The Indian Ocean Is Warmer than the Pacific
Sam shielded his eyes from the sun as he walked back into the street-front sales office, his bright blue trunks still dripping a bit of seawater from his lunch hour swim, his darkly tanned ankles mottled with sand. Wearing his old University of Sydney T-shirt, zinc oxide smeared on his peeling nose, he looked more like a surfie on school break than the agent for a posh block of beachfront flats. Jenny waved a stack of papers at him from her desk by the door, her black nail polish and leather vest at odds with beach holiday vibe of Bronte Road.
“How was it?” she asked.
“Fantastic. I needed it. Cold water cleared my head.” He took the papers from her and turned toward his office. “Thanks, Jen,” he said.
“Ta,” she said. “Messages there from some potential buyers. Financials back from those blokes from Mosman. They didn’t qualify. I’ll leave that phone call to you.” She giggled. A length of dyed red hair had come loose from her ponytail and fell across her eyes. “You smell good.”
“What?” Sam stopped and stared at her, shivering from the blasting air-con. Water formed a pool on the textured stone tiles they’d installed last week.
“You brought the smell of the sea back in with you, that’s all. Lovely.” She shut her eyes and inhaled.
He laughed. “That sounds ridiculous, you know.”
“Can’t I enjoy myself for a moment?”
He waved the pamphlets at her. “You’re insane. Gorgeous, but insane.”
“Oh, where’s your sense of fun?” She fussed with her hair and frowned at him.
“I lost it when I decided to sell real estate.”
“And you sell it well,” she said, tapping the appointment book in front of her. “You’ve got a 1:30 showing of number seven, and the couple from Canberra are arriving at 3:00 to sign the final contract on the Blind Bastard.”
Jenny’s private joke, the Blind Bastard was the only unit in the building with no sea views, so, after four months of it sitting empty he’d accepted twenty percent less than the listed price, then spent an afternoon fielding angry calls from his boss. She smiled at him now.
“You should probably hurry up and change,” she said. He hesitated a moment. “Go on then,” she feigned exasperation, pointing back toward his office, then busied herself at her desk fussing with a stack of leaflets, her vest puckering at the buttons.
* * *
Back in his own office, he pulled the door shut and rubbed a towel over his head. He kicked off his shorts, pulled on black business trousers, grabbed a mirror from the desk and fiddled with a bit of hair gel. As he pulled on the blue fitted dress shirt he’d worn in that morning he noticed a dusting of sand clinging to his neck, and grabbed the towel to brush it off, then stopped. Better to sell the units if he could embody the lifestyle. (“I just went for a swim on my lunch break, you could too if you lived here!”)
He still had a few minutes before the showing so he pulled up his email and scanned the inbox. There were a few price inquiries and follow ups from potential buyers, but not as many as he’d hoped. Bronte had hit last year as the new hot spot of the Sydney beaches now that Bondi was built out, but there were dozens of rehabbed buildings and loft conversions popping up all over as a result. Their building was 60 percent sold, but after four months on the market, the Canberra offer was the only one he’d gotten on the Blind Bastard. He’d suggested they annex it into the next unit through the wall and sell a four bedroom showplace with guest wing, but the developers said no. More units, more profit. In theory anyway.
It was too bad really. Separated from Sydney by a row of steep, palm covered hills, its beachfront main road lined with little shops and cafes, no Kmart or Liquor Barn in sight, Bronte gave the illusion of being a private little seaside village. He had thought about buying a flat there himself, but he wasn’t even close to finishing the rehab on his place in Kings Cross, so it would be a year or two before he could make the move.
In among the work emails was a message from his sister, Nat. “Sam, here’s the flight information. It’s super early, but I did it with Dad’s QANTAS miles so we got you upgraded to business, so it’s worth the early start. You leave Sydney at 6:30 a.m. on Friday and get to Perth at 8:40. I get in from Byron at 9:00, so hopefully you won’t have to wait around for me very long, and we should make it to Aunt Kate’s by 10:30. I put you on the aisle because I know you get restless. Love you. Sorry Ryan can’t make it. Cheers, Nat.”
