See a Lone Gull

For Melanie

A white house standing upon a hill, a spark unmuted by the greys of a storm-riven sky. The greens of the grass and bush a dark and deep shade, details hidden from all eyes. A white house tall and rising, up with the slope of the earth, windows looking out to catch the view. Glass reflects speeding clouds above, sent by winds which bring a seagull inland from a far shore. A wooden deck around the home, a landing place for a bird in winter or in spring. Here are windows looking in, and a gull that wishes to see.

Seen through high windows the room is broad and deep. A long table, set about with chairs, and maps on the wall whose colours make distinctions in an almost-random pattern. A ray of sunlight catches on golden hair, a young woman who stares at far away cities on a wall.

So many places. I want to see them all.

And so you shall, in time. A tall man, sitting casually on the table, feet resting on a chair. Travel is a voyage of the mind as much as of the body. Thousands of pilgrims travel every year to the sacred places of the world, impelled not by their legs but by their hearts. They strive to find what others have found, and bring it back, more than they strive to cross the hills and valleys on their route.

Why don't they stay at home then? She turns from the wall, towards him. Save the aches of the body to improve the concentration of the mind?

Do you see a different view each day, sitting in the same chair? Does your imagination create ex nihilo? Does a hot day and no drink conjure up the crossing of a desert?

But we have books, books by people who have seen, have been there, lived there.

They speak to each of us with a different voice. When may we speak in return?

Here is a smaller room, made for a few. Books on the walls, paper on the desk. The woman with golden hair is deep in a soft chair.

Freedom is doing what you want when you want to. Or being able to.

There is an older woman behind the desk, leaning forward. The Greeks thought differently. They saw freedom in terms of relationships, politics. Obligations, responsibilities - to their family, their fellows, the polis - were not the prices of freedom, but freedom itself.

What if you want to be apart from your community? To not have to worry about other people?

Then you are mad. For the ties that bind are the ties to greatness, to what is larger and longer lasting - perhaps even immortal. To ignore responsibility is to disregard law and civilisation; a descent into barbarism and godlessness.

How could they feel happy under such restrictions?

Does happiness come only from getting your own way? When you compete, is your effort a poor one if it does not win? They struggled, and failed, and won, but they had a context in which to act, and to read the consequences of those actions. One being cannot create as mighty a thing as many can, but with the support of many one's greatness may be elevated.

But if you don't want to do something, but have to do it anyway, then where's the good in that?

Do you begrudge the universe the life you have? You are young, mind and body growing. One day you will grow old, and then die. Where is the good in that? You are looking in the wrong place for joy and contentment; the action does not have the power to make you happy.

Golden hair against rich brown, a door carved to impress.

I'm tired of this place, of doing the same things, seeing the same people. There's no excitement any more, no adventure. I need to get out.

Where has the excitement gone? An ancient man, short and bald, peering up.

I don't know. I just feel hemmed in - I'm sick of having stuff to do, answering questions, being asked questions. It's like everyone here owns me. I'm not a child!

What do you wish to do?

Nothing! Anything! Just get away from here, go out into the real world. I can take care of myself.

If you go out that door, leave here right now, you won't be an adult. You'll be a young woman trying to be an adult.

Better than stay here and not even try.

Can you not be an adult here?

You guys won't let me!

The man shrugs slowly. Only one person here has the power to stop you. None of us has the desire to.

A narrow window by the stairs, for a glimpse of trees and light beyond the hills. A momentary revelation, lost with another step.

A red scarf tied about bright hair.

That's the thing - there are no boundaries here, no divisions. No one who says, You've finished, you're done.

Another young woman, sharing the view. But that's what's so good - you just go on, continuing with what you were doing, or starting something new, and being able to go back to things. It's like a giant adventure playground, only with most of it in your imagination.

That's just it - we play in the playground, but they also watch over us. They exist apart, at least to a degree. What makes them different? What if I want to leave the playground? How do I go where they go?

What do you mean? Why are you interested in that stuff - it's not fun at all!

I can't live forever without it. I need to progress, to move on to something bigger. I have progressed, I just don't know how to catch up to myself. It's like Alice and the Red Queen.

A library, large and crowded; books and people. Glasses of wine, nibbles, talk and laughter. Gold on book spines, gilt on the edges of thousands of pages. Gold hair standing before many seated figures.

I feel now as a Pythagorean may have felt on the approach of death. It is saying goodbye and hello at the same time. Departing one form, one life, to enter another - a calamitous change, but something remains constant. I'm excited and sad and a little afraid.

I cannot thank you all enough for what you have done for me. You gave me everything. That you are all here, to wish me farewell, is such a surprise and joy. I cannot ask for anything more than the love you have always given.

The old man, cane in support as he moves forward, picks at a pendant about his neck. Do you suppose that there's not a last lesson I can give you? Do not worry, it is brief, and there will not be another. You have lived with us for many years now, growing stronger and stronger, filling our lives with your presence. Now your vision spreads beyond these walls, to places we do not see. We cannot watch over you as we have - for which you are now surely grateful. But before you go, here is our greatest gift.

He takes the pendant from around his neck, places it about hers. If you have any doubts that you cannot do what you wish to do, that you are not yet ready to find what you wish to seek, may this remove them for you. As you have looked up to us, now see that you are to be looked up to, that you are as we are. We will always be with you.

The woman watches him return to his seat. I said before that I was afraid, afraid of the change that was about to take place. That fear is no longer there, and almost I wish to stay. But there are places I wish to see, and I will see them now. I have no more words but these: I am not leaving this place. I am going somewhere else.

The dark outside the white house is almost complete. The gull pauses on the rail of the deck, tapping it with one webbed foot. The wind is strong at the top of the hill; it takes no effort to open its wings and rise into the sky, tumbling upwards. Then with strong flaps the bird moves steadily out to sea.