Authors: Tim Winton
I really am sorry, she says. For everything. Just being there.
Having to be picked up like this. I know it’s not easy. In your situation.
You needn’t worry. I’m not a very loyal fishwife.
Geez, there’s a recommendation, he says, sounding more bitter than he means to.
I see you go out some mornings.
And I swim with your dog.
Well, that’s really unfaithful.
My name’s Georgie Jutland, she says turning in her seat towards him.
The name doesn’t ring a bell.
And, look, it’s none of my business or anything but can you imagine what the locals will be like when they catch you? I mean, take up something safer, like bomb disposal.
I don’t think I’m catching your drift, Fox says evenly. You’d swear she can hear the pulse in your throat.
I just can’t see how it’s worth the risk. The law’s one thing, but Jesus.
Fox gives his dumbshit farmboy look and she turns back in her seat and crushes the straw hat across her knees.
Sorry, she murmurs.
Not as sorry as I am, he thinks, wishing he’d settled for the fish and left the abalone for another day. If he’d gotten up on time and stuck to the routine this would never have happened.
There followed an hour’s silence in the truck. An entire hour.
Paddocks segued into pine plantations then market gardens and finally the hobby farms whose flybitten, shaggy ponies marked the farthest outposts of suburbia. Georgie toughed it out. It was, after all, a ride. Besides, you had to admire the shamateur’s resolve. But it gave her too much time to think, to feel how the morning’s events had robbed her of momentum. A couple of hours ago her mind was full, if not clear. Everything told her to bolt.
But now she didn’t know what she was doing. She only knew that love was impossible. It arrived and moved on like weather and it defied pursuit. Not just romance—any kind of love. The emotion itself was promiscuous and not to be trusted. She’d thought all this before and failed to learn from it. The story of her life.
Pillars of dust rose behind dozers and graders scraping out another subdivision. The perimeter walls were already up as were the limestone plinths at the sweeping entry. TUSCAN RISE. Beyond it stretched the treeless plain of terracotta rooftiles.
Georgie checked the contents of her Qantas bag. A single 76 change of clothes. What did that say about resolve? She needed a job, was overdue for a pap smear, could do with a tall glass of something cold.
Emily Dickinson, said the shamateur.
Georgie zipped up the bag. I beg your pardon?
They entered the miserable throughway of Joondalup. It was like a landscaped carpark with all the franchises that passed for civilization.
There you go, she murmured.
The freeway loomed.
Anywhere is fine, she said. The train station would be good.
Just missed it, he said merging into the stream of traffic.
No worries. Anywhere’s good.
Where you headed?
Right in. The Sheraton.
I’m going right in. But you’ll have to give me directions.
To the Sheraton? she asked before she could catch herself.
The look on his face was a mixture of embarrassment and defiance.
Never been there, he said. The five-star thing isn’t— That was rude. I’m sorry. Again.
He shrugged. At a sedate metropolitan speed you could smell Pears shampoo on him.
About that Landcruiser.
I’ll call Beaver in White Point, she said crisply. She caught the smile before he turned aside but she decided not to pursue it.
The best she could do now was to leave things be.
As he pulls into the hotel setdown, amidst the windtunnel of the business district, the woman waves him on toward the 77 declining ramp of the basement carpark, but he brakes at the crest.
I don’t need to park, he says. Here’s good.
Behind them another car honks.
I’ll buy you a beer, she says. I owe you one.
Thanks but I gotta be somewhere.
Fox slips the truck into reverse but the vehicle behind honks more insistently.
It’s all one-way, she says.
“The Girl from Ipanema”, she says, ushering him from the lift.
I know it, he murmurs, face still hot from the shame of being declined service in the bar on account of his attire.
Essential part of the five-star experience.
I’m not really that thirsty, he lies.
Almost as essential as the minibar, she says, rattling the key on its plastic tab. C’mon. It’ll prove I have some manners.
