So, at last, this was summer after summer had already gone. After a weekend of storm and flood and damage came a sunny weekend with no wind except a gentle zephyr that barely moved the curtains in the open kitchen window and the poisonous white oleander flowers outside it.
This is painting weather, I thought to myself, and I got up on the ladder in the early Saturday sunshine with a can of white gloss and a large brush and started at one end of the aluminium roof edging on the bungalow in the backyard of the beach house and moved to the other end, slowly. I had the radio on because you paint faster when you’re listening to something. Off the Record started with a track from Bob Dylan's Oh Mercy album from about twenty years ago. Producer Daniel Lanois had made Dylan sound less like a frog by setting his voice further back and scattering swirls of atmosphere into the mix. He still sounded like a frog, just not as much. It's still one of my favourite albums.
In the middle of the very still, very warm afternoon I opened the tin shed and dragged out the old rubber dinghy that was encrusted with last year’s sand. I wrung it into the car boot and drove the boys to the beach and hauled it out again and pulled it up to the sand and inflated it. Then with William in the stern and Sir Thomas Lipton in the bow - where I could catch him quickly should he make any sudden movement such as diving out of the boat – I tugged on the rope tied to the bow ring and hauled the boys out to sea. The tide was out, and at first there were sandbars and I had to drag the boat once or twice, but then we were clear and floating.
We went out a little way and looked back at the beach and the houses high on the hill beyond the road hidden by ti-tree. Two sets of brown arms flecked with pale gold rested on the dinghy's sides and we watched yachts way out in the bay and a great cargo ship. The ship was threshing towards Melbourne and it turned at Mt Martha where the shipping channel makes ninety degrees. First you see the starboard side, then the stern as it moves into the angle, and finally you see only the top half of the port side as the ship rides down over the horizon.
We watched it disappear and then I towed the dinghy further out, almost to the edge of the shelf where it drops away and the water deepens dramatically. Late afternoon now, and warm. The boat rocked gently on the ripples and the seawater slapped the dinghy. Just off into the deeper blue there was a splash, and a tail flicked high out of the water, and then another tail, and then two or three fins arced lazily over the water and back down again. Dolphins. I counted at least eight but there could have been more. They paired up and rolled over, fins going around like a lazy mill wheel, and then they drifted farther north and west where the lower sun made the water blinding to look at and you couldn’t see them any more.
It was well after dark when I squashed the dinghy back into the shed and shut the door on it. It's harder work deflating it than pumping it up.