When we get off the 109 tram, the families in their Sunday sunny-day spring clothes flock to Ikea for meatballs and the promise of home improvement. On the other side of the road, a cul-de-sac is trying to swallow a footbridge inconspicuously with minimal success. Dry, dusty bushland circles the footbridge as the Yarra slithers and wiggles beneath our wooden floorboards like a cheerful Slip ’n Slide in a summer backyard. If it rained for a thousand years and the Yarra rose to meet us, I think, this footbridge would make a fine raft. I imagine sliding down the bend of the Yarra, sliding for years, and the conversations I would have with everyone else crossing the bridge with me when the water rose. I would learn the names of their families and where they went to school. When we finally made it home, we would write postcards to each other, and be friends for the rest of our lives.
On the footbridge cyclists call “On the right!” behind me as they pass, black lycra bottoms in the air. Once, at a group interview for a job I didn’t want and didn’t get, we went around in a circle as instructed and released something about ourselves into the thin air, thinned by panic and expectation. An offering for the employment gods, otherwise known as a man named Mason, brow moist with heady power.
“I’m a cyclist,” a boy who is all limbs tells us. “I’ve been hit three times by cars this year alone.”
“Is that common?” Mason wonders.
“Oh yeah,” says the boy, “Like you wouldn’t believe.”
“I like to watch 90s children’s television game shows on YouTube and look up the contestants on Facebook,” I tell the group, “Just to see. Just to know.”
“Thank you, Sarah,” says Mason. That will be all, I read on the slick of his wet brow.
I want to tell the cyclists on the footbridge that they are brave, that in their own way they are heroes, at least to me. Instead I pause at a drinking fountain and watch and try to keep out of their way.
Above me, birds chase each other through pinecones. I wonder whether they’re playing, or courting. Maybe birds have school on Sundays and these birds are wagging school. I wonder who instigated the truancy; who the ringleader is and who is just along for the ride.
Along Walmer Street, white picket fences box in cottages that great-aunts and fairy children must live in. A girl with a laptop walks out of one and into the park with a pink, polka-dotted mug. She sets up camp on a picnic bench, opening the laptop and beginning to write. Is she writing a novel, a play, a script for Neighbours? Maybe she is a spy from another country and she is emailing a report in to her superiors. Her code name is Osprey and the information she is linking will change the world as we know it. I dare not interfere, and leave her to her work.
Goodbye, Osprey. Goodbye, pink polka-dotted mug.
Middle-aged cruisers puff down the drive in cars older than the state of Victoria with hats and wives and stamina. A thirty-year-old in running gear holds a Cairn terrier, stops near Osprey’s picnic table, calls to a man zipping along the drive with his wife in a souped up Porsche. “You’ll never be young, man.” He laughs happily like all he had wanted for today was a man and his Porsche, and he lets his dog down. They skip up Walmer Street. I want to smile with him but I also want to tell him that maybe the man and his wife will never be young but they’re leading big lives and our own are all we will ever know.
Abandoned under a stop sign, vines grow over a bicycle that never made the bend. Maybe the rider took the sign literally or maybe it’s a sign of something bigger. Boys with scooters in blue and red spring jackets shoot past Osprey, past me, past the young man and the Cairn terrier. I almost want them to tell the man that he will never be as young as they are in that moment but then a woman with hiking sticks passes me and I know that even though she is older than my mother, I will never be as young as she is.
*This piece was originally published by Express Media in collaboration with Regional Parks Victoria.