Birds and a bildungsroman voice

by Michelle

Before daybreak, the house is like a yacht that isn’t sailing or sinking either. The floorboards creak as I make my way to the circa 1939 bathroom with its lime green rectangular tessellated tiles. Central heating, the darkly carpeted corridors and the curved staircase remind me of our home in Chalk Farm. The tenants are alseep and I have neither hunger nor thirst.

Beside my laptop is a pile of books. A suede-bound notebook which I found at the Glebe markets is falling apart now but filled with scribbles and tied with string. The camomile tea is cold. Last night’s coffee mug is stained with dregs.

With the single tap of a key the screen illuminates and I open a Word doc. file which reads from midway through the story, a kind of bildungsroman I have decided, because I like the word, and because from what I know, which is little, the protagonist is a sensitive soul who undergoes a long and strenuous maturation. (Sound familiar?)


As they reach the bay the water is green and glassy. There’s no hint of the storm or the pounding surf that sank a shipping steamer here more than a hundred years ago. Buried at sea, on the eastern reef, are the remains of the wreck, a regular attraction for local divers. What became of the cargo, the spirits of those men and women who drowned here in the pitch black night? Now, the beach is calm as a lagoon, perfect for swimming.

The waves are gentle, the light a bright yellow, reflected off the sandstone cliffs. Sarita undresses. She floats on her back facing the bush with its waxy ti-trees and eucalypts. How vast and comforting the sky seems. The moon is washed out, like a dissolving tablet. Beneath her parted legs, a stingray passes, its brown cloudy shape camouflaged. Darcy swims out to the headland alone. Afterwards they lie on the beach, drying their bodies in the heat. They notice the naked torsos of two men in the shallow mouth of a cave. The sun feels erotic though he’s trying his best to ignore her. She tells him about a movie she’s seen, praising the work of the young Czech director.

‘Why should I be interested in a film made by a woman,’ he snaps abruptly.

‘I don’t know, but, I guess it’s more than a story; it’s art.’

Darcy’s posture is cramped, his back towards Sarita as she lies on the fine white sand, knees slightly bent. On such a day she is indifferent to his derision, her voice calm and soothing to his basic mistrust. The sole purpose for art, he argues is commercial.

‘That’s the only way we can justify what we do in this world.’ Art, he says, is scarcely self-sustaining, a vehicle for ideas.

Darcy edges towards the shade of a tree. Meticulously he brushes the sand from his legs, his eyes averted from her slim, brown body. The prickly heat warms her belly. Sarita gazes at the sky as if testing its nomenclature of clouds or the moon’s sly shape for a thought or an image.

‘That’s what I’m in love with,’ she declares, ‘I’m in love with ideas.’

It’s not something she’s read or repeated. She is shocked by her confession. Darcy, too, seems relieved. He turns around to face her, and for the first time that day, he smiles.

I query the third person to first person voice, wondering if it works. I draw back the curtains. Outside the ancient trees are discernible in mist, the earth is moist. Magpies chant eloquently and briefly, about what? Do they sing of praise, or love, or fear? Soon they will make their way to roadsides and grasslands and the polluted streams of Witches’ Leap, doing as Nature bids.

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