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Authors: Sam Carmody

The Windy Season (6 page)

BOOK: The Windy Season
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The cabin was dark. It smelt of leather and cigarette smoke and bile. The walls buzzed and creaked with every knock of swell. Paul hunched on the floor. He gripped the steel base of the table and closed his eyes.

What do you think you're up to?

Jake was standing in the doorway.

Paul spat into the white shine of vomit. He looked up and groaned. The man glanced down at the spoilt blue nylon carpet and made a long revving sound like a shark alarm.

Out! Get out of here!

He gripped Paul's arm hard, dragging him across the cabin floor, out through the door. The boat battered over another swell. The deck reared and Paul purged over Jake's boots.

Fuck it! Fuck it! Fuck it! the skipper screamed, as though letting off a round of bullets. He grabbed the back of Paul's t-shirt and ripped him to his feet. Paul wanted to apologise, wanted to stop, but all he could manage was a prolonged vomit that went all over his arms and into the winch-rope bucket.

Stop spewing on my fucking boat! the man cried, almost pleading. Over there!

Jake pointed to Michael who was balancing a pot on the boat's edge, pulling at the seaweed tangled inside and flicking it out into the wind. Paul gripped the doorframe and stared big-eyed at the sight in front of him; at the German's legs spread like a cowboy, the violent pitch and roll of the deck.

The water! the skipper cried again. If you're going to chuck, do it in the fucking water!

Paul looked at him, unable to speak. He shook his head and then lifted an arm, gesturing towards the white door at the rear of the deck with the neat black sign with silver lettering.
TOILET
. Above this, scrawled on a flecked sheet of paper taped to the door, was the word
BROKE
. Paul staggered towards it, his legs sluggish.

Jesus! Jake groaned. I told you. The toilet's fucked!

Paul ignored him and turned the silver latch. He closed the aluminium door behind him, shutting out the skipper and the stormy sea. His refuge was a rusting toilet box that smelt of month-old shit. He retched into the copper-stained sink.

Jake let go another treble scream. He thumped the cabin wall.

You can clean the fucker out when you're done!

Paul looked up at the pale face in the mirror. His cheeks sunscreen-smudged. Eyes wide with fear. His brown hair was plastered to his forehead. There was something of the child in that face, someone he recognised from another time. It was a strange thing to see him again.

Ghosts in the water

PAUL LOOKS OUT INTO THE GREY DARK
; it is like peering into a well. The water in his mask tickles under his eyes. His breath rasps and rattles in his snorkel. He shouts at Elliot in his thoughts. His limbs feel heavy and useless to him. He had followed his brother across the shelf in a panic of arms and flippers, always falling behind, the older boy's kicks long and even. Now he can no longer see the wash of Elliot's fins. It is cold. The ocean in May is dim and colourless, a liquid fog. The fish are also dull and pale. They move without urgency in the seagrass below him. They are stern-looking, those fish. Dead-eyed. There are only a few of them and they swim alone. To Paul the sea looks deserted, the sandy gullies and ditches in the weedy reef below like the bare streets of an abandoned town. He thinks of the empty beach where he and his brother had left their clothes and the red plastic bucket. How the sand was dark and rutted with the night's rain.

A swell passes and for a moment lifts him. The bottom stirs. Sediment rolls upwards from the reef in thin clouds, like reaching arms. The wave leaves him bobbing there, the sea clouded around him. Light drapes through the water in dreary, tattered curtains.

Above the water there are the far-off sounds of traffic on Marine Parade. He can't see far for the swell around him. He pulls his mask up above his eyes, feels the easterly cold on his cheeks, the spit of rain. He thinks of yelling but knows better. No one would hear him. Maybe they would see something; a waiter who happened to look out a restaurant window, or an executive on the balcony of his Cottesloe mansion. From up there they would be able to see everything.

Paul follows the fringe of the ledge. He doesn't dare to kick out from it. He takes short glances. Staring might coax something out from the shadows. He looks again towards the deep and then he sees it. The huge, shimmering flank. Pale grey. An apparition, parting the dark. He lets his legs dangle. His chest throbs. It sails at the edge of his vision, fifteen to twenty metres away, wearing the misting water around it like a cloak. Paul hears the muffled roar come from him. He rips the mask from his face and turns toward the beach, legs and arms wild. He knows it is there behind him. He waits for the sudden heaviness on his legs. The reef below is a green blur and his eyes sting. A gulp of ocean flows hot down his throat and he swings his head to the surface, bleating and retching and trying to draw breath. His arms swing at the water. He only stops when he hears the crackle of seaweed, dry and lifeless underneath him, and when he feels beach sand wedge under his lips, hard and cold against his gums. He hears mad laughter. A shadow falls over him. Elliot.

A stingray, you dumb-arse. Should have seen your face.

We are moving before the sun is up and we go further into the flat country. The President says one hundred million years ago all of this out here was a sea. Told me about the bones of a giant fish they call a Cooyoo found in the desert chalk and limestone. I swear as the sun gets on our shoulders that I see them Cooyoo fish rising from the earth. A big old Cooyoo shaking the sand from its back and then weaving through the scrub and I laugh while I'm riding cos I know I am losing my shit. But it makes me smile to see us going on a sea floor. Sky blue. Clouds like rippling wave-foam. Brown kites turning in the warm current whirling over our heads.

