Fiction by Jaylani Loveday

Art by Erica Baptiste

Cunningham_Leigh_Swimmer_oil on canvas_20x20__2021-min


Body Of Water

by Jaylani Loveday

The storm is coming.

As Edwina struggles along the parched grass path, the asphalt clouds growl, humidity building in anticipation of the release awaited for so many months. The farmer she rents from has become increasingly gaunt, his animals thin. The air smells of starvation and wanting.

At the edge of the dam, Edwina shucks off her stiff, ripe town clothes and lets the thunderous air roll over her flesh. She wipes the sweat, lint and dead skin cells from beneath her breasts, the folds under her chin, from the crevice between thigh and groin and all the rolls of her belly, flicking away the damp gunge. 

Stepping into the dam, the silt is soft against tired feet, squelching between her toes. Ti trees have stained the water, giving her skin a sepia tone. Stamping gently, she warns the resident eel she is back and means no harm.

There are too many clouds to fit into the sky and they roil against each other, grumbling with increasing intensity. In their darkness, the light has shifted, making the colours of the hoop pines, lilly pillys and blue quandongs even more vivid. The cliff-face looms behind them, granite-grey and fierce.

She slides her mass into the water. The top layer is soupy with heat, but beneath the surface a familiar chill envelops her. With steady strokes she pulls to the far side of the dam, where the waterfall still manages a tiny trickle, fed by the ever-diminishing creek that runs the length of this rainforest basin. Cupping her hands, she drinks hard of the sweet spring water, scooping handfuls over her head. Black cockatoos screech as the wind picks up, heralding the coming rain. Green tree frogs raise their pitch and the jersey cows low in chorus. Banana tree leaves begin to wildly clap hands.

At ease for the first time that day, she is relieved of the weight of maneuvering herself past the covert glances of her colleagues, into uncomfortably small desk chairs, acting oblivious to the lunch-room observations, pretending she doesn’t hurt almost everywhere, almost all the time. 

Propelling herself in gentle circles with one flipper, Edwina observes her limbs suspended in star formation, her pubic hair waving like sea anemones. Her breasts float, voluminous dippled orbs with nipples piercing the surface.

Edwina laughs out loud when the first drops fall, fat and heavy as ball-bearings. Each crisp driplet against her flesh is a promise. The farmer whoops from the bottom paddock as land and water are pockmarked with relief. Whip birds crack their happy cacophony and fern fronds shoosh in satisfaction. There are whispers of delight from the citrus orchard, the wilted salad greens in the vegetable garden, the volcanic soil itself groans in rapture.

With no one to see, she is free to frolic seal-style, plunging down, then pulling back to the surface, over and again, breath heaving. For weeks, she has tried to reach the bottom, but never gets close. The tannin means the water becomes black not so very far down and her lungs give out as her courage does.

The lightning first strikes as she is diving. A resounding crack illuminates the inky depths, revealing a sunken tree skeleton below her. The second strike comes as she bursts the surface, heart walloping. Then, a pause. Banana leaves stop slapping. Cows are silent. Frogs still their song and cockatoos fall mute. Edwina is hauling herself towards the bank when the third fluorescent fork splinters the sky. She doesn’t register the impact on the large quandong tree prised from its moorings and tumbling towards her. Wheezing as she clutches at the shore, Edwina has just enough time to marvel at the small, hard indigo berries falling with the rain before everything goes dark.


Cunningham_Leigh_Visage_oil on canvas_6x9__2019 min-min

“The Path Alluring”

Edwina wakes the next morning in the converted milking bails, rain tattooing the tin roof, rolling through corrugated curves. She doesn’t remember getting back from the dam. Or picking the bowl full of jaboticabas, wax jambus and one perfect black sapote by her bedside. Sucking a jaboticaba into her mouth, she eases the thin layer of translucent flesh from the pip with her tongue. So much work for such a morsel. So worth it. 

Sitting to spit out the purple leather skin, she gasps at the sight of the welts that cover her as though she’s been whipped from calf to armpit. The earthy, bruised colour of quandong berries is lurid against her pale limbs. Gingerly thumbing a long lash across her thigh, Edwina’s whole upper body quivers.

Suddenly nauseous, her vision blurs. The room tilts. Unbidden, tiny flashbacks assail her. Being pushed up from the water just as her face was slipping beneath. Raindrops chill against the exposed parts of her. Bundled into a velvet embrace. The rock and rhythm of an elongated gait. So tall she can see into the tops of the paw-paw trees as she’s ferried past. Twilight stars above as her head lolls. The lingering smell of the dam.

