We wait in the pre-dawn winter darkness, lit only by the distant lights of the island and a lonely fluoro that buzzes with insect life. The ferry, silent for the moment, bobs in the inky water. Even our voices are subdued. I stand apart from the others and look not towards the ferry as they do, but towards the east, trying to capture that point when the sun will break the edge of the world. I must avoid blinking at that crucial instant.
Phil, a hopeless, toothless addict from the cleaning staff, sidles my way. He’s as unwelcome among the ranks of high-vis as gonorrhoea. He somehow always ends up next to me, fag in hand; two oddities drifting to the outer edges together. I wish I was cruel enough to cast him off as the others do.
‘Bootiful morning, eh Ian?’ he says as he scratches at his jock line. I avoid glancing at the rogue hand and maintain my observation of the horizon. Phil doesn’t seem to mind. My eyes burn and I blink. In that moment the sun comes up. I swear under my breath. Again, Phil doesn’t seem to mind.
‘Should be out in the tinny, not bustin’ our guts on that shithole island.’ Despite his sentiment he smiles fondly as he gazes out over the water. His teeth are stained and protruding; he only smiles in bad light. Perhaps he’s remembering the time spent there before the gas companies moved in, smoking grass and playing bad guitar.
I nod in the supervisor’s direction and Phil drops his smoke into the water. I sigh.
‘What?’ he says, and scratches at his jock line again. Maybe it’s a nervous habit. Maybe I make Phil nervous. It seems everyone’s like that around me these days.
The crowd falls silent as Skipper climbs on board. A phone rings. It is a piercing alarm of a sound. Who gets a phone call this hour of the morning?
My phone call came at 2 am. I’m often awake at 2 am these days, after I stopped taking the sleeping tablets. Stopped seeing the psych. It didn’t work anyway; she’s still dead.
I watch one of the high-vis brigade fish in his pocket for his phone. I realise I’m holding my breath, but I can’t seem to let it out. My breath in the cold air is too much like smoke.
But this phone call’s different from mine. I can tell before he answers it. There’s no hesitation, no nervous glance around. Blokes start slapping him on the back. Some good news. Perhaps a baby coming.
He’s walking towards the car park before I can turn my burning eyes away.