Descent

We stand together looking at the view. It is more impressive than a Monet, as shattered as a Picasso. I try to tell him this but he interrupts.

I may know nothing about “art,” he says, using his fingers as quotation marks, but in my very humble opinion that tree is an eye, that sand dune a rippled cheek, that pier with all those clapped out boats and dirty broken posts the open mouth of an old man. His sniff is his full stop.

In the distance a tiny tug boat is fighting its way out of the sand-choked harbour, a solitary jail breaker. I would kill to be on it.

We start to descend, him before me. He picks his way down the sand with his arms spread wide, like a surfer. The wind flicks fiercely at his layers of casual hair, rudely introducing it to his open mouth again and again. Suddenly, he accelerates. I see the muscles in his back straining to keep up as he starts to fly down the dune, faster and faster. His body starts to outstrip his legs, which flail wildly like untethered flags. Then he is tumbling and tumbling. His scream of surprise stops as abruptly as his body about halfway down. He lies still and sandy.

I don’t run. I sink down towards him, foot after foot, into the warm dune. As I get near him I look up and the little tug has made it out of the harbour and is chugging determinedly out to open sea. I wonder whether it is going to rescue a ship that has run into trouble, or if it is just going about its daily business; going to greet a giant that needs guidance. I can see a miniature person tight roping along the starboard edge, clinging on in the wind.

I reach him and stand over him, panting. He is crumpled up like a used tissue. There is a rock by his head, blonde and stealthy, concealed by the dune. Blood flows from his scalp and ear onto the sand. His eyes are open. His right leg looks crooked and incongruous and I see more rocks there, their subterfuge uncovered by the wind and the impact. They weren’t lying in wait, they were simply there, and all of a sudden he happened to be as well, and we all know what can happen when rocks and bastards collide.

I watch, for a long stretch of seconds, for any movement. When I see none I decide it is time to go down for pre-dinner drinks.

As I sink, foot by foot, further and further down, the sand swallowing my feet like warm temporary socks, I consider what I should tell the others. Perhaps they will not notice he is not with me. Perhaps they will be secretly relieved and too scared to ask where he has gone in case he reappears, like a dog that hears its name and interprets the naming as an invitation.

Down and down and down I go, my path marked by gentle troughs. Thousands upon millions of sparkly grains tumble and sigh as they fill the troughs up again.

As I near the bottom I can see the ute, a red and silver rectangular slab. I reach my hand into my trouser pocket and my fingers dance around, searching. I try the other pocket. Then my jacket. I pat my body all over, as if I am congratulating myself so profusely that my back is not enough. Well done. You gave the keys to him and they are in his pocket.

For a moment I consider walking back to the bach but then I would have to come back again tomorrow, or someone else would. So I start wading back up the dune, creating a fresh trail of sinkholes. It is hard work and I start to sweat and my breath is loud in my ears.

I think of Hillary and Everest, and of all the climbers’ dead bodies lying frozen and unchanging on the mountain. The living climb right past them, intent on their ascent. The dead people have become like Himalayan shrubbery; the native plants of Everest. Sometimes the live climbers go through the dead climbers’ pockets for snack bars, or chapstick.

I reach him and bend down without hesitating. Finally, unbelievably, the bastard is going to give me something other than a black eye. Something I want.

I pat his broken body. There, there. Hush, hush. My hands stop over his heart. Pat, pat. I feel the sharp relief of a key ring under my fingers. I smile and reach into his jacket pocket. He moans, and at the very same second I hear a giant ship in the distance call out to the tiny tug. Help me.

I stand with the ute key ring dangling in my hand. It has three keys on it and a tiny plastic bottle bearing the slogan Things go better with Coke. Down below the others will have probably polished off the bottle of Blue Sapphire by now.

I stay for a while, standing over him, clutching the keys. His eyes close. He doesn’t moan again. I shiver as I feel the first whispery hint of pre-dusk.

I retrace my steps down and down, walking on the moon. I wash my feet and hands at a rusting tap in the car park. Before I climb into the ute I look out to sea. The tug and the giant are nearly back in the harbour.

When I get back to the bach the others have graduated from gin to Lindauer. They look at me and then at the ute. They don’t ask where he is.

Dying for a drink, I say as I sink into one of the old couches on the deck. The impact produces a thumping gasp of dust. I cough as the dust settles and someone hands me a gin. We saved one for you, she says. Thought you might need it.

I smile, and so do the others.

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