Night Duty, Aileen Westbrook

i don’t know why i let the handles go – they’re ribbed and rubbery for safety’s sake – and how was i to know the brakes were dodgy? i’m sure this model was braced for all weathers, for all outbreaks of mothers, and at the clinic i’m a natural, i can breastfeed with one hand, it’s just the night watch that undoes me. i’m high up here on the ridgeline of midnight – Parramatta lies draped before me like a Russian diorama – a glow worm city of minarets where i can pretend i’m Anna Akhmatova as my pram bumps over concrete aprons stained a grimy sort of Pompeiian-grey presaging fallout. There’s a Gothic whirring of electricity lines swinging tight-ropes as the bats squabble

i can take a short cut

a mental zig-zag

an oblique criss-crossing through the village green riff-raff round the swingset before feeding time and if my nightie gets wet it’s a small matter of clinging on

flesh of my flesh

oops a kerbside wobble and i’m here on the precipice of gratitude bending to smell the honeysuckle milk of her bunny blanket under the cathedral of a camphor laurel

liquorice black asphalt spills out and i kneel down

touching the sealed sea of night streaked raspberry green

lost at the intersection of roads less travelled

a carousel of silver wheels and jaguars

giraffed by traffic lights haloed in fumes

was i distracted by a possum? i’m not sure, i tell you –
but it was something furred or feathered – a brush turkey?
In your mind, you say, it’s all in your mind, and i say, at least brush turkeys stay in pairs. But hark this, i warn as i throw out the bathwater, a female turkey can wander off, just like that, if she despairs. Virginia put stones in her pockets and sank to the river’s floor but i’m not one for premeditation. i didn’t mean for the pram to go rattling down the road to the river.

Now i’m tearing down that hill, possessed by loss and fortune, chasing a blue-hooded pram with shoddy brakes. A cyclist sees my wildness and plunges into the mangroves at the river’s mouth where the pram is fleeing from me. i follow but the pram lurches off the boardwalk cutting through gaps in the tea-trees

skittish, the pram cavorts across wet sand

over cockle-shells

is she alive alive alive a-live o the cyclist gasps

fluorescent with sweat

as i wade into river’s cold lapping indigo

and thrust my arms into the bobbing blue cradle

scooping out a tired wet bunny rug

it’s just a practice run i confide

wringing out the sodden hem of my nightie.

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Well-written! A little too much so to be complete truth…