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Authors: Helen Goltz

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BOOK: Ophelia Adrift
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“Adam has the left of the house and I am right, but not all the time,” he laughed at his own joke.

The bedroom on the left was a mess. I grinned and looked to the right, it was orderly.

“Mm,” I said. “Makes sense.”

Uncle Seb laughed. Both Adam and Uncle Seb’s rooms had doors that opened onto the back deck. Under the stairs was a specially designed dog bedroom, open but cosy.

“This is Agnes and Argo’s room. They have their own doggy door,” Uncle Seb said.

I looked at the doggy door in the back door frame; it was huge—I could fit through it with only slightly ducking my head.

Uncle Seb looked sheepish. “I guess it is more of a people door and wouldn’t stop anyone breaking in, but we don’t have much here worth breaking in to steal,” he shrugged.

“I think someone would be very brave to break into a house with two huge guard dogs,” I said and stepped away from Argo and Agnes’s room. “Well Argo and Agnes,” I addressed the dogs, “I must say you are neater than Adam and Uncle Seb.”

The two dogs appreciated my comment and Uncle Seb nodded his head in agreement. Each dog had a large dog bed suspended about one foot off the ground by sea ropes and a view from the hallway to the deck and park area behind.

“They’ll move beside the fire in the living room in winter of course and sleep on the rug.”

“Of course,” I agreed thinking of the homeless back in my city who would love to share Argo and Agnes’s bed.

Uncle Seb took off again towards the front of the house. I chased after him.

“I have no secrets, so you are welcome on my side of course, if you can find anything to interest you there,” he joked. “Adam might be more territorial. Now for your level.”

He returned to the staircase, grabbed my suitcase and headed up to the next level. Argo, Agnes and I followed him upwards. I grabbed the timber rail, turned at the top of the stairs on arrival and looked back down. It was a large home but it felt cosy. I turned to find Uncle Seb smiling, waiting for me.

“Uncle Seb, I don’t need a whole level really. I’m sorry,” I said. He looked surprised.

“What for?”

“I feel like I’ve displaced you both. You have your life and now you have me ... this obligation,” my eyes began to fill even though I tried not to cry and I blinked them clear as quickly as I could.

“Never an obligation, Lia, never. It’s my pleasure to have you,” he stumbled with words, “a pleasure and a privilege to have you here.” I don’t think Uncle Seb has had to express his emotions very often and his sincerity brought my tears closer to the surface. I breathed in deep to get control, smiled my thanks and he hurriedly continued the tour. The upstairs area was equally enormous with high ceilings and included a narrow staircase that lead to an attic. The house was clearly divided on each side of the staircase.

I stopped dead in my tracks and gasped. The entire front wall featured the two large glass panoramic windows that had looked like eyes from afar and through these you could see the ocean until it fell away off the edge of the earth. Uncle Seb stopped beside me and put down the suitcase. He looked out at the ocean.

“I forget sometimes how beautiful it is,” he said. “I have to remember to look up and admire it.” He sighed and turned away. “Now, the right side is empty ... guest rooms, spare rooms, whatever we like,” he swung doors open. “A bedroom ... and ...” he walked down the hall beside the stair case, “bathroom ... and ... a storage area. I’m a bit of a hoarder.”

I followed. “Wow,” all the rooms had the most amazing views.

“But you, Lia, you own the left hand side and the whole floor really.” He returned, collected my case from where he left it and pushed it into a bedroom. “Here’s your room, your bathroom and a spare room that you can use as you see fit, maybe a guest room for a friend from your old school or a new friend or a study room for school? All the furniture is new—Mrs. Duxom went shopping and ordered it all. She chose white, everything white, even the quilt. She said you could add colour then, any colour you like. She did sneak a little pink in, but if you don’t like it or want to change it ...”

Checking out the left side—my side—I wandered from the bedroom to the spare room to the bathroom and back to the bedroom with my mouth open. It was wonderful—big high ceilings, antique chandeliers with glass and pink crystal drops, the whitest of walls, timber floors and pale cream rugs, a welcoming plush quilt and plump white and pink pillows—it felt so plush like I had entered a room out of Vogue Living magazine.

I turned to Uncle Seb. “Thank you, I love it. You’ve gone to so much trouble.”

“Never too much trouble for my only niece,” he said and I could tell he was happy with my reaction. He looked away and back at me again with delight.

I wandered through the rooms again as he watched, swaying on his heels, his hands in his pockets. The bathroom had a huge cast iron bath all new and polished and the view from the window was unbelievable. I could watch ships on the horizon while I’m bathing. I went back to the spare room with the desk and double bed and back to my own bedroom with a four-poster double bed and the white netting all around it.

