About the Author
He has had a bash at a wide variety of jobs over the years, but now works primarily as a musician and artist.
Griz waddled slowly along the edge of the road that led down to the jetty. His thongs kicked up little clouds of dust as they bounced off his heel, to the ground, and back again. Step after wheezing step.
Hearing a squawk above him, he stopped and looked up to see a few seagulls hovering on the early morning breeze. His eyes followed their flight and he was taken with the beauty of the sun. It was clambering its way spectacularly into the gradually brightening sky, leaving a trail of, at first golden, but then silver light reflecting off the millpond-calm bay.
Breathing heavily he continued shuffling, clopping his way along a wooden jetty making his way to the group of men gathered at the end, loading a variety of boats with a variety of goods and equipment.
“Any of youse blokes going near
Given how huge and, well, grizzled, Griz was, his voice was still a surprise to those who hadn’t spoken to him for some time.
“Yeah, I’m goin’ out that way Griz,” Johnno Robinson piped up when no one else had answered. He dropped a bucket on the deck of his boat and looked up at Griz.
“Take this over to Shaun for me?”
“Ummm, maybe. What’s in it for me?” Johnno asked with a smile.
“I’ll give you a couple of stamps with pretty pictures of flowers on ’em,” Griz squeaked back sarcastically without smiling, “and I won't call you an arsehole behind yer back for a week.”
Those witnessing the exchange smiled and elbowed each other at Griz’s joke.
Well, they thought it was a joke.
But the gallery burst into raucous laughter when Johnno replied, “Make it two weeks and you’re on, ya fat bastard!”
Shaun Mulligan sauntered down the white sandy beach having heard the sound of an outboard motor drawing closer and waited to see who his visitor was. It wasn’t very often he received visitors. In fact, he couldn’t really remember the last.
His companion, who’d followed him quietly down to the water’s edge, remained silent, showing no interest in the beauty of the morning, or the boat that was rapidly approaching.
Shaun looked toward the mainland, not too many kilometres away, taking in the glorious colour of the azure water that surrounded his island.
“Johnno! What the fuck are you doin’ out this way?” Shaun yelled as he recognised his visitor who dragged his tinny up onto the beach, past the water line where waves, created by his approach, lapped at the shore.
“Gidday Shaun. Gidday McLeod. Gotta letter for ya from
“Shit ay, a letter for me? What’s it say?” Shaun said.
McLeod looked on without remarking on this news.
“How the hell would I know Shaun, I didn’t fuckin’ open it. Griz just asked me to bring it out to ya.”
Shaun felt some trepidation as he took the letter from Johnno’s calloused fingers, noting the smudge of oil on the Express Post envelope.
He recognised his daughter’s writing. Grimacing, he wondered when was the last time she’d written to him.
“It’s from me daughter,” he announced.
“Didn’t even know ya had one,” Johnno replied, rubbing his chin. He contemplated how little he actually knew about Shaun at all.
“Yeah. Haven’t seen ’er for a while, she grew up with ’er mum.”
Shaun held the letter down in his own shade, even wearing his wide brimmed straw hat, the reflection of the morning sun was a bit too bright for comfort now.
He stared at it, trying to imagine what it could be about.
He’d been on the island a long time now, and the few communications that had originally found their way here…old bills, letters from old friends, had dwindled over the years. He realised it had been a long time since he’d received any mail.
“Well aren’t ya gunna open the fucker?” Johnno asked dying to know what was important enough to get Griz off his fat arse and waddle down to the jetty first thing in the morning. He waited expectantly, watching Shaun turning the letter over in his hands, eyeing it suspiciously with a look of distaste.
“Well, are ya gunna see what it’s about or not Shaun! The fucker’s not gunna read itself!”
“Oh, I dunno Johnno, what if it’s bad news or something.”
“Yeah, but it could be good news.”
“Hadn’t thought of that,” Shaun replied in a mournful voice, obviously not agreeing with that notion.
Suddenly he looked around up to the shack tucked away among some palm trees above the high-water mark, “Shit! McLeod!”
He turned and ran toward the shack.
Johnno was left dumbfounded for a second, and then remembered Shaun telling him and the other blokes about McLeod’s penchant for raiding the house when Shaun’s back was turned.
As he approached the dwelling, Johnno heard yelling, and the cacophony of saucepans and other unidentifiable objects falling. Just as he reached the yard of the ‘house’, a white body went spinning past him to land on the ground with a thump. He looked back at the house where Shaun stood in the doorway, panting with the exertion of chasing McLeod, then throwing him across the yard having been caught.
