2The Long White Cloud
He laid the weapon in the gentle flow of the river, careful to keep the feathers dry.
A crimson cloud lifted and floated downstream, leaving only the intricate etches of the War Master’s carvers on the quarter-staff. He thumbed gore from his ancestor’s tongue and fingered viscera from the abalone eyes that stared sightlessly. They were counselling eyes, comforting him through his new sins.
He spread crystals across the chipped neck, then down the blade that looked scoured like an old canoe. Then came the old words in sustained grinds and low groans, ancient in dialect – to the point that Te Kaha had no idea what they meant. But they were powerful and they worked; they could raise the vision of red and call the War God back to its cage.
A flush of heat signalled the return of emotion. Embarrassment and self-hatred rose like bile in his throat; the whispers of his ancestor fell silent and he was finally alone. Then, like an irritant into a pearl, his woman and son existed once more and became something to him. Everything to him.
But there was still that unquenched thirst, rioted by what the old one had said. The doubt crept in behind his family like a lopsided raincloud, uneven and unknown. Long white clouds, he had said, with black eyes that blazed fire and spewed ash.
Questions swamped him from all directions and he laid his forehead on the warm grass. He tried. That was all he could do. Try to right the wrongs of the world, try to understand the prophecy, try to solve why the Children of the Gorge were challenging their borders.
He sang a song. A ballad of love between mother and son, and wishes for a peaceful sleep. Te Kaha spoke to his mother often, the wind her unintelligible replies. Unbecoming of a warrior but what else was he to do in this world of infinite possibilities, where kinships could be married then severed within the month. He spat.
‘I miss your mother,’ a voice came. Te Kaha responded by spinning on his knee and raising his quarter-staff above his head in defiance. He slid his tongue down to his chin in hunger. More of his hair, a river of slick, matted black swung loose from his topknot. Immediately, the shame seized him and he lowered his stance, moving back as the old one approached the water’s edge. But Te Kaha did not apologise, for how can he apologise to the one who sleeps on the rim of both worlds?
There were many chiefs within his kin; many experts, many specialists. All were bent at the waist, and all had the customary cloaks made of the feathers of the long-nosed kiwi. But this one’s cloak was different; a patchwork of dried flax, roughspun reeds, and batwings. It looked to swallow him like a rotted-out tree, leaving a bald, veined head with a crown of shocked white hair.
The old one leaned over with his hands in the water and shook them free of ash and watercress, his prayers for the dead complete. How he was so limber in his hundreds was beyond Te Kaha’s comprehension and place, but if his own son ever asked, he would guess it was his diet of raw mutton and demons.
‘Would you say you miss her?’ The old one said and Te Kaha shook himself of his own trance.
‘Yes,’ he said, looking at the old one – not directly in his weak, half-closed eyes but his worn and weathered brow.
The old one nodded, looking pleased with himself. ‘You know, it was me that taught her that lullaby. It was first said by my own mother.’
Te Kaha blinked, watching the old one move to a moss-cushioned boulder with a suspicion he did not mean to hold. Many times, he simply accepted the myth that the old one was immortal; a sliver of forever; not one who was simply born. Stupidly, he opened his mouth. ‘You had a mother?’
Now it was the old one who blinked, a simple motion that made Te Kaha want to bloody his head against the rock. Then the pitted, death-mask, the old one called a face, arched into a warm, bewildered smile. ‘Yes, boy, I have a mother. She is still with me in the same way yours is with you. I hear you talking to her.’
‘I only sang,’ Te Kaha said. ‘No prayers were said.’
‘It does not matter what rhythm or dress our speech may or may not have. What matters is that we say something. We annoy the young with repetitive stories about the old and gone, so even newborns know them. It is all we have to pass down. Talk.’
Speaking of talk… ‘E te Rangatira,’ Te Kaha said, keeping his interaction formal and respectful. ‘I have a question to ask…’
‘You want to know about the cloud hanging over you,’ the old one said.
‘Yes,’ Te Kaha said, suddenly weak. ‘How did you know?’
A craned hand appeared from the old one’s cloak, long-nailed and full of quakes, and gestured to himself. ‘I am me,’ he said. ‘That, and your cousins have noticed that you are beginning to mope about. It is making everyone’s bums itchy.’
Te Kaha shook his head. ‘It’s bothering me. It’s this reminder of sorts. Something is coming and I don’t like it.’
