The pelican, the boat and Ellen

Peilcan, Lake Macquarie, Australia.

Peilcan, Lake Macquarie, Australia.

He hadn't really noticed it before Ellen passed. He'd seen a pelican sitting on the stern many times but hadn't thought it was the same one. You could easily tell it had been visiting there for a while though. A pelican's shit is hard to hide.

The little wooden row boat sat out on the lake as though moored in a time warp. It had been a long time since the old man, standing on the shore, had actually used it. Occasionally, and usually after rain, he would wade out across the matted seaweed lake bed to bail it out and give a cursory clean. Mostly though, he glanced at it through his binoculars from the balcony of his lakeside home.

It was a part of his life that had been left behind slowly. So slowly, that at first he didn't even notice the first Saturday morning when he missed the usual pre dawn fishing expedition.

He had built the boat himself in another time when things were done that way. Long ago he would row but eventually a little putt putt outboard would meander him around this part of the lake he knew so well. Hands, much less weathered then, would guide the bow around the point. The small motor's idle pace was in scale to the short distance to be travelled making it seem a journey to a place far away.

His house was not visible once he rounded the point and the view from that side was so different. The lake had not been developed here, the bush ran down to the rocky shore and the cold, green water told of its depth.

It wasn't a great place to catch fish but it had always been the perfect place to appear to fish. All the serenity without the hassle of the actual catch. Real fisher folk wouldn't bother him and the narrowness of the bay made it unsuitable for the water skiers.

Now, though, he stood down on the edge of the lake across the road from his house. Gnarled, craggy feet and legs blotchy with age were soaking in the shallow warm water. It was a hot day, no wind, just still, heavy air smothering the landscape. But not it's colours. The light, on these days, thrives in the inferno. Colours are thrust at your eyes emphatically. You cannot mistake this place or its light as anywhere but Australia.

So there the man stood, perhaps 20 meters from the large bird perched where he once commanded his vessel. It's pure black and white strong against all the blue. The pelican refused to look at him and he knew it knew he was there. It was too hot to shout or shoo it away and why would he want to anyway? Sure, it was his boat but that pelican was making better use of it than he had for quite a while. The white stains of its excrement were plastered, as if a flag of possession, across the bow.

Ellen would be laughing. He knew that she had noticed that first Saturday morning 'fishing' excursion he'd missed. Nothing was said at the time. Or on subsequent Saturdays. Eventually though, she found things for them to do and before long the habit of not fishing on the other side of the point wasn't even a memory.

And here he was now, half considering to reclaim the boat. Not to go 'not fishing' - just to have that time again.

It was then he smiled. Just a little and maybe only inwardly. Those facial muscles had not been used for a few months now. No matter how strong a relationship is, how much two people are honestly interested in each other, after 57 years together the expectation of the others presence can be taken for granted. Ellen's death had been hard to deal with. Very hard.

But just now he had smiled at a thought of her. No sadness, no anger, no despair. Just a happy memory prompted by a pirate pelican crapping on his boat.