“M-a-a-a-a-y-n-a-a-a-ard!” The goat yelled, his legs thrashing about as he writhed on his back “M-a-a-a-a-y-n-a-a-a-ard!”
“I told you don’t call me that!” Shaun yelled as he surveyed the damage in the shack, then doing a double take, he noticed the goat’s unnatural antics.
“Shit! He’s having a fit!” He yelled, and ran to the animal.
Upon reaching McLeod, Shaun burst into laughter.
Johnno had watched the whole scene like a spectator at a tennis match, his head swivelling from one player to the other as, what would later be a good story at the Tavern, unfolded.
These two are fuckin’ mad, he thought, then corrected himself, the goat’s just a goat, Shaun’s fuckin’ mad!
Laughing, Shaun looked over to where Johnno was standing, “The dickhead’s got his horns stuck in the ground!”
Johnno could see on closer inspection that indeed, the hapless goat was pinned by its horns and was kicking frantically, trying to get free.
“M-a-a-a-y-n-a-a-a-r-d!” It bleated piteously.
Shaun bent down and yelled at the goat, “Stop calling me Maynard and I’ll help you! He keeps calling me Maynard,” Shaun explained looking up at Johnno, “he knows I hate it!”
“Maybe he can’t say Shaun,” Johnno replied.
Ah shit! Now he’s making me crazy he thought.
“Yeah! Maybe,” Shaun responded slowly, thinking “hadn’t thought of that. I mean, it’d be hard for a goat to get that out wouldn’t it.”
“Yeah,” Johnno responded weakly.
Shaun grabbed McLeod by the shoulders and heaved, dragging the horns out of the sand. “Jesus! He was really stuck in there!” He said laughing.
He looked down at his hands, noticing he was still holding the letter which was now crumpled as well as oil-stained, “Better have a look at what this bastard says before I wreck it completely,” he mused, mostly to himself, “ya comin’ in?”
“Yeah, okay,” Johnno replied. As weird as all this was, he was still interested in what the letter was about, and had the feeling, unlikely as it seemed, that Shaun wanted him there when he read the letter.
They weren’t friends exactly. They’d drunk at the Tavern together often enough, with the other blokes, but this was more, well intimate, he thought, slightly uncomfortably.
“Whataya reckon it’s about?” He asked to cover his thoughts as he entered the shack.
“No idea,” Shaun replied clearing up the damage McLeod had wreaked on the kitchen. “Shit!” He exhaled, picking up the chair that had been knocked over in the melee.
On the table, there was an overturned Moccona coffee jar, the sugar it had only recently contained spread over the tabletop. In the mess were goat hoof prints and pellets of goat shit. Shaun shook his head sadly and tutted with disgust, “Bloody goat’s a menace.” He turned away from the mess for a moment, put a burnt kettle onto the gas stove, and lit the burner with a match. “Wanna cuppa?”
“Huh? Oh. Um, yeah, ta. White and one thanks mate.”
“Have to be black and none,” Shaun said, jerking his head in the direction of the small landscape on the table, “I’m out of milk, and that was the last of me sugar.”
“Oh. Yeah that’ll be fine thanks mate, “Johnno replied, surveying the mess, and shaking his head, “he do this often?”
“Every time I forget to shut the fuckin’ door. Got me buggered how he gets the lid off the jar, but he does.”
The water boiled quickly and Shaun sloshed some into a cup and a Vegemite jar, a teabag string hanging out of each.
“You’ll have to have the jar, this is me favourite cup,” he said, indicating a stained cup on which Johnno could just make out a picture of Farrah Fawcett, circa Charlie’s Angels days, “but I’ll give you the chair,” he said nodding at the single kitchen chair that he’d picked up on entering. He dragged a wooden crate over to the table.
“Don’t get many visitors ay?” Johnno observed, having the feeling he was stating the obvious.
“Na! Thank Christ,” Shaun replied with a sneer then looked up contritely at his guest, “ah…present company excepted of course. I’ve got some bikkies if you want one.”
Johnno grunted a surprised laugh at this nod to rustic tea party etiquette, but took one of the scotch fingers offered to him.
“Ya reckon the Irish are dumb, scotch finger biscuits!”
Shaun rolled the joke around in his head for a second, then uttered a thin, “Heh…heh…heh.”
Without any more preamble, Shaun took a deep breath, then a knife, and slit the envelope open. Taking out a piece of blue note paper and holding it at arm’s length, he scanned the scrawled writing, his mouth making an upside down smiley face as he read.
