Monday, January 16, 2017

The Regatta


WE arrived at Half Moon Bay at about 1:00 PM. The sun was at its peak then, the hottest part of the day. We were lucky to find a park, if you recall. There were those long, elongated car spots on our right. A number of them empty, I believe. I nearly took one, so desperate we were. Then we realised it was set aside for the cars towing the yachts. A regatta was going to begin later in the day. It would have been the height of rudeness to book it. An awful start to our little swimming in the bay adventure. Luckily, somebody was leaving behind a regular spot. We just had to be patient and zoom in when it became vacant.
We all walked down, then, to the little curved bay, the bay in a kind of half-moon shape, all four of us walking slowly, carrying things, beneath a weird, intense and vast blue, blue sky, and before the still waters and the soft yellowish sand. We placed all our things down in a little spot that had space around it, not far past the beginning of the swimming spots, only a hundred yards from the fish’n’chips stall, and fifty yards from the coloured bathing boxes.

You and M quickly abandoned all sense of family responsibility and wanted to wade into the inviting water. But we still had the tent to put up, the towels to lay out, the chair to position and the crucial sun- screen to apply. Ouch, how hot it was getting already. We had most of the tent organised. Next it was time to cup our hands and place sand alongside the pockets so the tent wouldn’t blow away. Not that there was much of a breeze. It just wasn’t my sort of day. The fact that it was windless, and hot, and the mucking about with the tent, and the crowds of people- all this conspired against me. But none of this was impacting you or your sister. Or your mother, for that matter. You all anticipated cool water and hot, hot, hot sun!

Nothing I could do could get me comfortable. You and M went out quite far and were really enjoying yourselves. I tried not to feel anxious. I could see the submarine wreck out past you, somebody climbing on it. I tried to get comfortable. My sore limbs wouldn’t allow it. Sitting up hurt my back, and lying down meant my long legs would stick out into the dangerously hot sun. I tried to read, and did a bit more of the crossword puzzle. I could only think about how comfortable it would be, to be at home on my cool bed and my soft, soft pillows. I knew I was being a ‘beach wimp’, but I couldn’t help it. By 1:30 I was ready to go. But you were having too much fun in the water with your sister, and then your mother was venturing in, too. I hated it, but conversely I enjoyed the fact that you didn’t.

Many years ago, the 1920’s, in the world of fiction, two people talked about love on these very shores, overlooking the same wreck out in the water. The author Alex Miller explores the theme of growing love between a French engineer, Georges Elder, and a young Melbourne woman, Emily Stanton. They look out over the water, and, more meaningfully, into each other’s eyes, and upon each other’s skin. Her parents are also present, and the attraction is not lost upon them. These parents are probably thinking about their courting days. It is here that Emily has probably decided she will marry Georges, and go back to Paris with him, and begin, unbeknown to her, a dissatisfying life in the French capital.

I thought about these matters quietly, and then I began to have a good look around me. Most noticeable was the young woman in front of me right in my vision, about half way between me and the beginning of the water. She had a red bikini top with big, green bikini bottoms. The white tag was sticking out at the bottom of her back. Her hair was up and she wore sun glasses. She looked about 22 and under her glasses I could see she had wide, European eyes and a large, attractive mouth. Next to her on the adjacent towel was her little boy, no more than about three, wearing nappies under his little bathers. She had him mostly covered up by another towel, but his left arm and some of his naked chest was exposed. It reminded me of cooking a little lamb on the spit. Every now and then she applied a bit more sun screen to his body, so in places he was a slippery, milky white. He seemed to be asleep. She was dozing. Soaking up the hot rays and getting her copper-coloured body all bronzed. She had the phone in her hand at times, texting. Then taking a photo of her tired, little boy, shrivelling away in the sun like a prawn. I imagined her messages were then relayed to her husband, working somewhere like the Docklands, sweltering in the sun with a naked torso on top of some tall building adjacent to a crane.

I couldn’t get the woman and her little roasted boy out of my mind, and wondered if she knew what I was thinking. I wanted to share my fears with you, but you were still frolicking in the water, oblivious. I nearly said something to her. ‘Are you planning to cook him and eat him all up when you get home?’ Just then, an equally concerned person, a wiser, older mother, offered her an umbrella for shade, and the neglectful mother gladly took it. There was all ‘round relief.

