‘Where the River Meets the Sea’ track listing:
1. ‘Ghost’ – Indigo Girls
2. ‘Crystal’ – Stevie Nicks
3. ‘Say What You Want’ – Texas
4. ‘Inbetween Days’ – The Cure
5. ‘A Different Corner’ – George Michael
6. ‘Wonderful Life’ – Black
7. ‘Precious Things (Live)’ – Bic Runga
8. ‘Sisters of Avalon’ – Cyndi Lauper
9. ‘Swagger’ – Greg Johnson
10. ‘No Smoke’ – dDub
11. ‘Scared of Flying’ – Strawpeople
12. ‘I’m the Only One’ – Melissa Etheridge
13. ‘When We Dance’ – Sting
14. ‘Absolute Beginners (Live)’ – David Bowie
15. ‘Where the River Meets the Sea’ – Icehouse
16. ‘Penelope’s Song (Live)’ – Loreena McKennitt
The counsellor said ‘have a goal.’ She said, ‘set yourself a project,’ while she tried to catch Stella’s eyes. ‘Make yourself a list,’ she continued, all enthusiastic, while Stella followed the pattern of the carpet with its labyrinthine bends, swirls and dips. The carpet – a dusky, dirty white – stood for Stella’s flagging career. It also stood for her relationship to relationships, dodgy at best; her blighted health, a dangerous trend of not eating, and a dwindling spirit. It was a murky milk soup of twists and turns that landed her here in this office. The spokes of her ‘life wheel’ were worrying a potential puncture in her tyre. By contrast, the counsellor (‘call me Sylvie’), had flame-red bouncy hair, creamy blemish-free skin, defiant red-lipsticked lips, sky-blue eyes and a noble nose. She wore definitive style, confidence, a lime-green dress that spoke of sunshine, and jingly, jangly, chunky bracelets.
Stella listened on, nodding her head at what she felt were appropriate moments. The counsellor had the magic answer: make a plan, a promise to yourself, an agenda, a reason, a schedule, a timetable, something to help you achieve something new and great and all of your own. Then the counsellor looked at the clock on the wall, and Stella knew she was free to leave.
‘Say What You Want’ played on the stereo as Stella washed the lipsticked cups, and the smashable plates, and the sharp knives, stabbing forks, and abandoned spoons. She tried to sing along with Sharleen Spiteri but gave it up as a bad game. When she was finished she could cross the chore off the list she’d stuck to the fridge with a smiley-faced magnet. But days had piled up and there was no bench space left, making it a long job.
‘I’m the Only One’ flipped into sound. Stella felt a shift in her mind. The feeling was new, welcome, and it felt good. She would make Grace a CD. It was the perfect plan.
Stella hummed a tune to herself: ‘Ghost’. It was the perfect beginning. Surrounded by piles of CDs on her lounge carpet, pins and needles were threatening her limbs. ‘CD compiling takes finesse,’ she thought. ‘Keep as close to eighty minutes as possible. Match the end of one song to the start of another. Tell a story from beginning to end. It’s important to have a killer first song, a hit-you-in-the-guts third song, and a poignant, message-infused last song (one that really pushes the message through to Grace). No repetition of artists. Give the CD a name (perhaps from one of the song titles or from a poem written to go with it). Make sure it has a great cover. Listen to it carefully for coherence. Weed or tweak it according to need. Infuse it with your theme.’
Stella’s mind wandered back to Grace like a tongue over a sharp tooth, but she was used to that feeling now. It’s what they had in common, music. The emails that went back and forth were:
Melissa Etheridge: Love her. Want to have her babies.
Celine Dion: Hate her. Will scratch all her CDs if you own any of them!
Icehouse: Love them. Loved Iva Davies’ mullet.
Atomic Kitten he he.
Atomic Kitten: Hate them. Are you kidding with calling them an ‘artist’?
dDub: Who? Dunno. Dub me some?
Indigo Girls: Snap with the ‘who’? Play me something at yours.
Must stop right here and go to bed. It’s after 1am! Goodnight gorgeous.
Goodnight my princess. Sweet dreams of me x
‘No Smoke’ would have to be on the compilation. Why hadn’t she thought of dDub before? ‘Inbetween Days’ for the frustration, ‘Wonderful Life’ for the blackness, ‘Where the River Meets the Sea’ for the dreams that flooded Stella’s head each night. Stella knew that ‘Penelope’s Song’ had to go last and it had to be live. ‘For those that are waiting and waiting for their loved ones to come back,’ Loreena McKennitt had said at the Alhambra.
Stella’s fingers kept tracing the edges of the CD case as it clunked against her mobile phone down in her bag. Her heart banged hard and she tried to calm herself with the deep breaths that the counsellor recommended. It was two blocks to Grace’s house but it felt like miles away now. She wasn’t allowed in. She wasn’t allowed to telephone or text. All she had was this CD for communication.
Down Gloucester Street, left turn into O’Dowd Road, across Otatara, and a final right into Waterhouse. Stella could spy number 41 coming up. Metres slipped away and then she was at the gate. Was it as simple as ‘A Different Corner’? Perhaps if they hadn’t lived so close to each other they’d have never met? All the way to Grace’s she’d been singing ‘Scared of Flying’. Was she scared of getting caught, or of not seeing Grace at all? Peering through the tall gate, all she could see were the wide trees and the winding driveway. No glimpse of Grace. She pulled the CD out of its plastic bag and poked it into the letterbox. It thudded into place. She breathed a sigh of relief. It was done. She could cross something else off her list.
But now it was actually done. Finished. Stella bent over, her stomach a queasy mess, her head full of manic butterflies. She wondered if she should call Sylvie. But Sylvie would tell her this thing was a bad thing to do. Perhaps all she could do now was listen to the copy she made for herself.
On the walk home her mind fumbled over song titles: ‘Crystal’, ‘Precious Things’, ‘Sisters of Avalon’, ‘Swagger’, ‘When We Dance’ and ‘Absolute Beginners’. Perhaps she should begin a new list without Grace, but not tonight. Tonight she would listen over and over. She would sing. She would whisper herself to Grace through the words of other people. She would pray that the communication would get through, somehow . . .