‘Te Kaha,’ the old one said. The sound of his name coming from the ancient lips made the warrior want to wash himself. ‘How many times have we beaten back the tribes to the north and south, and now the heathens from the Gorge?’
‘Since I was my son’s age.’
‘And how many times did you enjoy spilling their blood, or depriving them of fathers and sons?’
‘I never have.’
‘But you journey forth, nonetheless.’
‘Because the War Master said so.’
There was a lull with hints of disapproval. Te Kaha, now moving into his third decade, felt the need to cry under such scrutiny.
‘Because the War Master said so…’ The old one repeated. Te Kaha realised the disapproval was not his to shoulder. ‘Yes, we have gone to war many times because my great grandson said so. Tell me, Te Kaha, have you ever buried children?’
Te Kaha thought of no worse nightmare. ‘No,’ he said.
‘Old age has its blessings and its curses. Blessings in that I see our tamariki grow; I could even pick out your son’s laughter in our meeting house. But curses in that as our borders expand or shrink I pray and bury more sons and even more laughter. I feel like I have failed,’ he tapped his head with his fingers, a stabbing motion. ‘With all that is in here, I feel I have failed to save our tribe. Illness, famine, war, one after the other or all at once. There is only one thing that keeps this head spilling knowledge instead of its own blood.’
Te Kaha waited and was rewarded with a finger aimed through the brush, over the salt cliffs, and at the setting sun. It roasted the horizon in yellows and oranges, the sea fading from hazel to ebony. He looked back at the old one, in absolute awe. Even the voice of the void doubts itself?
The old one nodded slowly. Thoughtfully. ‘In a few hours, it will rise behind me and set in front of me. Rise, set, rise, set.’
‘E te Rangatira,’ Te Kaha said, careful with his words. ‘The sun will tire eventually; the stars and clouds will catch it.’
The old one rose and shook his head. ‘Speak plainly, cynicism has lapsed my creativity.’
‘We cannot run forever,’ Te Kaha said. ‘Sickness, enemies, or this raincloud will catch us.’
The old one laboured past him, looking to chase the sun’s vanishing glare along the grass. Then looked up as if discovering the answer in the indigo heavens. ‘We could walk.’
‘E te Rangatira,’ Te Kaha said. ‘Can you not look into the fires and see something new?’
‘When I look into the fires, Te Kaha, all I get is a hot face and sore eyes.’
A wall in Te Kaha’s belief and reverence took on a miniscule crack. ‘You have been telling us what we want to hear?’
‘No,’ the old one said, playfully defensive. ‘I have told you what you need to hear. You need to bathe in a hot spring; your cousin, Mokai, needs to bathe with perfumes; your other cousin, Hira, needs to eat less or we will all starve. It is all based on the present that I see the future, Te Kaha.’
The warrior slumped. No matter how sacrilegious it was, his nails dug further into the neck of his quarter-staff. ‘So, you cannot explain the clouds with black eyes…’
‘I can only know what I do know, Te Kaha. I know that everything we have and are is not going to last. Yes, the sun rises, but the sun has to set at some point. Life offers no clear waters.’
Creativity lapsed, he says… ‘So, are we to just give up and let this supposed sun set on us?’
‘What else can we do? We who are half dead and have run out of time.’
‘And why not use that time to work towards a land where our tamariki do not bury tamariki? Is that not our job?’
‘What builds great warriors?’ The old one said, seeming to take on another subject as he nudged muddied pebbles into the water. The mud lifted like the red cloud, leaving a gleaming crumb of jade.
‘Training,’ Te Kaha said.
‘No,’ the old one said. ‘War. Suffering and turmoil create our chiefs and our chiefs create tribes. No people were ever built on weakness.’
‘And how do we know that, E te Rangatira?’
‘We don’t.’ Plain and simple that remark was, banishing all but a small ounce of Te Kaha’s patience. ‘But why not hope? If we do not know, why try to chase answers if we do not even know the questions? Have you ever wondered how your son will survive without you?’
‘Every day,’ Te Kaha said, a bitter-sweet smile teased his cheeks. ‘I have my doubts and fears.’
‘So, all you can do is…?’
‘Exactly,’ the old one said. ‘Walk an old man to the dangerous, tilted cliff, won’t you?’
