Fiction

Pint-sized Surf God

When the beach is all covered with muscles and bronze, what chance for a guy who has to stand on his toes to see into his own shaving mirror?

JON CLEARY October 15 1948
Fiction

Pint-sized Surf God

When the beach is all covered with muscles and bronze, what chance for a guy who has to stand on his toes to see into his own shaving mirror?

JON CLEARY October 15 1948

Pint-sized Surf God

Fiction

JON CLEARY

I’D KNOWN her for years before I fell for her. You know how it is. You’re at school, in the senior classes, wrapped up in Latin and maths and the women you’ve just discovered exist, and there’s a skinny stringy-haired kid who sometimes comes around to play with your sister, but she’s about five years younger than you and just an infant. Then you go away for a few years, maybe to the war or jail or something, and when you come back to Australia—well, you’ve seen it in the pictures and read about it and even had it happen to you. It happens to everyone sooner or later and sometimes you sigh and wish you hadn’t been in such a hurry to marry or maybe you wonder how you’re going to do any good for yourself after such a late start. Like me.

This Sunday morning I was lying on the beach, glad to be back in Australia after so long and particularly glad to be back here in the home suburb, thinking about nothing at all but all the good sorts lying about the sands in multicolored bits of next-to-nothing, when a shadow that looked curvy and interesting stopped in front of me and a soft, velvety voice said: “Hello, Jim. Remember me?”

I ROLLED over and looked up. I didn’t remember her and I knew if I’d seen her before I’d have been a bad amnesia case if I’d forgotten her. Her black wavy hair glistened like well, like that old one, the raven’s wing; her eyes and face and figure werewell, all over she was all the old clichés, but plus.

I scrambled to my feet and was chagrined, as I often am, to find I was no teller than she was. “Your name escapes me, but the rest of you I remember well.”

“Connie Stevens. I was just a brat when you last saw me.”

I’m nothing if not gallant. I have to be something, to make up for my lack of inches, my red hair and my freckles. “You could never have been a brat.”

“You used to think so.” She had a smile bright and white as the breakers flashing off the beach.

“Let’s sit down and talk this over.” I always prefer to be sitting down with my women. That way I look as if I might have long legs. “If I thought you were a brat, that was another of the indiscretions of my youth. I’ve grown out of all those.” “You haven’t changed much, to look at.”

She meant I hadn’t grown out of anything else but my indiscretions; only too well do I know I still wear the same size clothes as I wore when 1 w’as sixteen. But she didn’t sound nasty about it, so I didn’t get on my high horse about it. “ You have, you know. It’s a wonder you haven’t been chosen as Beach Girl Of The Week.”

She smiled, without being smug. “I have been. Last summer.”

“If I’d known I’d have written you a fan letter.” She smiled again and I was dazzled even through my sun blinkers. “I hope it wouldn’t have been a fresh letter, like some I got.” She looked down toward the water, squinting her eyes against the glare on the sand. “Have you been in?”

“Not yet.”

“Let’s go in now. It’s too hot to stay here on the sand.”

She stood up and stepped out of her slacks and wind cheater and I had to bury a long low whistle in my throat. She had bits of white material at strategic points about her person but they were only like spots before the eyes and I could ignore them while I stared at the nicest piece of proportion this side of the art books.

“Are you looking at my tan?” she said.

“Well—yes.” Now that she’d mentioned it.

“I’m lucky. I tan very easily—all I need is a couple of sunny days.”

I was conscious of my own ginger skin with the freckles scattered over it like the measles. Some day, I hoped, all the freckles would fuse into one big freckle and then people might think I was a big bronzed surf god. They might, if I stood on a hox.

“Hel-lo Connie!” It sounded as though a wave had crept up on the beach and crashed in my ear, but when I turned round it was only a giant standing beside us, blocking out the sun and leering at Connie with ugly intent. “You going in?”

“Hello, Lex,” she said, and I felt disappointed to see her smile at him so intimately, as if he had been in her neighborhood a long time. “This is Jim Carmody. Lex Paxman. He’s captain of the -surf club.”

