February 10, 2021 at 10:31 pm #91714
Sharmayne Riseley @sharmayne
By Sharmayne Riseley
The Striker X-Series is the ultimate in kayaking technology. Perfect for the bay, yet light enough to surf ocean waves. It was a bit on the pricey side and of course, Marjorie rolled her eyes as if to remind me I’m no spring chicken, but I’ll be buggered if I’m going to start playing lawn bowls and comparing Pensioner discounts yet.
It takes only a few strong strokes to leave behind the rabble on the beach. I rest the paddle on my legs and the kayak glides over the calm water of the Bay. There’s a boat further out and I’m relieved to see that they’ve anchored and are fishing. Water skiers I can tolerate as they usually keep their distance, but I can’t stand speed boats or jet ski riders with their circle work and loud motors. Even the Lifeguards have them now. Nothing more than bikies in board shorts.
I’m in luck today. It’s just me, the Striker and a gentle breeze. I turn the boat and am surprised at how far I’ve come. I would be a smudge on the water to anyone looking from the beach; the same with the fishermen. Perfect.
Bumping over soft waves and using the paddle blade in reverse, I am once more facing out towards the bay. Sunlight bounces off the ink-blue water like shards of bright glass and I push my Polaroids up the bridge of my nose.
A splash behind me. I turn in time to see a lump of grey shoot through the water. Too deep and fast to make out the type of fish, even with my Polaroids. There’s a Dugong breeding ground off the island past the fishing boat, so maybe today’s the day when I can go home and tell Marjorie what she’s missing with her safe, boring life.
I half close my eyes as I listen to the tiny waves lapping against the kayak’s hull, a pleasant thump as the bow bounces over them, and the soft whisper and taste of the salt-laden breeze. A burbling I can’t identify snaps my eyes open and I see the water to my right begin to fizz. It looks like someone is blowing bubbles from underneath, sending them upwards to burst at the surface. I look around for a diver’s flag, but don’t see one and the only boat within cooee is the fishing boat in the distance. I wait for the bubble blower to surface and laugh as a turtle comes into view.
“You made a lot of bubbles for a little fella,” I say as his freckled face pops up. He spies me and straight away dives under, his crescent shaped flippers working hard.
Less than thirty seconds later, a Snapper flies over the kayak’s bow like a bloody bird. The fish slips soundlessly into the water and with a couple of flicks, is gone. I’m thrilled. Another story of adventure to tell Marjorie.
The water in front of me suddenly churns violently and I wait, excited, for the turtle’s friend. Must be a big one. Something breaks the surface and I lean forward to get a better look. A long grey tail slaps the surface like wet leather and although I instantly know it’s not a turtle, it takes me far too long to work out what it is.
I consider swearing a low form of monologue, but it is the only word in my pre-frontal cortex as adrenalin rushes through my veins.
A Bull Shark, the meanest sons of bitches in the water.
I suddenly recall every shark attack article I’ve ever read, usually with a photo of a grinning surfer as he shows the chunk missing from his board. One testing bite and some sharks will swim away, leaving the surfer to bask in mild celebrity for a week or two. Not so with Bull Sharks. They’re more like a dog tearing meat from a bone. Painful. Slow. Relentless.
I hear my breathing, short and loud, and know I have to calm myself. Panicking will make things worse. My chances of being seen from the beach are minimal. I doubt anyone would even notice an empty kayak unless it bumped into someone as it floated to shore. My hands still shake and I hope my heart holds out as I move slowly forward. My plan is to gently skim the surface so I don’t create ripples. The last thing I want to look like is a struggling fish, but I skim too shallow and the paddle blade bangs the side of the kayak. I imagine that bang reverberating down deep, awakening the monster.
I lick my lips and something in my throat makes swallowing difficult. I paddle and keep my eyes on each blade as it moves in and out of the water. Don’t look around. Keep your eyes on the blades. Despite my sensible self-talk, my eyes slide over to the water which is now dangerously quiet. It could be anywhere; under the flimsy hull of the kayak. Watching. Deciding. I hyperventilate.
My heart somersaults as I see the beach still so far away. Desperate to strike out in a furious race to the beach, I match my breathing to the paddle blades. In-out, in-out, in-out.
I’m convinced now that the shark will attack. Bull Sharks are not your timid Grey Nurses or Reef Tips. Bull Sharks are fierce aggressors and it’s just a matter of time before I’m in the water being ripped apart bit by bit.
Why didn’t I listen to Marjorie this morning? All she wanted was to meet our friends at the Club after I’d mowed the back yard. No, I had to sprout off about how I’m not joining the living dead in God’s Waiting Room. Even the tears I saw well in her eyes didn’t stop me from being an arsehole.
Was that a fin? Yes, yes, out in the channel, swimming in the opposite direction, thank god. The fin disappears. The beach is closer now, the people easily seen. Should I go for it or keep paddling carefully?
A silver Bream flashes past my kayak and my heart fair dinkum stops beating. I try to breathe. It’s just a fish. Is it being chased? Stop it. You have to keep your head. You’re close now. You can make it if you just keep calm. Focus.
In-out, in-out, in-out. The bow glides smoothly, as if it’s a white, shiny arrow pointing the way to shore, to safety, to life. Paddle in, paddle out. You can do it. You can make it. Don’t look back. Don’t look out at the channel. There’s nothing you can do if you see it coming for you. Don’t sharks attack from below? So you won’t see it anyway. Just keep going. Paddle in, paddle out.
I can hear them now. The happy families, squealing and laughing, playing and swimming, unaware of the danger that could right now be sizing up their children’s kicking legs and chunky midriffs.
Enough. I can’t control myself any longer and I paddle fast and thoughtlessly, only too aware of the turbulence I’m making. If the shark hits now, the swimmers will see and I don’t know why but the thought fills me with relief. Maybe it’s being back with people again. Part of the tribe. Faster, faster.
Suddenly, I’m moving past the swimmers and kids and an ear-piercing siren rips through the air. Parents leave their beach umbrellas and pop up tents to call their offspring. I keep paddling through the shallows until my boat slides up the beach with a satisfying whisper. Safe.
“I fucking made it.”
A woman pulls her child away.
I see a flash of red and yellow as a lifeguard jumps from his tower, and gives instructions through a loud haler. Australians know how to evacuate. Floods, fires, cyclones, sharks. We know how to leave. Everyone stands on the sand and looks at the bay. The siren the only sound.
As the jet skis go out, I manage to stand and slide the kayak further up the sand.
“Is that a Striker X-Series?” asks a young fellow beside me.
“Man, I’m keen to get one of those. Perfect for the bay, but light enough for the ocean,” he says.
“Mate,” I say, “it’s all yours. I’m retired.”February 11, 2021 at 12:34 am #91735
A wonderful story arc here and though I enjoyed his (?) comeuppance, I felt terribly sad at the end. The imagery was lovely and precise and the panic, the sense of urgency, was well done.
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