Sam groaned. They were going back to Western Australia for Dad’s 60th birthday this weekend. Sam hadn’t seen him, or been back to his hometown on the Margaret River since New Year’s last year when Mum and Dad had insisted the whole family get together. The plan had been to go surfing in Bali with his boyfriend Ryan, and he had said no, but Nat had called and begged him to come, so he’d changed his ticket at the last minute and showed up a day late. Dad had made his announcement after dinner with a glass of champagne, composed and camera ready, as if he had just won another architect’s prize. “Your mother and I are divorcing,” he’d said, his voice quivering as he leaned on the carved Ironbark mantle in the dining room he’d designed himself. “I’m gay. I’ve known for years but didn’t have the courage to stand up and be myself. I’ve decided I can’t live a lie any longer.” Sam was stunned. “I’m moving to London to join a firm there and start my new life.” He paused for just a second then, expectant, as if they should all break into applause at his admission, then went on about realizing this might come as a shock, that he still loved their mother. At this point Sam tuned him out, anger and frustration filling his head. He turned to his mother for a cue, but Helen remained unreadable, simply shaking her head a bit and muttering, “Just get on with it.”
His father had spent the rest of the holiday wandering around the house misty-eyed, as various family members came and went, having deep-and-meaningfuls with anyone he could corner, but Sam managed to dodge him whenever he saw him coming. When his dad packed and left for London, they all lined up dutifully and said goodbye. “You and I have got to talk, my boy,” he said as he grabbed Sam by the shoulders. “The others don’t quite understand.”
After dinner, Sam and Natalie went to the patio to have a drink, finally able to speak freely. “At least he’s not becoming a hairdresser or a flight attendant,” Sam said. Nat was on her third glass of wine and had started smoking again. She curled her feet up beneath her on the paint-peeling Adirondack chair. “Dad could never do hair,” she said. “Look at that tie he was wearing today. He has no sense of style.”
Sam chuckled. “I can’t believe the bastard had the nerve to think we’d all flock to him with sympathy and support. I mean, come on! You run around this house like a crazy man for thirty years, barking orders and shrieking over petty disappointments, and now we’re all supposed to just understand? Fuck that. I hope he is a dismal bloody failure as a gay man, that no one will touch him with a ten foot pole, but then that’s pretty much guaranteed at his age, isn’t it?”
“Holy shit, Sam,” Natalie said. “Give the guy a break.”
“Sorry,” Sam said, “I don’t mean to sound like an asshole, but I can’t help being a bit thrown.”
“Of course you’re shocked, but so am I,” she said. “But just think how Mum feels, and honestly, the crazy shit storm that must be going on in his head. We can’t be cruel. Can’t you try to be sympathetic? I mean just think if we’d all turned our backs on you when you came out.”
“Thing is, he did,” Sam said.
“Can you give him a chance?”
“He was a bastard. Told me I wasn’t a man.”
He’d agreed to try that night, but after his dad left for London, more and more time passed between calls and emails. It had been two years since that night, and Sam hadn’t spoken to his father in months.
* * *
At five in the morning the platform at Bondi Junction was near deserted as Sam boarded the train for the airport. An old man overdressed for the temperature sat on a bench humming while he drank from a brown Styrofoam DCM cup, his coveralls old but clean. The debris of sand, food wrappers, and ice cream paddles left by careless beachgoers and backpackers spun and shifted in little eddies of air as the train pulled onto the platform. Sam stepped into the freezing car, air conditioning already blasting in anticipation of crowds and summer heat, and sat on a bench beneath a photo of a hairless pig, blind eyes staring from a cage barely large enough for it to move its head in. “Join the Royal Australian SPCA and help stop factory farming,” it read. Sort of thing made him sick, until he wanted bacon for breakfast. Nat was a vegetarian and had tried to convert him, told him he was killing himself and the environment. When they’d shared a flat at university she hadn’t cooked often, but when she did he’d play along and swallow as much of her eggplant-lentil-tofu concoctions as he could stand, smiling and assuring her it was delicious, then duck into the pub across from their flat for a burger before meeting his mates for drinks.
