Another Night in Mullet Town (4 page)

BOOK: Another Night in Mullet Town
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The sailor's museum

I sit against the smooth stone wall of the museum,

closed ten years ago.

I try hard to think of something –

anything –

other than Mum leaving home.

From here I can see all of Turon

scattered around the west side of the lake.

To the north is a row of lakeside mansions

at Tipping Point where Patrick lives

bordering the National Park

separated from the rest of us

by a swampy creek

and a million dollars.

Patrick's dad has planted a

sign near the driveway

that lists ocean views,

a landmark setting

and a price tag

that makes my eyes water.

Manx's dad lobbied

the council

to reopen the museum,

but all they wanted was a quick sale

and money in the bank.

Mr Lloyd-Davis

gets a bonus if he sells it

within the next six months.

As if he needs the extra money.

Three words

A slow line of coal ships head north.

On the rocks at low tide,

a lone figure casts into the ocean.

Mr Huth fishes, rain or shine.

He lives in a shabby van

the shape of a teardrop.

If it wasn't for fishing, he'd starve,

although rumour says

he keeps his money hidden in the van.

I walk to the leeward side

of the museum

where the cemetery stumbles downhill.

I pick my way through the headstones

until I find Grandpa's grave.

Charles Douglas


Three words to decorate seventy-two years.

Dad visited for the first month,

but too many long hauls

left the fireweed covering Grandpa.

I think of the empty house

waiting for me

and, without knowing why,

I grab a weed and pull hard.

It comes up easily.

I toss it behind the headstone

and keep working,

one fireweed at a time.

I don't stop until Grandpa

has a clear view all the way

down the hill to his old town.

Fine specks of dust

Opposite the cemetery,

the town church

is next on Mr Lloyd-Davis's list

of places to sell.

It's been given a lick of paint,

a few garden beds, freshly planted,

and a hardwood fence

that preaches home, not God.

Mr Lloyd-Davis bought it cheap,

paid for the renovation

and is now looking to double his money.

I leap the fence

to admire the stained glass window

of Jesus among a flock of sheep,

the distant hills of waving grain.

I wonder how long before

the new owners –

spooked by Jesus looking down on them

as they drink wine,

eat lamb and have sex –

replace the window

with double glazing and curtains.

What do you do

with a second-hand pulpit

and long wooden pews

that haven't been used in years?

On a woodpile under the church

is an uprooted sign

that lists Sunday services

and Easter celebrations,

the paint flaking,

the words hollow.

I've been to this church once –

for Grandpa's funeral

when I was nine years old.

His coffin was draped in a fisherman's net

and carried inside by my dad

and his rarely seen uncles.

The light through the Jesus window

shone on the pulpit;

fine specks of dust

flickered in its beam.

The priest offered blessings

for the dead.

And ill-conceived promises

for the rest of us.

Grandpa's wake

While Mr Crewe helped Mum

clear the discarded glasses and plates

of Grandpa's wake,

Dad got two fishing rods

from the shed

and placed one in my hands.

He carried the bait box,

while I walked alongside,

all the way to the lake pier

as the evening light faded.

Dad baited the hook

and watched my nervous hands cast.

The lure landed barely metres away.

He smiled

and deliberately cast close to mine –

two bobbing floaters

in the shallows.

We sat like that for hours

listening to the slap of water

against the pier.

By the light of a half-moon,

I watched my dad's face

unpack the meaning

of being a son

without a father.

That was enough

I remember my head tilted forward,

and I would have fallen into the water

except for Dad's firm hand on my shoulder.

I woke and saw the fishing rod beside me,

the dark lake and my father's smile.

I asked him if we'd caught anything,

and he said,

‘A large mullet.'

I looked around for the fish,

but on the boards of the pier

there was nothing but an empty beer bottle.

Dad said,

‘Your grandpa taught me,

no matter how desperate I was,

no matter how hungry,

the first-caught fish

be returned.'

It didn't make sense

and I said so.

Dad replied,

‘That fish took a risk –

bit something it wasn't sure of –

and deserves a second chance.

Like we all do.'

‘But didn't the next fish

also take a risk

and the one after that?'

I asked.

Dad laughed.

‘A father's rules

aren't always wise,

but it's how we remember

and judge a man.'

He reeled in his line

and helped me to my feet.

We hadn't caught a fish,

but I'd spent a few hours

with my father,

and that was enough.

Grandpa's town

When we returned from the lake,

my father hugged his uncles

and walked them to their cars.

But, instead of waving goodbye,

they sat on the fence

and told stories

into the night.

Grandpa and the outboard motor.

Grandpa and the volunteer fire brigade.

Grandpa and the scar he wore like a badge

above his right eye.

He told everyone it was from a pub fight,

but it was really a plate thrown by Grandma.

She was smart enough to die

before Grandpa did,

just to prove how much he'd miss her,

lost in the big house

they rented for cheap –

spooking the verandahs,

wandering the gardens,

baffled in the kitchen …

without her.

Grandpa spent his last years

wishing he was dodging flying crockery

rather than waiting for the inevitable.

I sat listening to these stories

from my bedroom window

and saw the lines of memory

creasing my father's brow,

while he talked his uncles

into being sober enough

to drive away from Grandpa's town.

The colour of rich

Manx is sitting on his front steps,

a fishing rod at his feet

as he works on threading a line

through a hook.

‘You'll go cross-eyed doing that,' I warn.

He tosses me the rod,

runs into the house

and comes back carrying an esky.

‘Full of ice and beer,' he says.

‘You're hoping,' I answer.

‘I caught six yesterday

and sold four to Mrs King,' he says,

spitting between the gap in his teeth.

