Look, I’m eating a tomato. It’s home grown, red and juicy. My mother has shaken salt from a greaseproof twist onto the bitten edge for me. I don’t need salt. I have plenty enough in my mouth already but I say nothing.
Here I am on the bleached buffalo grass with Dad. My feet are still stuck with Piha’s iron sands. There’s black sand all about me; you just can’t see it. My bathing cap, swimming costume and body crevices are full of iron filings. It’s on my tomato as well, sandy, salty seeds and flesh.
My knees are scrapped. They sting. My mother hasn’t noticed and I am not going to mention that they hurt. She wouldn’t be taking the photo if she’d spotted the injury. Instead she’d be mercurochroming me purple. Margaret Bourke White to Florence Nightingale in one maternal pulse. She probably thinks the reddened knees are dotted with tomato juice.
“Please don’t tell Mum,” I begged my father once he’d dragged me from the rip, hauled me from the spin cycle beyond the safe swimming notices and I could speak again.
So far he’s kept his word. But he is quiet and has just refused the frothy foamed lager Derek’s offering him. He hasn’t yelled at me, not even after the life savers told him off. They shouted “keep a better eye on her” – especially if he’s going to wear a surf rescue outfit. I wish he wouldn’t wear it. It embarrasses me. There’s even a little moth hole near the left side seam. Maybe he’ll buy new togs* now, now he’s in trouble.
I’ve still got my swimming hat on. I don’t want to hurt anymore and pulling the rubber off my head always hurts.
“Take your cap off, “ Mum says. “Let the sun at your hair.”
I shake my head.
“Are you going back in after lunch?” she asks.
I nod. “Maybe,” knowing that’s the last thing in the whole world I’m going to do.
I catch a glance from Dad, a warning shot across my bows. He wants me back in Piha’s clutches even less than I want to be there.
“I’m going to change, Nola,” he calls to my mum and heads towards the car. She takes another photo.
That morning, as we drove down to the beach, I thought the sea inviting. Blue and deeper blue the water with waves like foaming heads on a coke and ice cream spider. The reality, I’ve discovered, is somewhat different. Blue, in one second, transports me to dark, green, gritty terror and the stuff of Maori legend.
“I saw your cap,” Dad said. “It’s so lucky you had that white cap on.”
We trudge across the black iron sand to the picnic.
Look, I’m eating a tomato. It’s luscious and red. I’ve stained my robe with its juices.
* Swimming costume, trunks, bathers