Chapter thirty six
-‘All nature was just.. wiped out?’
‘Uncle Barney. Uncle Barney, can I take a baby rabbit home?’- asked Josie, holding up a terrified bunny by the scruff of its neck.
I was amazed she had actually been able to catch it. This first valley has long been a nature reserve, maybe it was half tame, more likely it was dying of myxomatosis.
-‘Sorry Josie you’ll have to let her go, she’s terribly afraid look at her shiver, please Josie, she’ll die of terror.’-
The rabbit shot off, no way was it sick. It glanced back once, and disappeared, followed by Josie.
We moved on, I was feeling laid back, accepting the spliff from Sol, and enjoying the hot rising breeze, it was actually sunny. Okay it was boiling hot, but not raining.
So we were mellow and a little stoned, walking slowly, barefoot, hand in hand, along and under the overhanging cliffs.
Little did we suspect that the invasion would begin that very night!
We had loaded the provisions in the big pram, with our shoes and excess clothes, which was almost everything we wore, and were all laughing at Sol’s hilarious monologues and broken English.
He was acting out the plight of the young Mexican shoplifters, on their first visit to the new FREE Shopping Center.
I grunted and chuckled, offering no more explanations or anecdotes. Bernie was picking sprigs of wild lavender, which grows abundantly under there, and slipping them behind our ears. Duna and Lila were pointing up, arm in arm, to where a band of rare choughs were soaring and diving, round a cave mouth in the cliffs above us.
Moonbeam had disappeared. Shit. I was glancing back, but Lucy sprinted ahead, and presently she and Moonie appeared waving round the next bend.
–‘There’s water round here! Hot and cold bubble baths!’- she shouted beckoning, and they vanished again.
It was the usual story, when people first visit Ice Haven. You reach the first little thermal spa and spend the rest of the day there. But we were in no hurry, I lit up the wood stove, and started to heat up a delicious soup I had prepared, to eat with our sandwiches.
One pool is a bit too hot and the other too cold, so everyone was in and out and splashing and laughing a lot. I was the last in, to the cold one of course, I did about twenty lengths, it’s tiny, and splashed a few people. Then I headed for the hot bubbly one, where Josie and Moonbeam were building a little dam with sand. Duna was jumping in and out, showing off her chestnut brown body, and chatting with Lila, who was still shivering on the edge ,shy and wearing a swimsuit.
There in the dark back corner I sat back against the wall in the cloudy blue water, where it’s more fizzy and bearably hot, and you can look out at what’s going on. I was watching Bernie and Sol through the sunlit steam, seemingly imitating sea-lions, barking and diving in and out of the cold pool.
After a minute Lucia surfaced and glided straight into me, where I sat with the water up to my neck, twisting to kiss and sit up on me, and be folded into my arms. The low sun shining in from our right, burning off the steaming water.
-‘So this is Ice Haven, mmmm more like hot heaven!’-
-‘Oh yes, and there’s all kinds of wildlife here.’– I said, stupidly.
-‘Is it true there’s a prehistoric tomb?’-
-‘Further down, in a dry cave, actually it’s in an ex volcanic blow hole. My uncle discovered it, er, twenty one years ago, when I was a boy. I saw it then and we helped make the photos. They’ve been studying it ever since, off and on.’-
-‘Well they sure had good taste in caves… Oh Barney why aren’t you into women? You’re totally irresistible.’- She started spinning over and over, rubbing up against me and nibbling my neck.
As slippery as a soapy seal.
-‘It’s the hot w’ water turning you on.’- I gulped. -‘Anyway I thought you knew already, I’m hopelessly in love with you.’-
-‘Tell me more, I’m not believing you.’– She was on my lap now, squirming weightlessly in my arms.
-‘I do remember one incident, in, er, Beardy O Leary’s bathroom. Did you..’-
-‘Yes yes, please show me how you did that, do it now.’-
-‘Ha! I could give you a tutorial. But I’m only an amateur masseur and, er, missing one finger.. Oh no not now Lucy, later when our daughters go to sleep.’-
-‘You’re trying to escape me again.’– she murmured.
Pinching and nuzzling me, sensual as a playful otter..
–‘Barney, Mama, la sopa ya esta hirviendose. The soup’s ready!’- it was Duna.
