by Madeline ffitch
Aboard the hulks, the women convicts all turned to common law wives before our eyes. Greenhill and I tramped four hundred miles North from the harbor, looking for a shepherd on the other end, a poacher, a slave, a skiff, a schooner. He said I was weak, but I knew one plant. I knew a root we could get water from. Each time I found it, I kept the knowledge hidden from the others. After five weeks, we were most dead, and then the desert gave over to soft green bush. We couldn’t walk on the ground, we climbed and swam through the land, and we saw shy gray animals, legions of them, but we didn’t know how to talk to them to hunt them.
We had been poisoned by some ferns we ate. I’ll just report it now like it happened. I was afraid of one thing the way I was afraid of another. Across four rivers, then five, we lost everyone in our party. Dysentery, snake bite. Greenhill’s axe.
I know what you think of Greenhill, and it’s true that finally, when only he and I were left, we walked for five days twenty paces apart. He held the axe. I held the water. We shit and pissed with our eyes locked, and neither one of us slept so that the bears and rabbits turned to humans in the corners of my vision. We built separate fires.
I know what you think of Greenhill, but we got back to England. It snowed on Guy Fawkes day that year, and we stood before the fire of chopped up chairs and fence posts, and Greenhill was making something in the shadow with his hands, and I would never trust that man again. I would never trust him, but I had nothing in common with anyone else. I did not know any other man. I had seen him steal up behind Little Brown as he vomited boiled ferns, and he split Little Brown’s head with the axe. I had seen him strip away the long thigh flesh.
Now he stood over the fire, and I couldn’t see what he was shaping with his hands. Then something moved in his face, and he made to toss the object in the fire, but I caught it from him, and it was a tiny carved kitten, an ice kitten, perfectly detailed, with two bits of coal for its eyes. He struck me across the face.
I believe he meant it for me.
And it’s for this that we sing, “It’s not leaving old England that worries me, or sailing the ocean away. It’s the bloody monotony gets me down, and the prospect of Botany Bay.”
Madeline ffitch was a founding member of the punk theater company The Missoula Oblongata with whom she wrote, performed, and toured to post offices, grocery stores, farms, and warehouses. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Review and on Chuckwagon Press. Her play, Debris Upon the Forest Floor, produced with the weaver Elspeth Vance and the musician Jordan O Jordan, was catalogued in the 2012 Emergency Index, a project of Ugly Duckling Presse. Originally from Portland, Oregon, she now lives and writes in Appalachian Ohio where she homesteads and raises ducks and her small son, Nector Vine Ballew. ffitch’s collection of short stories, Valparaiso, Round the Horn, will be available from Publishing Genius in December.