud sealing the valley, its light striking Sachiin's face as he looked up from cutting wood. With Petrouchka's voice still rolling in her head like a black draught from the gorge itself she closed her eyes at the sight of him, the vampyre's gifts clasped to her chest. He smiled and set another piece of wood upon its end.
When the inquiry was ignored he interrupted his swing and turned back to where she stood, plaster-white and breathless by the parapet, her hair confined to a strange, confluent web of braids.
"She’s underneath us...”
"Ça va, cloudcheeks?”
"Do I look like I'm alright?" she exclaimed. "This is doing my fucking head in. We're not staying here.”
Putting down the axe, he came to her and took the bundle from her arms, looking over the mirror in surprise before setting it down upon the row of stone; he lifted a garment from the shroud of disintegrating linen, its shattered atoms drifting around them in a haze of white while a dress fell open from his hands. Composed of heavy lunar samite, its high-waisted bodice was densely figured with a nebula of hand-cut gems, finch-yellow and violet sapphires and rock crystal, as coldly lustrous as Olympian ichor where they were clasped to the silk by gold thread curling into buds and tendrils. Susan closed her eyes, its cynical splendour so much more a cage than an adornment that it overwhelmed her.
"I'll have get it altered.” he lamented, regretting his flippancy at the sight of her reaction.
“If we had a toilet I would flush the fucking thing. She doesn’t want us here, I told you... why do I have to keep saying it? I'm not spending one more night in the same building with a... a fucking dead person, in a downward bloody spiral who lies awake at night and listens to us fucking...”
“You have to let the drama queens bust a move, Christabel... just wait til they get it out of their systems.”
“They’re not drama queens, they are psychopaths! Psychopaths who can't stand the sight of me." She dragged down the fabric of her collar to reveal the scars on her neck. His eyes drifted over their ragged topography, though he knew every ridge and hollow. “You can be as stupid you like! This is how I end up."
"I don't think staying where we..."
"You don't think, that's your fucking problem! I can't spit the fucking bullets out, and I can't take someone else trying to kill me, Sachiin... we are going. I'm not asking you!"
He took a slightly flattened pack of cigarettes from his pocket, holding one between his lips while he retrieved his lighter, never more aware of her gaze in spite of his deliberate silence.
“I’ve never really done this before, so it might lack credibility." Sachiin admitted. "But this is my foot, and it's coming down. There's too much snow. I’m not losing you to something as fucking stupid as hypothermia... so c’est comme ça... you'll just have to trust me. Nowhere for a week."
She clasped her own face, everything she had stamped down in her chest emerging in tears. He looked out over the parapet with a hand on his nape, his struggle manifesting in a deep tic that worked across his shoulders, deforming his resolve.
"You didn't hear what she was saying... for fuck's sake, what am I doing here?" she demanded of herself, sucking a broken breath through her hands.
"Christabel..." he exclaimed softly, immersed in her dismay. "I’m saying no to you... be proud of me.”
She struck at him as he touched her arm, turning to stride across the roof into the darkness of the ruin, snatching up one of Petrouchka's forgotten coats in the midst of tripping over its crumpled form and following the steps down to the postern door. The effort required to heave it open checked the blurred impetus of her descent; she sank down into a crouch against the stone of the mountainside where it neighboured the weathered timbers, wiping at her eyes with her parka sleeve. In doing so she caught sight of Kala'amātya returning from a solitary foray. He ascended toward her slowly with no need to question the colour of her face, standing with his rifle on his shoulder while he waited for her to compose herself.
“You hate this place as much as I do.” Susan murmured. "And your fucking brother’s morphed into a fascist who knows what’s best for me, so can we please take him to a town where he can buy drugs and go back to being no fucking use to anyone?”
"You'll lose too much condition trying to walk in this, and there's more to come. Wait a week." he told her, his study of her referring him to the unspoken elements of her distress. Looking up into his illegible features, she knew she could not command everything required to disclose Petrouchka's admission, the failure sitting like lead inside her stomach.