We walk along the curve of sand

to our favourite spot under the swamp oak.

Manx casts a line into the lake,

the twirling reel imitating the wind.

The yellow floater bobs on the

ti-tree burnished surface.

‘I've been thinking, Jonah,' he says.

‘Does it hurt?'

‘You wanna hear my idea or not?'

‘Always, Manx.'

He stares across the lake

to the row of double-storey houses

at Tipping Point.

Counting them off, he says,

‘Rich, rich, for sale, Patrick's palace, rich,

old man Beattie, rich, rich.'

He frowns. ‘Some of those places

are only used on school holidays.'

Manx narrows his eyes and grins.

‘They're vacant,'

he waits a few seconds before adding, ‘now.'

Then he points to the weatherboard mansion

at the end of Tipping Point and asks,

‘What colour is that, Jonah?'

‘Salmon pink,' I say,

‘or delicate rose with an autumn-mist trim.'

‘I'd call it erect nipple with a baby-poo highlight.'

‘I'm not sure I could front a hardware

and ask for ten litres of erect nipple.'

Manx licks his lips and repeats,

‘They're vacant … now.'

Fish guts

All of a sudden,

Manx's reel squeals

and the floater ducks under the water.

The rod bends wildly in his hands.

Manx widens his stance,

grits his teeth and says,

‘Fish fillets here we come.'

‘Biggest pile of seaweed you've ever caught, Manx.'

‘It's a mullet,' Manx yells

as he reels slowly, the line tensing.

‘Seaweed's fine, Manx. The Japanese eat it.'

Manx is about to respond

when the fish breaks the surface,

twisting and squirming on the line.

‘Seaweed, my arse,' yells Manx

as he flicks the rod.

The mullet sails overhead

landing in the kidney weed on the bank.

Manx grips the fish tightly in one big hand

and carries it to a boulder.

Then he smacks its head hard on the rock.

‘Here, mullet king,' I say,

tossing a knife

onto the sand near the boulder.

Manx scrapes the scales from head to tail,

wipes the blade on his shorts

then inserts it into the vent

and cuts along the belly of the fish,

all the way to the lower jaw

before reaching in and removing the guts.

He turns to me, holding them in his hand.

‘Don't you dare!' I yell,

leaping to my feet.

‘Jonah, trust me,' says Manx.

He flings the guts into the lake.

A flock of gulls descend,

flapping and squawking,

arguing over the feast.

Manx washes the fish in the cool lake water.

‘We've got the mullet.'

He looks across the lake to Tipping Point.

‘Now all we need is a barbecue.'

Stepping into a catalogue

Our kayak glides onto the sand

at the far reach of Tipping Point.

Manx bows elaborately.

‘You may step ashore, King Jonah.'

The bottles of beer clink in the esky

as we drag the kayak up onto the sand.

I look across the lake to Manx's house

and I notice the surface of the water

creasing in the wind.

‘If the southerly builds,

we'll be walking the long way home,' I say.

Manx pats me on the back.

‘After a feed of fish and a few beers,

you'll be able to paddle into a cyclone, Jonah.'

He lugs the esky along the beach.

I follow, watching for movement

in any of the houses.

The sand is blinding white

all the way to the point

where the cliff of sand-blasted rock

shines rust red in the afternoon light.

A sea eagle floats on the breeze.

Twenty metres from the pink house,

Manx stops to survey the scene.

A grassy lawn leads up from the sand

to palm trees lining the east fence.

A newly built wooden pagoda

with a hammock strung between two palms

entices us forward.

Hardwood stairs lead up to a deck covered by

a shade cloth, like a gull's wing

shielding a shiny silver barbecue

and a teak dining table with eight chairs.

Leading from the deck

are glass double doors, heavy pink curtains

with blue seashell patterns

and, when my shoe touches the bottom step,

it's like walking into a rich man's catalogue.

A meal, well earned

Manx strolls across the deck

and puts his arm around my shoulder.

‘Does the banker wanker

ever sit here and enjoy the view?' he asks.

‘Nah, he's too busy making deals,' I say.

‘Here's a deal.

This place for my crappy bedroom.'

Manx slaps the mullet on the grill

and opens a beer, offering it to me,

before taking his bottle to a chair

under the shade cloth.

He flops down, puts his feet up on the table

and snaps a selfie.

‘Maybe I'll post it on Instagram.'

‘Exhibit one in a court case for trespassing,' I reply.

‘We could invite Rachel around,' suggests Manx.

‘Tell her not to knock at the front door,' I say.

‘It's a deck party, Jonah.

All the rage among the rich.'

I take a swig of beer

and look out to the lake.

‘Shit, Manx! Patrick's dad

is on the beach,

and he's heading this way.'

Manx quickly flips the fish onto a sheet of foil,

and turns off the gas.

I grab the esky

and we clamber over the railing down to the garden

and scamper into a vacant block next door.

Manx stops near a fallen log.

I keep looking behind for Mr Lloyd-Davis,

but Manx sits down, carefully unwraps the fish

and offers me a fillet.

‘What are you doing?' I ask, breathing heavily.

‘Enjoying the fish before it gets cold, Jonah.'

‘What if he sees us?' I ask.

‘We're having a picnic.'

‘He'll smell the fish,' I say.

Manx shrugs, takes another bite

and wipes the juice from his lips.


Mr Lloyd-Davis stands

looking out across the lake,

more interested in his mobile phone

than a feast of mullet.

The pink house blushes,

the sea eagle tilts away from the lake

and Patrick's dad turns and walks back

towards his mansion.

Manx rolls his eyes

before returning to the deck

to enjoy the sunset of

a meal, well earned.

BOOK: Another Night in Mullet Town
9.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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