by Tamara Pratt
Falling Into My Oblivion blared out of Sean’s car speakers the day Cally dove from Cedar Creek Falls’ highest ledge. The Sedentary sang something about a lonesome figure climbing, slipping, losing grip and tumbling into a deep crevice.
If I stare hard enough at the bare cliff face now, I can see Cally, her hands pressed towards the sun in a steeple shape, laughing, delirious, spinning in her yellow bikini as she tiptoes across the hot granite rocks. I can hear Sean and Eddie behind me daring her to dive because that day they knew something about her that I was only just discovering, even though I thought I knew her better. They knew how much she liked to dance with dares.
Win or lose. Live or die.
Cally was good for them.
Two weeks earlier, in the park, Cally pushed a wine cooler into my hands. The jagged rock face of the Kangaroo Point cliffs towered behind us, and the hot November sun beat across our bodies.
She didn’t wait for my reply. The bottle sweated with condensation. I lifted it to my forehead before squeezing the lid open and hearing the hiss.
“Well, don’t just look at it, Beck. Drink it.” She fixed me with those blue eyes, framed by mascara and neon blue eyeliner before swigging from her own carafe of fun. Cally could down coolers like Red Bulls. The alcohol gave her the same buzz.
But she didn’t like to drink alone. And if I didn’t drink with her, I’d only be left watching.
She stripped down to her yellow bikini top, leaving her cut-off denim shorts intact, and slipped her Havaianas to the side.
“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to jump from that thing?” She nodded at the wall-sized mural, a mesh of graffiti and still photographs tacked onto the brick surface. Incoherent ‘art’ on the toilet block.
“What? The Story Bridge?”
“Yeah, if that’s what it is.”
I squinted at the black lines painted across a dusk blue background of night sky and stars, something that may or may not have depicted a suspended feat of architecture.
“It could be the Brooklyn Bridge,” I said. I paused, knowing that in the middle of Brisbane it wouldn’t be a picture of that bridge, but that’s not what Cally was asking. Most days she scattered random facts, hints about her past. Only occasionally did she tread towards how she actually felt about her life, what had brought her here, and why she could be so reckless and so controlled all at the same time.
“I can’t say I have.” I scraped at the bottle’s label. The first sip had stung with a sweet aftertaste. “But it sounds like you might have. You know, thought about jumping?”
She took another drink of her cooler. Would she falter as we stretched towards her feelings and re-steer the conversation instead by reciting a random theatre line? Something philosophical, like she always did? I’d known her through our Uni acting classes for a year. I didn’t need to be close to Cally, but I wanted to be. Lately, she was having more low days, demanding space, and I wondered how long the booze and the drugs would keep her buoyed. Were they a permanent solution for Cally?
“Yes, I have,” she finally said. “I have thought about jumping. And I’d give the Story a go, for sure.” She lifted her cooler to her mouth, her sunglasses falling further back on her head of golden straight hair.
I watched, unsure what to say next. We didn’t venture here often, below the surface of what made Cally tick.
“Really?” I said. “Why would you do that? I hear when you hit the water it’s like breaking through concrete. You don’t really want to go there.”
“Maybe I wouldn’t.” Cally wriggled around on her towel, smoothing out the lumps, before stretching her long legs in my direction. Her bright red toenails danced in my face.
I felt a dash of relief at her answer, but she hadn’t finished.
“I mean, I wouldn’t hit the water, not like that. I’d bend. I’d survive, if I wanted to, that is.”
I should have ventured further, dug another level deeper. “That’s good then,” I finally mustered. “Must be all those classes you’ve taken for ballet and jazz.”
Cally had told me about the dance classes once in her spray of random facts.
“Hmm, must be all the classes I took.” She lay on her back.
I rolled over onto my stomach. “So, what else would you do?”
“Huh?” She sounded sleepy. Sometimes that was her way of avoiding my questions. Avoidance disguised as sleepiness, when digging under Cally’s surface.
“I mean, if you’d jump off a bridge, what else would you…do?”
“Do? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’d sleep with Eddie. Again.”
I couldn’t see her face for the cloth hat she’d pulled over her nose, but I could tell she was teasing me now. The reckless side of Cally. “God, he never stopped banging on with his guitar the first time. Sang to me for hours after the deed.”
Eddie studied with us. He knew Cally existed more than he knew I did, but that was okay. Cally could have Eddie, with my blessing.
“Ah, a love duet? Nice.”
I felt something hit my shoulder. Cally’s Havaianas landed next to me on the grass.
