|Waychinicup by Catherine Gordan|
He rowed against the confused slop of waves that hit the cliffs and rolled back into each other. There was a channel of water flowing, a tear in the choppy swell, a clear line cut through the chaos. He lurched nearer. Here was something he’d never seen on this coast. A channel cut into the rocks through an imposing gateway sixty feet high. The inlets were usually sand-locked on the coast around here, to be flushed out by the yearly flooding through the low lying grounds beyond the dunes. This place was made by forces older than floods.
He struggled against the flow of the outgoing tide. He could smell fresh water now, mixing into the brine, little vortex devils that would coax his oars away if only they weren’t held fast by the rowlocks. It seemed that he rowed on the spot and it made a mess of him for his strength after two days was not enough. He checked the huge stone bristling with barnacles for a bearing and never saw it move by him at all. He strained against the tide for an age until it picked him up and washed him back out to sea, as cheerful as though he were a cuttle bone.
For a while he slept in the sun and woke with a thickened tongue, his eyelids glued together with salt and pus. He shook the last of the water into his mouth and looked towards the channel gate. The water was grey like the sky, heavy and silky, and the tide had turned. He started towards the lithic gateway and she let him, she let him into the inlet. It was no struggle as the water poured through the narrow aperture and bore him through in a rush.
The water inside gathered and surged. The inlet had a tide of its own. The river fed the inlet and the sea did too so when they met the body of briny swelled. Every three minutes the tide rose and then fell again, sucking out the juice between the crevices and holes. The breath of the world, he thought.
Water ran off the mountain in great silver streaks and he knew that some of the secret mossy places here would never see the sun. The noise of the ocean, roaring beyond the gates of the inlet, became a harmless background. Things scuttled and flapped away on his approach. There was only sounds; no sight of any creatures. Sea grass swayed beneath the water and brushed against the bottom of his boat. The inlet was completely bound with stone and brilliantly coloured lichens flowered all around.
Then the keel hit coarse orange sand and he lurched out of the boat, slipped over on some underwater boulders. He threw out the fiddle and the axe and the water and sank, exhausted, into a mounded bed of ribbon weed.
“If this is hell then let me stay.” He heard himself with great surprise as his words croaked out, certain of their sentiment but alien to the place. “Happy enough with this hell.”
When he awoke it was dusk. Birds chanted their co-ordinates. The dinghy was gone. He staggered to his feet to see the little boat hurtling back out of the channel on the tide. Past the heads and into the open sea, spinning once against a stone like a dancer. One oar lay stupidly in the water. He waded out to get it, slipping again on the rounded rocks just below the surface. He reached out to grab the handle with the red, port side stripe he’d painted himself only weeks before.
He felt something watching him. He shivered in wet clothes and turned to look behind him to the forested hill that stretched way from the water, where unseen multitudes of feather adorned bushmen must have been crouching, staring back at him. Magenta light changed the grey green forest to the serpentine brilliance of a parrot’s wing and the orange stones only looked redder. He looked back to the water.
Tree oils from the mountain stained it like stewed tea but regular sluicing by the ocean made it not so brown of the river but translucent and mysterious. In the grand nature of the place he felt sure that something equally majestic must live within its depths, something old, lumbering. There is always talk of creatures that man had known once and then forgotten.