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A Midnight Swim

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“Come on,” Wally said, tugging on Norah’s hand as he began to run. “It’ll be so much worse if we prolong it—you know it will!” 

 

They ran across the foreshore down to the water’s edge and, with no regard for their clothing, splashed into the surf. It was a warm night: the sea was at a comfortable temperature, and Norah sighed with delight as she sank into its welcoming embrace. “How beautiful this feels!” 

 

Wally stood, his shoulders just barely clearing the water-line, and grinned down at her. “It does, doesn’t it? By Jove, I don’t think I’ve bathed in such warm water since we left Billabong!” 

 

She let her feet leave the sea-bed and flat gently to the top, drifting on her back. Above her, the night sky was dotted with stars, and her eyes were drawn to the Southern Cross, that enduring symbol of their country. Wordlessly, she reached under the water with a hand to grab her husband’s and pointed up with the other, his eyes following her finger. 

 

They remained that way for several moments, taking in the peaceful serenity of their surroundings, before Norah broke it with a sigh. “It’s been lovely to see you getting better,” she said. “Before we came away you were looking three times your age, and now you look almost as young as Davie!” 

 

“Not quite as young, I hope,” he answered, looming over her with mischief in his eyes. “If that were the case, I wouldn’t be able to do this—“ and he placed a gentle, feather-light kiss on her lips. When he broke away after a couple of seconds, Norah could see the deep love in his eyes.

 

“That’s true,” she commented breathlessly, feeling a surge of emotion well up inside her. To stop the moment from getting too serious, she used her free hand to splash him, and he let go of her other hand, covering his eyes as he shrieked dramatically. “It’s your own fault for letting your guard down.” With that, she flipped over backwards, disappearing under the water with a lithe movement.

 

Wally gave chase, and for ten minutes they splashed and cavorted like young children, forgetting their mature years and the child sleeping in his bedroom at Mrs Thompson’s. Eventually, it was Norah who called a halt, breathing hard and shaking water out of her hair; Wally, too, was tired, and his black hair stuck up every-which-way, drips running off it.

 

Laughing, they gained the foreshore hand-in-hand, and stared at each other in amazement. Their clothes had been dry when they left Mrs Thompson’s; now, they were soaked to the skin. “What do you say to a hundred-yard dash?” Wally asked. “It might dry us off somewhat, if not totally, and I’d like to get you warm again.” 

 

“If we dry off somewhat, do you think Mrs Thompson will let us get away with saying we fell in the sea without meaning to?” she replied, her eyes dancing. “Where do we race to?” 

 

“Do you see that pier?” Wally said, pointing up to where a dark shadow loomed, blotting out any lights beyond. “Last person to touch it’s a rotten egg. On your marks, get set—“

 

“Go!” Norah shouted, digging her feet into the sand for traction and flying off the starting line, hearing Wally’s indignant yell behind her as he launched after her. The wind was cool, but not too cool: a refreshing breeze that she could feel warming her up as she ran. After fifty yards, Wally drew level, and the last half was an all-out sprint. 

 

They touched the pier at the same time, Norah collapsing into a seated position on the sand with a gasp, while Wally leaned against the wood with his forearms, the two of them attempting to catch their breath. “That wasn’t fair, the way you sprung that start on me,” Wally gasped out eventually. “It’s not fair play, young Norah.” 

 

“All’s fair in love and war,” she tossed back, looking up at him. The moonlight was falling on her upturned face, and Wally audibly caught his breath. “Oh, now I’ve got sand on my clothes—and ’twas afther getting clean so that Mrs Thompson would not suspect anything, I was!” 

 

“Well, all of that’s shot to hell,” he told her severely. “I hope you’re pleased with what you’ve done.” He sat down beside her. “Oh well, I’ll join you, because I’m a kind and forgiving husband, and I would rather take the rap with you than let you go it alone.” 

 

“Did you do that at school?” she inquired. “Or did you laugh through windows as other fellows sat detention?” 

 

“I did it, to a degree, thank you,” he remarked, “but I wasn’t married to any of them.”

 

Norah laughed, leaning forward so he hugged her tightly and resting her head on his shoulder. “That’s a relief, because otherwise I should have to ask for a dissolution of our marriage. I really don’t want to do that.” 

 

He tightened his arms around her, pressing his lips to her temple and lingering there. “Good,” he said softly, “because I don’t want you to, either.” 

 

For some time they sat together, listening to the crashing of the waves breaking on the sand, feeling the fresh sea air rolling in from the bay. It was, Norah reflected, the most peaceful they had been since before Bob had struck gold well over a year ago. Wally being away for long periods of time mining, and then sorting out the business of the trial, did not allow for moments such as this: there had always been something that one of them needed to do, some job that could not wait. Now, however, Time did not beckon them on, but simply let them be. 

 

“I believe you’re falling asleep,” Wally said after several minutes. “Come on, asthore, and we’ll go back to the bungalow and go to bed. Davie will need us at our best and brightest tomorrow.” 

 

Norah allowed him to stand and then pull her to her feet, and they turned towards the cliff path, their arms wrapped around each other: Wally’s draped across her shoulders, hers winding behind his back. They did not talk on the walk home; they did not need to, as peaceful as they were. 

 

Eventually they gained the track leading into the back garden of the bungalow, and then crept in through the screen door, pulling it shut quietly behind them.

 

They slipped into the bathroom, picking up pyjamas on the way, and after undressing used a damp wash cloth to get rid of the sand on their bodies: their clothes could be hung out tomorrow on the line. In the meantime, they threw the wet and sandy garments into the bath and returned to their bedroom. They had looked in on Davie just before, and he was sleeping peacefully, unaware of the parents keeping watch over him. 

 

“I was fresh when we went out, but now I feel as though I could sleep for a thousand years,” Norah commented with a yawn, dropping onto the bed. “I don’t believe I have strength enough to get under the covers!” 

 

“Do you make me out to be a mere body-slave?” Wally demanded, helping her lift her body and then pulling the covers over her. She did not answer, sleep tugging at her eyelids, and he slipped around to the other side of the bed and climbed in. Norah reached for him at once, and he settled on his back with his arm around her, her head on his shoulder. 

 

“It was a good idea to come away, Nor,” he whispered softly, on the edge of sleep himself. “Thank you.” 

 

She tightened her arm across his sternum in response. “I love you,” she mumbled, and then they were both asleep, remaining so until they were woken at eight o’clock by Davie scampering into their bedroom. 

 

“Wake up, Muvver!” he shouted. “Wake up, Dad. Plenty big lagoon outside!”