Catastrophe: Playing Uno

Words by Maggie McDade

Published on April 17, 2013

All three of them wedge into the back seat of the van, pillows on their knees, summer shorts and bare feet, their mum and dad in the front. The back of the van is filled up to the rear window with boogy boards, rucksacks with towels and swimmers jammed in, hats,
sunscreen, eskies and crates of food. They are out of the drive by five, drumming down the highway by dusk, and as the Mitsubishi shakes and rattles up to 100ks, dad pushes the Crowded House tape into the cassette player and they all sing along to Chocolate Cake.

They arrive at the caravan park around eight and fumble with torches and hammers to set up the tent in the dark. Mum and dad sleep on a mattress in the back of the van, on top of the lowered seats, and the kids pile into the old Coleman tent. They stretch out li-lows and sleeping bags, whispering goodnight to one another, and listen to the wind in the Casaurina trees as they fall asleep. Mum, my mattress has a hole, the girl yells from inside the tent.

The tent is too hot to bear well before mid morning, and the three scramble on hands and knees out onto the grass. Dad’s strung a tarp between two trees, and there’s a little table, an esky and canvas chairs. They get milk and pour cornflakes between three plastic bowls. Balancing the bowls on their hands, they walk through the caravan park. The bitumen road is warm under their bare feet. Over past the powered sites is the beach. They toss their bowls onto the sand and run down to the water, and still in pyjama shorts and with sleep in their eyes, they wade in up to their knees and shout and shriek as the salty waves hit their calves.

Down toward the rock wall bordering the creek inlet their dad carries a bucket and a light rod to fish the rising tide. Mum follows along behind, book and sarong in her hand. Over to the east storm clouds are gathering on the horizon.

Late afternoon they’re all back at the campsite, spraying their limbs with Rid and brushing sand from their feet to scratch at bites. The clouds now hang above them, wind scattering the needles from the Casuarina all over the top of the blue tarp. For dinner they cook sausages on the Webba dad bought along and sit in silence as they listen to the rain start to fall. Around them families gather their children from the bitumen, get them off their bikes and into caravan annexes, and underneath tarps. There’s a storm coming, they say, you can play tomorrow.

The rain is heavy and comes in at an angle all over the fold-up table and canvas chairs.  Mum, dad and the three kids all bundle into the little tent to play Uno. The lamp sits in the corner. It’s stuffy and hot and the rain crashes above them onto the fly of the tent for hours. They fold onto the sleeping bags, girl in the crook of her dad’s arm, and fall sleep.

In the morning the roof of the Coleman sags under the weight of water.  A pool has collected between the two poles and it hangs over the family. The girl wakes and sees it there, sunlight coming through from outside, shadows of leaves floating in the water. Her brother wakes and looks over to her, noticing the water as well. The girl sits up, lifts her hand, and pushes the water with the tip of her finger. She does it again, watching the leaves move and the ripples making shadows. Once more, and there’s a straining sound, and the canvas tears. The roof opens up like the tight belly of an animal being split with a sharp knife, water crashing onto the quiet sleeping bodies and flattening their bed messed hair and washing sweat and Rid from their legs.