Te Kaha rubbed his arm free of grime, cradled the old one’s beneath the elbow, and guided him through the brush, sweeping branches aside with his quarter-staff. They went over roots and around marshes.
‘We never know what we don’t know,’ the old one continued. ‘I am a man who sees but does not see. I know what I am and in knowing, I see my limitations. You have your limitations too. They remind you with those scars on your body. You can only be so fast, be so strong. Someone or something out there will be better.’
‘What can we do then?’ Te Kaha began as they broke through to the cliff, the smell of salt and gull scat becoming almost unbearable. His jaw sank as he saw a madman’s ramblings made flesh.
There they were, disobeying the horizon’s blackening with the crisp white of clouds larger than any cloak. Tall, layered, and widened until they bottomed out into canoes. Huge wooden whales that flopped over the distant waves. Then there were the eyes, poking out of the hulls searching the foreshore for Gods know what.
‘Two things,’ the old one said, letting Te Kaha’s stiff arm go. ‘Hope that our children find the answers to the questions we asked, or do as Maui did, and slow the sun itself. I don’t know which is more unlikely.’ Then the old one took one long sigh, one that suggested he was resigning himself for some inevitability. Then there was silence. When Te Kaha looked for more guidance, the old man was gone.
3 – Truth-Telling
The fact that it had received 64 likes said a lot about the current state of humanity. I had nearly scrolled right past it, dismissing it as yet another update from Becky, telling the world about the latest milestone in her seemingly never-ending pregnancy. First, it had been the announcement photo: mummy and daddy running shoes dwarfing a tiny identical pair (because one thing this kid had to get straight right from conception was that this was a family who exercised together). Gushing ensued and the love emoji got a hammering. Next up, of course: the gender reveal. A video this time. Becky, surrounded by real-life friends and her husband hovering in the background, cutting into a cake. The icing was non-gender binary white, but inside, a bright lipstick pink, leaving no room for confusion. Later, photos of her husband struggling to put together a cot, but ultimately triumphing; snaps of the showroom-finished nursery; and constant updates of the expanding bump. I was in no doubt that this still-forming baby had a confusing arrangement of letters that no one would ever be able to pronounce, let alone spell correctly on the first try, in her future.
Today’s post saw Becky celebrating her first Mother’s Day. Who could not get on board with such a lovely occasion?
I am so thankful and excited to be celebrating my very first Mother’s Day. Mummy can’t wait to meet you, little one.’
Yes, the baby was still in utero. This would have always annoyed me. Even pre-Incident. But now it was post-Incident and I was a different person. Post-Incident me didn’t take any prisoners and didn’t care about being nice. The fact there were no comments, positive or otherwise, made me suspect I might even be speaking for the majority, too cowed by social niceties to poke their head up over the parapet. I typed my comment quickly. Careful to use plain language so no one could be in any doubt of my sentiment.
‘I think you will find that the baby has to be born first before you can officially be called a mother. It’s great you are so excited, though!’
I had been doing this truth-telling for a while now and yet every time I was surprised at how satisfying it felt.
‘And how did that make you feel?’ The post-Incident, HR-appointed counsellor tried to hold eye contact while tilting her grey head to the side. This was one of her ‘methods’. I kept a mental note of these; nodding to show listening, rubbing hands as we neared the end of the hour and most annoying of all: never offering any direct or useful advice.
‘It made me feel good to tell the truth. Becky was embarrassing herself.’
This was the opposite of where she had been leading me but my U-turn didn’t rattle her. ‘The truth is important to you, isn’t it?’
I had to respect my husband when he told me the truth. Yes, we might have been married for eight years. Yes, we might have both wanted the same things at first. But the saga of infertility, the two miscarriages, and the failed IVF had made him re-evaluate what he wanted. And what he wanted was out. I decided that if I just pretended to go along with it, if I was reasonable and amicable then he would remember the true me hiding there under the layers of disappointment and lost babies and he would come back to me. But that wasn’t what happened. He moved out. We split everything in half and he was gone from my life before it hit me that I should have fought for him.
