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"The importance of consciousness is so great that one cannot help suspecting the element of meaning to be concealed somewhere within all the monstrous, apparently senseless biological turmoil…" - Carl Jung
It came rushing sidelong at them and then was gone; leaves skipping and jerking in slipstream flurry; retroview roadsign dwindling to wavy cross over blue bitumen shimmer
"Hey Jase, don’t leadfoot it through here eh? It’s a 100 zone okay? You know how the cops love to suss this stretch."
"Relax. I had my speedo checked. It reads ten percent high. When it says 110 we’re only doing 100. Besides, they won’t do you for being 10 kays over anyway. I even know this chick who got done for 125 in a 100 zone, and she went to court and got off."
"Oh yeah, which chick was that?"
"Ah, just someone…"
"Hmm. Well, it doesn’t hurt to take it easy anyway"
"Come on Anna, I drive this road all the time. And today the surf is pumping! Whoo-hoo!"
"Yeah! Hey… It’s not going to be too big is it? Do you reckon I’ll be right with my six-four?"
"Six-four’s fine, I’ve got my six-six and I use that in nearly everything except big Lennox. Don’t worry, you’ll handle it. Hey, if it’s good we might get two surfs in. Any time you’re supposed to be back?"
"Not really. I’m studying. Got my finals coming up. It’s okay, I’ll catch up later. You?"
"Old man Jackson wants me to run the power to his new shed. He can wait. Surf comes first."
"Hey, what about Davo and Skink? You reckon they’ll be up yet?
"Doubt it. They had the big Sunday footy session up the pub last night. When I left they were both off their faces and talking about going back to Mick’s place and kicking on. My mobile’s in the glovey. Why don’t ya give ‘em a call?"
"They’ll be spewing if the surf’s classic and they miss out".
"Probably been spewing already, knowing the way those two get into the drink and the choof."
"Go hard or go home, eh? What a bunch. Now, where’s your phone… Wow, what a dinosaur! Looks like a walkie-talkie or something… Why don’t you get one of those cute little new ones?"
"I’ve tried ‘em and the buttons are so close together I always end up pushing two or three of the bloody things at once. Besides, every man and his dog’s got one."
"Oops, sorry. Forgot what a rugged individualist you are. Now, here, let’s see: phone book… Okay, here’s Skink’s mobile so… I’ll try that okay? Oh shit! Jase, look! Cops, there at the bend! Slow down!"
"Relax Anna, I had em spotted at the top of the straight.… See? Nothing. They’ll of had their radar on us all the time... See? They didn’t even blink. We’re cool."
"Okay, okay. Sorry. You know how this highway makes me nervous."
"Yeah… Now, are you gonna call those two pissheads or what?"
"Oh, yes, is Mrs Cartwright there please?"
"She is, but she’s just in the shower right now. Can I take a message?"
"Is this her husband?"
"Oh, Mr Cartwight, it’s Marjorie Hoffman calling from Ballina Base Hospital. I’m afraid your mother-in-law has been taken rather ill."
"I see… How ill?"
"Well, it’s serious I’m afraid. She’s had a very nasty fall in her bathroom; she’s broken her hip and femur, but there’ve been complications… I’m afraid the staff didn’t find her until some time had passed. There’s been a lot of internal bleeding, her core temperature got very low and she’s been in shock. It’s put a big strain on her heart. We think it’s advisable for your wife to come as soon as possible, if she would like to see her."
"We can’t make any assurances beyond tomorrow. She’s stable now and we’re doing all we can, but…"
"I understand. Look, I don’t know what to do. It’s eight o’clock now, there’s no way we can get on a flight this evening. The car’s in the workshop for major repairs …"
"I appreciate it’s awkward. I’m just duty bound to tell you"
"Look, I’ll let my wife know and we’ll see if we can sort something out. Can I get your number? Okay… Yes… Alright, got that, thanks. Look, I’ll give you my mobile too, just in case; it’s 0316 723 354."
"Thanks Mr Cartwright. If there’s anything else this evening I’ll call you on that number. Otherwise just ring and speak to the duty nurse tomorrow."
"Whatd’ya reckon Col? Should I zap ‘em?
"May as well. They look alright to me, but."
"Yeah. Anyway, let’s do our job." Target locked, steady three-second tone. "102. Easy. Gee, I love these new head-up displays."
"Thought they were okay. Just a couple of kids goin’ for a surf and being sensible about it. Bloody hell, that takes me back…"
"Yeah, the Sarge said you were a bit of a surfing legend in your day."
"Mate, a couple of us used to keep a board in the patrol car. The boys would radio when the conditions were good and you could stop off for a wave at the end of your shift. Things were different back then. Try that now and some talkback radio dickhead wants a royal commission into police bloody corruption."
"Must have been pretty cruisy for you huh?
"In some ways. But Jesus Christ, there were so many accidents. The road was single lane all the way. Overtaking was a nightmare, and so was cleaning up afterwards. So many people… You haven’t done a head-on yet. Believe me, you don’t want to. It’s the families that get you. You knock on the door and you try and break it to them but they don’t really listen, they know already and they just stare at you ‘cause they know what you’ve just seen… And they wanna ask but they’re scared and they can’t…"
"Nobody should have to see that stuff." A crackle of static and the operator’s voice
"Unit 1 do you read over"
"Hey Col… Jarrod with you?"
