Around the point
Rounding the point, I see a school of dolphins, maybe twelve, fifteen, keeping pace with me. When I first see them they are off Main Beach, 250 yards from shore, I’m guessing. By the time I am at the farthest point of the headland, they are level with me, but as I walk along the head and round, they don’t seem to gain much. You’d almost swear they can sense you, but they can’t, can they? They are made for water and I’m sure we on land are nothing to them, not even the merest dream.
There are two schools of dolphins, bay and sea, although you don’t often see them in the bay when you take the water taxi out to the island. (It’s all relative – the bay dolphins spend time in the open sea: I’ve seen the schools join to drive fish inshore.) I wonder as I watch them how their world is bounded. From where I am standing on the headland the sea seems vast and cold, limitless almost (as it practically is, its dimensions are quite inconceivable: I am sure that if I dove in and swam straight, I would not make landfall until I reached North America, unless it were on some lonely atoll, nameless, temporary and scarcely real).
I walk down on to Frenchman’s Beach. I do not know who the Frenchman was, and I haven’t yet found anyone who could tell me. In the summer, it is sometimes a nude beach where gay Adonises, oiled and buff, show off to one another (and to Grandma Zen, whom we chivvy that she takes her binoculars to see what’s to see), but now the tourist season is over and I have it to myself. The surf is rougher here than on the other surfside beaches on the island, but I glimpse a fin way out, maybe two. I climb up over the coffee rocks that lead between beaches. From the vantage point of the top of the rocks, maybe ten yards from sea level, I can see that the dolphins have split. There are only a couple now, ploughing on. A kayak is pulling out from Cylinder, the rowers working hard against the rip. Perhaps they will see my dolphins, and mistake the fins for sharks. Unless you see their backs as they porpoise, it’s possible to err in choppy water. And there are sharks – Granddad Zen has lost fish to them, hook and a foot of line.
On Cylinder, Zenella is building sandcastles. We climb the rocks and I point to the dolphins, far out now, hard to see. She cannot pick them out, does not know what she is looking for.
The wind is blowing her hair across her face. She is chasing Grandma across the sand. “Let’s run as fast as we can,” she is calling to Grandma. We have to leave the beach, return to Brisbane. As so often our agendas put the crimp on her freedom. It will always be the way, but I do not regret bringing her to Australia. I know there are things she will miss, I know there are things I wish for her that cannot be here, but watching her, running as fast as she can across the sand, I swim in something vast and ineffable, and I believe that it will not be from my doing that her merry laughter ever ceases.