Changeling’s Island – Snippet 28


“Well, that’s a good-sized rock flathead!” exclaimed his grandmother, touching it. “You were lucky!”

“I caught another one. A bit bigger.”

“But it got away,” said his grandmother, raising an eyebrow.

“No, I got it out. But I gave it to Molly.”

His grandmother turned her head askance, her face setting in lines of anger. “I thought I told you not to talk to strange women!”

“She’s not! She’s a girl from school! She’s on the bus with me every day. She’s not a stranger or anything. I went to the show with her and her parents. You even spoke to her dad,” protested Tim.

His grandmother had opened her mouth to start shouting…and stopped. “Oh. What was she doing on the beach?” It was still suspicious.

“Walking her dog. They live a bit further toward West End. She helped me find the bait, because I didn’t know where to look. And helped gut the fish. I…I thought it was only fair and…and polite to give her one for her family. Good manners. They took me to the show, and I thought I ought to give her something to say thanks.”

The last part was plainly the right thing to say. “Yer right. It was a good thing to do. Well done.”

But Tim’s curiosity, as well as some anger, was up now. “Why are you so worried about this woman? Who is she?”

His grandmother rubbed her forehead, pushing back a stray lock of dark hair. “I don’t know the whole truth of it. But she’s been botherin’ yer grandfather’s side of the family forever. I didn’t believe it all, but yer grandfather reckoned his great-grandfather nearly got drowned by her. He didn’t go near the water alone, and said you always kept iron next to your skin if you did. My family, we used to sail a lot, always been fishermen. But they farmed. Didn’t even go mutton-birding.

She took a deep breath. “I didn’t think much of it, but your father…he took to diving. He could swim like a fish by the time he was eight. He used to go and get us crayfish and abalone. I didn’t think much about it, my brothers all did it; me, I collected muttonfish when I was littler than him. He used to go down most days…I was busy on the farm, I always said it was all right as long as there was two of yer. He would meet yer Uncle Dicky, and the two of them would go down to the beach and fish and dive and fool about. And then one day, when he was about thirteen, he went off to meet your uncle to dive. Dicky didn’t show up, but he went anyway, even though he wasn’t ‘lowed to. And he had a run-in with a woman down there. He wouldn’t ever tell me no more about it. Just that she nearly killed him. I tried to get him to talk to the cops, I tried to get his teacher and even that priest to talk to him. He wasn’t talking to no one. But he never went back diving.” She shook herself. “And yer to stay out the water. No diving. No strange women. No going down on yer own again. That seal-woman is around, and she’s bad luck — trouble, too.”

Tim was seething with this. It was crazy and so unfair. Just because of something his father did. He was about to say something and then he remembered that well, actually, he had met a strange woman down there. One that looked a bit like Lorde. Maybe he should just let it blow over a bit. Otherwise maybe next she’d stop him going to sea with Jon, too. He had a bit of money in his pouch, but not enough to see the back of her and this place forever…and he liked being out on the boat. So he just kept quiet.

Maybe his quiet got to his grandmother, because after their fish tea she said: “Yer could open that present. It’s Christmas Eve. Some people open them then. Yer could see if it got broken by that damned copper.”

Tim didn’t need any urging. He was feeling flat and depressed. He opened the box. On the top was a pack of what Tim assumed were fishing lures. Plastic fish with hooks, silver oblongs with hooks.

“What is it?” his grandmother asked.

“Fishing stuff, I think.” He held it out to her.

She took it, and peered at it in her odd sideways fashion. “Wobblers. Good for Aussie salmon and yellowtail. He knows his fishing.”

Tim pulled the plastic packet out from the lower section of the box. It was red. He shook it out, and a lifejacket — the kind with sleeves and an inflation cartridge, which doubled as a windbreaker and waterproof, the kind Jon and his deckie wore, fell out. Tim had to put it on immediately. It was so cool. Jon had even gotten the size about right! It fitted him much better than the boat-spare he’d been using.

He was surprised by a little whimper from his grandmother. She’d sat down on the hard kitchen chair, and was staring at him. Not her usual sideways stare, but straight at him. Her suntanned face was as white as a sheet.

“Are you all right, Gran?” he asked, hastily stepping over to her.

She grabbed his arm with that iron-hard grip of hers. Squeezed. Nodded at him. He noticed a tiny tear leaking from her eye.

She sniffed. Rubbed her eye and said gruffly, “Yer promise me yer will always wear that jacket when yer at sea. Always. Yer hear me?”

“Yes, Gran.” It wasn’t exactly a hard promise to make. It was just…brilliant! All he needed was a chance to go to sea with it now. It was kind of like designer label jeans, only better. You had one of those jackets…you had arrived. You were the real thing. You were an ab diver, or at least a proper deckie. He couldn’t help smiling and standing up a bit straighter. Jon must have thought he did okay.

“Yer look like yer grandfather sometimes,” said his grandmother, shaking her head. “Now off to bed with yer. We’ll go down and try for some salmon tomorrow with them shiny new jigs of yours, after we have our dinner.”

* * *

“How on earth did you get that? That’s the biggest flattie I ever saw,” exclaimed her father, when Molly walked in with it.

“We caught it,” said Molly proudly.

“Of all the luck! I’ve never caught anything near that size.” He paused. “Who’s ‘we’? One of the guests?”

“Tim from school. He was down on the beach. He caught two. Both whoppers, in, like, fifteen minutes, and most of that was bringing them in.”

“Hey! Does he give lessons?”

Molly, thinking of Tim and the fact he didn’t even know what a pipi was, packed up laughing. “This was his first time.”

“Whoa Nellie! Talk about beginner’s luck.”

“Yeah, he, like, has this old rod, and can’t cast, but he can catch. You should show him how to cast, Daddy. He’s a nice kid. He…was saying he wished he had a dad to show him.”

“Divorce can sometimes be really hard on kids,” said her father, nodding. “But it happens, Molly.”

“Yeah, and on top of it all, his grandmother is, like, really weird. I mean, no TV, no Internet. Never goes anywhere. She told him not to talk to strange women.”

“Sounds like good advice to me,” he said with a grin. “But you’re not that strange, are you?”

“That’s what I said to him. I said I’d lend him some books.”