Pulling her hand away, everything snaps back into focus. Edwina wonders if she has a concussion. But when she tries to stand, she doesn’t wobble. Somehow, she actually feels stronger. And she must get into town. Can’t risk missing a day when her job is to replace those who are. Putting questions aside, she dresses, careful to avoid the welts. Her skin sheens with perspiration, making it hard to pull on clothes. Sticky and clinging, they feel snugger than usual. She holds her coffee pot under the eaves and downs mug after mug of rainwater, engorged like a shiny and tight water balloon.



The drive to town is long and dark. It takes nearly an hour to get to the council chambers at the centre of the large country town. The dirt road out of the valley is slippery, littered with fallen branches. Recently graded stretches have washed loose, forming piles of slurried gravel banked against the lantana that lines the creek, leaving great holes to navigate. The rocky creek bed underneath Duckbill Crossing is rinsed for the first time in months. 

At the council offices, everyone arrives damp and laughing. Shaking off umbrellas. Exchanging relieved hugs. Recounting the miraculous overnight rainfall. Swapping adventure stories of traveling in on the main country roads. Only Tony, her manager, notices Edwina and asks, Everything good out your way?, before he receives a call about a missing local boy and plunges back into the fray.

While the festivities continue, Edwina gets to work entering figures, tallying others, balancing databases. Menial and meaningless. She’s very good at it. It’s why Tony kept her on after her first temp posting. With someone always sick or on leave, she can shuffle between departments, efficient and unobtrusive. Constantly exposed to surreptitious glances and unspoken questions, she eats lunch in her car, alone. 

Today, she isn’t hungry and works through her break. The heavy rain thrums against the roof, making her antsy. Potently aware of the plum welts, Edwina presses on them through her shirt. The fabric barrier dulls the sensation but she still shudders in response, skin dampening. A thin light washes over her and a moist, fishy scent. She pictures herself paddling in the dam, freshened and replenished, cool drops landing on the parts of her peeking above the surface.





On the drive home, great sheets slap against her windshield. The creek is pumping beneath Duckbill Crossing as Edwina speeds over, skidding around wild bends, bouncing through potholes, ignoring the protests of the engine. Hurtling up the driveway, the cows seem to beam at her as they mooch around their wet paddock. The farmer raises his drenched hat with a rare smile. Edwina hurls her bag and shoes onto the verandah and heads straight off along the path. Sopping by the time she gets there, she peels off each item of clothing, thwacking them into a heavy pile. 

Lying across the full breadth of the dam, the quandong’s exposed roots rise high above the waterfall, whose crinkling whoosh is now audible from where she stands amidst the upper branches and scattered blue berries. Sliding in, Edwina shivers and draws her first real breath for the day. Frogs trill in ecstasy, cicadas shout over them and the black cockatoos shriek their song, I told you so! I told you so!

Eyes filling with some kind of emotion she can’t even begin to name, Edwina takes a vast breath and allows herself to sink, treading in a circle, working to stay immersed. The influx of storm water has diluted the ti tree stain, making it easier to see. There is the old tree skeleton, furred and crumbling, crossed by the newest victim. Tiny tadpoles nestle amongst this fresh foliage, seeking refuge.

Then she sees him.

He is brown as the earth. Mossy eyes, wide and unblinking. In a frantic burst she makes for the surface. But he holds out one hand. Pulls a string of bubbles from his lips, a length of glassy pearls, spinning them through the water towards her. One by one, they pop against her mouth and she inhales, finding she can breathe again, her limbs made heavy so she no longer needs to pedal to stay submerged. 

All around him hover hundreds of tiny fish making it hard to tell where he begins and ends in the silvery glow. Long-limbed and many-knuckled, with muscle fibres like driftwood, his green gaze tracks her as she takes him in. 

A small burp sends a sparkle of bubbles flying from her lips. She smiles, embarrassed, realising she has used up one of his gifts. His eyes crinkle in reply. Dimly, she is aware of thousands of drops hammering the light above them. The bones about his face are strong and sharp, his ears folded flat. Watching her tentatively, as though he is the one that might be afraid. Laughing at the thought, she releases two air pockets at once.