I practically had to stand on my toes to shake him by the hand. He was the type they sculpture out of mountains, all muscles, jaw, sun-bleached hair and only a little less tanned than some of the boongs I’d seen in the Islands. He grinned down at me and I waited for him to pat me on the head. Fair dinkum, I’d have bitten him on the shin if he had.

“G’day.” He had the sort of voice that would

have made a good shark alarm, loud and booming like a cannon. All the girls on the beach were turning to admire him and I felt I was just standing beside him to show up his size; I was wishing he’d go away or at least get down on his knees. “You come out this way often?”

“I live here. I was born here.” These wartime imports. They move in, make themselves at home, and when you come back you have to produce your birth certificate to show you aren’t an alien. I turned my back on him and spoke to Connie. “Shall we go in?”

“Yeah, it’s too hot out here,” bawled Cannon Voice and grabbed her hand and they ran down toward the water. I followed, trying to look as if I were on my own and hadn’t just been left like a lame shag on a rock.

1 REACHED the water and looked about for Connie and the hulk. At last I saw them, way out beyond the first line of breakers, swimming as easily as porpoises and with Connie waving to me to come on out. Now, as a swimmer, I’m the one foot on the bottom type. I’m the mug public that water wings are made for, but so far I’ve never been game to buy a pair. Once, with both feet off the bottom, I did swim ten or twelve yards, but it took three hefty men to lift me out of the water afterward.

So now I just waved back to Connie and joined the kids and the fat ladies in the shallows. My heart was heavy within me, having just seen a beautiful romance die at conception, and it took me all my time to keep afloat even with one leg on the bottom. My thoughts strayed, something I can’t afford when I’m concentrating on keeping afloat, and I woke up only when the water started lapping at my chin. I blinked, wondering how the heck I’d got out this far, looked up and saw a huge wave dropping down out of the sky toward me. I turned and tried to run but you can’t run far on one leg. Something caught me by the scruff of the neck; picked me up, shook me, then flung me down into a torrent of boiling white water.

I struggled up, gasping for breath, burping from the salt water I’d swallowed, to find Connie standing beside me, having just ridden that tidal wave in from out there were it had started. “Why don’t you come out and join us, Jim?”

I grabbed another mouthful of air. “Too deep.” “Who? Lex? Why, he’s just a big simple—”

I couldn’t afford to stand and argue; another wave might be due any moment. “Look, Connie. I have to go home now. But could you have dinner with me tomorrow night?”

“Why, yes, Jim. But must you go?”

“Yes. It’s something important.” I could see Paxman coming in on a breaker, riding it as easily as if his qnother had been a mermaid. “Tomorrow night. I’ll call for you at seven. You still living at the same place?”

“Yes. But I wish you didn’t have to go.”

So did I, but I was never meant to be a deep-sea lover. The wave with Paxman aboard loomed over us. I turned and ran and staggered up on to dry sand just in time. I

Continued on page 45

When the beach is all covered with muscles and bronze, what chance for a guy who has to stand on his toes to see into his own shaving mirror?

Pint-sized Surf God

Continued from page 10

waved to Connie, then nonchalantly strolled up the beach, walking on my toes in the sand, squaring my shoulders till I was on the point of dislocating my collarbones, wondering if I looked any bigger from a distance.

MONDAY night I took her to a little place out at Double Bay. She was in red and the tan of her face and arms was warm and glowing against the fire of it. But she was also in high heels and I was glad when we were finally seated at our corner table and we were back on the same eye level. “Tell me about your past,” I said. She smiled and there were dimples I hadn’t noticed yesterday. “So soon?” “1 mean about the six years while I was away. While you were growing up.”

So she told me all about herself, about her job as a sportswear designer, about how she loved surfing and went swimming all the year round, and about how some day she hoped to marry and have six children.

“Is this Lex in the running as a prospective husband?”

“Oh, I’ve known him a couple of years, but I hadn’t thought about it. And he hasn’t asked me. He’s nice—” “And big, too.”

She smiled again. “You’re not selfconscious about your height, are you, Jim?”

“No. But everyone else is.”

“I’m not,” she said.

