Saturday, December 14, 2013

Striving For Status - article in White Horses Magazine



The road is long and winding, twisting back on it's gravelly self like it can't make up its god-damned mind. Dust leaps in sepia clouds as a vehicle ploughs onwards. Dave – think clumsy giant cut from the same mold as a youthful Liam Neeson, but still not measuring up to his old man – is angry. He doesn't really know why. He thinks he does, but that's not the same. Young, naive, brutishly strong, he's always been determined to carpe the crap out of every diem he can, drawn to each coming dawn like a lizard to the sun's warmth, or a moth to the naked flame. Why is it that life conspires to squeeze the juice out of this? The coming of age, of responsibility, the need for a real job smoulders like a wreck of burning tyres in his mind.
The road heads mostly east. Dave's thick hands flex around the steering wheel of his father's aging land rover. The vehicle is more beat up, more weathered, than his old man but the grumpy sod still only lends it begrudgingly.
'Ding it you'll be in the shit,' younger brother Stewart had warned.
'Screw 'im,' Dave replied in nervous defiance, double-clutching but still grinding the gears as he left home.
His father hadn't been there to ask, unusually hadn't returned home from the night before. Dave's mother shrugged her shoulders when asked. 'Guess he needs time to himself...,' she started to explain, but then looked into the half-space in front of her, as if further explanation had somehow evaporated there.
Dave's old man was a hard task master, always criticising, pointing out 'the little things that can turn into big things if you don't pay them enough heed'. He somehow managed to twist any potential lesson, as if picking up on Dave's insecurities and taking to them with the kitchen knife. Walking on broken glass was nothing compared to this.
The wood pile was a good place for revenge. Sinking the splitting axe into the skull of a log, the force of each strike reverberated up through Dave's arms, a jolt of satisfaction. But last evening the axe had winged off a knot and nicked his shin. Blood oozed from the gash, dripping on to the concrete. Dave dabbed at it with a cloth, his hands shaking slightly, knowing he'd get a bollocking for not paying more attention.
The cut still throbs this morning. Dave flexes his calf gingerly before clutching and grabbing for the gearstick, his father's four-wheel-drive bucking over ruts on the road.

A few years back, his old man had reluctantly lent him one of the old surfboards that were stored in the garage rafters, a tanker that wouldn't turn a dime. Yet it glided over the smallest ripple, inert, somehow detached from the ocean while still allowing Dave to see what he wanted.
He'd worked hard then, after school and weekends till he had squirreled enough cash. His father drove him down another dead-end gravel road to someone he knew, a sour-faced old timer who squinted as he looked Dave up and down. 'Big bastard ain't ye? Just like him,' the old guy wheezed, pointing a notched finger at his father. Dave figured it wasn't meant as a compliment, but he couldn't be sure. He started to reply, but a sideways glance from his old man stopped him.
The old salt continued, motioning Dave to follow him back to his shed as he spoke. 'Well ye may have a big shell, but nothing but a pipsqueak inside. If I'm going to be making you a board, it's only because he's asking.'
The board is in the passenger seat, nestled under the seat belt. He hasn't ridden it for over two weeks. First his end-of-year exams – the last exams of his school life – and then this cursed flat spell. But Dave has an inkling about this morning, or maybe it's just a premonition of what waits for him in the real world. His father's expectations: 'You'll be looking for work then!' Not a question about whether he wanted to travel, or maybe just cruise for a bit.
They'd had a real bust up yesterday morning, the first time that Dave really stood up to his old man. When he had suggested travelling up country to chase waves, all his father talked about was work. 'Can't get by without money, son. You think it grows on trees?'
Dave had shouted at him then, striking back with anything to cause pain, venting all of his misguided youthful angst. Tears had welled, but there was no bloody way he would let his father see him cry. He turned away, not hearing the final, softer words spoken to him.

The pull of the ocean is like a doppelgänger to what he wants his life to be about. Its moods dwarf his own feelings in the power of a single rising swell. Like that, he is lifted. See it unfurl under the pale light of dawn, soft hues somehow imbibing the clashing of water with an almost inviting serenity. Almost.
This is as big as Dave has ever seen Caverns unleashing, the reef's rocky teeth camouflaged with boiling, turbulent ocean. Each wave erupts with the sound of...what? Uncertainty of the future? For the first time, Dave's anger subsumes with doubt.
And then, through the hazy offshore, he catches glimpse of someone way out the back sitting on their board. Their head is turned to the horizon, eyeing warily for the next set. But it's the board that focusses Dave's attention, an old tanker that he thinks he recognises.
He hasn't seen his father surf for years, hasn't seen anyone surf a wave like this on a board like that. The physics of it all seems wrong. No flashiness. No exuberant arm waving to gather enough speed. Just a methodical necessity of surfer, surfboard and wave.
His father stands there in the eye, shoulders square, legs braced, no adjustments necessary for trim. The wave spirals and spirals, allowing Dave to watch the most amazing, inspiring thing he's yet seen in his young life.


He doesn't for a moment consider paddling out.

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