I made a different vow. I vowed not to be bitter. I didn’t want to turn into a person who despised everything and everyone who has what they wanted but didn’t get. I was too old for a baby now. For the first time, I made peace with the fact that it was not my destiny to be a mother. I didn’t get any counselling. I can’t imagine how someone like old tilty head could have helped me. At night I lay in my bed and tried not to let my own disappointments consume me. I thought of bigger problems. I imagined myself floating on top of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I was a discarded straw compared to the world’s problems. I imagined I was the woman I had read about in a news article who had less than 50 dollars to feed herself and her teenage daughter every week. I wandered through a dreamscape supermarket and made difficult choices between toilet paper and saveloy sausages until I fell into an exhausted sleep.
I practised gratitude. I was thankful for the things my friends who were parents did not have. I slept in, went to the toilet in peace and didn’t have to reheat my cups of tea in the microwave. I’d been distracted in my career for years and now I returned to it with a vigour that must have pleased my superiors. I had never been one to be too friendly with colleagues, but I had always attended work events, dragging Rob along for every end-of-year Christmas celebration. Now I pushed myself to be friendlier. Julia was a younger co-worker and when it was obvious that she was pregnant I made sure to congratulate her one day when we were both in the copy room. I had met her partner once or twice; he was some sort of tradesman. I asked if he was excited. She busied herself with the laminating machine. But she was at least 20 weeks by then, so it couldn’t have been that it was a secret. I noticed that Julia was more than happy to discuss it with the others, but when I approached her, everyone fell silent. I thought that despite my best efforts to keep my private life to myself, somehow everyone knew about me and Julia was trying to be sensitive to this. I thought of my vow and tried not to fixate.
Then the Incident happened. It had been a strange day. Usually, when someone left on maternity leave they had a baby shower in the office and everyone was invited to eat cake and watch the expectant mother open presents. Towards the end of the day, I noticed that people were heading into the conference room and that they were carrying gifts and balloons. Some women even came in from outside and were directed down the hallway. I frantically searched my emails for the words ‘baby shower’ and ‘Julia’ thinking that I had missed the invitation, but there was nothing. As Rhonda, an older and very grandmotherly sort made her way past my desk I beckoned her over.
‘Is Julia having her baby shower?’ I thought she would implore me to come along, maybe even add my name to her card so it wouldn’t be too awkward. Ordinarily, on the email it said something like, ‘and if we have missed someone off, please forward along.’
But Rhonda took a deep breath and shook her head, ‘I don’t really want to get involved. You girls need to sort it out between yourselves.’
So, it was clear then. Julia had for some reason deliberately not invited me to her baby shower even though it was occurring in an open-plan office during my workday. Rhonda’s mysterious remark made me dismiss that it was out of sensitivity to my own situation.
I should have just packed up and left, but I had already planned on working late because I was meeting a friend for dinner and I didn’t want to go all the way home and then come back into town. It had always been my plan. I tried to turn my body away from the comings and goings and focus on my work. Erupting laughter from the conference room occasionally broke my concentration and the noise of people trekking back and forth to the toilet was distracting. I never saw Julia and I imagined her sitting at the head of the table blurry behind tissue paper and tiny onesies. I was fixated on my computer screen when I heard the sound of a voice being cleared. It was the new girl, Donna. Despite only working here for five minutes, she had nabbed an invite.
‘Are you working late?’ It was difficult to respond to this question without sounding sarcastic.
‘Yes, I am. I am going out to dinner later so…’
The girl screwed her face up in a careless way that an older woman would not attempt.
‘It’s just that it’s a bit awkward because Jules is having her baby shower and -’ I didn’t like the new girl. She was over-familiar, calling people hun and babe. She was always laughing outrageously and leaning against desks chatting instead of working. Now it seemed she had been sent to shoo me away. Then Julia appeared, striding across the office floor, her newly plump face streaked with tears.
‘Just leave it, Donna. It doesn’t matter.’ The whole situation was bizarre. I was trying to work out how my presence could be causing this much upset when I noticed something even more strange. Standing at the entrance, dressed in a familiar suit and tie, was Rob. Donna and Julia became hazy and out of focus while my depth of field sharpened around him. I quickly grabbed my bag and coat and made my way across the office. I had been right after all. I had played the situation correctly. But he had picked an unfortunate time to reappear and I needed to get him out of here or he would think that drama followed me around like a bad smell.
‘Shall we go somewhere to talk?’ I placed a hand on his arm and tried to steer him towards the exit. But when I looked into his eyes they weren’t looking back.
Julia spun me around, ‘Get your hands off him.’
‘Do you want to talk about the incident?’ The grey head adjusted to a micro tilt.
What is there to say? I lost it. I was unhinged. Apparently, you don’t scream at co-workers. Especially ones who are nine months pregnant, even if they are having a baby with your ex-husband. I thought once I had revealed that to the HR manager I might have been given some understanding.
‘All I see is a very sweet new mum to be, trying not to hurt someone’s feelings and doing the best she can.’ That’s how everyone must have seen it. Everyone at work had known. They were in on it. It was the most exciting piece of gossip since whatshisname in Accounts had been caught watching porn at 10am on an otherwise uneventful Tuesday morning. It was the injustice of it that got to me. That they had all trooped along to her baby shower like it was the most normal thing in the world.
‘That’s why I am basically an internet troll now.’ When I closed my eyes at night and imagined the Great Pacific Garbage Patch I was no longer just a straw. I was every single-use plastic bag that I had ever failed to responsibly recycle. And I was being pulled under.
‘What do you think I should do?’ I knew she wouldn’t answer me. I was meant to tell her what I thought I should do.
She leaned forward and began rubbing her palms together. ‘I think you should shut down all your social media accounts and get a job somewhere else.’
The only time I remember feeling pain was when I got kicked by the cow that killed my mother.
She was an ornery old cuss of a Red Hereford – the cow, not my mother - that my Da was slaughtering. I was watching mouse-like from under the railings of the little killing shed, and mum was holding the cow’s head when it must’ve smelt blood and went ballistic. It started kicking like to bust down the gates of hell, bashing its great hooves into the railings. As I jumped up to get out of the way, it booted me right in the head, sent me flying back into the wall. Mum let go with a shout and leapt out to get me and the cow spun in that little stall and struck her right in her face with its front foot. Ma went down like a duck shot on the wing, her face crushed and blood flying everywhere, and the cow going crazy. It stood on Ma a few times before Da got the butchering knife into its neck and twisted so he could get past to Ma, and when he did, he lay down by her with his hand on her heart, and called her name over and over but even then he knew she was dead, and that great beast lay kicking and jerking beside them and I felt the world go black on the throbbing, shrieking ache in my head and in my heart. And that was that.
I woke up the next day, all bandaged and busted and missing my Ma, and that was the last time I felt pain. The doctor said that cow had kicked out some part of my nerves, the part that feels pain, but I thought there’s only so much hurt you can have and then you just don’t have any more.
Da was a butcher. It was hard on him, losing Ma, not only because he really loved her, loved her like Romeo and Juliet he’d say, but because she was his partner in the butchering business and now he was on his own. Except not quite, ‘cos there was me, so I started helping him, first just with little slaughters like chickens or weaners, and later with the bigger beasts. I’d hold them while Da crooned to them. He was so gentle.
‘Don’t scare ‘em’, he’d say, ‘and don’t hurt ‘em any more than you have to.’
Even after that cow killed Ma, he was still gentle with the beasts. I don’t think he liked killing them, it was just his job and he didn’t have much push to go and learn another one. He showed me how to put the knife to their throats, so quiet, so they couldn’t see, and talk softly, then whack! All over red rover. He taught me to butcher too, drawing lines in black marker on the flayed bodies so I could see where to cut with the axe, and where to trim with the knife, and which knife for what, and how to clean and sharpen and wash down after. But he wouldn’t let me do the kill.
I wanted so bad to learn the whole job, right from the slaughter to the selling. Since Da wouldn’t let me, I figured I’d teach myself. We had mouse traps (where there’s blood there’re always mice) so I took to getting the little bodies and dismembering them after they’d been caught. After a bit, I got Da to get one of those no-kill traps and when he wasn’t around, I carefully, quietly, held them in my hands and cut their tiny throats with Da’s razor.
When it wasn’t slaughter time Da and I would stock up the shop together. I’d sit on the bench watching and talking to the customers while Da served up packages of meat, wrapping steak in thin plastic, mince in a bag and chicken in chicken-paper before bundling it all up, adding up the sums in his head or writing them in pencil on the wrapping paper.
I was perched up watching one day when the boarding-house ladies came in for eight sausages, half a kilo of mince, two chicken thighs and a half-dozen eggs, which I knew by heart since they had the same every week for as long as I could think back. Bett started in on Da this time, started in about me.
