My ma is a self-mutilating alcoholic.
She was beautiful, granny says with a hint of a smile shaking her head, but wilful. I see it. Her slender emu legs, her sexy doggy-dance, her don’t-mess-with-me glare. Might be all you see is lazy bloodshot eyes, tits falling out of a dress four sizes too large, soiled bandages on her forearm and head. Might be the stink of grog and sweat and meat and piss of her that sticks to everything that has you puking up air. Piss off, you growl like she is some mongrel camp dog. But when I smell those rich scents, thick and juicy as a steak from off a killer, I can’t help but giggle and thrash about because I know I’m gonna see my ma.
But I don’t see her much. Granny grows me up. Like in old times, she says, the old ones stay in camp and teach the young ones while the women go out and gather food for them all. Only difference is ma gathers nothing for us, no matter how much granny and aunty boss her like willy-wagtails at a crow. She gamble all her sitdown money at cards trying for the big kitty. Maybe she win enough for a fridge or a meat tray. When the money gone she joins in singing the green can dreaming that wanders from tree to tree along the sandy riverbed.
Granny says ma wants to drown her sorrow because her ma was stolen from her, but ma isn’t sinking, all that grog it keep her afloat. Even when uncle lie on her she don’t go under. Thinking he is a stone she clings to him, but must be he is full of air and she floats. Even his fists are puffy clouds. Her skin soak up all they rain down on her.
Ma is swimming in that river of grog when I jump into her belly. My milk is 90 proof. I emerge from her cave like a joey: undersized, soft and squishy right through. No words form on my tongue. I crawl about when other kids same age as me are kicking the footy and taking hangers.
Uncle take me many times. I am promised to him at birth. But he take me, he take me from aunty’s breast. He smell of booze and ganja and mulga smoke. The uncles play a dvd showing naked people doing grunting things. Cousins sit on the floor in front of the tv like the best kids in class. Uncle laughs. He call me marsupial mole. He say, I speared me little mole. The uncles laugh too. Their spears are hard and sharp. They move with purpose.
When ma is sober she sometimes bring hot chips with gravy and a cool drink from the community shop. My gum bleeds. When ma leaves I cling to her. She growl at me and punch her love into bruises that flower darker than my skin. I try to make them last until ma touch me again.
I don’t resist when my cousin-sister cut a cola can in half, pierce a couple of holes in the jagged rim and put a piece of wire through. She hang it over my head like a feed bag and pour in a little bit purple liquid from a plastic bottle. Don’t drink it, she signs with a hand and nose, sniff. Like that mob over there, she points—the skinny, shuffling, mumbling ghost kids with bulging eyes.
It is sweet. I sit beneath mulga near a deep hole. Ma is beside me. She puts a coolamon on my lap, heavy with honey ants. I slurp on the sweet golden drops and smile and snuggle into the drowsy warmth of ma.
The notice in the paper call me ‘no name’ out of cultural respect, or shame. Iloveyousoverymuchmychild, ma slurs and cuts her bare breast deep and bleeds into dust. Aunties plastered with white clay drone wetly and tear fistfuls of tangled hair from their head. They do it for me.
My name is Shantitia Hames.
I was six years old.