William looks like a runner. He has stayed lean; Thomas is stockier. William trots along while Tom has the luxury of a ride. That won’t last. Enjoy it while you can, Tommy. The three-wheel stroller won’t hold you much longer.
William was happy to trot the two kilometres to the beach.
It was another warm day. We had a hot November a few years ago. 2005? William’s first summer. This past November was hotter again. Then again, there was hail in the same month of 2007. No-one talks about the weather in the old way any more. Now, they just argue about whether it means the world is getting hotter or not. Point-scoring. Look! Out the window! See? I was right and you were wrong! The weather is a competitive sport. I’ll tell you the winner in ten thousand years. It could be a long game. Like a Test cricket match, just not quite as boring.
It’s little hills all the way. The road is paved over ancient sand hills. Then up and down one last larger one and when you crest that, you see the blue bay spread out before you beyond the ti-tree foreshore, and boats in the distance, and on a clear day the topmost floors of the tallest buildings in Melbourne directly across the water. The chopped-off top floors look like low steps, or a rainfall graph. Then you come down the paved sand hill to ti-tree level and the sea disappears and you cross Point Nepean Road, carefully, because drivers – except for the driver of the Portsea to Frankston bus, who waves - are in a hurry, and you scramble through a sandy track that zig-zags under the ti-tree canopy and then you stumble onto the yellow sand and blink if the sun is as intense as it was that day.
I had taken Tom out of the stroller just in off the road, under the ti-tree, because the wheels don’t work in the dusty sand; and I dragged the stroller behind me and the boys ran ahead of us, chirping like squirrels or some other small happy exotic animal. There is no small happy Australian animal. Koalas are grumpy, possums are timorous, wallabies are nervous and the Tasmanian tiger is extinct. The only outwardly happy Australia native animal is the kookaburra and he is, of course, a bird. A laughing bird.
I waded out about hundred metres. It stays shallow for a quarter of a mile, then the shelf drops away into deep blue. Half-way out I stepped on something that felt smooth and it buckled under my foot and a dark flash shot away in the water. A small stingray. They rest on the seabed under a thin layer of sand. I turned and looked at the shore. It shimmered in the haze. Some houses rose out the line of trees and there was a lazy buzz of cars along Point Nepean Road but the beach itself was quiet.
The water was a mirror, flat. A perfect afternoon. William and Thomas were tiny crouched figures making sand tracks with small toys. Their mother sat by them, face shaded under the same blue cloche sunhat she has had since I have known her. She has others, but that is her favourite.
I lay back in the water and floated and thought of a hot day in 1973 when I had bobbed around in a different bay on the inner tube of an old tyre that I found in the shed of a beach house where my parents were staying. That day was one of the hottest I can remember and I floated for most of the afternoon, thinking about nothing much at all except for how good it feels to float around on the sea on a day that is as hot as hell and there is no more school for two months.
Now I'm back on the water, decades later, closing the continuity loop of that day; and it seemed that the rest of your life is just an interruption, a kind of white noise in the background, and then you get back in the water.
It also makes you hungry. Early dinner was a large piece of pink ling (a.k.a. several other names depending on where you are in the world). Two slices were tossed in flour and a little pepper and salt and quickly fried in olive oil and served with a squeeze of lemon juice and a squirt of vinegar. That was William and Thomas’s dinner, alongside battens of potato boiled and then finished, brushed with butter, in the oven to slightly crisp. And florets of what they call ‘white broccoli’. Cauliflower.
Later, I cooked an onion in oil and added two tablespoons of curry powder, three or four crushed cardamom pods, a chopped garlic clove, a teaspoon of ginger and a shake of cinnamon; stirred it around, added a cup of water, brought it to a boil, turned it down to a simmer, dropped in rest of the pink ling in large cubes, and waited eight minutes, just enough to make the fish turn white. Any longer and it will start to give off fluid and get too dry. I finished it off with a swirl of Greek yogurt to give it a little thickness and that was it, fat ling pieces served on a bed of fragrant rice and lentils, curry fluid as a sauce over the top and a hail of chopped coriander to finish.