"You must want shot of me more than ever."
“You could have stayed in Gévaudan.”
Susan shaded her eyes from the sky, shaking her head and expressing an arid obscenity.
"If you don't know why I didn't, I can't even feel sorry for you.”
He slid the rifle from his shoulder and made an offer of it, which she ignored until he took her wrist and pressed it into her grasp, meeting her glare without a word. Susan threw it down onto the snow and dropped onto her backside to push off the edge of the steps, carrying on stiffly down the hill alone.
A tumble of dry powder descended the slope with her, settling on her lashes and catching on the lush pile of the coat around her shoulders from which it shook loose, banished as it might have been from the back of an animal. She marched on down the incline, making long bear steps that compacted the crusted snow. It was not until she was reminded of the river by the sound of unseen water that she slowed, standing on a narrow piece of level ground and looking around herself. Cold crept into her sleeves but made no headway against the warmth haloed about her neck and chin by the fur; the gorge accepted venous tribute from the slopes on either side of its sunken, blackened crevice and she followed the tiny streams of melt to the edge of the drop, sitting down on a drift to take in the sight of the half-buried river. The cliff beneath her was not nearly as tall or forbidding as she had expected, its steep degree built up by enormous boulders cast from the ridges into a broken but passable grade, the great blocks ignored by the water shouldering past them, as dark as graphite in suspension. Fine spray settled on the fur as she devised a way over the descent to a point where the river was pinched so tightly between outcropped stone that she might have leapt it; she wiped a drip from her nose, folding her arms and sitting in her hunch until the sun had shifted overhead and tipped her shadow backwards.
Susan looked to the north and south and climbed slowly from the drop on all four limbs, rising to her feet once more where the hill leveled into a broad shelf. The air glittered with buoyant whits of ice in flues of sunlight drifting down from slim rifts in the cloud. At first glance the trees seemed placed as though by careful hands at some considerate distance from each other, and that they cultivated sophistry, their slim shade cutting the white with stripes of matte grey, snow lying on their branches like inverted shadow. Shrugging off her coat, she hung it from a sapling and lay down, first in profile, then on her back, imprinting two versions of herself into the pristine little plain. Her own small scale annoyed her as it had always done, seeming closer to some minor, nameless scion of her order than the species to which she belonged, though she drew consolation from the adult nature of the impressed proportions. A brief exam of her surrounds yielded broken wood, pebbles and bracket fungi; knocked from the fir they climbed in velveteen succession, the shapes of each were pressed into service as features on her effigies. Crouching for a moment at their feet in the grip of a vague dissatisfaction, she leant forward and planted a cigarette in each emblematic mouth. The effect was so displeasing that she flicked them away along with those remaining in the pack, tasting wet ash on her tongue and noting the narrow slash of red on the back of her finger before the discomfort of the scratch itself, hands almost disembodied by the cold's numbing, insidious empery. From them she looked up through the curling tendrils that had escaped her braids, glimpsing movement flickering amid a copse of pines recently carbonized by lightning.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK-ISH
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
It can be difficult to find the most useful line to take when reviewing a time-tested classic. Everyone already knows Compassion is a great rose and this has been objectively established for some time now, so... um.. yeah. Then again, the factors underpinning Compassion's polymathic excellence aren't as widely appreciated as they should be. She's been around since the early 70s and that period of rose fashion has been tumultuous in the extreme, with many perfectly good plants dropping out of commercial circulation- we've all been distracted by successive waves of overhyped contenders that flashed their floral tits, so to speak. But while they faceplant into disfavour and oblivion, OGs like Compassion remain staples of the successful garden. I'm here to tell you exactly why that is.
Anyway, Compassion is one of those versatile in-betweeny roses, forming either a tall bush or a climber/espallier subject, depending on how she is trained. There's no point trying to constrain her size, though. She's a big Sasquatchy bitch and needs shrubs and larger perennials to provide sympathetic company. Pruned conventionally, she will stand on her stout cherry-tinged canes up to around the 2.5 metre mark before requiring any support (we live in a windy coastal area so I'm confident about that). When pegged out or arranged on a fence, I'm unsure of her maximum potential dimensions, although I have seen an old plant go 3 metres in either direction in a bot garden somewhere.
