Friday 7 February 2014

Immortal Starfish

Last year I was one of the winners of the Intergeneration Storytelling Competition (find them on Facebook) with my short story Hush Hush. I've just been informed that this year I've earned a Certificate of Distinction, along with a lovely letter from the organiser.

That's rather nice.

It's always a boost to know that people like what you write.

It's called Immortal Starfish, and I must admit, I'd just finished reading Hal Johnson's Immortal Lycanthropes at the time, and the idea of immortality sort of chimed with the generational theme, so I followed it through. 

You were invited to submit a picture too this year, so I submitted the one above, which I drew with my friend Martine's pastels, which she gifted to me before going off on her travels.

I do apologise for the semi-colon, but it's there now.


Immortal Starfish

The sea holds all of us together; everything that ever lived. 

It’s where the first stirrings of life occurred, in that primordial star juice smoothie of pre-creation. Clouds rise from its salty surface and deliver rain. It may taste fresh as we hold our noses and lie back in the bathtub – but it isn’t.

It is thousands of millions of trillions of billions of years old. 

We are none of us new.

I was three months old when my grandfather first took me to the cave behind his house, swaddled in my mother’s arms. I don’t remember, but the evidence is still there. 

She held out my hand, pressed firm to the cool rock, whilst a dozen candles caused our shadows to dance.

My grandfather had been an extraordinary man. I know this, because I never met another like him. He spent ten years with the Gundungurra tribe, half the world away in the Blue Mountains of Australia. As an anthropologist, he was supposed to study their customs and write research papers on their language, back in the days when they took aboriginal children away from their mothers and tried to make them white.

Only, my grandfather never turned up to collect his grant. 

After a year, they declared him dead.

He wasn’t dead. 

He’d just gone ‘walkabout’.

He had discovered the immortal starfish. A cave full of them: women, warriors, infants and elders. Hundreds of them, dating back a thousand years or more. It’s a tourist destination now, but they hadn’t invented tourism them. 

When I was eight, he taught me how to make them myself. It was a warm, balmy night. Fireflies lined the entrance to the cave like the landing lights to an airport, only I thought of it more as a portal. A mystical, magical entrance to the underwater world of our imagining.

You need to get the consistency right. You stir in powdered ochre with fresh water from the spring in the woods. The pigment turns it red like blood, or yellow as butter if you use turmeric.

Then you press your palm against the rock, fill your mouth with liquid, make puffer fish of your cheeks, and blow.

Capturing history is a messy business, it goes everywhere. When you remove your hand – there it is. An immortal starfish. A fragment of time that says ‘I was here.’  A moment that never ages. 

There’s a lifetime of them now. The last starfish my grandfather made before he passed away is a big blue one right by the entrance. Even now, as an adult, my own hand is much smaller than his. There are starfish from when my mother was a girl, and two that she did much later, when she had us – blue for me, and pink for my sister. Even though I never met my grandmother, I can place my hand over hers and know that we are touching through the generations. 

We hold our history in the palm of our hands.

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