On Bruny

by Erin O’Dwyer

THEY LEFT HOBART as dusk was falling. Not an orange dusk with stiff black silhouettes but a green dusk, slightly shaky, not quite sure whether it was day or night. Their car was new and European. Harold guided it through the Battery Point laneways with just his fingertips. At this rate, thought Eadie, they were going to miss the ferry. 'Wouldn't need the goddamn ferry if they build that bridge,' Harold said, turning to her. 'Would have happened years ago, on the mainland.'

Years ago, on the mainland. Eadie mouthed the words as she checked her lipstick in the sunvisor. In years gone by, she would have yanked at the rear view mirror, waggling her lipstick back and forth, exciting Harold even as she riled him. Now she was grateful for passenger seat luxuries. Their first car had had bench seats.

She, Eadie, was all for ferries. Mostly she liked the romance of it. All that rugging up and getting out and bumping into your neighbours on the short trip across the water. Once she had tried to make her point to Harold. But it was no good then and she didn't bother now. Just gazed out the window as the car headed south, past the glowing casino and the darkened red-brick and rendered suburbs. The Shepherds didn't do red brick, or render. If they were going to live down here, Harold had said, then it had better be sandstone. The Bruny shack was his only exception to that rule. Its timber frame was warped and the walls were fibro. The floors were polished and covered with faded Persian rugs, and it was filled with the furniture they no longer had a use for. From every room, there was a view of the sea. Some days it was green and peaky. Other days, like faded blue denim. No one they knew was on the ferry tonight.

Eadie cracked open the car door and smelt the air like a dog. It smelt like fish heads. She loved the smell of the sea. She could have described it too, if she'd had the words. Not tonight though. She was exhausted.

From the backseat, Harold helped himself to a beer. 'I'm going to watch that film on TV,' he said. 'You know, that Iranian one.' Eadie knew the film. She couldn't bear it again. 'Thanks,' she said. 'I'm going to go to bed.' The shack was dark and lonely when they arrived. They fumbled through the doorway together, careful not to touch.

In the morning, when Eadie woke, Harold was already outside. He was drinking coffee and reading his paper in the sunshine. She sighed and tossed her legs over the bed. The bedroom curtain billowed against her face and she bent to tie it. Eadie lit a cigarette and stood beside him, smoking. She felt agitated and ill-at-ease. It wasn't the right time. She had to say it anyway.

'I've got something to tell you.'

He ignored her, didn't look up.

'Are you listening?'

He folded the paper and put it down on his lap.

'Yes?' he said. 'What?'

'One night I didn't come home,' she said.

Harold looked at her like she was a dog gone mad.

'What?'

'I met someone and I didn't come home.'

For the first time since they arrived, Harold became aware of the water. It was the same muted sound that came from a conch.

'And where was I?'

'Away. I don't know.'

'Why are you telling me?'

'It wasn't right. Not to.'

Harold stood and rifled through his pockets. He leaned over the railing and blew his nose. On the horizon, his eye found a fishing boat. It bobbed like a child's toy.

'Harold,' said his wife, sitting down at the table.

'What.'

'Say something.'

'Why?'

'What do you mean, why?'

'Why didn't you come home?'

Eadie crushed her butt in the glass ashtray. She tried to catch Harold's arm but he had already gone. She stayed at the table as he took the stairs to the grass. A few banksias, some coastal she-oak, his back growing smaller with each step.

 

WHEN HAROLD CAME home, Eadie had unpacked. She squatted in front of the fridge, arranging the wine. She wore an Indian cotton coverall and he could see the lace of her bra.

'I want to know when,' he said.

She turned, startled by his tone.

'When what?'

'When you didn't come home.I'm trying to work it out.'

Eadie stood to face him and rested a bottle of wine on the bench.

'The night I told you my flight was delayed. The night after you told me about her.'

Harold looked at her in exasperation.

'Her? Eadie, her? There is no her. I've told you a million times. I don't know why you can't let it go.'

Eadie grabbed at the freezer door and shoved the wine inside. When she spoke again, her breath steamed.

'I don't know how. To let it. Go.'

Just before dusk, Eadie changed her clothes.

'I'm going for a walk,' she said.

Harold was in a lounge chair, reading.

'No,' he said.

'Just to Dennes Point.Come on. It'll do us good.'

'No.'

 

THE SHACK WAS dark when Eadie returned. Outside the light was still soft, the sort of light you could run your hands through. Harold was inside, spotlit beneath a single lamp. She stood on the top step, removing her shoes.

'I saw Jean,' she said.

'Oh yeah?'

'She's staying with her daughter. She's pregnant.'

'Really?'

'The daughter.'

'I realise that,' he said, not looking up. 'I thought she was gay.'

'She is. It was donor sperm.'

'Christ.'

Eadie laughed despite herself. She crossed the floor, tracking sand. She knelt on the floor and touched his face.

'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I wish it wasn't like this.'

Harold folded the corner of the page to mark his place.

'Me too,' he said. 'I wish that it wasn't like this too.'

Eadie stayed on her knees, wondering what to do next. Harold touched her lightly on the shoulder. His eyes lingered, touching her neck and her skin, and Eadie held her breath. Then he pushed himself to standing and excused himself.

 

AT MIDNIGHT, HAROLD went looking for his wife. She was in the bathtub, drinking wine. He sat on the edge and stirred the water with one hand.

'Was it good?' she said suddenly. 'Was the sex good? I mean, was it a goddamn good get-me-a-cigarette-now good screw?'

He looked down at her. He could see the whites of her eyes.

'No, Eadie,' he said quietly. 'It wasn't. I don't know how many more times I can say it.'

He left his wife in the bathtub and went outside. The stars were like sequins stitched on felt. He wanted to breathe in the whole night sky.

From Griffith REVIEW Edition 39: TASMANIA – The Tipping Point? © Copyright Griffith University & the author.