Shannon Horsfall (University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia)
It’s never winter when I doze into the reverie of my childhood. I have to squint to recognise the pale kid in the striped cardigan and beanie peering out from the faded Polaroid tucked in the back of the album. I was never that pale, was I?
In my memory there is always the smell of vinegar and hot chips. Of Pinke Zinke and the briny scent of the sea. It is always summer, and I am casting out into the sea, hip-level to my dad, shoulders a-crust with dried salt and peeling sunburn.
I spent my young years in the suburbs: a weatherboard house on 32 perches, a cement path to the Hills Hoist decorating the backyard, matching tin roofs drumming a concerto for the neighbourhood during the afternoon storms. I lived happily there with my three brothers all my not grown-up days, but I do not dream of it.
When I cast my mind back, I don’t see the lurid seventies laminate kitchen or smell the steaming tar after the summer storm. I don’t picture the uniform houses, manicured rosebushes, driveways lined with Holdens. It is the salt whipped surf and gulls squawking against the wind that is my memory. My dad brown as silky oak, his work-life skin discarded.
I often wonder about these two childhood worlds. One buttoned up and structured—contained into 32 perches, our fenced off world where Dad was a fleeting figure bookending the day. The other world is wide and rambling, barefoot, sunburnt. And although I lived most of my days in that suburban cocoon, it was the coastal life that resonated deep within me. If I could smell the sea, I felt as though I was a part of something. I ran head-on into life, letting the wind whip at me, tasting the salt air on my lips.
The first time we hunt, Dad shakes me awake just after dawn in our rickety beach shack, and I follow him out to the kitchen where he is sorting worms for the whiting, drinking instant coffee with powdered milk, scratching at his whiskers in the hissing glow of the Primus.
Together we walk the bush track barefoot to the dunes. The tackle basket clinks with every second step and I mirror his gait, striding long on my eight-year-old legs. On the shore he sets us down, stitches a worm onto my hook, nods to the spot to pitch my cast. The line sings out across the sea. I wait. He shows me how to jiggle the line, give the worm a wriggle.
‘You gotta trick ‘em, girl,’ he says. ‘Whiting are swift, but they’re not very bright.’
He casts his line right out past the crisp white of the bar, then stands calf deep and quiet; looking out, the rod rested on his hip, finger trigger ready. I look to him, mirror his stance, set my jaw to the silent hunt.
A faint pull and I yank my rod up, my heart thumping with each spin of the reel. My first fish. A fish to bind me and my dad. The line breaks the surface, garnished with sea grass and glaringly devoid of a whiting. I want to cry with the heaviness of it. Dad silently re-worms the line, hands back the rod. I breathe deep the briny air and cast out, anchoring myself to the sand again to wait.
I am a patient fisherman.
Shannon Horsfall is undertaking her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of the Sunshine Coast. She is the award-winning author-illustrator of Was Not Me and Nomax (both HarperCollins), and the illustrator of Dear Santa (Scholastic), My Unicorn Farts Glitter (Hachette) and Once I Munched a Mango (SLQ). She has published short stories, poetry and flash fiction and teaches Creative Writing at UniSC.