Book: Black River (2016)

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The swans got sick and so they put up signs all around the pier and the Long Walk and Spanish Arch, proclaiming: “DO NOT FEED THE SWANS!” just like that. And they said: Do not feed the swans because the bread gives them diseases. “Pink Feather Disease” was what they called it and apart from the “disease” part that didn’t really sound like a disease at all. In fact it sounded wonderful. Pink Feather Disease, who wouldn’t love to see a pink-feathered swan?

And besides, the swans love bread, oh yes they certainly do. What else do they eat? We can’t feed them chips and burgers, can we? That would be bad for their little swan hearts. It’s a beautiful summer’s day and I’m standing down by the old boathouse at the foot of Nimmo’s Pier and I’m crushing the plastic packaging of a sliced pan that I just bought… somewhere… and I’m reaching in and taking the crumbs and scattering them to the four winds, to the sea, to the rocks and the pigeons and most importantly to the swans with their beautiful plumes of pink and rose that I see in my mind if not yet with my eyes. And a little boy and his mother walk hand in hand behind me towards the playground and the mother says: “Isn’t that man nice to feed the birds?” as they pass me so I turn and smile at the child and he says: “Yes.” And I say:

“They don’t want us to feed them you know, they don’t want us to feed the swans, but I say they deserve our bread!”

And both mother and son are filled with love and delight at my noble example of decency and soon the whole coast will be pink with swans and as they walk on down to the playground I see yet another flock of pigeons land amongst the pebbles where I’ve scattered my feed and I have had it with these greedy little grey-birds, these sky-rats of filth, because they don’t even seem to know or care that the feed is not for them and I feel the affront of their transgression so I step down to the water and…

But no, that was some other time, that was not now. I’m walking home from work and it is a bright sunny evening again, the weather has finally turned. Spring is in the air and birds chirp-cheep and whistle from every corner, every rooftop and tree branch and I almost feel like breaking out into song myself but instead just whistle a happy tune and enjoy the pleasure it brings to each stranger I pass on the street. It’s so nice today so that I don’t even notice myself diverting from the usual course home and now I am walking up along the canal, the current moving against me down towards the quay where they play water polo in the summertime with no recourse to the filth and pollution that surely must gather there, in bubbling rivulets of liquid rot. Now and then I leave a wreath on the railing down there, whenever the notion takes me, and I think about drowning, about people drowning in the quay, their frail little skeletons settling in the silt below, hidden from above so that nobody even knows they’re down there, in the mud beneath the water.

At the top of the canal I pause at the junction and look across to the gates of the university and watch all the beautiful boys and girls with their backpacks and sneakers and funny haircuts flowing in and out of the gates and I smile with parental benevolence at such beauty and innocence and truly we all know that the university is a castle, a fortress, a palace of knowledge and insight and progress and these are all its children and I too am also a fortress or a watchtower, watching over them all. Hot tears spill out one after another down my cheeks and I wipe them away with a smile of such pride and joy that it fills my heart with wonder that states of mind like these could even be possible in this world.

It’s getting dark at last and I’m almost home. My legs feel like I’ve been walking for hours and maybe I have but why not? Why not enjoy life while I live it, soak up the milk of nature and existence while it is still afforded to me? When all’s said and done, isn’t that what it’s all about in the end? Do you know what I mean? We only get one life so it is important to live it to the full. That is the warm heart of all wisdom, oh yes, take it from me. Aha, you know I know these things and always have. I’m happy to share whenever you have a question to ask. All you have to do is ask. I’m always here for you when you need me and I love you.

 

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