>The sand was winter tight, so dry it crackled. Jack pushed his boot through it, and the grains rolled away like old breadcrumbs. He wedged the crab tub between his stomach and the old freezer and with his free arm opened the lid. He hoisted the tub into the freezer and cringed as it banged against the side. He imagined the crabs bumping against one another. He closed the freezer lid. His fingers struggled with the shiny bronze padlock. It was like trying to do up a trouser button with only one hand.

Eventually, he heard the metallic click, and let the lock chain go. It hit the side of the freezer, making a sound like one of those West Indian drums. Jack had known a Jamaican who played them once—he had hammered tiny dints in two mixing bowls from the kitchen and played them with sticks. The sound sweet but powerful. Restrained, that was the word. The Jamaican had been allowed to keep the bowls, and he would play them some nights when the curfew lapsed. The echoes had sweetened the harsh walls, given voice to a silent despair that sometimes overtook you too easily.

Jack breathed the free air. Although it had been years, he still remembered to take his blessings. A pair of butcher birds chortled together down behind the fence. The breeze had picked up again. The mistletoe—those strange waterfalls high in the weeping gums—whistled and rushed in the wind. Tarden stood for a moment before wandering back around the side of the house. He wondered if he should change out of shorts to go down to the dam later on. It would be getting pretty cold down by the water.

Jack had caught by far the best catch of the morning. It was a daily ritual: the crabbers meeting in the main street to compare hauls. Even the blokes from the trawlers sometimes turned up, with their shiny utes and monogrammed polo shirts. They were doing just enough, that was what Jack thought. Just enough to keep the buyers happy. As far as they were concerned, winter was a dead time of year. The truth was, winter just meant you had to work harder—it didn’t mean you could slack off.

Jack had proudly shown his morning catch. Healthy, big, strong crabs. He could feel the other crabbers’ envy like the heat from a hot road. Jack’s haul would fetch a good price, but it was about more than that—it was about pride. When they huddled up at the tea van, or down the pub, and the stories started pouring out about this catch or that—the ridiculous tales of survival, courage and stamina—Jack could hold his head high, above it all.


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