The train began to fill up as they began hitting the busier stops, so he pushed his suitcase under the bench as best he could and smiled apologetically at the young woman in jeans and tank top, school bag on her back, clinging to the rush hour strap as the train entered the tunnel at Redfern.
“Holiday?” she asked.
“Family,” he said, and shrugged.
She nodded. “That’s lovely.”
* * *
They headed south from the Perth airport in a hired car, Sam driving, Nat next to him, humming along to the radio, her seat pushed back, tracing patterns on the dash with her big toe, while Sam looked out at the familiar brown hills of Western Australia dotted with sage brush, and scrub Jarra, catching occasional glimpses of the sea off to the right.
His mother had remarried and moved to Melbourne, (Tom was an Army office, a bit blunt and tending to temper. Sam wondered if he hadn’t been chosen for his unquestionable masculinity over his other qualities.) but Aunt Kate still lived in the old family house on the river, built by his great-grandfather when he came west from Sydney after the First World War to cash in on the timber boom. He’d loved it as a kid for its imposing size, and still loved it, but through a real estate agent’s eye now. It was a two story Australian red brick, its peaked roof enhanced by the intricate iron work of the Federation era, double doors with huge bay windows on either side, six dormer windows across the top, and a veranda that wrapped around the entire house. His own family had lived in the house until he was six, when his father had given it to Aunt Kate and built the seventies-modern beach house out at Surfer’s Point. Huge modular squares of white stucco clustered on the hillside surrounded by gum trees and eucalyptus, only the garage visible from the road. Sam loved their house with its walls of glass that faced the sea; he could surf almost every day, but somehow felt that they’d been cheated out of living in “the manor.” His dad lectured him on the concepts of style and modern convenience, and joked that Aunt Kate would like it better anyway since she was stuck in the past still managing the lumber business. The new house had won that year’s Robin Boyd award. They’d sold it after the divorce, the year Sam had dropped out of architecture school.
* * *
Sam pulled the car into the circular drive, the tires popping and crackling over the gravel as he came to a stop. They got out slowly, the smell of eucalyptus stronger than he remembered, and he breathed deeply and stretched, shaking off the hours of cramped travel.
“Sammo! Natty!” His dad walked down from the porch, arms spread, the welcoming patriarch. His hair had thinned considerably but he still looked fit and young, as handsome as ever. It was unfair, actually, Sam thought. “Come. Give us a hug, then.” Sam groaned to himself at the performance. They had never hugged growing up, and Sam tensed up as he was groped and squeezed, then kissed wetly just below his ear. Natalie of course leaned into her hug and rocked back and forth. Since becoming a hippie she was into hugs.
“I love you, Daddy,” she said.
Sam turned and grabbed his suitcase from the car.
“Hello everyone,” a man called from the porch. He was dark and small, His voice sharp and urgent, almost shrill. He shielded his eyes from the sun as he walked down the steps. The new boyfriend Aunt Kate had mentioned. Apparently Dad had met him during a stopover in Malta on an all gay cruise of the Mediterranean the year before. According to Mum, Aunt Kate called him “The Maltese.”
“Sam, Nat, this is my partner, Marcus,” their dad said. Emphasizing ‘partner’ in that modern gay way that made Sam’s stomach churn. Partner. It sounded so sexless, like they were opening a cleaning service together rather than dating.
Marcus hugged Natalie and kissed her on the cheek. “Just as beautiful as your father described you,” he said. “And Sam. Just as handsome as your father.”
“Uh.” Sam was caught off guard. “Nice to meet you.”
Marcus leaned in for a hug. “Thank God you’re here,” he whispered in Sam’s ear. “Your aunt is driving me crazy.” He squeezed Sam in a surprisingly tight grip. “And where’s that cute boyfriend Nat’s told us about?” he asked.
