As the Doll cuddled and tickled Max, the two women chatted. Max soon grew bored and went back to his hole. Wilder told the Doll how she had been invited to be in a Mardi Gras float, Dykes with Dicks, that night. As far as the Doll knew,Wilder wasnt a dyke, but Wilder said someone had taken ill and a friend had rung that very morning and asked her to make up the numbers. Last minute though it might have been,Wilder viewed it as an irresistible proposal, and now it was all arranged, with Max going to his fathers.
Off with the boys tonight, said the Doll, whose view of the hole was obscured by Wilders body.Eh, Max? There was no answer. The Doll looked up and Wilder twisted around. But Max was no longer in his hole, and was nowhere to be seen.Wilder jumped up, scanned the crowds and then the sea.
Oh my God, said the Doll.Hes caught in the rip. And she pointed to a dark snake tongue of water whipping back through the breakers, on which a small boy on a boogie board was being swiftly carried to the ocean beyond. They could see Max mouthing screams, helpless and terrified. But with the noise of the waves breaking, people yelling and squealing in the excitement and pleasure of catching waves and having waves crash on them, no one could hear him, and no one, not even the lifesavers, had noticed the small boys plight. Both women leapt up and began running to the sea.
But before they reached the water or found a lifesaver, they saw a young man strike out into the rip and swim after the now crying boy.The man was a confident swimmer, riding the rip with ease until he reached Max. The two women watched mesmerised,Wilder silently sobbing, as the man took hold of the board and slowly, almost casually, swam it sideways out of the rip. Then he swam Max and the board back to shore, timing their journey inward between the breaking waves.When at last able to stand, he picked Max up and, trailing the board behind them on its wrist leash, walked to where the two women were now making their way through the shore slop toward him, waving and shouting.
He was dark and slender, with short curly hair, and his dark skin was accentuated by the long white Billabong board shorts he wore.Without a word, Max climbed out of his arms into those of his mother.
Wilder stood knee deep in the sea, the larger waves crashing into her waist, crying and smiling, holding her son to her chest, angrily berating him, halting every so often to thank the man before returning to tick Max off, all the while kissing and hugging and burying herself in him, as Max attempted in a half-hearted fashion to shy away from such an embarrassing outburst of maternal affection in front of a stranger. The young man said little, making light of his rescue, trying not to stare at Wilders breasts.Then he smiled, said goodbye, shook Maxs hand as if they were men who had shared an adventure together, and headed back out into the surf.
Hes a bit of a looker,Wilder said, as he disappeared into a wave.
Very woggy, said the Doll.
Later, the Doll went for a bodysurf. This feeling she loved above all: diving beneath that wall of white water, feeling its power tumble over her, and popping back up in the confused aftermath of boiling water, the brilliant light slashing her eyes.
The Doll blinked twice because of the brightness and the stinging salt, and then only a few metres away she saw him, similarly blinking and tossing his head, the young man who had so bravely rescued Max.
He smiled. She smiled. He raised an arm out of the water and waved. On impulse, she swam over to where he was treading water, put her arm around his neck and kissed him on the lips. It was a gentle, affectionate kiss, and though neither of their lips opened, her legs washed around his for a moment, and the Doll felt her body tingle. Thank you, she said.
Excerpted from The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan © 2007 by Richard Flanagan. Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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