Authors: Jason Nahrung
by Jason Nahrung
First published in Australia in May 2012
by Twelfth Planet Press
This novella © 2012 Jason Nahrung
Cover art by Dion Hamill
Design and layout by Amanda Rainey
eBook layout by Charles A. Tan
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry
Author: Nahrung, Jason
Title: Salvage / by Jason Nahrung.
ISBN: 9780987216267 (eBook)
Dewey Number: A823.4
For my mother, Loma
See all the waves’ white horses,
Wind in their hair.
See all the waves’ white horses,
Calling me to ocean.
, Wendy Rule
Skimming down the paths of the sky’s bright ether
On they brought you over the earth’s black bosom,
Swiftly—then you stood with a sudden brilliance,
Goddess, before me.
Hymn to Aphrodite
The cabin emerged like a neglected mausoleum from the blue-velvet twilight, its bare timber walls bleached to the colour of old bone by the Jeep’s headlights . The nausea she’d tried to pass off as seasickness from the barge crossing swelled, threatening to choke her. The noise of the engine died, subsiding to a hot tick in the chill evening air. The rhythmic soughing of surf rose up to fill the vacuum.
Richard slumped behind the wheel and rubbed the weariness from his face. ‘We’re here.’
, Melanie thought. A hand flitted from her locket to her unsettled stomach as she willed herself to breathe.
They were here. Now what?
Melanie pushed open the door and clambered out, shivering before the breeze even reached her. The scar on her belly pulled; invisible hands jerked at stitches long gone. She still wasn’t sure coming back was a good idea, but she had to do it.
had to do it.
The smell of brine wafted over her. She breathed it in deeply and the nausea receded.
It had been too long. She hadn’t even realised how much she’d missed the beach.
Richard’s gaze burnt into her back as she followed her lurching shadow across the ground. Her sandalled feet sank into the soft soil, then slapped on the one, two, three creaky stairs as she walked up onto the deck. The mesmerising sound of the sea called her to the railing. Over the dune and past swaying sheoaks, waves glowed in the light of the half-full moon as they broke on the silvered beach. Desire for the ocean flooded her, sudden and strong. Her hands gripped the rail as though it was her sole anchor to the land. She wanted to strip off her clothes, run and dive into the sea and swim and swim until she couldn’t make another stroke. And then just float away on that dark tide, like Ophelia…
Richard’s hand on her shoulder made her jump.
‘Let’s get the Jeep unpacked, hey? Then we can have dinner. I’m starving.’ He kissed the crown of her head before retrieving the key from under the mat and unlocking the door. His laptop bag, suitcase and some shopping bags were piled at the top of the stairs.
She reluctantly left the rail and retrieved her luggage. Richard had propped open the screen door. A sign on the wall, branded into a piece of polished pine, named the cabin as Eden. She tried to hide a wince of dismay as she took in the queen-sized bed with its driftwood head against the far wall. It’d been more than a year since they’d last come to the island. She’d forgotten how open the cabin was: the scene of the crime. Melanie dropped her bag and fought back a sob.
She hurried past the bed and the sideboard with its television and DVD player to the bathroom at the rear of the cabin. The bathroom at least had walls, though the external one sported a large, louvred window facing the national park that hedged Jack Robinson’s Island Retreat. She splashed her face, then peed. The mineral scent of bore water filled the room despite the deodoriser hanging near the window.
‘You okay?’ Richard asked as she returned to the main room. He’d fetched the rest of their gear and set up his laptop at the dining table. The Esky perched on the kitchen bench surrounded by groceries.
‘You happy with that chicken and some salad?’ she asked.
He grunted assent, swore at the laptop.
‘Still no satellite wireless, huh?’ She peered over his shoulder at the screen.
‘I’m down to dial up,’ he said. ‘Fuck.’
‘This is meant to be a holiday, Richard.’
‘I know, I know, but that bloody Mackenzie project is causing me all sorts of grief.’
Richard had been supposed to leave the office early so they could avoid the Friday afternoon exodus from Brisbane, but he’d been late, as usual, and they’d only just caught the last barge. By the time they’d stopped at the island’s only store for milk and ice, the day was spent. They’d nosed along the sandy track to the far end of the island in the descending dark.
