The bruise on Caileigh Collard’s face was beginning to flower. Looking in the mirror in the predawn light, she could see the angry red giving way to the mauve of imminent bruising. It was high on her left cheekbone which, she thought, was a stroke of good luck. She had seen Daryl’s fist arcing towards her just before it landed and she had managed to turn her head. The blow had glanced off her cheek. Otherwise it would have connected flush with her nose and, in all likelihood, broken it. The pain was a constant dull throb but she had coped with worse.
After Caileigh washed her face, she quickly applied primer and foundation. She then spent some time adjusting the tone of the bruise with corrector. She was applying more makeup than usual but knew it could not be helped. She also knew her palette was not as extensive as she needed for the task. She worked for fifteen minutes: mixing and applying, mixing again and reapplying. She then spent time trying to balance the colour of both cheeks. After half an hour, and even with her best efforts, she could see, to her dissatisfaction, she had not managed to hide the discoloration completely.
She dressed in semi-darkness, by touch more than sight. She chose a white lace bra and faded light blue panties from the top drawer of her dresser. Next was a pair of sheer navy stockings from the second drawer. Sitting down on her side of the bed, she teased her toes into them and then rolled them up her legs. Yesterday’s socks were on the floor by her night table. She bent down, retrieved them, and put them on her feet. Two work blouses were hanging on the far left of the railing in her small wardrobe. They were both white with the logo “Sheila’s Café” embroidered in navy blue on the right breast. She buttoned all of the buttons except the one at the very top. Her two work skirts, both navy blue, were hanging next to the blouses. She shimmied her way into one of the skirts and zipped it up. She then fished out her worn white sneakers from the bottom of the wardrobe and slipped them over her socks. Her work shoes – sensible low-heeled black pumps – were already in her carry bag. Last of all, she shrugged her shoulders into a threadbare black cardigan. It was a month into Spring but the air was still chill in the early morning.
Caileigh left through the back door. By the time she’d made her way down the side of the house and turned right onto the hard-packed white clay of Britt St, the knot of tension in her chest had loosened. The pressure dissipated entirely when she turned left at the T-junction of Britt and Thomas and lost sight of the house. She was aware of how she was feeling. She knew the further she walked away from where she lived, away from the house she shared with Daryl, the easier she breathed. In fact, she had always been conscious of how her body spoke to her. But she had never let her mind focus too long on what it was saying.
She could barely remember a time when she was free of this weight. Perhaps the last time she felt at home anywhere was when she’d been eight years old. The truth, of course, was that Caileigh knew exactly when she had last felt at home; when she had last felt entirely safe. Her mind flitted towards the answer and her chest began to constrict. The memory was surfacing; fetid water churning where the monstrous shadow was rising from the deep.
She could not go there. She turned her mind away – the water grew still once more.
She knew a vital part of her was disarticulated, and that she was a willing participant in this dislocation. Yet she also knew she was so used to denial that she had grown accustomed to it. To be disconnected was comforting. It was a detachment that enveloped her, protected her, like a thick blanket on a cold winter’s night.
At the next intersection, Thomas St was sealed. She stepped onto the dark bitumen. It was wet with morning dew. Her sneakers left white traces on the black surface. She quickened her pace. She was walking towards the ocean now. She could hear the white noise of the swell. She could smell the salt tang in the air. The sun was behind her, warming her back. Her shadow, as it extended in front of her, was tall and clear and crisp. She felt light, so light, almost as if the breeze that gently caressed her body would lift her off the ground and she would soar into the air, leaving all heaviness behind.
These were the first words Sheila uttered when she saw Caileigh sitting on the bench at the trestle table in front of the café’s shop window. So Caileigh knew immediately that what Shelia was really saying was: You’ve tried to hide it but I can see Daryl has hit you.
“He drove down to Jurien yesterday,” she said.
As Sheila fumbled with the key, she said: “How long’s he gone for this time?”
“A week,” said Caileigh. “They’re going to pull the pots morning and evening.”
Sheila wrinkled her nose as the door opened.
“Sounds daft to me,” she said.
“Pete wants it done,” said Caileigh. “Crays are going for ninety a kilo at the moment. He reckons they’ll be making straight profit by halfway through October if they double pull.”
Pete Singleton owned the boat. Daryl and Matt Pedley, Daryl’s younger brother, worked Pete’s boat. All three had crayfish licenses so they could pull six pots every trip. This was their third year in business together. Last year they’d made reasonable money, but the first year they’d only covered expenses. The market for crayfish was now booming and they thought they could make a fortune this year, and for the next few years if the market held.
“Whatever,” said Shelia. “They can double pull all they want but the crays can’t fuck any faster.”
