Friday, July 04, 2008
The ocean sings its siren song in a stage whisper that carries from the shore to our house, a few streets away. It sucks and spits, sighs and roars, sends the salt water rippling out in shimmering curtains that are quickly dragged back again, leaving pearly beads of foam to sputter out on the sand. The dogs chase each other in snarling, joyful circles, kicking up gritty clouds in their wake.
F peels off his clothes impatiently, tossing his hooded jacket and balled-up socks into the wind. A citrus orange beanie keeps his shaggy hair covered; tendrils escape as he runs: chasing the tide in and out, skimming his toes in the shallows, planting his feet in the sinking sand as the ocean forms sucking corridors on either side of them.
We are in our bathers at the edge of the world, the sea and the sky stretching out forever. We hold hands and run into the waves at the lick of the ocean, shrieking and dashing back to the sand dunes and the dogs. We run back again, metres apart this time, venturing further, until the waves slap at my knees (his thighs). More shrieking. More running. And again and again. We mirror the rolling, repetitive rhythm of the sea.
“My thighs are hurting!” F shouts into the descending darkness, as I rub a towel over his mauve marbled legs. “Ow! Ow! It’s like knives! Be gentle!”
His trackies are pulled on, with difficulty, over damp, sand encrusted legs. His bare toes shuffle through the sand, chasing The Husband over the rising inlet and up the hill towards home. I know how he feels, though I don’t tell him that. My thighs are tingling too. Numb toes, numb feet, prickling calves, stinging thighs. A thousand tiny needles dance over my legs with every step up the beach; pricking especially deep as I reach the sandy gravel of the road. I am The Little Mermaid, suffering for her sea legs. Only I’m being punished for dipping into the sea, not for venturing onto land.
It’s only 6pm when we venture out to collect our fish and chips dinner, but it’s already dark outside. F plays with a torch in the hallway, flicking it on and off like a disco ball. He shines it into my eyes and laughs when I flinch away. He shines it into his own eyes. And into mine again. I snatch the torch away and set it down firmly on the washing machine.
“But it’s dark outside.”
“We don’t need a torch. There are street lamps.”
There are, in fact, no street lamps. As we leave the lights of the house and step into the driveway, we’re entering an eerie blackness. True darkness. We walk with our arms outstretched, feeling our way forward.
“Keep to the right!” I warn. “Away from the dirt pile!”
I hear F veering to the left. The dirt pile in the driveway holds an inexorable attraction for him. In the daylight, when we’re watching him, he creeps around the edge of it, his sneakers half-touching its muddy plains. I yank his arm.
As we reach the road, it’s still dark, but we can see again. Our way is lit by the windows of the houses we pass. I tip my head idly back and gasp at the view.
It’s like static fireworks. Trails of glittering dust streak the ceiling of the enveloping darkness. These are real stars, not the isolated, faint pinpricks of light we see at home. I explain to F that normally we can’t see these stars, because they’re drowned out by the streetlights.
“I know, Mum.”
We walk to the main road with our heads tipped to the heavens.
At the fish and chip shop, F marvels at the ice creams on display in the freezer while I graze on a Who Weekly. We walk home from the bright lights of the shops, passing through a stretch of darkness on our way to the main road. There is a squelch as my foot sinks into an invisible puddle.
“Oh Mum,” wails F. “I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?”
“Because I didn’t save you from the puddle.”
There is a long pause as we continue towards the main road.
“We really should have brought the torch,” says F.
“Yes. I know.”
“I could have saved you from the puddle then.”
“I know. I am very silly.”
At home, we dry our ugh boots by the fire and munch our way through mountains of chips.
We watch four episodes of Round the Twist in a row. It’s an old ABC TV series that used to screen after school when I was a kid, based on Paul Jennings’ surreal short stories. There’s a haunted lighthouse, an evil real estate magnate who wants to sell the lighthouse to developers, a close-knit coastal community, green babies who grow in the cabbage patch, a little brother with feet so stinky they’re a secret weapon that makes people pass out, and a spaghetti pig-out that ends in lots of vomited-up spaghetti ... that’s eaten again thanks to the rewind button of a magic remote control. F loves it because he loves Paul Jennings. I love it because it reminds me of being a kid. I love the 1980s puffed-up fringes and rolled-up jeans with white socks and lace-up black shoes. I can taste the Milo (three heaped spoons, half-stirred, half eaten) and hear my brothers and sisters squabbling beside me on the couch.
The series was filmed here. The lighthouse where the Twist family live is the one we can see from the lounge room window. You can buy the whole series on DVD at the video store next to the fish and chip shop.
When we hike up to the lighthouse, F stands and looks longingly at it, itching to go in. You can take a tour for $20 per head, but so far I’ve resisted forking out for it. He points at the cottage nearest the lighthouse.
“Is that Nell’s cottage?”
“Yep. We stayed there when you were little, you know.”
“I know, Mum.”
I told him last time we were here, when he and his ‘cousin’ discovered the joys of Round the Twist.
I’m amused by the fact that Round the Twist gazumped Sea Change by a decade with the crazed, shifty real estate developer and kooky, but loveable, community thing. (And the romance between Dad and the teacher Miss James was surely a forerunner to Laura and Diver Dan.) But more than anything, I can’t help reflecting on how Aireys seems to have changed since the series was filmed – certainly, since my mother-in-law bought her beach house here about six years ago. House prices rival those in the city. Tour buses are commonly sighted not just during summer, not just on weekends, but even mid-week in winter – and the lighthouse is a key attraction. And tourists (yeah, like us) are seen everywhere.
