‘Swallowing Oceans’- By Maalika Jacobs

When the Great Crabs come frothing from the ocean- angry and spitting- it’s Meeko who leaps upon them, shoving them into the rusted tin bucket.

He’s young though. Unpractised.

The Crabs seem to know this, and their claws flash in the early morning light to tear at the fingers that grip their wet bodies. One of them nips triumphantly at a bit of his skin, drawing blood, and Meeko swears throwing the thing into the bucket. He wishes there was someone to see him. They’d think he was nearly a man; what, with the easy swearing and the heavy bucket of wriggling Great Crabs.

Meeko adjusts the bucket, wincing as the metal handle digs into his palm. He swears again, just to see how it sounds out there on the desolate beach. Then he’s up, padding along the grey shoreline all the way to the bush trail that leads home.

Meeko ploughs up the trail, dragging his feet so that the sand clings to the browned soles of his feet. Above him, the flowering colours of the sun’s rising face licks across the sky; an eggy mess of pink and yellow and orange. Meeko loves that sky. But Mamma thinks it’s too tricky- always changing colours, always changing faces. A bruising storm one day, a yawning pale belly the next. Meeko reaches out a hand to the sky anyway, pretends to peel those orange streaks right off it, and places them on his tongue. He smiles at the taste, at the syrupy warmness sliding down his throat.

Real food would be good though. Meeko frowns peering at the bucket of Great Crabs. But the cooking of the Crabs, the tearing off the armour to get to the soft gleaming meat inside, that’s Pappa’s job. Meeko will only make a mess.

He sticks his tongue out at the seething mass of Crabs then carries them over to the side of the house. It’s a weather-beaten thing, tall and ancient, standing alone on the top of the cliff like some forgotten saint.

Meeko glances inside but the white-washed walls only greet him with silence. He shifts uncomfortably, thinking how long it’s been. Probably days, but it feels like years. When will they be back?

Soon, soon,’ he sings to himself. He wanders over to the edge of the cliff since there’s no one around to stop him. The ocean crashes below in a mess of grey, blue, and white, hurtling against the base of the cliff like it wants to topple it. But Meeko raises his hands above his head, stretches high so that the sky is his crown and spits off of the cliff into the water, reminding the ocean who the real king is around here.

But king or not, he’s alone. With the Crab catching and spitting done, Meeko realises there’s nothing left to do but wait. He sits so that his legs dangle off into the endless air. He pulls his thin jumper tighter across his chest and taps his right hand once, twice against his lips for luck and counts and counts the minutes that crawl by.

Waiting

               Waiting

His eyes squeeze shut for a long time and he’s lost in the strange, dark shapes that swirl behind his lids.

When he finally opens his eyes, the gulls are swooping in circles and the ocean is roaring even higher and there- like an apparition along the shore- there they are.

Meeko’s on his feet in a second, running past the house and the bucket of Crabs, skidding dangerously down the crooked path. There’s a small boulder right at the end of the trail and he tries to leap it over it but misjudges his timing and stumbles over it bashing his knees hard against the rough sand. But he doesn’t care he doesn’t care, he picks himself up and sprints down the damp beach towards those figures.

The Crabs scuttle quickly out of the way. Not even the ocean tries to slow him down with its foaming wet tongue.

Mamma!’ he yells, lifting his arms, waving them like wings. ‘Pappa!’

His parents are moving slowly, barely touching each other, their heads bent low against the salty wind.

Meeko’s close enough now to see their faces. He skids to a stop, trying to calm himself.

Mamma?’

Mamma looks up, but her eyes are glazed, dead stars. She says nothing.

I caught the Crabs this morning,’ Meeko says.

She doesn’t curve her lips into one of her soft smiles like he thought she might or ruffle her hand through his mess of dark hair. She brushes past him, as if he’s not even there, and continues down the beach. Pappa watches her go, his jaw set like stone, and for the first time Meeko notices something. It’s pressed against his chest, hidden in the folds of the oversized jacket and bundled up in a grey blanket.

Is that . . .? Can I see?’ Meeko reaches up to touch the small thing but Pappa recoils and Meeko’s hand falls away holding nothing but air.

