Source: Eliza-jane Henry-jones Blog

Eliza-jane Henry-jones Blog SHORT FICTION - The Water Angels

THE WATER ANGELS (first Published Voiceworks 'Classics" edition - 2009)This is the first story I ever had published My aunty lived on the cusp of the smallest beach in the world. Her house was set back from the beach only a little, so during storms the waves would lap up over the lawn, but it never died. Aunty Lu said that, if the lawn was a person, it would be a surf bum. One of those dreadlocked boys bobbing up and down past the break. They couldn't afford wetsuits and would come up onto my aunt's lawn at the end of the day, blue and shivering. If she wasn't busy making her shell-pixies, she'd leave out towels warmed from the dryer and a flask of hot chocolate. If it was raining, she'd let them sit on the verandah until they were warm enough to brave the walk back along the beach to town. Aunty Lu never bothered much about her lawn or her house or garden, for that matter. She didn't mind if I trailed sand into the living room or left my shoes untidily under the coffee table. The place always smelt like seaweed and coffee and lavender. Sometimes I'd sleep with my windows open, and Aunty Lu didn't mind about that either, although she said I mustn't tell my mum. Mum didn't like the sea air, she thought it was too sharp and wild. Aunty Lu said that was true. It was sharp and wild. But that was just fine - things that were alive had to be sharp and wild or it meant parts of them were dead. She said that the air at the beach was alive, that the air in the city, where Mum lived, was not. This would make Mum huffy, but nobody ever made a fuss with Aunty Lu. Partly because she had no legs, but mostly because her eyes were so fierce. It was hard to meet them and keep whatever bad thing you had to say on your tongue. Thomas and I went to stay with Aunty Lu every summer at the beach. Although, when he turned fourteen, Thomas didn't want to leave his friends. So I went alone. I didn't mind. Aunty Lu and I made fires on the lawn and listened to songs on her cassette player with the extension cord stretched out white, like an empty vein, from the house. We baked cookies and collected shells for her pixies. She glued them onto cardboard cutouts of people and they were sold for five dollars each at the local knick-knack store. Aunty Lu said the money was good, that her pension didn't leave much to the imagination. Before she'd had her accident, Aunty Lu had been a physiotherapist, but said she didn't like going. Not now. Not when she had no legs. The surf bums too a shine to Aunty Lu, and soon they came into the kitchen everyday with shells they'd found walking over from town along the beach. Some boys would have asked for money in exchange for the shells, but these five never did. They liked her stories. How she swore. One morning we woke up to find them painting the house, which was all peeling and tacky looking. Aunty Lu called them her water angels. She cried and gave them all pixies to take home to their families. Sometimes Aunty Lu would be in her wheelchair on the verandah when I woke up. She liked to watch the dawn, particularly when she was feeling a bit sad about her legs, or if her pixies weren't selling well down at the shop. I'd go and sit outside with her, in the sharp and wild wind. We wouldn't talk, not when she was sad, but instead watched the waves froth against her lawn.'Why are there waves?' I asked her one day when the breeze was particularly strong and the wind chimes hanging from the eaves were going crazy.If I asked my mother the same thing, she'd have said because of the wind. Or she'd have told me to go onto google. Google was her answer to everything.'Because God's swimming out beyond the horizon and her breath's fanning the water.' Aunty Lu talked like nobody else I knew. Like all her lines were written in front of her, and all she had to do was read them. They were always perfect, the words she picked. And you could tell she loved the sound of them, the way they tasted and hummed in the air. Out beyond the break, the surf bums were already looking to catch waves, although it was only just after dawn. 'I miss swimming,' she told me. 'You go swimming!' She went out, sometimes, on the days the carers and cleaners came to help her out with the things she couldn't manage. She'd sit in the shallows and stare at her stumps and her expression would go sourer and sourer until her lips were puckered and she asked to be taken back in, please. She looked at me with exasperation. She was a small woman with eyes the colour of grass and hair that was brown and curled. She wore baggy tops and sagging hats and bracelets that chimed like bells. 'Swimming out in the waves,' she said. 'Proper swimming, like the boys do.' I stared out at the surf bums, corks in the grey water. They looked so small, so vulnerable and they had legs and boards. Aunty Lu smiled at me sadly and I knew she didn't want me to say anything more. Aunty Lu baked the surf bums pies and cakes as Christmas approached. They helped her wrap tinsel across the walls and helped fill all the rooms with carols and laughter. We had a fire every night and they came along and drank soft drink, because Aunty Lu didn't like the smell of alcohol. We toasted marshmallows and, if the surf bums had been fishing along the pier in town, we roasted fish and potatoes in the embers. Aunty Lu started making shell-cars to go with her pixies. Shell bracelets and earrings. The shoppers in town loved them and so Aunty Lu had money enough to buy me a surf board. I didn't particularly like the deep water, but I went out for Aunty Lu, so when I came back in smelling of the deep sea, she could breathe me in and imagine it had been her. The surf bums tried to teach me how to surf, but I was terrible so we just bobbed along the break. They loved music by The Beatles and were saving up for portable cassette players. Sometimes they'd paddle out with cigarettes held above their heads. They said smoking out on the water was amazing, but that I was too young to try it. I told them about Aunty Lu sitting in the shallows, with her face all twisted and cranky. I told them about her in the heated, grimy pool in town, trying to do her exercises. I told them about how she wanted to swim. They were silent, the five of them. All boys of sixteen and seventeen and yet, to me, they looked like men. 'We'll work out something,' Ryan said. The others nodded, floating in the deep. One day at dawn the surf bums were waiting on the verandah with Aunty Lu when I woke up. They'd hired a jetski and hitched a board to the back of it. Ryan and Eddie carried her across the lawn to the water and she hung onto the board, looking sad and embarrassed with her cheek dimples dark in her face. Chris drove the jetski out beyond the break with the rest of us following behind. I didn't like crossing the waves. They buffeted me, and bullied me no matter how hard I tried to kick and veer. I didn't know what the boys intended. Being towed around the bay wasn't swimming. But I knew that it had cost them a lot of money to use the ski, and Aunty Lu must've worked that out too. At first she looked awkward and unhappy, but as Chris opened the throttle the darkness of her expression fell away. She was not swimming, but flying. When they asked if she wanted to keep going she smiled and said that that would be splendid.We sat on the verandah that night, listening to the chime of the wind. I had mince pie crumbs on my hands, sticky like sand, and above us the tinsel caught the gleam of the moonlight, reflected off the water. The surf bums had gone to return the jetski. They'd left a box of shells they'd been saving for a surprise and Aunty Lu was happily rummaging through them. 'It wasn't swimming, was it?' I asked. She smiled at me, her hands full of dried out starfish. 'Of course not. I can't swim anymore. You know that.' But she was smiling, and she never bothered to smile if she was sad. She tilted her head back and held her arms out to the waves, lapping so close to the house. She'd been flying. She'd felt the water, fanned by breath from beyond the horizon. It was a subdued sort of happiness, quiet and deep. But it radiated from her and I hoped the surf bums would stay close. Her water angels, cranking out Nirvana and The Beatles on their cassette players, drinking soft drink by the firelight, smoking on the water.

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