“Don’t be rude,” she said. “Besides, you learn a lot about people when you’ve slept with them. Surprising how much they’d do for you.”
“What they’d do for you?” I repeated.
I shouldn’t have encouraged her. We’d careened away from her feelings, taken the road that she travelled when she was high. The road of control.
“As in keep a secret. They keep secrets for you, when you’ve slept with them.” She took a long swill of her wine. Once, I used to like it when she was on a high, even if buoyed by the booze.
“Maybe you and Eddie could perform in The Blue Room together.” I used any chance to appeal to Cally’s most intimate interest—her acting classes. I know she loved her drama studies; it was where she channelled her moods. “You could be Irene, he’d be…” I paused, picking at the grass. Who would Eddie be? “Eddie would be Fred, the cab driver.”
“Maybe I’d like to do Sean,” she said, masking a snigger. “I mean I know him, but I could get to know him better. I think he’d like to know me better.”
I dropped my head onto my hands. I didn’t want to think about who Sean would play in a production like that alongside someone like Cally. In my head, Sean would be the student, Anton. Lush and gorgeous and intelligent—and all mine. Never Cally’s, because Cally could have whoever she wanted. And she couldn’t have Sean without my blessing.
“Sean could be the politician,” I finally said.
“Yuk,” she muttered. “I hate politicians.” Then she lifted her leg and waved her foot in my face. “But I love you.”
“That’s what you say.”
“I mean it,” she pressed. “Even if I don’t tell you everything.”
I let it slide. I didn’t want to nip at Cally’s taunts anymore. We’d taken the turn on the road, and all that was left now was for Cally to say a theatrical line.
But she didn’t.
“It’s okay,” I said with an over exaggerated smile. “I wouldn’t believe everything you told me anyway.”
Sitting on the ledge now at Cedar Creek Falls makes me feel closer to her. Funny, because I never seemed to master that in our twelve months. I flick through my iPod and find the song that she called her jam.
When the world below is shaking, the heart inside is breaking, how long this icy fall is taking, let me, leave me, falling into my oblivion.
I fumble for a cigarette, just the way Cally did; light it and push the smoke down into my lungs. I stretch out a hand and admire my cherry-coloured nail polish. I need this to remember Cally and all the things she did, because she dared to do what she wanted to do.
She dared to be reckless and take that icy fall.
Two weeks ago, to this day, Cally asked us to join her at Cedar Creek Falls. None of us hesitated. Sean had his Corolla revved up ready to go seconds after she summoned him, and Eddie’s guitar and lifetime supply of scoobs appeared with ease from under the pile of dirty clothes in his bedroom.
She could make the boys jump. She made all of us jump.
“It’s going to be fun.”
Riding shotgun in Sean’s car, Cally stroked Eddie’s knee in a strange, reassuring way. We weren’t far from the Falls. Eddie glanced across at her, a nervous twitch in his eyes, and she held his gaze a moment longer than legal. The car hit a pothole in the road, jerking violently and Eddie nearly lost control of the wheel, dodging the embankment. Sean swore and yelled something about Eddie treating his car better. Eddie overcorrected and swerved towards the white line. Two oncoming cars passed and blasted their horns.
Cally clapped her hands and flung her head back. “Whoa boy,” she said. “Go easy on us. I don’t want all of us to die.” She drew hard on her joint, blew out the smoke. I watched it twirl and curl around Eddie and Sean’s head, as if Cally were weaving them in.
Tease, I thought, as I stole a peek at Sean’s reaction. He’d calmed down and his eyes were on Cally’s legs, her black stretch skirt riding high. I reached over and pinched his thigh. He glared back at me.
“What?” he mouthed.
“Dare you,” I mouthed back.
His hazel eyes narrowed, and under the black fringe that crossed his eyebrows, his pupils turned another shade of dark. “To do what?”
“Kiss her.” I helped his lip reading with an action. I smacked my lips against the back of my hand.
“Because she wants it,” I whispered. I felt the pit of envy deep in my stomach. Sean, the untouchable. My untouchable. All year, he hadn’t seen me as anyone other than the extra on the set. The girl who pulled together the group assignments, who wrote the scripts. Cally just performed them. Our screen siren. So, what would Sean do? Would he take up my dare?
Shaking his head, he turned into the window.
I didn’t push. I didn’t really want to know if they were that close.
