Friday Night River (2) – Black Cloud

It is late on a Friday afternoon and I unexpectedly find myself beneath a huge black cloud. I am driving along Dandenong Road when the cloud seems to appear from nowhere… well, from somewhere behind me, which is in itself, unusual because my internal weather radar usually dictates that all Melbourne weather comes in from the west.

This black cloud, seems to be stalking me from the south east and is threatening to unleash a deluge of rain, that will dampen my plan to run along the river and thereby disrupt the rhythm of my weekly routine. I don’t mind getting wet, but I do mind being disrupted.

As I approach High Street from Kooyong Road the weighty cloud finally explodes and releases the pent up moisture. Huge rain drops splash across the car and then, quite suddenly, the windscreen fogs up and I can see only a grey blanket of fog. I can’t see a thing in front of me! I have to pull over to turn the de-mister on. The hot blast of dry air clears the screen.

With my vision restored I rejoin the steady stream of traffic. The rain continues to pour as sheets of water gush across the road filling the gutters and choking the unsuspecting drainage outlets. The rain seems relentless and logic would suggest that I should turn back, and that my plans are doomed to be thwarted.

Instead, I am hopeful and I am a Melbournian. I continue on. I’m sure it’s just a temporary outburst, a petulant tantrum sent from the heavens. I make a quick phone call to my brother. He skips the pleasantries by answering his phone with a deadpan

“You want a weather report Kate?”

“Correct, Tom”

Without any delay he responds,

“Well, I can see a black band sitting over Oakleigh, moving north… hang on, the screen is just refreshing….oh, yeah its getting larger, and blacker and it’s stretching out to Richmond and St. Kilda.”

“It’s bucketing here Tom… I’m in Toorak heading down to the river, do you think it will last long?…. What’s it like where you are?” I ask

“Dry here Kate, not a drop” he says.

Tom is on the north side of the Yarra and he’s now given me the very technical meteorological information that I wanted to hear; that it is dry on the other side of Melbourne’s great dividing river.

I float down St. Georges road and navigate the Grange Road roundabout amid the now swirling greasy spray of fuel infused spring rain. I cross the river at the Mac Robertson Bridge having decided not to turn back.

Runners, joggers, and walkers still stride along the shrubby riverbank path in the rain as I seek out my usual car park along the empty boulevard. I stop, engage the handbrake and I set about organising myself, lightening the clutch of car keys and removing the ear pods from their case.

As I prepare to get out from my car I throw a quick glance into the rear view mirror to check the status of the large black cloud … and to check for the passing cyclists. Instead, I see a car pull in behind me. A white car.

A man alights from his vehicle and places a cigarette between his lips as he wanders around to the curb and leans against his car. I am stunned, for weeks I have thought that this mysterious man who leans contemplatively against his car (parked in my spot on the empty boulevard) must think that the woman in the black car, parking right behind his, is stalking him. This afternoon the situation is reversed.

I send the man a curious look as a multitude of magpies appear immediately before the him. He crouches down on his haunches on the grassy nature strip. The animated birds come right up to him fuss about when I seem to encroach and take his attention away from them.

He looks towards me, we are strangers to each other yet we nod and laugh with a mixture of both mutual recognition and familiarity. He is the mysterious man that leans by his car each week. He appeases the squawking maggies and encourages me to look and watch them. For the next few random moments a quirky roundabout of looking and listening circles between the three of us – between myself, the man and the magpies.

It is a strange collision of time and place in which we muse on our shared commitments to various routines and rhythms. They offer some respite and certainty in these uncertain times. He tells me a bit more about the magpies and how they seem to recognise him. I told him of my own delightful encounter, just a week or two ago, when in his absence, the birds flew down from the surrounding tree tops to greet and surround me by my car door.

My phone rings and I click it on to silent. Seeing the time I look up and notice that the black cloud that has been stalking me has now lightened in colour and weight. It’s done with its petulant downpour and it is already moving ahead quickly up the river in a north-north easterly direction.

I cross the road and hit the meandering riverbank path. I am free to run.

Friday Night River (1) – A Magpie Tide

Friday arvo
with Magpies
by the river.

Often on a Tuesday afternoon I park my car just outside the Kevin Bartlett Reserve in Richmond. Over the last month I have noticed that when I pull up to my usual parking bay there is always a white vehicle here… in my spot.

There is also a man, the same man each week. He stands leaning against the verge side of this car doing what seems to be very little – he draws upon a cigarette, it dangles precariously from the very edges of his lips, whilst looking out into the middle distance. I guess in thinking that he is contemplating things. Usually, he pays me a brief sideways glance before retreating inwards again.

I have not paid him much attention either, other than noticing the irony of us both having a parallel commitment to time and place. I have sensed that a curious, lingering gaze may be intrusive. So, I keep to myself and usually scurry off, over the road to join the riverside path. It is filled with an endless stream of Melbournian’s out for exercise and lockdown escapism.

I am here again today with the same routine. However, it is a Friday, and not a Tuesday, and I am later than usual. There is no white vehicle and no man standing beside it.

I get out of my car and walk around to the passenger side door to remove my heavy over-puffed winter jacket, to sort my car keys and to organise my earbuds. I want to run a solid distance upstream before it gets too dark. I have to detach from all the other stuff that is pedalling away in the back recesses of my mind so it takes a little time and a good drop of procrastination.

I turn back from my car so as to shut the door and in doing so, I gaze downwards to the grassy strip. There, right beneath my feet stand a swathe of magpies looking up at me; a flurry of little baby ones with still soft, tawny coloured feathers and creamy yellow beaks gaping, wide open, expectant.

They are flanked by larger, mature birds, decked out in their black and white regalia, they are friendly, inquisitive and guiding. Together, they chorale loopy, chirpy, warbling noises. I am caught by surprise when I suddenly realise that they are there to greet me.

The sight of this welcoming magpie tide is warm and delightful – it stops me in my tracks and I have to pause to take in the scene before me. I have to watch the magpies watching me.

Eventually, I turn back to scrounge about the footwells of my car hoping to find a remnant crust, or sandwich, but there is nothing more than empty coffee cup dribbles, a half eaten Cherry Ripe and a few fractured musk sticks, rock hard beneath the floor mat. I feel the need to give them something, whilst knowing that I probably should not.

And I am feeble in my attempt to connect, “Hello Maggies” I suggest. I notice the soft fall of shadows descending. I am no Dr Doolittle, nor am I the contemplative man in the white car.

I finally nudge the car door shut. I implant the earbuds, pocket my key and take off over the road to where I join the path and the rolling stream of fellow Melbournians parading along our meandering river.

Wednesday Night – Disrupted

Wednesday night, brooding
with  jars and vessel's and other things
on the kitchen bench

Whilst the chook cooks
and the cakes cool,
Leo, Raf's cat, disrupts the radio
- transmission.

Cooped up
and disrupted,
me and you 
ruffled, Raffled and shitty.

Summer Trip

It is Boxing day and as the excitement of Christmas fades, it is replaced by the sweet anticipation of a summer trip. It is a summer trip that will not take us south to a popular seaside spot, but one that will take us north to Albury, to the other side of the Victorian and NSW border… the better side according to Pa. Albury is where our grandparents live. They have a pool.

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