Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pearl, Harbour: Rising Suns

He breaches the briny aqua and exhales. He can barely see the sunshine glistening on the water. They haul him upward over the deck - this rubbery monster with a brass mask - and stand him upright, the weight of gravity and leaden boots preventing him from doing so alone. They release the brass dome and his almond eyes squint in the light as the rubber suit that hides his muscled yet diminutive form is divested. The rope net full of pearl oysters falls carelessly on the sodden timbers. Standing still, almost naked in the light, beads of salty water trickle down the indentation in his spine, collecting in a small pool within the cleavage of his buttocks. His once-gloved hands now prunish, he's been so long underwater. His loose cotton shorts translucent, divulging well muscled curves. He is a pearler, the eldest son of a youngest son, an Australian-born half-Jap whose family have pearled here for over 20 years. But all is not calm in his watery garden of Eden. Far across the Pacific, under the same blue sky, cries of Tora! Tora! Tora! reign as distant cousins harvest quite a different Pearl.

"Why am I up?" Kintaro asks, wondering why his dive time was cut nearly in half.

"You're gonna wanna listen to this, Kint."

As he lands upon the white sands, old men caress their beards and listen intently to a broken newscast announcing the atrocity committed. Kintaro is Australian, speaks only English, but he looks like them - the perpetrators of a heinous crime - and he will be persecuted for it. He knows it's just a matter of time and makes the decision to leave. He needs to disappear. Thanks are exchanged. These friendships will be fleeting, but for now they are steadfast, loyal.

He packs a few belongings, a couple of photographs, three pearls for insurance and stows away on a steamer bound for Fremantle. Where he's ultimately going he does not know, but it will be as far from the northwest coast as he can manage. Away to hide, stay safe, resist internment. He heads southeast to enter a life of anonymity, to become a shadow until the furor of a Rising Sun blows over.

***

She's not even sure what she's screaming, only knows why she's screaming. Her only defense against a slap that she earned for, what? Burning dinner? Failing to remove a stain from his work shirt? It does not matter to him that she tried. Elise grew up privileged, the fourth child and second daughter of a British Army Major who decided to pack up and enlarge his brood in the Antipodes after the end of the Great War. She was not accustomed to domestic duty, but she tried, for him. It should have mattered to Ned, but as with many things under this country's too-hot sun, it did not.

"I gotta get to work." Ned says it with spite, as if he'd prefer to stay to add another bruise or crack to her fragile state.

"You do that."

He's not gone ten minutes when her will resurfaces, again buoyant amid waves of emotion. She doesn't take much. Clothes, some loose cash, letters from her mother filled mostly with lamentation of Elise's departure, all shoved into a suitcase once bearing books for school. Ned will return and she can only imagine his anger, fostering a determination to find and drown what's left of her. She needs to disappear. Prayers are spoken. Her God left her long ago, but for now it is reassuring, calming.

She sits at the bus stop. The lines of dusty tears visible on her cheeks. Astride the ancient leather valise tied with string, its locks long broken like her heart. Why she followed that mug into the bush she'll never know. She wears her last remaining city dress, v-neck at front revealing just a hint of porcelain breast beneath a sunburned decolletage. Its skirt pinched in tight around a waist that two hands could nearly enfold. Billowing in the spring breeze, just enough for the pink rosebud print to ruffle and reveal a shapely golden thigh and make the road train driver stop. Scorned and violent lover behind, she heads south ashamed of her brazen chase for love, to enter a life of anonymity, to become a shadow until the furor of failed dream blows over.

***

In the hot and dusty cabin of a prime mover, four trailers weaving mechanically through twist and turn, traveling long from west to east, two shadows converge. The homeless and heartbroken, guests of a generous stranger. The trip is long and the truck driver short on words. He's used to picking up waifs and strays and delivering them interstate. They're good company and break the monotony of a 2,000 mile drive.

"So both your fathers fought in the Great War, eh?"

Nods and smiles from each and they take turns telling the stories of their patriarchs. Each notes the subtle wink of fate as the same battle garners mention from both mouths. At the Siege of Tsingtao her father fought with the South Wales Borderers. His father with the Japanese 18th Division.

"Maybe they knew each other. Wouldn't that be somethin'?"

A homeless romanticism borne of too many trips across the country elicits reflexive grin across the faces of all three. Kintaro unaware that it was a burgeoning friendship with several British soldiers that convinced his father to move to an English-speaking country. England denied entry. Australia asked for Japanese pearlers.

*Continued in Pearl, Harbour: Far Enough

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