Rob calls me from his car and waves at me to get going. I’ve been at Cedar Creek Falls for half an hour, thinking only of Cally. While he’s been a dedicated boyfriend for all of one week, he’s had enough. I hold up a hand. Give me two minutes. He cranks the stereo another notch, but I don’t hear it as much as I do the waterfall. Clear blue energy trickling down the rocks, sweeping through every unturned inch of stone, falling into the pool below.
And I smell the rain before it hits my back. The raindrops dent the vision below me, creating concentric circles where Cally’s face should have been. I think of that day two weeks ago and wonder if she looked up at us from the bottom of the lake the way we peered down at her. I wonder if she was satisfied with what she had done; what she had pulled off. Was it the ultimate act of control?
They say people like Cally leave notes for their loved ones.
Eddie said she didn’t need to write down what she intended to do because the three of them knew long ago what she desired, although they didn’t believe she’d ever go through with it.
But I knew her the best. I loved her the most.
Hadn’t I worked hard at it all year, trying to tap into Cally’s surface?
So why didn’t she tell me what she dared to think?
“Turn in here.”
Cally pointed to an isolated spot, overgrown scrubland at the base of the Falls, with a welcoming sign: Trespassers will be prosecuted.
This is just like Cally, I thought. She liked to trespass all over what wasn’t hers. I looked across at Sean. Had she slept with him yet? And how did that make her feel? Did she feel in control through that act alone, even if it meant being out of control with the drugs and the drink?
Eddie parked the car, leaving the keys in the ignition and the stereo on, and we spilled out into the abandoned paddock.
“Beck, grab the esky. Eddie, come here.” Cally pulled him in for a long, slow hug while I wrestled with the two-tonne cooler. Sean threw two backpacks on, one for each shoulder, and cradled the picnic rug in his arms.
“Thanks for getting us here safe,” she said. Eddie smiled, but I heard the derision in her voice. Cally would sooner have her eyes picked out by crows than be safe. Safe equalled lonely. Safe would find her in bed, unable to answer her mobile, missing her classes. A low day.
“Hey, Cally.” I dropped the esky on the ground, wrenched off the lid, and threw her a beer.
She caught it effortlessly. “Thanks babe.”
We followed silently as Cally led us up along a series of large boulders, crested by the freezing cold water.
“Don’t slip!” she called, giggling.
I hung back for a few seconds, slipped off my shoes and stuck my toes in the water. Sean stalled too.
“So, how’s the assignment going?” I asked. End of year, and we worked autonomously.
He peeled off his socks. “Didn’t Cally tell you?”
“She’s helping me.” He stuffed his sneakers into one of the backpacks.
“No, she didn’t tell me. But that’s good. I mean, she’s so good at acting.”
“Yeah, she knows her stuff. Though sometimes I wonder what is real for her, and what isn’t.”
That’s what makes her such a good actress, I wanted to reply.
His eyes followed Cally and Eddie as they negotiated a steady climb. Cally’s feet struggled to find traction on the rocks, although all I could think was that her legs seemed so much longer at this angle.
“She’s getting tipsy,” I said. “We should go keep an eye on her.”
“Nah, she doesn’t need anyone to look out for her.” Sean words felt quick off the mark. “That’s not what she wants.”
I turned to him, my glare coated in surprise. “Really? And how would you know what she wants?” I didn’t know myself of course, not as much as I wanted to, but my defences drew taut with the way Sean suggested he knew more.
“She tells me,” was all he said. “Like I said, we’ve been spending a bit of time together. And I know, she thinks about it all the time. She thinks about what she really wants all the time.”
I wish I had seen Cally as Sean did that day at the Falls. Maybe if I had, this moment, on these rocks, waiting for her to come back, would be easier. I can’t help but hope he was probably just thinking about those damn gorgeous legs of hers, and it was those that got him all emotionally stirred when her step-father beared down on him and quizzed him for hours afterwards.
“Maybe Cally didn’t want to come home,” he’d told her parents. “If she did, she’d be here now.”
Mrs White had almost slapped him. I would have probably done the same if I didn’t think back to his earlier words—she thinks about what she really wants all the time.
“I bet you’d be good as Susan,” I said to Cally minutes after we’d found a flat rock, the watery falls beating down around us. Her back was to me, but I knew those elegant fingers were hastily lighting a joint. She’d left her cigarette perched on top of the esky, burning away to ash.
“For Educating Rita,” I said. “Maybe you’ll get to do that play next year. Second year, and all. Producing our very own stage show.”
Her tanned shoulders twitched. “Maybe.”
“You know, it would sort of like real life.”
“What?” I could hear the slur in her voice.
