THE ODYSSEY

Jasmine ran a bath in the old tub, letting her fingers fall under the brass faucet, testing the temperature of the water. She loved that the bath was in the bedroom. It felt decadent, like a Parisian brothel. The water was hot and steamy and she added her own concoction of oils; olive, ginger and lemon. Then she sprinkled rose petals in the water and climbed slowly into the tub, adjusting her body to the heat.
So what now? What was she going to do with today and all the days that stretched out relentlessly in front of her? She looked down at the crimson and deep pink rose petals floating around her. Perhaps jasmine flowers would have been appropriate given her Christian name but rose petals felt more exotic. Tea was steeping in the china cup. Jasmine didn’t believe in tea bags or supermarket ceramics. She reached out her hand for the flowery teacup and sipped from it, savouring the taste of herbs, breathing in the fruity scent of her bath while lying in her own tub. She now had her own fragment of the world, where things could be arranged as she wanted them. Her life belonged to her, it seemed.
She smiled but a shadow, was ever present, at the edge of consciousness, clouding the brightness like the mountain she could see from the bathroom window. It was majestic, powerful and slightly overwhelming. She could hear the breeze catching the wind chimes she had hung from the rickety wooden awning that morning. Their musical tinkling made her feel at home.
Home. Would this be the one? She’d moved into the cottage after years of wandering.
A couple of years in Byron Bay, sleeping on the sofas and off the goodwill of friends. She’d worked the markets once her savings had been spent. Savings accumulated from a job in a dress shop, serving spoilt middle-aged women. Evening she walked along one of the most beautiful beaches at sunrise and in the mornings she’d watch the early morning yoga enthusiasts saluting to the sun.
She’d briefly moved in with a guy, appropriately named Storm. She’d met him through the sofa-offering friends and moved into his small place out at Mullumbimby. He turned out to be a man manifested from her mother’s warnings.
Jasmine’s mother, Olivia, was still beautiful, however that beauty had been buried beneath layers of bitterness like a jewel covered with dust and grime, no longer able to shine.
“Never rely on anyone else, Jasmine. Everyone will let you down in the end.” She would put a finger to her nose as if parting with sage advice but succeeding only in looking comical. The wine glass would have been filled and emptied a good many times by now. Always a negative woman, she would become almost Shakespearean in her tragic gestures after a cheap bottle of red.
It was as if with Storm, Jasmine had pushed all the ‘don’t’s’ into a big machine which had projected an image on a wall. The image of Storm. She had so loved that name. Tempestuous, exciting. Like the metallic smell which emanates when thunder beckons. Electric. Dangerous. With gun metal grey and purple bruises under her eyes, shocked at how much she had accepted and passed off as her own fault, she’d packed her red holdall and taken a bus south. Not knowing where to get out she had taken a series of buses going south, until she arrived at the small town of Bega, southern New South Wales.
Creeks wound their way through the green paddocks straight out of the pages of picture books, with cows and horses grazing. Mountains thickly covered with trees. She’d found lodgings in the house of an eccentric local woman called Imogen. Imogen could sniff out a suffering soul with the air of an aristocratic cat sniffing out lunch, and welcomed Jasmine into her home. She’d named the house Nanda, the Sanskrit word for joy. Jasmine enjoyed her time there, mixing with all the broken people who turned up at Imogen’s door, getting drunk on rhubarb wine and surviving on a diet of homemade soup. The wine and the soup endlessly supplied by the obliging Imogen. Like birds with broken wings they healed themselves before it was time to take flight again.
Jasmine stayed there until the frosts began. The cold was too much for Jasmine and the outer scars, if not the one’s that went deeper, had healed. It was time to move on.
This morning she had woken with the kookaburra’s and padded barefoot through to her very own kitchen. Ran her hands over wooden cupboards feeling the grooves and pulled out her old teapot from one of them. She held the teapot under the tap to warm it before adding dandelion leaves. It was ancient and tannin stained. Her maternal grandmother, Freya Spring, had left it to her. She had been a kind woman, so different from her sour daughter, Jasmine’s mother. She had tipped the boiling water over the leaves and left it to brew. The special cornflower blue teapot, the only possession that had always been with her on her journeys. The teapot had been wrapped in newspaper and placed with care in her red holdall many times.
As she waited, various cities and country towns filled the corners of her mind with fractured memories of friends made and lost once she’d moved on, always with broken promises to keep in touch. May be she’d inherited her wanderlust from her father. She’d never known him but her mother had said that he was a sailor. Of course at other times her phantom father had been a circus performer, a writer or an artist. Depending on her mother’s mood and the story she was telling. Still her words rang in Jasmine’s ears.
