Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rowley Shoals

Last week the Red K was taken out to Rowley Shoals with Mike Roenfeld and Steve Starling. They forced him overboard with a speargun and a mesh bag filled with pig's guts and rotting yakkas to take pot shots at a massive school of green job fish. Starlo had heard there might be Waggas patrolling the atoll, and he wanted the Red K to investigate. After hours of firing spears at his own shadow on the reef, they pulled the Red K aboard and tied him to the wheelhouse, where they put glowsticks in his hair and hung big mud crabs from the rags of his loin cloth. They pinged dead stubbies at him through the window and made paper aeroplanes from Jeremy Prynne's Collected Weirdness and flew them past his nose as he wept. On the third day the Red K was pleading for mercy. Sunburnt, and the colour of a Red Emperor, he was crawling over the deckboards, crazed from sun and muddie bites, piercing himself with 10/0 livebait hooks through his eyebrows and lips and nipples, and gargling with tuna oil. Starlo was on the camcorder, Roenfeld was prodding him with a bloodstained copy of the Compleat Angler. On the forth day he was hoisted onto the outrigger and trolled at 8 knots, upside down, dogtooth tuna snapping at his grin. Finally, when they hauled him in, he was begging to be taught how to fillet live Samson fish. He sat on the boards and renounced veganism. “I will turn my back on wheat. I will wear leather coats and pants and gloves.”
On the long ride home, he was at the wheel, barking orders at the deckhands to wash the boards with blood and nail striped marlin heads to the stern. Coming into Fremantle he was shouting quotes from Rod Harrison and Lefty Krey, mad things about White Deceivers for believers and false casting false truths to readers. 
“Who knows, we might even come to admire him,” Starling said. “I can see him touring the country and beyond, lecturing on the Ikijimi method of tuna murder and the Red K Knot - an intricate hybrid somewhere between a bimini twist and a plait. In Florida he would be mobbed. In Capetown he would be carried to be beach by four big Afrikaners to judge the national distance-casting championship. But in Ulladullah he would be shunned. They would see through him and know his ramblings as just another form of self-promotion. He would be captured and taken out again for a long sea voyage. This time to pole for tuna with a rangoon cane and Ron Pretty's retirement fountain pen for a lure. David Brooks and his girlfriend would try to rescue him. They would come for him in a rented houseboat with a crew of Sydney University postgrad writing students. They would come alongside the tuna boat and they would be pelted with snapper leads and cuttlefish. Brooks would try out one of his love poems in an attempt to spell them into handing the Red K over, but Ulladullah tuna men are literate and know a con-man when they hear one. Brooks would be taunted worse than Jamie Grant at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. The tuna boat would turn on the afterburners and leave Brooks' houseboat in a rooster-tail of whitewater and laughter. The Red K would spend the next ten years at sea, earning his keep in a maelstrom of scales and blood and slime. In his late fifties he would retire to a rusted field of wheat and become so reclusive even the silo rats wouldn't be able to find him. He would change his name. He would write a book “The Study of Dust”, which would be rejected by everyone but Punchout & Waterwheel”, who would promote the book as "...the hilarious memoirs of a failed vegan.” On one of his rare visits to Sydney, disguised as Robert Lowell's great grandson, he would slip into the back row of a reading at the Sydney Writers Festival. Elizabeth Campbell, now in her forties, looks over at this rank, crusty, bespectacled figure in the back row and stands up, pointing. "The Red K," she shouts, hysterically. Everyone stands up and starts pointing and laughing. The Red K pulls a length of 80lb braid out of his stained pocket, holds it aloft, and says "See? Look! Braid! I can show you the Red K Knot." He is dragged to his feet and carried out to the wharf. "What about the Rowley Shoals Plait?" he screams. It's a new moon night, and dark, and soon people arrive with lit flares wavering and smoking. They force the red K out on to the end of the Wooloomooloo wharf. The surface of the harbour is boiling with baitfish and flare-light. "Read us one of your anti-parasols," someone yells from the back of the crowd, which is pushing and heaving. "Yeah, give us a laugh." someone else says. The Red K stands shaking on the flickering boards. The crowd surges forward. He climbs onto a capstan and looks out at the other shore. Then he turns around."Does anyone have a heart?" he says, then drops away over the edge. Bubbles and phosphorescence. Yellowtail cutting through the disturbance. Firewater. Silence. Then, about twenty yards out, the Red K surfaces, blowing a thin line of harbourwater. He seems to float, his rags out behind him like kelp. Someone chucks a stubbie and it goes bonk off the Red K's forehead. The last we see, he is being helped aboard a rented houseboat.

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