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Long lifelines power through Bonnie’s body. She feels them now, rushing from her heart and head down into the soles of her feet and into the sand she stands upon. Sinking her deep.

Bonnie’s got sinus problems and that’s why she’s come to the beach. Saltwater is healing, she knows this right down in her bones. The soreness travels along the muscles lining her cheekbones and back into her skull, a dull ache of constant pressure. Sometimes, she can hardly see; the pain is so present. It blurs her vision, distorting the world.

Her desk mate, old Don, blamed the stress on working in an office. Their office, in particular, she corrected him. He said, in his gruff kinda way, she was gonna have an early heart attack by thirty if she didn’t make a lifestyle change. One of Bonnie’s grandmas, one of her Akas, did die of a heart attack, mind you. But she was at least ninety-five.

She pictures the lifelines connecting her back to the tiny little house on the island she would visit on the holidays. The soft warmth of the kitchen and her small cousins running around her, tugging her this way and that.

The waves at this beach are not waves. It is an inlet that snakes its way into the land, flat with tiny ripples that just barely show. It’s so flat that Bonnie reckons she could place her foot on the water and glide along it as if it were ice. She thinks she could easily float here; in every chlorinated pool she gets into she drops like stone.


Bonnie makes her way to where a small line has formed in the car park. She stands and waits to rent a paddleboard from the back of this one fella’s van. He stands at the rear doors wearing a faded white Billabong rashie and a bum bag, from which he hands out crumpled cash. His ginger beard has tiny droplets of grey and white, he smells like sweat and sea.

You want a lesson? he asks when she’s at the front of the line. Usually, I do a quickie for ten bucks more? I could do it for free?

His cheeky smile is full, but it isn’t warm, so Bonnie doesn’t smile back. She shakes her sore head, too distracted from the pain to give him any kind of wild look. But her heart starts to beat loudly. A warning right here in her peaceful paradise. Why would he offer this for free? Bonnie’s Aka, her younger Aka, always says nothing is free. Bonnie has learnt to expect to pay in some way or another. The free tutoring at uni led to gross questions from her roommates about the free shit black people got.

Bonnie holds out her phone with the digital card wearily now. The guy frowns at it but brings out his own phone and payment device from his board shorts. She taps and then awkwardly takes the board and paddle he retrieves for her, trying to avoid his touch. They are cream, white and pink. She tucks the board under one arm and holds the paddle at her side with the other. Heavy.

Bonnie feels the summer sun burn wicked against her skin, inside her skin. Reaching the water, she lets the board flop on the shallows.

Bonnie left work early yesterday. Early even for a Friday arvo, choosing to skip drinks down at the pub. She left and now isn’t too sure if she is ever going back. Isn’t too sure if she is making everything bigger in her mind than it is in real life.

Everyone in the team hates an element of what they do and maybe the accounting firm they do it for. But still, Bonnie has bonded with Don, Emma and Tori during the laborious overtime Lillian asks them to do. Their world ticks on only because Lillian demands it. Though they are the comms team, events work in their office often falls on their shoulders. No extra pay, mind you. They bonded over that one weekend when they were forced to work from home: all up until 12am working on budgeting and curating an extensive guest list for a last-minute workshop, interconnected through their screens—cameras turned off though. And they’ve bonded most Fridays over drinks, with Don teaching Bonnie about wine and what to order as a newbie drinker. I’ve grown to be a wise drinker in my old age, Bon, he told her once, sculling the rest of his red-something. Tori, the lead internal comms manager, is an artist and always asked Bonnie’s opinion on tattoo sketches she never actually got. Emma gave Bonnie all her highly recommended books when she was done reading; they traded stories like they were each other’s own personal librarian.

The Bronte sisters were the shit, Emma said like a co-conspirator or something when she passed Bonnie her copy of Wuthering Heights in the staff kitchenette. Bonnie hated reading the Bronte sisters at school, but with Emma she felt like she belonged in some elite reading club. Maybe it’s cos they’re similar in age, the youngest in the office. Maybe it’s cos they both love wedges and share a bowl every second Wednesday, but Emma was easily Bonnie’s favourite.

The people she works with held the place together. Held Bonnie in a safe place so she could stay at work, earn the wage she needed. Until they didn’t.

Bonnie still remembers her first day at work as brightly as any memory. She met Lillian at reception, and they climbed the central staircase together. They talked about family. Lillian came from Sydney and knew a number of Black families personally, so she said.

I had dinner with the Johnsons last week, Lillian’s pride shone through her words, you know of them right?

She kept going.