"Then you can let him know his wife’s just gone into labour. Everything’s fine, she’s on her way to hospital now."
"Arrggghhh! Whoooo! Today I’m gonna be a father…!"
"Thanks Frank, I think he got that. Col out."
"Geez, just a few more hours and.. Shit Col, I… Talk about the old ‘Manic Monday’! I think I’m gonna cry!"
"Yeah, I’d be crying too if I was you, stud. That’s the rest of your life comprehensively rooted, heh heh heh. Seriously though, congratulations. And don’t worry, it’ll all be okay. These things go like clockwork: they got epidurals and all that stuff. They reckon it’s like pulling a tooth..."
"But I wanna be there!"
"Relax, you will be. I’ve got a feeling we’re in for a quiet day."
"Too bloody quiet the way I’m feeling right now. Hey, should we maybe go find another possie? I reckon they can see us here too early for us to bust anyone."
"Keen as beans aren’t ya? Okay hotshot, we’ll head back up north a bit, I know a pretty good spot, it’s usually good for a few tickets."
"Fuck me dead, is it always this boring?"
"Only if you’re lucky, son."
"Rob, hi. It’s Pete."
"Pete! To what do I owe the pleasure this fine Sunday evening?"
"Trouble, I’m afraid. Diane’s mum’s had a turn. It’s pretty bad. "
"She was living in some retirement village up the coast wasn’t she?"
"Ballina, yeah. Listen, they’ve told us we should try to get there tomorrow if we want to see her."
"Yeah, I know. I’ve checked and there are no flights to Lismore until tomorrow evening. The train’s already left and it was fully booked anyway."
"Diane’s a mess and I just think the best thing to do is get there any way we can. I’d be driving right now except we did the timing belt yesterday; I’ve called the car hire companies but they won’t deliver at this time of night. One place has got a suitable one but we’d have to go and pick it up. I was wondering if maybe you could give us a ride down there. I was hoping I could leave you the house keys too if that’s okay. I don’t know how long we’ll be away so it’d be good if you could keep an eye on the place."
"Mate. Just take my wheels."
"Not the Beamer?"
"Yeah, sure the Beamer. No skin off my nose, I mainly use the little hatchback during the week. I just take the roadster for a spin on weekends. You know, ‘big boys toys’ and all that."
"Rob, that’s a huge call. Are you positive?"
"Come on Pete. Sure I’m sure."
"But there’s no telling how long we might be away."
"Don’t worry, we can sort that out later. There’s no real hurry. Well, I have got a pretty hot date on Sunday, so I guess if you see it’s going to be a few days, you could even leave Diane up there and drive back yourself. She can always get a flight later, can’t she? Otherwise, I’ll break it: ‘treat em mean, keep em keen’ I always say."
"Rob, you always were the man for a crisis. I feel like I’ve called my brains trust."
"Natch. Now listen, I’ll just square things away here and then I’ll be round in say… one hour? I’ll hang out while you get ready, and then you can drop me back home on the way through."
"Rob, you’re a legend."
"C’est moi. Ciao"
"Di honey. Rob says he’ll lend us his car!"
"What… not that macho thing of his?"
"Uh-huh. But listen…"
"With the silly number plate?"
"Yes, that one. But it’s one helluva car and miles better than any rent-a-heap we could get, and I for one will feel much safer in it. Now, come on, let’s get a few things together. If we leave in good time tonight we’ll be there by tomorrow lunchtime. I’ll have to try and call work somewhere along the way, but that’s the least of our worries right now."
"Skink, wake up!"
"Oh man… who is it? Hey, wow… Chantelle?
"Skink you fool, you’re dreaming. It’s me Anna. Get it together, it’s pumping!!"
"The surf! It’s going off! Get your arse into gear, grab your board, and get out there!"
"Yeeesss!! Four foot of east-southeast swell, offshore wind, and three hours to low tide. Wake up Davo and tell him to pull finger!"
"Whooo!! Alright!! The number one hangover cure! Surf-a-rama!! Oi… Where are you?"
"I’m heading up the highway with Jase. We checked Anga’s earlier but it was crowded and a bit full. Jase reckons Chinaman’s, so we’re on our way now."
"Oh yeah, Chinaman’s would be good. Maybe Davo ‘n’ I should just head there."
"Jase says no rush. It’ll be offshore all day. He reckons you should check there first. The point might be getting better with the dropping tide."
"OK. I’ll go wake Davo. He’s crashed out in his van. Call us when you get there and let us know if it’s any good. It’s one of the best waves on the coast on its day. Just watch out for Noahs. Check ya."
"Well, what did he say?"
"He was still asleep. He thought I was Chantelle. Trying to crack onto her last night again was he?"
"I dunno about that. I did see him standing next to her at the bar, just about dribbling into her ear and trying to write his number on a coaster. I think she took it just to get rid of him. Hey, where were you last night?"
"Studying. Anyone interesting up there?"
"Same old, same old."
"What about that new chick? The single mum? They say she’s pretty hot."
"Haven’t met her yet. Sounds perfect for Skink, actually: instant family, eh? Might be what he needs to straighten him out."
