I lift my head from under the cool waves only to hear that Dave is still - still - laughing about the tumble I took (that oaf). The day’s been just peachy, all soft winds that perfectly rivaled the monsters we’re riding, clouds painted in the sky in milky swirls. I reckon it’d all be swell if only I had better company: in all of Australia, Dave’s gotta be just the worst bugger around (the fall wasn’t that funny.)
I got to Cairns quite a while ago and still can’t go a full day on the water without a spill off the board. I’ve gotten better, for sure, but there’s always the one at least. My mates say that it’s bad bone structure, that the cushy North American weather made me weak.
I’ve yet to bother telling them that I grew up in Montreal, where the weather was many things and “cushy” was rarely one of them. Well, some other day.
Even under the surf I can hear the blonde’s warbly voice when he calls “get up here, you bludger!”
I oblige, only because it’s the smart thing to do. Not because Dave told me to do it. Dave can get pissed (and will, if the blue cooler sitting idle on the shore is anything to go by.) I come up for air and see the violet board floating jauntily away. I’m there in two long strokes, much to the disappointment of my surfing mate. Tosser. We’ve been at it for the majority of the day, and even though my skin is pruning and the waves are getting restless all I feel is bliss. This, right here, is the life.
After another tumble on my part and one of Dave’s too (which I doubt I’ll ever shut up about, you should have seen the way his arms windmilled before he fell in. Serves him right) we emerge from the water. I’ll never admit it, but every time I walk away from the waves I imagine I’m in a music video for “Take It Back”. Terrible habit, especially considering the Buffet-love is Dave’s doing. That and it always subconsciously makes me walk slower. Liv always makes fun of me for that, which I assume is what she’s going to do today as well.
“Hurry up o’er here before ya get pulled back in, ya Yankee!”
What did I say, huh?
I’m not even Ameri- nevermind, then.
Liv is my favourite person, period. Long hazel hair perpetually sunkissed, light freckles, and dancing eyes. Biggest Aussie I’ve ever met. When I first met her, that brilliant March morning, she came right up and shook my hand so hard I thought my bones would pop and spoke with the thickest accent I’d ever heard. She listens to Rolf Harris, says things like “no wucka’s”, calls Cairns “way out in the woop woop”, and once wrestled an alligator. When she told me that she owned a kangaroo, I whole-heartedly believed her. Hey now, you would too.
She was the only good thing about that day, I know that now. She had been in Canada to visit her cousin Al and had been booked for a flight that left two days before. Maybe Montreal wanted to send me one last parting gift to make up for the crap hand it had dealt me because her flight ended up getting delayed. “Freak storm” is what they told her, I believe. That's how she ended up taking the same plane as me, and when we got off at the airport she stumbled upon me at my absolute lowest: eyes red-rimmed and nose leaking like a faucet, seeking out my luggage on the belt with the same feverish energy that a mother might look for her lost kid in a Walmart. I might as well have had “Hapless And Hopeless” tattooed onto my forehead in papyrus.
That, or “Just Got Fired From A Job That Brought Me Stress And Not Much Else And Then Realized That I Wasn’t Truly In Love With My Boyfriend, So It Was Almost A Relief When He Told Me That He’d Been Banging My Sister For Weeks, But Also Not Really.”
Both work, I’d say. Now’s not the time to dwell.
Life goes on, you either walk with it or get trampled as it rolls on by.
She reached out for me then, and she does the same now as she hands me a towel. I can’t help it; I decide to test out a phrase I heard from Dave’s brother last week (still can’t tell what’s an actual Aussie-saying and when Matt’s just yanking my chain). “Liv, what’s the John Dory?”
It’s tense for a moment, Liv narrowing her eyes, me sweating from exertion and fear-of-having-just-said-something-terribly-offensive, Dave stumbling outta the water. Then her face breaks out into its natural grin as she says “not too much mate, just hopin’ to bum a stubby off this yobbo’s cooler before the piss up tonight. Oi, you’re comin’ to that?” Dave looks offended and sputters at the comment and I feel euphoric.
I wrap the towel closer ‘round my bathers and start walking with them back to town. Hours later, I find myself standing in almost the same spot, peering over Matt’s shoulder into the grill. It takes everything, and I mean everything in me to not comment on the fact that he is, quite literally, throwing shrimp on the barbie…
I can’t do it, I really can’t. I open my mouth and find a grill fork haphazardly stabbing the air right in front of my shoulder. Even in his slightly frilly peach apron Matt still looks menacing as all hell when he mutters “put a sock in it.” I heed his advice and make my way towards the water.
It’s a brilliant party (or “piss up” as seemingly only Liv says): everyone is right drunk and a bout of karaoke has already begun on the edge of the surf (no one has a karaoke machine, by the way, so it’s more drunkards swaying and humming than authentic Japanese interactive entertainment. Same difference at parties like these.) I’ve had a load of prawn and am on my third coldie when Matt and Liv amble over.
“So, how long’s it been now?”
I don’t need context to answer his question. “Two years, seven months, three days.” They ask the question about once every two months, so as much as I try to not keep count of the time they’re on it.
Liv whistles and Matt pats my back affectionately. “Long time to be down under, I reckon.” He’s right, it’s certainly not a small amount of time, especially when I’m so far away from…
I look to my left in time to watch Liv pop a shrimp into her mouth with one hand and uncap a bottle of brew with the other. To my right Matt is looking slightly perturbed by the action, his hand still draped on my shoulder. I don’t need to look behind me to know what’s happening: Sienna and Arie and their kids are making sandcastles, Leo from the dealership in town and Matilda from the surf shop are fiddling with the grill and pretending that they haven't been crazily in love with each other since they were teens, a drongo is undoubtedly trying to get a group together to surf the now-black waves, and Dave is trying to start a sing-a-long of “Mañana” (to no avail).
It’s been two years, seven months, and three days since I landed in Australia. It was going to be a two-week vacation, a time to relax and get my life back on track. Get away from endless work, my cheating ex and lying sister, the push and shove pace of the city. Find a spot in the world that my emptiness hadn’t touched.
I met Liv on that first day, Matt and Dave on the third, and everyone else in the weeks that followed. I got a job down at Leo’s on my fifteenth day, started my first novel only a week after that. Couch surfed for a few weeks ‘til I made some cash, then moved into a little place with walls I’m repainting in patterns that rival the Cairns’ clouds and a patio out front that lights up at night from the moon beams cast down on it.
I cancelled my flight back on my eighth day, and in two years, seven months, and three days I have yet to look back.
I smile. “Not too long.” Matt’s palm gives my shoulder a quick squeeze before lowering to the sand, and Liv dives into another tale about her time in the Bush. Laughter flows all around as we sit under the night’s blanket of stars. This is the life.