Wind chimes beat a frantic fractured metal sound, the music lost, against the noise of strained and flapping sun sails. Views to the south had been reduced to 10 meters from the usual 6 Nautical Miles. With a sudden darkening of rain clouds and a drop in temperature from 40 to 22 o C the southerly had arrived. It was early. It was always early. She had told him it would be early. Now all she could do was shut her fear at the thrashing palm trees and the bent branches of the Lilly Pilly as it actively invaded the much older avocado tree. The advancing rain heightened the smell of salt and ocean, which she noted deep within herself.
He had predicted trouble if the weather turned when he had been called out much earlier for what she had judged as a minor straightforward problem of failed electrics and the boat needing a tow back to the channel. They had hurried out to do it while the weather was calm. He had rung from the boatshed: ”an hour at the most” heralding yet another late start to a family birthday dinner. Her sigh of disappointed acceptance escaped after he hung up and she planned for at least double time for his return. Within 40 minutes of the call the world had changed rapidly. She looked at the rooster-shaped weather vane, which she fondly called the chook. It still indicated the southerly with some swings to the southwest forcibly jerking in the gusts. Power was flickering, obviously threatened and the noise of braking tree branches and the unmistakable sound of corrugated iron sheets crashing could be detected above the incessant din of the wind and the rain.
Ignoring all the warnings of not standing near windows or using the phone in a storm, she rang the rescue radio base. The call rang out. Accepting the circumstances, she rang again and yet again it rang out. The worry level rose sharply – No time to answer the phone!
She remembered the radio on the boat. Surely that would get through. Grabbing the torch she went to the garage and looked at Wayne's pride and joy on the trailer. Even she knew batteries were needed and she prayed they had charge. As she connected the red and black coded leads multiple lights and beeps occurred until the number 16 appeared in the radio's digital display. She remembered 16 meant something if not exactly what but perched in the driver's seat, for the first time, she knew there was no other choice. She pressed the button on the mike and said:
“This is Natalie, Wayne's wife, is anyone there?”
She tried again in a much louder tone “this is Natalie is anyone there?”
The radio crackled into life and the operator responded: “Natalie, Natalie this is an emergency channel, please use mobile 0421 346789.”
She'd done wrong, the tears started silently and with shaking hands she turned everything off and disconnected the battery.
Back in the kitchen the bright fluro light made her feel stupid. All was bright and clear. However, she had the mobile number which she was obviously allowed and expected to use. The brief relief of returning to brightness deserted her and with fear and misgiving she picked up the phone. Dial tone and then one ring.
“Hello Bob Sparkes, District Commander, Marine Rescue.”
“Bob, it's Natalie”
Natalie. I was just going to call you.
Big things have been happening.
Men's business and you're just a woman.
Can't talk now and the water police are on the other line.
Very important – big shot.
Where's Wayne? Is he safe?
We're working on it OK? Things are settling down. All will be well. Will ring back when things are quieter.
Oh yeah when I need to be another focus of attention.
All will be well. OK Natalie?
Tell me why you don't convince me.
She disconnected and was left with the storm, nature's cycle of revenge, retribution and relief.
Neighborhood lights, star shaped in the rain, were sparsely scattered with most people still away in the holiday break. Holidays happened to other people now. Perhaps the folk on the disabled boat. She and Wayne had planned carefully when he was offered the redundancy package. He had decided to go with the new local investment company rather than the trusted services his workplace had recommended. Perhaps it was the thought of breaking out, a new start and being his own man. Any elation or satisfaction had lasted twelve months. Police, lawyers and accountants looked into everything and were, perhaps, continuing to do so. Thank God they owned the house. They managed on the pension and a small nest egg in the form of an unexpected family inheritance. They had each other and that had always been everything to her although she wasn't so sure of Wayne's outlook. Although they had managed to keep the boat, he was always thinking, wishing and regretting being out of the free consumer scene.
She knew that if she were to advise someone in her position she would be telling them to get into some company and not try to do this alone but contact a friend, relative anyone really. This was not going to happen. She had no close family and couldn't stand the in-laws. Her neck tensed up even just thinking of them. It did occur to her, however, that perhaps she should consider contacting Wayne's sister about the current situation. She mused on the fact that the older and more settled she had become, the more withdrawn from outside contact she was. She did not feel she was alone in this and accepted it as aging as one or two acquaintances agreed when such things were discussed over tea and/or sherry or wine. She had enjoyed those sessions which happened when they were active in community groups. But interests change, people move and people die. Wayne had kept his interests in Marine Rescue - were they now about to pay the price? Everything has a price but not all could she afford.
She turned on the TV then turned it off again. She got out the ironing but didn't do it. She looked at the teapot and the wine rack and approached neither. She picked up some knitting and stared into space with her hands resting still. After what she judged to be at least 2 or 3 hours she checked the clock to find the phone call to the radio base had been exactly 16 minutes ago.
A knock or thump at the door diverted her gaze and attention. Shutter? Loose iron? Flying flower pot? No. More regular and urgent. Despite all odds it was someone at the door. She approached with some caution without really knowing why. Perhaps the storm had everyone on edge. She certainly was.