"Well, she’s female and unattached, so I’m sure she’ll met him sooner or later. Or vice-versa. Poor guy, once he’s had enough to drink he reckons he’s irresistible. Hey, maybe that’s why I never seem to see you get drunk: you think you’re irresistible all the time."
"Very funny. You know I’ll have a few beers, but I decided a long time ago that I’d rather surf than lie around with a hangover. You snooze, you lose. Anyway, so what’s the story with those two clowns?"
"Skink’s gonna wake Davo and then go check the point. He wants us to call from Chinaman’s if it’s any good. Oh yeah, he reckons it’s pretty sharky up there… Is that right?"
"There’s sharks along the whole North Coast. Byron used to be out of control, there was a meatworks there years ago that pumped blood and guts straight into the water. Tallows is still dodgy: it gets some unreal waves but a lot of guys won’t surf it."
"What about Chinaman’s?"
"I’ve never seen one there, but I’m sure they’re around. Look babe, every surfer thinks about sharks, and sooner or later you’re probably going to see one. Yeah, you think about the risk, I s’pose, but when you see those perfect waves just like, peeling… Don’t worry, you’ll be straight out there."
"I guess it’s kinda like driving… If you thought about it too much, you’d never do it, huh?"
"Jase… What happened… You know, up at Byron?"
"Happen? Nuthin’… Why?"
"I don’t know, you never seem to talk about it. I remember when you came back, you were different somehow. Quieter, but like, more intense, you know? And distant. For a while I wasn’t sure if we were still friends…"
"We’ll always be friends, babe."
"Jase, our friendship means so much to me you know. And like, when you said you’d take me surfing - you know, teach me stuff - I was like ‘wow!’ It’s pretty special, huh? That we can be friends like that I mean…"
"I said… Ah, nothing."
"Davo, Davo, wake up. The surf’s goin’ off!"
"Christ, stop bangin’ will ya! I’m awake, okay? Oi, jump in while I finish rolling this joint."
"Just after nine. Right, now listen: Anna rang me on the mobile, she says the surf’s happening. She and Jase checked Angas but gave it a miss - bit too full and crowded. They’re doing the bolt to Chinaman’s."
"Shit, that’s a good call. Man, that Jason, he’s so switched on. The bastard’s not human, he hardly drinks, and he’s always out there when the surf’s good. Not like me. Ah God, why do I have to get so PISSED?!"
"Coz you’re a pisshead. Hey, pass me that thing will ya… Anyway, no hurry, the tide’s still dropping and they reckon it’s gonna be offshore all day. We can just cruise down the shops and get some breakfast, then go check the point."
"Jeez, I’m starvin’ and me head’s spinnin’. Right, let’s go for a bacon and egg roll at Maria’s. We can pick up your board and wettie on the way."
"Hey, do you reckon Jase and Anna…"
"Nah, they’re just mates. Have been since they were kids. They’re hangin out a lot lately I guess coz Jase’s been teaching her to surf; didn’t have much choice really, that girl pestered him like you wouldn’t believe. But I tell you what, she’s a natural. And now it looks like she’s starting to go for it too. Chinaman’s eh? Go hard, young chicky babe!
"Man, she’s awesome. I would so love to have a cute girlfriend who surfs… Hey, Davo… If Jase isn’t interested, do you reckon he’d mind if I, like, made a move…?"
"Pull your head, in you dork."
"Alright, alright. Hey… What do you reckon about that Chantelle? She asked me for my number last night… I reckon I could be in with a chance!"
"I reckon you should get your hand off it, Skink."
"Jeez, I dunno. What d’you think?"
"Mate, it’s not as good as I thought it’d be. Perfect conditions, but… I reckon Jase made the right call."
"Well, let’s do it. It’s nine-thirty now, we can be up there and in the water by half past ten."
"You sure? I mean are you right to drive? I’m feelin’ pretty ordinary this morning and you got as pissed as me last night."
"Me? Hey, no wuckin’ furries. I’ll just finish me greaseburger and coke, roll another little joint for the road, and then I’m set to take a flying leap at this day. You up for it?"
"Uhmm… I dunno, like, I’ve got this Centrelink interview at one-twenty…."
"Look, we’ll just surf and then blast straight back, you’ll get there. And if you’re a bit late, who cares. I do it all the time"
"Of course I bloody reckon. So you up for it or what?"
"Yeah. Bugger it, let’s do it!"
"Oi, aren’t you forgetting something?"
"Petrol money. You’re always bludging rides ya little tight arse."
"Jeez Davo, I’ve only got five bucks on me, that’s me lunch..."
"That’ll do. Now let’s stop pissin’ round. Perfection, here we come!"
"Pete, can we stop soon? We’ve been driving over five hours. I’m tired, and I can only imagine how you must feel."
"I’m fine. This car is so easy to drive, it’s amazing! I don’t feel fatigued at all. Anyway, we’ll be in Coffs Harbour soon, about six I’d say. Sunrise and sunset are bad times to be on the road so I thought we could stop there for a spell. Besides, Coffs is the only place where anything’s likely to be open this time of morning."
"Oh gosh… Coffs. When I was in high school we used to go on family holidays every year to a caravan park at Sawtell."
"Sawtell. Yeah, it’s a nice spot. I stopped off there once for an afternoon."
