After the Pub

In Melbourne on a Saturday night, I am in a beer garden. I like Wild Yaks, and social smoking. This is new for now, but not new for my life. People come and go. We move heaters around, smell dope from the corner, light our cigarettes from the brazier because no one has a lighter. We talk about life, about each other. The things that brought us here.

It wasn’t always like this, I think, with the moon quartered and curved above me, and only a single star for company. The night is cold and clear, entering my lungs with a near gasp and leaving in a cloud of grey cigarette frost.

And when we leave it is shivering: why aren’t I wearing boots? Why am I in flats? The questions and quickness go together, running to evade the cold, feet pounding on pavement. But haven’t I already been here, too many times? Walking alone, and bidding farewell confidentially, in the night’s darkest hour, striding confidently, firmly on my way, savouring the aloneness, the quiet, the dark. The cold. Alone, alone, always alone. This is always my time, like a rhythm, like a clockwork, I find myself moving and alive when the world is sleeping, savouring the freedom, the space, the clarity in darkness.

The cold is not natural; not how I always remember it. We all have a normal. Once upon a time there were evenings that ended at 8pm, in a warm haze and the distant thrum of the ocean. Like a nursemaid’s soothing stroke, it was nature’s way of saying. “You are not alone as long as I am here. For millennia I have gathered and crashed in time, with a whooosshhh, thrrummm. I gather and fall, melting into an inestimable whole, and then finding myself once more only to rise and fall, again and again. It has always been, and will always be. I rise and fall, rise and fall. And while you are near, lying in your bunk bed and wrapped in flannel, thumb in mouth, listening with a child’s ear, I will rise and fall, rise and fall. And you will listen to me, because I will never change and I will always be near you. I will always be your friend. You can count on me. Watch me carry the large ships, the ones that are all lit up and carry laughing people to far away places – you can count on me.

“And one day, you will go to those places. Those things you sense, those that are more than salt on the breeze, they will follow you through your life like a tune, peaking at certain moments, and you will look back at it as a whole and see only a moment, when in reality it happened over and over, painstakingly, consciously, moment by moment, finding you in each one, to give you something meaningful – just you. A scent of something exotic and different, a distant beat – you will go there, and you will see that, and you will breathe it in fully. And I will be with you when you do, your friend since always, since a child. I am the whoosh, and I am the thrum, unchanging, if only in your memory. I am your friend. You can trust me.”

I walk in darkness, cold sawing my core and broad, dry leaves crunching on concrete under foot. Cigarettes. Beer. Houses in darkness and car windshield bubbled with frost. I wonder where it went: the whoosh, and the thrum. For the night is clear, and the moon is out. And I am alone, and it’s dark, and I’m listening. Only everything is different: there is no child’s ear, no flannel sheet wrapping around me, no safe bunk bed. Where there once was warmth there is cold. There is no comfortable stillness, only rapid movement, and the waves I feel are not natural, and headlights are beaming at me, glaring at this anomalous figure in a dark world.

And these moments, or perhaps just this one – are perfect. I will remember it, or at least I want to. For it makes up the next one, and the next one – and the next one. And then so quickly – a key, a light, warmth, a softness, everything is safe. But no whoosh, no thrum. Only in my thoughts, my memory. Only all of the moments in between. And then – what? Shades of exotic, come at me. Feelings of – different, excite me. The past – in front of me, like a song. And the future – like a mouse glimpsed briefly, then disappearing. Catching – that tune that dips in and out of moments, my years, takes me there, lets me feel it once more, leads me home.

Whoooossshhh. Thruuummmmm. The rise and fall. The rise and fall. Always and unceasingly. I soften. I melt.

I am. Home.

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