“Ryan couldn’t make it,” Sam mumbled as he gripped Marcus’s shoulders. “You told them about Ryan?” he mouthed at Nat. “You talk to them?”
Nat shrugged and held onto her father’s arm as they walked toward the house. Aunt Kate waved from the porch. “Did you survive the flight? I just hate being cooped up like that for six hours!”
* * *
That night they gathered in the formal dining room, at the table their grandfather had carved from local Australian Blackwood. Nat and Sam had brought back fresh crab and spotted prawns from the fisherman’s stalls on the pier, and his Aunt Kate had made a seafood stew.
“Tell us about how things are going in England then, Dad,” Nat said.
Sam grimaced. His father didn’t need any encouragement to talk.
“Ah thanks for asking, Natty. It’s going wonderfully.”
Sam turned to Aunt Kate to ask her about her last trip to Melbourne as his father launched into a story about getting a bomb threat from a group of separatists while building a new post office on the Isle of Wight.
“Tell them about that awful place we stayed at last year in Nice,” Marcus said. His voice was loud and unfamiliar in the old house. He and Kate stopped talking and looked up.
“The plumbing was so old we ended up having to carry water in from the well. Very uncivilized,” he said. “Just like the French.”
“Really? I’ve always found the French quite friendly,” Kate said. “Maybe your French isn’t up to the task of explaining a plumbing problem.”
“Well maybe in the finer hotels your family is used to,” he said, “but this was an old farmhouse in some little village outside the city. We were getting to know the people. Your brother’s idea.” He smirked and patted Timothy on the shoulder.
Sam cracked a smile.
* * *
After the meal, Nat carried in the massive coconut cake she’d ordered weeks ago from the Donnybrook bakery. Aunt Kate raised her glass. “To my brother Timothy on his 60th birthday. May you live long and be happy, and may your life in London be fruitful.”
“Oh believe me, it’s fruitful,” Marcus said, leaning in to nuzzle Tim’s neck.
“Well, yes, I suppose it is,” said Aunt Kate, and sipped her wine. “You’ll have to tell us more, Marcus. I haven’t been to the London pubs since I went over after university. What’s this year’s trendy cocktail?”
Nat dug her fingernails into Sam’s thigh and glared at him. “Do something,” she mouthed.
Sam shook his head, his eyes wide.
“Hear, hear,” Natalie said, as she stood up, the light from the old chandelier making patterns across her forehead. “Lovely meal, Aunt Kate,” she said. “And to Dad. Happy birthday.” She kicked Sam under the table, and he stood as well.
“Happy birthday, Dad.”
Natalie started to sing “Happy Birthday,” her voice lovely and clear, waving at them all to join in, “jollying them along” her mother would have said, and the party relaxed again into the silliness of the song.
* * *
As they finished their cake she gestured toward the veranda. “Come have a smoke with me, Sam.”
He nodded and stood, following her out through the French doors to the back patio, and sat in one of the many old wrought iron lawn chairs. Nat pulled out her smokes.
“Not just yet,” he said. “I want to breathe the eucalyptus.”
“Right, sorry,” she said, and clicked her lighter on and off.
“Aren’t you supposed to be all healthy anyway? Do real hippies smoke?” he asked, looking up at the night sky.
“God, Sam, you’re such a dipshit sometimes. I am not a hippie.” she said and smacked him on the arm.
“Well what do you call it then?”
“I don’t know. In touch? Enlightened?” She waved her cigarettes at him. “Dying for a smoke?”
“God,” he said. “You’re ridiculous. Go ahead if it’ll shut you up.”
The doors opened again and their father stepped out. Music drifted out with him to the patio. Aunt Kate was playing the piano, something complicated and baroque.
“Mind if I join you?” he asked.
“Come on, it’s a gorgeous night,” said Nat.
He sat down in the chair next to Sam.