The whole of Aireys Inlet smells of smoke. It is the aroma of wood fires burning in every house.
I am sitting on the balcony, eating vegemite toast and sipping plunger coffee. I am wearing my mother-in-law’s robe, which swims about my ankles and threatens to swallow up my arms. The pants leg of my purple polka-dot pyjamas protrudes from the hem. I am basking in the sunlight that flashes on and off all day here, alternating with shrouded grey skies and light curtains of rain. F stands at my side and we look out at the lighthouse in the distance, the postcard-perfect view marred only by the blocky mansion that seems, from this angle, to climb from its base.
A trio of rainbow birds pass overhead in a shock of primary-coloured feathers, alighting on the balcony rail, barely a metre from where we stand. F runs inside to get my camera. He leaves the door open, and Snuffy rushes the balcony, sending the birds fleeing to the electrical wire nearby. F arrives with the camera and shoves it into my hand.
“Quick, Mum, quick!”
I point the lens and focus. There’s only one bird left. I lean in. And they’re all gone, streaking across the yard and disappearing into the uppermost branches of a nearby tree.
“You were too slow, Mum.”
“Well, I had to set it up first!”
I return to my toast. F decides to fish out his own camera and do some nature photography, inspired by my failure.
We play Indiana Jones on the paths winding through the scrub and down the sandstone cliffs, past the lighthouse and down to the beach and the inlet. A stone monument is an “icon” that Indy is hunting. F chants the Indiana theme song as he leaps and runs down the path, occasionally veering into the scrub to look for “relics”, which he solemnly tucks away in his cloth library bag, embroidered with his name and a red-and-white gingham star.
“We’re on a search for the opal shell!” he announces. “Chase me! You’re that French baddie!”
I halfheartedly run down the cliff, pausing every few jogged steps to photograph the view.
“Hey! Come on! You’re meant to be chasing me!”
“I’m documenting our journey,” I ad-lib. “I’m recording evidence. Explorers need evidence.”
He considers this, hands on hips, peering up at me from down the hill.
“Okay! Good thinking! Now, take a photo of this bush. I reckon there’s evidence here.”
It is just hours before we leave for home. We are squatting on the edge of the beach in the rain, the dogs wandering at our feet, sniffing around the toilet block just metres away. The Evil One's lead dangles from his collar. I am distracted, helping F wedge his wet, sandy feet into his sneakers. No one is around. And then there is.
A tall man in a navy beanie. Broad shoulders, blonde hair just visible, an outdoors tan even in winter. He nods at us, and I nod back, bending back to urge F's heel into his shoe. An eruption of barking and scuffling rends the air, just over my shoulder. I jump up to see the man kicking the dogs off his leg. The Evil One tumbles in one direction, the Good One, who never bites, or even growls, only jumps on any human being nearby as if she can't believe her luck to have this chance for attention, goes flying in the other direction. He's not just kicking them off; he's aiming at and kicking them. Hard. There are terrible, piercing squeals, like they've been hit by a car.
F and I gape as the man strides over and leans into us, shouting and swearing. The dogs run to us and sit still, barking. I am mortified, but I don't know what to think. As I gather my jumbled thoughts, he draws back his leg and delivers a hard kick to the guts of the Evil One, with the force of a footballer aiming for the other end of the field. There is a sickening thud as his foot connects with the dog's underside and it flies across the sand, literally twisting in the air before it lands, dazed, on the grass.
"You could apologise," he yells. "Your f*ing dog f*ing bit me!"
"Well, I would have," I find myself saying. "I am sorry, but you shouldn't have done that. I would say sorry if you hadn’t just kicked the dog like that. You can't do that."
"Well, he can't bite me! You're going to pay for this. You're going to get an $800 fine for this. I could report you!"
"Fine, do it," I say.
F dissolves into tears as he runs for the Good Dog, burying his face in her damp, gritty fur.
"She's a good dog!" he shouts. "She didn't deserve that! How could you kick her? She's a good dog!"
The man stalks off. F sobs into her neck as he strokes her.
"She doesn't deserve it," he cries. "She loves everyone! She just doesn't deserve it."
I hug him and hug the dog, pulling the Evil One back towards us. I pat him, too. I can understand the first kick – a reaction to shock. But the second, calculated revenge kick was just wrong. And it could have seriously hurt the dog.
When F is composed enough to keep going, we get up and head for home. The man suddenly appears again, beside a glossy four-wheel drive. A woman and a teenage girl are shutting the doors behind them.
"Their dog bit me!" he is yelling. "I got bitten!" More swearing.
“Right! I want your name and phone number,” he says, and I see that he is holding a scrap of paper and a pen.
“No.” I keep walking, holding F’s hand.
“So you know you’re wrong!”
“I could report you to the RSPCA for kicking the dog like that.”
“Fine, give me your name and I’ll see you in court. We’ll see who wins!”
F turns to look at him and clenches his fists.
“Well, it won’t be YOU!” he yells. I squeeze his hand.
I know what happened: the Evil One barked at his heels, the Good One joined him – barking with excitement – he kicked at them, the Evil One bit him, the Good One barked, he kicked them both properly. I know I was wrong for not having Evil at my side, but the truth is I’m just too shaken by the big kick and the aggression to know what to do – and my instincts are to just get out of there. So I do.
“I wonder just what happened back there.” I muse, half to myself.
“You know how they say dogs know if someone is a nice person or not?” says F.