1 reached across and took her hand. “You’ve made me a happy man. Order anything you like for dinner, even caviar.”

When I took her home we stood outside her front door and I asked her might I kiss her. She nodded and closed her eyes and stood on her toes. “Hey,” I said. “I’m down here.”

She opened her eyes, smiled as if embarrassed, and sank back to earth. “I’m sorry, Jim. I forgot—”

I knew she meant she’d forgotten she wasn’t out with Paxman, but I knew 1 wouldn’t get anywhere griping about it. I took her in my arms. When 1 let her go I felt about six inches taller.

I drew a deep breath. “We should have done this years ago.”

“Dad would have walloped me if we had. I was only fourteen when you went away. I’d only read about this sort of thing.” She smiled and pressed my hand. “Good night, Jim. It’s been a lovely evening.”

She kissed me again and I left her and somehow stumbled down to the gate and out into the street. I walked home, feeling massive, looking for some big bloke I could pick and wallop the daylights out of. I felt like a redheaded relative of Joe Louis, big enough to beat the world.

I took her out again on the Thursday and then on Saturday we went to the surf-club dance. She danced like sunlight on blue water and I was glad dancing was one thing I could do without looking like a one-legged novice. She’d worn low heels, too, so that as we danced 1 could talk to her without craning my neck.

She was in white, in something that clung tightly to her upper structure but swung loosely in pleats from her hips and I knew most of the coves in the room were looking at her and I felt pretty proud of myself. Then at the end of the third dance up loomed Mister Big. He nodded down at me, then looked over my head at Connie and boomed, “The next dance mine?” Connie looked at me and I looked at him, all six feet four of him, and what could I do?

“Go right ahead,” I said, trying to look magnanimous about it.

The music started again and they glided away and it pleased me to see that he danced as if he were hobbled. I went outside and down on to the beach. I stood there chewing the cud of my jealousy and wondering how, with undersized muscles like mine, I was going to muscle out Paxman who seemed to have already had a couple of years’ start on me. Finally, I went back inside and found I must have stayed out there longer than I had thought because another dance seemed to have started and Connie was in the arms of yet another giant. She waved to me as she went past, but before I could wave back she was lost to sight round the other side of the sun-tanned mountain.

THAT was how it was the rest of the night. Every second dance I’d lose her to some towering hunk, and though she’d smile and press my hand when she’d come back I was beginning to realize there was not much fun in squiring The Most Popular Girl.

Then it was time to go home. We walked toward the door and there stood Paxman, filling most of the opening and backed by three or four other huskies.

“How’s about coming over for a drink with us, Connie?” Paxman said, not even looking down as far as me.

She smiled. “No, thank you, Lex. I’m going home with Jim. Goodnight.” She took my arm and we walked through the tall timber and out the door. They all looked down at me with a sort of astonished contempt, as if she were going home with a midget or a kid in short pants. We had almost reached the top of the steps to the roadway before anyone spoke, then Paxman said: “I wonder what she sees in that half-grown drongo?”

“Maybe she likes to mother him,” said one of the others.

I swelled with anger but, I knew 1 couldn’t swell big enough to go back and do something about it. I looked at Connie to see if she’d heard what had been said, but if she had she didn’t show it. She took my arm and we walked up the hill toward her place. There was a park opposite her house so we went across there and sat on a seat. I put my arm about her and kissed her, then she sat back.

“Jim, why don’t you join the surf club?”

“What as—caretaker?”

“What do you mean?”

I had to confess it sooner or later so there was no point, in beating about the bush. “I can’t swim. Every time I got in the water the rest of the club would have to come in and rescue me.” “You can’t swim?” She sounded shocked; I might have told her I couldn’t feed myself or couldn’t do up my own rompers.

“No. I’m the bunny who’s the reason for surf clubs.” I looked at her. “Does it make any difference?”

She was brave. “Well—no. No, Jim. But I just thought everybody could swim.”

“Maybe everybody can. Everybody but me.”

She was silent for a moment, then out she came with her great idea, her inspiration. “Perhaps Lex could teach you. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.” “I’d rather drown.”

