Perilous Adventures
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Chasing Grace

by Kate Cantrell

Kate Cantrell 'Grace'In the final moments without air, and there were six and a half of them, I carried our mattress to the roof and watched us fall apart. The fall was plagued by a silence that pointed backward. Back to the beginning, to the weight of things past, to the seamless fabric and the plain walls, to a hole as green as a fishpond. On that night without grace, our ending came and caught its breath, and nodded at my grandpa.

When I was somewhere between four and seven, my grandpa took me to church to pray and collect baskets. I sat behind his pockets and rolled his socks and listened to the old people sing. The song I liked most was about a woman called grace who was amazing because she made blind people see. When my grandpa sang about grace, the notes floated out of his mouth and danced shapelessly above my ribbons. Sometimes when it was cold or close to Christmas, he wiped his eyes with a tablecloth and kissed his magic beads. I sat on his feet with cupped hands and caught his tears as the fell from his cheeks, and the ceiling.

At church I learnt there is always falling, even in safe places. Sometimes, when I spoke to the people in the windows, the man in the white dress opened his mouth, and tilted his head, and shouted angry words. The words were muddled and back to front, and sometimes the people were so afraid they stumbled and fell backwards.

Grandpa was brave. He fought in many wars. But he fell when grandma left us. When she went, my mother called Aunts I had never met before, women with strange names like Prue and Janet. The women gathered on our driveway like nervous carol singers. They bought lilies, and buckets of potato salad, and they stood at the sink with their eyes to the distance, their backs to the children. The women made so many cups of tea that long after they left I still found mugs, hall-full and forgotten.

At the funeral for my gran, my Aunts said amen, and hallelujah, and other things that didn’t make grandpa feel better. The people in the windows said nothing, but there was light shining out their ears so I know they must have been listening. Their faces were green in the afternoon, and yellow in the morning, and at night they watched you, wherever you were sitting. The people in the windows stood on mountains with arms stretched towards the sky. Some had walking sticks and sheep, and some were floating.

When the piano started for the last time grandpa said no and fell onto the box where gran was sleeping.

Grandpa cried a lot that night.

I heard him through the mattress.

At breakfast the next morning I sat on his feet, and rolled up his socks, and told stories to make him smile. I told my grandpa I fell off the monkey bars once, and out of the top bunk, and over my favourite brother. I told him about my little falls and the big people who picked me up. I told him how they kissed my knees, and stuck on bandaids, and said sweet soothing things like ‘where does it hurt?’ and ‘it’s okay baby’.

But grandpa fell again that night, and the next. And I knew then that no one stands forever. I knew before I saw grace the music would fray and grow tired of grandpa. On that worn out day when the beat slowed and called my name, we would fall together.

I called her grace because she didn’t suit a common name like Amy or Rebecca.  Because I was ordinary but she wasn’t. I found grace on top of a mountain, with paint on her dress and a yellow frangipani in her ear. The first time we met, I was seventeen and felt wonder at having even survived so far.

‘Do you know what song was number one when you were born?’ grace asked.

‘No?’ I said.

She smiled.

With grace I forgot who I was, and who I had been, and somewhere in between the faces became white and unfamiliar. On the mountain we were high, so high only the wind rose to meet us. The batteries of time ran empty and the hours shaved off their edges. Summer brought out the old men from wherever they hide in winter, and they snored, and rocked in unison on rusty wooden porches. Their wives, soft and creased, bent in half over wild strawberries. When the berries turned black and rotten, they sighed and chased butterflies instead.

‘We’re safer here,’ grace said, to no one in particular.

And I believed her.

But I still locked the doors.

What we saw of the world we saw at night, from our mattress on the rooftop. When the car lights moved sideways through the valley, we pointed at the liquorice wheels, the faces pressed to glass. From where we sat, we could see the bat caves and the dirt roads where locals sold pears and melons. On the highway, all the cottages had gingerbread walls with silver fairy floss floating out of their chimneys. The toy shops sold strange things like plastic frogs, and mango fudge, and upside down umbrellas. In the windows of all the bakeries were matching signs that said ‘best pies’, and inside were girls in short skirts and truck drivers with nosey beards.