–‘Can you take it off the stove. With the cloth, careful it’s hot! We eat in five minutes.’-
-‘Josie’s falling asleep’- said Bernie –‘And Moonbeam as well.’-
-‘We could put them both in the pram, I’ll put my stuff on the trolley.’-
-‘Okay let’s do that now.’-
-‘Mira mama yo y Lila queremos subir al hostal con los demás. La Bernie me dice que si hace falta, ella subirá para cuidarnos, o mama por favor!’-
Duna had been scheming to join Paco and the other yunkers for a birthday party in the Eagle Park hostel. Now she had somehow enlisted Bernie as a chaperone to evade her mum’s objections.
-‘Que pasa? Bernie? Are you offering to take these two to a mad party?’-
-‘It’s an adventure training course. They’re doing deep ecology and geology projects.’-
-‘I know that. But the rest are all older. Duna’s a child, and Lila even more. And, and Lila nearly doesn’t speak English.’-
-‘I translate by Lila.’- said Duna. -‘Please Mama. Paco is there. We make a promise to you we won’t do love with nobody.’-
-‘Promising is easy.. Oh Barney what do you think? Do I send my baby girl up the mountain with a gang of CLAN boys all half undressed? Help me Barney. You know.’-
-‘Well, like, I can see why you’re upset um. But these kids aren’t as wild as they look, they wouldn’t, I mean. If you like I could phone Nancy the coordinator and she’d watch out for these two young ladies. They’re not that young. Plus we could ask Tessa, she’s responsible, and her brother, and his friend and Damo..’-
I could see that Lucy was being swayed.
-‘…so it’s not really necessary for Bernie to go up and..’- Bernie and Sol were nodding.
-‘Oh well if you’re all sure, I don’t want to be a neurotic mother but.. Listen Duna you can go a bit later on okay. Is there a cable train later?’-
Duna was looking down, serious and penitent. While glancing gleefully sideways at Lila and me.
-‘Nearly always.’– says I -‘You just have to call for it to stop.’-
-‘Well I’ll walk them to the station anyway.’- said Bernie. And Sol was nodding a –‘Me too’-.
-‘A bit later okay.. And promise me you won’t dance the whakka with anybody! ‘- Lucia giggled, and everyone laughed and relaxed.
-‘How far is it from here then?’-
-‘It’s less than an hour’s walk to the cottage, half that to Maggie’s Kitchen.’-
We were all leaning up on the cool cliff wall, and against each other, watching the last rays of the sun disappear, with the thunderclouds mushrooming slowly over the southern ocean.
-‘I suppose that prehistoric family sat here as well. Watching the sun go down.’-
-‘Yes yes, but cuddled up over here in a pile of furs. Everything was freezing up.’-
-‘Really? Didn’t you say this was a huge sun trap?’-
-‘The last refuge. An ice sheet more than a kilometer thick broke around these mountains, and went on nearly to the sea, which kept retreating.’- [ref.17 Ice Age]
-‘What! You know that?’- asked Lucy. Between translating for Lila.
-‘Oh yes that’s a fact. Our prehistoric friends were trapped here with a lot of other animals. But finally they were all exterminated, by the ice and each other. And ice and rubble came over the top. . in a moving wall hundreds of meters thick. Covering over the watertight tunnel where they buried their dead. That’s how we know about them. It was dry and a tiny bit warm inside, preserving their bones for millennia, more than twelve.. My uncle and his friends dug it out, looking for volcanic gemstones.’-
-‘So the ice stayed for twelve years’- said Lucy. Gripping my good fingers -‘Maybe someone could have survived.’-
-‘Twelve thousand years.’- I clarified the problem. -‘The ice sheet stayed for twelve bloody thousand years!’-
-‘Oh shit… So everyone died here.’-
-‘Absolutely. And all the plants and trees, all the insects of course. No reptiles. All the birds and animals and fishes. Well there’s some little pink fishes in the hot water here that may just be survivors.’-
-‘We really know that then, from their bones and everything.’-
-‘For certain, the whole country was annihilated by the most recent ice sheet. This was a final refuge. South facing mountains, facing the sea. But they seem to have been quite happy people. There’s no evidence of them killing each other anyway. And they weren’t patriarchal, a wise lady was in charge.’-
There was a silence, except for Lucia explaining quietly in Spanish for Lila, Duna understood.
Then everyone was just staring and thinking.
Time slowed down. Nobody said anything.
