Kristal Miu-Yee
Writes of passage
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Building Sandcastles


The policewoman with me is wearing a blue uniform. Apart from that she’s not like the ones on TV at all. She’s not shouting, though she has no reason to. But she is not kind either. It almost seems like she blames me.

She has a notepad but she isn’t writing anything at the moment. Most of the time she’s been leaning into the back of her chair. The light in the window behind her has almost made a silhouette of her. But not so dark I can’t see the expression on her face. 

I don’t think they want me to be alone, she’s been with me the whole time, even though all we can do is wait. Every now and then she asks if I remember anything else. When I shake my head, she tells me to relax and things will come back to me. She suggests we talk about something different. I suppose she’s trying to take my mind off things, help me relax as she said.

I remember when I was at school, my class went on an excursion to the local police station, but I didn’t go because I was sick. The next day my classmates talked about how big the policemen were, and the smell of urine in the cells. But it’s not like that here. It’s more like a hospital. I suppose it’s the waiting and the whispering. In the corridor behind me, they walk on soft lino and their boots squeak.

I wonder if the policewoman realises that my mind and my body are falling apart. She’s just sitting there, quietly, on the other side of the table. Even though she can see my eyes are puffed and swollen, I’m sure she has no idea how much I ache. How jagged and cold the pain is. How broken it makes me feel. This emptiness.

She looks at my hands when I rub them together. I don’t want to draw attention, so I tuck them up, under my t-shirt, and roll the bottom of it around them. No matter what I do, I can’t make them warm. When I lift my thighs and sit on the ends of my fingers, the chair squeaks and she glances at my lap. I thought she was going to ask me something but she only moved her lips into an unsure smile. I feel self-consciousness, like she’s watching everything I do. Of course that’s silly. Just the same, I need to settle myself. I’ll sit still and put up with the cold. Sitting still is good for me anyway because whenever I move, it feels like my skull shrinks and compresses all the blood in my brain. The pressure is unbearable. I want so badly to lie down, but I can’t. Not at a time like this.

They want me to make a statement. But how can I do that? How can I go through it all over again? At least they’re letting me wait till Michael comes. Poor Michael. How can he make the trip from the farm by himself? I wish he’d been with us, then this wouldn’t have happened.

The policewoman has gone quiet. I’m not sure I like it. It makes me feel like I should say something. I prefer it when she talks, then I don’t have to. Not that she says much. And sometimes she doesn’t make sense. A moment ago she said they were waiting for someone to arrive, someone who can help me. But who can help me now?

My baby’s already gone.

Earlier the policewoman said there was a phone call from someone who lives opposite the beach. I guess the person was watching Danny and me building sandcastles and then saw there was only me. Me bent over, punching the sand, then running and falling, crying and mourning for my baby.

Four or five of men chased me along the beach till one caught me and gripped my shoulders tight. He had a beard and his silver hair was in a ponytail. He kept saying they were there to help me. I screamed at him and pounded his stubborn chest. I kicked his shins, his ankles, whatever I could reach. But he wouldn’t let me go. He caught me up in a blanket and held me tight and said, calm down now, calm down. He led me towards an ambulance and a small van. The others walked up the beach to our towels and basket, and little Danny’s plastic bucket and spade. They stayed there, near our things, for a long time. When they came back, they took the man aside and whispered to him. Then he brought me to the police station.

It seems hours ago now. And hours I’ve been here on my own. I want to go home so I can go to sleep. I want to lie down with Michael holding me to him, stroking my face, and blocking out the world. But I can’t do that yet. I must stay in one piece till he arrives, then I can remember.

Till then, I’ll keep concentrating on little things. I feel steadier when I do. The chair I’m sitting on has a black vinyl cover, with little rubber stoppers on each leg. There’s another one the same on the other side of the table. It has a narrow split in it, just below the metal frame of the back-rest, and the stuffing’s poking out. It looks like it’s been slashed with a knife.

The policewoman has started asking me questions again. About what I remember. Over and over. And I answer her over and over, knowing it won’t help. Neither will all the notes she’s taking. I want to grab her steely pointed pen and stop it from scratching between the lines. I want to shout at her and tell her it’s no use. I want to tell her she’s stupid and she doesn’t understand. But I don’t. I keep sitting in this little room, waiting for Michael. Waiting for him to come and sort things out and take me home.