Caileigh didn’t really care how much money Daryl made or how fast crays could fuck. All she cared about was that Daryl was fifty kilometres away from her for the entire week.
Shelia stopped inside the doorway, blocking entry to the café. Caileigh stopped in front of her. There was no room to go around. Cailiegh knew what was coming next. She took a deep breath and looked up into Sheila’s disapproving eyes.
“So how did you hurt your face?”
What Sheila really wanted to say was this: Daryl’s no good for you, CC. He’s a true blue shithead. He’s mean in his core. You’ll never change him because he’ll never want to change. A man with a mean streak can’t exist without being mean.
Caileigh lowered her eyes. She pretended to smooth non-existent creases in her immaculately ironed skirt.
“I was clumsy,” she said. “I slipped in the shower last night and hit my face on a tap.”
What Caileigh really wanted to say was this: He can be really good to me, Shelia. He can be kind, and considerate. And he can be really good fun to be around. It’s just that sometimes he gets … disappointed … frustrated. When he’s like that, he lashes out. He’s always sorry afterwards. Always. And he always tries to make it up to me.
The lines in Sheila’s face deepened. Her steely eyes glistened. Caileigh studied the red and white linoleum pattern intently. A mantra repeated in her head: Don’t ask. Please don’t. Don’t ask. Please, don’t. Don’t ask …
“Whatever,” said Sheila. Her voice broke on the word. “Let’s get about it.”
Sheila went into the kitchen to prepare for cooking. Caileigh slipped out of her sneakers and into her black pumps and began setting up the front of the café for customers. As she worked, she pondered what had been said, and what had not been said.
It wasn’t that Cailiegh disagreed with Sheila. She knew, better than anyone, that Daryl did have a mean streak. After sixteen months, Caileigh also believed she would never be able to change him. She also knew Daryl’s violence was indefensible.
What she could never tell Sheila, or anyone, is that she defended Daryl because she needed him: not because he deserved to be defended, not because she loved him, but because she knew she lacked the strength to be alone. She felt she would be condemning herself if she condemned him. So she defended Daryl because, by defending him, she was defending herself.
Caileigh didn’t expect any early customers. Mid-Autumn through Winter to mid-Spring was the off season. The October school holidays were still a week away so she didn’t expect any out-of-towners. The fishermen had left before dawn, most of them heading to the Shelf to catch dhufish and snapper. They might get one or two locals after 9am but the café mainly got busy around noon, after the breakfast menu had changed to the dinner menu. Also it was Monday. They were more likely to get locals from the middle of the week onwards.
So she was mildly surprised, at just before 8:00am, when the doorbell jangled. She was sitting in a plastic chair behind the counter, reading Jane Eyre. The death of Helen Burns was imminent. She usually liked to read the entire passage without interruption. She was moved by Helen’s implacable faith. She felt Jane’s loss keenly. To once again be alone and forced to endure brutal hardship …
Caileigh marked her place and, with a sigh of regret, stood up to serve.
The man was not local. He was about six feet tall with wavy salt and pepper hair that curled around the top of his ears and fell just past the nape of his neck. Two clear blue eyes in an angular face fringed by about two week’s growth of bristly, dark brown beard. Both cheeks, the back of his neck, and the tip of his aquiline nose were reddened by exposure to the sun. Except for a slight pot belly, he seemed to be in good shape, although he was more slender than buff. He wore slightly faded blue jeans, a zipped-up khaki green parka, and fairly new white Adidas sneakers. She thought he might be in his late thirties.
“Good morning,” he said, rubbing his hands together to warm them.
Caileigh was surprised by his voice. It was a pleasing baritone, perhaps slightly deeper than she expected from a man who didn’t have a barrel chest. When she factored in the voice with his appearance, she had to admit she found him quite attractive.
“Good morning, sir, and welcome to Sheila’s Café,” she said. She smiled brightly, and realized with a small thrill of pleasure that she meant it.
The man’s eyes widened and he gave a small, self-deprecating laugh. Was he blushing? Caileigh was not certain. His face was already quite burnt.
“You don’t have to call me sir,” he said, lowering his eyes. “My name’s David.”
Caileigh laughed; a melodic mezzo cadence, both pleasing and enticing.
“Fair enough,” she said. “I’m Caileigh, but everyone calls me CC. Well, David, what can I do for you?”
David looked up at the breakfast menu written on a wide blackboard hanging above the serving hatch. He thought for a moment and said: “You know what? I’m pretty hungry. What the heck … I’ll have the big breakfast.”
“Coffee? Juice? Or both?”
David thought briefly.
“Both,” he said. “Black coffee and orange juice.”
“Please take a seat,” said Caileigh. She indicated the empty café. Her gesture implied he could sit anywhere he pleased. “I won’t be but a moment.”
