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Authors: Johanna Sinisalo

Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #General, #Fantasy, #Contemporary

Birdbrain (5 page)

BOOK: Birdbrain
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She raised her eyes from the tabletop and noticed that he’d gone.

‘So that’s your little bro,’ I said.

She nodded.

‘Not exactly on the best of terms,’ I said.

She shook her head.

‘So what does our young Jesse do then?’ I asked.

‘Nothing.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can’t be arsed to get up, but find just enough energy to throw back the quilt and have a slash in the bog.

Sometimes you just can’t see the point and let it out in the bed', then crawl away from the wet patch. It was only an old rubber-foam mattress. It didn’t matter. I chucked it out when it started to stink too much. The old man gave me money for a new one when I told him a mate had burnt holes in it with a smoke.

The old man muttered something about what sort of mates go around trashing other people’s stuff, and I said he’s a bit sick in the head. He fell for it, just like he’d done that time we’d put all that grit along the skiing tracks. People coming down at full tilt, then they struck that grit and then they were really in the shit. You should’ve fucking seen ’em fly. Somebody seen us, but he couldn’t pin it on us. I said it was Ante. Ante said it was Kenu. Kenu said it was me, and we stuck to our story and didn’t change it, and all of a sudden they couldn’t pin it on us.

We’d thought about tying a fishing line across the slope. But ’cos of the height of people’s necks and the position they’re in and all that, the line would just hit them on the forehead or the chest. We’d talked about one of the roads that were popular with the moped boys. They’re going along at a nice speed, their height’s always about the same and they’ll never see that fishing line coming.

There’s stuff in the fridge, but nothing takes my fancy. The old man pays my shopping bills. The cashier’s got instructions not to sell me beer or smokes on credit. Sometimes I buy loads of packets of coffee. You can make a bit of easy money off them. But pushing coffee is just a pastime, and it’s not like I need the money. I don’t understand money. You need shit loads of it to make any real difference to your life. No matter how much you work, you’re still never going to have your own private jet.

I don’t care whether my flat has one room or two, so long as it don't leak inside. Too much space just causes you extra hassle. I’m fine in the spring when the sun stain arrives. I gather up all the empty burger cartons and pizza boxes and take ’em out to the bin. Things living in ’em.

It’s a while yet till the sun stain comes, and it makes me think of those two twats traipsing about in the back of fucking beyond in some fucking part of Aus-fucking-tralia. That’s where the sun is now, shining down on ’em, koalas and kangaroos all around. That’s where they
'
ll be, frazzling their skin. The Princess and the fucking Peahead.

What the hell are they trying to prove?

SOUTH COAST TRACK, TASMANIA
Surprise Bay
Tuesday, March 2007

 

 

 

Jyrki

We’ve got the luxury of being here by ourselves. For the first night in my life, for kilometre after kilometre, there isn’t a single homo sapiens around that I haven’t chosen to be with.

Because of our extra stretch we’re almost a whole day ahead of our three colleagues travelling behind us.

Surprise Beach isn’t a sandy beach. It’s a promontory of steep cliffs covered with trees and bushes whipped by the wind. If you replaced the eucalyptus trees with gnarled pines and swapped the layer of thin grey-brown leaves for a mat of copper-coloured needles, this place would be almost like the Åland coastline.

Waves smash against the rocks below us. The wind is fairly strong. The white crests of waves can be seen flashing out to sea.

I find a good place for the tent, sheltered from the wind by the bushes to the south. Beside us there are a couple of fallen tree trunks that we can sit on. It’s already pretty late, so we divide up the work. I go and fetch water while she gets the tent ready for the night.

The brook is further down near the sands at the bottom of what looks like a set of stairs hewn into the rock face. It is a bit like South Cape Rivulet but much shallower and wider. I have to go a long way upstream before I find water that doesn’t taste of salt. The channel is so shallow that I wouldn’t be able to fill the Platypus without using the wombat bottle.

The bottle reminds me of her: small and more pretty than useful, then all of a sudden revealing qualities you’ve never seen before.

When I get back to the camp she’s already taken out the pot, the cooker and the plates. She suggests making up some packet soup and adding a bit of pasta. It would make for a good, sturdy meal, almost a casserole. That sounds like a plan.

But the water won’t boil. The wind gusting in from the sea blows the cooker’s flame sideways and low. We’ve got nothing to protect it from the wind. I try a couple of ad hoc solutions, but the water’s heating up painfully slowly. Eventually a wisp of steam starts emanates from under the lid.

She tears open the packet of soup and hands it to me. I mix the powder into the water. She’s reading the instructions on the packet of pasta. In a mildly bewildered voice she says you should boil it for eight minutes.

