Once upon a time, the time, the time I have written about. We are talking about the time when I would do whatever I thought before it occurred to me not to do it. The spontaneous time of my life. The time before promises, when the only rule was to try to be nice and kind and inclusive. Upon this time, once, I would have taken my kayak down Norman Creek, a bottle of vodka thudding in the fibreglass hull, an evening gown trailing in the foetid water. This was the time of evening gowns worn willy-nilly as if they were shorts and tshirts, making every dull moment an occasion. Evening gowns in vacant lots, evening gowns in derelict houses, evening gowns in kayaks.
I didn't own a kayak, but Norman Creek would have been my favourite destination. I love it even now, with it's overhang of weedy branches, the houseboats, the creak and groan of wood settling against the mouldy dock. I love the rank smell of it, the animal reek, the idea of rats and bats and fish grown ugly and gorgeous from the chemical runoff from city streets.
I kayak now and I know that once I would have settled up against that jetty where the man sits, a paperback crack-backed in his lap, his trousers too short, his hair out of fashion. I would have slipped up onto the dock and told him that I was from nowhere and being no one I could easily take him in my mouth and suck him, there on the dock but only with the promise of a splintered tumble at the end of it. Back then in the once upon a time I carried condoms in my purse. It would have been an evening bag with sequins and a little notebook to draw in. Oil pastels wrapped in greaseproof paper, but the condom would be coloured sepia despite this. When I put it in my mouth and edged it down the stranger's penis, gently metering it out with my lips, I would taste the colour of it, the smell of linseed oil mixing with the smell of damp and hidden flesh, that wormy sex smell, that reedy creek odour that I love so dearly.
I long for the once upon the time because of sweet freedom, but here and now I have the sudden urge to survive, and back then there was a recklessness that flung me into the arms of danger, flirting with eternity.
Now, here, I have the kayak for comfort, and the creek still waits and so too the man, who at one point I might have undressed so casually and carelessly and after, paddled on. All potential still exists and I can rub up against it, a half kiss, a chaste passing, a paused moment when we lie in the same bed or wave to each other, him from the dock, me from my kayak, and then the oar dips and I move on towards home. Towards the great solid rock off my life that might drown me if I kick it, out of my kayak and into the water.
A touch and a wave and a half kiss and I remain safe in the present, with my once upon a time dragging slightly like a rudder, steering me away from shallow waters, sharp rocks, and the wake of the City Cat which might unseat me if I approach it from the wrong angle.