First Prize: ‘Curry’ by Jess Miller

First Prize: Curry

by Jess Miller

I’ve only spent one wet season here. Every time I arrive the first thing I do is head over to Town Beach.

There, turquoise water, turtles in abundance – just off the rocks. Most of them shy, quick to shoot off if you catch them with their head above water. Here, tangerine sand, hot peach, fine. Bleeding into the bay.

I used to head out of town for work. One time, early on, I went up the peninsula. Just to Beagle Bay.

It’s hot, sticky, everything unknown, but I’m not nervous. It’s got that country town feel. People are friendly, the streets are quiet.

I get taken, completely open-minded and ignorant, down a dirt track. Past houses with big yards. Down to a simple dwelling – something like the forester’s shack I had back in Queensland. Those mint green, fibro walls. It’s a roof, and four walls to keep the mozzies out. Posh, really.

We head further down the track, far down and out onto the saltmarsh. Careful to avoid squelching mudflats with bogging qualities – those famous places where tourists and dry seasoners have been marooned on fishing trips, only to be surrounded by salties with the incoming tide. It’s easy to shake your head at people. But up here most have been stuck in the mud more than once. Why jinx it by pointing the finger and laughing?

The creek at the end of the trail is calm, peacefully trickling out to sea. We stay back from the bank – for obvious reasons. Well, I do. My host likes to be right on the edge. Better him than me.

Evening sounds start to settle in: cockies, dogs in the distance, and the manic call of semi-domesticated donkeys. Across the mud-brown water: dusk. Bright blue topped by lilac, pink, dull gold. Keeps you sane. I can see how that would work.

But I’ve brought bad luck on Neil. No fish. None on my hand line (unsurprising), and none on his line either. Disappointment. Confusion. Extremely blasé surprise and finally, acceptance. Begrudging acceptance.

His eyes narrow in my direction. They’re always a bit piercing when directed towards me, in a sceptical kind of way – and super bright. Nothing gets past Neil. But he won’t let on.

We skirt our way back in the ute, between silver and green mangroves. Curry it is.

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