I’m standing next to my best friend. This is the only photo I don’t hate because my face isn’t pale like it is in the others. Looking back, I realise I probably should have put in some kind of effort, bought my own shade of foundation and slopped that on my face instead of digging out a forgotten bottle from under my friend’s sink. The only thing I’m proud of is my dress: pink lace and perfect.
Feet throbbing in my glittering Cinderella heels, pretending not to feel bad that my dad would rather watch the cricket then see me at my high school formal, I fall down into the ugly limo I paid fifty two dollars for and look around at the people next to me. I don’t like any of you but I’m going to smile anyway.
Stepping onto the yellow-tinged pavement outside the Stamford Plaza I notice three year eleven film and television students standing behind a massive camera resting on a massive tripod. Well, that’s going to be HD as fuck. Sometimes I watch back the three second slow-motion clip that they played at my graduation, but I don’t think much other than the fact that we all look seventeen and awkward.
Waiting for my best friend to arrive with the annoying boy she doesn’t like but can’t say no to, I look across Edward Street and notice the Brisbane River. It’s been ten months since it all started but Southbank’s beaches are still drained, parts of the city still smells like sewage and damp soil and the image of the kid, clinging to the power pole while the muddy waters run over him, is still stuck in a cave, deep in my head.
I’m sixteen and watch the news for fun. All of my friends think it’s weird but they don’t complain when they need the answer to a random current affairs fact and I’m the only one that knows it. I don’t remember much now but I remember it raining. I remember the word ‘inundated.’ “But in all seriousness though, Brenna, can’t they come up with another word? They’re supposed to be journalists. ‘Inundated’. ‘Inundated’. ‘Inundated’. We get it; all of Queensland is fucking soaked.” My friend frowns, her eyes focused on the T.V. She doesn’t say anything.
Maybe I’m too detached. I don’t cry at sob-stories like my mum. If a friend asks if she looks bad in her jeans and I think she does, I tell her. I don’t see the point in getting upset if it isn’t necessary. But then they release the Wivenhoe dam.
Schools are closed and people die. Everyone’s hysterical and mad. Why would they build a city in an area they were warned could flood? Why did they not see the flash-flood in Toowoomba coming? What the hell was the government doing? There are television specials demanding answers to all the big questions. I’m interested but not upset. It’s like I said, I don’t remember much other than the rain. And the boy.
I’m sitting on my couch eating marmite toast – six pieces even though I know I’m going to be yelled at for finishing all the bread. I accidentally knock the remote and the channel changes. There’s a Queensland 7NEWS presenter talking about the flood. Her voice is loud and forceful and they cut to footage of the boy, seven or eight, to support what she’s saying. My mind slows down. His eyes are shut and I can hear him screaming over the sound of the water around him. I move closer to the T.V, quiet.
At school the next day we have a moment of silence. I look over at my teacher. He’s been my teacher since I was fourteen. His eyes are red and he’s digging his nails into his palms. I hear the boy, crying, screaming, muffled as he chokes on the water. I feel my eyes start to sting and my best friend notices. She wraps her arm around my waist.
It’s the end of the night and I’m standing in line to get on the bus for the mystery bus tour. I can’t believe we all made it. I focus my eyes on the lights behind the police officer breath-testing each person as they step onto the bus. I clutch my best friend’s hand. A strange sadness hits my chest. I can’t see it in the dark but I imagine the river and remember all the things it’s been my backdrop to: waiting three hours to see the Queen and only seeing the top of her hat, my first Riverfire where I couldn’t keep it together and cried over the boy I now feel nothing for, the party on the grass with the balloons and streamers thrown carelessly into the trees, and the flood.
Only, it wasn’t a backdrop to the flood – it was the main character.
On the bus, I lift my head when I get to the top of the stairs. Two people are sleeping, the back half’s singing, everyone else is laughing. They all look so pretty with their faded make-up and styled hair. I shrug my shoulders. I don’t like any of you but I do love all of you. Turns out I’m kind of sad I have to leave. I cling tighter to my best friend’s hand. Four years down, two days to go.