“Don’t you like him?”

“Well, should I? Every time I’m with you he keeps popping up. It’s like being in a field full of mushrooms. Big mushrooms.”

“Jim, you aren’t jealous, are you?” “Well, I dunno. Maybe I am. I’ve never felt like it before, but then I’ve never felt like this about a girl, either.”

WK HAD regular dates after that, two and three times a week. She took to wearing low heels all the time and 1 got used to walking stretched to breaking point and all in all we got along fin«*. Paxman had gone away on a country tour with a lifesaving troupe, to show the bushwhackers how we city slickers are revived after we’ve tried to drown ourselves, and the field was left cl«.*ar for your redheaded mate. We hadn’t mentioned marriage again, but 1 was getting optimistic and had started computing how far the pay of a junior accountant on the Water and Sewerage Board would go toward supporting two people.

Then came the day of the local surf carnival. It was something I could have passed up because the sight of so many bronzed surf gods, marching up and down the sands, plunging into the breakers, riding the combers in the surf boats, always gives me an inferiority complex. But the dearly beloved wouldn’t have missed it for quids, so along we went.

It was a fine sunny day, but there was a wind beating up from the south, whipping the sand in a stinging spray against your face. And when I looked at the sea I was glad I belonged to no surf club, that I didn’t have to go in there and battle those waves to prove to fifteen thousand spectators that lifesavers feared nothing. The waves came galloping in like huge wild horses, white manes streaming in the wind, and the roar as they broke on the beach reminded me of the barrage at Alamein.

“Looks a bit rough,” 1 said, trying to sound casual. We were sitting on the sand just in front of the spectators’ enclosure; we were both in swim togs and wind cheaters and I was sitting with my legs tucked under me so they wouldn’t suffer in comparison with the bronzed tree trunks that kept passing us every few moments.

“That’s the sort of water the boys like,” Connie said. She shut her eyes as sand whipped against her face. “Adds a bit of excitement.”

I looked down toward the water again and wondered what sort of sunstruck no-hopers wanted that much excitement. Just then up comes Paxman, towering against the sky above us and making a most effective windbreak.

“Hello, Connie!” The roar of the breakers became just a low thud behind his voice. He nodded to me, then stepped to one side when he saw he was keeping the wind off me. I shut my eyes as the sand blew up into my face again. “How’s tricks? You miss me?” “Things seemed quieter,” I said, spitting out sand.

He looked at me again, then stirred his foot in the sand. The wind caught the sand as he lifted his foot and before I had time to duck I’d copped another faceful.

“You going to the dance tonight?” he bellowed at Connie.

“Yes, Lex,” she said.

“What time'll I call for you?”

I blinked the sand out of my eyes and saw Connie smile. “I’m going with Jim. But perhaps we could have a dance. 1 want to hear about your trip.” He looked down at me, then back at her. “You're going with him?"

“Yeah,” I said. “Anything wrong with that? Or have you got a monopoly around here?”

“Pull your head in, Shorty,” he said. Just then a whistle blew and he looked over his shoulder, then back at Connie. “I gotta go. I ll see you tonight, Connie. Cot a lot to tell you.”

HK WKNT striding down the l>each, everyone looking after him. including Con ni«*. Then she turned to

me. “Jim, I told you I don’t like jealous people. There was no need to talk like that to Lex.”

“Well, he doesn’t have to be so overbearing. Who does he think he is? Tarzan? He treats me as if I’m one of the apes.”

Maybe the sand blowing against her face made her irritable. “Perhaps you are.”

The sand, and Paxman, had made me irritable. “Well, it’s taken you a long time to find that out. I bet I’m a freak. A redheaded monkey.”

She had turned away and was looking down the beach. The march past had begun and the teams were marching up the sands toward us, chests shoved out, brown limbs moving rhythmically in the sun, the club pennants streaming above them in the wind. I had to admit they looked good, but they only made me feel twice as marked.

“I’ll bet Paxman’s got muscles where his brains should be,” I said.

“At least he has something there. Not like some people.”

“So now I’m a half-wit. A halfwitted monkey. You make funny dates, don’t you?”