“Thanks,” he said. David chose to sit at a table near the front window.
Caileigh passed the order through to Shelia. She poured a cup of freshly percolated coffee. She got the juice from the cooler and filled a glass. She placed the coffee, juice, a small jug of milk and a sugar bowl onto a tray and walked them over to David. The coffee went in front of him, the juice to his right hand side, and the milk and sugar in the centre of the table.
She thought about loitering. She had an urge to speak to him. Instead, she said: “I’ll be back soon with the food.”
David looked up at her. He scanned her face intently. There was intensity behind the piercing blue. He opened his mouth, seemed to consider what he was going to say, and then said: “Thanks.”
Caileigh went back behind the counter. While she waited for Sheila to finish cooking and plating the food, she thought about what she had wanted to ask the man who called himself David. She wanted to know where he was from, when he had arrived in Leeman, where he was staying, how long he was planning on staying, what he did for work, whether he had a family, a wife … and then she caught herself. What was the matter with her? She knew if she asked all of these questions, he’d think she was a lunatic.
Perhaps I can just ask him how long he’s been in town, she thought.
And then the moment was lost.
The doorbell jangled again. She turned from the serving hatch to see who had entered. Her heart dropped. Shuffling through the door was Rusty Trantor, tattered black beanie in his hands.
Oh, Rusty, thought Caileigh. Sheila had told her what to do when Rusty came back to the café. Caileigh knew she couldn’t do what Sheila had asked.
“How’s it going, CC?” said Rusty.
Rusty was in his late 60s. He had a throaty voice worn out from decades of working the open ocean. He walked with a slight stoop and his white-whiskered face was carved into a ruddy ruin by sun and salt. His hands were large and calloused: blunt thumbs, and sausages for fingers. He wore shapeless, faded blue pants, a faded brown, button-up shirt, and tattered sneakers with no socks. He looked like a hobo but Caileigh knew he owned outright a modest beach shack on the north side of town.
Most people ignored Rusty. Some people made fun of Rusty. A few were mean to Rusty. But Caileigh liked Rusty. He always treated her with respect. The way a gentleman should behave, she thought. He had a stoicism she admired. He was infinitely patient. And he was always kind. She had once seen him pick up a dog that had been hit by a car and cradle it until it died. She knew Rusty was good in his heart, and that made all the difference to her.
“Fine, Rusty,” she said. “How’re you going?” She gave him one of her brilliant smiles.
Rusty cleared his throat.
“Oh, you know, getting by,” he said.
Caileigh knew Rusty was lying. She knew he had been telling this lie for some time now. Daryl had told her months ago that no-one had given Rusty work on the boats for well over a year. He was too old; he was too slow; his eyes were too weak; he didn’t have the strength to pull the pots. Daryl had then said he thought Rusty was pathetic. It would be better for everyone if he just died. Caileigh had hated Daryl then; had hated the exultation in his voice. That was the moment when she realized he took genuine pleasure from other people’s misfortune.
She didn’t want to ask. But she asked anyway.
“What can I do for you today?”
Rusty couldn’t meet her eyes. He looked at his beanie instead. His hands were trembling. He shuffled his feet in embarrassment.
“Oh, I was just hoping for some coffee. And, you know, maybe some breakfast.” Caileigh’s heart broke a little at the plaintive note in his voice.
What am I going to do? she thought. I can’t do what Sheila wants me to do. I just can’t.
The big breakfast plate appeared at the hatch. Moments later, Sheila pushed her way through the kitchen’s swinging doors and into the front of the café. A mesh hat covered her hair and a slightly soiled apron was tied around her waist. Her mouth was set in a grim line.
Caileigh backed away from the counter, her spine tingling. She could see Rusty’s hands tighten on his beanie. The man called David held his cup of coffee in both hands and watched silently.
Sheila came into the middle of the café, planted her feet, and folded her meaty arms across her chest.
“You can have anything you want to eat, Rusty,” she said, “as long as you pay for it.”
Rusty couldn’t meet Sheila’s eyes.
“My cheque comes in next week,” he said haltingly, his voice raspy and choked. “If you let me put it on my tab, I can clear it then.”
Sheila was undeterred. She bore down on him.
“You said that two weeks ago.” Her voice flat and spiteful. “And two weeks before that. I can’t give you any more credit. You either pay, or you leave.”
Caileigh knew Sheila’s callous display was forced – everyone knew Rusty was down on his luck – but her lack of empathy terrified her nonetheless.
“I could work for it,” said Rusty. He was clenching his beanie so tightly his knuckles had turned white. “I could work off my debt. I’m good at …”
Sheila did not let him finish.
