“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive—but to be young was very heaven!”
Wordsworth had it nailed.
The absence of the French Revolution aside, this was one of those mornings. A breeze, stiffer than the Brisbane norm, brushed at my hair. My bare feet tasted the smooth pavement (my flip flops, deemed surplus, hung by the holes in their soles from my fingers), and drank its warmth. My skin, ocean-purged and sleep-refreshed, sucked thirstily at every sensation, cramming them together into an overawing qualia, a moment-taste, an experiential overload of now.
It was perfectly Australian. The heat and the palm trees and the byow-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-bap of the road-crossings. The river still brown and swollen, a legacy of the floods. The ibises and spiders I barely notice any more.
And it could have been other.
It could have been, that this was when the red car which could have been driving past me could have…could have swerved suddenly left, mounting the curb on that side, just as I walk, entranced by my pseudo-epiphanic musings. As it hits the pavement, I twist at the noise, and my bubble bursts. And I’m trapped, halfway between the onrushing red Nissan on my right and the high graveyard fence on the left hand side. But I’m quick…reasonably. So after a moment, a too-long moment of rabbit-in-headlights freezing, I scramble away, and leap high from my right leg, pushing into the air. My leading hand scrabbles at the fence ineffectually, but my trailing hand, always ready to help a brother out, darts into its place and clings—just clings onto the railings. So I haul upwards, pulling my arms, my torso, my waist out of range. But that’s all I have time for, and I feel a sudden impossible weight on both of my legs, pressing them tight, too tight, into the railings. And I look down through a haze of pain, and find that my knees have been replaced by a shining scarlet bonnet.
Or, you know. Or.
Or it could have been, this was when the ground turned soft, and I began to walk not along the pavement but down it, down into a spongy morass. And I know that, because now is now (as now is), nothing can be harmful, so with a head full of ocean I just keep on going, deep into the padded depths of concrete. The morass becomes a tunnel, and I keep on moving, keeping a weather eye out for rabbits. The tunnel subdivides, but I choose confidently. Left, left, second right. Trapdoor in the spongy floor, down a rope-ladder. And now, I’m in a canyon deep under Down Under, and on the floor of the crevasse, deep below, twenty leopard-headed monks in badly-fitting trainers are whirling widdershins around a cauldron, chanting little pagan nothings as they summon something forth. The air in the cauldron thickens into smoke, and flickers into forms. For a second, it’s a goddess, huge and malevolent and purple. Then a tractor, a stuffed toy, a still from a porno, a giant jug of Ribena. The flickering slows, and it coalesces, into its final form. In the cauldron in the middle of the ring of leopard-headed monks, dapper in top hat and tails, stands a little white rabbit. And I smile smugly to my subterranean self, and think: I knew it!
Or maybe, not, you know, maybe that wasn’t it. Or.
Or it could have been, that a svelte black limo pulls up and I’m hauled inside by a man in a dull grey suit who looks at me and smirks as we speed off, finally announcing, “My name is Colin Collins, from the ministry of Foreign Affairs, Secret Operations dept. You’ve been chosen because…”
Or, it could have been that all of a sudden a heartbreak meant for someone else that had missed its target lands point first in my spinal cord, and I sink to the warm pavement weeping at another man’s loss.
Or, it could have been that the jogger who could have brushed passed me brushes past me, and something falls from his pocket, and I notice and pick it up and try to call to him but he’s out of earshot, so I look closer at the little stub of paper, and it’s an unscratched scratchcard, and I think well, what if, and I reach for a coin.
Or, well, or it could have been that the heavens open, and the rivers rise, and I am swept away in a bubble of air held together by optimism as the world is replaced by water, and I bob to the surface twenty-five years later and crawl onto the beach of the Island of the Walking Sharks, to find that all of my friends have been adopted as honorary sharks, and that my coming has been foretold. And I’m fed sandwiches of every filling at a great feast, and we dance (to Slayer, this being my counterfactual) around a bonfire as the ashes ascend like inverted rain to a sky which is quite inexplicably composed of giant jigsaw pieces. And the walking sharks wear comedy head-dresses, and cheat at Pictionary.
Yes, it could have been, and it could have happened, but it didn’t, it was just then (which was then now), and it just was. The pavement was warm and the breezes were breezy and Brisbane was happy that I was around in it, and I felt quite indescribably clean. I walked along the road, and across the bridge to the university, and none of those things up there happened. But something happened, because something always does. And what happened was a big breezy pavementy clean warm spidery ibisey dollop of now.
And bliss was it, in that dawn, to be alive.