The policewoman isn’t convinced I’m trying to remember. Her badgering  is confusing me. I need more time. The images are taunting me. Just when I catch one, it retreats to a distant place and rolls back with a crash before it dissolves again, advancing and retreating like a wave when high tide is coming in.

It’s been four hours now since Danny went. I suppose people will say I was irresponsible to be on an unpatrolled beach that’s known for rips, especially when there’s a sign that says so. But what do they know?

When the policewoman asks me if I’m a strong swimmer, I say yes. I don’t tell her I was a lifesaver through most of high school and university, or that I ran championships for the primary kids every holiday. And I don’t say I can tell by looking at her that she couldn’t paddle a board for more than twenty metres.

She wants to know how I met Michael. I tell her we met at university. I talk to her and think other things I don’t say. She doesn’t need to know that Michael made me feel special, like no-one else did. That he always had time for me. Till I met him, I was only alive when I dropped into an unpredictable wave. Through Michael I discovered me, and for the first time I was happy on dry land, floating beside him, the air around us making me feel like I wanted to dance.

After my first short visits to his family’s farm, I knew I would live there. Now, after five years atYaroola, Michael envelops me the way the ocean once did. When I was a young, I lived for the beach, now I live for him.

The policewoman asks me about life on the farm. This is much easier and it seems to be calming me down. I tell her before Danny came Michael and I spent full-moon evenings picnicking and barbecuing by the river. Sometimes we fished and camped at the western bend, near the bird keep. Just below the bend there’s a little granite gorge with blackberry bushes growing on our side. We spent a lot of late summer Sundays there, seeing who could find the biggest berry, and feeding each other with fingers stained purple. For a while we called it Camelot but I don’t tell her that. 

I almost brag about how I surprised everyone, showing them a coastie could round up sheep, drive a tractor and help dig post-holes. A couple of seasons I even helped plough. The year I broke my wrist, I could only manage smaller chores like feeding the dogs and poddy calves, and keep up my ritual of collecting the eggs. That was a hard year. Not just because of the drought, but because I saw less of Michael.

When the policewoman asks me for more, I talk about Saturdays and going to town, shopping for the week’s treats and being with other women when I watched Michael play cricket or football. She doesn’t seem so interested in these things. Like us reading the papers together and having lunch with his parents on Sundays.

But she smiles when I talk about Danny starting to grow in me. There’s no question it was a surprise. But Michael made it such a nice surprise. He was thrilled from the moment we found out. He wanted his own child, something even more satisfying than breeding and birthing stock. I didn’t have the heart to tell him how horrible the nausea was, or how much energy it took just to get out of bed. Sweet little Danny, he wanted all my attention, even before he was born. 

But my pregnancy was something we did together and I’d do it over again. Michael made life so certain and I cherished his concern for me and his unborn child. At the end of my term I was too tired to go to the bird keep, so when the day was over we lay on the lounge instead. Somehow we managed to wrap ourselves around each other, and talk about whatever came into our heads, content with the way things were.  I don’t mention it to the policewoman, but I remember thinking I could have stayed like that forever, the two of us and the unborn baby.

When she asks how it felt to have a new baby, I tell her how I loved it, though it stopped me from helping around the farm. In fact Michael insisted I didn’t. I’d told him I was over my head with nappies and washing, and the baby took forever to feed. Danny would have fed all day if I let him, but it hurt so much I didn’t. I decide not to mention that Michael didn’t notice when I started to cry my way through the days. There’s no ring on those soft knuckled hands of hers. She’d have no idea what it’s like not to have just five minutes to make yourself clean, or to have that helpless little thing needing you every moment of its life.

I don’t tell her sometimes Danny’s screams were so loud, I had to leave. I went up to the old wool shed and lay in the stalls till he settled. A couple of times I fell asleep and only woke when I heard Michael coming home. 

We had busy seasons that year. Michael was worn out by the time he got home. Sometimes he barely had the energy to eat. Despite his exhaustion, he never failed to spend time with Danny, though he had time for little else. I can count the times we went to the river on one hand. I started going to town on my own during the week and left Danny with Michael’s cousin while I did the shopping. Then I had all day to make a special dinner for Saturday night. It took twice as long with the baby to look after.