Finally, all three of you came out, glistening, from the water. You and your sister played in the sand, thousands of little grains clinging to your still damp bodies. Your mother came back into the tent. I felt restless, and M, your sister, agreed to come for a walk along the water. We ventured as far as we could to the right, until we reached impenetrable rocks on the shore. We passed hundreds of people either in the water or laying at the mercy from the hot rays of the sun. Families, and lot of groups of friends, often all males or groups of four or five females. Different ages and different accents. It was difficult not to notice all that exposed skin. Some people wore the barest threads of clothing. It was like some sort of designer beach. You half expected a camera to be set up somewhere for photo shoots for Vogue or Cosmopolitan magazine.

M and I returned to find you quietly sitting beside your mother and letting sand sift through your cupped little fingers. I thought about the passing of life and had a visual update of the poor boy burning. Behind our tent a new group had gathered. Four of five young women lying on their stomachs, phones in hand, texting. I started wondering if there were any places where phones would be inappropriate, or probably more accurately, inconvenient or unsuitable. Perhaps the women wouldn’t take their phones into the water. I turned to ask you your thoughts, but you and M had already gone back into the water, just when I was going to make the suggestion that we might think about packing up and leaving.

The heat of the day became stronger. The population of sun worshippers began to grow larger. Another body appeared. Another woman. A blue one-piece bathing suit with white frills at the tops of the legs and around the neck. Broad, black sunglasses and black, glossy hair. She lay quickly, on her back, as the golden sun began to pour all over her warm body.

Many years ago, the 1920’s, in the world of fiction, Juliet lay, like this woman, feeling the soft air of the sea and feeling the sun penetrate into her bones and her thoughts, in Sicily, in the imagination of D H Lawrence. I thought about Juliet, and this woman, and wondered if she, like Juliet, was leading a dissatisfied life with a dull husband at home, dissolving unhappy thoughts through the rays of the blue, pulsing sun.

I couldn’t, even if I wanted to, share any of these thought with you as you still dripped with water,  twenty or thirty metres into the bay. You and M were both beginning to practise handstands. You did not want to come in any time soon. Still, I had had enough and told your mother I wanted to go. I had have enough of the wearying heat hours ago. There was something ugly and alien about the water to me and I refused to yield to it by getting uncomfortably wet, with millions of grains of sand sticking to my toes. The people all around me bothered me. The silly couple that emerged to my right that giggled and reminded me of Georges and Emily. Juliet next door whose large eyes were closed under her wide black sunglasses. The four women begin the tent still texting away and marvelling at images on their phone. The cruel woman in front of us in the red bikini top who lay adjacent to her scorched, immobile son. All the petty people along the shoreline where M and I had walked almost an hour ago, shifting their positions and lifting their legs and their thighs to become ever closer to the harsh, all empowering sun.

Finally, finally, you and your sister clambered onshore, and with the promise of a take away meal, agreed to help in the exhausting process of packing up. The tent was awful to put away. It just wouldn’t collapse on itself and fold the way it was meant to do. There was so much luggage to take back to the car. Our accessories seem to have grown. Your mother and I picked up most of the things. You managed your own personal possessions, your thongs trailing out of your right hand. You told me you were refreshed. I said I was hot, uncomfortable, and tired.

All four of us walked back towards the car park, past the bathing boxes and the fish ‘n’ shop. My eyes were mostly averted, downcast, the pavement hot under my bare feet. Then when I heard some shouts I looked up. The regatta was returning. About a hundred lovely boats with their little white sails being hauled up onto the land. Lots of bronzed men and women pulling ropes and lifting equipment. It was a lovely colourful thing to see. I looked over my shoulder to tell you about it, to see if you could see. The bay looked beautifully curved, more beautiful than I could remember. There were people milling around everyone, from all walks of life, eating chips, standing at the shore, resting their tired limbs on towels. Those lovely, lovely white boats with their beautiful fresh-looking little sails. A hive of activity, a real community, a busy path. What a glorious picture it would have been. A photograph as a snapshot of the Melbourne bay at the beginning of the year 2017. People, adults, families. Lovely kids, all engaging in peace and goodwill, the best of modern summer life.

We reached our vehicle, stored everything in the boot, and pulled away. I turned to look at your face and could see the beginnings of a soft, slow redness already.

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