I cannot remember.
And no matter really because, whether I have already told you or not, the fact remains true-Allister had a lyrebird. Or, rather, Allister knew a lyrebird. Or, rather, the lyrebird knew Allister.
And, like all lyrebirds before and after, the lyrebird Allister knew was a gifted mimic and could impersonate everything from cuccaberras to the saws that cut through the trees of its forest home.
But, unlike all lyrebirds before and after, the lyrebird Allister knew was named Douglas Quibley. And that is because Allister named him Douglas Quibley.
Douglas Quibley and Allister were close. So close that Allister did not "keep" him. That is to say that, at the end of an evening, Douglas Quibley would go his own way and Allister would go his. There was trust. So much trust, in fact, that Douglas Quibley had even shown Allister where his own family lived.
And each and every evening, without doubt, Douglas Quibley would be back on Allister's porch for a night cap.
And Douglas Quibley would sing. Oh, how Douglas Quibley would sing. Each evening brought with it a new tune that Douglas Quibley had put together from the sounds he heard throughout the day.
Oh, he had wombat songs and new tractor engine songs and trees rustling in the wind songs and (once Allister had introduced him to the sport of cricket, of course) the play by play of Melbourne versus Victoria songs. Remnants and measures and beats from all of those would trickle into and mix with the old ancestral lyrebird melodies, forming what would one day be Douglas Quibley's magnum opus- the song he would pass on to his children.
And each and every night, Douglas Quibley would walk home (lyrebirds are not the most devoted practitioners of flight in the avian family) and Allister would put out his porch lantern and go to sleep.
That carried on, for some time. And, the detail and precision and pure innovation of sound from Douglas Quibley entertained and astounded Allister. And he would close his eyes and soak in the sounds of Douglas Quibley that brought forth the long lost memories of Allister Cromley.
Then, one evening, Douglas Quibley did not come to Allister's porch.
Something was wrong and Allister sprinted into brush to the home of Douglas Quibley.
And he was right. Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong.
Feathers were strewn all about. The nest was torn to shreds. There was blood on the ground and wave marks in the dirt that disappeared deep into the brush.
And, somewhere nearby, Allister heard the snake's hiss.
He instantly jumped back. But, the hiss was followed by a sorrowful moan of song. And Allister cleared away the shrubbery to reveal his dear friend, Douglas Quibley- still alive, doing what he did best. Douglas Quibley sang a song of mourning.
And, as always, the sounds were so precise and succinct and so crystal clear that Allister could picture the whole incident. The snake had struck his son first. There had been no hiss. There had been a movement of branch and, then, a strike. The forest had erupted in a chorus of shrieks from koalas and sugar gliders and bandicoots and even the cuccaberras that blended together into a stunningly piercing harmony.
And Douglas Quibley and his wife had attacked, had tried to defend through scratches and pecking. But, the snake whipped its tail into Douglas Quibley and threw him to where Allister found him. And, as he lost consciousness, Douglas Quibley heard his wife shriek. But, then, it was black.
When Douglas Quibley came to, there was no sound. If a pin had dropped in that dense forest, Douglas Quibley would have heard and recited it crystal clear. But, the forest was pinless. And, so, Douglas Quibley instead recalled and recited with impeccable clarity the subtle somber tones of the silence.
And, then, he recalled the sounds of his son and wife. Happy chirps, they were.
Allister looked into Douglas Quibley's eyes and they were dark and deep and hollow and sad and lost.
Allister had seen the look once before- in a young private who cradled the head of a friend killed in action in France and shouted, "What is this, what is this?"
And Allister did not know at that time to tell the young soldier and he had not learned enough to tell Douglas Quibley, either.
So, Allister let Douglas Quibley go. He let Douglas Quibley do what he needed to do.
And Douglas Quibley needed to walk. Douglas Quibley needed to echo the chirps of his family because he was afraid he would not remember them. And he needed to recall the venom of the snake's attack because he could not forget it.
And, as his lyrebird disappeared into the brush, Allister knew that it would be some time before he saw Douglas Quibley again. Allister knew, then, that Douglas Quibley would find the snake, that Douglas Quibley would kill the snake.
And he did.
Allister knew that (and you will, too) because, one evening many evenings later, Douglas Quibley stumbled back to Allister's porch. And Allister welcomed him and offered him a nightcap. Douglas Quibley was polite in his refusal. But, it was apparent and abundantly clear that Douglas Quibley had not come for a drink. He came to sing his song.
And, so, he did. He sang the sounds of his clawed feet on dirt and the rustle of the leaves and the sounds and noises of all the fauna guiding him. That particular snake was a most vicious and hated snake and many in the forest had suffered a loss from its venomous fangs. And Allister heard the support that Douglas Quibley must have felt. And he heard the long days and long nights. And, all throughout the song, the recollection of the snake’s hiss and his family’s chirps weaved in and out.
Even when he found the snake sleeping, even when he surprised the snake from behind, even when he had sunk his claws into the snake’s eyes the recollection of the hiss and his family’s chirps weaved in and out.
And when the snake shrieked in pain and the whole forest erupted in cheer, Douglas Quibley still weaved in and out the hiss and the happy chirps. And they seemed to blend at that point in the song until the happy chirps erupted over the hiss and broke free to form their own melody. And Douglas Quibley sang of the victorious celebration when the snake died. Loud and booming and all-encompassing. Koalas and sugar gliders and bandicoots and cuccaberras and wombats and animals that Allister had never seen. All cheering, until…until…until…the cheering stopped.
And it was quiet. The forest was still without pins.
And that was it.
But, even then, even the whole walk to Allister’s porch, Douglas Quibley sang the tune of the happy chirps of his family and sometimes, still, the hiss would come back and Douglas Quibley looked to Allister with that lost look.
And Allister said, “I don’t know what this is. I don’t. And I’m sorry.
But, Allister knew then something that he had not known before.
He took Douglas Quibley to a secret place hidden deep in the brush. A place only Allister knew. A small cove where water trickled and flowed from solid rock. And he held Douglas Quibley up to it.
Allister could not make Douglas Quibley forget the hiss. He could only teach him a new song.