She carted her suitcase to the bed and threw it down. It barely bounced on the firm mattress. Earlier, she’d called into work and collected her latest order. The novels filled most of the space; she’d packed a minimum of clothing. She expected to put a dent in her reading list over the coming week. Richard hadn’t been impressed that she’d managed to pick up her books from Shelley’s but had forgotten the milk. She could already hear him chiding her about getting an e-reader; if he even mentioned the overflowing bookshelves, she’d show him just what she meant by the comforting weight of a book. The old joke made her smile, but the flash of levity faded as she reluctantly returned to the kitchen and began preparing the meal that she had remembered to buy. Some days she could be so forgetful, it was as though she were still pregnant. Tears welled again.
have an ice maker,’ she said.
‘I forgot, all right? It’s been awhile. Fuck, it’s only ice.’ Richard stabbed at the laptop, as though thumping the keys would improve the satellite link. He pulled out his mobile phone and swore again.
She held her tongue. The island had never had reliable mobile reception. Why he’d thought the broadband would be any better was beyond her. There weren’t enough permanent residents to merit the expense of a phone tower, let alone a satellite dish. Part of the reason she’d agreed to come here was to distance Richard from the constant interruptions of telephones and internet; the other part was to test her courage—to see if she could cope with this place again.
Richard threw the mobile down and stalked over to the phone mounted on the wall near the kitchen bench.
Her hand paused mid-stroke, the knife poised over a tomato. ‘What are you doing, Richard? It’s seven o’clock on a Friday night.’
‘I’m calling the office.’
‘We’re meant to be getting away from it.’
‘I told them to ring me on my mobile if there was any trouble.’
‘It’s one week, Richard. You-and-me time. Surely.’
‘I’m not expecting any trouble, but just in case. That fucking Mackenzie building…’
Melanie sliced the tomato, hard, the crack of blade on cutting board ringing across the room.
Resentment bit at her throat as Richard’s voice filled the room.
‘Hi, Sandra, it’s me. Sorry to ring so late, but I wanted to let you know—no fucking reception here…’
Melanie finished off the tomato and shredded a lettuce with equal violence.
He always talked loudly on the phone. You’d think he was using two tin cans and a piece of string.
It was as though he was, by sheer volume, trying to convince her the call was purely business. Of course it was. Architects always called their secretary after hours on a Friday night to make sure they could get in touch with the boss while they were on holidays.
‘And can you let Leanne know? I’ve still got dial up as a fallback, if you can’t get me on the landline.’
Of course she’d let Leanne know. The business partner would need that information. Sweet Leanne, who’d been burning the midnight oil with Richard since well before Melanie’s pregnancy, working on the deal of a lifetime, the one that would make Richard’s reputation and secure his family’s future. Except he had no family. Just Melanie. She struck hard and drew blood, swearing as the sting registered and scarlet welled from the nick. She sucked her finger, mentally cursing tanned, curvaceous Sandra and svelte, conscientious Leanne and damning the Mackenzie project to hell. They’d barely been on the island for an hour and already Richard’s other loves were intruding.
He was still shouting into the phone as she walked past to get a Band-Aid from the first aid kit in the bathroom. She couldn’t help feeling it was going to take more than a bit of sticking plaster to fix the wound she and Richard had suffered. Maybe this week on the island would tell.
They ate dinner on the deck to a soundtrack of surf, clashing cutlery, a short solo from a frog that might’ve been tuning up in the cabin’s rainwater tank. Richard finished her leftovers while Melanie nursed her chardonnay. The tide was full, the sea restless and heavy. It had grown cold enough for her to drape a jacket across her shoulders, to wish she’d put on shoes as the breeze chilled her naked toes.
‘It’s good to be back, isn’t it,’ Richard said.
‘C’mon, Mel, you always loved the beach.’
‘There are plenty of others.’
‘Jack’s an old mate, like an uncle. He gives us a good rate.’
‘Hard to argue with a good rate from an old mate.’ She grinned to show the rhyme wasn’t meant to be an insult.
‘I thought you liked it here.’
He emptied his glass. ‘We don’t have to stay, if you don’t want to. Jack will understand. Like you said, there’s plenty more beaches.’
‘Give it time,’ she said.
‘Time… Is it really so bad, being back?’
‘No, no it’s not.’
‘We don’t even know for certain this is where—’
‘It is, but it’s okay. I’d forgotten how peaceful it is here. How close to the water. It’s fine, honestly.’
‘If it’s upsetting you—’
‘Richard, it’s fine. I like it.’ She smiled again, trying to make him believe her, and offered her glass. ‘Top me up, hey.’
‘Okay, if you’re sure. It’ll be like old times.’ He raised his glass.