I’m standing cold in the sand, trying to see Rottnest Island through the sky’s swathes of grey.
My face is slick with tears that taste of you. No-one can tell me why the intensity of my grief—the savagery of it, the way it has me by the throat—isn’t enough to bring you back.
Sometimes I think you were born of the water, a child of the sea. The clues were all there, in the dips and shadows of your body, the salt on your skin.
First time you saw me, I was lying on the floor of our rehearsal space, timber boards cool beneath me. I was to be your Echo and you my Narcissus, to spurn me, reduce me to a bodiless state, no more than reflected sounds in a cave.
I’d arrived early and found the room empty, a silent space waiting for me, inviting me to shut my eyes, just for a minute. I closed the door and lay down in a darkness so dense I could barely see my hands held above my head. I could have been anywhere, anytime, breathing in the hush and breathing it out again. Until voices intruded on the soundscape, growing louder, coming closer. Light seared into the room when you opened the door, made me lift my hand to shield my eyes. I must’ve looked a strange waif, there on the floor.
Sometimes I think if I can just pick out these details, map them out with enough precision, then you’ll materialise here in front of me, just as you were. The way your left eyebrow kinked up at the edge, and that scar near your ear … I wanted to touch it even then, to let my fingers slide down the groove behind your jaw and slip round under the collar of your coat.
I stood up, brushing the fine dust off the backs of my legs, and I’m sure I smiled because how could I not have smiled on first seeing you, your lovely face, haloed by the light? A face I felt I knew, as though I’d run a finger along each line around your eyes already.
Lara turned on more lights and the boundless darkness became a walled room, not very big, only five rows of seats running along three walls. She got us to help her drag those two benches on to the stage. One to represent the seats in a train, the other a bench at the station. Remember?
You look at your watch, confused. I follow you as you walk along the platform to press the information button. A disembodied voice intones: ‘Your next train departs in seventeen minutes.’
‘Idiot,’ you mutter. Softly, I echo you: ‘Idiot.’
You turn sharply and say, ‘I’m sorry?’ ‘Sorry …’
You raise your eyebrows and smile before sitting on the bench and taking out your phone. I sit down nearby and take out my phone too. After a while, you put yours away and look at me. I blush under your scrutiny, until at last you speak.
‘Got off at the wrong station as well?’ ‘Well …’
You wait for me to elaborate, but I don’t, so you rest your elbows on your knees and smile at me.
‘Is that a yes or a no?’
‘A … no.’
You look away, intrigued but wary.
We still have ten minutes to wait; you make another attempt.
‘So, what are you up to tonight?’
‘You got any plans?’
I shake my head, but I love questions like this, questions I can reuse: ‘ You got any plans?’
‘I’m supposed to be meeting my mates at the next stop. Got off too soon. They’re waiting for me there though, which is cool.’
‘Come out with us if you like.’
‘If you like.’
Being on stage with you, my body seemed to listen to yours, as though each move you made sent tiny waves radiating towards me, through the air, to pulse against me. It was too much and not enough, all at once.
Jo Morrison is a Fremantle writer and freelance editor. She teaches at Murdoch University, where she completed her creative writing PhD in 2015. Her writing has been published in Westerly and Celebrity Studies. Find her online at www.jodijo.com and @jodijomo.
‘Of the Water’ is published in Joiner Bay and other stories, out now from Margaret River Press. Buy the book here, or from all good bookstores.