Changeling’s Island – Snippet 17

“Lucky as all get out,” said McKay. “He took to it like a duck to water.”

“And he nearly caught a shark.” Harrison held his arms at full stretch. “It was towing the boat.”

“Nearly pulled us under,” said McKay cheerfully. “And Mally was yelling ‘Cut the line, cut the line’ as we went skiing along. Good thing it came off, or we might have been in Perth by now. Tim was standing up in the bow like Captain Ahab, holding on, hauling it in, saying ‘it’s only a tiddler…’ while Mally was begging and weeping.”

“Ha,” said Mally, gesturing widely. “That was you. I said we might make a new round-the-world record, and to hold tight. It was bigger than a blue whale. Maybe two blue whales.”

“Aw, you blokes!” said Tim, grinning. “It wasn’t that big.”

“It was a good fish, though. Get up and pass us the Esky with fillets in it, Tim,” said McKay.

Tim actually ran to do it. Molly had never seen him look so lively at school. He struggled with the icebox. He wasn’t the biggest of boys, and it was obviously heavy. You wouldn’t think so, though, by the way Mr. Harrison’s friend McKay took it.

“How many did you get?” They were beautiful big fillets.


“I thought you said we’d caught our bag-limit?” said Mr. Harrison.

“No point in taking all the fish in the sea,” said McKay. “Leave some for next time. Besides, we’d still have been gutting, and the sea is a lot worse now. It gets up pretty fast around here. How many do you want, Mally?”

“Well, if I could freeze a few to take home, it’d be nice. Some for tea tonight. But we’ve got abs and that crayfish you gave me, and we’re only here for two more nights…”

“So what did you need sixty fillets for, then?” asked McKay. “I want about twenty fillets, to stock the freezer and to give a few fresh ones to my neighbor. Tim’s grandmother will want some for the freezer, but that’s still plenty.

“My gran doesn’t have a freezer,” said Tim.

“Good grief. We couldn’t live without ours,” said Molly’s dad.

Molly couldn’t help noticing that Tim cringed a bit. He obviously wished he hadn’t said anything. “Dad. You did promise me you’d take me up to my babysitting,” she said, partly because it was true, and partly to change the subject.

“So I did. Is it that time already?” He looked at the tools in his hands. “Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?” He grimaced. “We’ll take what fish you can spare, guys. And there is space to freeze a nice batch for you to take home, Mr. Harrison.”

“So who are you babysitting for?” asked Tim as the fish fillets were divided up.

“More like child-minding really. Troy and Sammy Burke. They live just over the hill. In that big posh place with the all-glass front up the hill, a bit toward your gran’s place. They’ve got a fantastic view.”

She wondered what made him cringe about that too.

* * *

“You wouldn’t like a job for a few hours?” asked McKay, as they drove up the track from Molly’s parents’ place. “Nothing interesting. Just scrubbing down the hull of a boat. But I’ll pay you…oh, fifteen dollars an hour. I think that’s the going rate for young’uns.”

Tim nodded eagerly. “Yes, please.” For a start, he didn’t want to go back to the farm, where he’d be working anyway. For a second thing…he didn’t have any money at all. Not that there was anything to spend it on. For a third thing, he’d rather liked Mr. Jon McKay and his friend Mally. Being out on the boat and fishing was some of the best fun he’d ever had, and he’d have done the boat scrubbing for nothing, just for a chance to go to sea with McKay again.

“I feel a bit guilty taking you away from your gran and the farm, but I really need to get this boat finished, and your gran’s coped without you up to now. Amazing old bird, she is, running that place on her own. She must be glad to have you to help.”

Tim hadn’t seen any signs of her being glad. But then she’d lent him the flask. And she had said “welcome.” But she was crazy, talking to invisible people. He said so. Maybe…

“Heh. I do that myself. You should always talk to the most intelligent person around, and a lot of the time it is just me.”

During the afternoon Tim found out a fair bit about the abalone diver. The first thing he found out was that McKay had no plan to sit still and do nothing while Tim worked. After a while, Tim decided that McKay didn’t really know how to sit still. He worked next to Tim, scrubbing and scraping the hull of the wooden boat. It was an old Cray boat that McKay planned to fit out with live tanks for prawns — a new idea that he wanted to try out. There was music from a CD player and they talked as they worked, about fish, about diving, about sharks, and about McKay’s on-and-off girlfriend, and about his own trips to the island as a youngster.

And the man worked hard. Tim tried to work just as hard, but by the end of two hours he felt like his muscles were jelly. He was relieved when the abalone diver looked at his watch and said, “Right. I’d better get you back. You’ve done well, youngster.” He stood up, pulled off the safety goggles and mask, and hauled his wallet out of his jeans pocket.

Tim wanted the money. But he realized that he wanted other things a bit more. “Look, it’s fine. I had a great day, and I’m happy to do this anytime if you take me to sea.”

McKay laughed, pulled money out of his wallet. “I don’t go out fishing that often, Tim. Just when my friends come over from the mainland, really. But at the price of a flight over here, that doesn’t happen that often. They’d rather go to Bali or Fiji with fifty thousand other people. Crazy. But you can come out someday when we go ab diving. It’s pretty hard work, mind you.”

“Really? Oh, wow! That’d be fantastic. I’d love that. I…I don’t mind hard work.” That was true…if it was doing this sort of stuff. “But you don’t need to pay me.” His grandmother’s words about being useful and learning came back to him. “I need to learn.”

“You’ll go far with that attitude,” said McKay, handing him the money. “Far, and stay broke. Take it. I can afford it, and we’ve got a lot done. There’ll be other jobs if you want them. There’s always work on the island if you’re reliable and work hard. Now let’s get you back. Your gran will be wondering if you’ve drowned.”

Tim folded the cash carefully and put it in his pocket. “Anytime you need help. And anytime I can go to sea…”

The diver grinned. “Right. You really liked that, did you?”

Tim nodded. “It was the best ever.” To his surprise, he wasn’t just saying it. It had been.

He didn’t say much on the trip from the boat shed back to the farm. He was tired. Gran was pleased with the fish, though. “I get some off the beach, but not as big as these,” she said, touching the fillets. “Yer thanked Mr. McKay?”

Tim nodded. “Yes, Gran.”

“Not more than ten times,” said McKay. “Right. I’ll be seeing you, then.”

And he drove off. “Fresh fish and chips for tea,” said Gran.

Fish and chips had been fairly low on Tim’s list of take-away meals, back in Melbourne. But this didn’t taste even a bit like that. This would have beaten chicken tikka pizza, any day, hands down.

Tim had eaten, washed and fallen asleep, and the world, even Flinders Island, seemed a fairly good place.

It was too good to last, though.