Yunderup

Image 1

The lapping of the river is like a giant dog licking itself. A constant slurp. It is skinny milk café latte. Sometimes it shimmers. Sometimes it is smooth, muddy brown. Bottomless. When boys get atop canoes and kayaks it becomes Huckleberry Finn territory. They have legs like twigs. Hobbit feet. Notoriously unsteady. They wear life jackets because a father said “what if a boat hits them” – one is unconscious, and then the other is forced to try to rescue a dead weight and then they both drown. Could happen? Fear makes you drive to Ray’s Outdoors and spend more money. Dog eyes make you buy more slow releasing dog food toys since there is a City Farmer’s next door. And whilst you’re at it purchase a piping bag for the Birthday eclair making later in the day. Since Master Chef these things are easily purchased, as is a madeleine tray, or blow torch for creme brûlée.

 

It is a river that flows and all rivers have their own strength. Beneath its silky surface, it is all force and wanting. Sometimes stronger than the muscles of an eleven year old. Especially ones so sinewy and strapping. More like sapling trees that bend and sway, than meaty boys. So not solid. Rubber limbs. Life jackets makes sense. It gives mothers and fathers peace. It gives boys freedom. Specks now as they paddle away. Urged on. Laughter carries on water.

 

Mosquitoes keep mothers inside. They suck even through denim. Mighty. Squashed, they are filled with more blood than their size allows. A baby keeps a young girl occupied. She has been abandoned by the sapling boys who have told her not to follow them. Her white blonde hair would make her a Gretel in the forest. She must stay with the women who drink tea and talk endlessly about how to make babies sleep. At least she has Nutella.

 

The baby is soothed by pumpkin and breastmilk. He seems easy, and hard to please, at the same time. Mothers of saplings remember back and can’t. Have stories, but stories could be made up. Memory is so mutable. It seems hard work – the baby thing – being so attached. Having to be carried, picked up, pushed around. I tell how I have spoken of Jasper in the plural to make him sound like more than one baby. I speak of “children” when I should have said “child.” To make myself sound equal to a mother of six. How hard can one be? I hear them all thinking. So I multiply him.

 

Now the saplings are off most of the time, or else take themselves away from the adults to commune in their room with their own music. Macklemore. What headphones they would buy if only they could save up the money. They run most of the day, jump in and out of pools, scrape knees, chew gum, and then at night fall they are couch-bound. Like heavily worked horses, they need watering, feed bags full of grain.

 

At night the river turns syrupy. Molasses. Really treacherous now. As if the snags and concealed boughs could move and strangle. It slurps and pulses. It grows stronger. There is a blood moon. It hangs heavy and low in the sky – disguises itself as a street lamp.

 

The dog stands on the jetty, peering. He is intrigued, but not stupid, and not brave either.

 

We talk of another dog, left home in the care of a comforting cleaner. Gold dog has had rounds of chemo to little effect to shrink down the size of a facial tumour. Despite the mass, she bounds happily in all types of tepid, stinking water. The smellier the better, you get the sense. If she was a person you might describe her as loopy, as the type to approach everything with gay abandon. The kind to strike up conversation with any stranger. She has anxiety too, and now is on multiple drugs to ease her disquiet. Sometimes she is panicked and wide eyed – her thoughts only on demons. She tears up whole rooms and, when a nail splits, it is as if an ax-murderer has been in the bedroom.

 

Solving her dilemma might be more than science and love can muster.

 

A new study shows that women look at their dogs with the same eyes they have for their newborn babies. Makes perfect sense to a woman whose love for her dog makes her curious about what he might be feeling and what makes him happy. He slips out the front when the rest of the house is eating dinner and could easily take off down the street. Instead he waits patiently outside the front door till someone realises he is missing and lets him in. He spends the rest of the night at the feet of the couch-bound saplings.

 

Babies and dogs are not so very different. Mothers are vets and vets are mothers. Babies are dogs and dogs are babies. Love is love.

The River House

 

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.