She asks if I get lonely out there on the farm. I remember that when Danny was about three months old, I missed the ocean for the first time and I started going to the bend on my own, just to be near the water. Occasionally I wandered back from the keep after dark. I knew the place so well I never tripped or fell, but Michael was always distracted when I got back, especially if Danny needed a feed.

Sometimes I got so immersed in my own world, I lost track of time and almost forgot that Michael and Danny were waiting for me. One night, the simple sound of frogs and plovers held me in that little world, away from them. I stayed for a long, long time, staring at the sky. I felt like I do now. Like I was watching me, from somewhere outside my own body. I was a star way up in the sky looking down at me, a tiny thing almost lost among the trees. For those few hours, things seemed manageable again. I felt safe. There I was, watching out for myself. When I got home, Michael had fallen asleep with Danny across his knee and a bottle in his hand. Neither of them woke when I walked by.

But I don’t want to tell the policewoman any of this, so I look at the floor and don’t say anything, even though she wants me to. She’s starting to annoy me with her endless questions. I don’t think she’s as nice as she’s pretending to be. She doesn’t need to know all this about husbands and babies. I’m going to ignore her.The policewoman just cleared her throat and shuffled her papers. I’ve been drifting. She’s holding my wrist and asking me to look at her, but I can’t focus. Her voice sounds faint and her face looms, then backs away. I feel like I’m inside a plastic bubble. I try to relax but she making me nervous now. I need the safety of the bubble. I need to go back to the waves, to feel them spill over me while I paddle out to catch one home. I need to surround myself with water.

It’s 4.30 and I’m tired, so tired. More than ever before. The policewoman keeps urging me to help, but how can I help? There’s nothing to be done. It’s over. And nothing’s happening. There’s no point me being here. 

The silly young thing’s gone outside to talk to someone. She’s made a lot of notes but they don’t make sense. If she believes what she’s written, she must be crazy. Michael has to get me away from these people. Then he can get back to the fencing. I’m worried about how he will be though. He’ll be distraught, and I’m afraid he’ll be angry. Life was just getting back to normal, and things would’ve been the way they used to be. Then Michael suggested I make this trip to the coast. Now it’s changed, everything’s changed.

I’ve been trembling. I’m cold all the way through, as if I’ve been surfing in winter without a wetsuit. I want to go back to the beach. I want to start today again. We won’t build sandcastles and I’ll be careful. I’ll be much more careful.

The policewoman has brought a man in. I think he’s the one who’s supposed to help me. I’m trying to pay attention but the pounding in my head keeps pushing gaps in what’s going on. He’s asking me if Danny liked the water. Why don’t they just leave me alone? Can’t they see that with every question, a tiny chunk of me breaks loose. The policewoman’s voice won’t stop. It’s shrill and makes wounds across my forehead. The red letters on the sign behind her make me nauseous. The silver stripes on her uniform wriggle like leeches searching for warmth and blood.I can hear voices outside the door. I’m sure one of them is Michael. It is, it’s him He’s here at last. Now he can take me home.

The door is opening. I’m afraid to see him. Oh god, he’s been crying. Crying so hard his eyes are like glass. I can’t bear his pain. My love, my one love.

I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. 

He knows. Of course he knows. I stand and move toward him, but he doesn’t reach for me. He doesn’t recognise me. He mustn’t.

Michael, I’m sorry.

He won’t look at me. Perhaps he hasn’t heard. I take his hand.

Hold me. Please, hold me.

I plead, but there is no embrace.

Tell me everything is all right Michael, tell me. 

Finally, his lips move and somewhere beyond my own pain I hear him. Now I’m crying too, heaving like I did on the beach and all the way to this horrible little room. Howling my own remorse. It vibrates inside me, shakes me loose. Fragments fly in all directions. I want to speak but my jaw locks. I stutter and choke but I drive the words out.
It was an accident Michael, an accident. We were playing, building sandcastles and we dug a channel to the water. We made a moat and dug another hole and Danny was laughing and loving it, jumping in it, and we covered his legs and he laughed and said more Mummy, more. Bury me all up.

Verandah 20 © Kristal Yee 2005  


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© Kristal Yee and 2014.
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