“I don’t need any more help. If you want to know the truth, I can’t afford to hire any more staff. And I certainly can’t afford to give you any more free food. I’m sorry, Rusty, I really am. But you can’t stay if you can’t pay.”
Then silence: an electric tension before the first roll of thunder, the first fork of lightning.
David’s coffee cup clattered against its saucer. Caileigh’s heart skipped a beat. Sheila and Rusty were shocked out of their impasse. Whether he meant it or not, the man called David now had everyone’s attention.
“Sorry about that,” he said. “The cup slipped from my hand.”
He continued speaking to Rusty before anyone could react.
“I couldn’t help but overhear,” he said, “but your name is Rusty?”
Rusty opened his mouth to speak, couldn’t find the words, and nodded instead. David got to his feet and walked around his table, right hand extended.
“My name’s David,” he said. “David Morrow.”
Rusty looked at David’s hand. He didn’t seem to know what to do. But then custom long-ingrained took over. He extended his right hand and the two men shook.
“Russell Trantor,” he said, his voice hollow and strained. “But everyone calls me Rusty.”
“Okay, Russell … Rusty,” said David. “I’m hoping you’ll give me fifteen minutes of your time. I’ve got a business proposition for you. It’ll take a little explaining, though. Can we have breakfast together so you can consider my offer? Of course, I’ll pay for breakfast. It’s the least I can do.”
Rusty was clearly confused by David’s words but they were expressed with such equanimity that he nodded his head and said: “Sure.”
“I’ve ordered a big breakfast,” said David. “Were you thinking of ordering the same for yourself?”
“Ahh … sure.”
David looked across to Caileigh.
“Can I have another big breakfast?” he said. “Also another coffee and juice?”
Caileigh looked at Sheila. Sheila looked from David, to Rusty, and then to Caileigh. Her eyes shone queerly. She nodded her head and went back into the kitchen. Caileigh took the plate from the hatch and went over to David’s table.
“Could you give that one to Rusty?” he said as she approached.
Without a word, Caileigh put the plate in front of Rusty. She took a little time to pour another coffee. Her hands were shaking. She took a few calming breaths. When she came back to the table, she saw that Rusty had not started eating. She put the coffee in front of him and the juice to his left hand side, because she knew Rusty was left-handed.
Of course he’s not started eating, she thought. It doesn’t matter how hungry he is. He won’t eat until everyone has been served.
After Caileigh had delivered the second big breakfast, she went back behind the counter and sat in her plastic chair. But she didn’t continue reading Jane Eyre. It was so quiet in the café that she could easily overhear the conversation. She was too curious to feel any shame.
David told Rusty he was on long service leave. He’d decided to travel up the coast, fishing as he went. He used to fish with his father when he was a boy; tinnies off the Perth coast. 3 Mile Reef, 5 Fathom Bank. King George Whiting mainly. He thought he’d known something about fishing before he’d started but now that he’d been traveling for three weeks, he realized he’d vastly over-estimated his knowledge.
This is where Rusty came in. Rusty impressed David as a man who knew all there was to know about fishing. He was going to be in town until Saturday morning. David was hoping Rusty would agree to be David’s teacher for the week. Not for free, of course. He’d pay Rusty. He was thinking five hundred a day, but if that was too low, then he’d be happy to hear what Rusty thought his time and expertise was worth.
“Five hundred a day!” said Rusty. “Teaching you how to fish!”
“Yep,” said David. “That’s the idea. I know it sounds daft but it’s important to me. I was hoping to eat what I catch all the way up the coast. I won’t be able to do that if I can’t catch anything.”
“Well … do you know what you want to catch?”
“Whatever takes the hook.”
“Really?” said Rusty. He couldn’t keep the surprise out of his voice.
“I know, right?” said David, laughing at how naïve he sounded. “I hadn’t thought much beyond throwing in a line and hoping something would take the bait.”
“Mate,” said Rusty, “there’s much more to it than that.”
“I realize this now,” said David.
“Well, what rigs do you have?”
“I’ve got a light rod and two hand reels.”
“Jesus, is that all?”
David laughing again. “Yep. That’s it.”
“What about bait?”
“Mainly mulies; whole or cut into pieces; sometimes diced steak.”
And another pause.
“Jesus wept!” said Rusty. “I hope you’ve got plenty of cash, because the first thing we’ll be doing is buying you the right kit, and the right bait, for the right fish. And that’s only the beginning. You have to know what it is you want to catch before you even start fishing so you can go to the right places, with the right kit and the right bait, to catch them.”
“So is that a yes?” said David. “You’ll teach me?”
Rusty laughed this time.
“I wouldn’t want you to starve before you got to Gero,” he said. “Yeah, I’d be happy to help you out.”