"It was just a sleepy little place back then. Of course in the holidays the park was full and there were some permanent residents too. We used to hang out with the kids from one of the families there, what was their name? Doesn’t matter… You know, what I most remember is the smell: heat and sea air all mixed with coconut oil and mangoes and avocados, and flowers that never seem to grow in Sydney. I used to like to wear a hibiscus in my hair. God, how tasteless, but I was only in my teens…"
"Oh come on. I bet you were a knockout. One of my greatest regrets is not meeting you as a seventeen-year old wahini."
"Oh my God, it makes me cringe at the thought. We used to wear sarongs the older boys brought back from Bali. We all thought we were tropical temptresses. Huh, one night me and this other girl… Julia… yes, Julia, that’s right. We got a ride into Coffs with a few of the boys for a surf club dance. And I drank too much Southern Comfort and ended up pashing this local guy on the beach. Julia had to come looking for me. Didn’t get home until almost four."
"You brazen young hussy."
"Yeah, right! In fact, as you can imagine, that’s pretty much what mum said at the time… One of the boys hadn’t drunk too much and he drove us back. Believe me, there’s no way you can sneak into a caravan. She was waiting up of course, and here’s me, reeking of alcohol, with smudged lipstick and sand all through my hair and clothes… I’d felt so grown up that night, but when I was standing there swaying I saw how mum was looking at me like I was still a child, and I could see how worried she’d been and I started to cry… Oh, mum… Oh Pete, I’m sorry…"
"It’s okay honey. You have a good cry. Don’t worry, we’ll stop soon for a couple of hours and have a rest and a nap. We’re making good time."
"What’s that, Col?"
"That car before…"
"The Toyota with the boards on top."
"Oh yeah, what about it?
"I think I recognised the driver."
"It was just a glimpse, but I’m pretty sure it was Jason McGarrity. Nobody you’ve ever heard of, but I had a fair bit to do with him when I was stationed up at the Bay. Maybe eight or ten years ago now."
"What, is he a crim or something?"
"Nah. Coulda been, but no. He came from down this way. His old man was an alcoholic and used to give him a hard time, and when he was about fourteen or fifteen he pissed off from home and ended up at Byron in a dolie house. Got in with this useless bunch of potheads from the Gold Coast, all three or four years older. They had him doing all their dirty work and he was really getting himself noticed. In fact he was giving a lot of people the shits, shopkeepers and that, you know. Never actually got caught with anything he could be charged for, but he was going that way."
"What about his mum?"
"What mum? She left the old man when the kid was little, for this hippie idiot up at Nimbin. Last anyone heard she was living with some smackie in Sydney, down the Cross."
"Poor guy didn’t get much of a start in life."
"Others have had worse. But yeah, rough times."
"So like… How come you got involved?"
"I took a bit of a personal interest, I s’pose. Social workers heavied him a coupla times and put him on the bus home, but he was back in days. He got this little local sheila up the duff, some of the dads up there wanted to kill ‘im – luckily for both of ‘em, she lost it early. But yeah, everyone could see he was headed wrong but nobody seemed to know what to do about it. So anyway, he would have been in town a few months when one afternoon I was up the Railway Hotel after my shift, and I went out the back for a piss and there he was with his idiot mates and a beer and a joint in his hand. So I thought ‘right you little bugger, that’s it’ and I went up and grabbed him by the ear and marched him out into the street."
"Dead set eh? So what did his mates do?"
"Made ‘emselves scarce, what do you reckon? Anyway, I told ‘im he’d been behaving like a dickhead and he was on a slippery slope. Give him his due, the whole bloody pub was out watching and a lot of other kids would have been shitting ‘emselves, but he stood his ground."
"Toughed it out, eh?"
"It wasn’t cockiness… Nah, he had this kind of aura about him. Like nothing seemed to faze him. It was like he was used to seeing the shit hit the fan and even kind of expected it."
"So what happened?"
"Well, you know, I gave him a dressing down and then the usual questions. What do you think you’re doing with your life? What do you want to do with it? Do you want to do anything at all? ‘Dunno’, ‘Dunno’ and ‘Dunno’. So then I ask him if there’s anything he likes doing for chrissake, and he says to me ‘surfing’. And I says to him well, I surf a bit meself, but I’ve never seen you out there. ‘Don’t have a board’, he says. Right then, says I, you come with me. And I took him straight down to see one of the blokes I knew from the local surfboard factory. Told ‘im they had a budding surf star who’d do odd jobs for a 2nd hand board, and if he mucked around then to call me. So they had him there a few days sweeping up and getting the lunches, and chucked a bit of pocket money his way. Seemed to settle him down a bit. Anyway that weekend or the next they had a spot in the draw for the local junior surf comp, so they stuck him in for a bit of a joke, and he made the bloody semi finals - all on a borrowed surfboard and without having surfed for weeks. They reckoned later he’d never owned a board in his life, he’d bloody learned on a borrowed one as well."
"Some guys are naturals."
"He sure was. It was obvious he had talent and so one of the blokes in the board riders club offered to take him under his wing. This feller, ‘Whitty’ - Mark Whitley his name was, an electrician by trade – he reckoned he could use an offsider, and he put the kid up in his garage in exchange for a coupla days work a week. The kid took to it, and next thing he was doing the trade course at tech and bugger me if he didn’t see it through and end up a sparky himself. Talk about turning your life around."
