On the gold pastel scene of sea and sand, silver gulls and driftwood, one human may have seemed incongruous. But she was not. Gina Addams-Smith was tall. Forty. Grey hair, waving to her shoulders, framed an oval face, cool and smooth as if carved like glass in the ocean’s tumble. The one thing sensuous about her was the way she ate. Ripe pears, wounded by a deep, wide bite, would spurt juices to her cheek-bones and thickly down her chin. Grapes, held above her back-thrown head, were played with by teasing lips. Cherries tossed and caught. Pips spat. Chops, barbequed, held by their bones, were torn by strong, shellwhite teeth.
Gina ate, always, alone.
As driftwood is, outcast and at home, she stood on the beach. The soldierly lines of Pacific gulls, oyster-catchers, terns and the pair of molly-hawks were undisturbed. Each evening she shared their vigil at sunset. The birds and she faced the east, the sea. This way the change of light was not spectacular but subtle yet sudden. Some days she turned to make her way back up to the shack and it seemed as if she were turning into another dimension of time, the western sky unexpectedly bright, the shack a misshapen dark rectangle, back-lit, having no substance. It was the only dwelling on the north-west Tasmanian inlet for five miles. From the road which ran along the centre of the narrow peninsula this building seemed uncomfortable caught in the sandhills and salt-toughened tea-tree. In fact, its old concrete floor had broken in parts; sand and spear-grass were inside. In one place the masonite wall had surrendered to the tea-tree; on this curl of gnarled trunk hung her yellow oil-skin, her shapeless overcoat, her red and navy striped blazer. A few stairs led from the concrete to the next level, which jutted out over the beach. This was her studio. From waist-high to the ceiling the walls were windows. Originally bought from wreckers, they comprised small squares of glass in wooden frames, larger panes which opened, sections of loovers and one panel of stained-glass. In careless order, hung, propped, stacked, were large canvases—most of them already bright with hard-edged primitive shapes of children, fruit, or birds. Gina painted with a thick brush in primary and secondary oil-colours.
Visitors used to come and go from the Addams-Smith household without having seen Gina, nor she them. Her mother had given her crayons, clay, paper, cardboard and the exclusive use of a shed. The little girl created her world. She learnt the meaning of four walls and outdoors. She roped all her experiences into the tiny compass of her understanding. Her work, when it had served its natal purpose, went up to the house and was greeted with generous encouragement. An old friend sold it on the sidelines of his business as a quaint diversion. Gina grew up in the living privacy of her shed. At school she sat quietly. Later she worked in an office—retiring, when her duties were finished, to deep within her mother’s garden to model and paint. She could buy the groceries, execute her job, but she could not laugh with the other girls or engage in casual social interchange.
Mrs Addams-Smith died when her daughter was twenty-five. The house was sold. The loss brought to Gina the cold, grey realization that she could not communicate. She could paint her need, but few would know. Acquaintances to whom she had given nothing of herself could not understand what she was asking of them. She resorted to tears, to shouts, to incoherencies. To frowning observation. She began to distrust people—their laughter, their joviality. Their lack of concern turned them into monsters, a conspiracy of monsters. She lost her ability even to buy groceries. She began locking herself in her room at the boarding-house, barring the door, refusing to go to work; refusing, eventually, meals. The room was so small her paints, her paper, her paraphernalia could not breathe. The paints first, squeezed over the walls. The paper, torn to tiny shreds, slap, stuck, strewn . . . talc, toothpaste, lipstick. Laugh-laughter. Colour confusion. Blankets? Sheets? Pull, scream, scratch, bleed. The landlord burst into the room, breaking down her brittle hysteria to tears.
For five years they gave her tranquilisers and I.Q. tests. And, for occupational therapy, newsprint and water-colours. The nurses held her in distant respect because of her reputed intelligence and the fact that she communicated only through anger and tears. One Sister tried to love her, but already Gina’s face had set into its cool, sea-sculpted lines; and the eyes, a deep green glass, threatened drowning. Under the influence of the drugs, she painted pastel gothic interiors.
The sea was still, a silver-blue. A cormorant dived, hardly shaking the water. Two herons stood on a jutting sand-bar. Some of the birds around her shuffled at the ebbing tide. Now and then an argument about the sandy head of a fish would revive; the young molly-hawk would win again, stand astride his prize and look out to sea. Gina followed his gaze to the surfacing cormorant, fish in beak.
The smaller birds fluttered. Noise shattered the cool intimacy. A car skidded around the point. Gina turned. A boy jumped out, bounced about on the sand, threw a stone at the water and shouted. A girl slid through the driver’s door, awkwardly, trying not to split her short black skirt. He made her laugh, she slapped him and they tumbled fightingly toward the speargrass.