Caileigh could hear the two men shaking hands.
“Shall we go to the caravan park first?” said David. “You can see what I’ve got so you know what it is I have to buy. And I can transfer the money to you straight away.”
“You’ll pay me now?” said Rusty. “For all five days?” He sounded as startled as Caileigh felt at hearing the words.
“So you know I’m dinkum,” said David. “I really want to learn, Rusty. And believe me, by the end of the week, you’ll have well and truly earned your money.”
“Fair enough,” said Rusty. “Let’s get going.”
Caileigh stood as David approached the counter. Rusty was waiting by the door. David used a debit card to pay for breakfast. She wanted to say something meaningful to him but all she could manage was: “Have a nice day.” Rusty held the door open for David. They walked a short distance up Spencer Rd. and turned right into Melaleuca.
She knew they must be going to the caravan park. They’d follow Melaleuca around the bend and then turn left into Thomas. The ocean would be to their right, and they’d go past Jones St. and the skate park. Thomas bent around to the left and they would be walking with their backs to the ocean, the sun in their faces. The caravan park was on the right just around the bend. She knew this route by heart as it was the path she walked every day going to and coming from the café.
Sheila came out of the kitchen. She had a box of tissues. Tears were streaming from her eyes. She put the box on the counter. She took two tissues from the box. Caileigh didn’t know if she’d ever seen Sheila cry. Her face was scrunched; all wet red wrinkles, like a new born.
“I hope you were paying attention, CC,” she said, her voice crackle and static, “because you’ll never see anything like that again.”
It was a quarter past one when Sheila took the call on her mobile. They’d had a few more customers in the morning, and the Dawson’s had come in at 12.30pm for two pieces of snapper and six squid rings, grilled, and chips. Business was even slower than Caileigh had expected, even for a Monday.
Caileigh heard Sheila’s magpie ringtone, and Shelia answering: “Hello?” A pause. Then she heard: “Christ! When?” And then: “How bad is it?” And finally: “Jesus fucking Christ on a motorcycle. Okay. I’m leaving now.”
Caileigh was on her feet before Sheila came through the swinging doors.
“We’re closing early today,” said Sheila. “My Mum’s been taken to Three Springs. She was dicking about on a ladder and fell off it.”
“Oh my God!” said Caileigh. “Is she alright?”
“Rhonda reckons she might have broken her hip. She works reception at the hospital. She’s just admitted her. They’ve taken her straight in for scans.”
Caileigh could see Sheila’s distress, but there was very little she could say that would help.
“Geez, I hope she’s going to be okay,” she said. It was cliché but she meant it.
Sheila screwed up her eyes and looked at the ceiling.
“She’s bloody fucking stupid!” she said, her venom fueled by fear. “I’ve told her a thousand times to call me if she needs any crazy shit done. But, no! She had to get up on a fucking …” Sheila stopped ranting. “Well, it’s too late now. Let’s get about it.”
Fifteen minutes later, the café was closed and Sheila was running up Nairn St. Caileigh took a deep breath and wondered what she was going to do. She felt disorientated. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a Monday half day. She turned her face to the sun. It had been brisk in the morning but now it was wonderfully warm.
The truth was she knew what she wanted to do. Perhaps, in the back of her mind, she had always known what she had wanted to do. Perhaps she’d been thinking about it all morning. And perhaps, with some measure of guilt, she was silently thanking Sheila’s Mum for giving her the opportunity to do what she wanted to do. Caileigh, like always, had just needed to give herself permission to do it.
She was going to go to the beach. Walk along the sand. Perhaps sit on one of the jetties. Sunbathe. Maybe swim.
Maybe spot Rusty fishing with David.
She didn’t see the men as she passed the caravan park but she felt sure she could identify David’s rig. Across the grass, in the bay closest to the ocean, there was a massive, white, Land Rover 70 series four-wheel drive. She could see the tip of a fishing rod protruding from behind gear still strapped onto the full length roof rack. The back doors of the four-wheel drive were open. A canvas awning was attached to the roof and back doors. It fanned out from the rear of the vehicle, creating a substantial covered sitting area. She could also see a Bolero foldaway square table, two Kijaro dual lock trailhead camp chairs, and a multi-burner Coleman hyperflame FyreKnight camping stove.
David might not know much about fishing, thought Caileigh, but he sure knew how he wanted to travel.
As Caileigh turned into Britt St., she was pondering whether she would wear her one-piece or her bikini. If she did sunbathe, then the bikini would be best for tanning. Yet it wasn’t really that warm. Perhaps the one-piece would be the wiser option. She was tending towards wearing the bikini, even if she got cold later in the day, and not, she had to admit, for sensible reasons.
