Body of Water

A body, of water, she said to me. She had been trying to think of the human body as an agglomeration of innumerable cells, whose mass was mostly water. That would make the human like an organ of water. A body of water? I suggested, but she shook her head. I poured us each a glass of water. Her hand lay on the table close to her glass and she stared at it as she spoke.

It made her think about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Hulking, she said, the corners of her mouth turning down slightly in disgust. A word of emphasis. A “patch,” – she made air quotes with her fingers – made it sound as though a small piece of quilt had been laid gingerly over the body of the ocean like a light blanket, when in fact, it was more like a behemoth, fibrous tumour. Could the body of the ocean feel pain? she asked me.

The ocean makes me both sad, because of this tumour, and happy, because it is a body filled with bodies. The fish are always being stroked and lapped by the water. Imagine living in water, she said seriously. Don’t you think it sounds like a more tangible substrate, a more tangible world?

Whales, she continued, seem to me to be the luckiest, divinest creatures of all. I have tried to feel like a whale. Blue whales are the most divine, for they are suffused perpetually with water; their mouths agape constantly and their bodies awash, with the ocean itself. Through the thousand-fold filaments of their baleens, inordinate water molecules are forever swaying back and forth in their dance. A perfect form, she said: for one’s body to be a portal through which the great body of the ocean could run continuous. 

When I tried to be like a whale, I lay alone in a bath I’d made, cool like the sea. I ran the water so deep that it was almost sloshing over the edges when I finally submerged myself. I let myself sink ever-so slowly down until I was beneath the water. I closed my eyes and tried to open all of myself to the water. I tried to open my nose like little blowholes and my gaping mouth like the mouth of the whale. I had to sit up so hard and fast with almost drowning, thrashing so that I almost flooded the bathroom with water.

Increasingly, she said, she thought of water as a single body, proliferating uninterrupted through channels, streams, rivers, lakes, and of course the great ocean. And farther through dams, irrigation, pipes, and even held, tight and waiting, in the embrace of every faucet. Leaving the house in the morning, I see the dew drops on the leaves, sitting in their stagnant quiver on the tips of the grass blades, unique and discrete. And as much as they are unutterably beautiful – each a singularity – my chest floods with a warmth, almost like relief, knowing that they will run off into the soil, or evaporate into the air, and once again cohere with the muddy and ethereal great body of water.

I wanted nothing more than to live in this great body. But I began to feel it was a pain to dam it off, to cut it up into vessels, cups, sinks, channels. I began, without realising, to submit myself to  dehydration. A devotion, she laughed with a soft breath. Every time I gripped the four metal knobs of a tap, I had the most uncanny sense, that I was turning the screw of some obscure torture instrument. Every time I placed water in a glass I would stare through it, like I was avoiding a guilt. I found myself finally picking up the glass of water and pouring it back down the sink in one swift motion, like sudden relief.

My one pleasure at this time was to visit the ocean late at night. I would throw myself into wave after wave. Every time I was pulled under I would feel a thrill liquefy through my blood. I would let myself float for hours, sometimes in the most biting cold. I loved feeling in the crook of this vast and formidable body. After I emerged from this submersion, I would lap and lap at the taps near the waterfront. This water was so close to itself. I knew, with happiness, that it was running almost instantly back into the great body of the sea.

All the while, the rest of my days – when I could not make it to the beach, or the rain forsook its welcome but rare profusion – I went about the world unable to bring myself to drink. But in those most delirious of moments – before I was taken to hospital and made to drink artificial water through an IV – I felt sure that I was coming closer to oneness with this great body.

“A body so great,” she said, after a moment of quiet, “it should not be dismembered.” I could tell it was the final word and turned back to my drink. Hers sat untouched on the table before us.


Phillipa Grylls is a writer and creative from Naarm (Melbourne). She was a Creative Producer at the Digital Writers’ Festival 2018 and is currently reading, writing, and singing at home while finishing her degree in Literature. She also helps write for Friends of the Earth’s ‘Act on Climate’ blog. Her work has a strong focus on the ecological, the digital, and the feminist.

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