To Mum, Jane and Nalini
It seems a story did come from all that time spent on the beach in Pangkor
and, surprisingly, it’s not about monkeys.
Published by Georgina Gregory at Shakespir
Copyright 2016 Georgina Gregory
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
Thank you for downloading this ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. Thank you for your support.
She’s been doing my head in since the moment we arrived. I thought this was supposed to be relaxing.
‘Me and Amber are going to head to the shops and stock up on some stuff for breakfast tomorrow. Can I trust you two to keep an eye on the kids? You want us to get food for dinner tonight, or are we going to eat out? Make sure you get them in if it gets chilly.’
I don’t answer. She never seems to expect me to. They close the door behind them and I breathe out a long, slow breath.
‘Got you a cold one, mate. Holiday starts here.’
Brent’s had the same look on his face since I met him when we were in year nine: like he’s trying to get away with something behind the teacher’s back.
‘This is the life, hey? Got a good deal on this accommodation – great spot.’
I put my feet up and crack open the Corona. I’ve been looking forward to this weekend away for months, but Mel has a habit of making everything seem like such hard work. The councillor said I have to understand that her looking after the kids is like a full time job. I have to appreciate her and tell her she’s contributing equally to our life together. She puts enough effort into spending my money and trying to get more followers on her damn homemade-jam Instagram account. I wouldn’t mind if she made as much effort with the kids. The little ones are alright – I look down at them on the beach below to make sure they can’t see me lighting a smoke – but I’m worried about Skye. She used to be a real daddy’s girl and want to do anything to please me, but now she’s kind of distant.
She appears in the doorway.
‘Dad, do you realise that three former inmates of Robben Island have become president of South Africa?’
‘Can you grab the chips from the table?’
‘And mum will kill you if she knows you’re smoking, by the way.’
I turn to Brent.
‘She’s got some lefty teacher. Wants to teach them all about apartheid in South Africa. That’s why she’s been glued to that iPad since we left Freo. Doing her research. I think it’s criminal that any teacher expects a kid to spend their whole long weekend studying.’
‘Just leave her to it if she’s happy. At least she’s out of your way. You want another beer?’
‘Does a bear shit in the woods?’
The kids are playing really nicely with their buckets in the sand. Sometimes I think that I could do all this without Mel. Then she gets back with the breakfast, the toilet rolls, the bottled water, the mosquito repellent: all the shit I wouldn’t have thought of.
‘There’s a band on at the Hotel tonight. Let’s wander down there in a bit. I’ll get the kids in and get them changed.’
Again, she’s not expecting a response.
‘Dad, do you know they made Robben Island a World Heritage Site? Some of the men who were prisoners there now show people around the island, like guides. So the tourists get some idea of the history. That’s pretty cool, hey? You want to hide that pack of cigarettes by the way – mum will go nuts.’
‘All good, kiddo. Go and help your mum get the little ones ready and we’ll take you all out for a nice meal.’
Brent looks up from his phone.
‘Am I pushing it? Reckon we’ve got ten minutes for a quick one before they’re ready?’
My wife has always thought that Brent’s a bad influence on me. It was 1999 when Mel and I first got together, and I was driving around in that old red ute with the PULLZALOT numberplate that Brent had bought me for my 21st. When I proposed to her, she said ‘on one condition’ and she made me take it off the ute; I’ve still got it on the wall in the bar though.
I can hear them all in the back bedroom. She’s bought everyone new outfits for the weekend, but she can’t find any scissors to snip the tags off.
‘Ten minutes? You’ll be lucky. Definitely time for another one.’
A couple of hours later and we’re settled around a table in the beer garden. We’ve had a big feed of pizza and wedges, and Amber and Mel are on their second bottle of bubbles. Skye’s had her headphones on for most of the night, and the little ones are running around in front of the stage with some other kids.
‘Only forty minutes on the ferry, but it feels like you’re in another world, doesn’t it? So far away from work and all the stress.’
I wonder exactly how much stress Amber has in her job as a primary school teacher, but decide not to bring that up.
