Lion

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Barb and Frances meet a serval at Mogo Zoo

After a long haul flight, Jewels Goodman arrives in Gaborone from Sydney, her gut churning. The last leg is a chartered flight to an airstrip fifteen minutes from Mombo Camp, a private concession in the heart of the Moremi Game Reserve, set among huge trees on the edge of a scenic floodplain. The Okavango, a labyrinth of lagoons, lakes and hidden channels, is the largest inland delta in the world. Encircled by the parched Kalahari sands, it’s an oasis for wildlife. The largest free-range zoo on earth.

She had once interviewed David Attenborough who pointed out that a large number of Australians, and English people for that matter, never see a wild creature from dawn til dusk, unless it’s a pigeon—which isn’t really wild—and which might come and settle near them.

The plane shook and so did the company pilot. All used up by life he swallowed a couple of miniatures as they taxied for take-off. God knows what dirty deeds he’d done for the boss to earn himself such bad karma, but he looked like he belonged in the swamp they were flying over.

Jewels knew better than to ask him what lay in store for her; whatever it was, he knew. He knew the way flunkies always know just what the bully’s planning. The boss was a bastard in any language, a gorilla in a suit. The pilot offers her a miniature, but a girl like her can’t afford to drink; not miniatures, not anything. Africa is probably the last place left on earth you could smoke in a plane. He does.

According to ‘The Jewels Goodman School of Thought’, every life has three big moments. That’s what she believed in. Moments. The first ‘moment’ was winning life’s lottery; being born. This was another of them. She’d been summoned to Botswana by the Gorilla to talk about a job near the top of the heap. Newspapers. She was raring to run the empire from out of Sydney, but so was Erwin Boyd, and he didn’t have tits. She’d buy and sell the slippery little prick as managing editor. He knew it, she knew it; hell, the boss knew it too, but she never underestimated how much being a total arselicker actually counted for.

The boss is a big, chunky man with a freckled face, sparse gingery hair and big meaty hands. Well, everyone knows what he looks like but only a handful of people had actually met him. He likes to adjust his balls when you’re talking to him. At least he does when he’s talking to her.

He’s an endangered species her boss, a one-man juggernaut. Companies run just about everything these days—the military industrial complex—but the Gorilla’s carved out his own patch of bush and swept it clean of trespassers.

He likes to toy with editors. Mickleberg told her how the boss took him out to Antarctica and ‘invited’ him to dive under the ice. He got the job running USA Digital but he never had two testicles again. Froze one of those suckers off.

As the day approaches its final moments, backlit by a stunning orange sunset, Jewels climbs into the front seat of the air-conditioned Grand Cherokee. Boss sits in the back, smoking, his face pink under the wide brimmed white hat. She thinks of the driver as Lizard Man, not because he is reptilian in a sinister way, but because he is shiny black, ancient looking and supple. He blinks slowly and turns on the halogen headlamps.

“There’s elephants, hyena, wild dog, buffalo, hippo, crocs, and smaller animals like warthog, mongoose, spotted genets, monkeys, bush babies and tree squirrels,” he says flatly, like he learned his lines and couldn’t give a stuff as they bump along the dusty, rutted track while the moon climbs into the starry night sky.

“But right here’s what Boss wants.”

Jewels watches in awe as a big male lion saunters towards the jeep.

Lizard Man pulls a high-powered hunting rifle from under the front seat, but to her growing horror and Boss’s amusement, he also produces a crossbow.

The lethal looking thing was branded with the name ‘Horton’ and she is so scared she laughs as the elephant in Horton Hears a Who comes to mind.

“Boss wants you to use this, won’t damage the head that way. Spoil the trophy, a bullet would.

“He the boss lion but don’t worry; he would lick you hand if you let him.”

Frozen in the jeep’s bright bluish headlights and pinned up against the reserve’s fence, Jewels shoots the lion at point blank range. The wounded animal, with an arrow sticking out of it’s hindquarters, roars and writhes with pain hemmed in by the jeep, its diesel engine purring in the cool night air. Shaking, she fires off another arrow, but the animal is still alive, moaning in agony. There’s a drumming in her head as she sees in the lion’s yellow eyes his growing comprehension of her treachery.

Lizard Man lifts the rifle and fires, putting the animal out of its misery.

The drumming in Jewel’s head stops. The proprietor laughs.

“I’d buy you a fucken drink if you weren’t such a pussy about the booze”, he says.
“For a broad, you’ve got balls, I’ll give you that.”
. . .
After five years as managing editor, the gloss has gone off her plush office overlooking the purple harbour. There was a well stocked bar and a comfortable couch to hand but she stayed in her swivel chair, sipping her Perrier and staring into space as the drumming started again in her head; her mouth dry—always dry, always the drums—since that night in Africa.
She opened the bar fridge and took out the Moet. She poured a glass and to the empty room she spoke the words, “With my crossbow, I shot the Albatross”.

She poured a second glass; it went down soft and for the first time in years she felt alive.
Much later that night she made her way to where the titanic presses were rolling. The noise was deafening but that smell of a printery is something she has loved from when she first started as a cadet aged 15 after the nuns expelled her for drinking altar wine. Drunk then, drunk now.

Peering at the machinery moving staccato like a giant mechanical puppet, she thinks she sees a shadow loping behind the rolls of newsprint; dead trees, yellow eyes, drums pounding in her temples, mouth as dry as the Kalahari sands.

