Scavengers are very smart birds, the vagabond says to himself, noticing an anomalous crow on the beach. A different kind of smart from migratory birds. He remembers a science bulletin years ago which described how some scavenger species was herding migrating birds to their death among North American skyscrapers. How would you know that, he muses, remembering the spectacle of seagulls in the updraft of the incandescent spire of the Melbourne Arts Centre wheeling in turn to swoop on insects with the studied delight of dancers. Nobody else had believed that. And the London crow, or raven or whatever, which dropped nuts onto a pedestrian crossing for the traffic to crush, and then hopped out to retrieve them when the light turned red. And the Perth restaurant which put its sumptuous garbage bins in a peculiar place only he knew, from tracking compactor trucks.
Just one thing, he rehearses, sloshing in a sudden flat phosphorescent sigh. It may be my only opportunity to say, that ‘being there’ means only to be attentive; ‘being there for someone’ does not mean to feel compassion, or help someone to deal with their problems, but to attend to someone, to enjoy someone. That alone is ‘presence’ and ‘loving-kindness’. I know I should keep my trap shut, he mutters, but it feels like something which has never been said, the ancestor of common-sense, the moist soil of a Garden of Eden … and another thing …
We’re all vagabonds, in our pursuit of a journey of indeterminate duration and destination. This is especially so for those knights errant who pursue love, or good, or truth. The destination is never reached. Evasion of someone else’s idea of these gives us direction, but brings us no closer to ours. And what happens when there is nobody left to evade? One by one our accusers face the gallows.
What is a vagabond doing on Eighty Mile Beach near midnight? Easy to imagine how he got there: dysfunction, rejection, confusion, rectitude, dissociation, addiction. But where on Earth is he heading? Towards Broome it appears, where–unless I’m mistaken–he started school in 1954. But he’s gazing lugubriously at the Moon, which is headed over the Indian Ocean, the other way. Familiar with the night sky from decades of sleeping out and a thousand municipal libraries, he may be walking towards a particular star, which might explain his continual veering towards the ocean, or is he drunk? We’ll never know; neither will the crow.
Perhaps he is headed beyond Broome, to the person gazing at the Moon in his direction right now, thinking of him. Thinking what, I wonder, and is she the person he thinks she is? Dulcinea or Aldonza? An acquaintance’s deserted wife, a schooldays friend, distant family? Haughty teenager promised to the elder he met in gaol who died there of an overdose on her Facebook? His own clever daughter perhaps, willing his connection to mean something? How does he want to be remembered? she might wonder, and well might she, with the most inane question in all of Errantry!
He battled with the Dumbledors,
the Hummerhorns, and Honeybees,
and won the Golden Honeycomb,
and running home on sunny seas,
in ship of leaves and gossamer,
with blossom for a canopy,
he sat and sang, and furbished up,
and burnished up his panoply. (Tolkien)
I am haunted by a story written by my father about the Eighty Mile Beach, or rather a man stranded in its sandhills in the pitch dark. My memory has attributed to it the most evocative description I have ever read of the three- or four-dimensional experience of the galaxy in a dark sky, where you can see the vast distances of the solar system with the naked eye, and looking up feels like falling. This was my projection, dispelled by recent rereading: Dad’s character couldn’t see even his body, so lay down and slept until light, as though the stars weren’t there. But my Dad loved the Kimberleys, worked there during my early schooling–a daguerreotype experience of post-colonialism before its infiltration by the concept of ‘self as other’–and as he was dying completed the self-publication of a novel about “black and white love in the Kimberleys”, The Binding Chain. I am still wandering on his beach.
And so is the vagabond I guess, while his eponymous namesake heads out to sea, but I seem to have lost him, and can only see where moonlight slicks upon the heavy fluttering of a large black bird on a mound a long way up the beach.
The Moon, together with the voices of our ancestors in the self we call the world, is doubtless the harbinger of the god who dies and is reborn. Certainly the Vagabond will return tomorrow night and, possibly beyond the lifespan of humanity, repeat the sequence every year: recite a pagan god’s name backwards, S-E-R-A-T-N-A, outsmart seven sisters, quit the manger-cave of the Bull and Aldebaran (the archangel Michael), bathe in the sacred hormones of Saiph, cross the Lethe, sashay in a tutu onto a midsummer night’s dream, wake up in the mind, invent an astrology. It does seem strange that some people can’t love him until they turn him into a woman, but there you are.
Grandchildren, if you come to vacation at the Eighty Mile Beach Luxury Eco Resort, taking advantage of the pre-Christmas off-season rates, make the most of the floodlit sky of the social beach-volleyball, for you’ll soon be migrated to an eighty-storey condominium in Hobart. Broome and Halls Creek will be ghost-towns, and the saga of Eighty Mile Beach will be the improbable tale of a couple of old men, of a woman in the Moon never there, and a soliloquy interrupted, always wrong, long-elided.
Funny how the Full Moon transits in the middle of the night, huh? Funny that the middle of the night is rarely midnight. Funny how the Bull looks like a real bull, and Michael his eye. Funny that Papa talked about such things as though he had actually seen them. Funny about the Seven Sisters and how they had to be tricked into sharing …