Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Mr Tabubil's parents drove up from the big smoke last weekend to spend the weekend with us.
We planned some serious touring of the local desert.  Naturally, the day they arrived our generally sunny skies turned stormy: showers scudded across the sky under bruised purple cloud-heads and we revised dinner menus from salads to chocolate fondue (the human body instinctively turns toward high-calorie food choices in cold weather.  And there were strawberries to dip in the chocolate - very nutritious.)
On Saturday evening, between squalls, we ducked down to the jetty for a sunset ramble and found the gulf surprisingly still - flat as a table, clear as glass.  We hung over the rail and watched fish flashing across the sea-grass meadows.
Next to me a boy supervised a string of crab traps.
            "You American?" He asked me.
            "You sure? Heard you talking.  You've got the accent."
            "Lived there a long time. Married one."
We leaned companionably against the rail and tracked the swallows swooping low across the water - dropping like small feathery bombs from the jetty superstructure and catching evening insects on the wing.

Usually we see teenagers plummeting - the local kids swim from the end of the jetty, climbing onto the rail and letting go - backwards and upside down if they're boys and there are girls around.
Most evenings there's a high wind.  The kids teeter on the rail, gripping it between their dripping toes as roaring billows of wind blow them inward across the jetty, and wait for the perfect moment to back-flip off. We stand and watch, torn between a desire to cover our eyes and run so that we don't see the inevitable catastrophe, and a civic obligation to stand and stay, ready to jump when they're blown into a girder and crack their heads open and fall insensible into the water.
They never do.
But it doesn't mean they won't.

"What're you fishing for?" I asked the kid.
            "Bait fish. The bait we used to use got outlawed two weeks ago.  Not happy about it. Fish don't like eating fish.  Doesn't work as well."
            "What was the old bait?"
            "Roo meat. These days they reckon it attracts sharks, so we can't use it any more."
            "Do you get sharks off of here?"
            "Oh Yeah.  Caught one off this jetty, two days ago."
            "Really?  How big?"
            " A Port Jackson shark. 'Bout a meter long." He looked at me sidelong, to see if I was impressed.
The kid's father was hauling in a trap. The kid's eyes slid past me and he jumped -
            "You've got one, Dad - you've got one!"
A great grandfather blue-fin crab clung to the outside of the trap with one enormous claw.  Dad held the line with one hand, reaching out with a net in the other-
            "Ease it under him, catch him gently - "
Great grandfather lifted clear of the water and let go, sculling down into the green dim of the sea grass.
            "Aaahhhhh." we all sighed, watching him flash out of sight.  Shrugging, the kid turned back to his lines and began hauling them up, hand over hand.
Three small blue-fins squirmed at the bottom of a cage.
            "Reckon those are too small, son!" His dad called.  "Better drop 'em back."
            "Righto." The kid said.   He plucked them off the wire net.
            "Want to hold one?"  He asked me.
I nodded.
            "Here."  He said, and handed me a small crab, blue and purple.  I reached out, grasped just like so, and - OW!
Sixteen hells! The wretched thing had whipped his claw around and was telling me what he thought.  He had me by the index finger, driving the whole length of his pretty blue and purple claw deep into the nail bed.
The kid tugged experimentally.  The crab gave him a filthy look and hung on.
            "It's you or me", it said to me, clear as day, and squeezed harder.  "And you'll perish before I do."
I made a very small and very brave noise, and looked woefully up at my mother-in-law.
She giggled.
The kid hauled and my mother-in-law giggled and I squeaked (restrainedly) and eventually the darned thing was dragged off by main force - scoring a groove in my flesh the whole long way.  Counting coup.
The kid pitched it overboard.  Good riddance.
            "I got bit by a big one last week."  He told me, with another sidelong glace. "Didn't make a sound."
My mother in law definitely sniggered.
            "You're a better man than me."  I said grimly, staring out at the water.
He smiled genially and we stood there, he peacefully contemplating the big blue infinite, me nursing a throbbing finger and glowering internally.  I had acquitted myself with heroic dignity on a field of terrible combat and they had laughed.
My mother in law had vanished.  I ought to have wondered where to.

"You from Boston?" the kid asked me.
            "Sort of."  I said.  "I lived there for a few years."
The kid nods, satisfied.  "Thought you sounded like you were from there.  You'll know the Crowleys, then? Bob and Sue Crowly? They're from Boston."
            "It's a big town." I said cautiously.  "Hard to know everyone.  And I've been back in Australia a few years now."
The kid nodded peaceably.  No hard feelings for my ignorance.
            "Never been outside Australia yet." He said.
            "Big plans, though?"
            "Oh yeah - "he looked at me and grinned.  "I want to go to Minnesota."
            "Minnesota?  Why there?"
            "I like the sound of the name. Hear it's a crap town, though."
He slung the crab trap over the edge.  I said "huh" thoughtfully, and looked up and down the jetty.  My mother in law was back in dry land, speaking to my father in law and Mr Tabubil.  There was a definite sense of a huddle, and highly suspicious hand gestures, and the faintest hint of shaking shoulders.
            "Good fishing" I said hastily, tossing the kid a salute.
He nodded magisterially. "Fair evening."
I ran to save my honor.

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