Beach Walker – Chapter 17
She'll Be Right
Having accepted the challenge, Leonard seemed nonchalant about giving a talk at the Festival of the Sea in Barwon Heads.
‘Ah, she’ll be right,’ was his only comment, when I asked him about it. ‘Not the first paper I’ve given.’
Barwon Heads is more constrained by geography than its sister town Ocean Grove on the other, eastern bank of the Barwon, and so retains something of its original seaside village charm – a very well-to-do, gentrified village nowadays.
It stands on a peninsula-off-a-peninsula. The river curls around it, forming great, marshy lakes to the west and north, mangrove flats to the east, as it snakes toward the sea. To the south, the high coast crumbles into stormy Bass Strait. The township huddles in the dip of low land behind the cliffs – which may be an archipelago rather than a peninsula by the year 2100, who knows?
Unsurprising, then, if its residents are more environmentally aware and interested in matters watery than the average Victorian. They have skin in the game.
My friend had settled on the Sunday morning timeslot. I was slightly concerned by his reference to ‘giving a paper’.
‘I hope you won’t make it too scientific. Remember it’s for a general audience – dunces like me.’
He snorted. ‘You’re not a dunce, Grace love. Don’t put yourself down. Plenty of people in the world ready to do that for ya.’
And that was as far as I got. Clearly, Leonard didn’t want input, so I felt it best to keep my nose out of his preparations. I had no doubt that it would be a lively and interesting talk, once he warmed to the task and overcame his shyness. On our beach walks, swims and snorkels, he was always pointing out fascinating things that I would have been oblivious to.
‘Keeps his cards close to his chest, your friend,’ observed Peter, when we next met on hooded plover sentry duty. Our charge was about to fledge, and we were excited and anxious in equal measure. So close now!
At Peter’s insistence, I’d passed on his contact details to Leonard. It sounded as if it hadn’t done much good. I knew it wouldn’t.
‘Ah, yes. I did warn you that he’s not very social.’
‘You did that, Grace … You did that.’ He gave a rueful little laugh.
Peter was pleasant company – in small doses. Too much Peter could be annoying, as he was both fussy and inquisitive. Sometimes I had to be quite blunt to avoid indiscretions about Leonard. I felt strongly that my friend’s past and present circumstances were nobody’s business but his own.
Somehow Peter had wheedled out of me that Leonard and I weren’t romantically involved, and I was afraid he might be getting a little keen himself, seeing a clear coast, so to speak. Our overlap had grown to nearly half my shift, as he turned up earlier and earlier for the handover. Always his shift seemed to be after mine.
Although I appreciated the moral support against occasional ‘difficult customers’, I began to wish that he would leave me alone. There was more than one reason to look forward to the fledging of our feathery protégé.
I knew that he was divorced, and a recent ‘blow-in’ like me. Perhaps I misread his interest and he was just lonely. I hoped that was the case, because he wasn’t my type. If I even had a type these days. Maybe I was happy to put ‘all that’ behind me?
February turned into March and ‘our’ little plover had made his first wobbly test flights. The Festival of the Sea approached.
Amanda asked me to help to run the hooded plover information stall at the Festival. I agreed gladly enough, as I knew that Peter would be kept busy elsewhere, organising the programme of walks and talks. My one condition was that I could keep Sunday morning free for Leonard.
The weather for the Festival could not have been better: warm, settled autumn days and mild evenings. It was a busy and enjoyable weekend.
As I entered the marquee on Sunday morning, there were already a few people scattered across several rows of white plastic chairs, others standing in the aisle chatting. A mix of generations, from young parents with toddlers through to white-haired seniors.
Peter stood at the front, fiddling with the microphone on the speaker’s lectern. He looked up at my approach.
‘Ah, Grace! Have you seen Leonard this morning?’ he asked in a low voice. ‘Only ten minutes to go. I thought he might be here by now.’
‘I’m sure he’ll get here on time,’ I responded, with more confidence than I felt.
Had Leonard got cold feet at the last moment? Had I pushed him too far?
Next week in Beach Walker:
Chapter 18: All About Kelp
Faced with disaster, Grace intervenes at the last moment.
Disclaimer: The people and events described in this story are entirely the product of the author’s imagination; they bear no intentional resemblance to real-life people and events. The locations are authentic.