Happy 2017 peoples!
I'm running a serial on A WineDark Sea over the next month or two. The Seal Wife is a previously unpublished novella that I wrote a few years ago. I love this story, and it has not found a home and perhaps it belongs here anyway. The Seal Wife story lives in four sections: Transmutation, Autopilot, Pearl and Finn, and The Seal Wife, and is set in a place a bit like Waychinicup. Freely read, or if you are feeling generous, a donation linky thing is at the bottom of each episode (thanks Alex, for this idea) and you can find episodes by clicking on The Seal Wife in WineDark Tales on the sidebar.
The Seal Wife *1
Gun smoke and blood and that silence of Silas dying ... straight through the neck. He never uttered a word. The stink of seal skins and abandoned carcasses blended with sulphurous smoke. Julian stood with the shattered stock in his stinging hands and watched the blood spill out of his brother’s smashed throat and leach into the sand that was white as the home country snow.
Julian was clearing Boss’s gun, some relic from the wars; a dirty, rusted thing with a jammed ball. Nobody could get the thing out and Boss was getting cranky. So Julian had a go to break from pegging out the skins on craggy, mulga wood racks. Silas lurked behind the skin racks like a maid in rows of white sheets. Julian didn’t even see his shadow, his fur clad feet squeaking in the fine beach sand.
Boss took the shattered rifle out of his grip and made him sit on the crunchy, dried kelp. “You’re on parole, aren’t yer mate?”
“So to speak.” Blowing up the Chinaman’s toilet should have been a mere prank but was near fatal for Ah Kit, who was sitting on it at the time.
“Your brother’s dead. You’ll swing for this.”
Julian stared at him. “It’s your gun, Boss. You ast me to clear it.”
“They’ll call it manslaughter, prob’ly. We’ll take the boy into town for yer. Take the dinghy.”
Amidst the mutterings of the sea and night time bird alarms, Boss pushed the little boat lurching into the surf and stood watching the young man leave. A swollen moon hung over the sea, leaving ladders and rippling pools of light. Julian rowed past the breakers. Boss’s figure his hands on his hips was silhouetted against the shore.
Their older brother Andrew expected to take the helm from their father. Andrew grew into the role with the natural arrogance of one whom inheriting land and cattle is a given. Julian worked hard. He bossed his little brother and in moments of unbearable hierarchy he beat up on him. Silas – every mother’s favourite. Julian thought he needed toughening. Julian saw life as an entity that hurled injustice at him. He received the back of the hand but no land at the end of it. Conversations at the family table passed over and around him. The oldest and the youngest sons were like points of reference in a sky full of stars and he was nothing, just black space. His first moment of being the sun and the moon was when he brought home a wife. Frannie, who heaved her candy striped breast once or twice and then produced two bonny sons, needed a home to put them in. So away sealing he went. Anything to make some money.
Julian rowed and drifted and wept for his brother, not his brother, his mother and then for himself as he thought of her greater love for Silas and how Boss had dumped him as carrion. He slept, his head jammed into the bow against his oilskin. And so, for two days, the little boat bore the wretched man and all the possessions that Boss had thought well enough to deposit; the fiddle, an axe, the water flask, a sharp knife, some biscuit and the weight of having slaughtered his brother and fled.
He hauled against the oars and vowed to keep rowing until he found somewhere that was nowhere. He kept to the smooth line of water where the outgoing tide met the incoming one. A brindle mountain rose into the sky, tipped with streaked granite the shape of a woman’s perfect breast, the nipple proud and pointing west. Stones the size of grand beasts peppered the hillside, exposed by the blackened patches of the hunting fires.
They would come looking for him. He knew that. Men on horseback, with the trackers who rubbed foul fish oil into their skin to keep themselves warm.