I am standing on the front verandah looking down on a sparkling Sommers Bay. The water is so lucid that I can see a large stingray gliding across the sand beneath the surface. The tide is full and there's not a murmur of wind.
“Great day for fishing,” says aunty Noni, “get your gear on.”
We tow Noni’s hand-built wooden rowing boat down to the water’s edge and slide her in. After dropping my camera, tissues and ciggies in the drink I take the oars and start nudging us out to deeper water. It feels so long since I’ve had any proper exercise. Rowing is pleasing and enlivening to my body. After a few minutes Noni starts the silent electric motor and we gather speed.
A few hundred metres offshore Noni says: “This looks like a good spot." They all look the same to me. We drop the fishing lines “Just let it run until you feel the bottom,” says Noni. I let my line play out until it goes slack and immediately I feel a tug. Seconds later I’m hauling in a big, glistening Flathead. I drop it into our bucket where it flaps around like a lunatic until Noni stabs it through the head.
I drop my line out again. Tug. Another one! I haul in fish after fish. Noni kills them quickly and deftly. As I land my fourth fish I realise that I can't leave all the dirty work to Aunty Noni. I must despatch it myself. I position the knife above the “map of Tassie” marking in the middle of its head. I say a quick prayer “I’m sorry little fish” and plunge the blade in. The fish is strong. It flips from side to side as I hold the knife fast. I feel my throat tightening and I swallow the tears that are brewing. I want to weep for the fish, for myself, for the world.
After an hour or so of catching fish, untangling knotted lines, stabbing myself with hooks and smoking damp fags we head back to shore with a dozen fat Flathead on board. “Not bad at $35 a kilo,” remarks Noni. At the water’s edge, Noni’s friend Dougal is waiting. “I’ve brought you some lemon verbena from my garden.”
We brew up lemon verbena tea while Noni cleans the fish. The tea is light and fragrant.
For dinner Mum fries the sweet flathead fillets and serves them up with fresh rocket salad from her garden. This has to be some kind of Paradise.
At this time of year the twilight lingers. Across the bay orange and pink slashes glow, vibrant behind black clouds. I turn my head to the east and take in the stars and the white belt of the Milky Way. I love the southern sky, the sky under which I was born. “Thump, thump,” a small, black wallaby is nosing its way across the lawn. It’s all so beautiful. I feel so miserable.
Suddenly the tears come. Mum rushes to put her arms around me. Poor mum, this is most distressing for her. I can’t speak. On the outside I just cry and cry but on the inside I’m thinking: “It’s really true. I’ve had cancer and I’ve survived it. It might come back one day. I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. All I want now is a holiday, some joy and love. Why has this happened? FUCK YOU NICK.”