as if at its center,
god would be there—
but at the center, only rose,
where rose came from,
where rose grows—
& us, inside of the lips & lips …
– from The Rose, by Jean Valentine
Algernon watched the house for weeks. I’d see him sitting at the end of the drive at one in the morning, staring mournfully at the front door. His presence drove Teddywinkle up the wall. He would growl and hiss and pace the window sills, protecting his turf. I tried to reason with Algernon but whenever I would open the door, he would disappear. He waited before singing to me for the first time. I was washing the dishes, and heard an insistent miaowing from the palms. This song went on for some time; I was reminded of Aslan singing Narnia to into being in The Magician’s Nephew.
At first, I thought it was a child playing a prank. I walked outside, holding a dish cloth, and there he was, shielded by leaves, calling to me. I dropped to my knees and clicked my tongue. He tentatively approached – bony, dirty, right ear torn, head riddled with fleas. I fed him four bowls of food that night. He wolfed the food, loudly purring as he ate. I couldn’t let him in the house – he was filthy – and so sat outside on the step for a time, just stroking him.
Over the weeks, I fed and wormed him and gave him flea tablets and washed him in a hot, lavender oil scented bath and towelled him dry and rubbed antiseptic cream on his torn ear and cleaned his ears. I caressed his paws, and he would purr.
He would sing outside the house after I left him, sometimes until 3am, or paw at the doors, trying to enter. One night, he somehow leapt up onto the roof, where he sang for hours.
Which is when I realised that it was time to take him in. At first, I locked him in the warm laundry, where he sat on a piece of old green velvet on top of the washing machine. Teddywinkle held a vigil outside the laundry door, hissing under the crack. Algernon slept and slept and slept. After a week, I let him into the rest of the house. He took his place on a pale pink mohair blanket on a chair, where he could keep an eye on Teddy, who, in the way of all Devons, was soon overwhelmed by curiosity. Teddy now spends his days observing him from secret vantage points. When Algernon sees him, he narrows his eyes and softly growls.
How did he know that I would love him? I’ve never been adopted by a cat before.
Monkey and I hit the beach late this afternoon and, as we left the water, I noted a big black bird roosting a metre or so from the tideline. Gingerly, we approached it. It was a mutton bird, otherwise known as a Short-tailed Shearwater, and its down was quivering in the strong winds. Thousands of these resourceful birds – regarded as a delicacy by the Aboriginal peoples – have washed up on the North Coast over the past few days, blown off course by storms in the South China Sea on their way from Siberia to Tasmania.
Our beaches are now littered with their corpses.
However, this one was alive – not entirely on top of its game, but clearly alive. “We have to take it home, mama!” Monkey wailed. “It’s going to drown in the tide!”
It didn’t resist when I stroked it.
Gently wrapping it in my sarong, I bundled it against my breast – it fought, if not very valiantly – and we walked home. I then rang the local seabird rescue organization. They were overwhelmed, they said. The bird would probably die, but there was always the chance it would survive the night if I kept doing what I was doing – namely, keeping it warm and quiet and offering it rainwater and tuna in brine.
“These birds are exhausted,” the woman said. “They travel twenty thousand miles over sea, and have been fighting wild storms and winds.”
Having refused all water, the bird turned away. Its head suddenly began to droop.
“Get the eye-dropper!” I instructed Monkey.
Monkey catapulted into the kitchen, clattered about, and returned with the dropper. I began dripping water into the bird’s beak. It spluttered, but began drinking. I fed it more. It lifted its head from the ground, enlivened.
“Will it live, mama?” Monkey asked.
“I hope so,” I said.
The bird is now nesting in my sarong, with a dish brimming with rainwater before it.
Such a beautiful creature, floored after travelling an unimaginable distance. I’m willing it to make it through the night. Please send it your blessing.
Dusk. The beach across the road, with prawn trawlers in the distance.
On our way home from Byron last night, I pointed to the line of trees on the horizon. “See the silhouette of the bush against the twilit sky?” I asked Monkey. “Isn’t it beautiful? We should make silhouettes tomorrow.” Once home, she disappeared into her room while I made dinner. And then she put on a show. Having taped two pieces of origami paper to the television, which had been turned on to static (our set is used exclusively as a DVD player), she turned all the lights out, and narrated her story. Mesmerized by the beauty of her theatre, I forgot to listen to the words. All I could do in that moment was see.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
– from Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost