It is all about the water.
Seen from the house it captures your attention. Look at the river now. So smooth. Not like water at all. Some other kind of liquid…
At the bottom of the gently sloping lawn it runs. Sometimes it is gravy; silky and glossy. Insects skim across it, like miniature skaters on a polished rink. Sometimes wind kicks its face, turning it pitted and pocked. The breeze rakes it from smooth to furrow. Sometimes it is a deep suede brown like the leather of a farmer’s boots. It changes from moment to moment. Then it is sliced by a pontoon boat, singing its way down stream. A bare-bellied man takes charge with one hand around a stubby holder and the other on the steering. Women with their feet up, sun their freshly waxed legs. This is Yunderup, on the Murray.
From our jetty the boys can fish. They can snag their lines on the submerged bits of trunk and tree, unseen in the brown. The dog can teeter on the edge of the jetty as he strains to see what is being reeled in. His wet black nose a-twitch. A puffer fish. Flapping and fitful on the hook. Prey. The red dog is set to wonder; what miracles of life lie below the brown, waiting to be plucked by the silver line?
Only one fish is big enough to keep. Measured on a man’s forearm. The rest are returned to their preferred murkiness. After the fishing is done the red dog still paces the jetty wondering how.
Three kids with boney knees. Two males, one filly. The boys are hankering to spend three dollars at the shop on bubblegum and war heads. Past dead verges and broken down yards to get sour sweets. You have to take Veronica.
But we’re going on our skateboards. We’re fast.
I’ll run, she promises.
A single shop half a mile away. Selling booze and dog food, tampons and toilet rolls, white bread and baked beans. After they’ve gone I start on the tea cake. No cinnamon. I google the shop. I ring.
Hi. Have you got cinnamon down there? She goes to look. Between the shake and pour pancakes and the vegemite.
I’ve got cinnamon sugar.
That’ll do. You’ve should have three skinny kids in the shop getting lollies. Tell them they need to buy the cinnamon sugar too.
I imagine their expression. What our money! On cinnamon.
Back through the fly wire they come, three little white paper bags full of their bounty.
You get it?
Jasper, scowling, hands me the cinnamon sugar saying, she told us you needed cumin for your cake. It made the adding up hard because we had sorted out how much we each got to spend and then we had to put stuff back because of your stupid cumin.
It’s not cumin. And it’s not stupid. It’s for tea cake.
Pontoon boats – like floating patios drift past the windows. These sinkable lounge rooms of cream vinyl and boomy stereo clink up and down. Aussie flags too. Then back to the stillness. Jangle. Settle. Jangle. Settle.
On the far side of the river a couple have carried down two deck chairs and placed them on the end of the jetty and sit looking out. Like movie watching in their media room. Their chairs have holders for cans of drink on the armrests. No need to bend down. They sit the same, with their legs crossed at the ankles, breathing in the river. The woman sprays a fog of mosquito repellant around them. A dog intent on the ducks takes to the water and swims up stream after the birds. As he gets nearer they take to the air and flap several feet ahead and then touch-down again in the water, out of dog-reach. The dog keeps on, till, exhausted, he heads for the bank and finds a way to scramble out. He shakes himself off and stands on the edge of the bank watching the ducks putter around.
The river moves about the base of the trees that grow on its banks. It laps at the bark, like a dog licking its sores. The trees drop their leaves and branches into her soup. It is a brown composting sludge. It smells of mud and worms, of algae and fish. It has darkness and depth. Something says it is teeming. It has a slippery bottom, a toe-squelching queeziness, to its earth. It takes away tree limbs and breaks them down to silt, returns them to their roots, to grow to tree once more.
It’s all about the water. It is ink. It is metal. It is silver and it is blue. It is milk and it is mercury. It is a mirror for the sky, reflecting the clouds. It is molten and grey, as the sun tucks away and the clouds take over. It is all about the water. Come look with me.