Authors: Sara Foster
Tags: #Fiction, #General
Copyright © 2012, Sara Foster
Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
T. S. ELIOT
HAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?
The question begins to circle her as she hangs in the freezing dark water. The surface is only a few metres above, and she kicks her fins hard. Nothing happens. She is still trapped. Alone
The suck and rush of her breathing is too loud and much too fast. Calm down, she tells herself. She checks her gauge. Five minutes of air left. Five minutes to figure this out. She will not give in to her fears. Not yet
Her scuba tank is caught on a thick piece of netting above her. She pulls her legs towards her body, and frees the knife that is strapped to her ankle. She reaches behind her, waving the blade through the water, hoping to make contact with something solid. But it is useless. She cannot stretch far enough
It doesn’t matter. She can just squeeze the releases on her BCD and free herself from her snagged jacket. If she drops her weight belt, she can swim to safety. Her natural buoyancy will help her upwards. But she won’t do that until she is sure there is no alternative. She is terrified of what is hidden above, waiting
Cold water creeps over her body, finds gaps in her wetsuit and settles against her skin. She is shaking now. It had been crazy, coming down here on her own, but there had been no
alternative. And wasn’t she always meant to be alone, in the end?
Above the water, dawn is breaking. The light swims down to her, surrounds her, lends her courage. She checks the gauge again. Her air is almost gone. She goes for the clips of her life jacket, but finds her fingers still hesitate. This is her final moment of choice
WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?
She wants to live. She takes a few deep breaths and watches the air bubbles spin away, forming a trail for her to follow. She summons all her strength, drops her weight belt, and pushes the clips at the same time as taking a final breath. Then she takes the regulator from her mouth, looks up towards the light, and begins to swim
hunder wakes Maya up at dawn, rumbling through the thin walls and into her bones. The rain has kept her semiconscious most of the night, an endless drum roll on the tin roof. It had begun as the sun went down, and she’d known Luke wouldn’t be visiting tonight. He never comes unless he needs her help.
She is sure she had been dreaming, but has forgotten the details already. Only the feeling remains – of something momentous. But then, today is not an ordinary day. Today her mother is coming home.
Maya hasn’t seen Desi for over a year. Fifteen long months, during which Maya has taken exams, broken her toe, cut her hair short, collected her P-plates, had her belly button pierced, been to her first music festival, and knocked back her first legal glass of wine.
Her mother has missed everything.
Maya throws off her thin cover and jumps out of bed. The
caravan door squeaks as she pushes it open and runs to a nearby tap to fill her small kettle. She is usually good at keeping quiet – her grandfather gets irate if she wakes the paying guests – but the pipes groan as she shuts off the water, and she forgets to cushion the swing of the door on her return, so it slams loudly behind her. Despite the weather change, the temperature inside the caravan remains stifling, but the moisture on her skin renders her strangely cold and clammy.
She shimmies through the restricted space, puts the kettle on her small camp stove and sits down on the bed. She should go for a swim. It would refresh her sticky skin and damp hair. She considers heading down to the ocean now, but the sky is still a deep grey, and there have been a record number of shark attacks this summer on the west coast of Australia. She can all too easily imagine them prowling the slumbering seabed in the glum light, their fin tips glinting like slivers of metal, their eyes blackened hollows. Another roll of thunder makes her decision. She knows the statistics are on her side, but, still, she will wait for a little while, until it clears.
Instead, she makes herself a tea and fills a bowl with cereal. She has learnt how to use the features of this small space to maximum effect. Her belongings are all hidden away in a network of cupboards, or stored under the bed or beneath seat tops. She is trying her best to be a careful, responsible person, even though every time Luke calls she feels dizzy and reckless.
She really likes him. At first, she just wanted to help, but now she is disappointed when he doesn’t drop by. She wants him to look at her. To
her. And it is so bloody obvious that he doesn’t, even though running through the dark together feels like home to Maya. She remembers the first time he took her with him. The way he crouched close to the midnight bushes, long legs splayed like a spider. The way he had smiled at her
worried face and said, ‘Looks like I brought the moonlight with me.’
The last time they had been together, Luke had taken her hand as they ran. This is surely an encouraging sign, but he hasn’t ever tried to kiss her, and Maya wonders what she will do if he does. She wishes he would get on with it, because she knows it will be different, not like the other red-faced, beer-addled boys, who can barely make out a girl’s features as they lean forward with eyes elsewhere. She isn’t sure what Luke’s kiss will be like, but it will be something. He is always able to surprise her, ever since the first time he turned up after midnight, knocking softly on the caravan door, asking her to help him. Before then, he was someone she passed in the corridor at school, or nodded to at the shops – not really on her radar. She had heard of his mother, though – Patricia was known in the town for propping up the local bar.
