The sun peeked just above the horizon as Georgie raced down to the docks. Men in overalls and woollen beanies yelled out to each other over the loud creaking of cranes and crashing of crates. Georgie ducked and weaved her way amongst the dock workers and fishermen. Fishy scents intermingled with the sea breeze. Georgie smiled. Today was the day.
Climbing onto the wooden jetty rail, Georgie craned her neck and peered out to sea. The rising sun cast a glittery light over the waves. There was no sign of The Alexandra on the water.
Georgie sank down and let her chin rest against the top rail. Sighing she took a bite of the toast her mother had insisted on shoving into her hand as she rushed out the door. A seagull landed on the rail a metre away from Georgie and looked at her with its head cocked to one side.
“Here, have it, I’m not hungry anyway,” Georgie said, tossing her half eaten toast onto the jetty.
The seagull darted at the toast and grabbed it in its orange beak. Georgie turned her attention back to the mass of wavy water. She breathed in the salty smell. It reminded her of him; he always smelt salty like the sea.
Georgie’s sister joined her on the jetty as the sun bathed the docks in a warm glow. At least a head taller than Georgie, Claire leaned against the jetty rail with crossed arms. After momentarily glancing out to sea, Claire settled her gaze on the young boat-hand one jetty over, as he loaded cargo onto a fishing trawler.
“Don’t you want to see the ship when it comes?” Georgie asked.
“You always see it before me anyway,” Claire said with a shrug. “When you start high school you’ll realise there are other important things in life.”
“Like boys?” Georgie rolled her eyes. “I hardly think that’s more important. Besides, you don’t even start high school until the end of Summer.”
Claire didn’t respond. Georgie resumed looking out to sea, scanning the horizon for any signs of the tall sails of The Alexandra.
The young boat-hand left on the fishing trawler and Claire’s eyes darted around the docks.
“Look Georgie, that seagull has only got one leg.”
“Hmm.” Georgie’s eyes stayed firmly fixed on the horizon.
“Oh Georgie, how funny, did you see that man get covered in fish guts?”
“No, I wasn’t looking.”
“Want to go down to the shore and build a sandcastle with me?”
“This is boring, I’m going home.”
Claire’s sandals clomped against the wooden jetty and out of earshot.
Various boats now dotted the sea, from yachts to dinghies to trawlers. Georgie watched them all bobbing about on the waves against the cornflower blue sky. A couple of different vessels appeared in the distance, but none were The Alexandra. Georgie sighed and picked at a scab on her elbow.
Where are you?
The sun travelled higher into the sky, glaring down on the docks. Georgie sat down on the edge of the jetty and dangled her feet above the water. She looked up at the sound of Claire’s footsteps returning.
“Mum sent me with some lunch for you,” Claire said, handing over a sardine sandwich and a bottle of lemonade.
“Thanks,” Georgie replied, taking the sandwich and drink from her sister. She fixed her gaze back on the ocean without even bothering to unwrap the sandwich from its brown paper wrapper.
“Why don’t you come home?” Claire asked, “The ship could be hours away yet. It might not even get here until tomorrow if the weather is bad out at sea.”
“I want to be here when he arrives.”
Claire sighed. “You should come home. It’s going to rain soon.”
Georgie shook her head. Claire looked up at the sky, before turning on her heel to return home again.
Georgie studied the sky as she gulped down a mouthful of lemonade. Grey clouds crept into view from the east. Georgie could smell the rain before it arrived. Little spots flecked her bare arms and kissed her face. Then heavier drops fell, hitting the jetty in steady rhythm. A riverlet of water ran down Georgie’s forehead and dripped from the end of her nose. Her clothes plastered to her skin.
Through the grey curtain of rain a dark shape appeared on the horizon; a shadow against the black sky. Georgie blinked the water from her eyes and stood on tip-toes. The shadow moved closer, its shape becoming more discernible with every passing minute. Though it had been three months since it had left from those very same docks, Georgie could recognise that ship anywhere. The Alexandra.
Georgie ran towards the ship as it pulled into port. Her eyes scanned the disheveled men as they disembarked, looking for the familiar face. And then she saw him. His beard had grown thicker and longer since she had seen him last and clothes hung from his thinner frame, but his kind blue eyes and crooked smile remained the same.
“Daddy!” she called out over the pouring rain and the crashing waves.
“Georgie, my Georgie!” her father called in his deep, growling voice.
He bent down on one knee as she ran into his arms and he scooped her up off the ground. Georgie nuzzled her face into her father’s beard and breathed in his salty smell.
“I’ve brought you back a present,” he whispered to Georgie as he carried her along the docks.
“What is it?”
Edward lowered his daughter to the ground and rummaged through his knap-sack. He pulled out something wrapped in newspaper and handed it to Georgie. She carefully peeled away the newspaper and held in her hands a necklace made from carved wooden beads.
“It’s beautiful,” Georgie said, running her finger over the intricate carvings.
“It’s from an island I visited. They say it brings good fortune.”
“Thank-you, Daddy, I love it.” Georgie kissed her father on the end of his large red nose. “I’m so glad to have you home. I missed you so much.”
“Not as much as I missed you,” her father said, grinning broadly. He helped her tie the necklace around her neck, then swept her up onto his shoulders. “Let’s go home.”
The Australian Literature Review