“Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.” Ben Okri
Below are excepts from some of the poems and stories in the Water Stories collection.
To be Known by Sarah Jean
There is a deep longing in me to be known, to feel my own presence
seen and echoing in a chamber of sudden stillness, in a heart that is always
leaving in arriving and arriving in leaving.
I was a child born to story, raised up in a writer’s heart, so that my seeking
has been like walking in reverent silence through the great halls of a domed library.
Past all the volumes of colour, bound secrets and words whispering of wings
that call to me for touch
To pause in my stride, all my weight turning
to follow the scent of dust and yellowed paper aged with love.
I have been a 10-year-old girl, cradled in the rocking chair
inherited from the Great Aunt’s home in Kew,
reading Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Tolkien – without distinction
or need to understand the detail, the subtlety – carried forward by feeling
those big movements of human emotion and searching.
Dimpled Knees by Mary Kingman O’Brian
“I have dimpled knees,” my mother said. She lifted her checked skirt to show me her white knees with a dimple on either side of each knee.
“Are dimples important?” I asked.
“You don’t have any. That’s why you’re not cute.” She turned back to the pot of custard on the back burner of the gas stove and stirred it.
I went to the mirror in my unfinished pink and no-colour bedroom. I twisted and turned, this way and that, looking for a dimple in my face, my elbows, and I already knew it was no use looking at my knees. I went out to the kitchen.
“Mum, what can I do to give myself a dimple?”
“You have to be born with them.”
“Why isn’t everyone born with them?”
“For the same reason some people are blondes, some have black hair, curly hair, frizzy hair, or straight. Few people have wavy, titian-coloured hair like mine.”
In front of the mirror again, I looked at my long brown curls with strands of red. Reddish-brown, not titian. Better than my brother’s mousy hair.
“If we don’t look alike Mum, why did you choose me?”
“Because of all the babies available, you were the one whose hair colouring was closest to mine.”
Dark Water by Natalie Sprite
The first time I came here, he cooked me fish he had caught himself while I looked through his bookshelves, wanting to learn something about him.
There were books on boats and fish and fishing. Surfing books from the seventies with faded colour photos of Hawaiian waves and handmade boards. But there were other things too. Dickens. Marquez. The Bronte sisters. I pulled out Wuthering Heights, sliding it with one finger on top of its yellow spine. The books were packed in close and I had to pull to release the book.
He came to stand beside me, his upper arm brushing mine for a moment, warm and furry. “I love that book.” He nodded at my hands. “The way she writes about country. And Heathcliff of course, all that longing.”
I looked up. His face so close I could see the curve of his eyelashes and the shadows they cast on his skin. He was different to the men I knew. I’d spent my life loving poets and musicians and painters. Men with dark ringed eyes and a spine you could pick out like a line of peas. Men who spoke passionately about their art and their drugs.
But now here was this bull of a man with shoulders like a footballer and a back wide enough to sleep against. I’d thought it meant something. I’d thought I’d found somebody who would stay.
He took the book from me. “Hang on, let me see if I can find it.” He flicked through the yellowed pages with his big hands.
“I didn’t expect you to be a Bronte fan.”
He grinned, looked at me sideways. “Don’t be overestimating me. It’s just a book.”
I laughed. “Why would I do overestimate you?”
“I’m easy to romanticise.”
“My god.” Punching him in the arm, laughing. “You’re so arrogant.”
He shrugged and his big shoulders lifted and fell, the movement taking the laughter away. “I just don’t want you to be disappointed.”
I prickled with uncertainty, but then he lifted the book to the lamplight. “Here it is. This is what I wanted to read you.”
He held the book at the end of his arm and I realised he must be long sighted. He read the line silently and then let his arm drop and looked into my face.
There was a moment of quiet, where I noticed the splish of tiny waves outside and the green of his irises. Then he said the words as if they were his own, “If you ever looked at me once with what I know is in you, I would be your slave.”
“Oh.” Water underneath my feet.
“It’s what we all want, isn’t it? To be seen and loved regardless. And it’s what we want from others too, don’t you think? That moment of offering, open and unguarded.”
Standing face to face, with salt air between our bodies, a space of ten centimetres.
He looked at me over the dark yellow pages; shut the book with one hand.
The Big Walk by Robbie Kirk
“Do you love him? Your husband?”
I stop packing clothes into a suitcase and stare at this bear of a man. There are tattoos laced across his face and neck. I cough and hold my ribs. His dark eyes bore into mine.
“So that’s no?”
I pull my cardigan across my chest. “Not for a long time, no.”
Kiwi grabs a packing carton under each arm, “Then we’ll get this stuff loaded quick.”
A Friendship in Three Parts by Alene Ivey
Sandy and I had been eyeing off the crewmen on the cruise ship for the last two weeks. I fancied Denis. He was in his twenties, dark and swarthy, with black hair and stubble. Sandy and I would wave to him from the promenade deck and he’d wave back.
‘You should arrange to meet him,’ said Sandy. We were leaning on the rails, watching the men below move cargo around, their shirts off and sweat coating their backs. ‘I’ll do it for you if you like. I can ask Chopsy. He comes up to the promenade deck in the mornings to hose down the deck.’
Sandy waved aside my protests and before I knew it, a meeting was arranged for the next time we came into port.
The day came all too quickly. Sandy and I casually strolled along the deck and stood by the gangplank, pretending to watch cargo being loaded onto the ship. From the corner of my eye I saw Denis wink at me as he went ashore.
Sandy nudged me ‘Go on, he’s waiting for you.’
I took a deep breath and ran after him, around the corner of one of the sheds into the shadows, where he pulled me straight into his arms. I started to tremble as I felt how hard his body was, all muscle. I was so nervous the hair on my arms stood on end.
He started kissing me and his tongue filled my mouth. Sandy had told me not to stick my tongue in his mouth because that meant you were ready to ‘do it’ – have sex with him.
I could hear the cranes working on the ship behind us, the clatter of them as they dropped cargo into the holds and the shouts of the men on the wharf. I hoped they couldn’t see us.
He was starting to paw my boobs now and I pulled his hand away. Nice girls don’t let men grab their boobs, no matter what Sandy said about it making them get bigger.
He was still tongue kissing me but he’d stopped with the boob grabbing. I began to feel more relaxed. Then he held one of my hands, which I thought was kinda cute until he placed it on his body. It felt soft and warm for about three seconds before I realised, he had cupped my hand around his testicles.
I ripped my hand away and ran back to the ship, past all the wharfies, up the gangplank and past an astonished Sandy and into the toilets, where I vomited in the bowl. Then I washed my hands and washed my hands and washed my hands. And then I flushed the toilet and went back and washed my hands some more.