“Well, Frank the tutor, he introduces Rita to this bohemian lifestyle and she gets all this self-confidence back again…” Maybe it could be you, I thought. I’d heard her say once that growing up in her house had been shit, and she’d hated high school.
Cally turned around with the joint between her lips. Eddie reached over and lit it for her, and Sean lifted her cigarette carefully off the lid of the esky to hand her another beer.
“Thanks.” She winked at Sean. I swear he turned pink. I repressed a burning anger. Trespassing, I thought. She’s out of control, and she’s trespassed.
“So, who’s going for a swim now?” Eddie asked.
“Cally,” Sean said.
“You can’t just volunteer people.” I looked across at Cally. “Can he?”
She toked away, blowing smoke circles around our heads. This time the smoke drifted towards me.
“I don’t mind going for a swim,” she said. “I suppose it’s about time I see how close I can get.”
How close I can get? To what? I didn’t question her though, just brushed away her comment. A performance, a line from a movie script. Maybe one I had written for a group assignment. Then she stood and stripped off her cotton dress. I caught a nervous look between Eddie and Sean. I had thoughts of swimming too, but how could I compete with Cally looking like she did? I dragged a towel up around my knees.
“I hear when you hit the water it’s like breaking through concrete,” I muttered.
She laughed. “Oh, I’m not going to jump today,” she said. “I’m going to dive.”
Was there a difference? I wonder now, as I watch the Falls cascade into the pool below. I can hear Rob’s stereo and know he’s turning it up another notch. Time’s up, he’s telling me. Time to stop trying to figure this Cally girl out. Let it go. Let it rest.
Jumping, diving—would it have changed the outcome? Would Cally have surfaced that day if instead of gently dropping from the edge like some graceful bird, she hit the water feet first?
I can still see Eddie and Sean—not just their pale faces, but the way they stopped groping and fumbling over the rocks seconds later. They didn’t scream out her name the way I did. I couldn’t understand why they were so quick to toss those wild hibiscus flowers into the rock pool after my panic, after she skulked under the water.
And the little mourning party gathers, calls for forgiveness from above, as I sing for my deliberation, lead me not into temptation, but give me some kind of explanation, as I fall, falling into my oblivion.
Rob has closed the car windows. The rain is falling harder, faster now, on my back like tiny silver bullets. You didn’t bend, I think. You didn’t bend when you hit the water.
You were supposed to bend. The Cally I thought I knew, the Cally I wanted to know, was supposed to bend.
She told me that she would bend.
“I’m on top of the world!”
Cally’s voice echoed and bounced around the cliff face as she pranced around, Sean and Eddie as her audience members. And maybe me.
To her left, a sign read, all too simply, “Do not jump off the rocks.” A tiny white plaque with black writing buried behind the jagged edges of granite, barely visible to the naked eye.
“Be careful!” I called back.
Sean sat beside me. “There you go again,” he said. “Leave her be. Maybe she doesn’t want to be careful.”
“Are you serious? She’s drunk,” I reminded him. “She’s drunk, and she’s going to get herself into trouble if she’s not careful.”
Eddie made a megaphone with his hands “Hey!” he yelled. “I dare you to jump!”
She put one hand on her hip and blew him a kiss with the other. “Wouldn’t you rather I dived in?”
They nodded simultaneously—a pair of bobby-heads. Ridiculous, I thought, that they’re encouraging her. Cally toyed for a while longer on the flats, two storeys above us on the other side. She’d scrambled around the back, made her way up by clutching onto shrubs stuffed deep into the rock slits. She really would find an audience in the crevice of the smallest rock if it meant all eyes on her, I thought.
Eddie turned to Sean. “Reckon she’s going to do it?”
“Yeah, I reckon she’s good for it. But that would be crazy. She won’t go through with it.”
“God, I hope not.”
I pressed into Sean’s elbow which was propped on his knees. “What’re you two whispering about?”
Cally let out a whistle. “Are you watching me or what?”
Sean waved. “We’re watching.” He pulled out his mobile phone and pointed it in her direction.
“Tell me you’re not filming this,” I said.
“The girl’s having a good time, you heard it yourself.” There was an edge to Sean’s voice. “And she’s fantastic at this stuff. Her performances are legendary.”
“What? Because she said she’s on top of the world? She’s on top of a cliff, that’s all.”
Sean ignored me while Cally spun around, her feet almost hovering off the flat. She was stoned senseless. My heart lurched watching her act.
I nodded at the esky. “I hope you were counting, Eddie. Sean said she didn’t need anyone looking out for her, but I’m guessing she does.”
