There’s a whale off Hill 60. Buoyed by rope, net tangled she tailslaps her misfortune.
Inside there’s a man, down in her guts, foot in the loops and folds. He’s praying. But who can hear him down there?
In his head there’s another whale. The one that carried him to the city, its fountains and shopping centres, the cafe where he sat, drinking mint tea and splitting fat green pistachios, their salt stinging the cuts on his hands. Repent, he said to the cat asleep in a patch of sunshine.
Change your ways, he told the fisherman who wouldn’t stop talking about his daughter’s wedding next month.
No-one wanted to hear.
Can you blame them? Who wants to hear about evil? What evil? The clack of backgammon, the old men reading Baudelaire, the vine shading the arbour.
But in his dreams it was all insistence, insistence and urgency. Words filled his mouth like the soft bland cheese the city was famous for.
So each morning he set out with his guidebook. Stood in the granite of the financial district, the government quarter, shouted through the palace fence at the security guards lounging in the colonnades.
After days of proclaiming to bricks and sparrows, the very day before, the king repents. Says he had a dream, saw a dark cloud or something. Announces that the city must attone, issues edicts. They turned off the fountains, swapped their silks for sacks, arrested the clerics and shut the temples. And disaster passed over them.
The man couldn’t believe it.
In the days after though, no-one would face him. He couldn’t get tea at the cafe; the bars were shut and the little pensione where he’d been staying was suddenly booked solid. No-one would meet his eyes; no-one would talk to him. So he walked down to the docks, climbed back into the whale and left the city.
History shows the reprieve didn’t last long. A few years later a foreign army burned the city to the ground, killed all the cats and dragged the people off to labour on monuments to their own great king.
And the man? The whale hid him and held him and eventually the two became one – a whale-man travelling in our memory, along with the city.
Image: Madame (Ada) Senyah, trapeze artist, c.1865 c/- State Library of NSW on Flickr
Madame (Ada) Senyah was one of the more famous trapeze artists from the mid nineteenth century. In a feature common with many in the business Madame Senyah did not use her real name. Many adopted Italian and foreign sounding names but in this instance, Ada used the device of spelling her real name Haynes backward. Following the lead of Jean Price who introduced long leaps using a trapeze bar Madame Senyah is often credited with being the first woman aerial flyer. She appeared with her husband, Samuel, who hung from a trapeze bar by his feet and caught his wife as she swung towards him after loosing her hold of the stirrups.