Shivery shadow walls stretch forever above. I’m off with Jim on another grand bush adventure. We’re holding fast to Li-los, shooting on a silver stream, inches over smooth grey-green stones; a Blue Mountains river, with a serrated crack of blue sky far away at the top of the gorge. David Broughton, James Warburton, big goofy grins, wet rubber Li-lo smells through eucalyptus clear sinuses. We’re off!
As usual, he has left me behind, bringing up a more cautious rear. I watch him now, off the air bed, bouncing over fallen boulders, shaking up out of the creek at a deep pool ahead. By the time I catch him, he’s hanging from a low-set branch, scaling a big gum I wouldn’t tackle. I hear his asthmatic wheeze, and in a shake of shadowy leaves, there’s just a flashing grin, and glinting diamond eyes. We’re just on finished school now, but he’s never changed; still stick-skinny, half back high - a rough-headed larrikin, a heart as big as your head, and hard to know. I can see his skinny white legs away above me in the tree. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in jeans - shorts, t-shirt, maybe a flanno nod to icy tablelands winter. His asthma is bad. It’s nearly carried him away several times. But he’s always moving, flying, first, fastest. Sometimes I picture trying to hold him still, like all the other footy teams can’t, and he’s gone in a wisp of imaginings.
He leaps onto rocky river flat running, clips the back of my head as he flies into the river pool. We float in a foot of warm surface water, the icy deep clear pool below us. Jim hits the far bank, and I look past him, up through infinite shades of blue-green bush, dreaming of thousands of Dharug years. A big juicy red freshwater crayfish edges away below, and I dive through the cold to watch. When I lift my head, Jim is away.
Jim knows this run; he’s been here with his older brother. “I’m sure it was here somewhere.” But we haven’t found the walking track up out of the gorge.
I’ve never been before, and have no idea.“We’ve been going for hours Jim.”
Jim studies the bush on the edge of the creek. “Nah, nah, still a way to go, I reckon.”
“We should double back. All these turns are starting to look the same.” It’s my first troubled thought on a magic day. I’m picturing how far it is back to the road, back to the servo where the folks will come pick us up. Back to a jumper, and some tucker.
Jim smiles, sniffs, and karate chops water at me. “Just around the next bend.” He’s off.
As we scramble over the creek rocks, slipping, sliding, skinning knees, we both peer into the scrub, looking for that trail back to the road. I watch him tearing ahead, red t-shirt grow smaller, glowing brighter, as the light turns gloomy. I’m trying, ever trying, to keep up, but Jim scrambles faster, as I slow down - becoming aware… We’re lost. I’m not panicking, not exactly not panicking. I watch ahead, Jim hits another stretch of big fallen boulders. As he leaps up onto the first rock, I see it; the track marker, and a walkers’ sign. I yell out, but Jim doesn’t turn. He springs onto the second rock, like he’s bouncing from rubber puppet-lines. The scrub is inky dark now, but to me, he looks like he’s jumping on the moon, floating higher with every bound. I yell again for him to come back - that I’ve found the way. His red shirt is now clear above the creek rocks. I see him lean onto his Li-lo, and soar. His feet have golden wings. He leaves the ground like flying through the centres at the footy last Saturday. The Li-lo turns some fancy flying manoeuvres, climbing ever higher. He’s flying. I silent yell, “Come back!” He climbs ever upwards, until he cracks into the golden light. As he reaches the top of the gorge, he banks into the west, into the setting sun, and I catch a glint of diamond eyes. He’s gone.
My trusty old Li-lo feels rubbery wet, now strange to touch. I flip it over, open the air valve, roll it flat, and start up the endless track to the road. It’s going to be a slow crawl home - small steps in wet sneakers, sliding in dirt - down rocks. I sit and listen to to the night bush while I catch my breath, watching a cracking big full moon just rising in the east. A shadowy silver path to the heavens, Jim. See you at the top.