Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Seal Wife *11


He glanced at Andrew as he climbed in and decided to ignore him. Once they had taken off and were flying over the glittering harbour town, Stuart introduced everyone again. “Gordon – Trappey, this is Arkie, she’s the consulting anthropologist with Immigration.”

Arkie reached over to shake his free hand. “Pleased to meet you Gordon,” she drawled.

His stomach lurched. Scandinavian. What a voice! She purred like a beautiful engine. He glanced quickly down to her long, folded legs and those heels.

“This is my brother, as you must know,” said Andrew. Arkie nodded at him, a complicit smile twitching her lips. “Arkie asked me yesterday if I wanted to go for a ride,” he explained to the suits. “I don’t know how kosher that is but seeing as my brother’s at the helm ...”

Stuart happily raised his eyebrows at Andrew. Cowie ignored him and went back to his notes, marking sheets of paper one by one.

“So. Who are these guys?” Trappey asked.

“We think they’re fishermen,” Stuart said. “Definitely illegals. We need to ascertain whether or not they are fishing and if so, what they are targeting. We think they’re Indo’s but they could be anyone who just bought the tub off the Indonesians.”

“They could be asylum seekers,” said Cowie.

“This far south? Nuts.”

“Queue jumpers,” said his brother. “They should wait their turn like every other poor bastard.”

“It’s never that simple, Andrew,” Arkie said gently. Trappey didn’t mind who she spoke to or what she said, so long as he could hear her voice. “Some people are desperate. Anyway,” she glanced at Stuart, “it’s not illegal to claim asylum.”

Andrew nodded sagely and Trappey knew he hadn’t slept with her yet.

He flew in an arc around the arriving coast, lowering altitude to take in the cliffs where a fine spray from the Southern Ocean misted the heath lands. Here the cliffs were limestone and rather than wearing the headlands into balding granite outcrops, the sea pushed and crushed the softer stone until walls rose straight up from the ocean.  The sea glowed ultra marine blue but he knew that on their return, when the wind blew up and grey clouds rolled in from the south, that the sea would change to a gun barrel grey chop. It was that time of year.

They moved from the cliffs to a long stretch of white beach with reefs breaking the calm water away from the swell. A tribe of dolphins surged around inside the reef where the sandy bottom turned the water turquoise. Their urgent moves made them look like they were hunting.  There would be a school of pilchards down there, or perhaps some herring. He’d been hired by the Land and Sea mob once to track a school of herring that the dolphins pushed along the coast for twenty miles, the tight knot of fish gathering in tonnage all the while, like some diabolical ball of piscine fluff, until the dolphins pushed the school into a shallow corner of the harbour and fell upon them in an orgy of gluttony. He was reminded of kelpies with sheep, or hunting dogs. They behaved in the same way.

He tried to shake away his hangover but he knew he was left with it for the rest of the day. His lungs ached, front and back, and sometimes the tips of his fingers twitched and felt numb and tingly. It was a two week bender now and he was getting embarrassed tipping bottles straight into the recycling bin. He put them in cardboard boxes first and dropped them in carefully, so the neighbours wouldn’t hear the ringing of glass. No visible vessels of his addictions – except himself. The house was constantly being cleared out of bottles and yet there were always more and the ashtrays kept filling. He could hardly keep up with himself. Sometimes the hangover was the best part because he didn’t have to think too clearly, just sit in his own muck and feel the amorphous glob of his guilt in some vague kind of way. A not so merry, merry go round.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Seal Wife *10


Trappey thought all kinds of things during his long night, sitting alone at the scarred table with only a bottle and the genie curl of cigarette smoke to keep him company. He saw his brother, in the house across the way, ushering another inebriated girl over his threshold after the pub had shut. He was a slick character all right. No sense of right and wrong. What to do.

There was that job on tomorrow. Staying up all night and drinking probably wasn’t the best preparation for it. He switched off the lights and put a rag under the leaking kitchen tap, so the noise would not keep him awake and thinking any longer. It seemed no amount of quiet faucets or alcohol could stop him thinking these days but he made sure he tried his damndest.

Their father had left the houses to his two boys, perched on the mountain above town, more than twenty years ago when he’d bought out his neighbours and dreamed of establishing a Trappe and Sons fiefdom overlooking everyone else. It didn’t quite work that way of course. The old man, now enjoying what is gently termed aged care, would have been mortified had his marbles been intact, to see the concrete tilt up, Tuscan-style monsters that blocked the harbour views and shut away the sun. The two Trappe abodes perched between the monoliths, sporting rusted gutters and the resulting rotten weatherboards, trying to blend in like quaint little garden sheds amongst all that grandeur and fake wrought iron.

He lay in the bed that smelt only of him and no one else and stared at the Baltic pine ceiling, smoking one last cigarette. Finally he butted out in the orange carnival glass bowl and tried to think of nothing. How do you think of nothing? He tried to think of nothing and then not to think at all.

