Another Night in Mullet Town

BOOK: Another Night in Mullet Town
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Steven Herrick was born in Brisbane, the youngest of seven children. At school his favourite subject was soccer, and he dreamed of football glory while he worked at various jobs. For the past thirty years he's been a full-time writer and regularly performs his work in schools throughout the world. He has published twenty-two books. Steven lives in the Blue Mountains with his partner Cathie, a belly dance teacher. They have two adult sons, Jack and Joe.

www.stevenherrick.com.au

Also by Steven Herrick

Young Adult

A place like this
Black painted fingernails
By the river
Cold skin
Lonesome howl
Love, ghosts and nose hair
Slice
The simple gift
Water bombs

Children

Bleakboy and Hunter stand out in the rain
Do-wrong Ron
Love poems and leg-spinners
My life, my love, my lasagne
Naked bunyip dancing
Poetry to the rescue
Pookie Aleera is not my boyfriend
Rhyming boy
The place where the planes take off
Tom Jones saves the world
Untangling spaghetti

To my beautiful wife, Cathie

Mullet

Manx and I sit under the swamp oak

on the west bank of Coraki Lake.

A howler blows from the south

clearing the lake of gulls and egrets,

spiking sand into our ankles.

Manx picks up a tree branch

and snaps it over his knee.

He draws an outline in the sand.

‘I'm a mullet in the lake,' he says.

I can't help but laugh because

Manx's haircut
is
a mullet:

scraggy on top,

long and lank at the back.

‘I'm cruising in the shallows,

hungry for lunch.'

Manx glares across the water,

before continuing,

‘I'm stuck in a geriatric unit for fish

when I should be tackling the ocean.'

‘There's sharks in the deep,' I say.

Manx draws a school of fins in the sand.

‘I swim in crazy circles

desperate for an escape.

My eyes pop,

my mouth gulps,

but I end up butting my stupid head

against the sand wall,

wondering who stole the outlet.'

He hurls the stick into the lake.

‘You're stuck here forever, Manx.'

Manx sinks to his knees.

‘Then I'll flop onto the sand –

a mullet suicide.'

He rolls onto his back and

stares at the clouds.

‘You might meet another mullet,' I say.

‘A cute female

lonely and lost, missing her school.'

Manx laughs.

‘Yeah, Coraki Lake needs

another twenty baby mullet,' he says.

‘Think of it as a community service,' I say,

‘for the pensioners with nothing to do but fish.

You can feed them your children.'

A car horn blasts on Lake Road.

Manx jumps up.

‘Fish and chips for dinner!

You want some, Jonah?'

Manx's dad must have closed the servo early

and bought takeaway.

I shake my head.

Mum and Dad

shouldn't be left alone for too long

or they'll shout the house down.

Manx scampers up the embankment.

His dad leans out the window and says,

‘Always plenty of food at our place, mate.'

The Holden blows smoke down the road

as it follows the curve of the lake

to their house near the swamp.

Coraki Lake

Coraki Lake is fed by Turon Creek

through the swamp near Manx's house.

The lake used to be linked to the ocean,

but three years ago

a storm dumped a levee of sand

damming the outlet.

A few locals still go to sea,

but drive all the way

to the ramp at Balarang Bay

ten kilometres north.

They launch fibreglass boats

with outboards and ice-loaded eskies

as if certain of their prize.

At night they return with sunburn,

a hangover

and just enough fish

to encourage them again next week.

My neighbour, Mr Crewe,

and his mate, Mr Huth,

fish from the rocks

under the lighthouse

one eye on their lines,

the other on freak waves.

They glory in the taste of whiting

lightly crumbed and quick fried.

The rest of us circle the lake,

each with our own special place,

and the town joke is

who will give up first –

the hundreds of procreating fish

or the pensioners and teenagers

casting a line

and hoping.

The storm of three years ago

left us without an ocean view

from the flat ground.

It dammed the lake,

and damned the town.

Catch the wind

I remember years ago,

when Manx's dad used to dump his tinnie

straight into Coraki Lake

in front of their house

on the marshy side of Lake Road.

He'd power it straight through the outlet

with Manx and me,

ten-year-old kids

holding tight at the front of the boat

as we pitched over the breakwater.

We'd get soaked by the spray,

and Mr Gunn would

toss me the life vest.

I'd look at Manx

and wonder how we'd share it

if the boat should sink.

‘Put it on, Jonah,' Manx's dad would yell.

‘My boy can swim

better than a mullet.'

I'd pull the vest over my head

and sit low in the boat,

my hands gripping the sides.