Sorry. I’m sorry. I- You scared me. Here. Take her.’ Pappa lifts the small thing from his jacket, tucking it gently into Meeko’s arms. ‘Don’t move, do you hear? Don’t move, Meeko. I need to get something. I’ll be right back.’

Pappa trudges past too. He’s quicker than Mamma though. He scuffs right past her, going up the trail and leaving her behind.

Meeko shifts his arms to hold the small thing more securely, confusion choking his mind like smoke. What’s wrong with his parents? He thought they’d be happy to be back, happy to show the small thing to Meeko.

Meeko peeks curiously at the mound of flesh in his arms, using a finger to lift the blanket away from her face. He smiles, sunshine spilling in his chest. She’s asleep, eyes squeezed shut and little hands clasped together. No hair. But her ears are exquisite- tiny sea shells tinged the palest of pinks.

Sister.’ The word rushes from his lips like a quiet ocean wave. He leans down, kissing the tip of her nose. She’s not at all warm and squishy like he thought. A bit pale too. He lifts the blanket over her again, thinking it’s probably just the cold air.

But then something- fear– flickers in the dark corners of his mind and he lifts the blanket up again to see her face. Pale, still. So still. He turns his head, bringing his ear down to her mouth to listen for her breath but all he can hear is the drowning pounding of his own blood roaring in his ears. Pulse. There must be a pulse, right? He finds her hand, feels her stiff fingers, doesn’t even know where he’s supposed to feel for a pulse. Sister. Sister?

Meeko.’

Pappa’s walking towards him. There’s a box in his hand and a small wooden bowl of salt.

Meeko sees the things, knows what they’re for but he doesn’t quite understand.

Pappa?’

I’m sorry Meeko, I’m sorry.’ Pappa’s words are rushed, pouring out too quickly for Meeko to grab onto. ‘These things happen. The Healer did his best but sometimes these things just happen.’

What things?’

It wasn’t meant to happen.’

What things!?’

Meeko.’ Pappa shakes his head, tears sliding down into his beard. Meeko can’t help it, he sobs. Only once. A hard, racking cry that makes the dead bundle in his arms shudder.

We brought her home,’ Pappa rasps. ‘We’ll send her off the right way. Be strong now, Meeko. You knew this might happen. We knew.’

Meeko watches his father drop to his knees, set the small box down on the sand and lift the lid. ‘Pass her here.’

But Meeko holds her tighter, his fingers digging into the rough fabric of the blanket.

Come now. This is the way. We have to send her off right,’ he says again.

Meeko sniffs, wiping at the burning in his eyes. He gets to his knees, ignoring Pappa’s outstretched hands, and softly sets his sister down into the box. She fits perfectly.

Pappa closes his eyes for a moment. An eternity. Then he reaches for the bowl, pinching up a few grains of salt and touching it to her frozen lips. Meeko does the same. He looks away when Pappa puts the lid back on.

What about Mamma?’ Meeko asks.

Pappa stands, turning to the ocean with the box clutched to his heart.

She doesn’t want to see. It’s just me and you.’ And he holds out a shaking hand.

Meeko takes it. Feeling Pappa shake makes him steady.

Together they wade out into the crashing waves, shivering involuntarily at the biting cold. They stop when the waves are far behind and the water gets to Meeko’s chest. They’re both shivering so bad they can barely speak. Pappa lets go of Meeko’s hand, taps the top of the box once, twice for luck and then places it on the seething surface of the sea.

They watch her go. Meeko wonders how long it will take for her to sink. The sinking’s inevitable, Pappa used to tell him. She’ll drift to the bottom, the weight of the water pressing down on her sea-shell ears. She’ll be swallowing oceans and oceans forever. Maybe the Crabs will find her. There’ll be no armour to stop them from nipping, biting, clawing.

The ocean swells around them, pushing at Meeko’s legs and trying to unmoor him. He wobbles, almost swept along with his sister by the strong current. But Pappa’s there, his hand gripped tight around Meeko’s wrist, anchoring him.

They watch the baby go,

the soft sound of her small soul

     drifting

                  drifting.