Fox is exhausted by all this, the talk, the sudden proximity, the threat she poses. She hands him the bag while she rifles through her wallet, and he finds himself tramping down a plush corridor.
He lags behind her until she slows and they continue shoulder to shoulder. She’s small. She seems unaccountably happy. He just wants to piss off out of here. Thinks of all that fish and abalone sweating on ice in the basement. It’ll keep, he thinks, but is it safe? The muzak is unbearable.
They come to the door she’s looking for and as she leans in to turn the key in the lock Fox notices the curve of her neck .78 She pushes the door open. He holds her bag out. She smiles.
She has an impish face. Shit.
She grabs a fistful of his shirt and drags him inside.
Beer, she says.
Listen, he murmurs, staggering from the momentum, tipping against her.
The door clunks shut.
God, she says, you’re shaking.
No, he says with a laugh. There’s a weird hysteria in his voice that he doesn’t recognize. You bloody idiot, he thinks. You blind fucking idiot.
She kisses him; he stands there and lets it happen while a spasm like a hunger pang shoots through the meat and bones of him, and although he still grips the bag as a barrier between them, he feels her leg against his and her hand firm in his back. The feel of a living body. Like some obscure force of physics. He hears the rasp of denim, the hoarse whisper of it, in this placeless downlit room. The woman swims against him, despite the Qantas bag, and he feels himself coming unstuck.
Don’t, she murmurs.
Fox recoils into the door as if kicked.
I mean… sorry, I meant don’t cry.
He puts a hand to his cheek, realizes and says, Oh.
Fox puts his head against the door. She’s a merciful blur now but he turns away even so.
Come here, she whispers kindly. Sit.
He lets himself be steered to the bed. She brings a wad of Kleenex. He mops his face, gets a few breaths.
Oh, God, he murmurs with a shudder and lies back to ease the smarting muscles of his chest.
The woman sits cross-legged on the kingsize bed beside him.
You wanna talk?
He turns, puts his lips against her knee. She unfolds like a wing against him. She has her hands on him. She looks into his face and pulls up his shirt to touch him, kiss his neck, his nipples, his belly. Then she sits up, reefs off her top and falls to him, grinning.
Georgie Jutland didn’t know why. She’d started out trying to make amends and now this. Stupid to walk into the bar dressed like that, cut-offs and tennis shoes. The look on the shamateur’s face —like he’d been shot. So vulnerable. Was it then or after, the way he held the bag out like a good boy for his mother?
She pressed him to that great paddock of a bed and felt his heart banging away beneath her hands and his cock trapped against the prow of her pubic bone. She ground slowly against him, saw his blue eyes go sleepy, felt sweat prickle her all over. She felt completely there, within herself, in the acid rash of heat that began to scald her scalp and belly and thighs. She was neither trying now, nor pretending. She felt his fingers in the loops of her shorts, the downward force of him, their legs snarled and snagging. The smell of shampoo. The hot shout in her throat. She fell across him as she came and felt the terrible fluttering of his chest. It was laughter.
The five-star experience, he said.
Didn’t you… make it?
Then, what? she said, crestfallen.
We have our clothes on.
Fox lies back a mess. He tries to swim up through pangs of guilt, his unfocused sense of betrayal. But betrayal of whom?
He glances about at the generic furniture of the room, the wood veneer, the floral fabrics, the hulking TV. Probably shouldn’t have laughed.
So how does it feel to be a poacher? she says rising onto one elbow beside him.
Um. Can you repeat the question?
You got away without telling me your name, she says. He likes the straight line of the hair across her eyes.
Pleased to meet you.
Very bloody pleased, I hope.
Fox kicks off his elastic-sided boots and looks at her. She’s older than him. No rings. Those shadows beneath her eyes.
I’m trying to figure it out.
What? he murmurs.
Why you do it. Don’t you feel you’re ripping off the sea?
But you’re breaking the law, you admit that.
Why would I admit anything to a stranger?
