paua

TW: Alludes to domestic violence.


It watched us from the wall, its opalescent eyes deeply embedded in its distorted grinning face, a scrawny figure carved into cheap stained wood. The Tiki was a cheeky reminder that we had filthy kiwi blood, that our heritage formed the basis of the sheep jokes Dad levelled at Nanna, which she graciously laughed at. She was as cheeky as the Tiki, a real character, old and wrinkly and cute.


I later found out that she was only cheeky when we were there for Christmas. For the rest of the year, she was a prisoner in her own home, hours spent on the edge of her bed, staring at the golf course across the road through lace curtains. She was oppressed, with no agency of her own except what she secretly scrounged from between the chair cushions to fund her love of the horses and buy us little trinkets.


We were blissfully unaware of her life and the violence in that house, unashamed of our filthy kiwi blood. Ignorant, we played the kid version of Squatter under the Tiki’s abalone shell gaze, hundreds of thin, plastic sheep rounded up by the Monopoly terrier on the scratchy moss carpet tiles. We inhaled the naphthalene atmosphere of Nan and Pop’s weatherboard home and exhaled laughter and copped abuse when Mum or Dad stepped on a broken sheep.


One point five decades later, as dust caught the sunlight and sparkled in shafts through the broken blinds, the Mother Who Gave Me Life showed me Mother of Pearl, a jar full of pearlescent slivers, the stuff of Tiki’s eyes, only prettier. The shells were every shade of blue and scavenged from piles of hoarded junk—ninety years of bowerbird treasures, cockroach poo, and drums of legacy pesticides. Aging children had gathered in the empty home and sorted through the mountains of stuff, fuelled by fabrications their father had told them about hidden coins, borrowed money, and magpie partners stealing his things. Stories intended to make them fight once he was gone.


Everyone agreed they were all a bunch of lies. But my uncle still pulled out the oven. My cousin inserted his hand into the bum of a huge chook from the deep freezer. Great grandchildren peeled up the carpet tiles. No coins were found so yeah, it was probably a bunch of lies (deep down, though, the siblings suspected their sister cleaned out the joint before they arrived, and they wondered how much of Poppa’s ravings were the paranoid ramblings of dementia, the lies of a trouble maker, and the actual truth). I found a white opal cabochon, all milk and fire, half buried in the filth on the itchy carpet. It was more valuable but less beautiful that the jar of sea snail slivers Mum took home. The council of siblings took it as evidence the stories may have been true, but no golden stash was uncovered.


Another decade nearly past, and I was home alone with a baby on my own. Anger at my partner for going to the Land of Sheep and Clouds, the land of my blood, turned to worry when there was news of an island exploding, engulfing tourists in its ashy jaws of rotten egg smoke and steam. My partner was fine, nowhere near the island. He returned home and appeased my wrath with an iridescent ring made from Tiki’s eyes, plucked from the waters of Mordor. I was easily mollified, finding worth in something with little more than sentimental and aesthetic value, a bowerbird attracted to shiny blue snail shells.

About The Author

Kallie Tan lives in Melbourne, though she is originally from the sand dunes and floodplains of inland Australia. An ecologist, she has previously published her research in scientific journals and is now having adventures in creative writing.