I stand, legs spread, arms out wide, straight; like a starfish. The water reaches to just below my nose, allowing me to breathe.
The swimming pool reflects my outside world. Tall buildings, palm trees, clouds like frozen steam are solemnly reflected in the smooth water. I am weightless, suspended in space and time. The outside world slows to each breath in and out. At times the water barely moves but the smallest movement disturbs the surface tension and my aqua world rollicks and sways in discord.
My husband and his mother chat quietly in the far corner of the swimming pool. I am happily lost in my own universe of water and reflections.
Is the world any easier to fathom upside down? In part, as it becomes blocks of shape and colour. The apartment block wobbles like jelly in front of me, stripes of blue zoom in and out; now there, now not there. So, the question is begged. Are they really there, or not? Did recent events really happen, or not? The flood, mud, destruction, cleanup, mess, the cyclone, the winds, the rains, the bloody rain.
Sitting in the Murphy’s Creek Pub, my friend CJ asks: Did this pub go under water? Did it flood?
Staring at the rising bubbles of my beer, my mouth tightens. I shake my head; I don’t know, and I don’t want to ask. I want to walk gently in this landscape. If they did go under which was highly likely, as it’s just down the road from the primary school (“I looked up from my class preparation to see cars floating away” says the teacher to the media) then they’ve made a wonderful recovery. It’s not my place to ask such impertinent questions. If they have recovered, then I don’t want to disturb their newly made memories by trolling through the muddy, distressing past. Let bygones be bygones.
I do, however, ask how long the pub has been there.
Three months. So young. So fresh.
Three men in suits and a woman dressed for serious business stride past outside. They stop, consult folders, and continue walking. Detectives? Forensic? Government officials? Locals gather to talk, perhaps about anything but the inland tsunami, perhaps to discuss each step; each day by day; minute by horrifying minute.
Rows of army tents flap silently across the road. Army water trucks rumble past. On the way home we pass the road crews who have put in a massive effort in the short time we have been away. Kilometres of road have been resealed, resurfaced, smoothed and are now open the travelling public.
The following night I phone my mother and my sister in Rockhampton. “I read your piece on Murphy’s Creek” she says. There’s a short silence, and we both begin to cry in the soft way women do when we don’t want to disturb menfolk. Our voices break when we speak again.
“Do you remember buying Naughty Toby James from Murphy’s?” mum asks.
Do I? How could I forget! Toby James was the bitiest, barkiest puppy . As my family were previous cocker spaniel breeders, I had hesitated in buying him, as he wasn’t a purebred. Someone had gotten to the bitch so the father was an unknown. I bought him anyway, glad of the company. I took him everywhere. My advertising clients soon fell in love with my puppy, as I arrived in my girly pink pearl buttoned blouse, jeans and short white gum boots, pup firmly tucked under my arm. Bet they’d never seen anything like it in their life!
As time progressed and my husband and I set up house together, Toby James left his yappy indelible mark on us both, and the front door which even now still bears the scars from his sharp claws.
“I came back covered in so many scratches,” my mother says with a laugh.
“And how about the time you came down to visit me, mum, and Toby was shitting eight poos a night. We went to move the mattress you and dad had been sleeping on, and I shoved once too hard. You went flying across the room, to land within a bee’s dick of a huge turd.” We both laugh heartily at the memory.
Neither of us has even seen a bee’s dick, but we know how small it is. Sorry bees.
As it became more apparent to both my husband and I that it was either me or the dog, Toby James went to live in Rockhampton with my parents. An ideal match, as Toby barked at everything, and dad was deaf. One day as dad was walking Toby along our street, the local ex- Police inspector came rushing out of his house. He lived across the road.
“Shut that bloody dog up or I’ll shoot it!” he demanded.
Dad’s heckles rose, and he bristled with fury. His normally gentle priest’s voice became a deep menacing growl.
“Touch my dog and I’ll have you, ya bastard!” snarled dad, and with that he turned and shuffled back home. It became a battle of wits, the former copper, the ex-priest, and Toby, always barking madly in the middle.
Toby! Lie down! So there it was: two old men, their careers and philosophies forgotten in the streets of Rockhampton. One barking, yapping, happy gold and white spaniel, dad’s best mate.
Sadly they are both gone now, and I like to imagine Toby James, the barkiest, bitiest puppy, running along the beach, yapping at the seagulls and at nothing, his short golden ears flapping in the sea breeze; my dad quietly walking behind him, grinning. Such freedom, heaven must hold.
“Hmm, I remember so much,” I say to mum. “I’ve forgotten heaps, but gradually the memories are becoming refreshed.”
Suddenly the image of black and white photos comes to my mind.
“Do you remember me taking beautiful photos of my sister’s hair” I ask excitedly. “You were both visiting, and we were sitting on the pristine white sand banks of Murphy’s Creek. The afternoon sun made my sister’s hair resemble spun gold.” I can still see her now, yellow dandelion flowers in her fingers, as I clicked away, heart pounding.
“Don’t move, don’t move sis! Look up a bit, now turn your head away a little, and stay still!” I snapped away on The Land’s work camera. Her blonde hair glistened with health and sunshine.
I’ll never forget. However my sister marches up to the telephone in Rockhampton, interrupting my reminiscing. “I only remember some old flasher, giving us all an eyeful!” she snorts. “And there wasn’t much to see!”
Yes, I do slightly remember that, but it’s only 5% of my memory of that day. She, on the other hand, has no memory of my photographing her hair. “We bolted as soon as we saw him” she reminds me.
Did we? Fair enough.
But I don’t remember the bad, or ugly, only the sunshine, the glossy loveliness of it all, and the yellow dandelions, waiting to burst upon the world.