Eight minutes!

I wrench the packet of orzo from her hand. Orzo pasta is the size of a grain of rice; it should be cooked in just a few minutes. That’s why I chose it in the first place: the same weight will fit into a smaller space than any other kind of pasta.

Eight minutes.

She might have read that in the supermarket seeing as she likes reading so bloody much.

If we start cooking the pasta in this sort of wind we’ll have run out of gas before reaching Melaleuca. Of course we could just tip it into the boiling soup and turn off the heat, then keep it stewing under the lid. We could wrap the pot inside the sleeping-bag or something. It will cook, given time. I’ve no idea how long it would take, though.

The sky is already a dark evening blue. Night is closing in all around us, and she’s got an imploring look in her eyes. We shouldn’t mess around with the food any more than strictly necessary.

I suggest we leave out the pasta. Let’s have the soup as soup. We can cut some meat from the length of salami. Then a couple of apricots for dessert.

She is quiet for a moment, then nods towards a pile of blackened stones. ‘Couldn’t we build a fire,’ she asks, ‘a real fire that we could cook on?’

Right. According to the guidebook, this camp and tomorrow’s at Deadman’s Bay are the only camps in Southy where you’re allowed to build an open fire at the designated spot.

Then, thrilled at her own powers of observation, she says there should be loads and loads of good dry twigs in the bushes over there.

 

Heidi

Jyrki runs his hand up and down the trunk of the nearest eucalyptus tree, then scuffs his boot through the thick layer of dried leaves on the ground.

‘Look at that. What’ll happen if even the smallest spark flies into that? What’ll happen in wind like this? And what happens when it spreads to the bush where, as we know, there are loads and loads of good dry twigs?’

The eucalyptus bark, or whatever it should be called, is like sheets of the finest silk paper, layer upon layer. Transparent silvery strips fluttering in the wind, as thin as a breath of air.

‘These trees are so keen to be burnt that they grow their own kindling.’ Looking at them now, it is startlingly clear. Jyrki continues with something approaching admiration in his voice.

‘These trees are full of flammable sap. Beneath this flaky tinder there’s a thick layer of bark protecting the tree growing inside. The eucalyptus is a predator plant, a killer plant. It has adapted to fire, so much so that every now and then it needs to be burnt in order to germinate. But, at the same time, its own flammability makes it a kind of suicide bomber. It’s clearing room for itself. When the forest bums down, the eucalyptus — and only the eucalyptus — —will grow back again, with no competition whatsoever.’

 

 

 

 

 

. .
. you thought yourself bewitched and cut off for ever from everything you had known once — somewhere —far away — in another existence perhaps
.

—Joseph Conrad,
Heart of Darkness

NEW ZEALAND
Queen Charlotte Track
February 2007

 

 

 

 

Jyrki

Queen Charlotte Track was day-tourist material. To reach the start of the trail at Ship Cove, the bay where James Cook first set foot on this land, all you needed to do was take a water taxi from Picton. After a leisurely fifteen-kilometre stroll, if you wanted you could take another boat back to Picton from Forneaux Lodge.

In places this path was so well groomed that you’d have been fine if the sum total of your equipment was a pair of high heels. The route was cut to follow the ridges between two large fjords and to dip back and forth between miniature passes. The best thing was watching her expression every time a really breath-taking view opened up around another bend in the ridge.

We had reached Forneaux Lodge by four in the afternoon. Because we hadn’t booked any accommodation, there was no point staying there. Punga Cove at Camp Bay was a four-hour hike away. It was on the opposite shore from Endeavour Inlet, so close you could almost see it. Having said that, the journey along the coastline would take almost as long as what we’d already done today.

There was no point having a big debate about it, because it was clear she had no idea of her own stamina. I felt almost claustrophobic at the thought of a long afternoon slouching around doing nothing in a bungalow hotel where, after having a shower, there’d be nothing else to do except hang around in the bar and wait for dinner.

We each munched a handful of mixed nuts and set off.

Towards the end the path became narrow and muddy. We had a tent, a cooker, a water filter and food, so in theory we could have spent the night almost anywhere. But at the beginning of our trip, and travelling with a novice, it was probably best to aim for some form of indoor accommodation.

She was pretty quiet on the final stretch towards Punga Cove. Twenty-seven kilometres. Not a bad initiation for a first-timer with a full pack on her back.

 

 Heidi

The longer the evening went on, the deeper my rucksack dug into my shoulders.

My feet ached.

Why can’t we just stop while it still feels good, I remember muttering to myself — not out loud, though, as Jyrki was striding onwards in long bounding steps, mud splashing up around his shins and caking the tops of his hiking socks.