Gina stepped back to the sand-polished log, and sat. The car had upset her trance. She thought of the two men she loved. For Gina there was only love, or disregard.
Tony, his smart clothes crumpled—always crumpled from the five-hour drive. Uncrumpling them with elegant down-strokes. Striding from his station-wagon, smiling. Her agent. Always smiling. Always knowing. Gentle unnecessary words. A brush of the cheek with his lips. Play-acting his words with care: the effort to come every month, all the way from Hobart, dropping commitments, angry friends. So many friends, so many loves. Male names, endearments, unlikely female names. Esmerelda. Prim-Rose. Violet-heart. Following laugh, hand flowing to the south, letting the names with their flower-faces and absurd colours tumble away down the Derwent, dismissed for the weekend. Casting her money about in a dance. Often the banknotes lying about the studio until needed. Performing Tony. Performance dissolving into his clean-shaven concentration. The paintings absorbed through his fingers, the pores of his face, erupting back at her, refurbished, electric, nourished. Enclosing him in her world and he never captured, never fully eccentric, always realistic. Her bank-book, receipts, presents, a new radiator put in her path, so she trips. Notices. Shrugs and relies on him. The second lip-cheek brush—she inside stiff sculpture, a slight melt—he all outside, fluid, flexible, singing. Then a silent, empty studio—colour compressed into tubes on a tray—vermilion, cobalt, sienna, ochre–white canvases, white beach and moon. Lingering drifts of shaving-lotion snapped off in the bite of an apple. Gina felt the bleached wood with the tips of her tanned hand. And thought of the other.
‘You tell Poppa Peppi the matter heh?’ Fat, brown, hairy arms thrown into tragic gestures of sympathy. And tears laughing in her eyes. Her taut body compressing, in a single shiver, a psyche fragile and raw from the institution. Brim-green eyes drinking in the fruit-bright store. Frost-pale and wine-purple grapes in cane baskets hung from the ceiling, Jonathans in crisp clean rows, valencias and navels vying for truest orange, spreading hands of bananas giving, grapefruit and sweetcorn by the door inviting entrance into a cave of treasure, pineapples encrusting the back wall, tomatoes red and cucumbers green and and . . . Gina laughs: POTATOS UNIONS PUMKIN. ‘You lika my shop, heh?’ With that a comic hug, enthusiastic chatter and a march this way and that. Words orchestrating the cascade of fruit and colour. And the warmth filling starved places.
Gina felt a quiet smile. Ten years and Mr Peppiniccini is now quite old, but the warmth new-season fresh, and her paintings: Italian Girl Skipping in the lolly-pink and aqua kitchen; Bananas and Blue Grapes on Red and Pumpkin House in the shop. Colour! Gina looked at the ice-iridescent sea. The birds began flying off. Shadows ceased.
She strolled through the heavy sand to the track. The car parked on the beach was forgotten. Her world and her dream were one. She, as the birds nesting in the scrub, belonged. A part of the order. A detail in the picture.
Giggles, grunts, mumbles. Gina stopped to listen, jolted. There, in a bush cubbyhouse, the boy and the girl. The boy standing, dropped his jeans and briefs. The girl, lying sideways, propped her head on an arm and looked up at him. The young male stretched out of his shirt, preening his nakedness. He gestured. The girl shook her head and shivered. He knelt and bunched the skirt around her waist. She touched him with her hand. Gina froze. They knelt, coming together. Gina gasped, felt hot and damp. She wanted to run, she wanted to stare. The couple sank on to the grass.
Gina stepped back, and a twig cracked. A sharp glance, but the pair were writhing undisturbed. Another step back, the familiar bush became frightening. Another step back. Darkness rushed in like liquid and silence dropped about her, a net. Another step. A yell from the boy. Gina jumped, the fright screaming to her nerve-ends, aching at her skin. She turned and tip-toed, terrified of a hand which might close about her throat. Twenty yards further on, determined to turn back striding and singing, to be discovered and to discover, she began to hum. Her mind exploded with bursts of confusion and excitement, molten whirl. But her body, calm as dry wood, hummed. She came to the open stretch of beach, alien in the last light; logs became murdered victims, the silence a brooding, a held breath. In the west a vibrant orange glow bound by a complementary blue was garish. The shack, laced to the ground by tea-tree, sinking into sand mounds, was an ungainly box. A huge piece of litter. Gina turned away from it, in disgust.
The phosphorescent fish twitched inside the water. The tide, at ebb, lapped. White moon called driftwood to driftwood. Human voices reached across the sand: a laugh, a shout; the car left the beach with a sweep of its headlights and a rumble of exhaust.
In the moonlit darkness Gina’s taut body shuddered. Slowly she folded into the curled form of a woman crying—a human lost at the edge of the rising tide.