Well, ouch for that. It’s just that… there are rules. You know, to protect the environment.
You honestly believe that?
Fox rolls aside, gets up and goes to the window. Out there in the shimmering heat of the city, the river sprawls into Perth Water with its butterfly swarm of spinnakers.
It’s never about the environment, he says hotly. Fisheries law is about protecting all that export money. To save all those rich bastards from themselves. None of them give a shit about the sea.
Those toolboxes on your truck. They’re full of rock lobsters, aren’t they?
No, he says truthfully.
But they’re iceboxes.
I only take what I need, he says. I’m one pair of hands.
Without a licence.
He shrugs and leans against the glass to feel the plangent heat of the outside world boring into his shoulder. She sits up against the bedhead, cross-legged in her shorts, and grabs a few tissues.
So, she says, enlighten me.
You don’t need it.
How d’you know what they think?
I went to school with most of em.
I detect the smell of revenge.
You just like getting away with it.
He smiles despite himself.
Got me there.
Let’s have that beer, she says, her green eyes shining. I did promise you. The fridge is there beside you.
He grunts and roots around for two beers. He cops the price list.
Gawd, he blurts, they should be wearin a mask.
Well, you’d know, Lu.
He opens a bottle and passes it to her.
I can’t say.
Can’t or won’t?
Fox gulps his beer. After his homebrew it tastes so thin and industrial.
You’re not what I expected, she murmurs.
I wasn’t expecting anythin.
I must have some perversion that involves Sheratons.
He stares at her.
Geez, she says. You don’t have much small talk.
Out of practice.
Come here, she says. And get those jeans off.
For a long time afterwards and even while he slept Georgie felt the heat of his body in hers. She liked him; she knew she 84 liked him and yet she couldn’t say why. Here was this weird reverberation still with her. He was fresh somehow, there was something pure about him. And despite her record of impulsive assessments, a string of failures that stretched all the way back into the mire of adolescence, she was certain she would never need to fear him.
She spooned up to him, held him by the belly, and nursed his buttocks in the hollow of her lap. Across his biceps the line of his tan was sharp as a painted mark. Georgie felt his respiration in the pillow, in the kingsize mattress, and her breathing fell into a hypnotic synchrony with his until the whirr of the minibar and the muffled barking of car horns and the aircon hiss receded to leave her consumed by the sensation of his sperm trickling out of her like some implacable process of geology. So slow. Stately, almost. With a cooling trail in its wake, the ghost of itself.
Georgie felt her skin trying to absorb it, to drink it before it rolled away for good, and when it did finally spill to the linen beneath her folded thigh, she half-expected to hear a crash, a hiss upon impact. She lay there a while feeling her skin contract and dry. A sadness descended on her, a sense of loss. She took a hand from his belly, slipped it between her legs and brought the damp tips to her mouth. It didn’t feel reckless or even gross. It left her peaceful.
When she woke he was lying there with his hands behind his head.
You didn’t call about the Tojo, he murmured.
You were in a hellova hurry.
Georgie hesitated. I don’t know what I was doing. Leaving, I suppose.
Who is he?
The shamateur sat up so fast it reefed the sheet off her. She grabbed it back and covered herself.
You should go, she murmured.
He got off the bed in the failing light and dressed quickly.
All night in the room she could smell him. Pelicans hung over the freeway like billowing newspapers. She watched the darkness fall with a vodka in her hand. She worked her way through the minibar: miniatures of brandy, bourbon, scotch, liqueurs, champagne. She ate the Toblerone and scarfed the peanuts while strangers fucked on pay-TV. How they shouted and grunted in their perfect bodies.
Georgie toasted them and was, now and then, reconciled to how things really were.
At the back step the dog sniffs him a little too fastidiously.
The night is hot and salted with stars and on the easterly breeze you can feel the wheatlands of the interior and even the deserts behind them. He goes inside and scrubs at the sink then goes ahead and showers anyway. The water is tepid; he can’t get it cold enough.