Henry and his slow son, Henry, had stumbled out of the Commercial pub, and then some fool mate’s tool shed, and into the their creaky caravan next door at about 0430 in the morning.
“I coulda fuckin swore there was still a bottle of JD in here,” Senior yelled as he conducted a search-and-destroy through a battalion of empty VB tinnies and a platoon of rusted oyster cages that got taken inside but never fixed.
Bev’s dog, Geronimo, stirred and grumbled in his sleep at the foot of the double bed that sank on one side only. He probably knew, like Bev, what was coming next.
“Fucking Junior. Where’d ya fuckin put the fuckin whiskey, ya halfwit?”
That was enough. Bev threw off the IronMan doona she liked and fond her Ugg boots in the half-dark. She could barely see them for all the diesel stains and caked on mud from the bay’s mangroves near the oyster beds. Geronimo jumped down and his little nails skittled on the bent linoleum tiles.
By the time her salt-bleached Hilux got them down to the surf beach, the sun was starting to rise. As the little dog and her climbed over the scrubby dune off the service road, Bev remembered that expression: the sun will always rise again in the morning.
Truth is – she still needed to prove it to herself. Even after decades.
When she’d been a kid, trapped in the Dark House near the Post Office, with her drugged-out father dictating 10,000 word letters about the Jews running Australia’s big four banks to ABC radio hosts, it hardly seemed like it would. She tapped away at the old Olivetti, hoping that maybe they’d run out of carbon paper so she could go to sleep before school.
Now, Bev walked down to the break, took off the boots, and let golden water run across here feet. She tried to take a deep breath and hold it when her phone chimed.
An app telling her what day it was. International Free-Range Chicken Farming Day. National Autism Awareness Day. It helped her remember there was a life outside Wilson Bay. There had to be more than scraping by on selling trays of a dozen shells at a time to Balmain tourists looking for some “real local catch” (which seemed like it was always founded on somebody else’s real local impoverishment).
Today was World Kindness Day, the little screen in her palm said. Bev thought to herself:
“That’s nice”. That’s what her head said, but Bev didn’t feel particular kind. When she closed her eyes again, she could feel her calves cramp up like iron re-bars for pouring cement piers.
Anger. Wanting to bust in on the Old and Young Henry before Senior laid into Junior, and bust Senior’s head open with heavy skillet.
Wanting to bust into the Dark House before Dad lit another bong and rescue her Kid Self from another rant about aliens, or ethnics, or single mum’s on the dole – like his missing ex, Daisy.
Bev felt a tickle on her foot and opened her eyes. Geronimo had coming running back down the beach and laid a big pink shell on her toes. He yapped and jumped vertical.
“Best thing that ever happened to you, eh, sport?” Bev said and gave Geronimo a scratch under his chin. The dog whirled in circles while Bev balanced the shell on her foot and then flicked it into the surf. Geronimo dashed into the little break to retrieve it. It was how he’d earned his name.
She stretched her arms over her head, and made a mental list of which rows of cages she needed to pull today, of finding time to change the plugs on the outboard, of sharpening the curved shucking knives on the worn pumice stone.
The dawn, the dog, the to-do list’s, the rows of cages – Bev knew that’s what kept the show on the road day after day and year after year. She wished for kindness that didn’t come and she had anger she couldn’t enact. Survival meant routine.
“Step into the space in front of you”, something clicked in her head as the daylight grew from hint to heat. It surprised her. Hopefully, it wasn’t an early start to the cacophony of her father’s crook mind. “Crooker than Rookwood”, he’d say in clearer moments.
But it was there and it was her own clear moment, it seemed. She flicked the shell into the surf again for Geronimo. It sprayed sand as it flipped end over end.
The coffee shop at the petrol station would be open soon and her flat white would be waiting for her. The dog came back, the seashell like a massive cheesy grin in his bite. Bev looked down to the end of the beach where the rock pools were, and where she never went. She turned that way.
“Let’s go have a squiz, Geronimo,” Bev said. She caught their shadows – long and strong- on the sand as they started to walk down the beach.