Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • We arrive at the cabins to find
    my father, 76 next month, sitting,
    surveying the lake, the sky, his grandchildren,
    kayaks pulled up on the grass,
    the Azure Kingfisher turning through the Grey Gums.
    Have you eaten? he says.
    It's a pity you didn't come yesterday.
    Mark caught a couple of beautiful crabs
    which we ate for lunch.

    Mark is the crabber.
    From the early days at Clareville,
    he baited his traps with old meat
    and paddled out at dusk
    on the flowing silver of the bay
    to set them,
    bobbing plastic milk bottles on the ends of the ropes
    showing where they lay.

    Checking them in the still morning,
    ancient lines hauled hand over hand,
    swung, water streaming, into the light,
    into the ridged aluminium hull of the dinghy.
    On the beach, grasping them behind,
    he freed the crabs, shining, blue, brown,
    claws vaguely waving.

    And inside slid them into the freezer to slow,
    shrinking inward, downward, slipping
    into the dark sleep,
    while he boiled water on the stove in the biggest pot.
    When they were tipped in,
    did it seem that they tensed, minutely spasmed
    before they stilled?

    In the summer night,
    arrayed down benches on either side
    of the heavy, yellow-pine table,
    under the glow of the orange paper lampshade,
    we cracked the reddened shells
    and clawed the sweet meat out,
    used slices of bread to shovel it onto forks,
    the six of us bickering, laughing, reaching,
    putting down fresh roots
    by the shore of this new place, to the music
    of halyards ringing lazily on dipping masts.

    Between setting, Mark's crab traps lay
    at the back of the beach,
    at the bottom of the verandah steps,
    their decaying lure white and fleshy.
    One year Candy, my mother's beagle,
    crawled in after a flabby ham bone bait,
    couldn't extract herself and didn't want to,
    growling at passers by on the beach who approached,
    to look at the crab-dog and laugh as she gnawed.

    My father bought the weatherboard cottage at Clareville,
    Kwamanzi, the place by the water,
    to recreate for us his childhood of long days
    paddling a home made canoe,
    swimming with his dog on the running tide.
    One of the few photos I’ve seen of his father Rick,
    the grandfather I never knew,
    who bought that shack by the wild African river,
    called it Water's Edge -
    One of those photos is taken there
    in the morning sun, the lagoon behind,
    Rick with his rod on one shoulder,
    the other hand holding a gaffed, gape-mouthed bass.

    Now we come here, to the lake,
    the line of cabins low under filtered light,
    the fourth generation growing by water,
    running under the trees, wet and dry
    all the long day. These cousins,
    the squally and the sunny,
    the solid, the phlegmatic,
    minute on minute, day on day,
    creating the world anew.

    The night Uncle Ben climbed into the tree
    to vault his marshmallow on a long stick into the fire,
    by-passing our chattering scrum where we crowded,
    threatening each other's eyes with flaming sugar torches.
    Uncle Mark, sling-shotting us on the doughnut behind his boat,
    skittering across the lake, Will's widening eyes as he nosedived.
    Dinner under the verandah lights at a different cabin each night,
    drifting pyrethrum smoke of the coils, the crack of a log in the barbecue,
    sparks spraying towards the great starry dome.
    Then drifting off to sleep under the slow-turning ceiling fan,
    reassured in the dark by the familiar sounds,
    the murmur of conversation from outside,
    the clatter of plates,
    laughter, the uncles drinking red wine,
    teasing, remembering.

    My father watches all this from his chair,
    does the washing up late into the night -
    he will not cede the sink.
    Each afternoon, he paddles his kayak
    far up the lake, around the islands,
    easy strokes, training for the Murrimbidgee,
    watching the clouds race, the light turning on the water,
    sun curling silver off the underside of the leaves
    of the eucalypts crowding the shore.
    When he returns, he refuses help
    hauling the kayak up close to the cabins.

    Mark bends,
    reaches into his beached trap,
    then proffers a large crab
    which hangs in his hand,
    one claw larger than the other -
    A regrowth, says John -
    barely moving, a white foam
    of beard around its maw.
    He looks old and sick, says Mark,
    Do we want to eat him?
    Let him go, my father says,
    Let the poor old man see out his days
    in the lake.
    Mark wades out knee deep,
    slides the crab under the water, watches for a while.
    I don't know how far he'll get, he says.
    Thanks Mark, my father says,
    for being kind to a poor old man.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.