“It is beautiful, dreamy, thank you,” I circled the bed and ran my hand along the white netting.

Sebastian nodded and reddened with pleasure. Argo and Agnes sat on either side of the door looking like ancient protectors of the room.

“More to see,” he said leading the way outside the room to the small stairs that led up to the attic.

“And that,” he looked skyward, “is our viewing room. Most mornings we all go up—that is me, Argo and Agnes—and I take a coffee and sit to look at the ocean. Plus if we sight a ship at any time of the day we all meet there,” he said including the dogs in his glance. “It is rather lovely. Come see.”

The way Uncle Seb spoke I could see the dogs and the house were his family. The dogs raced ahead up the attic stairs and I followed them and Uncle Seb. Two large chairs sat in front of the windows and looked straight out to the ocean. With the height there was no sense of being on land, it was as though the attic floated in the ocean. The dogs wandered along the large windows.

I’m sure my jaw dropped open and Uncle Seb grinned with pleasure as he showed off his prize old home.

“She’s something alright,” he nodded. “Well, that’s the house,” he began the descent down to the bedroom level again with the dogs following behind. He stopped before descending to the lower level and turned to face me.

“Now, Mrs. Duck—her name is actually Mrs. Duxom but we call her Mrs. Duck, don’t know why, it just stuck—anyway Mrs. Duck comes every weekday after twelve to clean, wash and cook dinner, she’s been with me for over a decade now. On the weekends, we fend for ourselves! You’ll meet her soon enough. I will go put the kettle on for tea. Take your time, Lia.”

I thanked Uncle Seb and watched him take the stairs at a gallop down to the lower level, Argo beat him down, Agnes stayed with me.

My room was beautiful, dreamy even—but I felt bad for liking it, as though I was being traitorous to Mum and Dad. I moved to the window and looked out over the ocean. An incredible feeling of loneliness swept over me and I grabbed my chest; I don’t know why, I knew that wouldn’t help. As if reading my emotions, Agnes moved closer to me and I stroked her head.

The sun would soon set across the ocean; the shadows were already long across the rocks. Then I saw movement at the base of the rock ... a person, a man with fair hair? I turned back but there was no one there.

JACK

 

She saw me, just a hint of me but I was gone before she looked back ... it is safer that way for a while, well, until we’re officially introduced. I can’t believe she’s here at last; I feel like I have waited forever for this moment in time. So I can wait and do it properly ... let her discover me.

Not everyone is happy she’s here, there are petty jealousies rising ... a fear that she will replace all others, receive all my affection, and take up all the room I have in my heart. They have grounds to be worried.

 

 

OPHELIA

 

I woke with a fright, I could hear yelling, and just for a few seconds I didn’t know where I was. It was Uncle Seb yelling. I can’t believe I slept, morning caught me by surprise—I haven’t slept so heavily ... well, since Mum and Dad died.

Uncle Seb was pounding up the stairs. I threw off the covers, shoved my feet into my Ugg slippers, chucked my dressing gown around me and ran towards the door. Uncle Seb nearly collected me as they ran past. He thudded up the stairs with Argo and Agnes in pursuit. Somehow Uncle Seb was charging along while balancing two cups of tea!

“Morning, Lia, there’s a ship, come on,” he called as he headed up the attic stairs; the dogs took them in two bounds.

Ship! All this racket for a ship, really?
I glanced to the large, solid brass ship clock in the hallway.
5.35am, good grief.
Uncle Seb called out again. I sighed and went to the attic stairs and climbed up finding all three of them looking out the large windows.

“Morning, here you are,” Uncle Seb handed over a hot mug of tea as I sunk into the seat next to him. He wore a loose grey T-shirt and track pants; his hair was bed hair at its best. I reached down and gave Argo and Agnes a morning pat each as they lowered themselves at our feet, facing the ocean.

Ahead, through the floor-to-ceiling windows was the most amazing view ever—a full panorama of the ocean and centre place, crossing the front was a large ship.

“Oh wow, it looks like it is in our front garden,” I blinked to wake up properly and gazed at it through the steam of my hot tea. “I didn’t think it would be that amazing.”

Uncle Seb grinned. “Worth getting up for after all?” he ribbed me.

I shrugged and smiled. “Yeah maybe.”

“It is something isn’t it? We never tire of watching them,” he said including the dogs who also looked out to sea.

“Where’s Adam?” I asked.

“He’s out having a run. He does most mornings.”

I nodded, pleased that the first time I met him I wouldn’t have bed hair. Adam didn’t come home for dinner last night, for my first night, but I heard a car arriving and the door opening just after ten or so. The house had moaned as well, a welcome home moan I suppose. I wasn’t in a hurry to meet more people.

