The Dawn Chorus – by Julia Dale Pollard

I’ve been her helper for thirty-some odd years now and in that time, I’ve gotten to know all her likes and dislikes. Her quirks and eccentricities.  Every day it’s the same thing. She gets up at the crack of dawn, I bring her some toast and a cup of hot tea. The toast has to be toasted just right. Not too dark and not too light, with a smidgen of butter. And then it has to be cut diagonally. Not vertically, but diagonally. It tastes better that way she says.  And then she sits there.  In her creaky old rocking chair by the ocean side. With her toast and her tea.  Reminiscing and waiting for it. The Dawn Chorus.  The medley of seagulls coming together in a symphony beyond words. All together they sound like a boisterous cacophony, but when she cups her withered old hand to her ear, she can hear their individual sounds and it becomes a symphony of beauty and awe. She seems particularly confused today.  She’s been declining. The sound of her slowly rocking back and forth is the only assurance I have that she is still with me.  

We watch together as little rainbows glisten through the prism of the ocean’s spray. There’s a slight taste of salt in the air. The waves shine in an almost opal-colored likeness.  The curtains on the window dance in the breeze. She wraps herself tightly in the tattered old blanket that she’d once crocheted with her own hands and watches as billows of wispy, marshmallow-like clouds, drift lazily across the sky. The sun’s rays peek curiously through the clouds, illuminating the wrinkles the passage of time has left. Each one tells its own story. A story of a mother, a grandmother, and of a friend. 

She sits up suddenly. She can hear it.  The gulls. Their song is an invitation. An invitation for her to come and be with him.  To come dance one last dance with him before he takes her home.  “Listen,” she says. “Can you hear it?” And for a brief moment, she is lost in a place I cannot go. Her eyes gloss over with sadness. She wants to go and be with him but she is afraid.  She closes her eyes and begins to sing with the birds,

“Come join me, my love. 
Our time has come to be one again.
Dancing together, cheek to cheek. 
And then falling asleep on the sandy beach.
Our bodies moving in constant undulation
to the sound of the water
rushing against the shore.

Don’t be afraid my love.
Stretch out your hand towards mine.
You’re safe with me.
I’ll take you across the water.
We’ll dance across the waves to the other side.
Where you will be,
forever my bride.”

I remember the day she was diagnosed with stage four cancer. The same kind that her mother had passed away from only a few years before. I was with her as I always am.  At first, she tried to be brave. Stoic. To take it all in stride. But eventually the pain got to her and she became more and more depressed with each passing day. I took care of her, made sure she took her meds and listened to her as she spoke of her past. As she spoke of him.  Her one and only true love.  

The birds are gone now and we are left staring at the crisp, clean golden sand stretching for a kilometer or more. The beach was once crowded with children building sandcastles, playing frisbee and ball games, or splashing about in the breaking waves of the ocean. Surfers would take to their boards and surf in the stronger current while others lay on the beach soaking up the sun. Now even this is still and quiet. There is a young girl, sitting alone, barefoot, on the shoreline, looking dreamily out to sea. She is sitting there waiting for her handsome young sailorman to come and take her away.  

“I was once that girl,” she says. “I waited and waited for him to come back and be with me again. But he never showed. Life went on and I remarried. But I never forgot him.”

I nod.   

“Tell me more about him,” I say.   

“He was so handsome,” she replies. “Such a kind and tender lover. We would dance and dance to the sound of the waves crashing and then we’d make love right there on the beach. To the sound of the waves crashing. Before he was called off to war. A letter came a few months later but I couldn’t bring myself to read it. It’s still there. Unopened in the dresser by my bed. Will you read it to me? It’s time.”  

I walk slowly to the dresser and open the top drawer. There lies an envelope, faded and yellow with age. I open it carefully so as not to destroy the contents and I begin to read.  

“Dear Hairi,

How fitting that your name means ocean village, for it is there that we first met, and where we built our home together. A home we hoped to one day fill with the sound of children running about. Laughing and playing. If you are reading this letter, it means that I am gone. But not forever. I’ve gone home to wait for you. Just because I have passed away does not mean I am not with you. I’ll always be there looking over you, keeping you safe. let the recollection of our time together console you that the happiest days of my life have been from your love and affection and that I die loving only you, and with a fervent hope that our souls may be reunited hereafter and part no more. So whenever you feel lonely just close your eyes and I’ll be there right by your side. In the silent moments. I really did love you with all I had, you were everything to me.” 

I continue to sit with her as tears fall slowly down her cheeks. Her rocking chair creaks with each subtle movement and eventually, the creaking diminishes to a faint sound and finally no sound at all. He’s come to get her. She has accepted his invitation and she is gone to be with him. Her handsome young sailorman. The birds, as if somehow they know, come suddenly again from nowhere and begin to sing in harmony.

“Come join me my love.
Our time has come to be one again.
Dancing together, cheek to cheek. 
And then falling asleep on the sandy beach.
Our bodies moving in constant undulation  
to the sound of the water  
rushing against the shore.

Don’t be afraid my love.
Stretch out your hand towards mine.
You’re safe with me.
You just have to come.
I’ll take you across the water.
We’ll dance across the waves to the other side.
Where you will be, forever my bride.”

And as I look out towards the ocean, I swear I can see them dancing together on the waves.  And she looks back at me one last time. Waving, as they disappear into the horizon forever.

Silhouette of a woman on a beach

Julia Dale Pollard is a mid-fifty(ish) woman with seven boys and one beautiful granddaughter. She has always been a creative type soul, and considered a bit of an oddball, with a quirky sense of humour. Reading and playing piano are some of her interests. It hasn’t been until recently that she’s re-discovered her passion for writing. She is enjoying getting her own stories out there but especially the sharing aspect of the contests and meeting new writers. 

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