‘It ent right,’ she said, her lips curling up as she spoke, ‘thet little gel, should be in school, not here watchin’ yez dishing meat. Should be getting edge-cated with the other little uns.’
The other lady just looked at her and looked at Da, like to see what he’d do, but he said nothing. I saw the skin on his neck get red and his eyes sort of drop a bit, but he didn’t say anything.
‘It ent right,’ she went on, ‘Little gel got no place ‘ere in a butcher shop.’
She reached her crimpled hand out to me, took hold of my hair and pulled it up on my head. Her fingers brushed the flat place where the cow got me. ‘Should be out playing and learning and stuff.’
Then the other one started too, ‘She’s right Bob, the child should be in school. How old is she now? Nine?’
‘Ten,’ I whispered.
‘Ten! And soon she’ll be getting – Bob, she’s going to need a woman around, you know?’ She looked at my Da like she had something secret going on between them. ‘She’ll be changing soon. Needs a mother’s touch.’
Da had been quiet all this time, but then he leaned across the counter, pushed the meat at the ladies and said, ‘I think you should go now.’
I saw a small dampening, a reddening in his eyes and face that I didn’t like. The boarding-house ladies didn’t like it either; they took their package and off they went.
But Da changed from there on, got sort of quiet and sulky. He stopped taking me out to the slaughters, and one day he came home with a bundle of books. He gave them to me, and I looked at them but I couldn’t read, and neither, it seemed, could Da, so those books just sat in a corner and got forgotten.
A few weeks after the boarding house ladies thing, Da invited Uncle Ricky over. After dinner, Da told me to go to bed so he could talk to Ricky. I knew something was up ‘cos Da had that funny red-faced look again, so I hid behind the door and listened. I just caught snippets of what was going on, bits and pieces of talk.
‘I don’t know, butcherin’s no job for a girl …’
‘…she’ll need a woman around…’
‘Treena would just love her… she always wanted children’
And on it went. After a while, I realised Da was going to give me away. I didn’t know what Uncle Ricky and his flowery wife Treena would want with me, but over the next few weeks, Da got even more withdrawn and weird. I tried to impress on him that I would make a great butcher. I even considered showing him my work on the mice, but he shut me out more and more. When Ricky and Treena came over, I was always shuffled off to my room, and they’d talk. I’d sneak out and hide behind the door to listen. Treena spoke of ‘girls’ business’, and they spoke in hushed tones when she mentioned moontimes and something she called ‘the bleeding’. It sounded like what we did with the butchering, but mixed in with werewolves because of the moon part. And it had something to do with me.
One night Da told me that I was to go and stay with Ricky and Treena in the New Year.
In those few weeks, I felt the walls moving in around me. At night I could feel the moon through the window, and a huge empty space opened up in front of me where there used to be me and Da and the butcher shop business. Now it would be me and Ricky and Treena and who knew what?
The night before I was to go, Ricky was over again talking to Da. ‘Treena’s really excited. She’s preparing a feast for tomorrow night. I tell ya, she’s going to just eat that girl right up!’
It was then that I figured it out.
I was up as the sun tinged the sky a soft chicken-breast pink. I made my way quietly to the killing shed, where I got the big black marker pen. Lifting my nightdress, I looked carefully at my legs. The flesh curved gently between my ankle and knee, and again from knee to thigh.
That was a good joint, a long bone-in roast slashed through the knee, with a rack of round chops from the thigh. I put a line of dots around my lower ankle and another across my knee. Where my thigh joined my pelvis, I poked around until I found the joint and marked that out too, curving carefully where the sinew joined the bones together. I put an ‘X’ on my hands and feet, marking them as offal, then marked out my wrists, elbows and shoulders. I felt where my shoulder joints moved easily and put the lines there, imagining the joints sizzling thickly in a pan of fat and juices.
I pulled my nightgown over my head, discarding it on the slaughter floor near where my Ma had been killed, and I marked out my ribs one by one. Marinated spare ribs, rib-bone boil up, soup… Stomachs go into the guts pile for fertiliser, along with feet and hands. I put my hands on my lower abdomen uncertainly, then drew the offal mark on it.
When I’d marked my whole body, I lifted down the big jointing knife, all the while softly singing mum’s killing song: ‘gentle, gentle, calmly now, gentle, gentle, little cow…’.