Three days ago I fell on my arse. I was gazing at the sky, just gazing around. It had stopped raining for the first time in about five days and I was just enjoying dreaming, trying to feel a bit of weak sun on my face. We were at the market and David was doing the vegie shopping and I was with the kids in the park. The kids grab boxes off the vegie sellers and then whizz down the wide metal slide in the boxes. They weren’t really whizzing today as it had been so wet the slide had a layer of dried mud on it, dust from other kids’ shoes. It had been raining for so many days, and as I sat and watched my kids, the other kids, the other parents, and the sky, I felt grateful for the reprieve from rain, pleased at our plans for the day – market, beach walk, yum cha for lunch. At the same time the reprieve had put me in a dreamy mood, as if I’d been asleep during the week of rain, and was newly woken, groggy with it.

I sat on a wall and watched the kids slide. There’s always interesting kid politics to be observed at the park – kids who haven’t done the box sliding and want to know where you get the box, kids who are too shy to ask, kids who hang around until another kid offers them a box. I looked up and saw David had finished and had come to meet us so I got off the wall I was sitting on and started to walk down the flattened black matting that covers the muddy hill, and then my feet went out from under me.

I let out a shriek, the sort of cry that sounds so girlish and hopeless, the sort of shriek I’ve been making all my life when something unexpected suddenly happens to me. There is something of a nineteenth century fainter about my shriek. Something of a girl who has climbed on a chair to get away from a mouse. It makes me feel pathetic but I do it everytime.

I had a handbag on my shoulder. A handbag? (An incredulous Lady Bracknell asks.) How ridiculous is that word? Adult women have them, handbags, so I don’t know what I’m doing with one. A handbag, it is not a word that can possibly have anything to do with me, but I do have this bag on my shoulder and as I go down I feel it fly up in a lumpy, indecorous way, and I’m aware that at this moment I am the opposite of a dancer.

When dancers fall do they look as inelegant as I do? Or do they look like they’re accidently doing a dance?

I’m falling through the air and shrieking and the kids and adults in the park turn to look towards the noise. And then I hit the ground with a full metal thud. My coccyx slams into the hard ground and the impact of the hit ricochets up my back and into my head as a shock wave, a bad vibration. A second later the pain explodes in the base of my spine, all attention in my body rushes to that area. I turn onto my side, to take the pressure off my back. That’s as far as I can move. The pain is starting to pulse and emit spasms. I look up to call for David, who seems to be moving very slowly and with some confusion, or is it me who is confused? My eldest son is walking towards me, slightly embarrassed by what I’ve done, or is it me that’s embarrassed by what I’ve done and he is simply coming to check his mother is okay? He can see I’m crying, and he doesn’t see that very often, so such a situation should be approached warily.

‘Get Dad,’ I say, showing him my pain because it’s too acute to hide it and also the whole time I’m feeling embarrassed I’m also feeling that I shouldn’t be, that it’s ridiculous and childish to be embarrassed by a fall and I should be modeling honesty in such a situation.

Tears are rolling down my face and a woman has come over to me and is pulling on my arm, asking me if I’m okay and I say, because I don’t want to move yet, ‘Don’t touch me, don’t touch me.’ In my mind, because now I’m also feeling pissed off that I fell and that we won’t be going for a beach walk or for yum cha, I add, ‘Are you crazy! Don’t you know not to move people after they’ve had an impact to their body? You really should do first aid training. Everyone should do first aid training.’ And then David is there, saying ‘It’s okay I’ll look after her.’

I’m crying, and it really hurts but I’m not just crying because it hurts, or for my loss of dignity, there’s something else going on too. From the moment my feet slipped out from under me to the moment of impact, time slowed down. It seems to me that there should have been a moment as I fell through space where I should have been able to stop myself from falling because it happened so slowly. There was nothing for me to grab onto, and because I was on a slope it was hard to right my feet once they’d gone out, but I should have been able to propel myself forward and upright, or at least use my hands to break my fall.

I dreamed of a plane, an old jet liner, a rattly, heavy steel thing hitting the sea belly-first. The plane didn’t break up on impact, but sat there for a few seconds and then it started to sink. It fell unevenly through the water, its weight tipping between its nose and its tail as it fell through the water until it thunked onto the sea-bed. Loose sand was flung up in a cloud so that the water around the plane became murky, seaweed was blown back or squashed, hermit crabs were pushed down into the sand beneath the planes body, every thing around this foreign object was displaced.

When my tailbone hit the ground I displaced something. Until then the water at the bottom of my spine had been still, slowly muddying over the years, like an old liquid science experiment in a glass beaker that is suddenly, violently stirred up. What life grows in there? So that when I was crying, I was not just crying because it hurt but because some unconscious, stored part of me was being aggressively stirred with a dirty spoon and put back on the Bunsen burner to see what would happen as it heated. It was the science experiment of a lazy kid, someone like me – let’s put this with that and shake it up and heat it and see what happens. The taste of boiled celery, the hot ring of itching around my neck whenever I wore the jerseys my Nana knitted, the guy I slept with when I was 22 whose name I can’t remember – this bleak liquid bubbling up and down the thin glass of my spinal column.

 

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