“Lovely meal, yes? Thanks both of you for coming.”
“It was perfect, Dad,” said Nat. Sam just nodded.
“Still of the wine, I noticed. You still on that health kick? You certainly look fit, son. His dad grabbed his bicep and gave it a squeeze.
“Thanks, Dad. Yeah.” he shrugged in embarrassment.
“So, I was thinking Marcus and I would swing over to Sydney, then up through Byron before we leave next week. See you both in your natural habitats so to speak. What do you two think?”
“Wonderful, Dad,” said Nat. “You’ll love our cottage, it’s in the forest outside town and you can’t hear a thing at night.”
“What about it, Sam? We’d love to meet Ryan and see the city with you. I’ve never been out in Sydney as a gay man, never really seen Darlinghurst, would love to go to the pubs there and hang out. What do you say?”
Sam didn’t answer. He felt his face burning.
“Do you have plans?” his father asked.
“Look. You’re welcome to do whatever you like, but Ryan and I don’t really go to pubs anymore, Dad. You know I quit drinking. And we don’t really have much room. Wouldn’t you and Marcus prefer a hotel?”
“We’re family, Sam. I don’t need a private suite. And I don’t know why you thought you had to quit drinking, anyway. We all enjoy a pint, son. There’s nothing so shameful about enjoying a few pints. Did Ryan tell you to quit? He’s American, yes?”
“No dad, I quit on my own, and Ryan and I aren’t together anymore. He moved back in with his friend Cindy because I’m a drunk, correction, was a drunk, and forgive me if I don’t feel like going on a gay pub crawl with my dad and his new boyfriend. It gives me the fucking creeps.” He leaned forward and clenched his fists to his face.
“Mind your manners, son, I’m trying to patch things up here.”
“Look, I don’t know why you think that now you’re out and proud that you should just show up and inflict your embarrassing gay midlife crisis on me and we can all pretend that we’re just a bunch of randy mates running around the city looking for cock or something.”
“Sam, stop it. You’re being vile,” his father said
“I don’t want to listen to this.” Natalie said. She stood up and pitched her cigarette to the ground, grinding it out with her foot, then walked inside.
“You’re the one who’s being vile,” said Sam. “You and that queen of a fucking boyfriend, mincing around the place like you’re still on your gay cruise. Have you got no bloody dignity?”
Sam wheezed as he felt the wind knocked out of him. His father had clamped his hand on his throat and now stood over him. “You watch your filthy mouth with me, son, or you’ll be sorry.” Sam grabbed his father’s wrist with both hands, but, just like when he was a teenager, couldn’t break his grip. He struggled and squirmed until his father let go and stepped back.
“Fucking asshole,” he gasped as he got his breath back.
“Yes,” his father said, “and apologize to your sister before you go to bed.” He turned and walked back into the house.
* * *
Sam sat at the foot of Natalie’s bed wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Aunt Kate had stacked dozens of file boxes along one wall and there had been barely enough room to squeeze through the door.
“Can’t you just try?” she asked. “He’s trying, Sam.”
“He just fucking choked me, Nat.” Sam picked up a pillow and held it to his chest, rocking.
“You pushed him to the limit. And you’re fine.” she said. “It’s not like you guys have never fought before.”
“Right, because he was abusive and horrible to us.”
“Sam he wasn’t that horrible,” she said, stroking his arm, “and lots of kids got hit when we grew up. People didn’t panic about it like they do now, and you were a foulmouthed brat back then.”
“Well, he was horrible to mum, and there’s no excuse for that.” Sam realized he sounded like a teenager.
“You’re grasping,” she said. “I know you’re upset, but you’ve got to try. You have this commonality, a bond.”
“Your new age hippie love for all shit has gone to your head. Commonality my ass. Let me ask you something. When they got divorced did you and mum go out pub crawling looking for blokes together?” He stood up and tossed the pillow back on the bed, started pacing.
“Of course we didn’t, she was grieving.”
“She should have been bloody celebrating, dad’s such a git.”
