My blog is in serious disrepair, and needs some love. I don't have the talent or the time to be able to fix it, so for now I'm going to leave it in its sorry state. Unfortunately, the comments section is entirely broken. If you want to leave me a comment, either drop in and see me on Twitter (username: Loquacities) or sling me an email to loquacities(at)gmail(dot)com. In the meantime, here's a short story. This one comes with a disclaimer, it's a depressing, bleak story, borne of the horrible news that has come out of Victoria in the past few days. With that in mind, I would like to send my very best wishes to all those with friends or family in that ravaged state, my thanks to the hardworking volunteers, and a reminder to do whatever you can.
The depression started the same year I started school. By the time I finished, only the elderly and the insane held out any hope of it ending. I can't remember exactly, but it was some time during my teens that the fresh food started to become sparse. I remember my mother squabbling with a young man over the last over-ripe peach in a fruit store. The weather was ridiculously hot, and perhaps she had been having a bad day, because it was out of character. Eventually, the owner of the store, desperate to sell the stock and get the fighting pair out of his shop, probably, cut the peach in half and Mum and the man both handed over a bunch of coins for the precious fruit. She offered me a bite, and the too sweet juice running down my chin is the clearest part of this memory for me. Mum took a bite herself, ecstasy on her face as she savoured it. When we got outside a grubby girl with running sores on her arms, no more than four, came up and begged for food, money, whatever we could give. Perhaps the sight of the child brought about guilt over her behaviour in the fruit shop. Whatever it was that made her do it, my mother reached down to the girl, and gave her the remaining bite of the peach. The girl made the fruit disappear so quickly I thought she had dropped it at first, but then we saw tears cutting pink lines through the grime on her cheeks, and realised that she was crying with pleasure at the fruit. My mother smiled at the child, but wept to herself on the way home, when she thought I wasn't looking. To give up not just food, but fresh food, was almost too hard to bear.
Children like this were common since the fires. As the country had progressively burnt to a cinder - first the southeast corner, then gradually north and west, sparing only those in the very inner-city suburbs - more and more children were left without families, without support, and without hope. It was really the fires that started to make people realise that we were in a lot more trouble than anyone had realised. At first, when the first state went up in flames, it was hailed as a disaster. Grief for the ever-increasing list of victims grew, support flooded in from all corners of the country - even some from overseas. As a nation we mourned the dead, supported the survivors, congratulated the heroes and urged the government to provide financial support. By the time the last square kilometre of farmland had gone to ash, we had grown immune to the horror. Small enclaves survived in the very hearts of the biggest cities, the people who had run from their burning homes in the outskirts found themselves homeless, hungry and desperate in a city that no longer had enough to spare for themselves. The natural urge to reach out and help those less fortunate died, as our own fortunes died.
We were considered lucky, to start with. We had a small yard, with an established vegetable garden, and a couple of fruit trees. Even once the fires got hold of them, we managed to hang on to one lone apple tree, but eventually the ash in the air, the toxic rain and the lack of water put paid to it, and by the time I was twelve fresh fruit and vegetables had become a treat. From someone who wouldn't have touched a sultana with a long pole, I became someone who would have committed the most indecent acts for a single grape.
While we fought fire in the southern half of the country, the north battled flood. While the fire fighters prayed for rain, the residents in the north prayed for it to stop. Where the two met, somewhere just north of the middle, the flood waters put out the fires, began to dry up in the hot air, and then got overtaken by the next wave of fire. In the days when the fire appeared to have nowhere else to burn, even the silted streets provided fuel. By the time that our northern-most cities had burned, the surviving population were so consumed with just staying alive that we could no longer grieve.
I finished school, one of the last years to do so. Most schools had closed by 2021, although a very small number - mine included - struggled along until about 2024, when finally too few resources and poor attendance finally drove them to close their doors. After that, I stayed with my mother. After all, where else was I to go? The idea of starting a family was laughable, and Mum was getting older, she needed all the help I could offer her.
Mum died last year. She was old, nearly fifty. The people around me are all ill, or dying. Few people I knew even five years ago are still alive. There is no food except what we grow ourselves in scrubby little plots. Plants are hoarded for their seed and their fruit, and the owners of the plants stand guard around the clock, fighting off attackers. Now that I am alone, I am unable to stand guard. I survive from the jealously hoarded tins dating back, in some cases, over ten years. I open a tin every fortnight, and make it last. Water is almost impossible to get, and clean water a thing of fiction. I'm ill, and have been for years now. Now that I don't have to look after Mum anymore, who is going to look after me?