Siboney Duff (University of Queensland, Australia)
“Doesn’t get much better than this, does it?” Doug stared across the surf to Julian Rocks, his hand shielding his eyes against the glare. Despite their price tag, the Rayban’s were proving ineffective.
“Come. Sit.” Paul patted the ground to his right and smiled at his old friend before returning his gaze to the water. “It’s only taken you nine years to get your arse up here. Might as well let it touch the sand while you can.”
“It’s just great,” Doug crooned, still standing. “Bloody paradise mate. Everything you said and more.”
Paul thanked the coastline for its regal display. He’d spent the better part of the last decade bragging about the place, embellishing when there was no need; declaring the mercury to be hovering mid-twenties when the day had sauntered a degree or two lower; adding lilac and cerise to a sunset blazed crimson. He knew how distance could dilute a precise description. But when Doug had agreed to visit – finally – Paul had worried that the weather would make a liar of him. He needn’t have.
“This is tremendous! The water; the sky. Bloody paradise, fucking bloody paradise!” said Doug. “And it just keeps getting better,” he added, his voice smiling. Paul looked up and noted his friend’s eyes, moments ago transfixed by seascape, now equally spellbound by the firm naked breasts of a young woman. Brown breasts, no tan marks. A local.
“How are things back in Sydney?” Paul asked, keen to divert his friend’s indiscreet attentions.
“Oh, you know, same shit, different day” said Doug, lowering himself to the sand beside Paul, both men staring out to sea, taking in surfers and swimmers and barely clad bodies with languor. “Got a new contract. GOMS want me to do their ad campaign this Christmas. Big bucks, tight deadlines, pressure from all angles. It’s all the same. Never changes. You know the drill. Reason why you left, if I remember correctly.”
One of the reasons, thought Paul, but said nothing, careful to feign attentiveness and not comment on how relieved he felt to be out of it all. He’d watched others flaunt their contentment like a teenager displays a newly-pierced navel and had cringed.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said,” said Doug. Five young men laughed and scrambled through the surf, tossing tennis balls at each other and leaping with abandon into liquid walls. “About moving up here. Leaving all that crap in Sydney. Doing the sea change bit, you know?”
One young man, sure of his eye and skill, stretched to his right, landed the wet yellow sphere in the palm of his hand and relished a flash of success before a foaming curl of sea slammed him from behind.
“Oh,” said Paul, and then, suddenly aware of his tone, quickly added, “It’s about time. I’ve only been telling you to abandon that sinking ship since last century.
Doug laughed. “Yeah, well, old dog and all that. But now that the kids have grown up and left, and Di’s moved on…” – a momentary drop in pitch – “you know. The timing feels right. And like they say in our – in my – business… timing’s everything.”
Surf-pummelled and dazed, the boy emerged, resilient, eager to go again. His friends laughed, re-enacted his demise.
Paul looked at his friend, saw the young man he had been and the man he had become. Always tall, he still towered over most, only now he lacked the lithe agility of his youth. His belly swelled larger than the ones they’d sniggered about as boys, and a bare scalp stretched taut where once blonde curls had driven the girls wild. Wrinkles, deep furrows ploughed by time and context, crowded the smooth skin of his adolescence. Yet even in middle age, paunch and all, Doug still managed to turn heads, albeit older ones, ones he didn’t care to turn.
“So you’re moving up then?” Paul tried to imagine Doug on the dunes, in the surf, wallowing, floundering in the bay. A fish out of water. Perhaps.
“That’s the plan. Sell up the house, but keep the apartment in Mossman. Just in case. Besides, the sale of the house’ll be more than enough for a place here, even after Di’s cut. And then I’ll just transfer the business stuff here. Advertising’s a mobile gig anyway. So I’ll telecommute, like all you Byron bums do these days,” – wry smile – “and when I need to head off for a meeting or whatever, it’s less than an hour’s flight. And I get to live in paradise. What more could a man want?”
In the surf, five young men slapped through waves and jostled for pole position.
“When?” Paul asked.
“Not sure of the details yet. Haven’t discussed it with Di either. Not that I need to, I guess. I was thinking, maybe after the GOMS campaign. Tie off loose ends. Put the house on the market. See what happens.”
The tide was urging the young men slowly west, towards Main Beach. An elderly couple wandered, hand in hand, along the shore, their stride relaxed, content. A naked toddler swayed toward the surf’s edge, squealed and lurched, padded back to his mother.
“But mate,” Doug slapped his friend on the back, “this is paradise. You’ve got no idea how good you’ve got it. Life here… You must get used to it, I guess. All this! Take it for granted eventually I imagine. Especially the old crew – peace, love and mung beans. But if I were you I’d be putting up the cyclone fencing and razor wire. Never know what might move in.”
Paul tried to imagine Doug on this beach, in this water; a foot in each camp, just in case. He wondered about the wisdom of inviting his past into his present. He thought about cyclone fencing and razor wire.
“Just wait and see then,” he said finally. “Like you say, timing’s everything.”
Siboney Duff lives on the Far North Coast of NSW (Australia) with her husband, two daughters, a dog, a rabbit, a guinea pig, three hens, and an assortment of possums and bandicoots that refuse to respect the sanctity of her vegetable garden. She is currently working towards her MPhil in Creative Writing at the University of Queensland, and hopes to one day be able to list a plethora of publication credits in bios such as this.