We watched the ship moving slowly across the horizon.

“I don’t get how they float ... I mean I know the science of how they float,” I added quickly before Uncle Seb started his lecture on the ship’s buoyancy properties. “I mean, I’m blown away by how they float.”

He nodded. “We’ll make a sea lover of you yet, Lia, you wait and see, won’t we kids?”

Argo barked on cue, a deep bark that came from his big chest.

I leaned over and stroked his beautiful head.

“You should go down and walk around the shores, visit the maritime museum, you could even go on a tour to look at the wrecks,” Uncle Seb suggested.

I shuddered. “Creepy.”

“You think?” he asked. “I love them. So do the divers—the ships are a great reminder of our history.”

“But didn’t lots of sailors die? Awful to think that we enjoy the sights which once would have been the cause of a lot of grief,” I said.

“I guess,” Uncle Seb said, “but you could say that about a lot of history and sights. Besides not every ship had a full crew that perished. Like Agnes’ ship ...”

Agnes’ ears twitched on hearing her name.

“...it was a crop ship.” Uncle Seb pointed straight ahead.

“And just there, the Essington, sank in 1852, she was carrying a cargo of coal.”

“Why did it crash?” I asked.

“She began to take water and then ran ashore. Believe it or not, you can still get little bits of coal washed ashore after rough weather. Now that’s creepy if you think about it,” Uncle Seb said. “And there,” he pointed to the left, “is where the Thistle went down. She was blown ashore on Christmas Day in 1837 and was carrying wattlebark, you know, stripped from trees?”

I shook my head, wattlebark was new to me, but I guess a lot of Uncle Seb’s world was new to me. My day used to exist of getting up, checking my Facebook page, going to school, going to sport after school sometimes, homework and hanging with my parents and friends. This shipping world was totally foreign and this house was something else. Just as that thought cross my mind, she softly moaned and rocked just a little with the shore breeze.

“But, the greatest mystery of them all,” Uncle Seb continued, “was the Mahogney Ship. She went missing in 1836 and has never been found to this day, so she could be anywhere,” he waved his arm.

I felt goose bumps rising on my skin. “How can a whole ship be lost and never found?”

“Yeah, sounds impossible, doesn’t it?” Uncle Seb sipped his tea. “But it happens. Planes used to go missing in the Bermuda Triangle all the time, stranger things have happened. The Mahogney was sighted a few times, or people thought they sighted an ancient looking wreck here and near Warrnambool, but she’s never been found.”

I looked over at my uncle and studied him. “Have you looked for it?”

“It’s been part of my life’s work. I can’t stand not knowing where it is ... it has to be out there somewhere,” he squinted. “The government even put up a reward once, $250,000, but no sight of it.”

“Wow, that’s weird.” I looked back out to sea, watching the ship move along the horizon line.

“Do you believe there are ... ghosts, like sailors lost at sea trying to come to shore?” I hesitated to ask in case Uncle Seb thought I was a major idiot but curiosity got the better of me.

“Oh yes!” he said.

“Really? I thought since you’re a scientist and kind of technical, that you would think that was stupid,” I said.

“I think you have to be open to everything in the universe,” Uncle Seb said, and surprised me again. “There have been many ghostly sightings, not just of the Mahogney. I wish I could say I’ve seen some, but no, not in all the time I’ve lived and worked here. I want to see them ... but you’ll find plenty in the village who will tell you stories. There’s second and third generation ancestors of ship crews here, so lots of tales, some probably exaggerated along the way.” He turned to look at me.

“Why, seen a ghost ship?”

“No,” I laughed. “I’ve only been here a day! But ... yesterday at dusk, when you left me to settle in, I thought I saw something on the rocks, but when I looked back it was gone ... could have been just the light on the water, nothing, you know, but that’s what got me thinking about the spirits of the sea.”

“I like that,” Uncle Seb said, “spirits of the sea.”

We turned to view the ocean liner again and Uncle Seb pointed to the rocks. “There’s Adam now ... see there, near the stage ...”

“Stage?” I squinted across the beach to the sand dunes.

“We, the locals call that rock outlet that looks like a stage, the stage.”

I watched Adam as he walked onto the stage and stretched, finishing with his hands on his hips looking out to sea, his silhouette dark against the morning sky.

“How can you tell who it is from here?”

“I’ve know Adam since he was a baby. Besides, he goes there most mornings after his run. After a while you get to know most of the people in the village. I can pick them by the way they walk and talk.”

“How come he’s staying with you, if I’m allowed to ask?”