-‘All nature was just.. wiped out?’-
I wouldn’t say any more. Unless they insisted. We were listening to distant echoes of thunder.
There were four pairs of us in that cave. Plus maybe a whole race of spirits. Almost remembering a prehistoric climate holocaust. Not suspecting the invasion would start that very night.
There was Bernie and Sol, their arms linked, me and Lucy, cuddled together, and beside me Duna with Lila, looking scared and sleepy. And Josie and Moonbeam of course, sleeping with little snorts. As happy as the night is long.
We sat in silence a while. It was only half dark, and little bats were flitting in and out.
Eating the mosquitoes we attracted.
A nightingale began singing in the woods below, one close and yes, one answering, so very far away I wasn’t sure it was real.
Lucy began rubbing her silky cheek absently on my chest. Nibbled my nipple and I shivered. Not minding what her daughter saw, though I felt quite awkward all right.
-‘Tell us about their last, uh, queen.’- said Sol. He’d obviously read something.
-‘I’m not sure that’s a great idea.’- I said, nodding at Duna, Lila appeared to be sleeping. -‘It’s heavy and it happened right here.’-
-‘Oh don’t worry we’ve seen everything.’- said Lucia. -‘If it’s too much guts and bones we’ll ask you to stop, that’s all.’-
-‘Well. Why not tomorrow.’- I wasn’t in a hurry.
-‘Tell us now. Tell us now..’- Duna breathed menacingly into my ear.
And Lucy was whispering from the other side. While I was getting nervous, to have both mother and daughter leaning on me.
Because Duna’s little hand had wandered under my kilt in the dark and she was stroking up my legs. Feeling trapped I turned towards Lucy, but Duna’s naughty hand was slipping closer and closer to my private parts!
-‘Tell us about the Ice Queen, Uncle Barney. Tell us Uncle Barney! Tell us now!’-
I crossed my legs firmly and began quickly.
-‘Well okay, uh. The semi-fossilized bones and artifacts in the blow hole are all jumbled up, they used to slide them down. Except for the last two. We photographed them as they were. The crippled queen, about forty years old, had been sitting up, cradling her dead daughter. The latest study says they’re not sure she’s the daughter after all, maybe a girl friend or a sister, anyway..’-
-‘Sitting up? Was she alive in there?’-
-‘Sure she was, and she could pull the stone to fall shut. She was the last one in all right. When her daughter was killed, she went into the grave with her.’-
-‘What happened to the girl then?’- asked Sol.
-‘She was killed in a fight with a bear.’-
-‘What! How can you know that?’- said Bernie.
-‘From her wounds, and there was another skeleton with them, a baby bear.’-
-‘A baby bear?’- Sol rolled his eyes in surprise.
-‘The mother bear was killed as well. The two women would’ve been over, about there, by the dead fire, dying of hunger in the pile of furs. Maybe still hoping their men might come back. When the brown bear came in we think the princess got her with a spear. But she kept coming it seems, and got her as well.’-
-‘And they killed the baby?’-
-‘The cub couldn’t survive without her mother of course, and the mother was forced to attack the humans to have milk to feed her cub. It was the end game..’-
I sprang to my feet, shaking off soft hands and jigging away pins and needles. To point out marks where beams may have slotted in, to block off the next caves.
-‘Probably the bears attacked when the fireplace over here was totally out. Sure they had burned the barricade walls to keep warm. It was maybe minus ten degrees in summer, um. But, but this year some real experts are coming to do tests.’-
I sat back between Lucy and Duna.
-‘The queen could’ve eaten the dead bears.’-
-‘But she didn’t, she dragged them and the dead girl into the grave tunnel with her. She didn’t bother to eat them. More like she took them into her family. Get it? ‘-
-‘Maybe she felt akin to the last bears, even though they had killed her daughter. Maybe..’-
-‘Si si si’- said Sol suddenly leaping dramatically around us, huge shadows flying. -‘That happened here, but very long time past!’-
-‘Maybe I understand.’– said Lucy. -‘The ice queen was the last one alive here, and buried herself in the family tomb. So maybe she was the last of all the animals still surviving!’-
She was rubbing the smooth stone with her forehead, and feeling the dark rock wall.
Biting her knuckles, glancing at nothing, flashing the whites of her eyes.
