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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 29 page 10


The Cave Behind the Waterfall

by Jay Merill

Serena is staring outwards with her concentrated gaze. Taking in the scene, me in the foreground. I know a map of reality is forming in her mind. She is about to begin a picture. Being an artist before anything else she’s in her element recreating everything she sees. And this is completely fine by me. For I am clay.

With Dinah and me, it was love at first sight. But things went quickly wrong. Dinah hunted down every last trait of mine. Leaving me limp as a snagged hare hardly worth the having. We split. Tracy and I were besotted yet I couldn’t help but feel a tad uneasy. She needed me to make her life meaningful, claimed I left her unfulfilled. Lorri said I was selfish to the core, brought me close to jumping through the window where we were standing when she spat at me. Before I met Serena I despaired of ever finding happiness.

This minute, Serena is starting to draw. Ahead of us a waterfall is downrushing in a single sheet. Drowning out everything with its crash and roar. Its intensity. There's an enveloping mist which makes me feel invisible but this doesn’t faze me as I've always been drawn to the thought of vanishing. It seems like a fun thing. I’d go so far as to say, the perfect thing. I would still be solidly where I was except no one would know I was there.

“Turn your head a little more to the right,” says Serena, “And could you smile. Just a tiny bit, please, Marc, is that OK?”

When I was a boy I pictured myself living behind a waterfall. It seemed the perfect home. Nobody would be able to see me so I couldn't be told what to do or sent on any errands. I concocted the idea of this slippery ledge that only I could find and then I made my way along it. As I went I started singing as loud as I wanted and not a soul could hear me because of the gushing water. When I was right at the back of the waterfall I discovered a cave. Amazingly, everything there was dry, so gradually I did the cave up, bringing furniture in bit by bit. I holed up inside and watched videos as I slouched comfortably on this little fold-up bed. There was a camping stove and I made myself what I wanted. Omelette and fries or cheesy toast. I had a tiny table with a bowl of fruit on top and I’d reach out and take a peach or a cherry or a grape and munch them while I read my comics. The cave was candlelit. Shadows flecked the walls. And all the while water rained down in front of my eyes. Dense and noisy, as if a storm were raging. I was overjoyed at having this tucked-away hideout with stuff inside that I didn’t have to share.

I’m happy for Serena to create my image any way she likes. Her other boyfriends weren’t cool with this but I’m big enough to take it. A lot of guys would run a mile from someone who looks at what’s in front of them and wants to reconstruct it. They’d have been threatened the minute she got out her stick of charcoal, feeling the need to prove themselves. But between Serena and me there's a different dynamic altogether.

Here I am on a small hillock with the perpetual sound of splashing in my ears. I’m watching the plunge of water, the spray and the rising mist. Serena wants me standing as close as possible to the waterfall. I pose the way she wants me to, my head tilted at the desired angle, the slant of my body just enough. I’m putty in her hands, so to speak, willing to perch on this grassy patch all day, willing to do everything that is necessary for the good of the outcome. Already the drawing is well under way.

Serena has the soul of a mapmaker. She is an artist, but it's not in the least that she wants control of what another person is. She's intent on creating an image, pure and simple. The two of us are very different here. I’m someone who’s content to take things as I find them, all I want is to slip into my private headspace from time to time. To escape. Serena has art and I have my daydream. But to me there’s a kind of equivalence which means we can connect without loss of what we are. Serena is just herself and I am always me; at our cores we are solo. When we come together as a twosome we rejoice. Our union is a celebration, never to be taken for granted. We're awash in the bright cascade of it but we will not drown. Such a beautiful thought. It's a marriage made in heaven as far as I’m concerned.

I look at the forming picture. There's a surge of gutsy brushstrokes which captures the torrent’s force. And here are the first lines of her silhouette of me. I can stay within this framework yet leave it behind at the self-same moment.

So here is the secret me in the little room behind the waterfall. Uncharted. I’m reveling in my invented home. My mind is already conjuring the bowl of fruit on the imaginary table. Will I take a strawberry or a tangerine?