Gargoyle 15/16
cover photo (The Immeasurable) by Haig Shekerjian
publication date 1/27/1981

The Falcon

Michael Wilding

We were sitting on the verandah with our feet up on the rail when Klip and Sky-High brought along a couple of visitors who were going back to the city.

‘Tell them about the falcon,’ said Sky-High.

The dust settled back down on the track and the pigeons flew up and plummeted down through the air, the wind sighing metallically through their wings.

‘What happened with the falcon,’ they said, ‘was we couldn’t take it back to the city, how would it get fresh meat, and we couldn’t just leave it, it kept flying after us, so we got a stick of gelignite and strapped it to the falcon’s leg and lit the fuse and threw the falcon up into the air and it circled and circled round and then it started making smaller and smaller circles and landed on the roof of the house. It was just a cabin, really, a couple of rooms in a clearing in the bush.’

An old shack in between the high trees, and just a big enough clearing to catch the sunlight.

‘Shoo,’ they said, ‘shoo.’

And a few dope plants and a compost heap and a big water tank.

They waited beside their backpacks, which they had put on the ground so they could stand with holy reverence at the death of their falcon. But the falcon just cocked an eye in their direction at the edge of the clearing as if saying it couldn’t hear them, come closer.

But no fucking way were they going any closer.

They threw rocks and stones and twigs but most of them didn’t even reach the house and none of them disturbed the falcon, except for the mental disturbance of wondering why they’d suddenly turned against it and were throwing rocks and stones and twigs.

And then the falcon and the house all blew up, bits of timber and feather and china and books and feather mattresses and old newspapers and glass and walls and floorboards and ceilings.

We made them tea and scones while we heard their story, sitting out on the verandah looking at the dusty road. And scratched the dusty ground with the heels of our boots, and we nodded our heads sagely; and then we gave them a gift to see them on their way.

When Thomas de Quincey was living up on the cold cold moors of northern England and getting his habit under control, down to a thousand drops of laudanum a day, a Malay knocked on his door. The Malay spoke in Malay and de Quincey replied with a few lines from the Iliad ‘considering that, of such languages as I possessed, the Greek, in point of longitude, came geographically nearest to an oriental one. He worshipped me in a devout manner, and replied in what I suppose to have been Malay. In this way I saved my reputation as a linguist with my neighbors; for the Malay had no means of betraying the secret. He lay down upon the floor for about an hour, and then pursued his journey. On his departure, I presented him, inter alia, with a piece of opium. To him, as a native of the East, I could have no doubt that opium was not less familiar than his daily bread; and the expression of his face convinced me that it was. Nevertheless, I was struck with some little consternation when I saw him suddenly raise his hand to his mouth, and bolt the whole, divided into three pieces, at one mouthful. The quantity was enough to kill some half-dozen dragoons, together with their horses, supposing neither bipeds nor quadrupeds to be regularly trained opium-eaters. I felt some alarm for the poor creature; but what could be done? I had given him the opium in pure compassion for his solitary life, since, if he had traveled on foot from London, it must be nearly three weeks since he could have exchanged a thought with any human being. Ought I to have violated the laws of hospitality by having him seized and drenched with an emetic, thus frightening him into a notion that we were going to sacrifice him to some English idol? No: there was clearly no help for it. The mischief, if any, was done. He took his leave, and for some days I felt anxious; but as I never heard of any Malay, or of any man in a turban, being found dead on any part of the very slenderly peopled road between Grasmere and Whitehaven, I became satisfied that he was familiar with opium, and that I must doubtless have done him the service I designed, by giving him one night of respite from the pains of wandering.’

‘We don’t have room to put them up,’ I said.

‘You could put them on the verandah,’ said Sky-High.

‘Why don’t you put them up?’ I said.

‘We don’t even have a verandah.’

We waited for the kettle to boil.

‘You could at least give them something for their journey said Sky-High.

‘We’re giving them scones, cream and wild raspberry jam" I said.

‘What about giving them some mushrooms,’ said Sky-High.

‘Sure, if you want to go and pick some,’ I said.

‘You can’t take mushrooms to the city,’ Lily said. ‘You’ve got to eat them where you pick them.’

We took the tea and scones and cream and jam out to the verandah.

‘You guys like some mushrooms,’ said Sky-High.

‘Sure would,’ they said.

‘Tell you what,’ I said, ‘I’ll put some water in the wagon and empty out the back while you look for them, then I can drive you across to the highway and you can hitch a lift down.’

‘That’s cool,’ they said.

‘The wagon?’ said Lily, ‘what wagon?’

‘The station wagon,’ I said.

‘Oh, the Falcon,’ she said.

‘I was trying to avoid mentioning its name,’ I said.

‘Ooh Wah,’ said Lily.

But they were already out in the paddock.

‘May 1818.–The Malay has been a fearful enemy for months. Every night, through his means, I have been transported into Asiatic scenery. I was stared at, hooted at, grinned at, chattered at, by monkeys, by paroquets, by cockatoos. I ran into pagodas, and was fixed for centuries at the summit, or in secret rooms; I was the idol; I was the priest; I was worshipped; I was sacrificed. I fled from the wrath of Brama through all the forests of Asia; Vishnu hated me. Seeva lay in wait for me. I came suddenly upon Isis and Osiris; I had done a deed, they said, which the Ibis and the crocodile trembled at. Thousands of years I lived and was buried in stone coffins, with mummies and sphinxes, in narrow chambers at the heart of eternal pyramids. I was kissed, with cancerous kisses, by crocodiles, and was laid, confounded with all unutterable abortions, amongst reeds and Nilotic mud.’