My feet slow. The anticipation of this moment marred with the reality. It was supposed to be a homecoming of sorts.Yet it’s as if my limbs can already sense what’s coming, they skit, slide, falter. The land unsteadies me, sodden skeleton trails underneath the stubby grass lull you into a false sense of security. But the barren bleakness and eerily emptiness envelops me momentarily. I am frozen on the precipice, full submersion into the deep tempting me.
My foot sinks, the guttural squelch of the mud, startles me and I fluster, trying to gain some traction and steady myself so I can release my foot. The ground hasn’t had time to recover yet. It’s still in the air, the smell, the moisture, the disquiet. The familiar all at once fractured. Hollows and pits, bumps and mounds, debris and split sandbags.
I’m taken back, aged five in the kitchen, water everywhere, the musty, muddy, sewage laden stench still tickles the back of my throat and I’m crying. My mother had spent the evening trying to keep the water at bay but it was futile. I must have woken up in the middle of the night, she had been crying and was wringing her hands, hands so chapped, so worn, but still so soft as she caressed the tears from my cheek that night. Her attempts at keeping the water out of the house were in vain, the flood defences my father had painstakingly built the summer before had collapsed. No match for the spring tide.
He was away for the week and so it was just Mum and me, that night as the tide tore its way across the landscape, full throttle and no sign of abating but disappearing as quickly as it arrived.
The next day we ventured out, still somewhat damp and wrinkled, our fingers white and prune-like. I remember my mother trying to hide her wide eyed horror as she noticed the bloated bodies of cattle over in the next field mangled and splayed. Their once serene and majestic bodies, now sodden and sullied.
My foot finally comes free from the mud, another almighty squelch brings me back into the present, and I feel a sense of release from that memory. But others linger, dancing in my peripheral vision as my eyeline draws level with a row of abandoned homes whose bleached, rickety remains stand in defiance. A line of pockmarks in the long grasses. The insides of these homes, now hollow, home to a myriad of birds. I trace paths on the horizons of where we used to play. My footsteps seek out the territorial lines that used to separate us from the kids down the road. They were the lines of play, lines that divided us and brought us together, lines that we crossed together as adolescence hit and we were bored, this half life of being marooned but not.
The tantalising stretch of Hoopers Island Road connected you back to the promise of life outside and the lure of Old Salty’s up the road, but the designated driver always had to remain sober and alert, as the drive back in the evening could end in submersion.
I drew up towards the gate of our house, my hands already outstretched to unlock it but my fingers quivered, grasping the small posy of three roses as if it would make up for things. It now seemed like such a meagre, pathetic offering but you had always loved the smell of roses. I opened the gate and closed it behind me. The house hadn’t changed. The flood marks and tidelines had left a rusty pattern, a wrinkle across the lower part of the house. Yet your garden at the front still optimistically bloomed, despite the neglect in recent time.
It had been three months since the tide had taken you, and twelve years since the last time I saw you. I lay the posy at the bottom of the garden where they laid your ashes to rest and walked to the shore. Taking off my shoes and jeans, I headed out to the deep.