She never found out which bathing suit she would have worn. One house from home, she saw Daryl’s maroon Monaro SS Ute parked in the driveway.
Oh, shit! she thought, not out of surprise, but from something very close to fear.
She stopped walking. She reached into her carry bag and checked her mobile. No missed calls. She started thinking furiously.
What’s he doing home? Has something gone wrong with the boat? Have they called off their plans? Is it something else?
Caileigh castigated herself. What she was doing was pointless. Ridiculous. She’d never find out why Daryl was back so soon if she kept standing in the street, panicking. The only way to find out was to go inside and ask him. She started walking again.
I don’t care why he’s back, she thought. I’m still going to the beach.
And then going to the beach didn’t matter either.
Caileigh heard them before she reached the back of the Ute. First was the rhythmic thud of bedhead on weatherboard. It sounded like a hammer driving nails into stubborn wood. As she crept down the side of the Ute, she heard the grunting, timed to the thudding. It sounded like the effort vocalizations of a gym junkie grinding out fast repetitions with a moderately weighted barbell. When she reached the side of the house, she heard the muffled squeals of ecstasy: uninhibited exclamations, synchronized with the thudding of the bedhead and the grunts of exertion. They didn’t sound like something else. They sounded like what they were.
Caileigh crept down the side of the house. There was a small window that looked into the master bedroom. The blinds were only half closed and the curtain was not drawn fully. She could peer through the bottom left corner without being seen.
Daryl was positioned diagonally on the bed. His pelvis was thrusting furiously, each plunge producing a thud from the bedhead and a grunt of exertion from him. The woman was being taken from behind. Daryl was using his hands to spread her wide open. Her back was arched down onto the bed. Her chest was squashed flat to the mattress and her head was buried in Caileigh’s pillow. Her squeals were a dissonant harmony to Daryl’s grunting. She couldn’t see her face but the bottle-red hair coupled with her vocal tones revealed her identity. It was Lisa Broadhurst – the same Lisa who was supposed to be Caileigh’s best friend.
So Daryl doesn’t only catch crays, she thought inanely, but he fucks them, too.
The thudding and grunting and squealing reached a frenzied crescendo. Daryl pushed as deeply into Lisa’s vagina as he could, his buttocks began quivering, and he exclaimed: “Oh my fucking God!” Lisa shuddered as hot semen sprayed her cervix and coated her vaginal walls. She pushed backwards onto Daryl’s penis as hard as she could and said: “Fucking fill me, baby!”
Caileigh shattered. It was like being caught in an explosion and fragmented into a thousand pieces. Time came to a shuddering halt. She now existed in one terrible moment: an interminable, tortuous present of excruciating shame and utter humiliation. The banality of her life, the absurdity of her decisions, the sickening truth of her complicity in empowering Daryl to strip her of her dignity.
She saw herself walking past the Ute, down Britt St., back down Thomas St. She was walking towards the ocean. She could see herself walking because her mind was not in her body. She thought she might be floating above herself. Maybe; maybe not. Perhaps she had been catapulted into an alternate reality. Who knew? What she did know for certain was that all of her illusions, all of her comforting lies, all of her futile deceptions, had been stripped away. She now stood naked at the very centre of disgrace, bathed in the unbearable light of self-loathing.
It was dark when Caileigh returned home. It was the last place she wanted to be but she had nowhere else to go. To her infinite relief, Daryl’s Ute was gone.
She went down the side of the house and in through the back door. Turning on the kitchen light, she decided to test Daryl. There were things she wanted to say, hurtful things, hateful things, but she finally texted: How did your day go? Five minutes later, his reply: It was a day.
It was a fucking day alright, thought Caileigh.
She dropped her carry bag on the kitchen table and lowered herself gingerly into a chair. She sat silently for some time. She thought of the rumours she’d heard over the past year and a half – of Daryl’s Jurien indiscretions. She’d chalked it up to lad talk. Now, though, she realized he’d always been unfaithful to her. She had endured his pettiness, his callous nature, his violence, thinking that she was protecting their relationship. Now she knew she’d been trying to protect something that had never existed.
I’ve been such a fool.
She realized two things. First, she desired, deep in her core, a functional relationship. It shamed her to think that she believed she did not have the strength to stand on her own two feet. With the right partner, however, she thought she had a chance of becoming the person she wanted to be. Not only did she now know, undeniably, that Daryl would never choose to give her the support she needed, but that she’d really known all along that he was incapable of giving her any support at all. She’d not been in a relationship; she’d been part of a process. A simple flowchart diagram of her time with Daryl revealed a simple truth: she had poured herself into the funnel of the machine and he had taken everything she’d given without giving anything back. For sixteen months, she had been grist for Daryl’s mill. She hadn’t been his partner. She’d been his doormat.