Words by Maalika Jacobs

Growing up, books were the worlds I lived in. Each book, each page, each word was where I not only where I met heroes and villains and all sorts of wild, wonderful people but where I met different versions of myself. The best and worst parts of my self- each scattered through the words of someone I’d never met.
So of course I began to write. I write in the hopes that one day I can create something important- that one day another person may stumble across my words and find a reflection of themselves etched in paper and ink.

Breath

This adaptation of the Tim Winton novel of the same name, is a love letter to the hard, unpredictable, nature of the ocean. The film is the directorial debut by Simon Baker, of The Mentalist fame, and was adapted for the screen by Winton, Baker and Gerard Lee. It’s a close adaptation of the novel, which follows Pikelet (Samson Coulson) and Loonie (Ben Spence), two young Australian boys. The film starts with them falling in love with surfing at the age of thirteen. Enigmatic former pro surfer, Sando (Simon Baker) and his wife, Eva (Elizabeth Debicki), enter their lives soon after.

 

Set in the South West Coast of Western Australia, Breath is a lush, beautiful piece of cinema. The action and character interaction are interspersed with long beautiful shots of the beach, and Pikelet and his best friend Loonie (Ben Spence) drifting along the ocean’s current. The long shots of the surf and the creek beds and the silhouetted gum tree added an almost haunted sense of solitude and stillness. The film’s evocative use of landscape is one of its strongest features, and I couldn’t help but think of Tim Winton’s prose as I watched.

 

As much as Breath is a film about the ocean, it is also about boyhood, fear, and the danger of obsessive love. The boys fall in love with the feeling of dancing on water, and when Sando appears in their lives they try desperately to write themselves into his thrill-seeking life. Sando chases bigger and more dangerous waves, and the two boys – Loonie especially – follow him in his quest. Fear rules most of Pikelet’s time on his board – he loves the ocean and surfing but cannot seem to commit himself with the same reckless abandon as his mate, Loonie. Loonie, a kid who has grown up with abusive parents and the grim certainty he will never matter – sees surfing as something he can lose himself in entirely.

 

The emotional arc of the movie follows the timid Pikelet working up enough courage to stand up for himself. The character is prone to panic attacks and bouts of being completely frozen in frightening situations. Loonie and even Sando sometimes, sees these attacks as Pikelet being a ‘pussy’ or somehow less manly. In the end, Pikelet rejects this rigid form of masculinity – he still loves surfing and the ocean but he wants to do it on his terms.

 

However, Breath is also home to many moments of tenderness. The relationship between the much older Sando and the boys is built on a foundation of mutual affection. Sando is always quick to help Pikelet calm down during one of his panics and takes on Loonie’s wildness with a sense of admiration. Despite being rife with the posturing and insecurities and jealousy of teenage boys, the relationship between Pikelet and Loonie is a caring one. Pikelet often offers Loonie a safe place to stay when his father is being abusive. The scenes where they attempt to earn enough money for their first surfboards by doing a bunch of shitty jobs for not very much money, are delightful.

 

My biggest issue about the film comes in the form of Eva, Sando’s wife. Eva is a former professional skier from Utah, USA. She is forced to give up the sport after an accident does severe and permanent damage to her knee. For much of the film she exists as a dark, angry spectre on the edge of the boy’s close relationship with her husband. ‘I don’t want them here,’ she hisses to Sando, upon seeing the boys in her driveway. After Sando and Loonie disappear to Indonesia leaving her and the other boy behind, Eva seduces the school age Pikelet into an increasingly disturbing sexual relationship. The relationship ends after Pikelet discovers Eva is pregnant. It’s unclear whether the child is his or Sando’s. The script doesn’t offer Eva much beyond being Sando’s wife and her relationship with Pikelet. She is obviously a character in pain and frustrated by the turn her life has taken and there seems to be no escape for her. The last we see of Eva is her carefully blank face as she tells Pikelet to go home after he sees the new swell of her belly. Indeed, ‘carefully blank’ seems to be the most we get out of the only female character with any significant screen time.

 

I enjoyed this film for the most part and I think fans of Tim Winton will not be disappointed by this adaptation.

 


Words by Riana Kinlough.

Three stars.