Suddenly she swung round. “You make me mad, Jim Carmody! You and your silly jealousy! Why don’t you grow up mentally, even if you can’t physically?” She tore off her wind cheater, but today I was in no mood to admire her briefly covered figure. “I’m going in for a swim. And don’t you follow me! I’ve had just about enough of you today!”

I sat and watched her make her way along toward that part of the beach that hadn’t been marked off for the surf carnival. I could see the waves pounding in, but I didn’t care. She could drown and I’d be glad to see her go. That last crack about my physique had finished us. I could take most things but not that. So I just sat and stared belligerently after her. She stood for a moment on the water’s edge then she ran in. Almost immediately she was lost to sight, then I saw her white cap diving under a breaking wave.

Still hoping she would drown, I got up and walked down toward where she had gone into the water. I was almost at the water’s edge when I saw her throw up an arm and turn a small scared face toward the beach. Her mouth opened but 1 could hear nothing in the roar of the surf, then a wave enveloped her and she was gone from sight.

1 panicked, searching for someone who looked as if they could swim, but this part of the beach was deserted. I looked out toward the surf again and saw an arm waving almost despairingly and the white cap disappearing again beneath a thundering wall of water.

That was enough. I forgot all about her nasty cracks, forgot about Paxman, forgot everything but that I loved her and 1 couldn’t lose her this way. I shut my eyes and ran toward the water. A wave that felt like a bulldozer hit me but somehow I struggled through it. Gulping both air and water, still with my eyes shut, I took both feet off the bottom and started to swim! I was going along like Tarzan with an alligator after him, and then I opened my eyes to see where she was and that finished me. A skyscraper of a wave was falling down on me and suddenly 1 realized where I was—out here in the deep, unable to swim, and with no chance of putting one foot on the bottom unless I went down about forty feet. I let out a yell just before I start«*d to sink and then I w«;nt. down into dark green depths. I came to the top again hours later and just had time to see Paxman, wearing the belt

and line, holding Connie with one arm and swimming toward me.

“Hold on!” I heard him yell.

That was enough for Carmody. 1 didn’t want to drown but I’d rather have that happen than be saved by Paxman. It would be like selling my soul to have that big mug drag me in to the beach and safety. So I went down to the bottom almost gladly and my last thought before blackness set in was that the world above was no place for little blokes and we might just as well give way to the giants who had taken over.

WHEN I woke in the next world four angels were carrying me between them over what looked like a strip of sand. I turned my head and looked at the angels and then 1 knew this couldn’t be heaven. I’d landed in hell and all the devils were fire-bronzed giants. I moaned and shut my eyes and wondered what I’d done in that other life to deserve this.

Then I was lowered to the sand, which wasn’t as hot as I’d expected, and the next moment there were arms about my neck and a voice, a soft velvety voice, was saying: “Oh, Jim!

Jim, darling, are you all right?”

I opened my eyes and saw Connie was on her knees beside me, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Are we dead?” 1 said.

“No, darling.” She bent down and kissed me. “You were wonderful. You

can’t swim and yet you came out to try and save me. The club’s going to recommend you for a medal. And they’re going to make you an honorary member. Darling, I’m proud of you!”

1 looked up and there, miles above us, was Paxman. “Thanks, mate,” 1 said.

“What for?” he said.

“For saving Connie and me.”

“I didn’t save you,” he said, and he sounded disappointed, as if he would have liked to have had that on me. “1 brought Connie in, but you got back on your own.” He spat into the sand. “A wave washed you up on to the beach.”

My soul was still my own. I’d been out where it was too deep to have my foot on the bottom and had got back all on my own. Somehow or other I’d been classed as a hero. Till I’d opened my eyes out there I’d actually been swimming. And Connie had called me darling and shed tears over me. Right then everything seemed complete.

“Connie,” I said.

“Yes, darling?”

“Would you mind if your six kids had red hair and were maybe only pintsized?”

“I’d love it, darling.”

I put my arm about her, then noticed Paxman still standing over us. “Run along, Lofty,” I said. “My wife won’t be going near the water again for quite some time.” ★