On the beach something flashed. At four o'clock in the morning it was probably just a gull, but it gave a girl a start. It was darker now than it had been all night; she couldn't see a thing.
Sea air misted on her skin. The chill burned her scalp.
Georgie wasn't a morning person but as a shiftworker she'd seen more than her share of dawns. Like all those Saudi mornings when she'd arrive back at the infidels' compound to loiter outside after her colleagues went to bed. In stockinged feet she would stand on the precious mat of lawn and sniff the Jeddah air in the hope of catching a whiff of pure sea breeze coming across the high perimeter wall. Sentimental attachment to geography irritated her, Australians were riddled with it and West Australians were worst of all, but there was no point in denying that the old predawn ritual was anything more than bog-standard homesickness, that what she was sniffing for was the highball mix you imbibed every night of your riverside Perth childhood, the strange briny effervescence of the sea tide stirring in the Swan River, into its coves, across the estuarine flats. But in Jeddah all she ever got for her trouble was the fumy miasma of the corniche, the exhaust of Cadillacs and half a million aircon units blasting Freon at the Red Sea.
And now here she was, years later, soaking in clean, fresh Indian Ocean air with a miserable, prophylactic determination. Sailor, diver and angler though she was, Georgie knew that these days the glories of the outdoors were wasted on her.
There was no use in going to bed now. Jim would be up in less than an hour and she'd never get to sleep before then unless she took a pill. What was the point in lying down in time for him to sit up and take his first steeling sigh of the day? Jim Buckridge needed no alarm, somehow he was wired to be early. He was your first out and last in sort of fisherman; he set the mark that others in the fleet aspired to. Inherited, so everybody said. By the time he was out of the lagoon and through the passage in the reef with the bird-swirling island on his starboard beam, the whole bay would be burbling with diesels and the others would be looking for the dying phosphor of his wake.
At seven the boys would clump in, fuddled and ready for breakfast, though somehow in the next hour they would become less and less ready for school. She'd make their lunches -- apple sandwiches for Josh and five rounds of Vegemite for Brad. Then finally they'd crash out the back door and Georgie might switch on the VHF and listen to the fleet while she went through the business of keeping order in a big house. And then and then and then.
Down at the beach it wasn't a gull, that blur of movement; there was a flash of starlight on wet metal. Right there, in the shadow of the foredune along the bay. And now the sound of a petrol engine, eight cylinders.
Georgie peered, made a tunnel with her hands to focus in the dark. Yes. Two hundred metres along the beach, a truck wheeling around to reverse toward the shore. No headlamps, which was curious. But the brakelights gave it away; they revealed a pink-lit boat on a trailer, a centre console. Small, maybe less than six metres. Not a professional boat. Even abalone boats had big yellow licence markings. No sportfisherman launched a boat with such stealth an hour before Jim Buckridge got out of bed.
Georgie grabbed a windcheater from inside and stood in the hallway a few moments. The plodding clock, a snore, appliances whirring. The vodka still burned in her belly. She was shaky with caffeine, and restless. What the hell, she thought. A moment of unscripted action in White Point. You had to go and see.
Underfoot the lawn was delicious with dew, and warmer than she expected. She crossed its mown pelt to the foredune and the sand track to the beach. Even without the moon the white sand around the lagoon was luminescent and powdery. Where the tide had been and gone the beach was hard and rippled.
Copyright © 2001 by Tim Winton.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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