Lost In Track Changes is an ongoing literary remix experiment featuring Cate Kennedy, Fiona Capp, Krissy Kneen, Ryan O'Neill and Robert Hoge. Starting from a short work of memoir, the authors remix each other's work in series, with changes tracked between. Fiona Capp changes perspective completely for Cyclone Dragitsa, taking on the title role in a haunting and beautiful finale to this series of remixes. Use the tabs to flick between versions of the story. The source of the remixes is an original memoir piece Cyclone Dragitsa by Krissy Kneen. Read it here.
[tabs style="boxed"][tab title="Cyclone Dragitsa 5.0"][dropcap]I[/dropcap]n my eye there is a deep calm, a great stillness untouched by the mayhem that swirls around me, and it was during this lull as my eye passed over the land and the silence fell that the woman came out of the squat brick hotel which had hugged the ground during the worst of the storm as palm trees bent down before me and houses disassembled themselves and sheets of corrugated iron sliced the air and driverless cars slid heedlessly along the roads while my front passed over the town.
Now, in the exhausted pause, water sluiced the muddy ground and there was not a foothold anywhere and the woman slipped and fell on her side but she did not make a sound or let go of the jar she clutched to her as if it was a child and, when she stood up, half her body was dripping brown muck and her hair hung in ropes and she looked around, surveying the flattened landscape—the rows of roofless shells and twisted girders, the felled powerlines, the plastic outdoor tables and chairs floating down the street, the ghostly supermarket bags flapping from broken branches, the fields of prone sugar cane and in the distance, the grey waves clawing the sea wall—and with eyes that had seen too much, she settled on a spot beneath a tree of unrecognisable genus that had been ripped from the ground at the roots.
With careful, determined steps, she moved towards the horizontal trunk with its exposed roots clenched in a gnarled fist and when she reached the hole in the ground that had once housed these roots, a hole filled with water as black as outer space, she dropped to her knees and placed the jar at her side and began to bail the water with her bare hands until nothing but oily sludge remained at the bottom and into this primeval slime she thrust the jar, dragging mud from all around to bury it, and then she slowly got to her feet and said, ‘Now leave us be.’
All my life I have been spinning in circles, with no beginning and no end, and when I look backward I see only chaos and destruction and hear only the howls of rage and fear of those who are no longer, their disembodied voices rising like a choir of the dead, and when I look forward I see the same, and yet at my core all is hushed and tranquil and unmoved as birds scatter before me and animals dive into burrows in which they will drown and humans fleeing in cars are sent skidding towards infinity, and I watch with my eye that sees all and understands nothing.
As the woman stared down on the grave she had made for the jar, a man staggered out from the hotel which was the only building still standing for miles around, and slipping and sliding across the mud he cursed and yelled at her to come back inside because the danger was not yet over, the blue skies meant nothing, there was more violence to come, and when he reached her, his face was contorted and his mouth misshapen and he asked her what she thought was doing and she looked at him with eyes as calm and clear as my own, telling him she had to do it, had get the ashes into the ground because all this devastation was her grandmother’s doing and that only when her ashes were returned to the earth would everything would be all right.
The man grabbed at his hair and gripped it as if to tear it out and told her that this was the madness of grief, that her grandmother was dead and gone, and that the cyclone was a creature of nature, born of tropical seas, of spiralling heat-laden waters transformed into furious squalls and pelting rains and towering waves, and that with the oceans growing steadily warmer over recent times their off-spring has increased in number and in deadly force, like spiderlings hatched by the heat, and as he spoke of my origins I knew that it was the truth and that I still carried this tropical sea in my clouds and that when I was finally spent, all my waters would return to this sea like those ashes returned to the earth.
And in this moment, I understood what I had been unable to understand before, I saw it all – that I, too, would come to an end like the puny, scuttling creatures on the earth below me, that like all living things I had only one life, already half over, and that even as my winds began to stir once again, the lull ending and the second storm front approaching like the Second Coming, I was hastening to my ruin.
At first the rain was soft and salty, like human tears, and then as my tempest came rushing into the silence and the stillness, sweeping over the man and the woman who clung to each other as they ran, the rain fell like spears hurled from the clouds and the gale force winds flung them to the ground and held them there while the waves, whipped up by the wind, surged high over the breakwater and raced across the land, and fed by the cataract raging down from the sky, it swept them both away, and the only human thing left in it all was its power to destroy everything in its path, everything that it touched.