Compassion is endlessly vigorous and incredibly forgiving of shit pruning jobs, sprouting away from all points and putting out enough slightly olive-green HT foliage to cover our worst mistakes. Her open, upright structure makes her a great prop for the smaller clematis and honeysuckles and she won't shade out anything growing around her feet.
It's easy to take Compassion's flowers for granted because they are so consistently present and unbothered by climatic travails. But they're certainly worthy of gratitude. They begin as tight, violet-pink scrolls in the classic Hybrid Tea manner, holding on to that graceful twist for a long time before finally blousing out to reveal a golden heart and anthers, along with burnished coral, amber and apricot shading.
They can hold for a couple of weeks in the vase on stems that are always strong enough to support them; that is only something you miss when you're cursing a saggy fistful of droopy, petal-dripping DAs. They seldom ball or rot on the plant and keep their lovely colours for many days, even in our ruinous UV. Compassion offers a weird assortment of bloom presentations, ranging from single stems to huge cauliflower trusses that will open in obliging succession. I sometimes do a bit of disbudding on the latter to tighten their schedule in the vase, but there's no need to manage her production as her petals drop cleanly and all flowers will open in due course.
Though she is thoroughly remontant all the way through from mid-spring to mid-autumn here in Zone 9, with little to no downtime, Compassion always insists on a rest during our fairly trifling winters. It makes pruning easier.
Fragrance-wise, I rate her highly within her somewhat dodgy category; the tonality of her perfume is closely coupled with her colours, having a sweet and warmly classical true rose character, with none of the unpleasant plasticky notes than so often fuck up the Hybrid Tea nose experience.
I'm also pampering a Champaca in the hope I can get it past the frost susceptibility stage; most Himalayan biome species tend to do well here so all fingers crossed. Will post more soon.
Hostile Witness Review Recommendations: Binged Mindhunter- did not love this second season. It felt sloppy and laboured and exposed a few thespianic limitations (STFU, Agent Babyvoice). Also, the subplot with the freaky kid felt tacky as fuck: just saying. Season two of Succession is far more pleasing to the point of actual deliciousness, what with all that nipple-tweaking McKay DNA. Tough out the fucking drip feed and try it.
I make a lot of my own clothes, and as I've entered cronedom I've become much more conscious of fabric qualities over fancy construction. Which leads one back to hand-sewing everything; the tensions generated by hand and needle yield a much better result than machine stitching natural fibre fabrics. It's strange how the seemingly lax plain stitch holds your silk tunic and sack dresses together like no one's business, resulting in virtually zero seam pulling and holing etc. There's also some indefinable quality in hand sewn garments; they just sit and hang better. It's the same with natural colours over synthetic dyes. There are quite a few shades that just die horribly when attempted with modern chemicals; apricot, red, blue-greens and purples. Even the black that's been so treasured and ubiquitous for the last 40 or so years is really quite a horrible, revenant thing when compared to those found in vintage rugs and old school textiles. Blacks derived from indigo are sublime in contrast. The industrial versions may seem brighter or more stable at first, but after looking at them for more than a few moments, the eye feels tricked and assaulted.
I don't really know where I'm going with this so just watch the fucking doc.
To take the steps that turned down into the ruin and away from its starlit yard was a choice that Susan made with imperfect grace, shaking her fading torch and hoisting the piglet that had sagged under her arm as she descended.
