EACH year, after the summer, Doreen does two things. She dries her red Speedos, sports cross back and three stripes down one side, in the backyard sunshine for a whole day until they are warm and crisp. These are the swimmers that Doreen dons at six every morning, along with her metallic anti-glare goggles for the pinky-dawn sunlight.

Doreen loves salt. Even as a kid down at Xiamen Beach. Others would jump into the shower after a swim, complaining about the salt in their eyes and sand in their pants. Doreen would just sit, wrapped in her warm red and white striped towel with a fringe, her salty short black hair sticking out at right angles to her head. Some days, if they had been at the beach all day, salt would be caked on her skin. She loved to lick her finger, press it against her skin and then suck the salty, sandy grains. Almost as lovely as salty plums.

Now, at 82, salt doesn’t gather on the surface of Doreen’s skin but lies in between the regular deep creases, like it does on the dry rock platforms when the tide is out. It still doesn’t give her any trouble, salt. A day that ends with her brown skin caked still goes down as a perfect one.

Doreen’s second after-the-summer activity begins on the 373. A robust hurtle towards Haymarket for a box of Jahe Wangi Instant Ginger Beverage. Doreen has relied on this zingy little system warmer for the last 27 years, since she discovered it, and has never had a flu since.

As usual, the trip on the 373 is fraught with adventure. Today’s driver takes the corners with a kind of hectic closeness to the kerb or an unusual distance from it. Since a fall and a fractured wrist two years ago, Doreen has perfected the sideways skateboard style flexible knee position — essential for remaining upright on a city-bound bus.

Doreen’s wife, Cass, is not in favour of Doreen taking the bus, particularly since the fall — but Cass was also not in favour of their cycling trip through Mongolia in 2003, which turned out to be their best adventure yet, nor of Doreen’s choice to purchase a moped last year rather than a Mazda sedan. In a rare moment of compromise, Doreen did agree to not take the moped into the city. Doreen is not in favour of Cass’ insistence on XXXX Gold as her beverage of choice, especially as autumn comes on, nor of her penchant for all things Abba, but they both learnt long ago that difference is the juice.

Doreen and Cass married in 2015, after the government finally succeeded in getting same sex marriage through. They had a humble affair by the pool, then a speedboat trip to Magic Point to watch the whales travelling north. They honeymooned in Mozambique, visiting a childhood friend, Wei, whom Doreen had grown up with in Fujian. Doreen had not seen Wei since the end of second grade when Wei’s father, a doctor, had taken an aid position in Mozambique and the family had remained ever since.

Doreen survives today’s bus trip and brings home not one but two boxes of Jahe Wangi (anticipating a cool autumn with sea breezes), eight prawn dumplings, a bunch of bok choi, two lotus seed buns and a jar of pickled ginger. As she unlatches the gate, Doreen notices that the leaves of Steve and Mike’s Illawarra flame tree next door are newly tinged with orange.

Doreen heads to the kitchen, places the prawn dumplings into a bamboo steamer for lunch and puts the other shopping away. She turns the tide calendar over as she walks out to the backyard and the dry swimmers on the line. Doreen holds the hot fabric against her face and then folds the swimmers carefully. She places them into a cotton drawstring bag and then into the sports drawer where they will stay for winter — a sense of satisfaction that she has swum through another summer and that her body is strong and well.

In a while, Cass wanders in and gives her a homecoming kiss.

“Mmm… just as I suspected… salty,” Cass remarks and smiles as she notices that Doreen has laid out autumn swim wear on the chair for the morning — blue boy shorts and a long sleeve thin wetsuit top, ready for the autumn dawn.

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**This article was first published in the April edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

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