Acheron – Chapter 4
Closing the Circle
Some images stick with you for a lifetime. I see this one before my mind’s eye, as vivid as if I were standing there now.
Mist hung over the black waters of the swift-flowing Acheron. The autumn sun was yet to rise behind the gum trees on the eastern bank. A flight of black cockatoos flapped slowly overhead, then were gone. Somewhere close by, a kookaburra launched into a mad peal of laughter.
A girl stood motionless in the meadow, facing the imminent sunrise. She wore a simple cotton shift. Dark hair tumbled over her shoulders. Her bare feet were planted firmly in the dewy grass, just a little more than shoulders’ width apart.
She held a slender ashen shaft horizontal before her, as long as she was tall. At one end of the shaft a blade, as long as her forearm, described an elegant downward curve to a sharp, notched point.
The upper edge of the sun started to clear the horizon. A point of light pierced the screen of trees, grew too bright to bear.
She raised the shaft above her, straight-armed, arching her spine, opening her chest. Saluted the dawn. Held the pose for a minute, then swiftly she let the blade of the scythe fall towards the ground. Swinging her left leg out wide, opening her hips as if astride an invisible horse, she shifted her balance: ready for the cut.
Twisting now from the waist, feet lightly but securely planted in the earth, she swung the blade in a broad anticlockwise arc, just above the tips of the grass. At the end of the swing, she reversed the rotation until she was wound like a coiled spring, ready to send the shining blade slashing again.
At the end of a second practice stroke she raised the shaft to the vertical above her head, flipped the handle. The blade spun, describing a playful twirl in the air, glinting momentarily in the sunlight — and returned to the starting position.
This third time, she cut like she meant business. Grass and clover sprayed out wide as the cutting edge skimmed the ground in a drawn-out hiss. The sharp steel sounded hungry for the cut.
Limbered up, her movements grew martial: advancing, retreating, turning, evading. All the while, the blade was in constant motion: stabbing, slashing, hooking, thrusting, blocking. Her chest rose and fell a little faster with the exertion. Her hair flew.
I had watched enough samurai movies to understand what was going on here. That it wasn’t grass, now, that Áine was cutting in her mind. Invisible blood sprayed from the severed limbs of unseen assailants. I winced at that upward hook to the groin of an attacker sneaking behind her, felt that vicious blade bite into the back of my neck, pull me to the ground … Áine was the centre of a sphere of flying metal two metres in radius. Delicate, lithe, deadly.
The kata was finished. Feet together, Áine bowed to the dawn. Turned and handed me the scythe: ‘Your turn.’
At my first attempted cut, I dug the point into a tussock. At the second, I lost my balance, staggered.
‘Come here, before you break me bloomin’ scythe,’ she protested.
‘Stand there. Turn around. Yes, like that.’ Standing behind me she wrapped her arms around me, hands on mine. Adjusted my grip on the handles, the set of my shoulders. Kicked my feet apart with her own. ‘Those damn boots are no use for scythe work. You sure you won’t take them off? No? Ah, well … as you please.’
Her pelvis against my buttocks, her breasts against my upper back. Her breath on my neck. ‘Rotate from your core. Like that, yes.’ Hands on my hips now, pulling and pushing. ‘At last! You’re getting the hang of it.’
‘It’s a question of being centred,’ she explained earnestly. ‘You men have your strength in the shoulders, upper body. We have ours lower down, in the hips, belly, at our centre of gravity. We’re made for scything, like we’re made for dancing. You’re made for running after wildebeest and chopping wood. With you fellas, it’s all about linear motion, A to B. With us, it’s about closing the circle …’
Releasing me from her embrace, stepping back and around me to the front, her critical glance wandered down my body. Wavered at mid-point. She flushed. ‘What the hell? Keep yer mind on the job, ye horny wee shite!’
Half an hour later, I could just about cut a wobbly swathe of ten paces’ length without stopping to catch my breath. My knees ached, my shoulders ached and there was an ominous pull in my lower back.
Áine finished off the rest of the small meadow while I watched, sitting on a stump. ‘It’s easier to mow in the morning, while the grass is damp with the dew. If we were making hay, though, we’d cut later in the day, after the sun has dried the grass. As the saying goes: “Make hay while the sun shines.”’
The half-acre of knee-high grass lay in neat windrows.
As we walked back to the house, Áine slipped her hand into mine. ‘Pan, I don’t mean to be teasing you, getting you … worked up. You know that, don’t you?’
‘It’s just that … I’m not ready … I feel I might never be ready.’
‘That’s okay,’ I lied. ‘I’m not ready, either.’
Next week in ‘Acheron’:
Chapter 5 – The Challenge
Áine receives a challenge which, in Pan’s view, she takes far too lightly.