Perhaps that’s why he’d chosen her. She hopes not. She wants it to be more than notoriety that has brought them together.
She sits on the edge of the bed, sipping her drink. She tries to keep her thoughts on Luke, but her mother insists on intruding into her daydreams. It is infuriating, because she has nothing to say to Desi. For so long her mother had been her safety blanket, always on her side, a solid presence cushioning her against the world. But now she struggles to control the shaky, buzzy feeling that hijacks her body when she thinks of what Desi did.
She finishes the drink and sets it aside, then crawls back into bed. She flips over her pillow and takes out the red leather-bound book. She is going to have to return this, but she doesn’t want to yet. Most of it is boring – charts and figures, names and dates – but she loves to read her father’s observations, to study his neat, slanting writing. Why had she never been shown this, when Connor had once held this book in his hands and
turned the pages, just as she does now. It is the closest she has ever felt to him, as though she can squeeze the intervening years together, reach through them and touch him.
She had found the book in Desi’s bedside drawer. Her mother had never mentioned it. Perhaps she thought it wouldn’t be important to Maya – but how could she? More likely Desi didn’t want to share, in the same way she was so guarded with her memories, when Maya longed to hear them. Maya is half-tempted to keep the book to spite her. She’d rather have this than the pearl necklace that Desi had solemnly taken off and handed over, as though it might assuage her absence. That had been stuffed into one of the many drawers of the caravan as soon as she got home, and had remained there ever since.
She flips the book closed and puts it aside. The light is increasing, and in the distance she hears the quad bike start up. It will be her grandfather making sure all is well in the campsite. She wonders if he has lain awake all night too. She doesn’t think so, somehow. Charlie never mentions her mother. He may not even realise she is coming home today.
If it weren’t for the unexpected circumstances, Maya would barely know him. Before she came to live in Lovelock Bay, she had only met him a few times, and always by accident, never design. She had been nervous when she first arrived, but while Charlie didn’t go out of his way to talk to her, he was civil when he saw her, and would ask if she was okay. Since he only let her stay as a courtesy, she knew that the answer should always be a grateful yes.
She often wonders if he is lonely. Maya’s grandmother Hester has been dead for over ten years now. When Charlie isn’t in the office or out on errands, he keeps himself to himself, behind the closed curtains of his house. Maya has been in there a few times; it is gloomy and smells damp. Her grandfather has two
steadfast companions: the small staffy that often sits panting in the shade of the verandah, and the large flat-screen television that dominates his small lounge.
Maya hears the quad bike near the caravan, and draws the curtains to peer out. Charlie sees her and raises his hand in acknowledgement, then turns back to the track. He pulls over to empty a bin and slings the black bag onto the trailer. Then he is gone.
Maya keeps watching, focusing absent-mindedly on the tracks left in the dust. Will he allow her to stay here now that her mother is coming home? If necessary, she will have to persuade him. One thing is for certain: she is never going to live with Desi again. Not after what she has done.
o you want to stop anywhere? We could have a drink … Celebrate?’
‘I just want to go home.’
Pete immediately regrets his choice of words. Celebrate? What is he thinking? He sneaks a glance at Desi as he drives, but she is absorbed by the view, her back to him. Through her thin T-shirt he can see the clenched knots of her spine.
He hadn’t been sure what to expect, but the silence is draining. He concentrates on the drive, as the endless streak of dry, featureless bushland gives way first to industrial strips, and then to densely packed housing estates as they near the coast. The sun is low in the sky, blinding him, making it hard to follow the road. Desi barely moves, but her head leans against the padded seat, and he wonders if she is sleeping. Or perhaps she is noticing the changes, all the new billboards and half-built houses, all the bushland cleared overnight to render the land fit for human habitation. If she were really looking,
she would have something to say about it. Her thoughts must be elsewhere.
How did you talk to someone fresh out of prison? Pete is out of his depth, despite the fact he has visited her every week for the past fifteen months, when they have always found something to say. The future, for so long a blip on the horizon, has careened into view. But does Desi have the courage to look? Does he?
His mind has been busy on the journey so far, trying to decide how much he should tell her. He has only kept things from her so she won’t have extra worry, but now he can’t figure out where to start. She doesn’t know how much his life has changed. She doesn’t know how worried he is about Maya. And she doesn’t know anything at all about Kate.
Desi shifts in her seat slightly, as though she is going to turn to him, and the sudden movement makes Pete tense. Then she twists away again, and he hopes she didn’t notice his reaction. Why is he so on edge today, when they have known one another for so long, and been through so much?
Because he wants to help.
