You summon me with your constant chatter; loud, insistent, beckoning, as you weave and wander your way through the valley far below. “Come on, escape! Runaway. Forget all that ‘up there’ stuff.”
My toes itch and my arches ache as I lean over the rail of the lookout, considering. I have so much to do, but oh, it would be nice. I relent. Tomorrow. Early. I’ll be back in time. No one will know.
Sweat dribbles across my collarbone, hovers momentarily in my navel and nestles deep in the rolls atop my belt. It’s hot. I unbutton my shirt front, a futile wish for air to cool my glistening folds. Instead, the sun bakes the salt into crystalline lines and my shirt stiffens. Was this really a good idea? On a thirty-degree day? Golden pebbles catch the light at my feet. Yes, it was.
I retrieve my journal, an attempt to capture the jewellery store of washed stone before me. My coloured pencil is held aloft, indecisive. The river laughs at me.
“Gold,” you chuckle. “Try amber, ochre, ink black, and speckled pink. Oh, I forgot you people, your imagination is limited by letters! I get to make up any colour I like.” Your babbling scorn stills my hand.
“Put your toes in. Come on.” Gentle bubbles curdle on the river sand, soft and inviting.
My shoes and socks are thrown aloft. It’s icy cold and my feet shudder, tiny blue veins pulse and wriggle.
“Relax,” you say. I watch my toenails as they are scrubbed clean by your gentle touch.
“Damn.” I’ve dropped my pencil. The river collects it for me, gently depositing it in a nook at its bend.
“Leave it, let it wash away. You don’t need it. I’ll fill your head and heart. Close your eyes. Trust me.”
I lower my lashes and raise my face to the sun. A spiderweb of red emerges against orange. I inhale the layers of the wilderness; rich tobacco on plume bush, the honey of late summer wattle, the earthiness of mud freshly turned by my inquisitive toes.
I can feel the salt of my exertions dribbling onto my forehead from beneath my sodden hat. It catches in the crow’s feet now squeezed tight against the sun’s interrogation. I lower my head and thrust my eyes open, shaking balls of perspiration askew. The water dances deliciously off rounded stones as I blink, my pupils reluctant to admit the dazzle of your reflection.
“Come on. Get in. Cool down,” you beckon.
My shirt trips over my floppy hat and my shorts are discarded in the sand.