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In her long life, Granny Eddie reflected from her hospital bed that afternoon, she had seen a great deal of time. A lot of time, and more than one variety of it, but this sort of time—or life (which amounted to the same thing)—was altogether new. The blurred colours of the hospital ward were far too bright, everything shining and glowing with colours a person had never imagined before. All colour and no detail, and a pain in her temple that had taken a fair whack of morphine to knock over. At first Eddie thought it was the hospital lighting making everything glow and shimmer, but when the nurse drew the curtains apart, revealing the brown Warrar snaking around the City Botanic Gardens with the Story Bridge in the distance—a silver brooch joining the two banks of the river—she realised it was the same outside. Brighter. Newer. Blurry. The world was like it always was, and yet different. Hard to put your finger on it. Most things a lot less clear, and yet some things as clear as day.

Brighter. Newer. Blurry. The world was like it always was, and yet different.

Take Old Grandad Charlie. She’d never in all her born days been able to recall his face. Grandad had ploughed Mr Bolitho’s Phantom Continental smack bang into the shopfront at McDonnell & East just before the war. Finally pushed it too far that day, bless. Just turned eleven, young Edwina had kept the memory of Charlie’s voice and smell, nothing more. But strange, lying here in crisp sheets in what was doubtless a whiteman hospital overlooking the river—and as to why she could hear so many little babies crying so loud on the floor below was yet another mystery—strange that she could all of a sudden picture Old Man Charlie, his thick dark eyebrows and Fred Astaire hat, the cheeky old darlin as clear as anything in her mind. The fall must have shaken some of the dust out of the crannies in her head and made room up top for the old bloke to come visiting her.

As the nurses rabbited on about blood pressure and bedpans and suchlike, Eddie focused her mind on the serious matter of dirt. She had been concerned with dirt all her life, and with being dispossessed of same, not to mention treated like dirt, which is to say, trampled over and disregarded as a general rule. And what with being a dirty black, so-called, it was only common sense that dirt—meaning earth, meaning also Country—was something of a constant and compelling interest to her, unlike the whitefellas who so very rarely looked at the ground beneath their feet, for fear of remembering where it had come from and what it had cost, and where they themselves would undoubtably end up.

She was dirty on them mob, truth be told.

Yes, yes, there were plenty of exceptions, like Rob’s dear wife, Cathy, an actual human being for all them squatters she come down from, and wotsername Judy. But the Judys and the Cathys of the world were hard put to cancel out the likes of Bridget in Grade One, her with the short little stick at school just long enough to keep your black hand from touching hers in the line-up outside the classroom, and Margaret too, the sour-faced bitch, running your family down when she thought you couldn’t hear her. So, all your Murri life, your Goorie life, it was a matter of learning the hard way to be just like the earth, unmoving and unchanging, in the face of white people and their never-ending provocations.

Just turned eleven, young Edwina had kept the memory of Charlie’s voice and smell, nothing more.

Despite the ache in her head and neck, Granny Eddie smiled. That was the funny thing, the really hilarious thing—white people thinking she was stupid, when they were the ones walking around with blinkers on, hah! Stupid as sheep for the most part, never noticing a damn thing. Looking at their phones for the last two hundred years. What was it Grandad Charlie had said? Never say no to a white person. Say yes, yes, yes and always smile. Watch them relax, watch them believe they have it over you, that you are malleable, stupid, not a troublemaker, nothing to lose sleep over. Nothing to see here.

The door began to open. With a burst of fright, Granny Eddie remembered the dirt beneath her fingernails. She curled her hands into quick fists to protect the precious dark grains from strangers. Never know who’s in there, see. Never know whose ancestors you might be carrying around in the palm of yer hand. She fell at the maritime museum they said earlier, well, well. You might as well say Mary time museum. May as well say Murri time museum, meaning back in the day, back before Grandad Charlie even, so long ago the land didn’t recognise the sound of an English word. How many Marys Murris Murrdis would you need to go back to … for it was well known, of course, that part of every blackfella who ever lived went back to the good jagun, the good earth. Who was she holding on to, below her nails? Who was holding on to her, as the door to her room in Ward B swung wide for all the world to see?

Eddie uncurled her fingers then and peered at her shimmering nails, wishing for Grandad Charlie to come, or her big sister, or her poor old dead ma. But it was a man with a stethoscope who entered the room. Not very tall, and not particularly dark, but handsome enough, yes, in a blurry sort of fashion.

‘Who’re you?’ Granny Eddie demanded. ‘State yer damn business! Where’s Winona?’

Doctor Johnny Newman startled. He was used to being sworn at, spat on and even punched by the unfortunates in Emergency, but Eddie’s centenarian aggression was a novelty. He pointed to his ID badge.

‘As if I can read that!’ Granny Eddie huffed. The silly brat! Even with her glasses on, she could barely make him out, let alone his badge. And who was to say it was the truth written there? They could make anything up. What if he was one of them serial killers? Look at Daniel Morcombe. What chance did a hundred- year-old black woman stand, alone in the world, her husband and their three daughters finished up, and her blind as a damn bat it seemed. Someone needed to fix that and fix it fast.

‘I’m Doctor Johnny,’ the handsome blur said gently. ‘My damn business is to see what’s up with your eyesight, Aunty. Did you know you had a fall? Hit your noggin on the footpath?’

‘Noggin—is that a medical term then? I reckon you got your doctor’s licence out of a cornflakes box, mate. It’s my neck that hurts,’ Eddie grumbled. ‘Where’s Winona got to?’

‘Winona? Is that your daughter?’ Johnny looked around in vain for a flower-shaped family chart pinned to the wall.

‘Not my dort, my grannie—my daughters’ve all passed. Watcha doing now? Are you a student, ay? Don’t I warrant a real doctor?’ Johnny assessed her: hip—bruised but by some miracle not broken; limbs—sound; head and neck—very sore for no obvious reason, likely soft tissue damage, but also needing an X-ray pronto, especially given the sudden change in vision; diabetes no doubt a complicating factor, and quite possibly the reason for the fall in the first place.

‘Nice to meet you, Aunty,’ he said several minutes later, handing her over to the X-ray orderly.

‘I don’t remember saying you can call me Aunty,’ Eddie snapped. Somebody ran a cultural awareness seminar somewhere and she magically acquired a million white nephews. ‘Call me Mrs Blanket. And find my Winona!’

This is an edited extract from Edenglassie by Melissa Lucashenko (UQP),  available now at your local independent bookseller.