Newcastle Herald short story competition finalist 2018: Seaweed

WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story
competition. The winner will be announced on January 27. Picture: Marina Neil
WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story competition. The winner will be announced on January 27. Picture: Marina Neil

FWOATING! Fwoating! Frooatzing!

You, the littlest, lying exuberantly contorted – splashing about in a wrongly perceived state of grace and buoyancy. A midget manatee convinced that the tired, cream bathtub has been conquered. Despite the water level being too low to either sink or float, your hips thrust skyward in an attempt to balance on water’s edge. Nine semi-recent months spent wrapped in fluid appear to have provided no assistance to your current form. I stand nearby and curiously observe while you perform this aquatic Elvis routine. With legs flapping wildly, your older brother wails, wiping soap bubbles from his eyes and lashing out in retaliation. Like a referee in a wrestling match, I break it up - but only enough to allow the show to go on.

As interest subsides and with more water out of the bath than in, you’re first. I squat down on slippery tiles with a clean white towel draped over my shoulder. The tub groans as I scoop you up. Dramatically lifting by the armpits with careful arms outstretched, our ritual evening take on the Lion King is underway. I spin you around to be face-to-face and on cue, with twinkled eyes unwaveringly connected to mine, you decide to let it out. A flowing lemon stream squeezed straight towards my chest, as though casually signing my torso in illegible acidic print. A silent squirting Simba gleefully soaking the towel and my shirt alike. A soggy Rafiki left to contemplate his place in the circle of life.

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THE ocean baths sit comfortably and calmly watch from the shoreline, lazily sorting the locals by their current need – caffeine or waves. I lounge in the chest-deep water contently, kept afloat by reliable blue and white shorts. Sculling slowly, I stare through my splayed toes at the whitewashed pumphouse and pipe cleaner handrails, fixed adjacent to the pool. These salted structures are trapped as a permanent audience to others’ cooling off. It’s hard not to pity them on these endless summer days. I gently bob around in this fenced sea paddock, so perfectly suited to gentle digestion of moments passed. The warming sun scratches at its crumpled surface.

It has been an early start to the day for no particular reason. The morning feels fresher but there is nothing to achieve with the later hours. Days of deadlines are largely retired and there is time to pause and let thoughts drift. The baths are somewhat larger than the tub recently recalled but both elicit fond memories. We used to come here all the time too, with the rest of the gang. Your brothers, sisters, friends and teams all adding to the coastal-kid script of your upbringing. Watermelon, balls, smiles and sunscreen – season after season.

The water sizzles and subsides as my knees break the surface and sink back down; submerged tanned porpoises. Drinking in the December skies, I’m filled with our history and return to a younger you.

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GOGGLES are roughly in place, having vacuumed your eyes to different locations. With left pupil on me, hands clasped and mouth-breathing, your bruised knees hinge in anticipation. With a lungful, you lunge perilously forward from the towering pillow block. The spare bed, it turns out, makes the ideal freestyle training ground. The sheets and doona have been hastily relegated to the floor to make way for Lane 4. The all-important technique is on display as limbs thrash and cycle across the battered single mattress. A makeshift row of stitched animal spectators join me on the grandstand wall and cheer mutedly.

Somewhere around the 30-metre mark, between enthusiastic head turns for imagined gasps of air, a shocked guilt readably flashes across your flushed, masked face. The flailing stops and you rise to quietly planted feet. The demonstration has taken on an unnecessary level of reality, as the makeshift cotton Speedos hopelessly fail to contain the shamed trickle from journeying down past knee and ankle. While not immediately sure on the next move, you ultimately choose to embrace the situation and place a hand on hip. A work of art, our Novocastrian Manneken Pis plays it cool and casually pushes the waist forward. The onlooking stuffed zoo continues its silent applause.

Into the shower – that’s enough training for one day.

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A LIFETIME is inside, weighing less than the salt water it currently rests on. I miss the selflessness of those years although, on reflection, you definitely still owe me. From Band-aids on non-existent cuts to constantly removing anyone’s underwear from your disheveled head, cumulative scenes of nonsense have been squished up to resemble a family. A scattered collection of “accident” stories have decided to resurface and continue inviting me to unpack them for today’s enjoyment.

Oceans now separate and connect us these decades later. Always drawn to the end of land, I hope you and your love are swimming in youthful Mediterranean adventure – joining me in this liquid bond. Perhaps a chilled moonlight splash is keeping us together. A dangled toe over a weathered wharf may find us in a shared instant. It’s a comforting thought to remain somewhat closer, however dubiously attached.

The baths remain gazing outward, keeping a check on stray breakers and obnoxious gulls. A wisp of nor’easter has awoken to feather belly hairs and sneak sand onto basking towels. Leathered bathers swan from end to end in the lanes and a consumed child dips their dad’s work shoe in the shallows.

Fwoating unnoticed, I placidly switch to sidestroke and let it out.

Sending warm wishes – I do hope they find you.

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