Manx would lean forward,

his face to the sun,

laughing and raising his arms

to catch the wind.

Manx

Manx and I have lived here

since we were born.

His dad runs the petrol station

in the shadow of highway gums.

It has four bowsers, a pot-holed driveway,

a besser-block toilet covered in graffiti

and a neon sign flashing

P TROL
.

The only customers are

truckies like my dad

and goggle-eyed tourists

who missed the all-night service centre

on the four-lane at Balarang Bay.

Manx's dad sleeps at the station

as often as in their fibro shack

beside Coraki Lake

where Manx has the front room,

and a fishing line dangling out the window

ready to go at a moment's notice.

In their backyard is a twisted clothesline,

a shed full of rusting tools

and a '67 Valiant up on blocks.

Manx and his dad are working on

dropping a reconditioned engine in,

ready for his seventeenth birthday.

Manx has a chipped front tooth

and one of his ears is missing a bit on top

where a dog nipped him when he was six.

Manx told me he'd never seen so much blood.

When he ran indoors to show his mum

she covered her eyes

before fainting theatrically on the lounge.

Manx's dad ignored her

and raced his son off to hospital

where the doctor stitched up Manx's ear

and told him not to play with animals.

That was years ago

before Manx's mum left

on a summer Saturday

when we were out on the boat.

The weekend after she left

Mr Gunn tossed everything he could find

that reminded him of his wife

into a bonfire

and he told Manx to

fill her spare trunk with soil

and plant seeds of lettuce and cabbage

so that something good would come

out of Manx's mum

leaving town.

Turon

The sun drops below Sattlers Hill

as I walk home along Lake Road.

My town wins the prize

for being the only place on the coast

that doesn't have a safe beach.

A treacherous rip replaced the breakwater

where the outlet used to be.

A thicket of blackberry bush

and a jumble of slippery rocks

stretch south from the lighthouse.

Tourists crowd the curve of sand

at Balarang Bay

and leave us to risk it off the rocks.

The brave – or foolish –

creep to the sandstone edge,

watch the incoming swell

and judge their time to dive.

Manx has mastered it.

The rest of us swim in the lake

jumping off the pier.

Or we ride our bikes

on the track through Morawa National Park,

our shortcut to Balarang Bay.

Once a week in summer

a car will pull up beside Manx and me

as we walk along Lake Road.

The passengers wind down their windows

and, with curled lips and a frown ask,

‘Is this Balarang Bay?'

I tell them they took a wrong turn

and should head back to the highway.

Or sometimes, Manx says,

‘Yeah, this is it.

Enjoy your holiday.'

We walk away quickly

to hide the smiles on our faces.

Droopy, Loopy and the neighbourhood dogs

I turn into our dead-end street

away from the blackberry-infested coast.

Our house, the last before Sattlers Hill,

is built of timber that needs painting.

The roof is more rust than iron,

but it doesn't leak,

so Dad isn't changing anything.

Mr Crewe, the old fisherman who lives next door

mixes a batch of concrete

and trowels it onto the base of a garden gnome.

He plops the gnome on the brick front fence.

Sixteen gnomes stand to attention,

each painted red or green,

a jaunty line of dwarf sentries

guarding the property.

Mr Crewe sees me counting and smiles.

‘Quite a line-up, Jonah,' he says.

‘The paper should do a story on it,' I reply.

He laughs.

‘They can print a picture of this old fool

sticking his head up

between Droopy and Loopy any day.'

He wipes his brow with the back of his hand

and slaps down the last piece of concrete mix.

‘Two reasons for this display,' he says,

steadying the gnome into place.

‘One, so people keep thinking

I'm a batty old man

with not much going on up here.'

He taps his wrinkled forehead.

‘Two, the stray dogs

have been using my rose garden as a toilet.'

He winks at me.

‘Let them jump the fence now.

They'll have a garden gnome stuck up their arse.'

Raised voices burst through

the front window of my house.

Dad's yelling at Mum

and she's giving it back at double the decibels.

‘It's been going on for a while, son,' says Mr Crewe.

‘Something about the Magna breaking down again.

Not that I'm eavesdropping.'

‘The whole street can hear,' I say.

‘I've got a pot of soup on the stove

if you want to camp here for a few hours.'

I shake my head.

When I walk into their arguments,

they go quiet for a while.

I pretend to do my homework

at the kitchen table

and they act like nothing's wrong.

No-one says a word

when I'm around.

BOOK: Another Night in Mullet Town
12.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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