A dripping object in black leather stood on the doorstep. Black dome for a head which she realised was a helmet and part of the motorbike rider's image which raised an educated, but unsubstantiated, dread.
“Yes?” she said.
“I'm cold and desperate.” was the reply.
With no further thought she threw open the door and the figure stumbled into the hall. Behind him the storm raged and she caught sight of the bike resting against the driveway gate below the trees bending and creaking in the incessant wind. As the helmet was removed she saw a bald head with ARIADNE tattooed from the vertex to the neck. ARIADNE she could handle as opposed to SCUM, MONTAGUES and SURF4EVA and despite her misgivings she felt a spurt of interest. However the removal of the jacket revealed a skull adorned T-shirt with THE BASIC ME printed below.
Directing him to the laundry to deposit wet outer clothes and boots, she headed towards the kitchen and the teapot while keeping her eyes on her unwanted guest. She had been schooled in her family's attitudes of mistrust of anyone who rode a motor bike, of their roughness and violence and connection to drugs, despite the fact that they gave presents to kids at Christmas. The fact that the town's new doctor rode a motor bike had escaped her attention. She would not have turned away any being in this storm and she was determined to stay in control in her own home.
He appeared in the doorway and his size, shaven head and nose ring made her feel she had entered another world.
“Yeah! A cuppa would go down good missus.” then “thanks” as an afterthought.
Deep breath. Hold on she said to herself. He's wet and cold and probably as frightened as you. She smiled secretly at what she considered a magnanimous thought.
Tea and hunks of fruit cake were being steadily devoured. She did think she should be cooking him something but did not have the energy somehow and the thought, let alone the sight of food made her feel sick.
“Well,” she said. “Who are you? Where are you going?”
Sighing he acknowledged her question. Fair enough to a point. I am Aloysius Bernard Mc Nulty. Known as Al to my friends which now includes you. I am going south or was until I felt I could no longer control the bike in this weather. Weather only you know. I'm a mean rider and have done heaps. I'm one of the best. Home is down south. Doesn’t matter-it's empty anyway.
She had the feeling that this was a speech of some considerable length from Al and was comforted by the smiles and frowns that accompanied it. She wanted to know one more thing.
Who is Ariadne? Is she at home down south?
Ariadne? With some bewilderment. Oh you mean the tat. Never think of it. Nah that's over. Funny name. Her father had seen some film about kids jumping on and off bulls and liked the name. Kinda weird really.
As I said Home is empty for me that is.
As if warding off any further questions he said, "Whaddabout you?”
My name is Natalie and I live here.
And who else in this cosy nest?
It was asked with such warmth and interest she felt the overwhelming weight of her problems. The tears started and it all came out. She ranted ,cried and let out with bursts of anger at the rescue mob. She even related some stories of their life and marriage. Ha sat and listened impassive, receiving and nodding.
“It's the establishment Nat baby. All those little men in pretty uniforms. I’ve got shot of them and so should you. Give them heaps!”
“But I love him. He's my life.”
“ 'Course he is the lucky bugger. A pause and she looked up. “are you afraid of getting wet?”
“C'mon we're outta here.”
“To this bloody base or whatever.”
Why is he doing this? It's almost like he cares. I said too much. I look a fool. He just seemed to know how I feel. He thinks I'm coming on to him. These and other rapid scrambling thoughts left her stunned and speechless.
“Don't just stand there. Are youse comin' or what?” Came the muffled call as the black leather jacket was donned with a determined authority. I'm not wanted there. Wayne will kill me. Thoughts started another rush.
“Natalie---- this is-----Just do it!!”
She looked at him and knew she had to. It was right.
“Rug up well. There's an extra helmet on the bike. You must wear it”
A frisson of excitement started and she attacked the array of coats, beanies and boots.
Opening the door brought back the fear of the storm although it's force did seem to be less rather than more.
“I can't do this,” she cried.
“Course you can. Just hold on tight and pray or sumfin.”
He helped her on, as with all her clothes and the heavy helmet she could not move to any extent or at least to a sufficient extent. They set off and the unexpected throb of the bike fanned the promise of excitement into an exhilarating thrill. She wished it would never stop. Stop it did in 10 minutes as they drew up at the radio shack.
All the lights were on including the Floods purchased with the last government grant. There were cars parked everywhere. The bike screeched to a stop and flying gravel clanged as it hit something maybe someone's car. She was surprised to realize that she didn't care. They ran to the door and stood gasping and dripping in the small hallway. She immediately raced, or rather lumbered, up the stairs. The sound of voices was clear but not quite what she had expected to hear although she did not dwell on it then. At the doorway to the lighted she stopped as did the urgent words on her lips. Wayne was there as were about 10 others. He was dry and looking comfortable in a change of clothes. The tables were strewn with Pizza boxes and beer cans.
“Natalie! We were just about to ring you. All went well. We pulled it off. Isn't that great?
Her eyes filled with tears but the reason for them was not clear to her. Al was at her side.
“Come on Nat. Let's find our own Pizza.”