As I got older, storms got quieter. When I was small the cracks of thunder pierced through my rose-coloured world in a whip of fantastical fear. Now the rain just gets in my socks.
In the middle of my teenage years a friend and I camped at Esperance, on top of a hill. Her dad – a man who shaved his head by choice – drove us in his polished four-wheeler.
The town was tiny. It stretched across the south coast of Western Australia by way of dirt trails, rock pools, and water that reflected the world – and your peering face – in tinges of blue.
At least until the patter of rain blocked your smiling, tanned expression from view.
It started pouring as we drove. When we perched the car atop the hill the world was filtered grey. Somehow you could see the beaches, even the sun, deep underneath. Even when the sky started to rumble.
“The tires are rubber…so…we’ll be okay, right?”
K’s dad had fallen asleep in his one man tent, snoozing with a hat tipped over his eyes to avoid the quick flashes of light. The two of us threw ourselves into the car and watched the light slowly pierce through the fog of rain. The smooth sands and flat beaches remained, just out-of-reach.
The sky whipped again, snapping me back into a childhood of being small, of shuddering thunder.
Apparently all I had to do was get closer to the sky.
Crabs skittered over the packed sand, their worn red backs glittering under torchlight as their legs scratched Morse code onto the beach. K and I weaved through the scattered traffic, both us and the crabs going nowhere in particular.
It was too dark to see the beach – I had to trust the sounds of the waves lapping against the shore were real, and that I hadn’t left a hollow shell sitting against my ear. It sounded that perfect, that fulfilling. All the expectations you have about Australian beaches rolled into one short coastline.
“Where’s the moon?” I asked.
I was treading on my tip-toes, begging not to hear a crunch, looking up at the night sky. When my bare feet reached the water they pricked with cold, and I stepped back from the slug of the sea.
The water was calm that night, filled with drops of day-old rain tinged with salt. It had never been easier to imagine the ocean as one massive, dark beast, or as ink roiling in a huge belly. The light of the stars was lost in the tangles of seaweed twisting underneath, and the moon played hide-and-seek with tufts of clouds.
The sky didn’t look any closer. The slope of rock beneath my feet – the steep as hell hill we were climbing – singed the bottom of my shoes.
Figures up ahead cooed and shouted, pale dots in the distance bellowing noise far above the shrub below. The jagged hill didn’t plateau – there were tall rocks wedged on top of it like a crown. The people peeked in and out of its spires.
The incline was scattered with flat rocks, oval gems that had fallen from the head of the mountain. Proof King Henry was uneasy.
I dragged myself to the peak. K stood in the shade of two leaning rocks while her Mountain-Warrior dad scouted the horizon for bigger slopes to climb. The coast was only a thin line of blue hugging the continent. The bushland twisted, denser the further you panned away from the shore.
I teetered over the edge of the rock, but the bush looked the same no matter the angle or sea-level. And the sky was too far away, too sickly blue, to look different atop the hill.