Water Memories

Water Memories

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One day my father and mother took me, just me, with them on a trip. It wasn’t very far, but far enough for a three-year-old: one who had never been away from her childhood home. My place of birth was Waterview, via South Grafton, a remote farming community on the outskirts of Grafton. Even more remote was Moree in the rugged tableland country to the west of our place. It took Dad about six hours to drive us there.
I don’t know why they singled me out in this way, perhaps simply that I was the youngest child. Was it after my early experience in hospital?  I remember Dad brought a tiny rabbit to the windowpane of the ward wherein I was quarantined. A special treat during a cold traumatic stay in the children’s hospital ward. I remember, too, a nurse placing me in a tub of water at the end of the three weeks, before my mother came to take me home. The memory of that salving water all over my body remains in a special mental niche to this day.
What I do know, is that for a day or two, I was the chosen one. The littlest princess. My brothers, only two and three years older than me, were left at Grandma’s farm, directly across the Moree Highway from our little cottage.
I wonder, though, if there was something more significant about this incident. The town, Moree, had nothing to distinguish itself. Nothing, that is, apart from the natural salt springs hidden beneath its surface. They were discovered when an engineer sank a drill in search of oil, and hot salt water spurted up like a miracle offering to the residents of the community.
***
My very first water experience is in my mother’s womb: safe, secure, warm, where I swim, mermaid-like, do somersaults in joy and imagine that I will never leave this watery haven.
At Waterview the humid scorching air of the sub-tropical climate engulfs us; the heat, ruthless, tears at our skin and sends us kids scurrying towards water. We swing like Tarzan from overhanging scribbly gums and jump into the creek on Dad’s bush paddock. We find a foot-hold from which to launch ourselves from the tree roots spreading out from the banks, and feel the clay squelchy and squidgy between our toes. Scattering tiny snakes and tree frogs that hide in the depths.  Or so I think.
I try to hide my fears of the depths and copy my brothers in derring do. Yellow belly fear.  Like the bloated green tree frogs with bulging eyes. Staring down from the rafters. Ready to pounce. Swallow you up. Green waters swirling. Amphibian annihilation.
I don’t know where it came from: the fear. My elder brother went off to school at four and found a solid niche for himself within his intellect. The other brother, only two years older than me, was as fearless as a warrior; I was Minny-Ha-Ha to his Hiawatha the Brave.
One time I screamed out in the middle of the night: “Monsters. Black man under the bed…” Dad raced into the kids’ bedroom with a torch and looked under the bed. I wanted to crawl in next to him and Mum in their double bed. But it was out of bounds.
***
For now I am floating in the warm salt waters of the Moree baths. Mother and father are holding me up in their arms. Just the three of us. Floating there. On the surface all is well with my world. Warm. Safe. Barely a ripple.
And now I am sitting in a pink tub on the old wooden table in the kitchen next to the fuel stove. It is dusk. A golden ball of light sinks into the hills to the west. The warm water soothes my body. I splash my hands in it and crow. Mother and I are waiting for the sound of the jeep and his footsteps coming in. I wonder now if my mother was not a little jealous when he came straight into me and threw me up in the air: “My little Angie Pangie, my princess, how are you today?”
So where does the fear come from? When does it enter?
Was it at the time of my birth? Or was it three weeks before: The unutterable, nonsensical event that tore thirteen little boys from their mother’s and their father’s breasts. On this day thirteen boy cubs drowned in the Clarence River near our home at Waterview.
Imagine the angst: the utter unimaginable despair. Thirteen little bodies floating in the green waters. Lights turned on along the river banks during the whole cruel night.
Perhaps those events, occurring around the time of our entry onto the planet, are significant. Perhaps they are passed onto us through our mother’s nervous system. Or by some more mysterious means.
My very earliest memory is of tombstone-like coldness and a nurse placing my skinny body in a hot tub after a serious illness.
I am sick. Hallucinating. A dark bull chasing me. I have spent barely three years on this beautiful planet. I have a red face and chest. Scarlet Fever. 
“Put her in hospital or you’ll carry her out in a box!” the doctor tells my mother. Was it that dark period during which I was snatched from my mother’s breast and put in a sterile ward in the hospital opposite the Grafton Gaol that I experienced my first nights of sheer terror?
But it’s the Moree baths I remember most of all.
  
This story owes its genesis to my brother, William, a writer who lives in France, who gave me the starting phrase  ‘One day...’

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