Somewhere in the dark an outboard started. So muted it had to be a four-stroke. It idled briefly and as it throttled up she saw for only a moment the hint of a white wake on the lagoon. Whether it was surreptitious or merely considerate, the whole procedure was extraordinary in its quiet and speed. A bird's wings whopped by, invisible but close as a whisper; the sound prickled Georgie's skin like the onset of the flu.
Along the beach a dog blurred about. When she got closer she saw it was chained to the truck. It growled, seemed to draw itself up to bark then hesitate.
The big galvanized trailer was still leaking seawater when she reached it. The dog whined eloquently. Steel links grated against the Ford's barwork. An F-100, the 4x4 model. Redneck Special. The dog yanked against the chain. It launched itself into a sprawl, seemed more eager than angry.
Georgie bent down to the shadow of the dog and felt its tongue hot on her palms. Its tail drummed against the fender. She saw seagrass trailing from the driver's step, black shreds against the talcum sand.
Hmm, she murmured. Are you a nice dog?
The dog sat, got all erect and expectant at the sound of her voice. It was a kelpie-heeler sort of mutt, a farm dog, your garden variety livewire fencejumping mongrel. All snout and chest and balls. She liked it already.
Good dog, she murmured. Yeah, good fella.
The dog craned toward the water.
Feel like a swim, eh?
Bugger it, she thought, why not.
She stripped off and laid her clothes on the truck. The blouse was past its use-by date; she picked it up, sniffed it and tossed it back.
Unleashed, the dog flashed out across the sand in a mad tanglefooted arc. Georgie belted down to the water and ploughed in blind. Her reckless dive brought to mind the paraplegic ward. She felt the percussion of the dog hitting the water behind her and struck out in her lazy schoolgirl freestyle until she was amidst moored lobster boats with their fug of corrosion and birdshit and pilchards. Behind her the dog snuffed along gamely, snout up, with a bow wave you could feel on your back.
Stars were dropping out now. A couple of houses had lights on. One of them had to be Jim. Puzzled, perhaps.
Out on the seagrass meadows where the lagoon tasted a little steeped, she trod water for a while and picked out Jim's house on the dune. It was a bare white cube, a real bauhaus shocker and the first of its kind in White Point. Locals once called it the Yugoslav Embassy but these days nearly every owner-skipper had himself a trophy house built with the proceeds of the rock lobster boom.
Jim would be in the bathroom now, holding himself up against the tiled wall, scratching his chin, loosening his back, feeling his age. Despite his reputation he still seemed to her a decent man, decent enough to spend three years with, and for Georgie Jutland that was a record.
She imagined him back in the kitchen, boiling water for his thermos, doing a room-by-room, wondering. He'd step outside to scan the yard and maybe the beach and take in the state of the sky and the sea, gauge the wind while he was there. He'd go inside and get his kit together for eight or ten hours at sea. And if she didn't arrive? When his deckhands turned up in the old Hilux in their beanies and fog of brewer's breath, with the dinghy lashed across the tray like a cattle trough, what then? Did she really give a toss anymore? A few months ago she would have been tucked up in bed. Not swimming nude in the bay with some stranger's cur entertaining mutinous thoughts. But recently something in her had leaked away. Vaporized in a moment.
The dog circled her patiently -- well, doggedly, in fact -- and in every hair and pore Georgie felt the shimmer of water passing over her body. After weeks of the virtual, it was queer and almost painful to be completely present.
Copyright © 2001 by Tim Winton.
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