I wrote this a few years ago for English when I was doing my VCE at night school. The setting is based firmly on my single ever favourite day ever, the ending (obviously) isn't. I got full marks for this piece and a real backhanded compliment from the teacher who wrote "I know you don't like Tim Winton, but this piece reminds me very much of his writing". Thanks Renee! You know reading Tim Winton makes my want to scoop my eyes out with a spoon!
Anyway. Here it is...
On a small boat in the Mediterranean was as good a place as any to be in late July 1999, or any year, he figured. It was an old wooden boat big enough to hold the fifty odd tourists who were mainly antipodeans, but small enough that it forced everyone on it to be cosy, which didn’t seem to bother anyone. He was leaning back on the bench seat that ran along the port side of the boat with his arms resting at shoulder height. Because the boat was cosy, this meant his arms were behind the backs of the people he sat next to. One was a South African girl, who spoke quasi-English and struggled to be understood by her fellow tourists. She did, on occasion however, entertain the group with stories of car-jackings and the like on the streets of Jo’burg. The other was an arrogant guy from Sydney, not entirely unpleasant, who was on very good terms with himself, and did his upmost to appear ostensibly bored by Greece, as he was all the sights of continental Europe. But the arrogant, not unpleasant guy from Sydney didn’t matter today.
The rail he stretched his arms out on was painted blue. The boat was painted blue and white; apparently everything in Greece was painted blue and white, must be in the country’s constitution, he mused, to match the flag, maybe. The blue rail looked as if it had been painted over and over fifty times without ever being sanded back. In fact, the whole boat looked like paint was holding it together. He wondered without really caring, how much wider the rail was with all that paint on it than when it was first made. He listened briefly to the engine labour under the weight of the boat and all its paint. It worked hard with a rhythmic chug not unlike an old locomotive. It sounded tired but inevitable, he thought, like the engine was itself resigned to the fact that it must keep going despite its dirty valves and low oil pressure. The engine would one day stop, quit and refuse. But the engine didn’t matter today.
He hauled himself to his feet as if tired, though he wasn’t, and went to what the boat’s captain loosely described as the galley. It was little more than a broom cupboard, but it was here where the beer was kept in a cooler filled with melting ice, and that made it an important part of the boat. He reached deep into the cooler that would only get warmer, retrieved his fourth can of beer and slid it into the promotional stubby holder that identified the tour group he was travelling with. He eased the ring pull and was rewarded with the satisfying sound of escaping gases. He smiled. It was a cheap beer here but back home would be described as “premium” and cost the equivalent of a six-pack of normal stuff. But the price of beer didn’t matter today.
He chose not to return to his place next to the Sydneysider and South African, but instead went upfront to sit in the sun. Sitting in the sun he kept his own counsel. He enjoyed it that way. He took a long drink of the still-chilled beer and wondered if it was the best he would ever have. By now the boat had stopped and been anchored. It need not have been, he thought, the sea was like glass and not a breath of wind cooled the air. He looked at his bare, brown chest and stomach, glistening from sweat and low factor sunscreen and was not displeased. Although underdeveloped for his twenty-two years, he was nevertheless lithe and defined. The other twenty-somethings on the boat looked bigger than him, they carried more weight and appeared stronger, but he looked good. He wondered if today was the best day he’d ever had. He drank from his can again and enjoyed it. All things being equal, the beer would eventually make his firm, flat stomach swell outward into soft flab. But getting fat from beer didn’t matter today.
He finished the drink quickly, and without waiting to sober up, or for an hour as his mother would have wanted, went to the edge of the boat and dived into the sea. He swam underwater with his eyes open. He stayed under long enough for him to wonder if the people on the boat were wondering where he was. Breaking the surface of the water thirty metres from the boat he pulled the hair back from his face and rubbed his eyes. His legs kicked gently and automatically beneath him in the cooler water and he thought that life could not actually get any better. He felt light and drunk. He looked back at the boat where no one was looking back at him. He liked that. The water was still enough and clear enough that he could appreciate its beauty. It was blue. Blue like the boat’s painted hull. Iridescent blue like he had seen on postcards of exotic locations that didn’t exist in real life. But this was real life, and water, it turned out, really could look like that. He tried to float on his back but his legs kept sinking and he realised how much cooler the water below was. Swimming twenty or so strokes on his back he felt the sun on his chest again, it was warm, even in the water. He looked directly at it for a moment and then, when he closed his eyes, could still see it. He stopped swimming and treaded water, he legs felt a bit tired. But he was fit. Looking back at the boat he was surprised at how far away it was. Maybe it was time to swim back, lie on the bow and drink another beer. Upon think this, he felt a tightness in his left hamstring and almost immediately, his right. He was going to call to the boat but caught a small mouthful of salty water that made him gag. He thought about how, as a kid, he used to gag on anchovies that shouldn’t be on pizza but sometimes were. Then he thought how his arms were doing the work his legs should have been, but weren’t. His arms were failing him. Where he should have been panicking, he was not. Where he should have been scared of what was happening, he was not. The beer had made him not care. He looked around and noticed, without consequence, that the shore wasn’t all that far away. A large bird wandered around on sand that reflected the sun and occasionally pecked away at something he couldn’t see. He coughed again and took in more of the salty anchovy water. He was tired now, and as he breathed in a lungful of iridescent blue Mediterranean water, and as his lithe and defined body sank, he thought how today, or tomorrow, nothing would ever matter.