In our bed … her head on my pillow.
Secondly, not only did she have to leave Daryl, she also knew she had to leave Leeman. Leeman was a small place; less than four hundred people. Others had to know about Daryl and Lisa. And if others knew, then they all must know. They also had to know about Daryl and the other girls in Jurien. And they had to know about things she did not know. Maybe things that were even worse. And yet they had said nothing. None of them. Not. One. Word. Daryl was faithless; she was worthless to him. And the town had been just as faithless. She was worthless to them as well.
Fucking fill me, baby!
She had to leave. She had nowhere to go. She had no way of getting there. What was she going to do?
Caileigh stirred from the kitchen table. She went to the fridge. Simply looking at food made her nauseous. She took out a bottle of white wine, got a clean glass, wandered into the lounge room and lowered herself onto the couch. She didn’t turn on any lights. There was enough illumination from the kitchen. She unscrewed the cap and poured until the wine overflowed. She lifted the glass to her mouth, wine spilling on her blouse, and drank it all without drawing breath.
I’m so thirsty, she thought.
She poured more wine, reclined backwards, and nursed the glass on her stomach while she tried to gather her thoughts.
Where can I go? How do I get there?
She was staring into the nothingness of the abyss, into the darkness that was the total negation of her being, into the blackness of her despair.
Nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada
And that’s when the notion sparked to life in her. No, she thought, not even a notion. It was an irrational craving; a foolish, unrealistic yearning. It was impossible. It could not be done. More accurately, it was an action she knew she’d never have the courage to execute. Of course, this was why it was so exciting, so appealing – because she’d have to be someone entirely different to even try.
I’d have to risk everything.
Caileigh tried to purge the notion from her thoughts. But it was terribly stubborn, and terribly seductive. As much as she tried to turn away, the notion persisted, like a splinter lodged in the heel of her mind. She sat in silence, unmoving, and sipped the wine. The minutes turned into hours, the yearning turned into desire, the desire turned into an idea, and eventually transformed into the first blossoming of a plan.
The next morning, Caileigh heard the rumble of Rusty’s ancient truck turning into Spencer Rd. It came spluttering to a halt outside the café. It was the first time he’d driven it in a month. So she knew David must have made good on his promise to transfer the money. Everyone knew Rusty hadn’t been able to afford fuel.
Rusty had changed into a different set of clothes; still Rusty, but fresher and cleaner. Perched on top of his head was a new red and blue beanie. Caileigh knew, though, that a change of clothes and fuel in his truck was not the cause for this renewal.
“How’s it going, CC?” he said. Even his voice was different. It projected strength; confidence; purpose.
Oh, you know, I’m on the other side of total despair.
“I’m fine, thanks for asking,” she said, with a smile she hoped looked genuine.
Rusty didn’t look at the menu. He already knew what he wanted.
“I’ll have two sausage and egg sandwiches with red sauce to go.”
Caileigh passed the order through. Rusty leaned on the counter and talked while he waited.
He’d taken David to Ed Neegan’s Fishing and Bait supply store. Rusty, with a laugh, said that David had needed a lot of gear. While he’d been instructing David on what they were buying and why, Ed had listened. Ed had then approached Rusty while David was loading the truck and suggested that he might like to work for him as an assistant in the store from next week onwards. It seemed young Paul Storey was going down to Perth to live with his mother while he finished his schooling.
Rusty had accepted the offer.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” said Rusty. “I’m going to talk with Ed next week about running a side business for out-of-towners. They buy gear from the store, I take them to where the fishing’s good, and then I show them the ropes. Something like Gone Fishing with Rusty. What do think?”
Caileigh could feel the sting of tears building at the corners of her eyes. The sandwiches appeared in the hatch and she was glad she could turn away and take a few deep breaths before she broke down in front of him.
“I think it’s a great idea,” she said, when she had turned and handed the sandwiches to Rusty, “a really great idea.”
Rusty paid for the sandwiches and cleared his tab as well. While his card was being processed, Caileigh pulled a tissue out of a box and wiped her eyes and blew her nose.
Rusty finally noticed something was wrong.
“Are you alright, CC?” he said.
Your happiness makes me realize how unhappy I am.
“Yeah, Rusty,” she said. “It’s just allergies. But thanks for asking. And good luck with your new job, and your plans.”
She knew Rusty didn’t really believe her but he was too happy and in too much of a rush to ask any further. He started to reach out to her with his right hand, thought briefly, and it came to rest on the counter.
“You take care, love,” he said.
Always the gentleman.
