(c) Old Seadogs
The morning sun danced on the waves as a brisk gust brought the smell of the ocean, laden with salt, into Darcy’s nostrils. He awoke with a start, as he felt something wet and rough licking his face. He sat upright and tried to open his eyes, but found they were encrusted with a film of salt and sand.
‘Go on – bugger off!’ ‘God that dog smells bad’, he said aloud and tried to shoo the determined mutt away. ‘Yuck!’
‘Aw it’s only Seaweed, won’t hurt ya’. Darcy was distracted momentarily by the voice close to his right side. ‘Come on, that’s enough, get down!’
‘Seaweed?’ Darcy replied incredulous, ‘Nah, I know a dog when I smell one; is it yours?’
‘Yeah, sorry mate’, the voice continued, ‘Should’ve explained a bit better, see his name is Seaweed. I call ‘im that ‘cause he’s a kelpie…mainly. Ya get it? Kelp, therefore Seaweed or Weedy for short; hang on a minute, here’s a drop of water to get the grit out of yer eyes, the cap’s off’.
Darcy felt a plastic bottle being shoved into his outstretched hand. He poured a liberal amount into his free hand and sluiced his face and eyes, then took a long drink. ‘Thanks mate’, he exclaimed, ‘That feels so much better’.
Darcy blinked a few times and gazed quizzically, as the figure squatted beside him gradually came into focus. He shielded his eyes against the glare of the sun and looked into the lived-in face of his benefactor. Seaweed’s owner had one of those slightly ravaged faces of a life spent out in the open; clear intelligent eyes set beneath a shock of blonde-white hair and a slightly mocking smile, adorned by a three-day growth. About sixty or so and rangy, thought Darcy, not a fool – an old seadog. He was dressed in faded blue jeans and sneakers, and a blue windcheater over a rolled-neck pullover that was probably obtained at an army surplus store. A canvas bag hung down from his shoulder. The man picked up a stick and hurled it towards the ocean; Seaweed barked loudly and took off after the stick as if it were a rabbit. Within seconds, the dog retrieved the stick and brought it back and dutifully dropped it at the feet of its master; anxiously awaiting the game to continue, alternately barking and panting.
‘Weedy – sit, be quiet’, said the owner. And Weedy sat down and gave a slight yelp of resignation and panted impatiently; it was too nice a day to be still whilst his owner talked to the other two-leg who had shooed him away.
‘My name’s Percy – me mates call me Parrot, reckon I’m always squawkin’ about sumptin,’ he looked down at an empty wine flagon, ‘What do they call you … old soak?’
Darcy glanced balefully at the empty flagon also, ‘Ahh Darcy, yeah I know, ‘looks like another deadbeat slurping turps on the beach, ‘must’ve passed out last night; don’t happen to know the time do you Parrot?’ ‘Speaking of which, my mouth feels like the bottom of a birdcage’. He took another drink.
‘Yeah you look like shit also’ replied Parrot and pulled back his sleeve to look at his watch. ‘It’s um, just on seven’. ‘Though you don’t sound like a down-and-out, what’s your caper?’
Darcy looked askance, ‘Thanks for the compliment … does he talk like that to you too, Weedy?’ trying to deflect a possible confrontation, ‘Jeez my head’s bursting’.
The dog, which was predominantly black, turned its white face sideways at the mention of its name and barked twice; seemingly in affirmation and wagged its tail in anticipation.
‘If you must know … I was thinking about trying to swim to New Zealand – one way. If I made it, good and well, if not …’ Darcy trailed off.
‘You mean you were going to drown yourself – what on Earth for? It can’t be that bad, surely! What happened? Did the cat snuff it or sumptin? Get yourself a dog – take mine!’ Parrot went quiet for a moment, then added. ‘I’ll tell you something else, Darcy boy, drowning is NOT a pleasant way to go.’ His voice raised higher, ‘Take it from me, I used to be a fisherman up ‘til I retired. I got washed overboard once in a high swell and nearly got carried away. Luckily I managed to grab a mass of net but I lost a finger in the process when my hand got entangled ’. Parrot was practically shouting now in anger, as if Darcy was, somehow, partially responsible. ‘Cop this!’
And in confirmation, Parrot held up his left hand to show the ugly stump of his forefinger, streaked with scars from where strong twine had ripped through the joint.
‘Actually’, said Darcy slowly, ‘It was my wife Madeline that ... snuffed it.’ The expression tasted like bile in his throat and he turned and spat into the sand. ‘She … passed away a month ago. She was diabetic, went into a coma and didn’t come out of it. I had to tell them to turn off life support’. ‘We were going to go to Europe next year.’ Tears formed in his eyes and he turned away again in embarrassment, body convulsing.
Parrot’s face dropped, and his voice returned to normal ‘Oh bugger me, I’m very sorry Darcy, Jesus I’m a prick. I run off at the mouth at times, just call me Percy the Prick!’
Darcy snuffled, ‘It’s alright you weren’t to know, it’s just that I’d looked after her for the last few years and now it all seems to have been so futile, got nothing much else to live for – we didn’t have kids. Plus our parents are gone now on both sides … got a sister but I haven’t seen her in years; still living up in Queensland last I heard. Cairns I think was her last address …’
Something, grabbed Seaweed’s attention down by the water’s edge. He barked loudly once, jumped to his feet and took off across the sand to do battle with a noisy seagull.
‘Weedy’, yelled Parrot to no avail, ‘Come back here, you little mongrel!’ But it was clear that Weedy’s patience was exhausted and had no inclination towards obedience. ‘Kelpies are like that, they get bored. He’ll come back eventually, just like kelp on the beach’, Parrot conceded smiling at his own joke.