“Men don’t understand emotions.”
“You mean women don’t like the way men understand emotions.”
“I don’t want to fight,” she said. “Sit down. Relax.”
“Then let me have this one. It’s like he’s invading my turf. It’s like if I was seventeen and he wanted to go drinking and hitting on chicks with me and my school chums. Remember when Robbie Williams’ dad would drink with us at parties? Awful, right? And Robbie hated him. Dad’s doing the same thing. He’s taking my life.”
Nat patted the worn old quilt on the bed next to her and Sam sat down. She reached to the bedside table and pulled a rolled up baggie out of her woven jute handbag. Sam could smell the weed immediately, pungent and fresh. “We were in high school and Mr. Williams was a perv. This is different. Calm down. Want some?”
He shook his head. “I quit. No more for me.”
“I thought you just quit drinking.”
“All mind altering substances. It’s complicated.”
“Gateway drug. Got it.”
“Something like that. No, it’s…” he waved the baggie away. “It’s too hard to explain.”
“You’ve got to stop feeling so sorry for yourself over all this. If you don’t find a way to get past this your head is going to explode.”
* * *
Sam woke up to his dad shaking his shoulder. It was barely light outside.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. “What are you doing up so early, dad.”
“I thought we’d go surfing, just the two of us. Maybe have a talk.” His dad looked tired, a bit disheveled, but he was dressed already, board shorts and a dark green T-shirt, a beach towel slung over his shoulder.
“I’m not really in the mood.” Sam shut his eyes and tried to pull the covers up.
“I shouldn’t have hit you last night, and I’m sorry. We used to go surfing after a fight when you were a boy. It always seemed to do the trick. I think we should go and try to grab some waves now.”
Sam thought about it for a moment then looked at his father again. “All right, can you give me half an hour? I’ll need a coffee and a moment to surface.”
“The old boards are still here. Aunt Kate’s kids never really took to surfing, I guess.”
“Or they have fiberglass boards filled with foam core that weigh six grams and can’t be bothered with our old clunkers.”
“No weight isn’t necessarily a good thing.”
“No, you’re right. Just, give me some time, right?
“Would it help if I brought you some coffee?”
“No! Dad! No offense, mate, but piss off, will you? I’ll come find you when I’ve had a minute. Go talk to Nat.” His dad walked out of the room and Sam rolled over and groaned. After a moment he knew there was no chance of going back to sleep, so he got up and walked down the narrow staircase to the kitchen and hit start on the coffee maker.
* * *
It was still early enough that mist clung to the trees near the water’s edge. The sun was still behind them, and the sand felt like ice on Sam’s bare feet. “I didn’t bring my wetsuit, didn’t think we’d be going out,” he said.
“Indian Ocean’s much warmer than the Pacific, have you forgotten? Or have you gotten soft on me over there in Sydney?”
“Hello, my handsome boys.” It was Marcus, waving from the trees as he walked out onto the sand. He was wearing a kaftan.
“Bloody Christ, Marcus,” Sam muttered. “Will we be listening to Judy Garland later tonight?”
“Oh, God this isn’t mine, I borrowed it from your sister. Hippie chic, yes?” He grabbed the skirt with both hands and twirled. “I know you two need your bonding moment, Tim, but don’t mind me. I promise to sit here silently. It’s a beautiful morning.”
Sam’s dad nodded, then ran down to the water with his board balanced on his head and plunged in. “You coming, Sam?” he yelled.
“Yeah, wait up.” Sam grabbed the other board and ran down to the beach.
* * *
The cold of the water hit him so sharply that he struggled to breathe for a moment. The Indian Ocean might be warmer, but no ocean is warm at seven in the morning. He went under again swimming along under his board to get acclimated and came up further out. His dad was already kneeling on his board and paddling toward the break line. He hung onto his board, kicking to move further out, and ducked his head under again, the freezing water still shocking his skin. When he emerged this time his dad was already up, carving through a barrel with perfect precision. He looked amazing, just like when he first taught Sam to ride.