Circling each other like wrestlers in a ring, three more bubbles are lost before she remembers her nakedness. Throwing arms around herself, trying to shroud breasts and pubis, she registers the small shake of his head and lets them fall. Then it is his turn. To roll his gaze across her, absorbing the angry skin between her thighs, the dappled patches in her armpits inflamed by sweat, the blue veins in her calves that have risen decades early, the stretch marks blooming across her haunches though she has borne no children. One, two, three, four more pearls evaporate as he beholds her. Her body is a muslin bag straining pale and dimpled cheese curds, he is a series of dark leather straps wound together in knots. 

Night tilts inwards. They move closer in the gloaming but her body starts an instinctual rise. The final pearl pushes against her lips and suddenly she can’t breathe again. In panic, she closes the space between them. His hand raises to meet hers and she just registers the slight webbing between his fingers, the skin covered with an almost oiled fur, before she is forced to emerge, gulping against the torrential deluge. She dives straight back down but the water is thick and dark again. Walking home under the fading sky, she examines her palm, stained like spilled merlot on a tablecloth. Even had she wanted to, she couldn’t wash it off.


That night she dreams. Of a tawny frogmouth flying high along the valley, above the web of small creeks that flow and burble towards the great river network. Of dancing raindrops playing on the surface of a dam, of furred mammalian creatures sleek and shy, hiding amongst the rocks. Of a woman pulled into the water, trees bending and swooning to form a cathedral peak above her. An eel slithers up her leg, winding about the knee, then up and up and up… Floating star-fished, tadpoles lick between her fingers and toes. Swooping, the frogmouth latches onto her tongue, pulling open her chin and neck, breast and stomach. Split like a giant zipper, flesh spreads to become webbing between her limbs. Flipped facedown, tiny fish tickle her nipples and frogs make a jumping castle of her, bouncing upon the full moons of her bottom with glee.


Edwina wakes again to the steady plinking on the roof. She’s barely eaten but her clothes feel tighter still, straining into her sleeves as she nibbles on a wax jambu, apple-crisp and slightly perfumed. It’s an agony to leave but she needs this job. Day two of rain like this means chaos will be erupting at council with reports of people stranded, trees falling on power-lines and dummies who insist on driving through flood water and getting stuck. 

Two more sections of road have slipped and the creek is riding the underside of Duckbill Crossing when she passes onto the sealed road, tyres skidding in the freed slick of built-up oil and grease. Multiple brushboxes toppled in the night and ruddy-faced farmers and bush hippies are out with chainsaws, working together to clear enough branches so the morning traffic can creep through. Other drivers leap out to help but when she pulls up they wave her through. They do it gently enough but her cheeks still flame.

Inside the council building, there is none of yesterday’s jubilation but a frantic plinging of every phone extension. Emergency services are being briefed in the foyer. News crews report from under umbrellas on the front steps. At least half the staff have stayed home to sandbag their houses, moving animals and cars to safe ground. Relentless radio announcements broadcast blocked roads, school closures, health warnings. And pleas for any sighting of a small boy, now missing for 24 hours.

She’s put to work on the switchboard and hours speed by. When the news comes that flash flooding to the north threatens to break their controversial flood-levy for the first time, Edwina starts to hyperventilate. Taking refuge in a toilet stall, gulping in raspy breaths, she can’t quell the shaking of her clammy limbs. Disapproval doesn’t stop her rushing into Tony’s office and making excuses. His irritated hand brushing her away is the last thing she sees before she’s flashing through the wild streets. Duckbill Crossing has just gone under and she shouldn’t even attempt it but she grinds through. Spinning gravel. Caroming through craters. Sandpaper figs lash themselves from side-to-side in the brutal wind. Barrelling up the drive, Edwina brakes just in time to avoid the vexed farmer, leading his herd to the top paddock.



At the edge of the dam, a sudden stillness finds her. Breathing in, steady and sweet, Edwina tugs off her shirt, splitting it along the seams. Already, it’s hard to remember a time when the earth was parched and even magpies slouched in the heat. 

She steps in slowly. Just the feet. Then to the knees. Thighs. Bottom. Tummy. Bosom. Relishing the breeze on her skin. He arrives with a welcome, velveteen touch and gently draws her under. Beneath the water they tumble and down there she is light as an armful of kindling. They burrow into the depths, murky with algae dust and decomposing leaf litter.  Morse code bubbles of desire fall from his mouth into hers. She inhales and understands perfectly. Can breathe again.

