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.
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.
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.