Pearl and Finn
“That’s right. The metal detector was useless because the plane had crashed right into the sealer’s camp.” He stabbed the table for emphasis with a twig. “There was metal and shit strewn all over the shop. Beeping was going off all the time. You wouldn’t believe the debris. I’ve never seen anything like it ... I’ve never seen anything like it. They didn’t stand a chance, poor bastards.”
“I heard that.”
“No, I heard it on the news that the plane exploded when it crashed.”
Finn looked at her hair, wanted to stroke it. “I’d like to take you there one day.”
She felt a lurch in her belly. “Why?”
“Not out of morbid fascination or anything. I think you would really like it there. It just feels like your kind of place, you know?”
“Well ... you’re like a fish, aren’t you? I’m sure if you had babies, they’d been born with gills and fins and scales and things. This place would suit you.”
“I’m quite definitely more mammal than fish,” she said, unsure whether to feel affronted by gills and fins and scales and ‘things’.
It was true though that Peal liked the brine on her body more than most. Her friendship with Finn had blossomed from a dive lesson almost three years ago. It was the first time he saw her on the jetty, tying back her hair and clad in the sleek wetsuit she called her sealskin, that he knew she was the girl for him. In the water she became fluid itself. She knew where the best reefs lay out by the islands, which way the tides surged and where to find the giant cowry shells. Finn was definitely a land lubber, a tiller of the soil. For him the dive classes were mere folly to add to his eclectic repertoire of skills but once he’d seen her undulate deep into the beams of light and curl around her body to commune with a sleepy bat ray, he knew he would do anything to dive with her again.
It was only later when he saw her walking along the track by the creek with the two sheep dogs, when he saw her landlocked, protective state with layers of baggy clothes and sheepskin boots, that he realised she was the woman renting the cottage not half a mile from his house and he’d not even noticed before. Maybe he recognised the dogs but not the insular, unremarkable woman walking with them. One day he introduced himself at the gate and reminded Pearl of the dive lessons she gave him. And now, she came regularly and made sure he stopped for a break and gave her a cup of tea. Sometimes she brought fish she’d caught and swapped them for vegetables or fruit.
He’d put the word on her before and she’d run away. She avoided his place for a while. He scared her off with the needy, horny energy of a man who had been alone for a bit too long. But she liked him and so she returned. She liked the way he pondered things. She knew he spent hours worrying at such things as how to rid the orange trees of scale or sooty mould, without using sprays, how to get the eagles working for him and recipes for guinea pigs. But most of all she liked him in the evenings when he’d had a homebrew or two and he pulled out his violin and played her a tune. She’d walk home in the cool night with raw music still reverberating in her mind.
“Why Drambuie?” She swilled the golden liquor around in her glass and saw it enter the hollowing ice cubes.
“Why not? And you are a Scot, yes?”
“My parents are Scots,” she laid her eyes across his face. “But I’m not. They adopted me after they came out.”
“Bullshit! I mean, sorry. I didn’t know that. Sorry.”
“I don’t know who my real parents are. I’ve been looking the last few years,” she shrugged. He could see the old hurt, right there. “It’s like someone left a trail of footprints but they were dragging a branch behind them, wiping them out. I guess they don’t want to be found.”
“Birthdays must be a bit strange then, hey Pearl?”
“I’ll get your pressie.” He walked to the shed with easy, loping strides and returned carrying something wrapped in sepia newspaper.
“What’s this? Fish and chips?”
He put it on the table with a heavy thunk. “Open it.”
She untied the baling twine and pulled the newspaper away. It was two pieces of stone. She looked at him in astonishment. “Where did you get this?”
She almost rolled her eyes at him.
“From the inlet. I found them in the rocks, on the tide line.”
She pulled the biggest stone towards her body. She laid it in her lap and stared at it. Grooved with centuries of work, it was the size of a dinner plate. The second stone fitted the groove and was the pestle. This she held and the weight of it fell into her palm perfectly tooled. She ground it into the mortar and the sound of stone on stone brought her home again.
“This is a tool kit. This is someone’s tool kit.”
“The stone is different, not from here, I’m sure of it. Maybe they traded it back in the old days. You know, you hear of ochre and pearl shells found thousands of kilometres from their origin. Things are more valuable when they travel so far.”
“It may have bought some lonely trader a wife,” she grinned wickedly at him and was glad to see him blush. “I wonder where it came from.”
He cautioned her. “Some artefacts are ... problematic. Maybe the Old People will want it back.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “I’ll look after it for them. I’m supposed to look after this.”
She sat there looking at the tool kit and a heavy kind of silence fell over her shoulders. Her hair covered her face and Finn wondered if she was crying. He hoped not. If anything he was a little bewildered by her reaction, though his ideas of who Pearl was had quite changed on this day and the gift only intensified that.
He moved his chair around the table and sat near her, near enough to draw her heavy curtain of hair away from her face. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah ... I just feel a bit freaked out.”
Finn stroked her hair, feeling the knotty waves, the strange kinks and perverse curls. His fingers caught on a lock. He didn’t think of anything, just stroked her until he felt her soften into him. She turned her eyes to him and he could see her pupils so enlarged that they made her eyes look inky, black and he could see the branches of the tree in them. She touched his face with cool fingers and stroked his beard. He felt a light, delicious rush from his groin to his heart.
“Will you take me to the inlet?”
“I want to ...” Finn cleared his throat – he could hardly talk. “I will take you there.”
He laid his lips across her cheek and breathed her in, her seashell self. Her fingers twined in his beard. Her lips found his. One of the lounging dogs sighed heavily in its midday dreaming under the karri tree.