-‘Maybe, or one of the last. All nature was being wiped out. So she made a special ceremony for the Goddess, um. I don’t suppose she was very sad to go, not for herself. She was crippled remember, she could maybe just crawl, from the turf fire to the hot springs and back. She had to stay alive for her daughter. But then she couldn’t survive without her either, and she didn’t want to. See what I mean?’-
-‘But she couldn’t be happy, to see her people dying one by one?’-
-‘No no not happy, but proud maybe to have completed her life, or whatever I don’t know. But we think she dressed up in polar bear furs, with a ceremonial walrus tusk spear, strings of beads that got scattered. With resin balls enclosing baby teeth, and drops of blood and semen from previous generations.
Our race had survived for countless millennia to seemingly go extinct in these caves. She had the skulls of others arranged around her. And ivory knives carved from the great woolly mammoth, wiped out already.
And she laid herself out beautifully, as if she guessed that great Uncle Willie would come sliding down on a rope, like Indiana Jones with a torch and a camera. Only twenty thousand years too late!’-
-‘How amazing we can know what happened so long ago.’- said Sol. Stretching up his arms.
-‘Isn’t it.. Some of the D-school groups who come here do a play, like, they make dramas about the ice age people here.’-
-‘Long Ago for us, but just yesterday in the life of the Earth.’-
-‘Tragedy.’- said Bernie.
–‘We need to make the film.’– said Sol.
-‘We were the first to act it I think. Me and Maggie and Stevie and.. years ago. Stevie’s dead as well he..’-
-‘You made a play?’- said Duna, in my ear.
-‘Hey Barney, were you the bear?’– Lucy squeezed and tickled me, and Duna joined in.
-‘Okay okay. Maggie played the Ice Queen, of course. We didn’t know then that the girl was her daughter, maybe she wasn’t. They could’ve been lesbian lovers… Yeah okay I played the mother bear, and the narrator as well.’-
A few giggles just. Then a silence. Lila had woken up, coughing, and she and Duna started whispering in low voices. A nearer roll of thunder.
Then a far off squealing, rising desperately and slowly fading out.
Some small mammal was being killed in the woods below us.
-‘So let us hope the climate doesn’t kill us all with the hotness!’– said Sol, suddenly bounding to his feet.
–‘Why don’t we get going fast.’- said Lucy. –‘It seems like we have very little time, and I need to make a telephone.’-
-‘A call, not a telephone.’- said Bernie.
-‘Oh no darling, a telephone’s call. Is it possible here?
-‘We got excellent coverage, with the aerials on the peak..’-
Duna was eyeing me up, and squeezing my arm.
-‘Um, Uncle Barney don’t forget you promised we can go to the party..’-
-‘Oh all right, I’ll just see if I can talk to Nancy, and er, Tessa for you two then.’– I said.
She looked well chuffed to have totally manipulated me.
–‘Oh Barney, oh dear are you sure nothing bad will happen to them? Que cara dura tienes hija mia.. Duna’s got a bloody cheek!’-
Lucy leaned across me, quite rudely, and started to cuddle and croon over her far from baby daughter. Duna looked self conscious, but then embraced and kissed her back eagerly, murmuring Spanish endearments in her ear. Slipping me grins, and conspiratorial winks.
I finally copped on. They weren’t jealous or competing. Duna’s game of flirting with me was partly to avoid Lucy telling me something. Some secret that once spoken would make us stop her going to the party. Maybe her mum had found out about some too early sexual adventure.
My own ego had made me guess wrong. She didn’t mind at all if her mother was with me. And she was winking to make it all obvious to slowpoke Uncle Barney.
-‘Ha ha ha. You can’t fool Barney the bear for long.’– says I.
Then I bear-hugged the both of them, rolling them right over and sitting, but not heavily, on top.
-‘This time I win. The winner is Barney the bastard!… ‘-
And so on, trying to pin the two of them, and tickling, till they mock-squealed for mercy.
These are very ticklish people.
–‘No. Stop. Ai ai ai stop no. Barney. Really. Please ah no oh no…-
The racket had roused Moonbeam. ‘
But instead of crying she was climbing out of the pram.
Cheering us on and eager to join in.
-‘The bear! Come on the baby bear.’- Sol and Bernie were cheering too.
-‘Uncle Barney. Can I go in the pram now. Please please?’– said Josie when the noise died down a little.
-‘Ha ha ha. I’m guessing all your secrets. You can never fool Barney the bastard!’- I lied.
Growling as fiercely as I was able.