WARNING: Contains explicit language and deals with adult themes
I gazed at a bead of condensation as it formed on my glass, like sweat on the forehead of a dying man. Moonlight sparkled off its curved border, as it grew in size, gaining weight. Eventually, it overpowered its inertia and began trickling down the smooth surface, picking up momentum by consuming other droplets. As I watched, it occurred to me that the drop was a metaphor for life. We spend so much energy rushing about meeting others, but for what purpose? In the end, every individual just fades away, like the drop now lost within the ring of water around the bottom of my drink.
I reached out and picked up the tumbler on my second attempt, tipping it back to drain all the rum, the ice from my thermos long having melted. The liquid burned my throat as I swallowed and I stared at the glowing full moon through the distorted lens formed by the thick base of my glass.
It didn’t seem to matter what shit happened in your life. The moon. The stars. The world. They all just carried on as they’d been doing for countless millennia. I slammed the glass down almost missing the little rickety camping table next to my deck chair and toppled over my bottle of Bundaberg Rum.
I lurched forward, grabbing for the bottle by my feet, but was relieved to discover I’d had the foresight to replace the cap. Refilling my glass, I snatched up the new measure and held it up to the star-scattered sky, toasting the moon. “Here’s to life just carryin’ on, ya heartless bastard.”
I threw back the drink, but this time kept it in my mouth for a while, bathing my tongue in the velvet liquid. Parting my lips, I sucked the warm night air over the rum so my lungs received an intoxicating hit from the evaporated alcohol. I then swallowed it down and went to refill my glass when I noticed the silver-edged silhouette of a figure, standing on the beach near the dark water’s edge.
It was a woman in her early thirties with long black hair, wearing a light flowing dress that billowed around her shapely legs in the gentle sea breeze. As she approached, I could see the sad look in her eyes that marred her beauty and I knew her bare feet would leave no footprints in the sand. I knew because I’d looked so many times before. I sighed and poured myself another drink.
“I’s wondering when you’d show up. Glad yous could join me for our annivers’ry.”
She came closer and stood about a metre or so away from me with her arms folded. I could almost touch her, smell her perfume. Despite the darkness, I could see every detail of her face, all the features I loved so much. The woman before me was Amber Shaw.
She shook her head with pity and smiled at me. “You need to stop your drinking, Jon.”
“Ha.” I took a swig from my tumbler. “Now ain’t that the truth.”
I dared not take my eyes away from her or even blink, in case reality returned and she disappeared, leaving me alone again.
“You know my shrink says you’re just an hallooshination. A mental construct to help me cope with my post-traumatic stresh.”
“And what do you think, Jon?”
I smiled and raised my glass. “I thinks I drink to catch another glimpse of you. I drink to pretend that you’re real again. Jusht for a while. You see, I miss you so much. I’m lost…”
Tears streamed down my face, but I kept my eyes open so I wouldn’t lose her again. She leant forward and kissed my wet cheeks, stroking my head before straightening up.
“I will always be with you, Jon. We had something special. But you need to move on. You’ve spent too long wallowing in self-pity and being here in this place isn’t helping. You’ve got too much time to think.”
She looked back at the waves rolling in and then at the sparse vegetation, as a gust of wind caused her hair to fly around. “You must leave this island and return to Brisbane. Restart your life and face your demons. And what’s more, you need to do it now.”
I laughed, but there was no humour in the sound. “Jusht my luck to get counselled by my own mental construct. How warped is that?”
I reached for another drink, but she snatched the bottle from my grasp. “I think you’ve had enough. What you need, Jon, is a wake-up call.”
With that, she swung the bottle into the side of my head causing pain to explode throughout my skull. A new constellation appeared across my vision and the last thing I saw before I blacked out was Amber throwing the bottle into the sea.
Consciousness returned to me wielding a sledgehammer as I opened my right eye a fraction. I was lying on a combination of rock and sand on the upper part of the beach, looking out at the water lapping the shore. But the weak morning sun was too much for my optic nerve and the light forced me to retreat inside my skull. Despite the unforgiving mattress, I tried to go back to sleep, but someone kicked the sole of my boot.
“C’mon Jono. Up ya get, rise and shine. Looks like you fell out your deck chair last night and belted your head, eh. Hope you don’t need patchin’ up, seein’ as you’re on shift at twelve. You know the island needs you and I’m sure you don’t want Albert treating you, eh.”
