Umbra, 1976
Indigo Perry

The birds. They gather in the peppercorn tree, the one tree left un-cleared in the paddock. The way they twitter is familiar. It’s a birds-going-to-sleep song, she knows. But it goose-pimples her skinny brown arms. She’s leaning with her brother against the wire fence, trying not to snag her hair in the barbs. The last thing she sees is the sheep flocking as one to the ground under the tree and lying down and settling their heads to one side, ready to sleep. Then the birds hush, quiet as death. The sheep melt away and she’s not sure if she’s holding her breath or if she can no longer breathe.

There’d been a prize offered by the headmaster for the best drawing of what was coming. She knew about darkness that fell in through the middle of days, a looming curvature flooding away the bright lines, the squares and rules. Wetting the dry. Inking in and blocking out birds, seeping into the cocoon-thickness of sheep until you could put your hands through them and not even discern the feel of air. She knows the taste of when it enters her through her mouth. The black of outer-space tips in over her face and turns her inside-out to a cosmic aloneness where nothing but this can touch her. At the far right of the paper, she drew in a narrow pane with a flat blue sky at the top and a thin crust of brown-dirt earth at the bottom. She put herself standing on the dirt, bare feet almost floating above the clods and prickles. She was smiling. Hair a scribble. Hands extended in stars. Nine-tenths of the paper, edged with a curling-up to a rising wave, she shades in black, silkily leaden. The yellow sun yoked between, half garish and spindled; half eaten alive. A grade-six boy with a more scientifically correct picture won the prize. But she thought hers to be truer.

Indigo Perry's book, Midnight Water: A Memoir (Picador), was shortlisted for Australia's National Biography Award. Most of Indigo's current writing is poetry, often written in public spaces, and improvised live in performance art as part of the collaborative duo Illuminous.