Too Soft to Hear

Words by Harrison Wilson

Art by @Oojin_


Only now looking back, with the benefit of a little perspective and a small amount of maturity do I remember the trips to the river with fondness and tenderness. For much of the time between then and now it has either been painted in broad brushes or cherry picked. Specific incidents, “when he fell in the river”, “the hat trick on boxing day of 2007” “sunburns of biblical severity”, where spoken about in great detail but the broad strokes of our experience where left to each on their own to grapple with in private reflections.

It wasn’t a tradition. Tradition implies regularity, and while certain trips could be anticipated, Christmas, some birthdays, an unexpectedly warm day in the term three holidays, most times, however, Mum would simply call the Hendersons

“Wanna take the kids to the river?”

Mum would put down the phone

“Kids pack your swimmers and if you don’t put sunscreen on I swear to god”

Dad would always silently pack the car 

We’d drive down through the dirt track from our house through to where the buffer of farms between us and town offered expansive paddocks of hay bales. They seemed to go on forever, sometimes I would imagine what it would be like if they did, daydreaming about what it would be like if we drove on in perpetuity surrounded by unfolding hills of hay bales with no chance of anything changing.

It took us roughly three chapters of an audio book, two if we had to change the CD, to get there. We would pull up, always before the Hendersons, and get the cricket set, the bag with all our swimmers and towels and the green shopping bag with the necessary ingredients for the obligatory barbeque out and set up. 

The river came down from the mountain, snaked out of the bush, through paddocks and all the way through to town. It was quite a thing to have a house near the river, with a little gravel driveway coming down from the main road. But this section of the property market back home has now almost been taken up by retirees making a sweet living of negative gearing. The place we always went to had a large picnic area, a playground, a big toilet block and was one of those places that everyone thinks is their little secret despite everyone knowing about it. 

The Hendersons would always arrive later than we did. They’d come, adults would greet adults and then kids would greet kids after encouragement by the adults. There were two of each on both sides, my sister and I and the two Henderson boys and parents. The father was the lawyer of the town and the mother was one of those people who seemed to make “keeping up appearances” occupy forty hours a week.

I always felt a subtle sense of pressure around them a feeling that I had something to prove, like if we didn’t get along it would somehow reflect poorly on our parent’s independent friendship. Sometimes we’d go down to the river, try and set up dams in the shallows or adventure as far up into the bush as we dared. The Hendersons had a pool their parents had put in when they moved to our town and so all decisions regarding water based activities tended to be ceded to them. 

When we played cricket, dad was always brought down the little hill to the flat part of the picnic area from where the adults where busy cooking up the barbeque, consoling my sister who never liked cricket and gossiping. Both my father and I where competitive in a manner that would open slip into a poorly concealed anxiety. With him you had to dig around deduce new information, a cryptic clue an incidental hint such as a new opinion about a previously settled matter. He would calmly bowl to whoever had picked the number he was thinking of until they got out or he decided it was someone else’s turn. 

Cricket or river based activities would continue until the barbeque would be ready for everyone to come eat what was always a late lunch, “Go help your mother with the food Ill pack up”. We’d sit down at the table all around, I’d always try and sit next to the Mums while the Dads discussed football, their respective employment and other things where there was no chance of inflection. Both men would make their points and listen politely while the other either agreed and elaborated or disagreed with conscious politeness.

Sometimes, if it was very hot and only after the kids had reapplied sunscreen, we’d go down to the river to eat. Dad liked to roll up his shorts so they looked humorously like Speedos and wander into the middle of the river and eat his sausage in bread while we sat on the bank. 

Leaving always was an extended ordeal. “Ok fifteen more minutes” would become twenty minutes until all us kids got back to the barbeque after putting the final touches on the dam so that it was sure to not let anything out. We’d pack up the picnic table and each of the kids would be given something to carry back to the car. Dad always took a big armful of things and said he was going to go organize the boot of the car. 

As we drove off in the early evenings in the back seat my sister and I would normally fall asleep. The sporadic conversation we’d hear from the front was rarely intelligible to a semi-conscious child. Once I fell asleep until a big truck passed us, probably filled with sheep that had no idea where they were going. I looked up from my half laying half siting position and saw my Mother’s hand on Dad’s leg, the bumpy dirt road would further obscure my sleepy eye’s ability to see. 

As we arrived home, tangled in the backseat, sand from the river on our legs and on the ground, our parents would calmly carry us inside, place us in our beds without even getting changed or doing our teeth.   


Harrison Wilson

The author Harrison Wilson

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