On his belly, Lizard Man appears out of thin air, looking left, looking right, looking straight ahead as the presses clank and grind.

Jewels
I shot the lion, the golden lion,
To win this worthless prize.
And when he bucked and breathed his last,
His image burned upon my eyes.

Lizard Man
He inside you now, your lion. Forever.
Make you big and strong, make you clever.

Jewels
I am cursed, I am cursed, I am cursed.
Stop the Presses! For god sake stop the presses.
Will nothing slake my thirst?

Lizard Man picks up a bucket of ink and with his fingers begins painting chemical symbols on the wall: HFC, CO2, CH4.

Jules
In the year 2020
Came the snows,
Europe was Siberia,
The whole of London froze.
Violent storms
Wracked the coast,
And so began the thirst,
They rioted in California
When the aqueduct was burst.
‘Potable water’ became a term
That every TV screamed,
Too little too late
The Fourth Estate
Had betrayed every human being.

To her ears the giant presses begin to sound like Gyuto Monks from Tibet, their deep voices intoning the names of chemicals involved climate change, like a ghastly petro-chemical chorus.

Chorus
Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil.
Carbon, carbon, carbon.
Oil, coal, gas.
Mercury, methane, mining.
Oil, oxygen, ozone
Ice, Ice, Ice.
Water, Water, Water.
Oil, Oil, Oil.

Jewels
China and America went to war,
Two thirsty tribes,
Then dozens more.
Water was the liquid gold,
Defend at any cost,
Then nuclear winter came
And married a winter white with frost.

Chorus
Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil.
Carbon, carbon, carbon.
Oil, coal, gas.
Mercury, methane, mining.
Oil, oxygen, ozone
Ice, Ice, Ice.
Water, Water, Water.
Oil, Oil, Oil.

Jewels
The winter spread and spread and spread,
And all the trees were bare and dead,
And babies born
Who had no heads,
And other children
Quiet and pale,
Would never run barefoot on grass
Would never see a lion pass.

Chorus
Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil.
Carbon, carbon, carbon.
Oil, coal, gas.
Mercury, methane, mining.
Oil, oxygen, ozone
Ice, Ice, Ice.
Water, Water, Water.
Oil, Oil, Oil.

Jewels
I knew, we knew
We journalists, we knew.
We wrote nothing of import,
A hundred Dead Men Talking,
Super Models Walking,
Celebrities Gawking,
We sold our public short.

Chorus
Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil.
Carbon, carbon, carbon.
Oil, coal, gas.
Mercury, methane, mining.
Oil, oxygen, ozone
Ice, Ice, Ice.
Water, Water, Water.
Oil, Oil, Oil.

Jewels
Global Warning,
Global Warming,
And still we went to War
To fight for oil spoils
And flash election-winning smiles.
Yet Jew and Gentile,
Christian and Arab,
Straight and gay,
Man and woman, birds and beasts
All drank from the same well
And it was dry, and this was hell.

Chorus
Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil.
Carbon, carbon, carbon.
Oil, coal, gas.
Mercury, methane, mining.
Oil, oxygen, ozone
Ice, Ice, Ice.
Water, Water, Water.
Oil, Oil, Oil.

Jewels
Out in California when the sea walls were breached,
A putrid tide of birds and fish
Washed up on the beach,
And killed the American dream stone cold dead.
Like the song foretold in the days of old
The levy was dry,
only whiskey and rye
on which to get by.
It was hot as hell, then cold as hell
And always hard to breathe,
Many old and frail and young,
Prematurely took their leave.
My mother and my sister’s son
Are two of many
That we grieve.
Then disease sprang up,
Plague we’d never seen
It sacrificed many millions
To the God we called Benzene

Chorus
Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil.
Carbon, carbon, carbon.
Oil, coal, gas.
Mercury, methane, mining.
Oil, oxygen, ozone
Ice, Ice, Ice.
Water, Water, Water.
Oil, Oil, Oil.

Jewels
No! No! No!
Please let me go, I begged him,
I cannot stay, let me go
But the Proprietor, he said no.
You have wealth beyond belief
Power by the score
Your very name it opens
Every single door,
You cannot kick me to the kerb, he said,
And go on your merry way,
When you have sex with a gorilla
Your not done till the gorilla says.

Jewels
The night was dark
My clothes they stank
There was darkness all around
The lion’s bones were on the ground
White and still and rank.

Chorus
Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil.
Carbon, carbon, carbon.
Oil, coal, gas.
Mercury, methane, mining.
Oil, oxygen, ozone
Ice, Ice, Ice.
Water, Water, Water.
Oil, Oil, Oil.

Jewels
The bones stood with a creaking sound
And round and round me then they wound
The teeth were here
The teeth were there
The teeth were all around
And from the empty throat there came
A terrifying sound
The empty throat it roared
The hind it crouched, the maw it hissed
The hollow eyes they burned
Stop it, please! I implored
But the hellish thing would not be turned
Then as sudden as it began
The bones fell back to earth

In her last dream, the third and final Moment of her life, Jewels Goodman is standing on the deck of a sailing ship encrusted in green ice, skeletal, still. Salt pours down on her head like fireflies and she steps out of the crystal shower and dives into the black, inky harbour.

 

 

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