She wanted to tell Rusty how much she liked him, how much she admired him, and how much his transformation gave her hope that something similar could happen to her.
All she ended up saying was: “I’ll try.”
The rest of the week progressed normally, which only confirmed the utter necessity of her plan.
Caileigh always texted Daryl every day, so she kept up the pretense. As per usual, he always replied within fifteen minutes and always without either detail or meaning. She realized that what they were doing, and had been doing for their entire relationship, was not nurturing a connection. They were enacting an accepted and expected social pantomime – the theatre of habitual non-communication. So she was also hoping, when he’d been away for a week at Jurien, he would keep to his customary pattern of driving back on Saturday afternoon. Of course, when she was at work, he had been driving back during the day to fuck the Crayfish. But this part of the pattern didn’t matter. What mattered was that Daryl remained ignorant of her plan.
She didn’t have one visitor or phone call during the week. Not even from people who were supposed to be her friends. She was now beyond caring if her friends really were her friends, or whether they were actually Daryl’s friends who tolerated her for Daryl’s sake. The truth was no-one had ever really had a chance to develop a close friendship with her. Daryl was toweringly possessive. He could tolerate a woman being friendly, even though he feared what they might reveal. But Caileigh knew for a certainty that if a man became too friendly, he’d have no qualms about beating them to death. To her great shame, she realized she had no close friends because of Daryl’s pathological need to keep her isolated.
Daryl has built a prison of fear and intimidation around me, she thought, and I handed him the trowel.
She sorted through her clothes on Tuesday and Wednesday evening. It surprised her, and saddened her, how few of them she wished to keep. She placed discarded shirts and smalls in one white plastic garbage bag; into a second she placed shorts, jeans, and slacks. Into a small hessian bag she placed shoes and one pair of boots.
Wednesday night, close to midnight, she loaded up an old bicycle with the bags – one white bag on the rear carrier, one white bag on the handlebars, the hessian bag held in her right hand. She could steer one-handed and support the bag on the handlebars if she took her time. She would have to ride a long way down Morcombe Rd., slowly. There was a chance someone would see her. There was nothing she could do about it. She could not delay. She pushed off into the night.
At the far end of Morcombe Rd. was Leeman’s only petrol station. Two Good Samaritan bins were located along the side closest to her. She waited for some moments. There were no cars at the bowsers; no cars were passing on Indian Ocean Drive. Caileigh drifted across Rudduck St and came to a silent halt beside the bins. She placed the white garbage bags in one bin and the hessian bag in the other. Unburdened, the ride back was far swifter.
On Thursday evening, she wrote a letter of resignation. She owed Sheila this much. When she first arrived in Leeman, there had been a Help Wanted sign in the front window of the café. Caileigh had been broke and without any prospects. She had applied for the job out of sheer desperation. Without references or experience, she realized she had very little hope of success. But Sheila had taken a chance on her. At the time, Caileigh could not believe her luck. But luck is capricious. Working at the café put her back on her feet, but it was also how she had met Daryl.
Her last shift at Sheila’s Café ended at 5:00pm on Friday afternoon. Caileigh was rostered off for the weekend. She walked home, changed out of her work clothes, and then put both blouses and skirts in the wash. She dried them and ironed them and put them into a clean white plastic bag. She attached her resignation letter to the front of the bag and slipped the bundle carefully into a small cardboard box. She wrote Sheila’s name on top of the box in black marker pen.
Caileigh then packed a duffle bag and her carry bag with everything she was going to take.
My life, she thought, not enough to even fill a suitcase.
She laid out her clothes for the morning on a lounge chair. She walked through the house with another white plastic bag, searching for any items she might have overlooked. After she had gathered up these last few vestiges, she sat at the kitchen table and opened the back of her mobile phone. She removed the sim card and cut it neatly in two with a pair of scissors. She put the two halves of the sim card into the plastic bag, tied it off, went outside, and dumped it into the big green garbage bin. She put her mobile phone and charger in the front pocket of her carry bag.
She then cleaned the house from top to bottom. She was determined to erase every trace of herself.
Except she did not clean the master bedroom. She had only been inside it once since Monday, to retrieve what was hers. The room made her feel unclean. No power on earth was going to make her touch the bed.
At around midnight, she rode to the café. She left the cardboard box outside the front door. She felt she was letting Sheila down, leaving this way, but she didn’t believe she had any other choice. Not if her plan was going to work. She rode home and tried to sleep. She was too anxious. She got no more than a few stolen moments of rest during the long, slow count of hours until dawn.
About the author
I'm a father and a teacher. I've been an academic, a tutor, a librarian, a waiter, a bouncer, and a kangaroo paw picker. But what I've always wanted to do is write. So now it's time for me to write and keep on writing and not look back ...