In the house next to us there was a police man whose daughter was in a wheelchair. He pushed her around the garden at night, the moonlight in her hair. Her legs were bent in strange places and her shoes were laced like grandpa’s.

I only spoke to her once.

She said one day when her legs were straight she was leaving for somewhere, anywhere but here.

Sometimes she played with grace on the piano and I sat by myself and listened. They played quickly, and in time, and the weight of their music scared me. Grace was not that different to the girl with the broken legs.

I knew that.

From the stillness of the rooftop, grace and I saw things no one else could. In the first light of morning we saw colours you can’t sell, or mix in tins, or squeeze out of plastic tubes. Secret blues mixed in whirl pools. Real greens that spill out of seeds and yellows that hang with bananas. At night we saw dark colours stumble home from the city and in the morning there were faces without names.

During the winter we stayed inside and shut the windows. Our curtains were always drawn. Every morning we made toast for breakfast and passed jam and juice without asking. Everyday was a wordless day and every year was a year spent knowing.

From the borders of our bedroom, grace and I travelled to places that weren’t on maps and sometimes we spoke in French.

Grace did other accents too, and that was reason to love her.

But grace did not want me to love her and she said so many times.

In the hours before we fell, she asked if we could take our mattress to the forest, through the dark trees that guarded the mouth of the mountain. Grace said she wanted to take it somewhere new, just once, and besides, it didn’t belong up there anyway.

I said okay.

With our mattress on our shoulders we cut across the bike path to our ending. Grace at the front, me dragging behind. The mattress was heavier than I expected. There was a hole in the middle that was longer than both of us. It was toxic green and burnt so far into the latex I was certain if I lay in it I would drown. I bent over the opening as we walked, running my hands along the slopes, removing the fluff and loose threads.

At the stop sign that said turn back, grace said follow.

In the forest we had never met before, there was a black river that wound around the trees like a snake. We cleared some twigs and tree stumps and rested the mattress on a muddy wall. We sat in the hole our curves had shaped and anchored our feet in the water.

I put my head on my grace’s shoulder.

She turned and pulled away.

I skimmed some pebbles across the lake.

Grace said stop it.

I couldn’t.

Then grace said we should build a raft and sail away, to another time, and another place, and an even taller mountain. We pushed our mattress onto the black water and sat in the carved out hole. The hole was a part of me but apart from me. It was mine but not mine alone. Our mattress bore the weight of something heavier, of someone who stirred more during the night.

I worried then about falling, about sinking right through. I knew if our mattress didn’t float, one of two things would happen. Grace and I, unable to support each other, would swell and sink through, or the river would open up and take us, sheets and all.

The voyage we took that afternoon was stalked by storm warnings and wild weather. Grace loved to look at the destroyed ships and ripped up flags, the dazed victims drifting out to sea. For me, there was nothing more terrifying than the water and I would hide til the waves were calm.

When the black water licked our skin grace smiled and said we shouldn’t stay much longer. The people on the mountain would be worried, she said. But no one knew us except the girl with the broken legs.

In that moment, when I looked at grace, really looked at her, she was an old woman, bent in half over a rotten mattress, her skin wrinkled from age, not water. She had the worn look of someone I knew once, someone much older.

Grace was not with me.

She was travelling to me, through me, passing back through time. Grace hadn’t come for me or chosen me. She had just stopped for a while to fish, and wash her feet, and fill her pocket water bottle.

I realised then, that grace was not who she said she was.

And I ran.

As I sat on the roof that night, the first night without her, the mattress was sulking wet. The skin on the back of my legs had withered.

As I stood on the edge, I saw the girl with the broken legs.

She looked at me and shook her head.

The fall from grace was caught by the sound of someone screaming.

But when I landed it was silent because I was alone.


About the Author

Kate Cantrell travels the world with a towel and a jet-lagged pencil. She writes post cards, post-its, messages in bottles, wish lists, foot notes and letters home from the future. All her stories are true - even this one - because she writes about herself and the things that have happened to her. Not a lot has changed since Kate was six. She still writes stories that only make sense to her.

When she isn’t distracted by small things such as tweets and friend requests, Kate is a tutor at QUT where she is completing her PhD on wandering women. If Kate was born a boy her parents would have named her Luke. Her friend Ariella would have been called James.


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