IT’S the final night of the summer holidays. The beach bonfire. The pile of sticks on the sand has grown steadily over the last few weeks, the sun sucking the moisture from the gaswhite branches.The day expires in stagnant heat.
We’re crouched down the side of the Kombi van, shitting in the dust together. We’ve been killing time, smoking spliffs in the dunes. Shitting outside seems a funny idea. The glossy abundance of blueblack leaves, huge elephant-eared fronds and green bunches of bananas.
He’s bruised blue-black, the marks stretch round his arms and across his chest, the raw welts on his legs.
He shrugs, pulls up his dirty grey Yfronts. “Just a bit of a tête-à-tête with Dad.”
“He reckons Yoko brought the Beatles down. My take is it was all about ego.”
He is laughing.
“Are you okay?” I ask. He’s laughing like a crazy man. “Seriously. You’ve freaking lost it.”
He’s hooting and jumping around like an ape. Then he launches himself on me and we’re wrestling on the blanket of pine needles.
“Get off me, you freak!” I scream but he’s just laughing delirious.
He gets a few digs in hard. And we’re butting up against the taut ropes, the tent pegs that are holding the awning extending out from the van in place.
“Oy! Watch out for the shit!” I yell.
I can smell it: the rich, fresh excrement mixed with the wet smell of fridge, kerosene, baked beans coming from the tent. That’s when he smashes me across the face.
“What the fuck?” I yell.
And I can’t see. My head is throbbing from the blow and I’m flailing, lashing out with my fists, trying to hurt him. He grabs my wrists and pins me to the ground, my puny wrists that couldn’t hurt anyone. I’m crying or it’s blood or there’s something dripping. But I can’t feel my body. Then he’s holding my face between his cool palms.
He leans in and kisses me. The scratch of his chin. His Tooheys New t-shirt worn soft as skin. It’s indescribable. And for a second I surrender. Then I baulk, push back, swinging my puny fists. I make contact. Again and again.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I scream. “You fucking poofter!”
But he’s not punching me back. I keep going. I can taste the blood dripping down the back of my throat. My arms slow finally and stop. We are standing on opposite sides of the banana palms staring at each other.
I see the welts, the bruises, his eyes in his wolfish face.
“Jesus H. Christ.” He scowls at me. “You need to relax! It was a joke, alright.” He turns and walks away. “I’m going for a spliff. Why don’t you fuck off home to Mummy?”
After the summer I will remember this. After the beach bonfire has changed everything. Its silhouettes rising in the burning teepee of smoke. The crack of wood. The sea, a flat, pewter grey. The ghetto blaster on a broken sandcastle and the shouts of beach footie. And him crouched down on the outer edge, his dark hair masking his face. The lick of smoke from his mouth.
I will remember the breakfast cereals in Tupperware on the foldout table in his parents’ tent, the captain’s chairs, his Dad’s fishing gear, the kerosene lantern, the dog-eared checkers board, the tri-legged barbecue outside the zippered door, its UFO lid barnacled with rust. I will replay this scene endlessly in my head. The flies circling the fresh faeces.
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**This was first published in the March 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.