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Thursday, October 16, 2008

BLUE SWIMMERS

Hand over hand. That’s the way it had always been. Small increments producing the greatest results. Jack leant his weight back, feet bracing against the rocks. His feet held firm on the slimy surface, as they always did. The foreshore flapped some way behind him, the day’s tide building. He knew other crabbers came out after him, ghosting across the sand, bodies wrapped thickly in layers, minds of efficiency and profit. But he was here before them all, hauling up the pots, ancient traps that no one else used now. The brass latches, polished and gleaming, the muck and the mire and the tell-tale shadows in between. The joy of the morning’s first catch, feeling the weight as the pots heaved onto the rocks, guessing and knowing what he had caught.

The first pot had to be a fiver, a good weight too. The seawater streamed over Jack’s ankles as he unlatched the lid. He threw away some weed, some nippers clinging to the bars. He splashed some water on the rest—five crabs, like he had known, healthy morning- fellows with shells like umber iron. He picked the top crab up with his starfish grip and it fought like a horse’s heart. This one had struggled and won, thought Tarden. They always came to him, the strong ones, the ones with golden mercury in their veins, the turbid-water spinners, the muscled sand-movers, the lithe underwater poets. No one else knew how to catch them.

Three more pots came up, and then the sun: a grey egg poaching in the white morning sky. Sunrises in winter were nothing but one blank piece of paper placed before another. Not that Jack minded much. His eyes strayed only to the sea, to the dam and the creeks. Less light was all there was; he didn’t feel the cold. Of course, the other crabbers started later each day in winter, complaining about the weather, spending more time drinking. Their bones hadn’t moved as much as Jack’s, not by a long way.

He waded the four pots back with him to the shore. His yellow four-wheel drive stood nearby, with tubs of chilled water waiting in the back. He opened up the car and placed the crabs—nineteen in all—in their new plastic homes, sealing the lids shut. He took a bottle of water and sat in the driver’s seat, squinting his eyes against the glowing glare. The gentle tapping started, as the crabs began to test their new surroundings. They never grew frantic—never—and this was what Tarden liked. They were accepting creatures. He never really liked to think about their future. He caught them as a profession and a passion, and hated knowing they would end up dead.

He studied the tip of his index finger. He noticed that the side of it, near the square edge of his fingernail, was translucent. It was the same with the sea, as he looked out onto it. The tops of the waves could well have been invisible, were it not for the colour beneath.

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