Blue // Riverbank

by Pavle Radonic
Melbourne, Australia

Delectable enough to make you gasp going by drinking it in. Rarely was a stretch of water ever sighted as fulsome as that standing like an offering on a saucer. (In Singapore adults often slurped tea and runny eggs from saucers.) Years ago an art teacher friend had memorably characterised blue as a cold colour, when you had thought the beach, sky and even pictorial representation as warm and inviting. Baby blue. Egg shell. The soft pastels in the Derwent standup box. Certainly not cold. Further along grades of navy began seeping in. There was only light overcast. By the time the beach was reached a spattering of rain had begun to lash briefly, angled from clouds that stood away from the path. Further along again another couple of kilometres near the mangroves snot in the tone and all the lusciousness was gone. After days of shirt-sleeves—or single layer thermal at least, with tee & sleeveless hoodie on top—the chill of the morning had come with a wallop. Sitting up in bed after brekkie the second doona had needed to be fetched. Five degrees it had been at departure mid-afternoon. Last week on two consecutive days blowies had buzzed through the window behind the bed, though they had quickly disappeared. Last week a YouTube interview from the 80s had featured a novelist and writing teacher whose one and only rule for students had been no weather in the compositions. Understandably, especially in the US, the earlier generation had no call for that kind of thing. You had to take big salty gulps wheeling by, as usual recalling Knut Hamsun after his TB diagnosis on the train going back to Europe refusing to accept the fate the doctors had tried to hang on him. Brilliant, heroic old fascist. State of disaster officially declared. Last week Georgina in Darwin, originally a Melbourne gal herself, who had also cared for an aged parent to the end, remarked in a mail that the oldies in the homes would now confuse their periods with the presence of the fatigues. In the pic of the middle-aged blonde Greek wife of the nursing home mogul, the lady sits in her leathers on the bonnet of a Lamborghini, turned aside as the wind blows her hair.

There were still hermits in Tasmania, especially down in the South and the farthest West in particular. They were not so unusual in that corner. Philippe needed to go down there, re-locate in fact; not these trips back and forth. Living out in the wilds might be beyond him—fishing, hunting for food and the rest—but a town somewhere on the fringe of the forest was possible. This cooping in the city could not be endured any longer; and the virus had of course made it harder still. We spoke under a tree with a wide canopy in the park by the rail-line, sitting on the grass, the building behind sheltering from the wind. Philippe had grown a beard like many of us during the confinement. Philippe needed to walk in the wilderness, that was all, he said after numerous questions. Further explanation was not possible. Within the wild everything was different. Under the tree Philippe told of a river he had come upon on one of his recent trips, a rapidly running body of water. Pieces of fallen timber were carried at speed by the rushing flow. The planned route had involved a crossing there, but how to ford the river presented a quandary. Could it be done? Philippe described sitting on the riverside for the remainder of the day pondering. Tying a rope around himself and wading out to test the waters was the best option; his pack could be left by a tree also tied and pulled across afterward. Through the afternoon the river continued its bubbling as if through the brain like blood while Philippe sat. Philippe sat like one by a fire mesmerised by flames. In the morning Philippe returned to the bank to consider the case once more. Another two or three hours again he sat there. A hidden tree down below was the danger; he would be dragged under there and no escape. It was too rapid; it could not be done. Through the night when sleep had been less easy than usual after a day in the wild, Philippe had concluded the same. No, it could not be done. The mind was clear and settled; there was no two ways about it. It was five hours back to the town. No sense of failure was involved. Indeed there had been accomplishment in the deliberation that had been given the running water on the riverbank.

The first half of this essay appeared previously in Sunspot Lit.

Australian by birth and of Montenegrin origin, after eight years living on the SE Asian Equator the virus forced Pavle Radonic’s return to his hometown. There in Melbourne the bicycle provided an escape from the suburban grid. Previous work has appeared in a range of literary journals and magazines, most recently Nine Cloud Journal, Sunspot Lit, Fleas On the Dog, Panoply & Ginosko.