4 min read

Suspended Underwater

He smelt like sugar, cigarettes and tropical sweat.

Daphne was 12 when her family moved into the old Queenslander. The flakey house teetered atop thin legs in thick humidity like a crooked dog. She and her two younger brothers shared the only bedroom. Her parents slept in the lounge room on a lilo.  There was a rotary phone, a claw foot bath tub and the whole place smelt of old couch foam.

Zac lived next door. He was 27 years old, fat lipped and tanned. Daphne watched him mow his lawn shirtless. He had dark curly hair. He sometimes swam in the ocean with her family on weekends and drank beer with her dad under the clothes line one or two nights a week. He smoked Port Royal tobacco. He smelt like sugar, cigarettes and tropical sweat.

One time when the ocean was too warm and the stingers were out, Zac took Daphne and her brothers to the local pool. Her brothers fought each other with pool noodles in the shallow end. He grabbed her foot while Zac chased her down the length of it with his brown eyes above the surface. She squealed. She barely struggled. It tickled. She suspended herself under water for three seconds of quiet and thought she was happy.

When he emerged from the pool with his hair slicked back straight Daphne barely recognised him. Water dripped from his elbows and his nipples and the ends of his hair at the nape of his neck. He pinched the moisture from the end of his nose. Daphne was drunk on all the little droplets.

He took them to the pool once more that summer and brought a woman called Tabitha. Her brothers got banned for bomb-diving and had to sit on the grandstand. Tabitha and Zac stayed in the shallows, her body reversed into his crutch, his arms floating either side of her like boom gates.

Tabitha’s bleach blonde hair turned a slime green in the chlorine. The contrast against her dark brown eyes made for a piercing bogan stare. Her breasts sat high. Her arse was lifeless. But she was ferocious in her envelopment of a man.

Daphne treaded water half way down the pool. She watched him kiss her neck with full wet lips. He grabbed her breasts from behind and cackled. She pushed his hands away and laughed.

While Daphne dried herself, Zac stood close by. She even considered that he was watching her scruff the towel through her boy-short hair. Tabitha asked her questions about school and Daphne answered self-consciously and with contempt and envy because another decade would pass and Daphne would still not possess a quarter of Tabitha’s repute.

At home, Daphne locked herself in the bathroom and reimagined herself as a grown woman. She stuffed toilet paper into her togs to emulate breasts. Her hair would be long, her limbs would be slim, her tongue would know how to enter a man’s mouth. She peeled open her privates and touched the fresh skin inside.

Zac asked to see the CD collection Daphne had in a pile under her bed. Most of them belonged to her parents; The Black Sorrows, INXS, Paul Kelly and the Dots. He sat on the ground between the beds, legs outstretched and crossed over one another. His leg hairs were black and matted, his toe nails were hardened and chipped, his collarbones protruded from a worn XXXX Gold singlet. He flipped through each case, opening the cover and reading the liner notes.

He bit her foot with a Cold Chisel album cover and an electrical current travelled from her toenail to her hair follicle.

“Do you like it when I tease you?” he asked. The words cut through what seemed like the eternal silence of her existence. The sound of his voice was buttery and purposeful. Daphne shrugged and bit a fingernail. Zac watched her, a smile curling on his crescent mouth. His nipple stood boldly out the side of his singlet and she fixated on it, his breath sending it up and down, the seconds drowning.

“Let’s listen to this one,” Zac waved an album and left.

Late into the night of her mother’s 36th birthday party, Daphne pretended to sleep on her father’s knee as neighbours and friends filled their bellies with beer. She was a superb actress, making her body so limp with fake slumber that it bounced to the beat of her dad’s chuckle. She liked hearing adults talk, knowing the secrets of the future. She tilted her head back and cracked an eyelid to watch Zac on the lawn with an arm around Tabitha. She was wine drunk in a purple halter neck and white denim skirt. Her nails and hair glowed in the dark.

She came for the first time on a Tuesday night under a blanket in front of the television. Her parents were in the backyard, smoking cigarettes and her brothers had fallen asleep on their Lilo. Daphne sat in a recliner chair that felt more like lino then leather, bent her knees skywards and massaged her pubic bone. She mashed the lips of her clitoris together and felt a steady storm build. She thought of nothing but guilt. A rolling boulder on the rampage, wreaking violence in her private world. Her undies felt more than used.