“You’re just like your father.”
Words not said with pride but spat with reproof. She imagined a tall man, too sensitive to stay around Olivia’s sharp tongue. But what sort of man would leave his child?
Once the tea was poured she added honey from a warmed teaspoon to the amber fluid in her cup. She wrapped her hands around it and breathed in the herby aroma before carrying it carefully through to her room to run her morning bath.
Now surrounded by the petals of roses she allowed her mind to wander. She had lived by the sea, taking long walks along the shore, beachcombing for treasures cast adrift. Wood washed smooth by the sea and tiny seashells. She’d lived in the hills where the air is cooler, surrounded by trees and odd people hiding from life. She’d tried cities where everyone wore uniforms of neutrals; black, grey and navy. No time to stop, marching on like sombre soldiers, unsmiling and upright. Then there were the country towns which had driven her half crazy with their narrow mindedness and slow, drawling music.
The cottage she had moved into earlier that week was small and timber clad. She’d made her mark on it by painting the walls in her favourite shades of lilac, lime green and aubergine. Hung posters, pastel scenes from Europe with French writing, on the wall. Covered the plain chairs with Indian silk throws and blankets knitted in brightly coloured wool. Rolled out rugs, collected from a handful of overseas trips, on the worn floorboards.
She didn’t have much to do that day. Jasmine had put the house in order like a small hurricane working backwards. Fixing things up and enhancing the charm already there. She’d given herself a week to settle before she approached the local market. Jasmine made ornamental hair clips covered in glass beads and silk flowers. She planned to sell them on a stall at the market. She had begun to make decorative hand mirrors and brushes on to which she glued pearls and shaped wire. Her grandmother had always said that Jasmine would have been happy in another century, with her love of delicate beauty and fine antique lace.
It had been an abrupt exit from her last home. She had been renting a room in a poet’s house in a small town called Bellingen, nestled in the hills like a jeweled necklace in the décolletage of a lovely woman. She’d loved the river winding through the town, the Bohemian feel and the local people.
The poet had been interesting; older and quiet. Their relationship had been unexpected. He was a confirmed bachelor living a solitary existence and Jasmine danced in with her henna tattooed feet which didn’t keep still for long. She had intrigued Oscar, the poet whose work was no longer fashionable. He had already made money as a stock broker and lived on the proceeds. Jasmine reminded him of women of the past, although not his past. She swept through the rooms of his house, her hair seeming to flow like party streamers. Her skin smelt of lemons and spices.
Jasmine couldn’t say what had made her leave. She had become comfortable with Oscar and Bellingen. A feeling she wasn’t used to. Fear of loss made her sever the ties she had forged. Now she wasn’t sure whether she felt grief or relief. But first came guilt as she pictured Oscar, making sandwiches for her journey, her journey away from him. His kind face offering assurances of a commitment not asked for. He had a wonderful way of being grateful for whatever she offered him, no matter how small or inconsequential. And what did she feel for him? This man who respected her as no other had before him. Through the idyllic first days of a new love affair still the voice of her mother echoing through the joy.
“Never rely on anyone else, Jasmine. Everyone will let you down in the end.”
And hadn’t they? So far.
Much later she sat on the deck, her long red hair pulled back and held by a tortoise-shell clip. Dressed in an emerald green silk robe, her pale face drawn into a frown. Jasmine placed her damask covered journal on the table, took out a pen filled with violet ink and began to write. Since childhood Jasmine had written in her journal every day. It gave an anchor point to her turbulent life. A life sailing on the breeze like a leaf. Or a magic cloak which landed when the wind died down and stayed until it took it up again, soaring through the air, never looking back, always looking toward the next place. She pulled her graceful legs under her as elegant fingers ran a pen nimbly across a blank page.
The sun was going down between the trees by the dam. Jasmine squinted as it slowly sunk away, giving in to the indigo velvet sky of dusk. Pen clamped between her teeth, thinking about what to write and what to leave out. A stray curl brushed her face. Jasmine immediately tucked it behind one ear.
As with all change there was re-birth. Jasmine’s life was playing it’s song with her accompanying the notes with her own voice. Giving it depth and a timbre not there before. All this coming together whilst Jasmine sat, unaware of the tiny flicker of life starting to grow within her. Oscar would leave his mark yet.

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