We used to jump off the cliffs together. The first few times, it took hours to psych ourselves up. And when we finally did it the ice-sharp water seemed proud of us. After a few times, we got confident. We’d race each other to be first in the sky, sometimes leaping at the same time. Then we’d plummet into the water: a deep green amniotic fluid. Reaching for each other as we surfaced gasping for air, and then clawing our way back up the cliff face. Warm bones and cold skin and jagged rocks. Heart racing, lungs like butterfly wings. I felt like I could breathe in all the air in the whole world when I was with you.
After summer, I got bigger. So big that people would tell me to move because I was blocking their sunlight. Sometimes I’d go down the river, alone, for a reprieve. Discard my too-tight clothes and float in the water like a grain of sand in a deep, black abyss. It helped me feel small again and as though, at least for a moment, their words were untrue.
And almost overnight we moved away. No fuss was made. I guess it suited everyone better. I started a new school where all the other kids were huge – huge money, huge cars, huge parents with huge jobs. I was big, but in a sea of bigness. Among concrete buildings and traffic lights and cafes and buses, finally I wasn’t so huge anymore. I felt smaller, and I became smaller. But I missed you. Do you still jump off the cliffs?
Your invitation arrives in the mail on a Wednesday. I prop it up on the kitchen table between the sugar bowl and the ashtray. I look at it every morning while I eat my boiled egg and toast. It takes weeks before I muster the courage to reply. Of course it’s in the affirmative. How could I say no to you? What will you say when you see me? Will you recognise me? I don’t look the same. I’m like an old apple. Shrunken. I bet you look exactly the same.
I have many things to wear. None of them feel right. But when the time comes, I settle on blue pants and a crisp white shirt. I set off on the long drive at dinnertime, stomach empty, the night before your wedding. I’ll stay in one of two hotels on the main street – whichever one will have me. I’ll listen to the river out my window. I’ll wonder why you invited me. And the next day I’ll check out, alone.
It’s a long drive to the river. Constellations vibrate through the dirty windscreen, and the headlights reveal strange shapes on the road. At the turnoff, they look like bones and animals. Orange street lamps mark the way and slice through the fog. The bitumen glistens under the lights. A scaly black snake. A bruised vein. It teases most of the people here with an exit door they’ll never use. Where are you? With the boys from the footy club? Maybe leather-skin balls aren’t enough for you anymore. The pub? It looks empty as I drive past. Cars? I can hear the growl of engines on the breeze. I think I know where you are.
The stars are bright and clear. Hundreds of people have brought blankets to put on the concrete, but the cold still gets in. Corn kernel-sized dirt balls spit from the wheels of the cars and bikes. They fly up over the fences and through the diamond-shaped wire, sneaking down necks. My bony fingers feel like frozen chicken necks I buy for my cat. I shove them deep in my pockets, but they insist on aching. Passing the donut stand, I inhale the sugar crystals in the air. The toilet block on the hill smells of cigarettes and hairspray. The concrete floor of the corrugated iron building is wet, and the walls are decorated in aggressive love letters. Rugged vending machines brave the cold, offering tampons and condoms – at a price. The mirrors are smeared, distorted. Is that me?
The screaming of cars and motorbikes muffles the conversations between the young girls in here. While I fumble with the vending machine, they fix their hair, and walk out – arms interlinked. Through the gaps in the iron walls I watch them ascend the hill. I can see them, barely, between the chain-link fence and trees. They peer at the circuit below through a screen of gums and wild bushes. They speak a secret language to each other. I hear small snatches of their words on the sweet blue breeze, but I can’t understand them.
The night is over and I haven’t seen you yet. Maybe I don’t know you anymore. Why do you want me here? The motorbikes and cars are all loaded back on trailers, so I trudge back to my car along with the crowd. The girls are gone too. I will go back to my room soon; one thing left to do first – to celebrate your last night before marriage.
I meander through the streets to our old cliff. On the way I realise how many new houses have sprung up, new little cul-de-sacs with names that don’t belong here. Shopping centre car parks have reproduced at an alarming rate: black voids coated in white lines. I grimace. My carriage sails across the bridge and winds up the hill toward the cliffs. I park the car. The water waits patiently below. I take the keys out of the ignition and lean back on the headrest. Even with my clothes on, it’s so cold my chalk-bones might break. I take them off. The moon lights me up. Then I see you. How long have you been waiting here? It doesn’t matter. Grasp hands. Jump. Water welcomes. When I open my eyes underneath, I swear I can see your face.