Flowing through reedy saltmarsh, where ungainly waterbirds stalk unsuspecting fish and the occasional haughty black swan is not too dignified to snag a tasty treat, is the eastern-most tip of the Cunningham Arm at Lakes Entrance. It narrows, hurrying beneath the Eastern Beach bridge and spreads grandly into a golf course waterway.
It’s a practice of mine to loiter on the bridge and be mesmerized by the hypnotic tidal flow. The water carries frenzied sprat, feeding above submerged reeds that yield deferentially to the current.
Jack places himself conspicuously on the bank, moving back and forth to catch the eye. Of course I have a stick. He knows the drill; he will fetch the stick midstream and swim to the other side and meet me there after I traverse the bridge.
But today I hesitate. Jack pads the muddy flats impatiently. My gaze is distracted by something floating close to the surface. It slowly flaps like birdwings in honey. Trapped beneath the surface, needing to be set free – it is a rectangle of plastic or paper folded evenly and curling through the surges of water. It’s five bucks. You beauty. I will set it free.
It drifts near the rocks on the southern side of the stream, but not close enough for me reach in and swipe it out of the drink without tumbling headlong into the swirling current. I search for a suitable branch to reign in my manna from heaven, my providential gift and place it into the warm, protective confines of my pocket. And this of all days – my birthday – finally something in my life is going right.
However, there are concerns, least of all the approach of some kids from the nearby camping ground heading my way. I hog the bridge so as to interfere with their view of the cash, because if they see it, they will be ‘in like Flynn.’
Luckily they are skylarking and so absorbed in their own mastery of stupidness that they continue over the bridge and towards the beach with nary a glance at an old girl and a dog.
But in their wake toddles another interruption in the form of a senior lady. We bid one another a wary good day and she continues across the bridge. But as she nears the end of the bridge she pauses and peers into the water.
Has she eyed the precious flotsam the stream is transporting? Move on old woman, the mauve moola is mine I feel like saying. I stake my claim by throwing the stick into the water near the note and Jack duly cooperates by flinging himself in, swimming toward the stick, and note, and out the opposite side.
His characteristic, enthusiastic lunacy at retrieving a stick can be a little daunting to a stranger and, suitably daunted, the lady moves off to more docile surroundings.
The littoral coast is clear. So I continue on the search for the perfect retrieving apparatus. There is nothing to fit the bill. If only Jack were a retriever and had been well trained in the recovery of five dollar notes. I feel his lack of training sorely right now.
I try to get Jack to swim near the prize in an attempt to induce it into his wake. But no dice. I know that if my daughter were here, she would chance her sea-water allergy and jump right in. The kids from the camping ground would have certainly plunged right in. But me? Useless. I try to make a plan.
So I stand there ‘wishin’ an’ a hopin’,’ which isn’t a strategy at all. It’s a mamby pamby, sit-on-the-fence cop-out… and a damned annoying tune.
The fiver flutters languidly, as though it is gesturing “save me, save me dear old birthday sheila, I am yours.” I watch longingly from the bridge. It curls, almost lifeless and forlorn.
From the banks it drifts toward the middle of the stream. Right below me. One last animated billow and then it surges. Abruptly, it becomes hostage to the outgoing tide. Away it floats. It is at the point of no return. It is bound for the lake, for the entrance, for the sea, for the realms of Ahab’s world.
Well it was just a fiver. It would only buy me a weak latte and a sixteenth of a scone.
But I ponder. It wasn’t worth a lot. But to me, a free fiver finding its way into my pocket symbolises a stroke of good luck. Now it has gone – that’s unlucky. The saying goes that you make your own luck. I could have waded into the depths of the stream, or I could have negotiated the slippery rocks to make my own luck. If I had catapulted off the rocks, cracking my head open while the sprat lapped up the blood, or if I had suddenly found myself literally out of my depth, after wading in, and the current had swept me into the ocean to be hauled up by a salmon trawler, then would that have counted bad luck, or being a silly old bugger?
However, if I had dived like Jungle Jim into the depths and triumphantly grasped the lucre with my scrawny fist while shouting “Eureka!” then could I have bragged that I had made my own luck? Remembering the cash made an appearance out of nowhere to start with.
As I watch the currency being carried by the current past a curious swan, Jack sidles up to me, poking me with the wet stick. Let’s move on he says sagely.
Back at the house I receive well wishes and cards for my birthday. My sister spoils me outrageously and takes me out for a lovely lunch. My daughter spends the wee hours baking my birthday cake. I look at Jack and he looks at me and I have to acknowledge – I don’t need a fiver to make me lucky.