It was already eight o’clock by the time we arrived at Punga Cove. The reception desk was closed — in remote places like this I doubt people turn up out of the blue at this time of night.

We went into the restaurant, where we were told that there was room at the inn after all but that we couldn’t get into our room until the shift manager turned up. Somebody called the shift manager. We learnt that the hotel’s restaurant would be closing in half an hour but that the hotel complex had a communal kitchen where guests could cook their own food. We were already sweaty and muddy and exhausted, and now we were going to have to make do with a bowl of packet soup? But eventually the manager turned up and apologetically started checking the reservation book.

The only room available in the main building was a luxury suite of some sort. The rooms in another building a couple of hundred metres away were slightly cheaper, although the price difference was minimal.

I looked at Jyrki. His expression gave nothing away.

‘I’ll pay.’ I took out my traveller’s cheques, Jyrki had paid the backpackers’ hostel in Picton on his credit card, so this was only fair. I had quite a wad of traveller’s cheques; they should last a good while. I’d found someone to sublet my flat on the quiet, and she’d agreed to pay six months' rent up front if she could live there significantly cheaper than the going rate. Still, I knew this money wouldn’t go far. The rent money had only just covered my flights, and the cost of Jyrki’s list of expensive top-of-the-range hiking equipment that I was supposed to buy was enough to make your eyes water. His guiding principle was that if you bought something of the highest quality — which, of course, meant something expensive — it should be virtually indestructible.

As we filled in our room card, the waiter informed us that if we wanted to eat in the restaurant we’d have to order within the next twenty minutes.

We were back there in ten.

As we showered — to save time we showered together — and set a new world record for changing into fresh clothes, I was kicking myself because Punga Cove was so nice. Swimming pools, poolside bars, an obviously gourmet-standard restaurant, a room the size of a suite with its own door out on to a large private terrace shaded by a grove of palm trees and equipped with rattan furniture — all this and we only had one stupid night to enjoy it.

The issue of money came to mind again as I pulled my new, dizzyingly expensive, ultra-light but very warm Capilene shirt — which I had bought at Jyrki’s suggestion — over my damp skin.

I was in the PR business after all; I was well aware of the power that came with reputation and information.

In the end it hadn’t been all that difficult to get Antti-Pekka, the mid-level boss of the oil company, into a situation towards the end of a shared sauna evening in which he, after responding to my copious hints, went a bit too far with his chubby, greedy paws. I had been right in imagining that a drunken boss, thinking he was about to get lucky, would forget even the most elementary rules of caution. And it was no accident eithier that the changing-room we’d slunk away to was precisely the one in which Riitta had left her handbag, and I knew she couldn’t survive for more than fifteen minutes without it. And so I got an eyewitness, and one from whose perspective the incident was clear cut.

I sobbed and trembled and talked about attempted rape, but when Riitta suggested I should press charges I seamlessly began talking about sexual harassment and indicated in a roundabout way that, as a developing professional in the field, I knew all too well that this wouldn’t do the octane boys’ public image any favours whatsoever. However, harassment was such a serious crime against humanity in general — and women in particular — that it would be wrong, so wrong, to hush it up.

Erkki shouted, Riitta anxiously tried to be understanding, Antti-Pekka was justifiably ice-cold and sarcastic, and it didn’t take long for the oil sheikhs to dig ten thousands euros out of their bottomless pockets.

But at least I hadn’t had to cause Dad the disappointment of resigning from the job he’d done so much to set up. After this little incident, the oil company said it couldn’t foresee continued cooperation with our PR company and neither could the PR company with me.

For a moment I wondered whether I could have appealed against my dismissal, but that might have created too much of a situation.

I didn’t answer any of Dad’s telephone calls. I didn’t answer when the doorbell rang.

He must have heard. And perhaps now he realized I could get by, using all of my own finest assets, in the hard-edged world of business.

But once we got to the restaurant and I had ordered my first bottle of lemon-flavoured Monteith’s Radler, a lager that soon became the vin ordinaire of our New Zealand trip, lamb and roast vegetables with salad and parmesan risotto, I looked at Jyrki across the table (and, yes, at the end of the table there was a candle, and the panorama of fiords behind the window had turned a dark blue), and my heart melted like butter and sank down into my stomach.

Jyrki’s eyes were locked on mine.

He reached his large angular hand across the table and placed it over the back of mine, and I felt almost dizzy.

‘It’ll soon be time to hit the sack.’

The words said one thing and his eyes another.

The mixture of lust and endorphin-induced euphoria brimmed and bubbled inside me so much that my hand was quivering beneath his, and I sensed that he could sense it.

BOOK: Birdbrain
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