Chapter 21 - What the Godwit Knew
They left the copse of trees and followed the whispering song of the sea until they came to a beach. Water and water and water was all there was. He stared out at the forever blue of the sea and knew now where all the rain must run, where all the rivers must flow, where all tears must drain to. There was so much of it and the air there was crisp and clean. It filled his lungs and made him feel awake, made him want to run down onto the beach and throw himself into the water. Snow lay thinly on the dunes but the beach was golden and scattered with all kinds of shells. Bladderwrack was strewn here and there and silent hermit crabs skittered between rock pools.
Bone tumbled down the dunes to the beach. Seals were basking on rocks beneath a chalk cliff further along the curve of sand. Seabirds perched on the cliff face. The sea washed against the cliff and beach with a whisper but the seabirds made a clamouring din.
Bone gnawed on bladderwrack as Notail pawed at a crab.
“Can we eat them?” the young dog asked, bits of bladderwrack stuck between his teeth.
Notail shook his head.
“Not them,” he said. “But maybe there are fish.”
The beach was a crescent. The white chalk cliffs were at the eastern end and to the west were more gentle dunes. Always west.
They padded out into the shallows and stared into the crystal blue water. It enveloped their paws.
“It’s cold,” said Bone. “I like it.”
There were more shells and smaller crabs but no fish came to swim around their paws.
“What about them?” asked Bone, looking to the seabirds.
Notail scanned the cliffs. They were too sheer and the seabirds’ voices were angry and loud. A cacophony he did not want to worsen. He saw a single godwit watching them.
“Birds know the land,” said Notail.
He bounded across the sand to the godwit and Bone followed.
The godwit did not move. It was staring out past them to the sea. It had very black eyes that seemed to look to something beyond the sea. Its beak was long and sharp, a sand-dashing, sea-poking spike. It stood proud and held its round head high. Its feathers mimicked the shore, like the sand suddenly freed of the sea, flecked with tide-out yellows and browns. When it eventually looked to them it peered down its sleek beak and blinked its bead eyes.
“Is this the west?” Notail asked.
The godwit cocked its head.
“It is if you have come from the east,” it answered.
Notail padded closer. The bird did not take flight.
“Do you know of the Pale Fox?” asked Notail.
The godwit looked off again to the sea. The sea was calm. Winter was fading. There was a warm breeze coming in from the north. The seabirds cried louder.
“I have heard of him,” answered the godwit.
The godwit peered deeper off into the horizon. What is it looking for out there, wondered Notail.
“You won’t find all your answers in your west,” said the godwit and it glanced quickly to Notail and then away, back to the sea. “I know what you look for. A land without man. Peace. Rest. A light to cling to. We all crave those things and in that craving we forget what is all around us. We forget what is real…”
“The Manless Land exists,” said Notail, interrupting. “The Pale Fox exists.”
The godwit nodded.
“You believe them to exist and so they exist,” said the godwit. It glanced once to Bone as if noticing the young dog for the first time. “I do not believe it exists and so it does not exist. You will find it. I will never find it. I will find something else. You will never find that.”
“If you do not believe it exists, how can you say if I will find it?” said Notail, feeling confused.
“We forget what is real...and we cling to what merely exists,” said the godwit, fixing her eyes back on the horizon.
Notail scraped a paw at the sand. The bird’s words were strange. He did not like them.
“How do you even know about the Pale Fox?’ asked Notail.
The godwit closed its eyes for a moment. When it opened them it did not look at Notail.
“Others like you have come,” it finally said.
“Other foxes came here looking for The Pale Fox?” said Notail.
The godwit nodded. A gull soared over them. It cried. The godwit looked to it and then back to the sea.
“I know of a grey fox,” said the godwit. “She hunts in the dunes all night and day, hungry, always hungry. Her name is Wanderer. Maybe she knows the way to your Pale Fox, maybe.”
“Thank you,” said Notail.
The godwit looked to him.
“Why do you thank me?” asked the bird. “Listen to me, fox-with-no-tail, there are answers to all questions but they are not always the answers we expect. Think well in the future before you ask your questions. The west is here and there and east and everywhere and beyond.”
The godwit tapped its beak twice against a rock and took flight towards the sea.
Notail looked to the snow-dusted dunes to the west.