Sam pushed out further and saw his own opportunity, popping up at the right moment, catching a medium sized wave just as it curled, the tide rumbling beneath him as he leaned forward and cut across the crest. It broke before he was ready though, and he went under in a swirl of sand and seaweed. He came up coughing, but exhilarated. His dad was pushing out again, but Sam realized he still wasn’t awake enough for the task, hopped up to the beach and sat down next to Marcus.
“You two looked great out there.”
“Yeah, that was pretty clumsy what I just pulled.” He shuddered in the morning cold and pulled his knees up to his chest.
“Oh, you’re fine. He’s good, isn’t he?” Marcus waved out toward Timothy, just hopping up on his board again. “He’s been talking about this since we planned the trip. Surfing again with Sam.”
Sam turned and looked at Marcus. “Really?”
Marcus nodded. “He adores you, you know. Nat too of course, but he went on and on about surfing again.”
“Yeah, he taught me how. He’s brilliant at it.” Sam nodded toward the water. “You ever surf?”
“Me? Oh please. I can barely swim. I’m happy to be a housewife and choose the flowers and throw the dinner parties. Frankly, I thought I’d be able to do a bit of that while we were here, but your aunt has been a bit distant.”
“Yeah, Aunt Kate is a little stiff sometimes.” Sam leaned back on his elbows and shook his wet hair.
“I’ve tried my best but I’m getting tired of the glares. She thinks I’m after the silver or I’m going to come to dinner dressed for S&M in a harness and chaps or something.”
“Now that would be a sight.” Sam laughed. “I suppose I’m afraid that’s how they see me,” he said, “some silly gay boy who moved to Sydney to dance in parades and dress up in women’s clothes. Everything I do they judge. My job, my flat, dropping out of uni, the drinking, as if everything’s a disappointment. ‘Oh, isn’t Sam a disappointment. He dropped out of school and became an estate agent of all things when his dad’s a brilliant architect. And poor boy goes to those alcoholic meetings. And Gay! Such a shame.’”
“Well he thinks you’re doing fine. Says you’ll be who you’ll be.”
“Aunt Kate’s the worst, actually. My mum’s been bugging me to go back to uni and get my degree even if I don’t do anything with it, just so Kate will shut up.”
“Do you know she calls me the Maltese?” Marcus said.
Sam laughed. “Um, yeah, I did.”
Marcus rolled his eyes. “I heard her on the phone the other night. Tim said I can’t say anything since we’re in her home and all.” He fluttered his hands toward Sam’s father. “She thinks I’ve corrupted him, you know. Group sex. Rent boys. Like Joe Orton and what’s his name cavorting in Morocco with hashish and male prostitutes. But really it was the other way around. You know before I met your father I’d never....”
“Don’t!” Sam shouted, then laughed as he realized how loud he’d been. “Sorry, I’m just not quite ready to think of that sort of thing involving my dad, you know?”
“Oh yes, sorry. I forget he read you your bedtime stories and all.”
“Well, not really, but he did teach me how to surf.” The sun finally got higher than the trees and hit the sand at Sam’s feet. He stretched his legs and stood up. “I might get back in the water soon.” He rubbed some drying sand off his ankle. “Do you think you should just go ahead and steal something so she gets to be right? Aunt Kate. You know, something she’ll really miss? Start with that glass fish on the piano. She’s really particular about it. It’s Venetian. I’ll help.”
Marcus smiled and adjusted his kaftan. “Perfect.”
Sam stood up and looked out to the water where his father bobbed and floated, eying the horizon. “I guess I’m going back in then.” He picked up his board and walked down toward the waves, balancing it on his head.
Kent Quaney is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi Center for Writers where he was awarded the Joan Johnson prize for fiction in 2013. He also studied writing at the University of Sydney, and often sets his stories in Australia. His work has most recently appeared in riverSedge, Polari, and SoMa Lit. He currently teaches writing at USM.