Are you the first in your family to finish university? Lilian asked, throwing Bonnie a look she couldn’t interpret as they walked. It seemed too intense.

No, my older cousin—

Immediate family, Lillian interrupted.

No, Bonnie said, squirming.

Before they opened the door to the office, Lillian had paused on the top step in the stairwell.

Hold your head up, she murmured, resting her palm on Bonnie’s shoulder and her collarbone. You should be proud of yourself…and your culture.

Bonnie kept her face neutral. Inside she was shaking.

The way everyone straightened up in their seats when she turned the corner with Lillian made it all obvious. Lillian was it. The Big Boss. The one to fear. It was so easy to dislike just Lillian at first. But things seeped out of Bonnie’s new team. Things she wished she didn’t see or hear.

In the office Bonnie was the only one who shrunk in her chair when Emma complained to Don about people marching in January. It’s not the best date, I get it, Emma had said, but why cause such a big fuss.

Bonnie was the only one asked to work on the diversity and inclusion events and to be the face of their new hire video. It had been such a manufactured thing.

Smile, Bonnie, Tori had asked, dancing behind the cameraman. Smile, you love working here, remember? The cameraman and Tori had plastered on their own grins, their own chuckles, as if to show Bonnie what a smile was.

Lillian demanded something more from Bonnie than the others. She demanded a gratefulness. Every Christmas bonus, Lillian would call Bonnie, Now I’m sorry it isn’t more, but it is all I could do. I’m sure it’s enough for you, yes? It was enough, until Bonnie heard what Emma and Tori received. Bonnie hated talking or even thinking about money. It made her stomach go cold and her head all foggy.

Her difference was a layer they never spoke about, but it shimmered around them like the dust from the ducted aircon.

But Friday. Friday was her last straw.


Bonnie wades into the flat water. She cups her hands, dips them in, and splashes the water up over her head like a baptism. It is a relief against the ache, cool but in no way cold. She moves her body and her board deeper, avoiding the children splashing about and screaming themselves silly. She smiles at the two girls who look her age, who look like they could be her friends, as they wait in the shallows for an older woman steering a small dinghy toward them.

The board suddenly feels a lot smaller now that Bonnie’s hip deep. How the hell is she supposed to balance on it?

She places the paddle diagonally on top and gives a small look around to make sure no one is watching. She makes out the dude who rented it to her standing at the water’s edge. His hand is shielding his eyes from the sun as he peers across to her. The back of her neck itches.

Bonnie swings one leg over, ensuring her hands are placed along the rubbery grip, and pushes from the other leg, toes dug in the sinking sand, to straddle the board. This alone feels like a triumph.

The water is clear, and she watches her legs swirl and the minuscule fish swim.

There is a cold bottle of rosé waiting in her cabin—a tiny one-room structure in a family holiday park. Tonight, Bonnie will reward herself with a few glasses on the cabin verandah and maybe order some korma. She’ll play Bob Marley and the Wailers and close her eyes and let the salty air settle on her skin like another layer of her body.

Bonnie grew up here, right near the water. She grew up on the hot sands, in the midst of nippers on weekends, and at a school surrounded by pinecones and lakes. Their house in the mountains hummed with the same love she feels now in the ocean. Hummed with a cooler breeze too, because of the altitude. Dad liked to play good old Bob and the Wailers on his shiny record player. These days the music always time travels Bonnie back there.

Thinking of the chilling wine, she moves gingerly to her hands and knees, and the paddleboard rocks without caring if she falls. Her tight hammies strain as she balances on her feet, hands like claws on the board. Grabbing the paddle, she stands up and waits, holding her breath for the movement to stop. Falling now would feel too much like failure.

Bonnie nods when she feels still enough. Congratulates herself and the board. They’ve worked together to maintain balance. Or, rather, Bonnie’s worked with the water and its undulating rhythm. She’s always believed the water can hear her pleas, her bargains, her hurts. When she was younger, holidaying every Christmas with her Aka and Athe up on the islands, she fed the ocean with a shell, a rock, sometimes the bread from her lunch, and made a wish. Much better than dropping a coin in a fountain, she knew. She wished for more friends, better grades, the ability to eat Maccas ice cream every arvo without feeling ultra-aware of her thighs, her stomach.

Bonnie’s only wish now is for the pain inside her body to fade.

Carefully, she uses the paddle to propel her toward the middle of the large inlet. It is a fair effort for her arms and her non-existent abs.

A big firm with a personal touch. That was the slogan. They were a national accounting firm. Doing big things for normal people. Bonnie spent her days combing through media queries and talking to branch staff. Writing up stories to show just how personal, just how good and how positive everything was. She had avoided the events work since it wasn’t part of her job description, but otherwise got everything and more done. It wasn’t enough though, nah.