“Sure. When he finished high school last year, his parents wanted to travel but he got the apprenticeship. So he decided to stay and rather than flat alone, he moved in here,” Uncle Seb said. “It’s a big place and we don’t see each other much.”

“Your family is getting bigger and bigger,” I said.

Uncle Seb looked over at me and smiled, like the thought hadn’t occurred to him.

“That’s true,” he said. “That’s a good thing. Your world will be bigger too once you start school on Monday and make some new friends.”

“Is it far?” I asked, ‘to school I mean?” I finished my tea and thanked Uncle Seb.

“About twenty-five minutes on the school bus. You would be used to that in the city.”

I nodded. I wasn’t looking forward to it; I wanted to finish high school with my friends in Brisbane. Everyone here would already have their friends sorted.

The ship was moving out of the frame of the window. The dogs stirred and Agnes rose and put her head in Uncle Seb’s lap. I turned as something caught my eye; it was just Adam as he jumped from the ‘stage’ and began to walk up the beach towards our house.

“Ask Adam to tell you about his ancestors, interesting story there,” Uncle Seb said, rising. “Breakfast!” he declared and Argo and Agnes jumped up and took to the stairs. “Come down when you’re ready. I’ll scramble some eggs.”

 

Chapter 3

 

OPHELIA

 

The school was huge; modern and crowded. A sea of blue uniforms filled the yard and with a deep breath and a wish to be anywhere but here, I threw my backpack over my shoulder and entered the school gate. What I would give to go back to my other life—to be walking into the grounds of my old school and catching up with everyone again after holiday break.

Uncle Seb warned me it might take a while to fit in; he’d changed schools a few times when he was a kid with his and Mum’s dad being in the Air Force. He offered to come with me, but I told him it’s cool, I’m sixteen, not six and I would be fine. Besides, I have to learn to be alone now.

It started  on the bus on the way in, I was the circus freak—no one spoke to me of course but they all seemed to know each other and I could see them staring and whispering. I guess a new girl arriving for year eleven is going to attract a bit of attention; especially arriving for term two after the school holidays. Worst case scenario, I only had half of year eleven and all of year twelve left ... I could just spend lunch hours in the library and do my own thing.

I sighed and told myself to get on with it. I followed the signs to the administration block and presented myself at the front desk. 

“Now you are either Jacqui Passmore or Ophelia Montague and given Jacqui is going into grade four today, I’m guessing you are Ophelia?” a large red-haired woman, with a name tag reading
Mrs. Carroll
said to me.

“I’m Ophelia Montague, with no desire to do grade four again!” I smiled at her.

Mrs. Carroll laughed heartily. “You wait until you are my age dear, you would give it all to go back to grade four. Now, we have a buddy for you ... that is, a buddy system, someone who will look after you for your first week.”

“Oh, that’s good,” I brightened.

“You didn’t think we’d just throw you in class amongst that lot and let you fend for yourself did you? In fact here she comes now.”

I followed Mrs. Carroll’s gaze and turned to see a thin Asian girl walking towards the office. She wore wire-framed glasses, and had a long dark braid of hair worn on one side of her head only. She wore the uniform to perfection—even her socks were pulled up to her knees. Pinned near her collar was a small badge that read
Prefect.

“There you are, dear,” Mrs. Carroll greeted her. “Ophelia Montague, this is your buddy for the week, Peggy Carboney. Peggy is one of our top students and she’ll look after you.”

Peggy stuck out her hand and I shook it. “My name’s Margaret, but really, how old fashioned, so I go by my nickname, Peggy, because I really like horses and my mother used to call me Pegasus.”

Right
, I tried to keep up.

Peggy turned. “Oh sorry Mrs. Carroll, I hope your first name isn’t Margaret?”

“Quite alright my dear, it is actually Carol. Carol Carroll, can you believe I married a man with the surname Carroll, I used to be Carol Dartmoor when I was your age.” She laughed heartily. “But now, Ophelia is a lovely old-fashioned name.”

“From Shakespeare,” I added. “Thanks for looking out for me this week,” I said to Peggy.

“My pleasure. We don’t get many new people in year eleven, we get some in year seven moving over from other schools, but most of us went to primary school together. We’ve both got English for our first subject, so I’ll introduce you around. Bye Mrs. Carroll.”

Peggy said all that in one breath and then she took off. I gave Mrs. Carroll an appreciative wave and hurried to catch up with Peggy.

“I know what you are thinking ... how can I be Asian with a surname like Carboney,” Peggy said.

The thought hadn’t crossed my mind but I didn’t have a chance to tell Peggy that because she kept talking.

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