Eddie smiled. It felt smug. “Do it girl!” he called back at Cally. “Fly like a bird!”
“Don’t encourage her,” I said again, observing how high the fall was, how no one else was around.
“She’ll do it. If she wants to,” Sean said, his eyes pinned to his mobile camera lens.
“If she wants to do what?” I asked.
“If she wants to break,” he said. “But she probably won’t.”
I can’t take my eyes off the water where the rain hits the rock pool below. My back is soaked, and I think of Rob, all dry inside his car.
Cally has to surface any minute, she just has to. Any moment now, she’ll lift herself out of that rock pool, a mermaid with breath back in her lungs. And she’ll tiptoe over the rocks and we’ll all be back here again, scrambling around to get her another drink, a cigarette. Anything she wants. Anything to keep her happy. To keep her dancing that fine line between what is real, and what isn’t and what makes her feel high.
Keep her away from the low.
I wanted to smash Eddie’s head in with a loose stone that day, punch Sean in the face. It’s what she wanted, they kept saying over and over again. It’s what she wanted. That’s the only way you can reconcile this. We didn’t expect this to happen.
Who wants to die? I demanded.
Maybe she did, they said.
In my mind, I rewind two weeks, reach for Sean’s mobile phone, wrench it out of his grip and toss it over the ledge before he tells me it’s the only way she’ll be remembered. Because when she dared to dive from those rocks, she broke after all.
You didn’t know her, I screamed.
Who did know her, really? they countered. It’s as good as anyone’s guess what she wanted. And she probably wanted this.
Their words stung. They were surface level. I knew Cally better; I had dug deeper, glimpsed some of her feelings. So, was that their way of seeing this? That an accident, a moment of stoned, drunken stupor when Cally was at her highest, had become a deliberate act on her part? That she wanted to die?
I might fall from the east cliff, I might jump from the west side, I may be covered over in the dark blur of my mind, but when I fall, let me fall, yes.
I sit on this ledge and I lose her all over again. I see her dive, she hits the water, and her body crumples with the impact of the rock below. She’s broken. The beautiful, sexy girl, with untempered moods and cavernous secrets—the girl I thought I knew, is broken.
And they say she might have wanted it that way.
Days later, when I’m in my room and I still can’t make sense of Cally’s death, a memory replays for me. Something I’d lost, maybe even buried. And it’s more than a fleeting fact. It’s not a sweeping account of her shit childhood, and it’s not a passing remark about dance classes she once took. The things I used to measure just how much I knew her.
We sit on my bed, me and Cally. The Importance of Being Earnest, I’m telling her. I’ve told you, that’s the play you should be in. You’re a good actress, the best ever. You could play Gwendolyn or Cecily. No, it would have to be Gwendolyn. She was brilliant, clever, experienced.
Cally folds into a ball on the bed, pulls the sheets around her back. I hand her a cigarette and light it for her, and she tells me the deepest, darkest secret she has. She’s thinking of dying.
I can’t see it, I say. I can’t see that you would ever want that. You’re happy. There are days you smile, more days than the ones when you cry. Surely, aren’t there?
That’s why I act, she replies. I’m good at it. Inside, I’m dying, I’m that miserable. My thoughts are black, and I lose grip. Every day I feel as if I fall all over again.
Then she turns to me, her blue eyes wide. Have you ever thought about oblivion, and what that would be like?
I shake my head, but I don’t reply. She says such crazy things. Sometimes even random things.
She hums her jam where she lies on the bed. I sing the words while I stroke her hair. There’s a home deep in a valley, for travelling outcasts in distress, it’s set among the ghosts of the falls, under the shadow of a cliff, and it’s where I rest.
I loved you, I tell her, as she closes her eyes.
Even if I didn’t know you.
Tamara’s short stories have been published in Australian and USA anthologies and have placed in several short story competitions, including the Glass Woman Prize. In 2011, Tamara was awarded a Fellowship by Eleanor Dark Foundation and stayed at the Varuna Writers’ House
where she was mentored by Australian crime author Marele Day. Tamara has authored crime fiction and young adult novels. By profession, Tamara is an Information Technology Project Manager and resides in Brisbane with her husband and three children. Tamara is active in a number of writing groups and is serving as Vice President of the Fellowship of Australian Writers Queensland (FAWQ), and Senior Editor of Compose Online Journal. Currently, Tamara is represented by literary agent, Rick Raftos Management. Tamara’s website is www.tamarapratt.com.