And as my eye moved on and left them to their fate, I saw the jar, now disinterred by the waters, bobbing on the surface of the roiling current like a bottle with a message from a time of terrible innocence and wilful blindness, of superstition and denial, of greed and joy, before the flood.
[/tab][tab title="4.5"][/tab][tab title="4.0"] [dropcap]T[/dropcap]he cyclone swarms, like a crocodile coming in from the north. It snaps and flicks its tail, moving slowly but with force and vigour and anger. How can you shake that which you carry so close?
Outside the rain strengthens. On the ride up here we were racing into it, now we hunker down. Dark clouds, distant; then closer. Driving back down to Miriam Vale from the funeral place in
Gladstone the clouds had begun to chase us.
‘That’s that cyclone,’ my husband said. ‘Or the beginning of it.’
‘Cyclone Dragitsa’ I said, invoking her name, and he laughed.
I must put her in the ground before she wreaks havoc.
The tap will not stop dripping. The enamel is discoloured, light green, a deeper blue at the centre of the stain. A scab of salt on the scrubbed white of the bowl. I showered when I arrived here at the motel. I put her ashes on the ceramic sink and stepped under the crusted shower rose and bathed my body in the harsh bore water knowing what would happen if I did.
As a child I would wash myself in rainwater drawn from the tank. In winter I would shiver with water that was heated on the stove, but always cooled too quickly. My hair was lank and limp with residual soap. I was jealous of my sister, my mother, my grandmother—all of them stepping lightly from a shower, pinked with the heat of it, clean and sweet with suds. But my skin would rebel against the hard groundwater; my arms flushing red, my chest flaring, itching. Naked and weeping in my bedroom I would dab at the spots with calamine lotion, replacing the red patches with splotches of white.
There was never a mirror in our house—which was lucky because I might have been turned to stone by the sight of my own skin—and my grandmother never allowed them. She would never approve of all these mirrors crammed into one tiny motel room; the full-length one in the bedroom, the one on the inside of the cupboard door. Nothing to see inside here but ourselves. And this one above the sink, throwing my face back at me, sheened with sweat. I look damp and overblown. There is a raised red patch of skin on my neck.
‘Did we bring any skin allergy stuff?’ I call to my husband.
‘What’s it called?’
‘In a blister pack. It’ll say antihistamine somewhere.’
He searches; clothes falling to the carpet.
‘No, but I could go to the chemist.’
‘There’s no chemist. Well, an hour away.’
I scratch my back and my nails leave fine red lines.
He is glued to his phone. I can hear him talking.
I lift my grandmother from the sink, and shake. She sounds like a million pieces of nothing. They have clothed her in a red velveteen bag with a gold pull cord, as if this is theatre. I imagine her climbing out of the container, pulling the cord like a magician. Reassembling herself in a puff of smoke. I long for and fear this.
I can hear two people talking in the next room. A voice raised, a woman’s voice. Then—softer in comparison, but still loud as the cyclone closes on us—a man. Arguing. I stop and listen but it is just the drone of voices like two bees trapped in a bottle. The lid of the container has a circle in the top. The woman who handed it to me at the funeral place told me to pop it off with a knife. There is no knife. I push at it with the rounded end of a teaspoon.
The rain comes harder and drowns out the argument next door despite its escalation. I wish they would stop. Whatever petty little detail caused their fury, nothing matters because I am holding her in my hands and she is too heavy and too light and I am certain that now, at the death-end of things, she will come back to take us all out with her. I wonder if I could wipe my grandmother across me, like a salve and turn my skin into hers. I could bathe and exfoliate my skin with her.
I turn the spoon around. The seal pops. I prise, and it comes off entirely.
I look inside and it isn’t sand, it is coarser, and a strange pinking grey. A chemical, synthetic reek.
There is nothing of my grandmother in here.
Still, I pour a small measure into a plastic vial.
I dip my finger in, touch it, pick a pinch up between my thumb and forefinger.
I place it on my tongue. I swallow. If not outside, then in.
She used to crack walnuts in one trembling fist, strong as an ox.
The wind picks up, howls. The corrugated awning outside the motel room rattles violently. The people arguing next door are silenced by the sound of it. We are all a hush.
‘Are you OK in there?’
The sound of my husband’s voice.
I give a nod he can’t see.
‘That storm’s going to be a beauty,’ he calls.
I have to get her in the ground.