At the airport in the morning he met the two suits who stood waiting for him in the car park. One man toked on a tailor made and looked at the wispy clouds through squinty, reckoning eyes. The other looked younger but closer inspection showed him to be a healthy fifty year old sprouting a rooster ruff of grey blonde hair that would back chat any brush.
“Peter Cowie – Immigration,” said the toker.
“Rowan Stuart – Fisheries,” said the rooster.
“Gordon Trappe – Trappey,” he shook hands with them both.
“And how are we today?” asked Cowie.
Trappey grinned and shook his head. “Ask me later mate. Right now I think a good fuck and a green apple would kill me.”
Stuart laughed. “Well, that’s ... encouraging.”
“Don’t worry mate. I know this coast better than anyone.” It was no idle boast but it felt like it this morning and he left them awkwardly to prepare his charts and chat to the guys inside.

On the tarmac, the first person he saw when he’d run out the Cessna was a woman. She walked towards the plane is slow, thoughtless steps, her head and her thumb bent over a mobile phone. Tawny hair fell over the square shoulders of her jacket, her legs were cased in tight black jeans and she wore high heels. Shit, he loved heels on tarmac.

She lifted the phone up to her ear and at the same time the two government suits emerged from the building with – his bloody brother. The woman and his brother saw each other, both with phones pressed to their ears, and started laughing. Trappey couldn’t hear anything over the engine but he could see what was going on.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Seal Wife *9


Four women stood on the orange sand of the shore, staring in his direction. One woman wearing a red cotton dress pointed to where he lay and talked to the others. He didn’t move for what felt like hours. The other women were naked and stood in the water, working their feet around in the sand. Occasionally they picked up something with their toes, putting them in their bags. Cockles?

He slept eventually, in the sun. When he woke, they were gone and the inlet was still and quiet. The only movement was the bull seal who had returned to the rocks in front of his camp. He strained his eyes to see what the old sea dog was up to. The animal had something in its jaws and was shaking it to and fro as a dingo shakes a chicken. The twang of a broken string floated across the flat water and then the crunch of teeth into thin, varnished wood.

He watched, appalled, as the seal broke his violin into pieces on the rocks. The rage came up again, through his belly and straight up into his head. He ran back along the rocks to his camp, where he found his home unmolested by the women and everything in its rightful place. The axe lay in his bed, beneath the oilskin and seaweed and her seashell scent. He took the axe, leaping over the rocks to the bull seal, swinging the weapon at his side.

The seal watched him approach and growled over its find, pulling away the wreckage of the fiddle and glaring at him from reddened eyes. Every time it moved, a pathetic strum or crunch would answer from the instrument that was now so shattered that only the strings held together the neck and the body. The seal tried to manoeuvre itself off the rocks and keep the smashed fiddle but it wasn’t quick enough.

Julian raised the axe high above his head and clouted the seal between its eyes, cleaving open its skull. It was a clean kill. He felt his power return from the days and weeks of clubbing, shooting, axing one after another, ten, twenty in an afternoon, until some days the beaches they returned to were gone of all life except carrion feeders and flies buzzing around the clean picked skeletons.

He rolled the body into the water and went to push it out, thinking the next tide would take it away like it did his boat. He eyed the skin and changed his mind. He took out his knife and robbed the creature of its hide.

He gorged himself on great slabs of red, half cooked meat and scrubbed with sharp stones at the skin, stripping away the fat until the skin was supple and thin. It would make a fine blanket and cloak, something to warm him now that winter was coming on. The meat could be salted or perhaps given to the men who would surely return after today’s encounter.

He worked and ate and tried not to think too much. Thoughts could be nocturnal ambushes and today was bright and his belly was full. What he tried to think about was the warmth of that skin and where to find salt and how to break the back of the hide once it had dried and hardened like old bull kelp.

She stayed away during the day light hours. A light misty rain began to fall in the evening, flattening out the water. He stood in the doorway and looked at the pink clouds against the black mountain, scratched his belly and then went inside to his fire and resigned himself to the night.

He woke in the dark when the ashes creaked with the last of the heat to hear a peculiar keening. The only sound he could liken it to was the sound in his head when he’d shot his brother. She appeared in the doorway. His heart gladdened. She did not come in. She held out her hand. He followed her down to the water.

She took his hand as the sea lapped and swelled around his feet. She took him into the sea. They swam to the wreck of the Erica and she dragged him down into the depth of the inlet that breathed like the breath of the world.
“You are killing us,” she spread the words out in his mind. “There are too many of you. You are killing us all.”

Panic seized him as tightly as her grip. The stolen black woman, from another inlet just like this one, floated up before him. Her face, last time without any feeling, now gazed upon him with a terrible sadness, maybe even compassion. He could not tell. The thumping in his chest began to spread throughout his limbs. Pressure from the deep squeezed his whole body. His ears ached dreadfully.

She had a strong grasp of his ankle and pulled him down into the stone and kelpy castles. Julian stared at her, pleading, terrified and her black eyes said to him, “Don’t be afraid. Come down with me. Believe in me.”

This is the last episode of the 'Transmutation' section of The Seal Wife. The next section is called 'Autopilot'. What happens to poor old Julian McGregor Stuart is revealed ... later. x