Turning his attention back to Darcy, Parrot said, ‘Look Darcy, that’s bloody awful, really! But you know when I gave up fishing, not long after I nearly became fish fodder me self and lost the digit … the wife buggered off with the local baker. I was devastated but it transpired that they’d been carrying on every time I went to sea. We had a couple of kids but I wasn’t much of a Dad; never at home see? They’re both adults now, flew the coop quite some time ago and now I don’t hear from them at all. They both shot through to the bright lights of Sydney. But here’s the twist – I’ve become rather friendly with the baker’s missus!’
Darcy turned and looked at Parrot, ‘Are you pulling my chain?’
‘No, straight up. She’s a lovely girl and everything’s nice ‘n’ easy, no hang-ups, pleasant conversation; we take in a show occasionally and I have dinner ‘round at her place quite often. I take a bottle of wine from the pub – that’s it behind us up there on the bluff – The Sea-Spray. I even get to throw the leg across occasionally. Actually, I sold me house and boat as part of the divorce settlement and now I’ve got a room at the Sea-Spray. Nothing fancy, but it’s clean and comfortable. My nephew is the publican and I help out as a handyman and also behind the bar when required. I’ve got the pension and I like to fossick down here on the beach; you never know what you might find … prone bodies even, particularly after a long weekend. I’ve already picked up about ten bucks in change this morning. Anyway; I’m rambling on here…’
‘I’ll say’, interrupted Darcy, who was actually finding his story intriguing.
‘Just hear me out Darcy and then I’ll piss off and you can get back to pollutin’ the ocean and amusing the seagulls.’
‘Thank you Percy Freud’, replied Darcy, It was his turn to get angry. ‘What are you – the coastal shrink? the … Fisherman’s Friend? If you think I’m going to sit here and suffer your …’
But Parrot cut him off short. ‘Listen you dick, it’s no skin off my nose, all I’m tryin’ to say is that there are other fish in the ocean, other paths to follow. “Life flows on within you and without you” as George Harrison once said. Ok you’re wife has passed on, but you haven’t!’ Don’t make the mistake of dropping your bundle, grieve for her certainly and then move on. Grog’s not the answer either you know.’
‘Yeah?’ said Darcy somewhat mollified, ‘I suppose you’re an expert there too, after all you do live in a pub!’ ‘Yo bloody ho and a bottle of Bundy?’
‘But of course!’ agreed Parrot. ‘I used to get legless just about every other night’. I’d lost a finger and I’d been fingered, or cuckolded or something. Then one day I’m down on the beach, just like you, with the mother and father of a hangover and I ran into a couple of Buddhist fellers sittin’ cross-legged on the sand staring out to sea, meditatin’. It sort of threw me at first because they weren’t in saffron robes or had shaved heads or anything. Turned out they were visitors at the Ashram just back in the hinterland a bit, on a weekend retreat. Anyway, I got to talking to them and they suggested I try meditating. At first I thought “this is bullshit” but anyway later on I said to me self – self, I’ll give this a try, got nothing to lose. So after one or two false starts sure enough I start to feel relaxed and I get reacquainted with the young bloke I once was in me twenties, only I’ve got a bit more wisdom now see – yeah you can laugh, but it works; got me off the piss and curbed the urge to run a gutting knife across me wrists’.
‘Sorry Parrot I wasn’t laughing at you, really, it’s your dog – Seedy is it? No that’s me! Weedy, that’s it! He’s trying to catch that seagull, just about got him that time. You mean to say that you tried to end it all? A bit messy I would’ve thought slitting your wrists in the bathtub.’
Parrot chose to ignore this observation. Instead he stuck two fingers in his teeth, whistled a shrill note and called out loudly, ‘Weedy, come here mate, come on’. And Weedy, after giving one last lunge at the hapless gull, came a racing back up the sand to where the two men were sitting. He shook himself violently and salty water sprayed both men and they protested alternately with cries of ‘Bloody hell’ and ‘God, you stink’. Oddly enough, Seaweed didn’t appear to be too perturbed. The little dog barked excitedly – time to go, gulls to chase!
There was an awkward silence, finally Parrot said ‘I’d better get going,’ ‘wouldn’t want to waste anymore of your precious time and I’ve got to be back at the pub in an hour to help get set up for the day’s trading.’ There was another awkward moment, ‘You should wander up later for a counter lunch and a … mineral water, get yourself cleaned up first. Or if you like I can give you and Weedy a hose-down at the rear of the pub. He’s especially on the nose and you’re not far behind.’
By now Darcy was bereft of any other pithy response.
‘Be seeing you – yo bloody ho!’ and with that Parrot stood up and started off again along the beach. ‘Come on Weedy,’ he called. And soon he was another hazy figure on the water’s edge in the morning sun, gradually getting smaller with a yappy grey black bundle beside him.
Darcy yawned, stretched and rubbed his eyes once more. He noticed that Parrot had left his water bottle behind. He took another long drink to wet his parched mouth and throat. ‘Silly old bugger’ Darcy thought to himself. ‘But he did make some sense!’ he acknowledged grudgingly. Madeline was gone and nothing could bring her back. Maybe it was time to make a fresh start. Get a new job or perhaps travel – he’d always wanted to see Europe, never know who you might meet. He could try to look up his sister in Queensland, or maybe he could get himself a dog. Old seadogs – maybe he might just repair to the Sea-Spray for lunch.