I do not like goannas.
Ever since I was a kid, I've felt a bit dubious about them. I have every respect for the person who named them, but there is something about that word - goanna - that puts me in mind of an evil smelling pile of sludge. That is what the word sounds like.
But I have had a particular grudge against them ever since the day a goanna ruined my chance at true love, or at least something close.
I was holidaying one year in a very small town called Mallacoota, which is located in the middle of Croajingalong National Park on the eastern Victorian coast. Mallacoota is a bit of a one horse town, or at least a one pub town, and there is very little to do but fish. It was while I was in the bait shop after some pipis that I met him.
He was perusing the bags of frozen squid, a frown of concentration creasing his brow. I would know that frown anywhere. For two years I had gazed across the sea of violins to where he sat frowning at his cello.
My heart skipped a beat.
'Jim?' I said, not believing my luck.
The frown disappeared as he looked up. 'My God! It's Caroline!' he exclaimed.
I grinned. This was much more interesting than trying to catch bream.
'How're you doing?' he asked.
'Can't complain. Yourself?'
He shrugged. 'Average.'
There was a pause.
It was doomed to be one of those conversations where both parties are too embarrassed to make a contribution.
'Want to come and have a drink?' he broke the silence.
After a few daiquiris, the conversation loosened up a little. It turned out that he had stuffed his audition into the Sydney Conservatorium, as I had mine. By an amazing coincidence, we were both now doing casual work with the same large chain of department stores. (Target.) And another coincidence - we were both sick to death of fishing.
'I know,' I said, over the third drink. 'Tomorrow, lets go for a walk along that rainforest trail. You know, you turn right at the end of the beach.'
The next morning, I was all ready to meet him, decked out in my special new bushwalking outfit, which I had bought on impulse in a K-Mart sale and worn as a plan to perhaps lure him back to my caravan that night. The unfortunate part was, when he arrived, it turned out that he was wearing the men's version of the same outfit. It was, I think, an omen of things to come.
The walking trail probably demonstrated many of the beautiful and unique qualities of the flora and fauna of a temperate climate rainforest, but to be honest, my attention was limited to the flora that was knee high and inconveniently sprawled over the track. Jim appeared to be having similar difficulties. And we also discovered that the genuine polyester $29.95 Bushwalker's Essentials trousers attracted grass seeds like nothing else.
After the twenty-third consecutive Very Tall Gum-tree, we were beginning to get a bit sick of the rainforest. Call me a philistine, but I was born and bred in the city, and I like my wildernesses to be very small and with handy benches, water bubblers, and cafes every twenty metres, like God intended them to be. And having to look out for wild blackberry bushes ruined opportunities for getting a bit closer to Jim.
I suggested we go to the beach instead.
However, we had only just turned around, when a trailing piece of nameless flora grabbed me around the ankle and threw me to the ground with a speed the Karate Kid would have been proud of.
I sat up, choking on dirt and grass seeds.
Jim, slightly concerned, helped me up. 'Are you all right, Carol?' he asked.
I felt my left leg. The fall had probably fractured my shinbone, and what felt like a big piece of bone was poking though the skin. Just my luck.
'Are you OK? Do you want to sit down?' Jim, the ever solicitous, helped me to a fallen log at the side of the path where I removed the offending piece of bone which, as I feared, turned out to be a stick.
Suddenly, and without any warning, with a hiss and a flurry of legs, a grey whirlwind hurled itself at Jim.
The log had housed a goanna.
Goannas are notorious for being territorial creatures, and quite often attack innocent bushwalkers who come too close to their homes. Although they are not very dangerous when small, this one was an evil looking brute which appeared to be two metres long, so I can't really blame poor Jim for what he did.
Like myself, Jim had grown up in the suburban sprawl that people call Melbourne, and was not used to goannas. He jumped about a mile in the air, and made tracks down the path back the way we'd come with all haste. People have been known to run a four-minute mile, but he would have outclassed them all that day.
I understood his panic, not being too happy with goannas myself, so I decided that I would sit calmly and wait for him to come back.
Twenty minutes later, I decided that the evil sod wasn't coming back, so I made my way, in a dignified manner, back to the road.
I had gone about five hundred metres, when there was another hiss and, like a prehistoric blender, the goanna flew at me. The horrible animal probably recognised me as the nasty person who had sat on its log. It seemed to be about a metre in the air, and waving all its claws, which seemed very long and sharp at the time. I had no hesitations about my course of action. I did the dash.
I had just reached the road and was looking back to see if the homicidal little reptile was still after me, when who should I run into (literally) but my hero, Jim. Fortunately, the goanna had given up the chase, and neither of us were injured by the collision. After a bit of sitting and looking embarrassed, we decided to call it a day and go fishing instead. On opposite sides of the inlet.
We caught up with each other in the pub that night. I had caught three flathead and a garfish, so I was feeling benevolent and bought him a drink.
At least now we had something to talk about.
I decided after a while to forgive him for deserting me in my hour of need and was about to ask him back to my caravan for a coffee when the bar went very quiet.
We looked around, and saw what all the other patrons were staring at.
In the middle of the floor, lashing its tail and staring malevolently at Jim, was the goanna.
The beast had followed us.
Jim gave an almighty squawk, leapt off his chair and out the door, just as the bouncer (a grey haired little man with the muscle tone of a paper bag) approached the goanna with a wheat sack and removed it.
But it was too late. Jim, in his panic, had already made it all the way down the road and out of the town.
When I saw him again three years later, at an audition in Melbourne, we were too embarrassed to say a word to each other.
I do not like goannas.
Author's note: No animals were harmed in the creation of this tale, although I was tempted.