"And you’d still see him after that?"
"Oh sure. He became a bit of a hero around the place. I used to hear a lot about him through Whitty. They used to surf together all the time, at least in the beginning before Jason got his drivers licence. Whitty told me that eventually he started getting left behind; just couldn’t keep up. Now that’s saying something, ‘cause Whitty was no slouch in the water himself; but here was this seventeen year-old kid pushing him out into places he didn’t want to go. Totally fearless, he reckoned, and I could believe it too. He used to surf all these scary reefs on his own: the kid would paddle out in anything, from tiny waves to storm surf conditions when a lot of your so-called ‘hard-core’ surfers are looking for excuses to go to work. Anyway, when he was about twenty - he’d finished his apprenticeship and was already licensed by then- his old man died and left him the house. He’d been thinking about his own business apparently, so he decided to move back to his home town and start up there: didn’t want to cut Whitty’s grass."
"Yeah… Huh… He actually came to see me before he left. We’d barely said a word to each other in years, not since the day at the pub. Anyway I remember I was at the counter writing something in the day book at the time, and I noticed someone’s walked in and I glanced up and saw who it was. Surprised me a bit, I can tell ya. ‘What can I do for you then’, I says, and went back to me writing. ‘I came to say thanks’ he says, and while I’m still looking down I says to him ‘Thanks? What for?’ And then - I’ll never forget it - he raps his knuckles on the counter and I hear this ‘Oi!’ And I look up ready to give him a mouthful, and he looks me straight in the eye and he says: ‘you know what for.’"
"Shit Jase, it’s going off! Should we call the guys?"
"Try if you want. I’m gonna get out there. Shit, look at that! It’s friggin’ perfect! And there’s no one out!"
"Huh, no coverage… looks like it’s just going to be us then. Wow, I know we’re a fair way inside the national park, but I can’t understand why nobody else is around."
"People are lazy I reckon. If they can’t see it from the road they don’t bother. I knew it’d be breaking, but: the conditions are perfect for it."
"Hey Jase, what’s that thing over there on the sand?"
"Where? Let’s see… Huh! It’s a dead stingray… Big bastard too, maybe 20 kilos. Fisherman must have hooked it and left it there. They get some good fish off this beach. Hey, hang on… Far out!! Check this! One of its wings is missing Anna!"
"Maybe the fisherman cut it off to eat?"
"No way, why take one and not the other? Nah, look, it’s a friggin’ bite mark! Tiger shark I’d say… the fishermen reckon the big tigers love a feed of ray."
"How big d’ you reckon…?"
"Judging from the size of that bite, I’d say at least a twelve-footer."
"Jase, no way am I paddling out there after seeing this."
"Hey, relax. That would have been last night’s dinner. The big ones only come in close after dark. Look, it’s ten in the morning and bright daylight. The risky times are sunrise and sunset, or when it’s overcast, you know that. And just look at those waves! I didn’t come all this way to find perfect surf and then pike out before getting wet. Come on Anna, we paddle out together and we look out for each other. Trust me."
"Well, I mean... Oh wow, check that wave! Jase, this place is insane!"
"Yeah! What have I been telling you? Now come on babe, we’re out there! This is gonna be an all-time day!
"Hey Skink, what’s the time?"
"Uhmm… Just on ten."
"Far out. We’ve been stuck behind this bloody idiot for like ten minutes. Bloody Mexicans. Doesn’t matter where you are, there always seems to be some Victorian towing a caravan doing 80 kays, and with all the shit from his garage piled on the roof."
"When’s the next overtaking lane?"
"Not for another five kays. Bugger it, this straight’s long enough, let’s do it."
"Mate, the surf is waiting. Jeez what’s this prick doing? He gets to a downhill section and speeds up. Check him out when we get past Davo, I bet he’s wearin’ a hat."
"Reckon… hang on… Let’s get a look at him… Yep, check: one Woolworths terry towelling hat. Stupid old codger. Arrghh you old bugger! Did you get your licence out of a cornflakes packet? Yeah you! I’m lookin’ at you, ha ha! Hey Davo, that was so classic, you shoulda seen the old guy’s face… Hey shit Davo, that bend’s too close… Fuck, don’t look at him, look at the road! Christ, get into the left lane will ya… Oh shit, there’s a fuckin’ TRUUUUCK!!"
"Col? Frank. We’ve got a bad one. ‘Bout twenty kays south of Woodburn.
First reports say a car and a semi."
"How far away are you?"
"We can be there in ten minutes. Out. Sorry Jarrod. Better flick that siren on. And take it easy son, the first time is always rough."
"Hey Col. Whatta we got?"
"Hey Sarge. It’s a bit of a mess. Seems these kids in a van were overtaking that Commodore and caravan over there. Too close to that blind corner. Couldn’t brake in time and the semi came round the bend and cleaned them all up."
"So where’s the van?"
"Down there in the ditch… Took us a while to spot it too."
"Two. As far as we can tell."
"Ahhh Christ…What about the others?"
"The truckie’s okay. The semi jack-knifed and keeled over but he didn’t come off too bad. Maybe a broken collarbone, right leg too I think. The couple in the Commodore were pretty lucky: male driver slowed and swerved across in time and only got sideswiped by the truck. Caravan detached and rolled, but by a miracle the LPG didn’t go up. The car ended up over there on the other side of the road. Both got multiple fractures. Female passenger may have a spinal injury, too early to tell. Lucky there was nothing else comin’. The ambos have already been and gone."
"Right… How’s Jarrod?"
"He’s been a champion. You’d never know it was his first. Fair enough, he’s had a bit of a chunder, but then so have I. Other than that he’s been organising the traffic, liaising with the RTA guys, sorting it out. He’s a good kid."
"Yeah. Jeez, and his wife’s gone into labour I heard?"
"Yeah. Now you guys are here I’ll see if I can get him to go. But he wants to stay and do his job."
"Sounds like he’s done more than we could ask. Mate, the traffic’s backed up to buggery already. Must be at least two hundred cars on the north-bound side."
"Yeah, can’t do much about the semi right now I’m afraid, but the towies will have the caravan and the other stuff cleared off the road soon, once the photographers have finished. Then we can get the stop-go men on the job and get one lane moving at least."
"Okay mate. Listen, Col: your face is the colour of bad shit. When the traffic’s going again, take yourself and Jarrod back into town, okay? And I don’t want to see either of you at work tomorrow. Got it?
"Okay Sarge. Thanks."
"Ooh! How long have I been asleep?"
"Since just before Grafton I think. You must have needed it."
"Where are we? Why are we stopped?"
"We’re about half an hour from Ballina. Must be roadwork up ahead."
"Look at all these cars… Is it moving at all?"
"Not so far."
"Take it easy honey, it’s only half past ten. We won’t be long here I’m sure. Don’t worry, we’ll be there well before midday."
"Jase, I just feel so stoked… These are the best waves I’ve had in my entire life! And all to ourselves! We must have been out here for over two hours and I haven’t seen a soul!"
"What did I tell ya? Lazy buggers, nobody can be bothered doing the walk in."
"Hey Jase, look out there, what’s that?"
"Where? Uh-oh, shit… Paddle babe, paddle in now! Catch the first bit of foam and bellyboard to the sand."
"Jase, what is it?"
"I dunno, but it’s big. Too big."
"Paddle I said! I’ll get the next one. Now GO!!"
"Jase. Why didn’t you paddle in with me?"
"I didn’t want that thing behind us both, where I couldn’t see it."
"Weren’t you scared?"
"I was shitting myself."
"But you caught a set wave and surfed it to the beach!"
"Panicking gets you nowhere."
"But look at you, you’re as white as a sheet! Any idea what it was?"
"Yeah. Shark. A good ten foot. When I picked off that wave and stood up, I could see the fuckin’ thing clear as anything underneath me. He’d been stalking us I reckon. I just gunned it and thought ‘okay you bastard, let’s see you catch me now!’ "
"Shit!! But you were carving these big turns and everything! You’re crazy! What if you’d fallen off?!"
"Funny, I’ve never felt better on a surfboard in my life. What a rush!! And he left me alone. It was like he knew that I belonged out there too. Man, how I love the ocean! Christ, though, I think I need to sit down for a while before I can walk anywhere. Pass us that towel, will ya?"
"You stupid prick! Don’t you ever play like that with your life again!!
"Don’t you bloody well realise I’m in love with you, you dickhead?! And don’t you dare… Hey, you’re shaking!"
"Well what d’you reckon? Anna, listen, I’m just… blown away! I had no idea!"
"Jase, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have opened my mouth. Hey, look, it’s just us here, so if it’s a problem, hey, forget I ever…
"Forget it? Just sit down here and hold me will ya… Wow, life!! I can’t believe it! Me and you, Anna! Anna, Anna, Anna…! I’m just so friggin’… STOKED!!
"Pete, it’s twelve-thirty and we haven’t moved. We’ve been here over two hours now. Let me try the hospital again. Hello, hello, Ballin?… It’s no use, it’s still dropping out."
"I think that crest up there is affecting coverage. Maybe we should think about switching phone networks when we get home."
"What if I walk up the road a bit?"
"I guess. I can only imagine there must have been an accident ahead. A bad one. Anyway, give it a try, but don’t go too far."
"Alright. Maybe you should get out and stretch a bit too"
"No good. I went about fifty metres, still can’t get through. I spoke to one of the drivers up there, it was a head-on apparently. The local radio’s saying it was a truck or something."
"Right... I never thought to switch the thing on. Miles away. Hey… Looks like there’s some movement happening. We better jump in Di, they must have got it cleared enough to let the traffic past. It’ll be a few minutes before we’re in the clear though, I expect."
"I’ll keep trying the phone. Pete, I just hope we’re not too late. What time is it now?"
"One-fifteen. Don’t worry, there’s not far to go now."
"It’s not the distance Pete, it’s the time."
"Hey babe, what’s the time?
"Twenty-five to two. We should be back in forty-five or so."
"Wow, this has been just the most epic day, and it’s still only lunchtime."
"Speaking of lunch, I am so hungry."
"Me too. Hey, when we get back to town, I’ll take you up the RSL. They’ve got an all-you-can eat buffet. And some wine even. To celebrate - about us I mean."
"Oh Jase, that’s sweet, but what about your work?"
"Stuff working this arvo, I wouldn’t be able to concentrate anyway."
"Yeah, me neither."
"Hey, I’ve gotta tell you, you did just so good out there. I reckon you should put your name down for the comp on the weekend. Surf like you did today and you’ll make the final no worries."
"Really? But what if they hold it at the point?"
"You’ll handle it easy. After today, I reckon you could even take Boulders on. Hey, speaking of the point, why don’t you give Skink a call? I wonder if they scored?"
"Okay. Let’s see… Huh: ‘switched off or not in a mobile service area’. Must be still in the water… Hey, what’s this up here?"
"The lolly-pop men are out. Funny, they weren’t here before. Road gangs normally start at seven."
"What do you reckon? Accident?"
"Can’t think what else, but we won’t know till we get round the bend."
"Jase, look at the cops coming the other way. Must be serious, they’re flying!"
"Mate, you did really well."
"Shit Col, I dunno, it was like I wasn’t even thinking, just… Doing. I guess instinct and training kinda took over."
"I’m proud of you. You got that road block positioned perfectly, that’s the kind of thing that saves lives mate."
"All I can think of is those kids. They left this world the same day my baby boy came into it. I had no idea of the kind of agony I must have put my parents through, all those nights out and weekends away with my mates. Until now. I just wish I could have been with Sandy for the birth."
"Listen, she’s got a husband to be proud of. You did your job today like a bloody veteran, son. I couldn’t have handled it without you. In fact after today, I don’t know if I can handle it much more. Christ, I need a beer."
"Bullshit. You’re the toughest bugger I’ve ever met. You’re just tired, that’s all. Sit back and cruise; me, I’m running on pure adrenalin. You don’t need a beer Col, come and see Sandy and bubs with me."
"Nah, you go. I gotta sleep. Just drop me off at my car… And slow down eh? Five minutes doesn’t matter either way. You’ve got the rest of your life to spend with your family."
"So how come you never got married, Col?"
"Ah, I’ll tell you about it some time. Now quit blabbering and concentrate will you. Fuck I hate this highway. I’m even fuckin’ startin’ to hate meself."
"Come off it Col! What are you on about?"
"I just can’t stop thinking that if we’d only stayed put where we were, they might have seen us: might never have tried that stupid overtake in the first place. Ah, fuck it! When you see a bottle shop, pull over will ya?"
"Hey Jase, how come everyone calls Kyle ‘Skink’?"
"So you never heard that story? I thought everyone knew. I don’t know if I should tell you. He was pretty embarrassed about it."
"Oh come on, it’ll help pass the time. Please?"
"Okay. Geez... Well, he wouldn’t think so, but bloody hell, it was so funny. He’ll never live it down. Look, one night the boys went round Mick’s for beers and bongs as usual, and as usual Kyle drank too much and had too many cones. So he ends up passed out on the couch, snoring away with his mouth wide open. So they shaved his eyebrows of course, and then Mick who’s stoned off his nut gets this idea, and he goes into the kitchen and comes back with this blue texta, and he colours in Kyle’s tongue..."
"Yeah! But it’s one of those non-toxic ones, you know, safe for kids and all that? So anyway, next morning Kyle wakes up and nobody says anything, just waiting. And they all go down to Maria’s milk bar and there’s Kyle still half-pissed and trying to chat up the chick in there serving, and he’s got no eyebrows and a bright-blue tongue like a bluetongue lizard’s"
"No way! The poor guy!"
"Yeah. And the boys were rolling around pissing themselves and the poor girl was freaking, so then Mick takes him outside to the sunglasses stand with the little mirror, right, and gets him to look at his face and poke out his tongue. He just lost it! Chased ‘em all the way up the street. They hid from him for a week! And since then everyone calls him Skink. Even Maria does."
"Poor Kyle! I’m never going to call him that again. You boys can be so cruel… Anyway, I don’t get it, he seems really nice, and he surfs pretty good and he’s not bad looking. How come he doesn’t have a girlfriend?"
"Cause he’s bloody hopeless. Too shy. He won’t say boo to a girl till he’s had a few beers, and by the time he starts chatting ‘em up he’s already too pissed. Or stoned. So then he gives up and goes and does stupid shit. Usually with Davo. They’re both crazy."
"But all you guys are like that. Crazy I mean. Like, you don’t get drunk, but you’re the worst, they all say that. It’s like you’ve got no fear."
"Funny, I never really thought about it. I just kept pushing myself out into bigger surf, lonelier places. You get hooked. And gradually you push it until you run out of guys who can keep up and then it’s just you by yourself. And it’s like, well who really cares what happens to me anyway."
"Yeah. Wow. I think about it and it just blows me away. That’s so awesome. I mean you… Uhm, sometimes I’d look at you and it’d cross my mind and I’d kinda hate myself, you know? ‘Anna, no way! She’s your oldest friend.’ And I mean, I’ve never had anything really serious before. Too frightened of blowing it I guess. Especially with someone like you. It’s easier to just cruise."
"And this is the guy who likes to take risks?"
