The sealer’s wife

She’d been just a girl, watching as the men came ashore. Not ordinary men these. Men with different skin. They came on enormous boats that had trunks growing from them.

She got too close. A giggle betrayed her. There was a chase. She would have outrun them but a low branch brought her down.

She became the wife of the sealer, Delaney. There was no ceremony; nothing but the days and nights he kept her indoors. She heard skirmishes, the shouts of her people, cracks as loud as hollow trees in bushfire, then nothing but the wind.

He gave her a new name. Eliza. He spoke in the sealer’s tongue. He gave her lessons. He taught her obedience, respect and love. He told her stories of God and baby Jesus. He dressed her in fibrous skins and then, when she’d learned to wear them the way he liked he undressed her again for his pleasure.

Her people stopped coming that way. She made the company of other wives. Some had been from her place. Others had been brought from distant parts.

She bore a child with ochre hair.

One evening, when the sealer was drunk, she slit his throat with a skinning knife and walked, with her child, and the other women and children, into the beckoning scrub.

2011—Richard Holt / small stories about love (