My old bedroom in our family home still faces west, just the way I left it. While my eyes were still adjusting to the light, I checked the weather from my window each morning. White-caps on the water, she-oaks in the wind, swell between the islands and snow creeping down the mountain. We were all on Nokia’s in those days. On the morning of Josh and Lindsay’s wedding there was no exception, and it couldn’t have been a more Tasmanian day.
Bring out the salty swim shorts, put on the mix matched bikini and grab a faded bath towel from the cupboard. Throw that into an inside-out tote bag, along with a tube of Banana Boat that’s been carking it for years. One leg out the door you start rummaging around for the sunnies with one bung arm and the remainder of that half read book, before filling up an old Mount Franklin with warm tap water and finally jumping into the greenhouse that your car has become. Halfway down Punt Road you’re bloody over it, so you stop off at the servo and grab a pack of chilli & lime corn chips, always making sure you save a few coins for a Weis bar on the way home.
Johanna Beach is just over there, depending on where you are actually. There’s a couple of good dogs, one’s Rusty and the other’s a white Kelpie who likes sunsets and chasing sticks. The beach is pretty remarkable but it will fuck you up if you go swimming. The campground is immaculate, like a golf course, but there’s a tonne of flies to get in the way when you’re trying to serenade the sweetheart with a piping hot cup of coffee and some electrifying discourse. There’s also an old couple who look like rangers, but they just got a 2 for 1 deal on the khaki vests. They’re alright.
Down by the highway I pulled over for a leak and a look around. The wall of eucalyptus trees must have had some fire in recent years, their trunks alight with fresh regrowth. Behind them were some cows doing much the same as I. They looked healthy too, probably from the all the rain down that way in recent months. Good grass and lots of paddock for roaming.
The street is a tranquil place to be most of the time. Life moves fast in the city because no one wants to get left behind, and that’s fair enough. But nothing’s been around longer than a short Saturday walk, except perhaps the stars.
There is a small town inland where the cats are ubiquitous and the people are old. Earthquakes have shattered the church but the sunsets will still blow your mind. I stood on the corner as an elderly woman and her daughter walked by, both dressed in black and with a disregard for time. The elderly woman stopped to talk, at first about my family and the story I had brought with me. But then she cried. Her husband had died and maybe it was nice to see young blood in a town of old bones. She was strong though, and found resolve in her ability to look forward. And I was grateful for the bouquet of fresh basil that she placed in my hand. And I admired her generosity when there was nothing but generosity left to give.
I narrowly escaped the low doorway, stumbling from the bedroom to find a desperate bottle of water. Paint flakes from the window ledge felt like they had blown over our sunlit faces for hours, while the curtain made our dreams erratic. A strange yellow light was diffused by the window. And an unusual burning smell found its way into our lungs. Outside, I found myself beneath the engulfing haze that had covered a vast stretch of the morning sky. Minuscule parts of ash were falling onto the clothesline, and the dead grass seemed more vibrant than usual. Fires had erupted all over mainland Greece while we slept off our summer hangover.
George the baker told me there wasn’t much for him at work this year. He’s a friendly and round man in his early forties, and proprietor of the island’s best olive oil rusks. They call them paximadia and they are legit remarkable. Instead, I often saw George riding around the town village on an old mountain bike. His thongs were about to fall off every time he threw his arm up at someone he recognised in the street. I got the feeling that George was the only man who owned a bike and he didn’t mind that.