‘We should do this more often. Try and make it over once every couple of months,’ Brent suggests.
‘Alright for you to say! You don’t have any kids to worry about. You have no idea how much I have to sort out, and how much it all costs with those three in tow.’
I give Mel the look. She gets a bit mouthy after a few glasses of champagne.
Amber doesn’t respond, as usual – she’s looking out at the boats bobbing around in the water in front of us – but Brent continues.
‘Well, it’s my 40th next year, and not even you can say ‘no’ to a man on such a special birthday, Mel. Leave the kids in Perth with your Mum maybe, and we’ll have an adults-only weekend, just like the old days. Rent a boat, fill the eskies up, bring the guitars and get some spliffs on the go.’
Skye smirks, then puts her iPad and headphones on the table in front of her.
‘Sorry to hear we’re such an inconvenience, Mum. I’m going to the toilet. It’ll give you a chance to smoke your spliffs in peace, Brent. Dad’s got some cigarettes by the way, if you need them to roll.’
She walks towards the pub and I can tell – even from looking at her back – that she’s smiling, pleased with herself. I cop it; Mel’s still giving me a hard time when Skye gets back to the table with her brother and sister.
‘Dane hit his head on a table over there and he’s bleeding a bit. He knocked those drinks everywhere and that man said the parents should be more responsible and they should buy another round.’
‘I think it’s probably time to call it a night.’
Walking back, the four of us are a bit tipsy, and Brent’s trying to coax Dane into a bit of quokka soccer to forget the wound on his head.
‘Don’t boot it too hard. Just find one that’s asleep and curled up in the road and give it a shove with your foot. Here! Here! Pass it to me … that’s it … gooooal!’
Brent kicks the animal between two trees by the side of the road as a couple of bikes without lights whizz past and nearly knock him off his feet; Dane laughs.
‘What do you lot want to do tomorrow?’
‘I’ve booked me and Amber in for a massage in the morning, so we’re going to leave the kids with you for a bit, if that’s okay? Maybe you could hire some snorkelling gear and take them to the next beach. I was going to book you in with us, Skye, but you don’t really like that kind of girly pampering stuff, do you?’
‘Just a couple of years and you’ll be out here for Leavers, running amok with all your friends when you finish your exams, eh Skye?’
‘I’ve still got three years left. Besides, me and Jin have already decided to boycott Leavers. It’s a waste of time. You know this island used to be a prison? Now everyone tramples all over it as if nothing happened.’
‘Long time ago maybe, love, and I didn’t see you complaining a couple of hours ago when you were stuffing your face with pizza! Right, this is us. Who’s got the key?’
The kids are exhausted and even Skye goes to bed without a fight. The wind has picked up and it’s a little bit chilly on the balcony, so we set up with blankets and pour some brandies. Brent disappears into their bedroom and reappears a few minutes later.
‘Ta-da! Here’s one I rolled earlier. Shove over and pass me that lighter. Skye’s already let the cat out of the bag about your cigarettes so you’ve got nothing to lose.’
The kids in bed, Mel giggles. She plays some music quietly on her phone and leans back.
‘I’ll tell you what though. It can’t have been a bad place to be in prison: imagine waking up every morning and seeing that view.’
Wajemup is the Nyoongar name for Rottnest Island: a popular tourist destination about 20km from the coast of Perth, Western Australia. Between 1838 and 1931, 3700 Aboriginal men and children were imprisoned there; records show that 1 in 10 prisoners died from either malnutrition, disease or attacks by prison guards (ABC/The Australian)
Thank you so much for reading my short story. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to leave me a review at your favourite retailer. Thanks!
About the author:
Georgina Gregory is from Bristol, England. A passion for travel and a journey back to the classroom as a mature-aged student have resulted in the urge to collect stories, investigate histories, analyse cultures and ponder the connections between them. Georgina has a BA double major in Writing and French from Edith Cowan University. She teaches ESL in the real world and writes short fiction in the other. Georgina lives in Perth, Australia.
Connect with the author: