Christine Johnson

NSW Writers Centre and Society of Women Writers New South Wales




In front of me the mysterious lake deepens to bottle green. The weight of an ancient fencepost rests on a rock, an accidental sculpture enjoying warm wetness as if yielding to a lover. Mirror-like, the water reflects slim reeds and impenetrable bushland clinging to its opposite banks. Closing my eyes I breathe pungent air, smell an unfathomable aroma of timelessness. Discover a breeze that almost sings with pleasure. I’ve arrived.

      In spite of the release the sights and smells produce inside me, a sudden undertow of sadness joins in. My throat constricts. Grief grips me like a metal band strapped around my chest and tightening. I slip my backpack off my shoulder and onto the ground; check once more the talisman-like presence that has inspired this journey. It calms me. Another deep breath, the gnawing sorrow subsides.

     Water fowl land and churn up brief turbulence on the lake’s surface. I hear the plop-plash sound; gaze out over the water and notice a sprinkling of bark and leaves floating upwards. My eyes follow them as they whirl about only to sink again, lost in the abundant depths. As if upon a river of tears, I think.

     I feel myself lurch inside. It’s as if I can hear my mother’s voice.
     ‘No, don’t go there. Remember Esther, regret, it’s something shapeless. Unable to be built on, it’s only good for wallowing in.’
     She’s right. A rock, a fencepost - but within me, images, sounds, smells, memories, merge and run together…
     Beep, beep, beep. A world away in Intensive Care, it was that high-pitched noise, the machine-supported sound of a human heartbeat, which kept afloat the merest flicker of hope. Tubes and wires invaded the unconscious body lying in the hospital bed. Accompanying the beeping, the repetitive rise and plunge of a thin line pulsing across a screen was excruciating, hypnotic. It only added to the exhaustion that numbed my entire body.

    Perhaps I’d started to nod off? Suddenly, warning signals were flashing. The crisis I’d dreaded became a reality. The pulsing line galloped, leapt and staggered in one mad misstep. Pulsating stopped. The long, continuous whine of an insistent single note pierced me, as if aiming to stop my heart too.
    I heard a flurry of footsteps, sensed the efficient urgency of those hurrying across. After rapid checking, one nurse was given the nod by her superior and placed a hand on my shoulder.

    ‘I’m sorry. It’s over.’
     My mother had died. Every last bit of certainty and meaning vanished in that icy instant, leaving me frozen; utterly alone.

     Now I look out at the lake. Invite its tranquil stillness into my veins. I reach into my knapsack. Lift out the box. Loss lingers in me, but hope of distraction remains while I carry out the essential task ahead. I’ve come this far.

     Wading through shallows, I balance on the fencepost. Mum’s ashes going, going, gone, taken by breezes, scattered across the lake’s surface. I watch the water enfold her.