This little story of mine published last month in a most impressive new magazine called White Horses.
Go to www.whitehorses.com.au for a perve. Well worth it, I assure you. Gra Murdoch and team do an amazing job I reckon.
I have another little tale in Issue 3 too.
The English girl was squat-fit in the way backpackerettes often are. Benaud brown as a berry and muscular arms buried under a layer of beergarden cheer.
I couldn’t remember her name. It was killing me.
That was her camper out front, the one with boards stacked four high. Her co-pilot – Chelsea, like the football team (didn’t forget that one, did I) – was in there sleeping off last night in Batemans Bay.
Back home they surfed in Cornwall, she said.
Even in July, here was a spa-bath by comparison.
Here was Merimbula, more precisely the bottom bar of some pub, name unknown. Bright fluoro globes made the place feel like a triage nurse should be lurking behind the glass screen instead of the bored bloke running the TAB tickets. Place was a funk of recycled smoke and stale grog. Outside stank too -low-tide mudflats and exposed oyster beds. We’d already joked about which whiff was worse, this girl and I.
Thought I mighta had her when the conversation stumbled onto music and our shared thing a thing for RL Burnside and all that ballsy blues that Possum Records churned out for a bit back then. I played guitar, I told her. She grabbed my hands, gave them a once over, and smiled when she ran her fingers over the calloused steel-string ruts.
“There’s blokes who play and then there’s blokes who say they play,” she said.
I’d caught her attention with the truth. It seemed a good place to start.
I didn’t really surf. Not well, anyway. And definitely not often. But she did. Lived for it. Hunted it. I had a 9’2” log tattooed with some defunct AM radio station’s call sign. It was a promo board, a Taiwanese factory slab with a cheap plastic fin and black garage crud melted into the wax. No cred. Not a zot.
Cue Peter ‘Quacky’ Dunn. He’d grown up on the beaches – Freshy in Sydney, Curly for a bit. Up and downed Baja in a Ford pickup truck and been to Indo twice. Maldives was next on his radar. Good with his dough, Quack. Or tight, depending on your perspective.
“Cornwall, huh?” he said, eyes ablaze with opportunity. “Surfed Gwenver in a bloody balaclava. Balls like peas after. Couldn’t feel my lips. And that wall at Newquay…”
Her face opened up like the dawn.
“My parents are in Newquay,” she said.
Quack ran with it like he always did. Like he still does.
Kate. Fuck it.
So Quack quacked and she listened. Later Creedence filled the room. The 4/4 chugalug suited him to a T. Prick could save money, surf and dance. He took Kate’s hand and egged her on and they were off, laughing and spinning on the carpet in among dribble-drunk fisho’s and a few pissy surfie toughs. I grabbed a stool and nursed two slow ones while Adelaide hauled in Hawthorn in the wet at Footy Park on a small, silent screen. Dasher arrived while I was lip-reading the post game interviews.
“That road’s so shit,” he said. “Better be some bloody waves.”
“Something between millpond and surfable at the Bar,” I told him.
“Better’n nuthin’. Beer?”
We chucked a few back before voting unanimously to celebrate the glory of the far south with Dasher’s homegrown.
“Seems only right to mark the occasion,” he said.
We wrapped two big ones under torchlight on the street directory in his mum’s Meteor, washed them down with takeaway MB’s and took in that oyster stink from the bonnet. John Cougar Mellencamp twanged from a tape inside the car.
“People bag him, but I don’t care,” Dasher said.
And as the haze descended, neither did I.
Back at the pad the door to the big bedroom’s shut. I stick my ear to it and all I can hear is shhh and pretty English giggles and I’d have been envious if it weren’t for the weed anvil dragging my jellied brain into the muck. Dasher’s oblivious (still is). He starts rolling again and pisses himself when he sneezes his preparatory work over the balcony’s edge.
I drag out the twelvie from its case and pick at G’s and C’s while he recommences production. We burn his one, then I craft another while the frozen lasagne we nabbed at the servo en route heats through. Memories tumble. Conquests. The night we dropped acid and drove to the Valhalla to see A Clockwork Orange. He hid under the seats and mumbled; I thought my popcorn was talking French. Then that time we squirted pie sauce on a mouthy drunk boiler in the 7-11.
It’s bloody late.
More G’s and C’s. The odd D. Night’s over when I push an A minor into the mix. Dasher gets the nods in his director’s chair. I’m too cooked to haggle over the single bed in the second room so I take the couch. I lie there and listen hard for more English giggles but there’s no sound. Before I figure if that’s a good or a bad thing, I’m gone.
In the dim light of way too bloody early Kate’s hair’s a mess as she clinks about in the kitchen in her new fella’s school footy jumper, the one with ‘Quacky’ embroidered on the front and 89 ironed onto the rear. Thing dangles round her knees. Her calves are strong. I bet she was a runner. Hockey maybe. They play that over there, don’t they? I shift. She looks over.
“Sorry. I’m not much of a sleeper,” she says. “You want tea?”
“Might as well,” I croak.
I need a piss, and when I’m back she’s looking glum on a seat outside nursing a mug in both hands, knees tucked up. My cup’s on the table next to her in among all the mull crumbs from last night. Not long ago we’d sweep all that shit up. Scratch out a cone, maybe two. The twelvie’s still leans there. I pick it up and slot it back in its coffin.
“I heard you playing,” she says. “You’re good.”
She’s about to say something else but Quacks’s spidery frame in the doorway distracts her. He gives me the quiz-eye then massages the back of her neck. She purrs. I resent it.
“Kate’s gonna come for a wave,” he announces. Then he’s stretching out his long paddler’s arms, fresh as a bloody bean, a root and four hours up on me, the arsehole.
“I’ll give Dasher a nudge,” I say and leave them to it.
My paddling’s clumsy, too far forward, too far back, and the others forge ahead while I flounder in the channel like a dickhead. I’m just over half way when Dunny swings into a little one, but it’s weak and he hasn’t got enough board underneath him. Kate and Dasher both nab the third in the set. He sweats on her going right, but she flicks left, cross-foots it and shoots at him like a torpedo. He bails out, equal parts polite and indignant, then sinks upright into the well behind. When I finally catch up, the lull’s on. Crossed arms and hunched, silent frames: waking, waiting, shivering. Kate rejoins at a distance, settles on a spot closer in. She tilts her head to the side and squeezes water from her hair. The pink of her cheeks leaps out against all the slate and charcoal and pre-sun sand. She catches me looking at her. I turn away and lock in on a container ship way out, a big steel seagull on a wiry horizon.
Bumps eventually arrive. I pick the second one on the wide bank. I go early and hard to give myself a run at it and just as I think the fucker’s too fat and I’m too bloody unfit, a fortuitous little lip tosses me forward and I’m off. The board finds it’s own high line, and when I bend my knees I drop into a fast gliding arc and my face cuts the morning ice and the world surges under me. And for a flicker there – no more than a frame – I catch Kate’s blues eyes down the line. I glide onto a fat shoulder and sink gently into the foam. When I rise again and break the surface she’s the first thing I see.
And she’s still looking.