I pushed myself up into a sitting position and rubbed my face, but instantly regretted it. A mixture of sand and congealed blood encrusted my right temple and I winced as I made a fingertip exploration of my newfound injury. I attempted to speak, but it felt like a roo had taken a crap in my mouth.
Screwing up my face, I squinted at the man whose tall lean body blotted out the rising sun, but the image was still too bright and I had to look away. Nevertheless, I knew who’d delivered my wake-up call. “What time’s it, Charlie?”
“Time you were gettin’ up for work, eh. I can’t keep draggin’ your sorry arse back to town every time you start your run of shifts.”
He squatted down in front of me with amusement playing on his dark-skinned face and he rubbed his broad nose as if to conceal a smile. “I knew I’d find you here, my friend. You were seen leavin’ town with your table and chair, eh.”
“Well, aren’t you the tracker?”
“Ha. Thought I’d get you this time, but what a surprise – you stink of booze, but no sign of a bottle. How d’you do it, Jono? One of these days I’m gonna catch you and you’ll be up for a big fine, eh. You know Mornington’s a dry island.”
“Can’t you give a guy a break. I think someone assaulted me.”
He laughed. It was a warm sound that echoed from deep inside his belly. With a flick of his hand, he knocked his wide-brimmed Akubra to the back of his head and scratched the exposed wavy black hair. “Assaulted, out here? The only thing that assaulted you was gravity, eh. That and about four million mozzies. You look like you’ve come down with the measles. I’m surprised they didn’t drink you dry, eh.”
He looked out at the flat calm waters of the bay. Our two figures cast long shadows down the beach in the morning’s golden glow. “Mind you, you’re lucky a croc didn’t drag you off. You must have a death wish sleepin’ rough out here, eh.”
“I just came to watch the sunset, didn’t intend to stay the night.”
“You never do. Now, get your butt in my car, so I can drive you back to your digs, eh. You need to clean yourself up before anyone sees you. You’re a smart man, Jono. Why d’you insist on being so dumb?”
“It’s a talent I have.”
He stood and held out his hand to pull me up and I accepted the offer, although being upright seemed to invigorate the sadist with the sledgehammer. Charlie chuckled on seeing my face and then folded up my table and chair, throwing them into the tray of his marked-up dual cab police ute.
I climbed into the passenger seat and used the vanity mirror on the sun visor to check out my head. It was a small laceration that looked more from a rock than a bottle. Alcohol often caused my dreams to merge with reality.
Charlie swung himself in beside me. “You’ll live, more’s the pity. If we lose you, they may have to send us a real ambo, eh.”
He started the engine and negotiated his way off the beach before bumping back along the dirt track towards the island’s only town, Gununa. As the dust swirled up behind his car, he chuckled to himself. “How long does it take you to walk out here with that table and chair? It must be ten Ks or more.”
“‘Bout two hours. It can be relaxing.”
“Ever thought of gettin’ yourself a pushie?”
I tensed at the mere suggestion. I hadn’t used a pushbike for about a year, ever since that night.
“You OK? You look like you’ve seen a ghost, eh.”
“You don’t know the half of it. No, mate, I’m OK. Just one of my flashbacks.”
He glanced over at me, then stared at the road ahead. “You know, Jono, you were really fucked over last year, eh. You’ve got every right to be screwed up, but you’ll get through it. I know you will, eh. Just hang on in there, mate.”
I sighed. “Thanks, Charlie. And thanks for coming out to get me. I owe you one.”
“What, another? Guess you’re lucky I’m not countin’, eh.”
He flashed me a wide grin and we continued in silence for the rest of the trip. We soon pulled up outside my place within the hospital compound. It was one of the two dongas assigned for the island’s paramedics and it’s where I’d lived for the past eight months. I waited for the dust trail to settle before getting out.
“Thanks again Charlie, I’ll catch you later.”
“Just make sure you show up on time, Albert’ll give you shit if you’re late, eh.”
I grabbed my gear from the back and gave a wave as I walked away, but Charlie called out, “Oh and Jono, call me when you have a clear head. I’ve been doin’ some detective work and I think I’ve found your man.”
I stopped in my tracks and turned to him. “What man?”
“Mr Wendal, of course.”