Everything is soundless beneath the water, heightening her other senses. The pearls are delicate and salty on her tongue. She cannot kiss him, needing to hold them carefully in her mouth. He has no such restrictions. With a wide, dark, sateen tongue, he fills her. A shaken soda bottle sensation is released upon her flesh, minuscule bubbles foaming and overcoming her. She is the spongy moss at the centre of a kokedama ball and he is the twine that wraps her. Together, they make so many exquisite shapes. 

When he caresses the long welt on her shoulder, she flinches, expecting pain. Running a finger around the rim, he separates the rind of old skin. An exclamation of delight uses up a string of pearls as she moans. New downy flesh bulges through the opening. Edwina can feel her escalating heartbeat in the pulse of blood beneath the silken pelt, each fibre a hive of sensitivity.

Together, they pry back the membrane of her inner thighs, belly, soft underarms and breasts, the new tissue singing with the release of its fish-belly-white carapace. Bands of maroon and cream glisten in the shimmering light borne of the sun setting a glow across the water’s surface.

Resigned to the pearls evaporating again, Edwina lets her tears fall, thinking they’ll be invisible in the water. Instead, they crystallise, slipping from her eyes as tiny quartz-like gems. He captures them, folding them into a pouch in his cheek like cherished treasure. When the last one escapes her, his palms graze the length of her as she rises.

Breaking the surface, millions of bright stars look like they are shooting raindrops all the way to earth. The sound of the pummelling rain, the singing crickets, the happy lowing cows, is overwhelming. Only a lone tawny frogmouth is silent – tracking her heavy tread back to the bails, sodden with pleasure.




The severe cliff-face glows gold as the sun hits it, just before falling for the night. In a brief respite from the rain, Edwina watches the light set from the verandah, sucking at the black sapote, creamy as chocolate mousse. At night the frogs call louder, battling to be heard. Impossible that there should be such noise so far from street-lamps and sirens and highways. She spends this last night quietly, contemplating the contents of her small life, marvelling at the ease of farewell. Her disappearance will be a brief mystery, quickly forgotten. 

She won’t bother calling in to work tomorrow. Or trouble herself with clothes. It will be raining once more and she’ll hear nothing above the drumming on the roof, the happy sighs of the forest and the dam getting ready to break its banks. Stepping off the verandah, she won’t care when the farmer catches sight of her nude splendour, arms held to the sky, catching raindrops on her tongue.

Treading her way to the dam for the last time, Edwina will inhale the deafening sounds of wind and wildlife that crescendo as she makes her submergence. He’ll be waiting at the base of the throbbing waterfall, ready to slip her a string of three pearls. Because this won’t take long.

Sinking in the glimmering green, together they will tug at her husk, exposing the mulberry softness beneath. As each sleeve and stocking is sloughed off, she will grow weighty, no longer fighting the impulse to rise. Water will begin to move through her lungs like air. Flesh popping loose of its confines will swell to its rightful size – sleek and plush and plump. With mingling bubbles and eyes alight, the ragged suit of skin will be tossed aside. She’ll pounce with nimble fingers, join her fierce mouth to his, ready to explore him as urgently as he did her the day before.

Already, she’ll have forgotten her old wrapping, rising to the surface like a burnt milk skin, pulled towards the bank as the dam breaches and overflows, riding the frothy tumble all the way to the creek. Only one small boy being winched from a storm water drain will see the sheath slipping by, over rock-faces and under bridges. Buffeted along by the engorged tide, tumbling down waterfalls, breaking apart on snagged branches, into the broad river system, pulsing towards the salty sea, for the remaining ribbons to be nibbled by the fishes.




Jaylani Loveday is a queer writer, photographer and woodworker living the simple life in Tasmania, Australia, with her family. She loves growing her own food, kitchen discos and communing with her mercurial rabbit. She is currently learning how to write a novel and build coffins.

Erica Baptiste is an American artist based in Brooklyn, NY who works with a variety of mediums including graphite, watercolor, gouache, chalk pastel, and digital illustration. Her work is driven by her fascination with the question “what is real?” and encourages viewers to see through the fabric of reality to what lives in between the seams. Baptiste’s work is both psychologically and emotionally charged, exploring themes of trauma, anxiety, depression, loneliness and existentialism. Using both human and animal figures as subjects of her visual narratives Baptiste positions each piece is a visual idiom, a catalyst for a dream. Her drawings and paintings invite the viewer to look deeply at both the inner and outer world and see the harmony and dissonance that coexist.