Noises - Christine Cloughley
A small wood-lined bach cracking its way through the salty air. The screech of seagulls and the unfamiliar crash of waves barely heard above the din of holidays shared with cousins, aunts and uncles.
Sounds that belong only to childhood, to Mount Maunganui and the joy of freedom.
As we cousins wait for the barbecue to sigh into its bed of embers, we make up games to keep the hunger at bay. The thud of Frisbees hitting the ground, always just out of reach, and the snap of elastic as we create pretzel shapes. The crunch of lettuce as we see who can eat the most; crisp, burnt bodies soothed by the cold, sweet bite of iceberg leaves, appetites unspoiled for the sausages sizzling plumply in their fat-laden skins.
When night falls we compete to see who can peel off the longest strip of skin, the soft whisper of tearing flesh a source of pride. Adults lulled by the fizz of a bottle cap opening, the clink of ice hitting glass and the gulp of gin pouring from the bottle.
Each summer we gather to share in this feast of summer sounds. Nowhere else do cicadas sound so joyful, do the babble of voices sound so relaxed or the rustle of sleeping bags so welcoming.
Another year, another summer. The car crushed with food, towels, skim boards and a new surfboard on top. Driving south, expectations high. Two small girls giggling in the back as the car speeds south.
A bang, a loud crash and disbelief. The surfboard has escaped from the roof rack. Big brother cries out, voice breaking with hormones and emotion. The board lies scattered across the motorway. No squeal of brakes or screech of metal follows. We retrieve the pieces in relieved silence then pile back in the car to continue onwards.
Holidays at the Mount are too precious to waste on regrets.
Fast forward a few years. The lure of the beach still strong, but we’re growing up. This year is special. We girls get moved to the sleepout, a small hut at the bottom of the lawn, close to the road.
Lying awake we let the sounds of New Year festivities wash over us. Groups walk by metres from our bed, oblivious to us listening in on their drunken chatter and hoots of laughter. We sleep lightly, scared and excited by this new independence.
In the quiet dawn hours, a noise. Rattling, banging, a cough. We lie rigid in our bunks, eyes fixed on the door and window. Suddenly, a hand, there at the window. Pulling and pushing, forcing it open. We can’t move, can’t cry out. We can only wait for the inevitable. Yet miraculously the window holds. The hand disappears. We’re left in silence, the swallow of bile the only sound in that small island sanctuary.
We’re nearly adults now and the sounds of our favourite holiday spot have changed. We’ve added new noises to the mix. The heavy beat of rock music, the lightest crackle of smokes being rolled, the furtive rustle of couples pairing up under the cover of darkness and old canvas.
Yet there are familiar echoes of childhood in the slap of waves on bare skin, the deep-throated gurgle of an idling jet boat, the squeak of clean-washed sand and the slurp of melting ice cream.
Years pass and we’re honeymooning under the shadow of Mauao, the motel room eerily quiet on a still and foggy night. Only the boom of a foghorn, the clunk of a crane and the sweet murmuring of you and your loved one to break the silence. You’re happy to share this newly hushed haven of peace.
More years, more holidays, each one filled with long, slow exhalations of release and small sighs of simple pleasure. Every visit becoming harder to end.
A baby crying and the thrum of an aeroplane mark your return. This time you won’t be going back. The baby howls inconsolably to the icy stares of passengers and aircrew alike. We land and she’s suddenly quiet. A round of applause from the passengers breaks the silence.
Clever girl, I think, you know you’re home. And so, finally, do we.
Cross-legged on the floor of your new suburban beach house, celebrating in its empty rooms, a bottle of bubbles and a packet of fish and chips spread out picnic style. The pop of a cork, the scrunch of greasy newspaper, the babble of your daughter, all of it welcoming you in.
Soon the sounds of holidays transform into the sounds of family, of laughing and whooping, of tantrums and tears. But if you stand quietly in your garden, you can still catch the noises of old, the whoosh of the ocean, the squawk of the seagulls, the boom of the port, and, in your head, the sound of lettuce-eating competitions and the crisp, sweet crunch of holidays past.