It’s too much for me to ignore. The dented water bottle drifting on top of the scummy pool surface. I know it’s probably too dangerous to climb down there and fetch it, but I do it anyway.
The green water at the bottom of the warped sandstone looks like a swollen eye. It watches me clamber down, as I watch myself in the reflection, adroit but teetering. Looking down at myself like this, it looks like I want to fall.
For a sec, I wonder if there’s any crocs in here. We had to call in some guys from Parks and Wildlife to pull a monster out of the Chamberlain River just this time last year after it snatched a Japanese boy off the bank. I was there when the Ngarinyin ranger put a bullet in its head and when they finally dragged it up onto the boat ramp it was the length of a Landcruiser.
The Aboriginal man cut the giant open with the Kununurra coppers standing back to watch, grabbing at their noses and gasping. The ranger pulled the little boy out and he was still mostly intact. But he looked like a flexy, white puppet. Lifeless and staring up at us all with ebony eyes.
It didn’t bother me so much. I expected it to be gorier, unwatchable. But it was closer to childbirth, I reckon. The way the Ngarinyin man’s arms slid into the goo of the croc’s open stomach, right up to his elbows, and then came back out with that four-year-old’s body in his red-slicked arms.
At the edge of the water I reach out for the bottle. The scuffed plastic’s been eaten over with algae and when I reach for it, it floats further away. In the edges of the dark water I can see pond scum floating. Baby cane toads kicking away.
I snatch onto a rock fig festering from the shelf beside me, so it’ll hold my weight as I reach further, grimacing now. The swollen, watery eye glares. You can only see for a few centimetres into it, and then it’s all just dark green. If I lose my footing on the sandstone and plunge in, I imagine it’ll be warm. Like being swallowed by stomach acids.
In my dream last night I had the same feeling. Afloat in liquid heat. Curled up in placid dark. Until there was the sound of sawing flesh. A splinter of gauzy, pink light. And those two brown arms reached in and grabbed my legs. Pulling me out into raw sunlight.
The bottle floats out into the middle of that fluid eye now. And still I reach. My grasp on the fig loosening. My feet slipping.
That eye sees me. Knows me. It knows this is no longer about the bottle. Never was, in fact.
This was always about the falling.