Closed eyes amplify sound. Keeping perfectly still, I press my fingertips into the tiny crystalline structures that made up the hunk of granite I had settled myself onto. My hands turn outwards behind me, and I lean back, the autumn warmth of the sun-caressed rock seeping into my backside. Smatterings of bird calls cut through and bounced off the trunks of the forestry that bordered the rockpools beside me. But it was the welcome bellow of the waterfall that washed through and grounded me.
I gaze straight up to where the ground gave way to empty space, at the point where the water was stampeding off the edge, and down the spiny cliff-face. I could see branches of a defiant tree reaching across the open void of sky, and a small figure of a daredevil youth moving across the sure, broad arms of the tree. They looked so small, and I wondered how I appeared to them. A tiny speck of colour pricked against the enduring greys of granite rock pools far below. The main rock pool to my left was a murky blue-green, like that of the Brisbane sky on a summer day, when it is full of dust carried on the winds from the inland. I had wanted to go for a swim, but the water was just so…murky. Small amounts of froth gathered in the crevassed stillness of the rockpool edges. I decided against swimming.
I might not get to swim today, but I did plan on having a different type of adventure now that I was secluded down here with Chase. We had climbed over the caution tape and the ‘Danger! Path Closed: Do Not Enter’ sign to come down to the very bottom of Kondalilla Falls, away from the main swimming hole and away from all the other humans that had also ventured out here for the day. I was certain the other couple we’d spotted—who had also climbed over the caution sign to trek down before us—were far enough away now. I cast my hearing out but didn’t catch any voices floating back to me, and the pitchy wails of their cheap, portable speaker had drained away. I didn’t need to go for a swim, I’d planned to get wet another way, but I wanted to venture a little further down the path first. I wanted to find a more secluded spot before I accosted Chase. I had a feeling he could sense what I had in mind. Not that it would surprise him; as an ex-stripper, it’s fairly common for things of a sexual nature to buzz my brain, that is how we met after all.
Chase was looking ridiculously picturesque leaning against a large boulder that was on the very edge of the onslaught that was the waterfall. Seven years after first laying eyes on him across the floor of that club, and even my toes still prickle with… well, to lay it straight—lust. We’d fucked our way well past the point of it being just lust now though.
I felt my skin pulse with heat and I again turned to look back at the waterfall, letting the wisps of off-spray twinkle over my skin to cool my mood. In the corner of my eye, I saw movement from the mountain’s cliff face to my left.
‘Oh! What the fuck was that?’ I looked back over to Chase to see if he’d spotted it too.
‘It’s trying to swim’
‘Tess, it’s a baby possum.’
I watched it for a moment, and saw that he was right, it was indeed a baby possum. ‘It’s safe. Look, it’s swum over to that little ledge. Oh, Chase, it looks really tired.’
‘Yes, my love, but that’s just nature.’
‘I know but… I can’t let him die’.
‘He’s probably already going to, the water will be too cold for his body, how would you even save him?’
‘Swim to the other side and get him.’
‘You’d need to wrap him up with something to dry him.’
Chase looked at me, and I knew he could see the fire I was feeling inside. ‘Take my shirt’. He took it off and folded it Marie-Kondo style. ‘You’ll need to keep it dry and put him in it’.
His tiny possum body was on the smallest slope of rock on the opposite side of the rockpool. He looked like a tiny Ariel when she washed up out of the beach after gaining legs; just as frail and helpless too. I thought maybe I should let him have a go at saving himself, and not interfere with the circle of life.
‘He’s trying to swim again!’
‘He won’t make it, look.’ Chase pointed towards the small animal.
‘Chase, he’s dying!’ The possum’s body was slowing down and he was starting to go under.
‘Well, go save him!’
Adrenaline flared through me and saviour mode kicked in. Off came the dress and I discarded it to the side as Chase tossed me his neatly folded shirt. ‘Keep it dry,’ he’d said. The possum gave one last little swim stroke just as I slid into the water and swam, keeping the shirt dry and high above my head. By the time I got to the other side his little body had gone limp and his face was sinking down into the water. All movement vacated from his unconscious body.