Johnno watched his companion’s eyes moving from side to side and waited expectantly.
“Yeah, it’s from me daughter,” Shaun confirmed, his face changing to a scowl of anger as he read on. “The arsehole boyfriend’s beating her up!” He growled, his face becoming redder above his bushy beard. “She wants to get away from him but she’s scared of what he’ll do,” he continued, paraphrasing for Johnno, “got no-one else to ask for help…wants me to come as soon as I can.”
He let out the huge breath he’d been holding as he’d read the plea, signed with love from his daughter, and put the letter down on the sugary table, smoothing it out with his brown hand.
“Fuck!” He grunted.
“Whatta ya gunna do?” Johnno asked.
“I’ll have to go an’ get her away from the bastard I guess,” Shaun said, casting a mournful eye around his home, missing its solitude and security already as he imagined the trip ahead.
Johnno took the opportunity to look around too, now that the contents of the letter had been revealed to him.
The shack had been built so that most of the walls only rose to hip height, the rest of the area to the roof left open to allow maximum airflow in the tropical heat. He took in the shelves of books against one of the few walls that reached the roof.
Against another wall was a bed, piled high with stuff that Johnno couldn’t identify. In another corner, he saw a long table with paintbrushes and tubes of paints. A pile of coloured paper lay on the floor beside it at one end, and at the other sat an incongruously impressive looking stereo with a large pile of CDs and tapes.
As he finished his scrutiny of the shack, he realised that Shaun had been watching his appraisal.
“No place like home ay?”
“I reckon,” Johnno replied, thinking of his own house in town that he shared with his wife, an aboriginal girl called Marion, and occasionally her brothers who often lobbed to sleep off a big night in town when they came back from the mine where they worked.
“Least I’ve only got meself to please here,” Shaun mused, seeming to pick up on Johnno’s thoughts as he considered how much shit he’d be in if he left his stuff lying around like this.
“How ya gunna get there?” Johnno asked, getting back to the initial subject.
“I think I’ve got a campervan somewhere,” Shaun replied, scratching his chin through his beard and looking off into the distance where he could just make out a roiling in the sea where a school of fish fed enthusiastically amongst the coral.
“You think?” Johnno questioned, his face screwed up with a what-sort-of-answer’s-that look.
“Yeah. I left it at a friend’s place a year or so ago, mightn’t be there any more.”
“Oh,” Johnno said, not feeling too hopeful for his companion, “if not?”
“Hav’ta hitch I guess,” Shaun replied, bringing his thoughts back from the future to stare at the face before him.
“When will ya go?”
“Now I guess,” Shaun said, standing up and draining his cup.
Surprised at the abruptness of this decision, Johnno jumped up too before succumbing to his naturally laconic nature, and sauntering towards the door.
“Wanna give me a hand with the shutters?” Shaun called, dragging long, corrugated iron-clad panels from under the slightly raised floor of the shack. They fitted the panels, normally only needed for cyclones, into the openings between the waist-high walls and roof beams. Panels in place, they rammed bolts through the panel frames into the support posts to hold them in place.
“Okay,” Johnno announced when they’d finished, “I better get on with it, or d’ya want me to wait and make sure yer boat starts?”
“Na. It’ll be fine. I was out in it the other day. Thanks for bringing the letter mate, and for helpin’ with the shutters.”
“No worries mate, woulda done it for a white fella,” he quipped, a little embarrassed at Shaun’s courtesy. “Look after yourself, and if it comes to blows, give him one for me!”
“I might be too busy running to get the chance! I’ll tell him you owe him one though, if it comes to it.”
They both laughed companionably as Shaun, and an apparently contrite McLeod, escorted Johnno down to the beach and his boat.
Shaun and Johnno shook hands.
“What are ya gunna do with him?” Johnno asked nodding towards McLeod.
“Yeah, I dunno. I don’t wanna leave him here; he’ll wreck the place if I leave him unattended.”
In a weak moment of charity and camaraderie, Johnno found himself saying, “I could look after ‘im if you want.”
“That’d be great mate!” Shaun said, slapping Johnno on the back, smiling broadly, “I really appreciate it!”
“Okay, it’s a done deal then ay?” Johnno said, then dragging his boat into the water, started the motor and chortled out to sea.
Shaun waved him off, then turning to McLeod said, “Come on ya bastard, we’ve got work to do.”
McLeod regarded Shaun suspiciously through his yellow slitted eyes, but followed him up the beach.
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