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January 10

It would be easy for me to say that when I took the job I didn’t know. That I was hoodwinked, tricked. That the woman who employed me seemed, on paper, sensible—sensitive. That the job advertisement—ECOLOGIST WANTED—seemed serious at the time. It would be easy for me to say this. The media will no doubt use the picture of me taken two years ago on Fraser Island, hair tucked into my green parker, wide smile, turtle hatchling cupped in my hands—Caitlin Belgrave: researcher, environ- mentalist, sometimes amateur underwater photographer. Caitlin Belgrave, whose skills were appropriated for the entitled affluent. Or maybe I will be portrayed as a daft blonde—this is how my peers will see me, I know. People are happy to deny you agency when you look like me.

This is without thinking about those who knew my father, those who know I am my father’s daughter, what they would say. He and I don’t have the same last name—intentionally on his part—to protect my privacy. Because that is all he ever wanted, to protect things. But imagine the headlines: Reuben Greenfield’s daughter tarnishes father’s legacy, as the nation still mourns.

He and I don’t have the same last name—intentionally on his part—to protect my privacy.

My colleagues, my contemporaries, old university friends, will scroll through the article and say, Caity, Caity, the way people say your name when you’re irredeemably naive. Whatever the case, I will be someone who didn’t know who meant well. But I’m not so sure this is true.

I think, looking back, I knew at the airport, while coming here. I must have known, because I saw him there, at the bookshop next to terminal 38D. My father browsing bestsellers in preparation for a long flight, one hand in his pocket, bag slung over his shoulder. He turned his head towards me and I looked down, not recognising him at first. He appeared, after all, not as I knew him—grey hair and a pouch of gut, pleated pants and sensible shirt—but how the public knew him best. Damp sleeves rolled to his elbows, notebook in his top pocket, my age.

But I looked back up—a flicker of recognition—and he was there still, holding my gaze, although I couldn’t read his expression. Then, as these things tend to happen, a crowd of Germans walked in front of him, and he was gone. I was left there, stupid, one hand on my suitcase handle, heartbeat hot in my ears.

But I got on the plane and came here. I soon forgot the incident. I was exhausted from my insomnia; it was easy to convince myself it was an odd coincidence, a freak doppelganger. It’s not so strange that I was dismissive, I see my father everywhere lately. In the expression of men on the bus, the way chefs suck down their cigarettes in alleys behind restaurants, filter pinched between thumb and forefinger.

If the job requirements were not accurate in the posting they weren’t cleared up when I met Marylyn, my employer. I was picked up at the airport by a taxi and taken to the coast, then by boat to Whitsunday Island, where I met Pete with a jeep, who drove me into the cape of the island. Windows of hidden mansions flashed in the sun as we wound through the deep foliage of the forest.

Pete—semi-retired, four kids, five grandkids, more on the way, he told me, fingers crossed—dropped me off at the gates where a far less cheerful man, John, a housekeeper or butler, some combination of the two, greeted me and led me down a drive that came to reveal an elaborate mansion, many-windowed and Greek-terraced, at odds with the trees that hid it from the road. Truthfully, I am still not sure of the specifics of John’s job either, although he’s pleasant enough, polite, not nosy.

He showed me to my private quarters—he used that phrase, ‘private quarters’—which turned out to be a detached bungalow towards the back of the property, plump-looking bed, stovetop, small bathroom. He let me drop off my suitcase and wash my face before insisting that Marylyn urgently wanted to meet me.

Entering the building from the stairs that wound up from the bungalow, we walked first through a corridor that also snaked and turned, labyrinthine, until John led us to an inauspicious door that opened to what I now know as the left wing of the house. There we entered a cavernous dining room, although that’s hardly the word for it. This was where she liked to entertain, to throw dinner parties, soirees. Where the bourgeois of the Whitsundays gathered for champagne toasts, where women with impeccable highlights asked after gluten-free aperitifs. But I am being cynical here—in all honesty, I’ve heard no mention of gluten-free aperitifs. I’m trying to be wary of where I’m heightening the story, making lazy stereotypes, because it would be easy, again, to play the victim. I worry I’m catastrophising. Perhaps many of my colleagues have taken similar jobs, residencies, over the years, the true nature of which are revealed like an unknown rope pulled slowly out of the ocean. Maybe this isn’t such a big deal, my anxiety misplaced. Maybe, instead, it’s the signs I can read in the water that have put me on edge.

Where the bourgeois of the Whitsundays gathered for champagne toasts, where women with impeccable highlights asked after gluten-free aperitifs.