As I reached the baby possum, I could see his still, gentle body had totally given up. I had hesitated too long to come save him. I needed to scoop him up and out of the water, but one hand was helping me swim and the other was holding Chase’s neatly folded shirt. I plunged the hand holding the shirt into the water and used it like a ladle to scoop out the body before turning and hurrying back, keeping the hand with the sodden folded shirt high above my head, this time with a tiny body slumped in it. Chase had made his way over to the rock I’d slid into the water from, and as I reached the side of the rock Chase reached down and whipped the possum and shirt out of my hand and leapt over a couple of boulders to one with more room to stand on. I dug my fingernails into the slime coating the rocks edge and clawed my way back out of the water, snatched my dress up and bounded over to where Chase had taken the possum.
‘Here, give him to me.’ I took the lifeless body and placed him in my scrunched-up dress. I held him so he was butt up and face down and gently whipped him forward, like how you try to get the dregs of tomato sauce to squirt out of a bottle.
‘What are you doing?’ Chase was looking at me, his eyes wide and brow furrowed. He reached forward, stopped and withdrew his hands again. He looked like he didn’t know whether to laugh, yell, or rescue the possum back from me.
‘I’ve got to get the water out of his lungs, this will force it out.’
Like something I’d seen in the movies, I then grabbed a dry section of the dress and started rubbing his body with vigour. Holding him, his body was only the length of my hand. I had never noticed that possum ears were rounded, like the ears on a tiny teddy bear. Their paws are more like tiny hands with little bulbous bits at their fingertips. They were bright pink, just like that of a new human baby. Its eyes were closed, and the body in my hands unresponsive. I rubbed his fur and scruffed him up with different dry sections of my dress, and tried to rouse him.
I realised his little fingers were moving, and his eyelids twitched just enough to let me know he was still alive.
‘We’ve got to get him to a vet or something.’
‘I’ll carry him, let’s go.’ Chase scooped up the possum-dress parcel and held it close to his chest.
‘I just hope he can hold on long enough.’ I said as I started up the hill behind him.
My thighs twitched with relief as we set foot back up in the carpark, the rock-pools an exhausting two-kilometre hike back behind us. As we neared the car, I was formulating a plan of action.
‘He’ll be forever known as Schrodinger’s Possum,’ said Chase, with a tone I know well. Chase has a way of remarking on things, where I know that there are many layers of thoughts brewing behind his dark brown eyes.
‘Did he fall because we were there and disturbed him, or was he always going to fall, and we just happened to be there?’
‘I’m choosing the latter.’
‘You don’t know that for sure though. The cat is both alive and dead, before you open the box.’
‘Is he still ok?’ I asked for what was probably the fifteenth time. ‘I’ll wrap him in my jumper.’
We stood facing each other beside the car and Chase reached forward and placed the sparkly fabric ball of my dress into my hand and I clutched it to my chest, feeling the slight weight of the tiny cargo nestled inside. I couldn’t feel any movement feeding back to my anxious hands. Maybe I’d been too slow as I’d struggled to run my way back up the mountain. Chase turned to walk around to the boot as I probed through the folds of the fabric. I finally found the right pocket and peeled it carefully back to find out if my efforts had been too slow off the block. The little body was slightly fuzzy again as his fur had started to dry off, and as I peered down at the baby possums face, he reached his tiny, baubled fingertips up and out, tilted his head back a little and did a big yawn, before turning and nuzzling himself back into my body-heat through the dress.
The emergency vet nurse offered to let me name the possum after I handed its small, sleepy body over to her. I was standing in the waiting room of the animal emergency vet at Australia Zoo with no shoes on, a dry shirt of Chase’s that I’d found in the car, and soggy bikini bottoms that had wedged themselves up my ass.
‘Aries. It’s my birthday today, so his name is Aries, cos we’re fighters’.
I reached out and held Chase’s hand and kissed him on the cheek, as we walked back to the car. I was wet, and satisfied, although not how I had imagined it, I couldn’t have been happier.
Author: Tess Sebastian is writer, artist and creative living on Turrabul/Jagera lands. Tess is a graduate of The Actors Workshop, where they attained a Diploma in Film and Television Acting, and is adding to their love of story-telling and creativity at QUT, where they are completing a Bachelor of Creative Writing.
Editors: Jasmine Tait and Eliana Fritz