He imagines Connor listening to them, laughing at him, and hears his American drawl loud and clear. ‘Hardly the time to declare your undying love, my man.’ He finds himself smiling. That was one of Connor’s gifts – to find the humour in a tough situation.
She’d be better off with Connor right now
, he thinks, as a gust of wind causes him to quickly correct his steering. But if Connor were still here, this would never have happened.
What Pete wants to say to her, more than anything else, is this:
You didn’t deserve this, Des. I realise you made a mistake, a bad one, but anyone who knows you, even remotely, knows you didn’t deserve this
Would it help? The right or wrong of it is irrelevant. It happened. It’s over. Now she has to adjust. But he cannot shake
the notion that, until she gets herself together, her life will be harder than it has ever been before.
‘It’s all changed, hasn’t it?’ Her voice snaps the silence.
For a moment it’s as though she has read his mind. Then he follows her gaze to the half-finished concrete structure on their right, spots the sign for the shopping centre it will become. ‘Seems to happen faster every year,’ he agrees, then seizes his chance, because surely she can’t wait to see Maya. ‘I could take you to the bay if you like?’
‘I can’t face them yet. Let’s head to the shack for tonight,’ Desi says. ‘I need …’ She trails off, considers him as though weighing him up, and then says ‘… to sleep.’
He wonders what she couldn’t tell him. He tightens his grip on the wheel to stop his hands from slamming it in frustration. She will not open up to him, no matter what he tries.
They don’t talk as they draw closer to the beach house, but Pete senses the change in her. She is leaning forward, her hands grasping the edges of the seat. They take the familiar, quiet road towards the outer edge of Two Rocks, then the car rattles down a narrow track. And, hidden in the bush, ‘the shack’, as they know it, is waiting.
Desi climbs out of the car, shading her eyes against the late-afternoon sun. She walks slowly towards home, and then stops and turns back. Pete sees the uncertainty on her face. ‘I’ve got the key,’ he says, hurrying forward to let her in. He returns to grab some carriers from the boot, and sets off after her again with hasty strides.
‘I brought you some food … I thought I’d cook for you …’
At first, she stares right through the bags, then she focuses, frowns, smiles. ‘Pete … you are wonderful. What would I do without you?’
To his delight, the old Desi is back for a moment.
Once inside, she goes over to the kitchen and flicks a light switch. Nothing happens. ‘Oh.’ Her face falls. ‘I didn’t think –’
The power. Of course. Why would it be on when no one has been here paying the bills?
‘Your food …’ She sounds crestfallen as she regards the bags.
He quickly scans the kitchen. He doesn’t want his plan to fall apart. ‘Have you still got a barbecue?’
‘I presume so.’ They both go across to the window. Sure enough there it stands, on a small concrete area, dirty and rusting at the corners, surrounded by a thick cluster of knee-high weeds. Pete marches outside and reappears moments later. ‘The cylinder’s empty but I can run and get a new one,’ he says. ‘When I come back, we could cook out the front – watch the sun go down.’
‘Okay.’ Desi seems disorientated, staring at the barbecue as though she’s never seen it before. He doesn’t want to pester her when she’s obviously struggling. Instead, he unscrews the cylinder and makes for the door.
‘Can you check if Chug still works?’ she calls out.
Pete looks beyond his four-wheel drive to the decrepit campervan parked underneath a makeshift carport. He had bought it for Desi a few years back, suggesting she and Maya could go touring the state, but it had only ever been used for local errands.
‘It should,’ he says. ‘I’ve been turning the engine over for you on my visits to Maya. I bought a new battery for it not so long ago.’ He goes across and twists the key. Chug gives its usual throaty cough then the engine begins a gruff pant. Pete hops down and grabs the cylinder. ‘I’ll give it a quick run out if you like. Will you be okay?’
Desi nods, staring at the tyres with her arms folded.
Although he isn’t sure, he knows she hates being mollycoddled, so he goes anyway, mentally retracing his route to the nearest service station, estimating that he’ll only be twenty minutes.
It is more like forty-five. Pete spends the whole drive gathering the courage to bring up unpleasant subjects, trying to decide which one to mention first. But he heads inside to find a dark, empty house. Frightened, and cursing himself for leaving her, he races back out of the front door, then stops on the verandah.
He can make out a small figure on the beach, sitting close to the water’s edge, the wind making streamers of her hair. On each surge across the tide line, the sea foam kisses her toes then beats a hasty retreat. As he watches, she gets up and moves away a little, her arms hugging her body as she stares out towards the horizon.
He feels a quiet rage building at the centre of him. Knowing she cannot hear, that the wind will whip his words away and carry them inland, he shouts to her huddled form, ‘They’re not coming back, Desi! For god’s sake, they’re never coming back!’