All Stations to Waterfall
Fay’s current project is a completed manuscript telling the true story of a life changing injury when she was a child. It starts briskly with Fay’s fall from a train but the real tragedy, and the real subject of the story, is the aftermath.
All too often in our news media we hear about individuals caught up in horrific events and tragic accidents. What we seldom hear about is what those people and their families go through – physically, emotionally, financially, psychologically – in the months and years that follow, long after the story has stopped being ‘news’.
For many that is the ‘real’ story.
‘All Stations to Waterfall’ tells the real story in a plaintive and compelling way that keeps us turning the page wanting to know what will happen next. Even at the last page.
It is 1968. Eleven year old Fay Bowden is a carefree, spirited girl, surrounded by friends, and loved by her close-knit family, who live comfortably but not extravagantly on the south side of Sydney.
Then one day, Fay’s life changes in an instant. Falling from a train, her foot becomes caught in the train’s revolving wheel and she sustains a horrific injury.
From that point on, ‘All Stations to Waterfall’ is partly the story of a young girl who, in the face of impossible odds, overcomes adversity and disability. But there’s more to it than that. What sets Fay’s story apart from so many others is that her terrible accident is just the beginning. The real tragedy, and the real story, reveals itself only gradually …
What is witnessed through the eyes of the at-first naÏve, but increasingly tough and astute Fay, is a story of aftermath. A story peopled by caring friends, increasingly fraught family members, and shadowy professionals whose true agendas are not always clear, and may in some cases be downright sinister. ‘All Stations to Waterfall’ is a story in which the initial tragedy is slowly, inexorably, overtaken by the much greater tragedy of a family tearing itself apart.
Written with gentle understatement melded with skilfully-ratchetted anticipation, a great sense of humour and accelerating momentum, Fay’s first person, present tense narrative takes the reader on a gripping, unpredictably twisting-turning journey. It’s the sometimes harrowing, sometimes funny, always gripping story of a family imploding and of a young girl who will ‘never say die’.
How many times have I been asked to describe the accident? How long did it take before I was able to describe it without shaking, fearing my voice would break, getting a dry throat? Feeling my heart thumping. Feeling the tourniquet around my leg. Now I can. I can describe it without all of that.
“What happened to your foot?” People often ask.
“I had a train accident,”
“A train accident? What happened?”
“I fell out of a train. My foot went in the wheel.”
“How can you fall out of a train? What were you doing? Skylarking?”
They look at me differently now.
“It’s a long story,” hoping that will be the end of it.
I know I don’t have to justify myself. Yet, a part of me always wants to.
I don’t need to tell the story now, so I can. When I had the need, it wasn’t to tell the story, it was to be understood — I wasn’t to blame, I wasn’t skylarking. It was an accident. A real accident. And yet it does still matter to me, a real accident means I’m innocent.
The accident didn’t make me who I am — but I wouldn’t be ‘me’ without it. I can tell you now because it happened on a morning in November 1968 — I was eleven years old. It was a long time ago.
Chapter 1 (first section)
I don’t want to die. I feel it, think it, know it. It is clear. I want to live.
I am falling. My whole body is in the air. Falling forever. I hear voices, people calling from the platform, words catching at me, thrown to me as if they can carry me to safety.
Something clenches my foot, I corkscrew through the air.
I land beside the railway tracks, past the end of the platform. The train is still. A jolt tossed me out of the open door.
An empty rail carriage looms above my feet and my head slopes down and away. Ballast pokes my back like hundreds of blunt needles. Fumes of spent diesel and oil saturate me.
My hands seek my basket.
Then pain comes. Deep and strong. And strange, like I’m feeling it through cotton wool. Muffled. Deep. Coursing through me.
My head gears into overdrive. How will I manage this? What will I do? I will let Sue know I can’t go bushwalking this afternoon.
I have to know how bad the damage is. I might just be stunned. Imagining pain. I battle to raise my head and my eyes scan my torso, arms, legs, and feet and tell my head I am not over-reacting. My head insists on testing the visual feedback and commands my body to stand. It can’t. It can barely move. The order keeps coming and my body struggles and I stay put. Nothing happens.
“See, we told you so,” my eyes say. “It is serious. You can’t pretend this never happened. What are you going to do now?”
Before my head can answer, a man comes running down the steel steps from the platform. He kneels beside me and leans over. He is caring. Concerned. I feel his eyes sweeping over me.
“Did you look? Did you see what’s happened to you?” he asks.
“No.” I want to help him, he’s upset, if he knows I looked he’ll feel bad.
Men in uniforms run down the stairs. New South Wales Government Railways. Blue. Their faces are pale. Their expressions tell me what they see. If I hadn’t looked I’d feel more worried.
Then my head solves the problem.
“I can’t walk home. Can you call me a taxi, please?” I ask.