We stop near Wilcannia and I head in for fuel and water and the President's jam doughnuts while the big fella and his generals wait in the scrubby cover of desert oak at the edge of town.

Then we ride into the afternoon past burnt-out cars and beat-up sheds. Closer to evening there are mobs of kangaroos and emus at the edge of the track. Wild goats that stare at us like we're lost.

It's strange the mood when that sun starts to go and you feel its warmth go with it and the light turns blue like something in the air itself has died. At the speeds we're going the wheel lines blur in the low light and the sandy track is pale and milky as a river and the riding gets sketchy quick. So we pull off the track some ways and set the bikes down and I get putting on some food while the two generals they watch me quiet as ghosts. They unwrap the cotton bandaging from around their heads that has gone red with dust. The faces of those two old generals they are hard to look at. Skin paper white and dried like the faces of fellas who have had their throats cut. There is no colour in their eyes from what I have ever worked out.

The President stands on a plate of sandstone and looks around at the vanishing light and the desert and the shadows fading into the earth. His boots loud on the rock as he does half-turns. Look on his old bearded face like he can hear something far off. But I listen hard and there's nothing. No sound. Just the thoughts in your head. Loud and strange. After a day of dust and light and screaming dirt bikes the stillness of everything can make you feel weird. Quiet enough that you sense something get turning inside yourself. It is hard to explain but it is there in your gut turning over and over. What it feels like. Like a wheel spinning.

The sun touches down to the west. Where we're heading. Through the guts the President says. Away from the highways that tiptoe around the centre of the continent. We're going right through the heart of everything. To the Indian Ocean and our fortune he says. Fortune beyond imagining. He likes to say this. Beyond imagining.

And the dark sweeps over us and soon the President is saying about as much as those two old generals. And for a fella with the President's reputation you wouldn't think the dark would get to him. But every evening out there when the light turns blue and the heat in your skin disappears the President gets quiet then. Doesn't say hardly a word until he's sleeping.

Stark

IT WAS DARK WHEN HE WOKE AND
when Paul stepped out from the hostel into the street there was no sound other than the wind in his ears and the far-off shushing of trees and the sea that he couldn't from moment to moment distinguish between. He was unsure of the time and had no way of telling. When he'd got back to the dorm he'd found his phone in the pocket of his sodden jeans, lifeless, and when he had pressed the screen down with his thumb droplets of water had bubbled at its edges.

He was thirsty. His mouth was dry and his nostrils were hot. His knuckles stung when he closed his fists. In the breeze he felt shivery and unsteady. It occurred to him he hadn't had much to eat or drink since the night before.

The roads that intersected the main street were lightless, as though abandoned. There were no cars in the yards and most blocks were concealed by corrugated asbestos fencing. Paul
walked in the middle of the road. Before he reached the shops it was clear they were closed, the muted light they gave coming from fridges and other appliances inside. Through a cafe window he read a clock on a microwave behind the counter: 9.20.

There were lights on further around the inlet, the orange fuzz of the lamps above the jetty, and the lights from the building beside it which he remembered was the tavern. Aside from the tavern car park the jetty was the only other landmark in town that had something like a streetlight near it. There were a few figures at the jetty's end, rods backlit, legs dangling from the edge. He crossed the road and walked across the small park to the cycle path that fringed the river. In the flat darkness of the path he let out a deliberate sigh and then laughed when the sound startled him. He laughed once more at the sound of his laughter, at how abrasive and mad it seemed in the quiet. Welcome to Stark, he said out loud, the words swallowed by the wind almost before they had left his throat, in an instant leaving him alone.

The day had collapsed into hazy memory, the long hours of the afternoon merging into a collection of moments. The bucking deck. Sea spray. Diesel fumes. And sleep. A guilty, nervous, claustrophobic sleep. Paul had retched until long after his gut was empty and when the purging subsided and tiredness overtook him he had staggered from the toilet and away from the open deck to the gloom of the cabin. In the dark he drifted off repeatedly, face scratching against the cracked leather of the seats, before the weightlessness of a swell passing beneath the boat would open his eyes and halt his breath. He had watched the droplets gather on the white metal rims of the doorframe. And he had watched the ocean beyond it turning like a green, apocalyptic sky, towering above Michael, who was left to work
the deck alone. In patches of consciousness, Paul watched Michael pull, empty, carry and stack each heavy trap.

Paul woke at one point to see the deck full, the pots stacked three high and dancing like a miniature wooden cityscape in an earthquake. He had woken again later to see half the traps gone and thought for a moment they had been washed overboard. But he stayed lucid long enough to watch the deckhand carry the fifty or so pots that remained, place shining fillets of bream in the bait baskets, and heave each trap overboard with their coil of rope flicking behind them like tails. Paul watched him repeat the process until the deck was clear. Michael had occasionally glanced towards him, sympathy diminishing with each haul. When the last run was complete the German sat slumped on the gunwale, ocean huge behind him, his hair wet and his face blank with exhaustion.

They arrived at the inlet sometime mid-afternoon. Once the boat was tethered Jake had cut the engines and in an instant was down the ladder and in the cabin. He put his nose to Paul's while the German stood quiet behind. In the fog of seasickness the moment had been terrifying and surreal, the skipper's face weird with anger, shaking, and Paul could smell the meaty, bourbon stink of his breath. He had thought for sure Jake would hit him but he didn't.

BOOK: The Windy Season
10.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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