Memory

Evie Wyld grew up in London and New South Wales. Her short story, "The Convalescent's Handbook" appears in the anthology Sea Stories, published by the National Maritime Museum. She is currently writing her first novel, After the Fire a Still Small Voice.

Shellfish thoughts

He is thought
to have
died on February 4 or February 5.
20 days in the mountains.
One kilo of prawns.

This entry in my notebook is ringed in blue and was written six years ago when I was living in Sydney in a musty flat off the beach.

I can remember sitting on a train to Cronulla where I was going to see about a job collecting for the Red Cross in the suburbs. I can remember writing these three points, and thinking there, save those for later.

I think that the first part came from a newspaper. It sounds like it did at any rate. But I can't remember if the other two bits were from the same story, or if they even came from a newspaper. They could have been overheard from one of the other passengers. Could have been a memory of my uncle, a champion prawn eater in the 1970s.

Either way, reading it now, I think of a man setting off into the Blue Mountains, hiking with one kilo of prawns, getting lost, death, prawn heads.

20 days. Is that long enough to die of starvation if you set off with a kilo of prawns? Did the prawns go bad?

I remember writing in my notebook that day, the stuck feeling in my stomach about the job that I didn't want but very much needed. I'd been eating brown rice and tinned tomatoes for two months and the small rent I was paying on the small flat was looking steeper and steeper.

The sun would have been hot and bright outside, and the train would have skimmed over the roof tops of Kings Cross, the telephone lines and the orange brick of the block buildings, the dark interiors of youth hostels, currawong black against the blue sky.

I can remember the slip of my pen against the paper, how I looped the word kilo, went over the lines like it was the most important word. Perhaps it was. Perhaps it was the weight that killed him. Perhaps it was one kilo too many that unbalanced him as he stood on a precipice, and he fell to his slow death, finally succumbing on February 4 or February 5.

I don't remember the story of this man's death. I don't remember if he was long dead by the time I read the article, if he was a historical figure whose death was unspecific because of the passing of time, or if he has some connection with the mountains, with the prawns.

In my notebook I think of this man laying dead on a limestone ledge in the mountains, blue mist hanging still across the ghost gums in the distance. White cockatoos shriek in the treetops and there is the sound of water running from somewhere. His arms are flung out, his feet dropping away to the sides, his head is hidden beneath a pyramid heap of pink prawns.

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