THE STORY SO FAR: Staying in the South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu, Blake is told her husband has been killed visiting a remote island. Believing this to be another of Toby’s scams, she resolves to track him down, hiring a local boat bum, and taking their young daughter in tow.
“Everything’s okay, we’re all just a little tired. The heat here is a bit much, even for me.”
Blake hated lying to her father. Even over Skype, on a weak connection, she could feel his disapproval through the pixellated smile. The same disapproval of her marriage to Toby, or their callous opportunism, especially with regard to Leo and his family.
They said their crocodile goodbyes and she closed the laptop. The house was silent, modernist white walls and black slate floors bathed in the glowing embers of sunset.
Madison was already asleep, curled up on the couch, arms wrapped around the ragged bear (Teddy Tums) Dad had given Blake when she was her age. The couch was the only comfortable bed in their house. Despite the glossy facade and veneer their rental was not the luxurious abode it could’ve been.
The main beds upstairs were the cheapest of the cheap, bare metal sprung that didn’t spring, covered with a thin foam mattress that sagged almost to the floor when you lay down. Typical cheapskate Aussie ex-pat they’d rented from. A hairdresser who’d used the islands as a way of laundering money as a tax dodge, but too short sighted to make paradise habitable. The cost of shipping the cheapjack furnishings must’ve been a hundred times their value.
That was the irony of the islands. The whites lived in deluxe designer homes and spent their indolent days chugging overpriced beer and scarfing burgers, bitching about their money hordes, the locals not serving ’em right and the state of the roads they didn’t help to maintain. Innate selfishness and braggart sense of entitlement prevented them from enjoying the true beauty of where they’d laid their hat.
Just a few feet across a dusty track from the ivory modernist block they’d rented was a Ni-Van village. Tin and plank shacks, haphazardly knocked together because the islanders knew they wouldn’t last through hurricane season anyway, laughing barefoot children scampering carefree through unkempt grass with free roaming chickens and pigs. They had nothing, yet they had everything, they were the happiest people Blake had ever seen, enjoying a diet of communal stews, fish they caught, vegetables they grew and fruit they could cut down from the trees.
An even greater irony was they had the best beach too, tree shrouded golden sand streaming into warm swimming waters. In contrast the modernist blocks across the track sat on a bed of coral shingle that cut through bare feet and waters that were unswimmable due to the shallow coral reef stretching out for a half a click. The foreign property developers thought they were sharks grabbing the plots off the naive villagers, but really they were being sold a pup.
The same could be said of her and Toby, thought Blake. She had eschewed the simple honest labour aesthetic of her father to travel the world, spendthrift with a scheming shit who had abandoned her and his own daughter, no doubt in favour of a grander pipe dream. Maybe this was just desserts, for what she did to Leo.
Blake hardened again. The gold hue had now dimmed to jet blue as she’d pondered into the night. Fuck guilt. She was going to find her husband by hook or by crook. Move forward. She didn’t have a choice. Looking around the shiny discomfort of the rental told her that. They were already homeless because they’d never even tried to make one.
She curled herself around Madison on the couch, knowing she wouldn’t sleep, but wanting to hold the only thing she had left.
Madison woke with dawn, mother and daughter both agreeing to a breakfast feast in Jill’s Cafe in Port Vila high street before they set sail. They didn’t have much to carry, so they set off on foot, Blake not giving the house another glance when she closed the door behind them.