My first thought was that the room was lit by fluorescence. A giant lava lamp is what I thought. My eyes had to adjust to the waves of light dancing across the floor, the plush couches, and the doors that lined the three other walls. Only halfway into the room did it occur to me—perhaps it was the hollow clicking of John’s shoes that sounded like water dripping, or maybe I remarked that the light looked just like the refractions of waves on the bottom of a pool. Yes, it was this remark, I think, which made me stop and realise that my impression was not only accurate but entirely correct. The wall that I’d taken for a glass display, or the type of digital artwork popular with the rich and famous, full of abstract moving neon, in fact looked into a pool. I can’t tell you, truthfully, at what point I realised the pool was actually a tank, ceilinged in glass. Maybe this is all a lie, and as soon as I walked in I realised the implications of its emptiness. I’d like to say I didn’t know until much later, until after I began my daily expeditions to the reef to collect and document exactly where the specimens were going, and to some extent this is true. That I didn’t know why exactly I was there. But, it would not be lying, either, to say I had some idea then, the first time I saw it. Maybe this is why I stared so long, trying to see the furthest edges of the tank, catch the colour sullied in the verdancy of the bush behind it, but finding only the water smudge a deeper blue.

Maybe this is all a lie, and as soon as I walked in I realised the implications of its emptiness.

John cleared his throat, holding the door open on the other side of the room. He led me through yet another corridor, then a study which led to stairs, the top of which opened up into a bedroom almost as large as the dining room. Delicate black netting hung from the ceiling, enveloping the bed. Shawls in shades of purple, blue and black blocked out the window. On a mattress the size of a small whale, Marylyn lay half sunken in a mound of pillows of the same colours. It was an odd camouflage event not unlike the cloakfish, made more convincing by her arm held up and over her head, the nook of her elbow covering the top half of her face. If it hadn’t been for her two feet, plump like honeydew melons, sticking out at the end of the bed, I mightn’t have known she was there.

‘She’s not feeling very well,’ John said.

‘Caitlin dear.’ This came so quietly from the pile of pillows, I strained to hear her over her dry lips smacking. ‘It must be about to storm. I always get a migraine when it’s about to storm. Was your trip here okay?’

‘Yes, fine, thank you.’

‘Good, glad to hear. I’m glad to meet you dear, but you’ll have to forgive me. Did John show you your room?’


‘Good, John will look after you. I’ve got a terrible migraine.’ ‘It’s no problem.’

‘It was sunny just before.’

‘Yes, it was sunny when I came in.’ ‘John will look after you.’

I looked at John and he smiled, and motioned me out the door. ‘Did you want anything, ma’am?’ he asked her as we left.

‘A nightcap, some tea?’

‘In a bit maybe, yes. Thank you, John. Bring me a nightcap in a bit. And please don’t forget to feed Bear.’

After I was escorted back to my room I unzipped my suitcase and unpacked my belongings into the sleek pinewood drawers left empty for me. Marylyn was right; large grey clouds were settled over the tips of the trees, misting the windows. I wasn’t to know then how frequently prone to migraines my employer was, nor all the things that triggered them. It wasn’t only storms—too hot, too dry, and she’d collapse on the nearest couch, settee, ottoman. Stress and boredom could also set her off as could dinner when it wasn’t adequate, or things weren’t going to plan. Once, she got a migraine because there was nothing good on television. The headaches would come in the middle of planning her next party—her hobby—or a wedding, her vocation on the mainland. Though from what I understand she doesn’t need the money. Her husband, whose existence I was not aware of at this time and who I still have not met, is apparently the one with money. I can’t tell you a single other thing about him. What he does for work, or for fun, nor the degree to which he is aware of my presence in his house—nor, in fact, how often he occupies it himself.

When Marylyn felt the start of a migraine she’d retreat to her bedroom for hours, days sometimes. This, along with her being away for long stretches of time for her job—someplace where she no doubt lives in another modern atrocity—or for elaborate social events around the country, meant that I didn’t see much of my employer. Not much at all after that first month, although John and Bear—a bloodhound, when I had been expecting a small yappy thing—were always around. A sad duo, the two of them, John standing in the yard feeding Bear the scraps of his food, both of their jowls wobbling. John in the morning reading the paper that he’d later use to scoop up Bear’s damp shit, retching, telling me you don’t get used to it.

This is an edited extract from ‘As the Nation Still Mourns’, a short story by Katerina Gibson in her debut collection Women I Know (Simon & Schuster),  available now at your local independent bookseller.