South coast, New South Wales, 2011
IT WAS NOT a day to fall in love with Whitby Point.
The sea thrashed angrily onto the empty beach, flinging waves up against the rocky cliffs, and gnawed hungrily at the sloping dunes that protected the small lagoon lying behind the beach. Sea birds huddled at the edge of the lagoon, taking refuge from the howling winter wind.
A lone figure, bent against the wind, fists pushed deep into the pockets of her jacket, walked along the path that skirted the deserted caravan park and camping ground. A change in the wind direction blew back the hood of her jacket and her curling hair burst from the restraint of its hair clip.
The woman lifted her head to the smarting sting of the sea spray, and changed her mind about walking past the cliff into the small township and harbour. She turned and made her way back around the bend to Pelican Cove, where three isolated cabins were hidden. Despite being spoiled for choice at this time of year, she’d chosen to rent one of these older cabins from a real estate agent in the town because of its seclusion.
The cabins on either side of hers were empty, and their small porches were carpeted with decaying vegetation – feathery needles and leaves from the trees. Their drawn blinds gave them an air of hunched defensiveness; the setting looked nothing like a sunny summer holiday escape. Cassandra Holloway had arrived in Whitby Point a few days ago and, while she could visualise how this place would look in the height of summer, its wintry setting suited her bleak mood.
As she approached the cabins, she saw a car parked by the side of the small dirt road that ran beside her cabin. A man, probably in his sixties, well built and fit and wearing overalls, got out of it as she approached.
‘Mrs Holloway? I’m Geoff Spring, the repairman. The real estate agent sent me. A problem with the kitchen, is it?’
‘Yes, the stove isn’t working. I thought the gas bottle was empty but it’s not, so I have no idea what’s wrong.’
‘No stove makes cooking tricky. These places are getting old. Built in the eighties and haven’t been touched since, except for a lick of paint.’ He grabbed his toolbox and followed her as she unlocked the front door.
‘If it wasn’t for the weather I’d use the barbecue. I’m getting a bit tired of meals in a frypan. But I can still boil the kettle. Tea or coffee?’
‘You don’t have to do that. But if you’re making tea…Where’s the gas bottle. I’ll just check that first.’
Finding that it was indeed full he turned his attention to the stove. He fiddled with the knobs, peered into the oven and jiggled the gas line and the back of it. Fifteen minutes later, with the stove fixed, Cassie poured the tea into their cups as they sat at the kitchen table.
‘Nice view out there across the lagoon to the ocean behind the dunes. Summertime this place is jam-packed. A lot of families have been coming here forever. Book the same spot in the caravan park year after year. It’s a bit off the beaten track but for those in the know, it’s paradise. This is an odd time of year to come here.’ Geoff gave Cassie an enquiring look.
‘I wanted a break and the peace and quiet suits me.’
‘I don’t suppose you’re staying long, but if anything goes wrong, all you have to do is tell the office and Ill be right back out.
‘Thanks, but I’m hoping there won’t be any other faults.’
‘Righto. If you want to know anything the office can always help you out, or you can give me a ring. I’ve been here a good number of years now, I know what’s what and who’s who. Anyway, you probably won’t need help because this town is so small, you’ll know every inch of it in a day!’
‘How long have you been here?’ asked Cassie.
‘About twenty years. Usual story – my wife and I came on holidays and fell in love with the place. Quit a boring job in Newcastle and started doing handyman work and gardening. I like working outdoors. We lived in a caravan before I built our house. You should come back when it starts to warm up.’
‘I don’t know, I’ve only been here and few days but I’m enjoying the cool weather and solitude.
‘You warm enough? Have you got enough wood for the pot-bellied stove and the barbecue? I know the office supplies some, but it’s rubbish. I can bring you round some better stuff. I’ve got a big stash of seasoned wood and a bundle of old fence posts.’
‘That’s kind of you. I’d like that very much. Could you bring it in tonight so I can have a nice fire in the pot-bellied stove?’ asked Cassie, getting up and putting the milk away in the old refrigerator.
Geoff drained his cup. ‘No worries. You sure you’re okay out here on your own with no phone or TV? ‘Course you could rent a telly, there’s a connection they put in last year. But you’ll have problems with mobile phone coverage out here.’
‘Yes, so I discovered. But I found that if I walk out to the edge of the lagoon there’s a spot where it works. I don’t think I want a TV. For the moment I’m enjoying re-discovering radio and the joys of a good book. But thanks for asking.’
Geoff nodded and took his cup to the sink, rinsed it and pulled a card from his pocket and left it on the bench before he walked out of the little cabin and closed the door behind him.
Cassie watched him get into his car, touched that he was concerned about her being there on her own. She hadn’t felt lonely or at all nervous staying among the whispering she-oaks. Right now she preferred not having people around. And she liked the idea of some good firewood. The little cabin would be cosier with a fire burning in the pot-bellied stove.
How different it all was from the apartment she’d just left behind in Sydney. The slick, modern building that was only a short walk away from the law firm where she and her husband had worked, seemed to be on a different planet from where she stood now.
Over the last few days she had tried not to think too much about the disaster that had happened in her marriage, but, now she’d opened that door, there was no closing it as the trickle of memories and emotions swiftly became a flood. She took a deep breath, picked up her pashmina, wound it around her should, walked out onto the little porch, sank into the unraveling wicker chair and stared at the lagoon where the wind was whipping up small foaming waves.