The lowest row of cells within the monastery had been hollowed into the mountain's fundamental stone and shared its exanimation, the spinal passage lined with cells declared by the same blank style of arch that pierced the colonnade. The cold air stood in staled suspension between smoothly-hewn walls that threw back the shuffling of her boots as they bundled settled dust. Time was chastened by the entombing geology, the cool reptilian smell of the stone lying heavily under a paler note of incense cedar, the ghost of an expired consecration. Her own scent seemed so invasive and inapt that she grimaced to herself, shuffling onward in a darkness relieved only by the docent beam before her. It swept over a stout plank bench against the wall, the worms fretting its timbers betrayed by the mound of frass sifted beneath its legs, and she paused, bending to push a finger into the wood and waving away the powder that flew up at her face. Beneath her arm the pig began to grunt and move its soignée legs, impatient with her circumspection. She scolded it softly; the torch beam met a mounded form upon the ground that stiffened her with fright until she recognized it as one of Petrouchka’s furs. With the dying orange light she examined the arch beside it, lifting a hand and knocking upon the granite, ruing the stupidity of the gesture as it bruised her knuckles. Something in the dark beyond assured her of an answer.
"I brought Fyodor...” she offered. "I thought you might be missing him.” The remark was greeted by a period of deliberate silence, then an equally tenebrous reply.
“I don’t miss."
"I just... I feel... bad." Susan admitted. She stepped beneath the arch, only to be checked by the failure of her torch in a gloom so complete that she would not have seen a hand before her face. The pig’s hooves scurried against her arms, the animal leaping to the ground and trotting swiftly back the way they had come in an action no more diplomatic than it was ambiguous.
"You feel bad?" Petrouchka murmured. "Maybe you have disease."
Susan stepped back as she perceived the darkly-glassed shapes of the vampyre's eyes, gleaming in the blackness like the inlaid gaze of a funeral effigy.
"What you want?"
"Just to talk..."
"You people... all so in love with your own voice. Go away. I don't want talk."
Tiny rasping sounds informed Susan's drifting stare that her hostess had shifted, though she could not locate her black-draped form until a white, abortive flare hissed and died against the vampyre's hands, her outline suddenly elaborated as a bundle of matches held their flame and lit a slag-like mass of tapers on a socket in the wall. Their lazy glow illumed a face that still wore the slack, livid vacuity of solitude, and an unsuspected shape beside her that proved a tall expanse of shelving, the upper and lowermost compartments deeply shadowed by the candles. Each aperture was neatly stocked with a row of human skulls, flensed and desiccated to a narrow range of flecked and ashen eggshell and pallid sepia. Susan stared wordlessly at the baffling array, their order and spotless aspect damping the horror they might have otherwise inspired. Their hollows shifted with the flame stirred by her breathing as she examined the sutured features of each cranium until the blind orbits became a leitmotif far too relentless for sustained perusal. She looked from them to the surrounding cell, the space proportioned exactly as their own, though half-buried and windowless. While her eyes adapted she made out sounds of movement through the vaulting overhead; footfalls, then Sachiin’s chuckling address to Fyodor as the pig returned to the object of his transferred affections. His words were, for the most, part distinct. She closed her eyes at the thought of everything the vampyre had been party to while Petrouchka observed her mortification with a lean amusement.
Some of her coats hung, faintly delineated, on the wall beside the arch like the mortal leavings that they were, beheaded and transfigured as though by maleficia. The vampyre muttered, looking over the ossuary with a proprietary eye.
"Some, I kill. But most, they die. I saw them come into this place... little boys, then old, so soon.” Behind a dark length of the heavy woolen stuff that had clothed the tenant monks lay her makeshift divan, composed of worn furs heaped into a pile. At its far end a doting little doppelgänger arrangement lay upon the floor by an earthenware bowl half-filled with water; Susan’s heart sank further at the sight of it.
“I’m so sorry about Fyodor” she lamented. Petrouchka sat back down.
“I already say... everybody love Sachiin. Nobody love a dead thing.” Her accent embellished the sentiment with macabre dignity. “If you won't go away, then sit.” she added, offering a bearth. Susan quashed her reluctance and accepted, hidden timbers creaking beneath her weight. They remained too long without speaking while the candlelight settled like dim water around them.
“There’s a lot of snow out there now.” she ventured.
