south – the rock platform. story 14
The dry rock platform rose from the blue water beneath the shadow of a one hundred-meter cliff that stood as an unbroken wall for a kilometre of coastline. The platform lay in bright sunshine, swept of rubble and ruptured by deep gullies that hissed and boomed with the constant movement of turbulent whitewater.
Littered here and there upon it were massive slabs of fractured sandstone that had dropped from the cliffs centuries distant and which now lay permanently benign in the warm spring sunshine. Their heavy jumbling sculptured by the long exposure to rain and salt spray. The older stones were delicately laced with deep pockmarks of age.
A massively braided hemp hawser, stranded for decades and now bleached white from exposure to the sea and sun wound its great serpentine length among them. Neither end of it visible.
And in the midst of all this ancient rockfall the small boy stood indecisively by a house-sized rock, waiting.
‘ I think we should fish over here.’ he suggested as his late arriving and labouring grandfather followed him into the sunshine, inconveniently laden with a small clay cookpot, two fishing rods, two small canvas stools, a compact tackle bag and a full baitbox.
Tom slowed his weighty portage and squinted at the particular edge of the rockshelf that his grandson favored just as the first of a set of waves whumped against it and threw up a towering cascade of cold Tasman whitewater. Man and boy then retired some distance to consider the other options, in particular a deep and protected gully that ran alongside the southerly extremity of the platform and from where the old man had landed snapper more than a couple of times in the past. The few local men who knew of its existence had named it The Mat and none of them ever spoke about it except to themselves, and even then guardedly.
Such is the way with the introverted snapper fisherman.
They had been an hour and a half walking up the beach to arrive at this the northern headland and for Tom it was his first visit in three months. He was curious to see whether anybody else had been around.
There had been, and recently. One of the deeper rockpools had a rim of rust colour around its upper edge where they had cleaned their fish. A flat and blackened piece of higher ground showed where their fire had been laid, and a ball of tangled line had been blown in and amongst a rosemary bush. Cigarette filters. When he saw a couple of rusted fishhooks littering the flat rocks he squatted over them for a closer look.
Number 8’s. Nigger fisherman. Visitors. This was snapper territory and anyone fishing for anything else didn’t know what the ground could produce.
Toby walked over and put his small hand onto the old man’s shoulder. Patted it once.
‘ Come on granddad, can we go fishing now? ‘
‘ Ok, do you want to use the rod or the line? ‘
The boy paused, ‘ can you fix the rod up granddad? ‘ he asked.
‘ Ok. ‘
‘ Can you put the bait on too granddad? he asked, those prawns smell pretty bad. ‘
‘ Ok. ‘
‘ then can you throw it way out there for me granddad? ‘ he asked, ‘ where it’s deep. ‘
‘ Ok sport, ‘ Tom looked up at the boy and grinned at it all. ‘ Anything else you need while I’m at it? ‘
‘ I’m pretty hungry too granddad, ‘ the boy added, ‘ could I have a sandwich now? ‘
‘ Ok. ‘
Watching a small boy waiting to catch his first fish is a little like hoping both teams score when you are at the football, thought Tom as he saw the tip of Toby’s rod dip sharply, twice.
This’ll be a bream.
The boy didn’t notice that the line had begun to run out as his interest was entirely taken watching two oystercatchers at work amongst the wrack in the gullies.
‘ I think you might have one sport. ‘ Tom said as he moved over to the boy’s shoulder, then he smiled as he saw the lad look sharply to the tip of hid rod instead of at the water. He leant around Toby and with a capable hand slowed the fish’s run out and brought the rod back vertical.
It’ll be about a half a kilo if he gets it ashore.
The fish bucked against the tensioned line and all of a sudden Toby got the gist of things.
He yelled with delight. ‘ I’ve got one granddad. I’ve caught a fish. ‘
‘ Not yet you have mate. ‘ His grandfather cautioned, ‘ now start to reel him in, nice and slow, keep easing the rod up and watch the waves. ‘
Herewith all the rules in one sentence thought the old man. So simple.
Then he took a pace backward to be able to observe the lad’s technique.
– and who, with a look of savage determination, did what any other small boy would do in his place. He reeled in as fast as he could, jagged the rod up sharply to the sky and he didn’t see the wave coming.
Some little time later as Toby was drying off in the sunshine and Tom was quietly baiting the boy’s line, his eyes were drawn to the crags that jutted out from the cliff face high above him. One massive stone pillar in particular was bulging far out from the vertical face and he could see that its footing was split and fractured. The shadowed cavity behind the bulge looked damp with wet sandstone and rotted vegetation, and as he watched a couple of wild doves flashed into it from the blue sky.
– and despite the ageless peace of this day he pondered upon the effect that hundreds of tons of falling stone would have upon this warm and sheltered apron of rock.
‘ Over there next time granddad.’ called the boy confidently from the warmth of his sheltered boulder as he indicated a spot about two hundred feet offshore.
‘ Righto. ’ responded Tom, just managing to avoid being drenched from an exploding wave as he gingerly withdrew a slightly lacerated ankle from a crevice that had earlier escaped his attention. He whipped the rod over his shoulder and flicked the line on high arc seawards and hurried backwards over the jumbled and slippery rocks, anxious to avoid being swept to sea by a fast approaching set of larger waves.
And as he did so, high above him on the fractured plinth of the hanging pillar a lizard skipped away from the shadow of a patrolling kestrel and in the doing flicked a few loose pebbles into the void. The rattle of small stones was all but lost in the constant murmur of surf and Tom wondered at the raising of small hairs at the base of his skull as he handed the rod over to the boy.
They later strolled back along the beach toward the dinghy and although the catch bag was empty they both were satisfied with the days’ achievements. The major one being Toby’s acceptance of the responsibility of baiting his own hook. Prawns, thought Tom, may well be essential as a means of catching the ocean’s riff-raff, but they did tend to putrefy a little too quickly in the sunshine. He had graduated from using them many years ago and yearned for the day when he would be able to resume his hunt for the snapper. An occupation fraught with danger in the surf-filled gullies and not one to engage in with a little boy as a companion.
Maybe when he was eight.
He watched his grandson.
The long walk back to the edge of the lagoon where they had left the boat was best walked in a straight line along the surf’s edge he thought, and this was the path he took.
But not the boy, who ran ahead or lagged behind. Who loped on lengthening legs up the tall dunes to then leap jump and run down their soft slopes back to the beach. Who would sometimes halt and squat to examine a small piece of life inching along its eternal path to the sea, or away from it, or turn to the east and gaze at that great territory of open sea now being shadowed by a darkening lilac sky.
Who will straighten his path? The old man asked himself, and when on reflection he turned to examine his own line of steps he saw a wavering this way and a wavering that way, he saw spaces swept clean by the tide.
The boy’s happy laughter from a thicket of tea-tree absolved him from any deeper meditation. He had found another red thong.