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November 3, 2017

The Anniversary

Liam nudges his coltish frame past the tree ferns and scrambles down the embankment. Cockatoos and pied currawongs perform in the canopy above him, their harmonies bookended by the occasional piercing cracks of a whipbird.

The silt on the riverbank melts under Liam’s sneakers as he removes his puffer jacket. Coated in a shade of gunmetal usually only reserved for pointlessly large luxury cars, he holds it out in front of him for closer inspection.

Four hundred. He had announced the price of the puffer jacket after arriving last night, while Liam was still retrieving it from the gift bag. Wood smoke choked the cabin like too much incense and Liam couldn’t stop himself wondering what he would have given her for their three-year anniversary.

He shrugs, flattens it out onto the damp bank, and assembles himself into the lotus position. Cluttered with twigs and a few plastic bags, the river moves at a glacial place; the only sign of life a dead dragonfly drifting slowly downstream.

Liam closes his eyes and breathes the sharp morning air into his lungs. In-two-three-four, out-two-three-four – slow it down – in, two, three, four – drop the shoulders – out, two, three… four. Meditation was helping, but in these early stages it was still a bit hit and miss.

In. Two. Three. Four. Out. Two. Three. Four.

Eventually, the world slows down around him.

The chorus of birdsong suddenly drops away as a gush of air comes rushing down from the mountain range.

The treetops sway like intoxicated bodies as a wave of leaves shower over him.

*

Later they will drive into town for groceries. He will remain in the car at the bottom of the parking lot, handing his wallet to Liam with a sheepish grin.

The supermarket is the same chain from home but the lanes are arranged differently, and Liam will move through them in a fog: bread, milk, bacon, eggs, lube and – his favorite – cherry tomatoes.

At the self-serve checkout Liam will open his wallet. He will know the drill: always cash – but, wrapped in their knitted beanies and matching snow mitts, four rosy faces will gloat back at him through the faded plastic, and Liam will find himself pulling out his credit card instead.

They will spend the rest of the day on the verandah, drenched in sunlight and buried in the kind of crappy novels places like this always seem to attract. When the sun drops behind the ridge and the light turns from gloss to matte, he will scoop Liam up and take him to bed.

He will tell Liam that he loves him.

At night there will be a simple pasta dish with basil and cherry tomatoes, washed down with cheap wine. When they make love again on the lumpy couch, Liam will notice the persistent hissing of the damp logs as they fight for oxygen in the neon glow of the fireplace.

*

Sunday morning and Liam is back in the forest.

Ankle deep in wet leaves, he picks his way through a maze of thistles and blackberry vines as the crescendo of the river draws him further upstream.

When he finally reaches the other side, a waterfall several metres high opens up in front of him. Slabs of basalt the size of flat screen TVs press up against each other like dominos in mid-fall and all Liam can do is rest his claret speckled hands on his hips, transfixed.

In. Two. Three. Four. Out. Two. Three. Four.

Throwing off the jacket and undressing, he wades into the surging waters.

In, two, three, four, out, two, three, four.

Liam pushes his head into the deafening sheet of water. The torrent cuts into the back of his neck and the pressure brings his eardrums to breaking point, but he stands like this until he finds an answer to the question he’s been too afraid to ask.

Intwothreefourouttwothreefour.

The sound of the torrent morphs into a scream as Liam howls like a wounded animal inside the womb-like cavity of the waterfall.

*

When he returns to the cabin, Liam will be greeted by the smell of bacon and eggs. He will have woken early and packed their bags. In the shower Liam will notice the lube has been moved to the windowsill. He will let the hot water rush down the back of his neck and spine until his skin blushes.

On the verandah they will embrace for the last time.

He will tell Liam that he loves him.

—-

The Anniversary was published in n-Scribe’s annual print magazine in November 2017.