Apparently, I'm still grieving. That's... unexpected.
I was going to tell a story about one of my adventures with Merlin, but I find it’s a little too fresh to tell coherently. Instead, all I seem able to write are rambling reminiscences and jarring vignettes, all out of order and jumbled in my head, until all I have is this dreadfully conflated mass of puzzle pieces. Each a picture in it’s own right, but by themselves, barely a fraction of the whole.
There are two memories that spring immediately to mind when I think of Merlin now: In one he sits on the sidewalk - can’t remember what city we were in, it could have been any of a dozen, but the sun was shining - hunched over and muttering to himself, fingers constantly moving, tracing strange patterns or maybe just counting the pigeons that cooed and pecked the ground around him.
Those birds were the bane of his existence, then never left him alone. I could never tell what set him off, but he would suddenly explode at them, swearing and lashing out like the madman many people thought him. He would spit strange curses like “by the great horned spoon!” and “shoot and goolilly!” which sounds cute and harmless, except he also used more modern expletives like punctuation. Through it all Mao washes her fore paw, tail tucked primly around her legs, and stares at curious passersby.
The other is of his laugh, a cackling chuckle that ranged from low to high, and back again. He so rarely laughed, except when he would kick the tip of his umbrella cane out to the side, thrusting it between my ankles and making me trip or fall. I’d look up, scowling, and he’d just keep walking away, laughing that craggy laugh. Mao would stop next to me and watch me get to my feet. As I dusted myself off she would blink with slow disdain, as though to ask why do you bother? I still don’t know the answer, but I kept following him anyway.
I followed him across the Hiawatha Glacier, where cracks ran like rivers through the icecap, and the glacier coughed and cracked like an old man in a rocking chair; never still. Just as Merlin was never still. When I asked him how he’d gotten there he said “F--*en fell, didn’t I? No way else to do it, damned lump of rock, got no f--*en hag roads.” Which I didn’t understand (I myself arrived by the more conventional means of a bus, organized by a tour group).
And when I asked him why he was there he said, “Same as you. Heard the consarned tupilaq chattering about the f--*en crater, didn’t I?” Which I understood even less. I had indeed had a dream about the glacier, which prompted me to buy a one way ticket so I could explore Greenland at my leisure. Most of my travels were inspired by dreams, actually. But I can’t say I remember any tupilaq talking to me.
I followed him into Freni e Frizioni in Rome, where the music pulsed and told me that London was calling (I'd just come from London, so I didn't take the call). There we slipped into a back room that no one else seemed to notice, and Merlin had a conversation in rapid Italian with what looked to be a catholic cardinal and a... pirate? I’m still not sure. He had an eye patch and a parrot who ate from his hand and didn’t seem to mind Mao in the least.
From there I followed him into the dark quarries, aqueducts, and catacombs beneath the city. A didn’t see much but the dark walls and a few bones, but Merlin muttered and sighed, complained about modern technology “jamming up the f--*en lullings.”
“Um, do you mean ley lines?” I asked. I was never sure of anything Merlin said, but I thought I’d venture a guess.
He snorted and threw me a dirty look over his shoulder. “Ley lines? Buncha cram nugget shit made up by attention seeking arse jugglers. Don’t tell me you believe in ley lines, Top Hat.”
Well used to his scorn by then, I only shrugged. “At least I’ve heard of ley lines. No idea what ‘lullings’ are.”
“Just what it f--*en sounds like, gorm cragger!”
He never did explain any further.
Perhaps I should finish with the information that Mao is doing fine. Although, it’s very likely she only stays with me out of habit. It's possible she's just used to having some sort of human companion and I'm the best stand-in she has. Like some mystical anti-hero, she must always have her great, lumbering, ungainly, human sidekick to accompany her on adventures.
By the time she came to me, Mao and Merlin had been together for more than a few years, and I met them all over the world, from Switzerland to New Guinea. He claimed he saved her because he thought she might be good eating, and only changed his mind when he saw how scrawny she was. This might've been true, except he didn't try to eat her when she got older and fattened up a bit, either. Of course, by then she could take care of herself, and him.
Now, I wonder if he left her to me for her sake, or mine? No matter what mess he got us into, no matter how bitter he seemed about the world at large, or how often he called me names, I sensed some measure of affection... wishful thinking? I never knew when we would meet, and though I always told myself I wouldn't let myself get sucked in next time, and even though he seemed to despise the company of other humans, we always ended up traveling together. That he thought about either of us enough to send her to me was surprise enough.
Now, Mao stares out over my balcony as though waiting for our old friend to show up and take us on another adventure. Every once in a while she rubs herself against my shins and goes back to the balcony, like I should be keeping watch with her. And, whenever we do go out, I can't help but feel we share a kindred sense of wistfulness every time we see the pigeons.