Annabelle picked up the knife from the counter and slid open another taped up soggy box. She dug around to see what was inside. She found an assortment of Japanese knickknacks, photos, an old scarf, and a rubber duck.
“I forgot I had this” she thought as she pulled the rubber duck out of the box and held it gently in her hands. She remembered the day when the Typhoon 8 signal had been hoisted and all ferries to and from Lamma island had been cancelled. She had spent that day lazing around the house with him, grateful for the day off work. The storm battered her little island just south of Hong Kong’s main island throughout the morning and into the afternoon. At times she was worried the palm tree out front her tiny 1st floor apartment would snap in two from the high winds and go flying through her living room window. She never trusted that tree. Trees aren’t supposed to bend to 90 degree angles, it’s just not natural.
After the Typhoon signal 8 was lowered, she would slip on flip flops and wander through the muddy island to assess the damage, treading carefully as branches, leaves, and random pieces from houses were strewn all over the path. She particularly loved the beaches where all sorts of interesting things washed up from the typhoons, as so many cargo ships lost some of their precious multi-coloured boxes stacked so neatly on-top of all the ships that come to Hong Kong from all over the world.
She turned right at Grandma’s Tofu shop and followed the narrow path to Power Station beach where dogs are allowed. Several other Chinese and non-Chinese locals were already on the beach. Dogs were running about, happy to play after being locked in stuffy apartments for so many hours. There were children screaming, and old people shuffling, but it wasn’t the people or the dogs that she noticed as the path led her out of the trees, and into the clearing of the beach, it was the spots of dotting yellow in the water and all across the shore of the wide beach. To her surprise, thousands of rubber ducks were floating happily to shore. A cargo ship had lost it’s container full of it’s precious yellow cargo earlier in the dat, fresh from a Guangdong factory whilst passing the island on that stormy typhoon created holiday.
The wind at the beach was still strong and warm as it whipped her hair, a drying relief from the stickiness a typhoon always brings. She picked up a rubber duck that had already washed to shore, wiped the sand off it and brought it home as a little keepsake, a memory trigger, a story to give her future children.
Two years later she is in her new apartment, in her new city. The memory makes her sad, she misses Lamma island, the quietness, the birds, the shuffling feet of the elderly Chinese ladies on their morning walks, the frogs, the mixture of languages and accents, and all the familiar island faces.
She arrived in Melbourne a month ago, alone. Another new city, another new country, another new start.
Two Indian men in fluoro yellow shirts delivered her things this morning. Up until now her apartment had been empty except for a bed and her half unpacked suitcase. The boxes filled the room with the stale smell of Hong Kong summer, the scent of greasy damp dust and mold.
Annabelle had worked through the day unpacking all her things shipped from her Hong Kong past, whilst trying to wash the mold and dusty grime off everything. Clearly there was no airconditioner in that Hong Kong storage facility or in the shipping container itself. Dirty and reeking of another country, she found some bath salts & oils and started pouring a bath.
She had been savoring this moment since she had moved into this apartment last week. She had not had a bath in a bathtub since her business trip to England 3 years ago. Just the fact that the apartment came with a massive tub sold her on the place immediately.
Annabelle switched on the IPOD speakers and scrolled down her music list until she found Sarah McLachlan, whose soothing music always calmed her. She grabbed the rubber duck and crawled into the tub, slowly sinking into the hot steamy water, she savored the smell of the oils, and melted into the joy of having a bath after far too long.
Holding onto the rubber duck she closed her eyes. Sarah’s voice, of songs of Sweet Surrender played for years on repeat, took her back, back, back…
She was 5 years old back in Canada, and in the tub with her little brother Jason. Their tub was always filled with bubbles, their toy rubber duck always floated on it’s side, toy boats, toy people, a little toy bath town for two little bath people. They played, they imagined, and they explored in the tub. It was what they did, without question, without fuss, two innocent children preoccupied, night after night, best friends.
She hadn’t spoken to Jason since last Christmas, and even then it was a brief conversation as the phone was passed around to everyone in the room, each not taking too long for fear of the expensive long distance phone bill.
Her brother never understood why Annabelle chose to leave, she never understood why he chose to stay. They eventually agreed to disagree. Life split them like a fork in the road and carried them further apart.
The realization of all that she had left behind set in as the smell of the oils dissipated. The mouldy Hong Kong smell harshly greeted her nostrils, alone, in a tub, far away in a strange country, with a smiling rubber duck floating upright reminding her, and the soft voice of Sarah sweet surrendering to comfort her.
She pulled the plug, sitting in the tub until all the water had drained out, soggy and still dripping, she threw on some clean clothes, dug through her suitcase for her address book, picked up her mobile phone and rang her brother.
The croaky voice of her brothers girlfriend answered the phone.
“Hi, is Jason there?”
“Who is this? It’s 3:00 in the morning for Christ sake.”
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize. It’s Annabelle, I’m calling from Australia”
“He’s asleep, can you call back later?”
Annabelle hung up the phone feeling more alone than ever. She crawled into bed, and cried herself to sleep.
I wrote this short story for the blog Blueberry Books: Short Story Slam Week 14. Click here to read some of the other entries.