He paints me gliding through spinach soup. Past white picket fences furred with algae. Past fish-flicking mailboxes. Past the coral-encrusted wrecks of our neighbours’ houses. He captures my tippy-toes gait. The golden banner of my hair. My water-distorted smile, its echo on the dugong’s face.
The title curves above my head in bouncy black letters. Drowned Woman with Dugong.
“Your best yet!” I say, kissing his black moustache. We waltz around the studio. The gramophone plays “I Can’t Stop Loving You”.
June 12, 1967. Greek-born artist’s exhibition celebrates Australian alps
My scrapbook, open on the kitchen table, keeps miraculously dry. I leaf through honey-coloured clippings while my hair sets. He loves my corkscrew ’do. “My mermaid,” he murmurs at night as the current combs my curls.
The hydroelectric scheme brought people from all over to the Snowy Mountains. He wandered into Jindabyne not long after my 17th birthday. Worked odd jobs when he had to. Other days, he’d set up his easel at the river bend. I couldn’t keep away. Familiar vistas cancanned across his canvases in fancy dress. Never more themselves.
One day, there I was. Tiara on my head, meat cleaver in hand. Butcher’s Shop Princess.
My parents disapproved.
“He’ll never put meat on the table.”
“I’ll take care of that,” I said.
August 5, 1967. Flooding of Jindabyne valley to begin any day
I wore them down. “Your choice, darl,” Mum said.
“You can work in the shop for a wage. Apart from that, you’re on your own.”
The ring, a hair’s-width gold band from the main street jewellers, emptied his savings sock. We’d live on love, art and T-bone steak.
December 12, 1967. Last wedding at Saint Mary’s
The newspaper photographer was nicknamed “Blur”. He managed to tilt us 45 degrees as well. Our smiles are watery. My eyes ask: “Can you tell I’m wearing a shower curtain?” My brother’s suit, lent for the occasion, is too tight across my husband’s shoulders. Its buttons pincer his belly like tiny black crabs.
We spent our honeymoon in my parents’ squeaky old bed. The lino had just been laid in their new house up the hill. The bedroom suite was their pride and joy: rosewood veneer with real imitation mother-of-pearl inlay.
“You two can squat in the old place till the fish move in,” Dad said.
We whitewashed the walls, hung his paintings everywhere. Pretended we’d lived there forever.
My husband loved painting the creeping lake. “When it’s deep, it’ll be green. Green as spinach soup.”
The day water came snuffling under the front door, we cried. Blew our noses, stowed the paintings in my parents’ shed, pitched a tent on higher ground, near the bridge. Once they blew that up, it’d be curtains for old Jindabyne.
The town council turned it into a gala event. We joked that all we’d need to do was open the tent-flap. Front-row seats. But on the big day I didn’t want to watch. I mooched along the new lake shore, stealing white-faced herons’ eggs.
February 1, 1968. Tragic accident: bridge explosion kills newlywed
That one, a front-page story, isn’t in my scrapbook. Unforgettable, unbelievable, it eddies the lake’s surface. A pilotless motorboat, whizzing round and round.
Down here, where the spinach soup is thickest, the aftershocks are blunted. The fish welcomed me back home. The dugong, which came to me in dreams, never leaves my side. Stroking its knobbly head, I watch my husband work. A self-portrait. His best yet.
Smiling Ghost with Paintbrush.
FAYE BRINSMEAD lives in Canberra, Australia. A lawyer by day, she writes flash in all the snippets of time she can find. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in The Cabinet of Heed, Reflex Fiction, MoonPark Review, r.kv.r.y. quarterly literary journal and The Ekphrastic Review. She tweets @ContesdeFaye.
Image via Pixabay