Yesterday, Lillian had pulled up a chair next to Bonnie’s newest hot desk.

I want to show you the best way to schedule your time, Lillian had said. And then she proceeded to instruct Bonnie on how to pull up Excel and use colour-coded columns to organise her day and workload. You need a scrum board, okay? Here are your columns, Lillian had instructed. To-do list, or backlog if you want to be technical, she laughed in a short burst, in progress, in review and completed, yes?

There was nothing wrong with the way Bonnie usually did her work. Her paper notebooks held copious amounts of lists. All tasks well accounted for and all that. She’d graduated while maintaining a place on the Dean’s list throughout each semester. She was fine at her job. Better than fine.

Next to her, Don had been kindly pretending not to notice, grimacing at something on his own screen. Tori, who sat across from Bonnie, kept glancing over her monitor to watch with raised eyebrows. Nobody else was expected to work this way.

Bonnie’s cheeks burned and her stomach seemed to roll over itself again and again. God, was she going to throw up? All over the black, clunky keyboard.

You use Excel for time management, Lillian explained.

I know how to schedule my time, Bonnie had replied. I set up the team Trello, remember? I keep track of our budgets, Lillian.

No, no, not on paper. It’s the new age, Bonnie! Get with it, yeah? It was a thin laugh then, through the teeth. Wispy and not really there.

She sat too close, much too close to Bonnie, for the whole half-hour. Bonnie could smell Lillian’s perfume, the lunch still on her breath. Tuna salad sandwich from the expensive bistro downstairs, Bonnie guessed.

She endured her presence, trying not to flinch away when the older woman reached across to use the mouse and keyboard, brushing Bonnie’s body with her own.

It’s okay you don’t know these things, Lillian said, only somewhat quietly. She finally seemed to sense Bonnie’s reluctance. You’re just a little behind the rest of us. Don’t feel bad.

Lillian gave a few more instructions, taking the keyboard over to input the first few tasks she wanted Bonnie to keep in mind. The prep for NAIDOC and the Reconciliation Action Plan that should have been sitting with HR. Then she stood and Bonnie grew smaller in her seat a little.

Don’t forget to say thank you, Lillian said with that drawn-on smile. Head tilted, eyebrows raised. Waiting.

Bonnie said a quick thank you, but it made a sour taste bleed into her mouth. She claimed sickness to old Don, whose grey brows were drawn low, and grabbed her stuff fast to scuttle and escape the glass tower. Booked the holiday cabin before starting her car.


Bonnie is in the centre of the beach creek now. The water comes through the inlet that is fed under the highway bridge from the ocean. She drove over that bridge yesterday afternoon. Now, kids are jumping off, back-flipping on their shortfall, gentle bodies graceful in the air, making big waves when they hit the water. The horizon and the ocean’s edge frame their joy. Bonnie sits on the board, very carefully edging her body down and crossing her legs. She puts the paddle across her knees and lets her hands fall into the sea. She will dive down in a moment and let the water heal her. Let it seep into her pores and maybe make the pressure in her sinuses ease, the pressure in her heart too.

She thinks about the feeling of quitting. Of leaving the job behind—physically and emotionally. She has her email drafted in her notes folder. Lillian, I can no longer work under these conditions. It sticks to her, the toxicity of that place. Infects her dreams and her waking thoughts. Over her korma she will construct the email proper and send it straight away. Or maybe she won’t. Bonnie’s not here to agonise over that job and those people. She is here to heal.

She slides off the board at that thought, keeping hold of it under her arm like a floaty. She watches the shoreline again, watches the man renting his remaining boards to other customers. He and all them people gathered there are just blurry figures in her eyes.

For a moment the irrational, or possibly rational, fear of sharks enters her mind. She’s in the deeper water now and the dark below is not so clear to her eyes. It sends a rushing feeling through her body that is not all together bad. Bonnie likes the idea of the other living things that are sharing the ocean with her. That the ocean itself, alive and moving, hosts.

She lets go of the board and slips beneath the surface. She can’t breathe, yet it is a shot of oxygen to her brain. A moment of clarity. She moves her arms to stop from floating up, lingering vertically underwater, attached to nothing and no one­, and the thing gripping her cheekbones and nose finally eases. She can still feel the tickle of the breeze on her scalp, exposed to the wind.

Bonnie’s eyes are closed and when she breaches the surface and opens them, the light feels like something new. Saltwater clings to her hair, runs down her face, is in her eyes. She must swim to reach her board once more.