"Yeah. Funny thing, I’ve never felt so safe as I do right now with you, but at the same time I’m starting to see what it really means to be scared…"
"And about time too, you maniac! But hey, it’s like driving: If people thought too much about relationships, they’d never get into them, right?"
"Yeah, right! And surfing too, huh? You just gotta go for it. And you always go harder when you’re with someone else, right babe?"
"Definitely. You know Jase, I feel so safe with you: I’d follow you anywhere."
"You know I would. All I could think of the whole time today was sharks, but I went out there because of you."
"God. I just look back now at some of the stupid things I’ve done in my life, and wonder what I was thinking. Well, I wasn’t… Thinking, that is. But I mean, it’s different when it’s just me. Now, if anything ever happened to you…."
"Well congratulations! Now you know how I felt every time I heard about one of your crazy stunts. That feeling should have told me before this, but because we’ve been friends so long it’s left me all confused. But today I knew; the whole time while I was paddling in and then standing on the beach watching and freaking out about that thing in the water, I was having this horrible image of life without you."
"Anna, dead set, that’s exactly how I feel too. That’s why I sent you in. There was no way it was getting between me and you. Today’s got me seeing things differently. It’s like before there was nothing ahead of me and then suddenly I’ve turned a corner."
"Hey, speaking of corners, looks like we’ll be at the bend before long."
"Yeah. Gee, I wish this queue would move faster. I’m starving. And for once, babe, I can’t wait to get home."
"Oh! It’s ringing. We must have got into a clear section. Hello, Peter Cartwright speaking… Yes, just a moment, she’s right here. Di, it’s the hospital."
"Yes? Yes… No, we’ve been caught in traffic, an accident… Oh you’ve heard, yes of course…No we’re fine, just delayed… I’m sorry she’s what?... Oh, oh no… How long?... Yes, I understand… I’m not sure, just a moment please. Pete, how long now? Maybe an hour?… Oh, you heard that?.. Alright, yes, thank you. You’ll call me if there’s any change then?... Thanks. Bye."
"So what did they say, Di?"
"She had a series of heart attacks this morning. She’s gone into a coma. They don’t think she’ll come out of it.
"Ah hell. Darling, I’m sorry. Hey, don’t cry, it’s not your fault, we did all we could."
"I know Pete, but I feel so, so impotent being stuck here. I just wanted to see her. For her to see me. And now all I can do is sit here blaming myself for not spending more time with her. Oh God, we should have visited in May like we planned.…"
"Diane, Diane, listen to me: that’s life. You can’t tell the future, you just have to live day by day and try to do what’s right at the time. And just think, you had wonderful times together and you know how happy she was in the village, it was what she wanted… Besides… Oops, sorry hon, there’s the ‘phone… Hang on… Easy, it may not be anything, okay? Hello, Peter Cartwright… Rob! No, we’re fine... Hold on a sec… Di honey, it’s Rob; are you okay if I talk to him briefly?"
"Of course, Pete. Oh, hang on a sec hon, do you mind if I move the mirror a fraction? God, how frightful! I look like something the cat dragged in. I can’t go anywhere like this…"
"Here honey, take my handkerchief and tidy up a bit. Shouldn’t be long now before we’re clear. Rob? Sorry… Not sure yet, we’re held up just outside Woodburn, there’s been a smash… Well, she’s pretty upset, but what can we do?… Yeah… No… Uh-huh…"
"Oh wow Anna, check it out. Looks like a semi’s lost it coming round the bend. There’s the reason for the hold up."
"We seem to be moving pretty well."
"Yeah, they’ll have got one lane working and cleared the backlog a bit. God knows how long it’s taken though. Okay, here we go, we should get through with this group now. Check it out as we go past."
"Wow, the whole thing’s on its side. I never realised how big they look underneath. Looks like the belly of some monster or something. Jase, that’s one part of a truck no-one should have to see. I hope no one got hurt."
"Yeah, me too. Hey, look at this line of traffic! Bloody hell! It’s all the way up the straight and over the hill. Some of these people would have probably been stuck here for hours."
"Hey Jase! check this guy’s number plate."
"Where, which one?"
"We’re coming up to it just now. The sporty-looking thing. A BMW I think."
"Where? Oh yeah, I see: the mid-life-crisis mobile. What’s it say? Huh..?
"Oh right, I get it: ‘foreplay’. Boy, what a sleaze! Hey Anna, check him out, this guy must reckon he’s a total chick magnet! See that? He was all dressed up and talking away on his mobile, with his posh little wifey doing her make-up in the mirror beside him. What a pair of yuppies, eh? Tell you what, some people will never get it. Money isn’t everything."
"I wouldn’t swap places for the world… Oh Jase, today was just awesome. The best ever. And like you said, it’s not even half over. I love you Jason."
"I love you too babe. Oh man, it feels so unreal to say that! It’s like I’ve been living in this kind of… Darkness. But right now I’m seeing things so clearly. I feel like I’ve left something behind and started on a different path. I don’t know if that makes any sense, you know I’m not real good with words."
"Don’t worry, I understand exactly. You express yourself better than you think."
"Really? Tell you what, nobody’s ever told me that before… But hey, wow I still can’t believe it! I’m almost scared for today to end… It’s just been too perfect, you know? I mean, it’s like everything was there but like scattered somehow, and now suddenly all the pieces have clicked together."