“Where I come from, snow is blue, like eye, and hard, like jewel. If you are still, the winter take you... put arms around, and crush. This... is only pretty snow.” To her increasing discomfort the vampyre’s glances, so slow and grudging, had coalesced into deliberation and Petrouchka rose, crossing to the sagging bulk of a leather-bound coffer beside the ossuary. From this she withdrew two objects, a brush and hand mirror in silver that wore the orthodox red and halcyon blues of Slavic enamel, thickly studded with bosses of cabochon gems. “Sit sit, like this.” she urged, beckoning her sideways. “You are big mess. I fix.”
Susan ducked as rigid yellow bristles sank into her hair and snarled amongst its knots. She pressed her hand to her scalp before it could be stripped by the vampyre's stiff, perfunctory attentions, though Petrouchka paused to examine the side of her neck where it was exposed to the candle light. Her voice had descended to the volume of a prayer murmured over tightly-clasped hands.
“So many scar now... ugly, kotik... make you look like camp whore. Lucky Sachiin have so many himself, he don’t care... I don’t think he care, from what I hear at night.” Her narrow little fingers snagged the hair that they had massed into a tail.
"It could have been worse."
“You think was good that I beat this creature who try to eat you? Some time, when you are old... grand-mére, with no petits-enfants... you will be sick and sad like me, not even with the blood of others as a comfort... you will lie as I do now and hear what you can't have. When Sachiin finish with you, you will wish I met you first.” Susan sat amongst the silence while it served the vampyre like a hand pressed to her mouth. The cold, dry points of the creature's knuckles drew a line beneath her scars in a mute coda to her admission. “You see I am more evil than the man I run away from, but I make no secret... I tell to you. You know sometime, at night... I think, while you are sleeping, how good to cut you open, see everything come out of you... make Sachiin and Kala'amātya dig a hole and cover you with stones.”
Though she had been leaning forward slowly, Susan grew still as the vampyre's fist closed in her hair, unwilling to allow evasive latitude while she indulged herself.
"Don't run..." Petrouchka whispered. Her chin touched her guest's shoulder as she stroked down the restive shedim roused by the prospect of blood-warmed skin, even as it twisted in silky knots inside her throat, muting her counsel. "Be still for me. I don't want to smell your blood here." The rows of empty skulls swam as one of the wicks perished in the wax. The joints inside the vampyre's fingers clicked as they slowly unfurled, partitioning her hair and commencing a narrow braid. Susan let her eyes lose their focus on the black wall before her. "You are so much your blood, milaya moya... you call sweetly to the knife. Look how good my english become when I imagine taste of you."
Susan murmured, tilting her head as her hostess worked the hair behind her ear.
“How long have you been like this?”
“I die before the devil come for Ivan Groznyi."
“How did you know? That you were dead?”
Petrouchka's hands grew still again, but the time she took to furnish a reply, the perils inherent in retrieval did not diminish the inquiry's imperative.
"When it fall on you, you don’t think now I am dead thing..." The vampyre avowed, as though dismissing an assumption. "You think... something has happen... maybe bad... but you don't know." She doubled the end of the first braid back into the weave and began another. "Some time at night, I go from my husband's house and walk along the road. I want only to breathe with no one to hear. A upyr, he find me... he do to me. I go, on hand and knee, back to the house, with nothing where my throat should be. At first, they nurse me, but... when I do not grow well, my husband, he bring an old priest. They take the covers from my body and in their hands..." The sound of Sachiin easing the door closed overhead pushed through the stone. "In their hands they have sword. That night, they kill the pigs before the winter. I wake in that hole, under the dirty pieces of a hundred swine." Susan pressed her eyes closed as the vampyre tore out a knot from her nape. "I run, back to my old home, thinking my father, my sisters, they would have pity. But no... they scream for god and do not know me. Was like a knife into my head, again." Her hands slowed. "Then, I know. The living put you in your grave. They say that you have died, and are accursed. Until they do, you think it all a dream."
"Did they never talk to you again?"
