Tuesday, March 3, 2009

in which the fish crosses the harbour

I’m crossing my waterway, just at the place where the great space between the two heads is widest and at its most silvery. A film of salt mist hangs low, the sky is whispering something to itself in the faintest of voices, something about the shifting of the light, something about autumn: high fans of cloud on pale blue.

photo: David Helsham

I’m crossing my waterway and I swing around and I’m facing up the harbour, I can squint and gaze in to bushland for a second and pretend everything else has blown away, away, and it’s just this ferry and a harbour full of trees. I’m watching this waterway for the timeline of my life and hours which become years sitting here one day with icecream one day with a book on eco-feminism and a lucky charm. I am watching the bays and beaches slide past, small boats in the light. Three enormous cruise boats larger than office blocks.

david helsham

I am running along the concourse, past the Opera House which is gleaming, as it does, and remembering the way I used to throw champagne glasses into the dark water on summer nights and intermission: the noise a satisfying whomp as they hit the water face down. Thinking back, it was quite a silly thing to do.

David Helsham

I am standing above the waterway and wondering what to do with my charm? I tie it to the back of my head. I have never been in this water, only stared into it with ferry funk in my nose. I have never stood over it, poised in a swimming costume. A helicopter hovers above, lens pointing down: I do not know that I will see myself on the evening news, see myself from above take off into the air and land in my waterway with hardly a splash.

 David Helsham: fish with miss jane birdbaby 

It is dark and quiet in my waterway, olivebrown and blurry. Below me a frieze of pale jellyfish glow with blue light, just beyond my fingertips. I am swimming stroke for stroke with my friend, at each breath we face each other. I like this, because I realise h breath carries an undercurrent of fright that I had not expected. We swim together, stroke for stroke, Heidi and I, until she is suddenly lost in a flurry around the buoy. I find a new companion, until she too disappears, and I am left at the head of the pack with no trail of bubbles to ride on, just empty dark reaches of water, the floral print of jellyfish below.
Alone in the dark, I race along, flying in unknown water.


I feel a soft touch on my foot and turn over: someone is on my heels, riding in my blindspot, riding my drag.
This means I am at the front: I’m winning. I look up and all I can see are the stragglers from the previous wave.
I swim between and around them, trying to lose my follower, weaving and darting. The sea is choppy here, and my stroke falters from all this looking up and changing direction. I catch glimpses of the hoop pines in the Botanical gardens and the white sails of the opera house shouldering into view between the fluid breaths of olive green.
She is up the stairs from behind, she from the blindspot, and across the pontoon before I know it, half a breath apart we cross. My cheeks glow crimson. Second place. She has saved her breath, dragged along in my tide, and leaps ahead.

I cross the wharf then, to the convict-hewn steps, the sandstone worn, the honeycomb pattern making a swooshing noise as the water rocks back and forth across it. I descend back into the water and float on the surface beneath the sails of the Opera House, its sharp shoulders rupturing the blue silk of the sky, and let my hair out. I reach out with my arms, my legs, and lie there, rocking.
I lie on my back and look up at the people staring down, leaning on their elbows on the stone wall. My cheeks are still burning and the world is upside down.

I am crossing my waterway with the enormous shriek of hundreds of people, going out for the day. I am going home. the ferry is a riot of prams and bags and hats. I smell the salt of the open sea, twist my wet hair into a knot on the back of my head, pat the secret talisman in my bag: I am safe. We all are. I am home again.


Blue Mountains Mary said...

Oh. Boy. I did not breathe through this.

You legend!

the projectivist said...

as always.
plus you still have all of your bits intact, yes?
thank goodness.

a lifetime ago i lived inside pictures of yours, the ones of the city, the beach, the sea.
i can't hardly believe it wasn't just yesterday.

Duyvken said...

Congrats!! Pity about the drafting but, like Mary said, you legend!!

eurolush said...

Amazing! My heart was racing while I read this. Whew. Back to reality.

Congratulations to you! I'm so incredibly impressed...though not surprised. You ARE a fish, after all.

Glad to hear you're safe and sound.

little red hen said...

Well done! Although I have to admit that I think you just a tad crazy and at the same time admire your fitness! You had me worried for a minute when something touched your foot but I had to remind myself that you were posting so it couldn't be too bad!

Ampersand Duck said...

yay for secret talismans!

Regulus said...


Suse said...

Whew, I didn't breathe either.

Well done fish!

alice c said...

What a strange and wonderful experience to swim with you.

Eleanor said...

I'm lost for words.

I love your waterway.

Spruce Hill said...

You are amazing! I was holding my breath while reading! :)

Jellyhead said...

Congratulations dear fifi!! You are amazing.

ganching said...

On the way to work on Monday morning I picked up a free newspaper and saw an article about sharks in Sydney and a photograph of this race. I thought of you and now I wished I had looked more closely because I might have actually seen you - winner that you are.

Anonymous said...

Well at least I knew when I saw your posting that you were still alive and I could relax about that.

Second!!!!! My wonderful beautiful Fifi - you truly are stupendously brilliant. I am awestruck.

fifi said...

I've just realised I have made n=myself sound much more heroic than I deserve...I came second in my division, the large old female potato-shaped division, as opposed to, say, the 18-year-old-potential-olympian division. There were 890 people competeing, and a very small set of steps to clamber out on...so we all go off at staggered times.

rb, that comment made my day...!

ganching: I wish you had saved that paper, that's fantastic!

All of you should try this activity at least once...there is one on sunday in manly. If anyone turns up I will accompany you personally.....

meli said...

well done anyway i say! it sounds amazing!

Isabelle said...

I too am awestruck. But would hate to do it myself. It would terrify me. You're so brave and - well, also fit!

How dull my life seems whenever I read about yours. Go the Fish!

Regulus said...

I would try to show up in Manly (manly??) at that swim competition but I don't think the D.C. Metro System goes quite that far.

All these ocean and harbor (harbour) swims sound so nice ... like a vacation in a faraway place it would be nice to visit, which Sydney is to me.

Ulrike said...

Whenever I see the sea now, I always think of this amazing blog-fish I know.

2nd in division is so impressive. "Undercurrent of fright" - I totally get that!

Pam said...

Wow! Very impressive Fifi! Congratulations.Such a great effort. Isn't it funny how in Australia we don't think twice about the name Manly - it being so much part of Sydney. One of the above comments made me realize it must sound a bit strange.Guess Manly beach sounds even funnier.Then who am I to laugh - we have Iron Knob here in South Australia.

Anonymous said...