• caseytonkin

Branches and Blood

"Huh, turns out we are mortal," I said to Sama as she cleaned the dried blood off my hands in the kitchen sink.

It's not like this isn't something I think about regularly. Lately, with the world seemingly slowed down in the face of our 'new normal', time and mortality are thoughts that arrive like wind over sand dunes. Thoughts of life and its various stages. Questions: where am I now? How much further do I have to go?

Usually, this contemplation occurs in the context of 'wasting time'. I'll have spent an evening watching YouTube videos, scrolling memes, or over-playing video games beyond enjoyment. The next day I'm frustrated at all that 'wasted time' and return to a state of acute awareness that:

a) with every passing minute I'm steadily crawling to my grave.

and

b) I ain't never going to be no good at writing if I'm not reading and writing like all the bloody time.

It's a guilt thing. And unless I feel like I've 'earned' a moderate amount of entertainment, time spent gazing at screens will be tinged with guilt that makes it not only less enjoyable but also prolongs that amount of time I inattentively self-soothe in order to reach the level of entertained I was craving in the first place. Terrible feedback loop, I know.

Off the back of trying to flip that switch and spend a weekend away from screens and out of the room that doubles as office (from 8.30am to 5pm) and funhouse (from 5.15pm to midnight), I spent a bit of time in the garden the other weekend.

This is always a meaningful activity for me, and almost never feels like a chore. The task that Sunday afternoon was to trim the bush that grows over our neighbour's fence. Our neighbour had offered to cut it down one afternoon when introducing himself. Probably not much older than me, he and his wife had bought the house off his parents recently and were tidying up a very neglected backyard.

"She likes it and doesn't want me to get rid of it," he said.

We stood either side of a short brick wall dividing our lives.

"It's overhanging your side of the fence, so do you want me to cut it back?"

I said it was fine – I liked the little purple flowers and it provided a bit of shade in the summer which was nice.

Still, the bush did need a trim. So with little else to do, I grabbed my rusty secateurs and got to work. I started off small but soon enough branches and leaves gathered around my feet. The bush wept from neglect so I gave it some much needed attention with rusted blades. An old birds' nest lay near the top, tangled among the overgrowth.

After some time hacking away, I stepped back to admire my handiwork. Now I could see the exposed branches – thicker, trunk-like – poking up over the fence and expressing the ever-present connection between earth and sky, roots and leaves.

Needing to make more adjustments, I stepped back into the fray. With my hands over my head, clutching branches and shears alike, a powerful gust blew across the yard, taking my secateurs and dropping them on my hand.

Bugger.

I looked down to see the blood dripping off my hand and onto the lawn. Feeling foolish at having hurt myself, I wandered over to the tap. Claret flowed freely from the top of my hand. I turned the tap on and stuck my hand under, expecting to see a bit of pink and white flesh with blood pooling and being washed away. Nope. The blood poured as freely from the gaping black hole in my hand as it did from the tap fixed to the wall of our rented duplex. Recognising this wasn't a normal clumsy cut, I felt myself panicking.

"Sam," I said rather loudly, "I need your help."

She was upstairs. The blood wouldn't stop. It was streaming out and onto the concrete. Apply pressure, something said from within. Tad late, but helpful nonetheless. With my left hand, I held the wound down as hard as I could and called out again for Sama. I could hear her running down the stairs.

At this point, with help on her way, my brain began catastrophising. I'll keep losing blood. I'll never be able to use my hand again. It'll get infected and have to be cut off. All sorts of very unhelpful worst case scenarios popped into my mind as Sama arrived on the scene. She jumped into action, taking a look at the gaping hole in my hand (I looked away), before running back for a tea towel. We held it down until the bleeding slowed.

As she cleaned the dried blood from my hands – now bandaged up so I could go to the doctor and get a tetanus shot – I looked out at the tidied bush, its discarded branches and leaves waiting to go into the green bin. Gusts knocked the bush about, and it didn't seem to notice the brief drama that unfolded beneath its leaves, or that the blade intended for its flesh was turned on its wielder and now lay inert on the blood-speckled lawn.