"I saw them no more, but for one time. My young sister, Galina... at ball, in Ostankino... she so old I could not recognize, but she see me. All her beauty gone, so few pleasures, but she look at me, and...” Her voice grew lower still. “I don’t go back. The places that were alive to you are gone... you cry outside the door... nobody hear you. So I find new places... to Paris, and to Frankfurt, then... why do you want to hear? You are tourist...”
"I live here now." Susan assured her.
"You don't say that to upyr. This death, it never finish with us. You die, but is beginning... you are still losing, so much... you lose feeling... for thing, for people... I try to keep a memory of feeling, but I can't have. I kill people for their feeling... but it fall out of me, like I am made of bad cloth. Life is shadow on my face. My body serve only the evil that is in me, and I sicken myself to please it. I am charogne. I drown, in my hole, with the pigs.”
Again the vampyre lapsed into a silence thick with her own battered spectre.
“When I think everything is gone, I meet de Marchand. If she was not evil, she was not good, but she find a way to live so you are not sorry. She say to me, Trouchka, what is death, but the breaking of our only chains? For a time, I hold her hand, and her face was the star that I had lost.” Susan touched the antiquated composition in her hair, and the vampyre took the mirror from her lap, holding it before her. “There. Pretty now.” she pronounced, turning the blackened glass upon her own flame-lit features. “They say we cannot be seen like this, but is only dead who cannot see. The truth... the one that make you more than you were a day before... is lost to us.”
“As much as I don’t know him, or Helaine... I don’t think Kala'amātya loved her to spite you. I don't think we have a choice.”
“I lie when I say she would not choose him. Would she choose me? He walk into her house, enough life in his great body for one hundred people, and no fear of what she was. From the first, they were vyehs' to one another. Helaine live, and then she die... I was dead, and try to live, but you can have no more when it has gone... not another moment, if you beg one hundred saint and paint their feet with blood. You have only time. Ask Kala'amātya, if time is good for company."
Leaning back into a curl against the wall Petrouchka gathered her skirt over her legs, regarding Susan with her darkest aspect.
"I lie too, to him, in what I say last night... Helaine find that she was enciente, and could not believe... but when she tell to me, she smile, and say... we never thought ourselves enough for this small creature, and I am happy to be wrong... I hear these words, and I want to cut it from her. I cut it from her heart. I tell her everything she dread... herself, of him, of what could come, and in a week, she drink the cup, make me promise never to tell. When he come home from Paris, I take his hand, I smile, and I wish him joyeux noel. But vengence taste like blood you lick from hole in your own skin." She touched her own face as though doubtful of its shape. "If Helaine come back to him... udači... I wish good luck. The darkness love her and has no patience. Of her Art... I don't know what she find, behind a door closed so long.”
Rising, the vampyre hoisted the lid from the trunk once more and leant over to lift something pale from its dusty bowels. The gesture redoubled Susan’s desire to escape, throwing a ripple through the candle light that made the creature's small shape slide out of focus with her attendant shadow.
“I want for you to have.” Petrouchka handed her the bundle; she mutely refused, but the vampyre grimaced and raised a hand to her head as though to ease some harping pain and spoke through heavy, torpid loathing. “Don't say you can't take... you already take from me... but I want for you to have. If you stay, and I hurt you, I won’t feel bad.” Her face lapsed into a smirk, the black holes in her eyes licking at her face. "If I do, it will not be for hunger... I don't feel. I will do because I am écœurant, et affreux.”
Her smile blackened again, blooming horribly and sending her eyes backward into her head.
“I love so much your great disgust.” Petrouchka soughed, looking down at herself. "This... is not even the worst I could be. In Praha I see this thing... never hungry, but always at the feast, where it devour, and exalt itself. I thought there was nothing more, but soon I will wake in that garden, where black flowers turn toward you, and the trees are all aflame." She dropped the mirror into Susan’s arms. “Sachiin will stay long enough to make you hate your own face, and Kala'amātya, he will leave you when you need him. Be careful.”
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce