The Legend of Great Great Great Great Grandmother June
Aunt Kelly discovered a recipe for stories, a grand and unique confabulation of flavours. She could have kept it to herself, hoarded it like so many others. Instead, she shared it—and not just with her family, but with anyone who had heard of her wonderful tales and travelled great distances just to see what all the fuss was about. Over the years, people tinkered with the recipe, adding exotic settings, neurotic characters, implied endings. Eventually, people had their own personalised versions.
Mine goes something like this: Take one slice of Brightly Shone The Moon That Night, fall asleep Dreaming, add Burnt Meat, cook in June, play Hide And Seek, listen to The Family Legend (but hear a Story), find The Page Boy And The King keeping Secrets, change Fuel, top with a robust helping of Wenceslas and peer through Windows. Stir twice and serve.
Brightly Shone The Moon That Night
Molly had hair as red as Sean's, probably because they were twins. Molly's hair was long and straight and tied into a French braid. Sean's was short with curly waves. Bubble didn't have any hair, but then she never had any to begin with.
The trio crouched beside the melaleuca trees, steeped in moonlight behind the barn. The bark was crackly like the Coco Pops they had for breakfast, and when the wind squirmed through the leaves it made a high warbling groan.
"Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the feast of Stephen," Molly sang. "When the snow lay out about, deep and crisp and even." "Round about," Sean corrected. Nestled in his palm was a football card of his favourite player, Wayne Carey.
"Shut up," Molly said. "I'm in the middle of a performance."
Bubble floated towards her, shifting through different shades of aqua and turquoise and mauve. It was her way of chuckling.
From anyone else she would have been mad, but Molly didn't mind about Bubble. Nobody minded about Bubble, except her mother. Bubble had done so much for the family for so long. Molly would do almost anything for her best friend.
Sean's favourite football team is the Kangaroos. His favourite player is their captain, Wayne Carey. Yesterday at the schoolhouse, Tommy Johnson was teasing him about the Kangaroos' loss on the weekend. "Your captain is wankery," he said. "Wankery, wankery, your captain is wankery." Sean was afraid, because Tommy was bigger than he was and the best cricket player in the East Paraburdoo Under-11's, the Cockatoos. Sean knew what his father would do, so he wrestled him anyway.
Molly saw them tumbling on the ground in the quadrangle and punched Tommy in the side. He shoved her away, and she cut her knee on the concrete. Sean yelled at her for interfering in man's business.
When they got home, Molly told her mother about the fight. Her mother said, "I hate Wayne Carey." Molly kept her book bag in front of her knee so her mother wouldn't notice the cut. She didn't.
That night, Molly woke up with Sean shaking her shoulder. "I'm sorry," he said, and she went back to sleep. The next morning she asked him if she had been dreaming. He didn't answer.
The twins lost their father five years ago, when they were four. Sean remembers that when his father came home he would smell like soggy wool and eucalyptus and that he had a scar on his ear—Sean can't remember which one. Molly can only remember how her father used to do her hair. Everyone said he was a hard worker, and no one in the family could ever remember a time when he was afraid.
He died on a Thursday. Bubble had found a new way to fertilise the soil. Uncle Bob said they had never had such a good year for both the wheat and the cows. In return, the twins' father had purchased a microwave and a flat-screen television for Bubble and helped her cannibalise the appliances for parts. Bubble was in the barn telling him what to do. Sean was translating.
Sean remembered a flash of light and the smell of burnt meat, like bacon left on the grill for too long. When his vision cleared, his father's skin was darker than the aboriginals' in town. Sean's father was buried in the backyard, beside the rest of their family for five generations. Forty-three graves had been staked on the property since June O'Bannon first came to Pilbara.
In 1888, fifteen-year-old Jimmy Withnell was on his way from Mallina Station to the schoolhouse. He was particularly excited that day, because the week before, Jessica Stampley had opened her Eton jacket and promised to show him what lay beneath her petticoat. Chasing one of the caroming spinifex twigs was a small crow. Jimmy reached down and picked up a dust-encrusted rock to throw at the bird, only to find that it was a lump of quartz flecked with gold.
The gold rush to Pilbara brought European settlers, Chinese miners, Japanese pearlers, Aboriginal labourers, and a fiery Irish nineteen-year-old called June O'Bannon. She spent two months living from a jumbuck and a tent, pushing a rusted wheelbarrow cradling her belongings, a pick and a digger's pan in 40-degree Centigrade heat. She dry-washed her sweaty clothes each night, coaxed water from the meagre plants, and tolerated the desert flies that buzzed about her scorched face. In that time she discovered one quartz pebble and a hand-sized hunk of iron pyrite.
The day Bubble arrived was the hottest one yet. Bubble appeared in a rush of air and a murky cloud of red-caked soil. The strange will-o-the-wisp that wafted up from the wreckage to confront June was shimmering yellow and green, but seemed harmless enough. It followed June for the next three days and, try as she might, the thing would not leave her alone. Each day she would walk and dig, dig and pan, and the insubstantial cloud that was Bubble glimmered behind her, yellow and green, lemon and lime. On the third day, as she dug, the thing turned lightning blue.
On that day, two things happened: June struck gold, and the pair figured out a way to communicate.
Hide And Seek
Molly and Sean liked to play hide and seek. Sean forgets to hide his feet, so Molly always looked for a pair of work boots sticking out from the hay bales, the back of Uncle Bob's ute, the closet. Once she saw his red socks poking out from underneath their mother's bed.
Molly and Sean's mother had a scar by the cleft on her lip and talked with a lisp. You couldn't tell when she said Sean, but you could when she said, "Shtop it" and "I don't want you shpending sho much time with Bubble."
Once Molly was hiding in the hay loft in the barn. Her mother entered, though she rarely visited the barn; that was where Bubble lived. Her mother yelled at Bubble; the words were hard to make out, but it was something about father. Bubble flashed deep-sea green. Molly wanted to yell, Leave her alone! She's sorry! but nothing came out. Instead, she just crouched and watched.
Her mother hurled her drink at Bubble, but it passed through her and shattered against the wall. Her mother almost tripped over Sean as she stumbled from the barn. Sean and Molly cleaned up the mess, though that wall smelled bad for days, like gasoline.
The Family Legend
June never cared much for the money; all she wanted was a place to call home. Bubble helped her find more than enough gold to purchase a plot of land in Paraburdoo.
June named her Bubble because, when you were up real close, she looked as if she were made up of hundreds and thousands of tiny bubbles. Bubble would stay by her side until others came and then disappear into the dirt, reappearing only after they had left. June thought it best, too—Lord knows what other people might think of a multi-coloured cloud that helped her locate gold.
June married a balding man with a handlebar moustache called John. Their two sons, Michael and Seamus, took to Bubble as if she were one of the family. When Michael was four, June taught him how to milk Shep, their cow. One day in May, as the dawn crept into the shed, Michael turned to June with a lopsided smile and announced, "Bubble wants to go home."
June didn't question how Michael could understand Bubble. But from then on, he—and, as it turns out, Seamus—would translate for their friend. They found out a great deal about Bubble. She hadn't planned on visiting them, and she would need the family's help in getting home. She would need their help for a long, long time.
The legend of June O'Bannon was passed down from generation to generation, the tale of their magical visitor and their duty to her. Each generation of children would translate for their elders, and everyone in the family did what they could to help.
Molly and Sean had heard the tale many times over, but they never tired of it. They abbreviated June's honorific to 'Greatmother June,' since they couldn't be bothered with saying Great Great Great Great Grandmother June.
(Alistair Ong's fiction has appeared in Aurealis, and he is the author of A Little Bit of Sin Keeps You Honest, a play which premiered in West Hollywood in 1997. He is a graduate of the Clarion Workshop in Michigan and the TropNest Script Initiative at Fox Studios Australia, and currently a student in the Sarah Lawrence MFA writing program.)