To be honest, I have just had one of those wonderful, lazy and indulgent days. I dropped Megan off at her work in central Auckland at about 8.30 then drove down to Okahu Bay for a swim. Not a beach I have ever much liked, largely because my Dad always used to say it had a muddy bottom -- and at anything less than mid-tide that was always true.
So when I was a kid we’d always drive on to Mission Bay, summer and winter, and swim there.
Lately, maybe these past few years in fact, Mission Bay is where I have gone again to swim in the mornings when office workers are at their laptop-toil. And I have had the beach to myself mostly.
Increasingly and without regret, I think I have become my father: that lone swimmer, the middle-aged man who plunges deep and sucks in the morning air, who loves being alive and a part of the salty sea.
I often think of my Dad when I swim on these empty mornings and of how many, given how far apart we always were, of his habits I have adopted. Probably good for me actually, I always feel better after having been in the ocean.
At around 10am the young mothers pushing baby strollers the size of small cars would arrive at Mission Bay -- my God, my three adults sons endured prams which you could fold into a glove box -- and about then I would leave.
Today however, because it has been high tide, I pulled in at deserted Okahu, the third day in a row in fact. Surprisingly, this morning I was not alone: a Maori family of two adults and a bunch of kids were there wading in the shallows, laughing and splashing.
We nodded at each other, and I took myself off a little further down the short crescent of sand and shells, and swam with ridiculous and perhaps undeserved pleasure. Later an Asian guy in a wetsuit dived in at the far end.
I walked that empty beach as expensive cars whizzed along the waterfront drive and then went home, had a shower, and went into the city for a business meeting. It was just another pleasurable day. And it wasn’t even close to noon.
I had also, I thought, put a full-stop on my next travel book and so -- as was my long practice when I worked at the Herald when an assignment was just about done -- I took myself to Tony’s on Wellesley St for a long lunch of wine and a steak burger while I read it through for what I hoped was the last time.
I chatted to Donna about her Christmas -- she is one of this city’s most cherishable people -- then indulged myself in plenty of Three Sisters shiraz. This was me celebrating, and re-editing, a book for which I have yet to find a publisher.
It was a fine lunch of the kind I like: solitary and self-indulgent, much like my swimming.
Then Megan sent a text to ask if I knew Sir Ed had died.
I didn’t of course -- and for a few moments I imagined what must be happening at the Herald where they would have been pulling out an already written obituary, manning phones for comment, and getting the photo essay ready.
Then I went back to my print-out manuscript, finished my long lunch and came home, tidied the house because Megan has family over from London and the girls were going out for the night, and sat down to do . . . oh, just something at the laptop.
There was knock at the door. A neighbour across the courtyard was there and apologising for disturbing me, but she just wanted to say if we were wondering why there were police around it was because Marcus had been found dead in his unit.
She was longtime drinking buddy of Marcus who lived in the opposite block and whom we only knew as a pain in the arse for his complaints about people parking in the wrong places when he’d a bottle of wine too many, and of how the body corporate had let us down on the leaky building saga, and so on . . .
She said, through barely suppressed tears, she knew some people would be glad but . . .
I couldn’t think of anything to say: I think I asked how old he was (maybe she said early 60s?), how sad I was, asked if he has been alone and how he had been found.
A neighbour had taken a bottle of wine over she said, he hadn’t been well for a while, heart or something. It’s a blur to me now. I felt utterly empty.
I went over to Marcus’ place -- for some unspecified reason -- and saw a couple of cops in their Thirties, guys who didn’t flinch at a situation I would cower from.
I muttered something about passing our condolences on to whatever family he might have had -- they said a sister had been notified -- and then I walked home in something like a strange and disembodied stupor. I don’t even remember it now.
Everything in my day seemed to have dissipated: the swim and the eyebrow flash to the kids on Okahu; the business meeting which I hope works out but is looking more time-urgent than I had thought; laughing with Donna about prolonging our summer mood; a good steak in a place that makes me feel at home; happy house cleaning; the new Ruby Suns album on the stereo on a cloudless afternoon . . .
I struggled to remember any of it. And in all that, the passing of one of our very few fellow citizens who made us feel better about ourselves simply because of that coincidence of sharing a common country.
But mostly I thought of my long-gone Dad, of the short time we are here, and of Marcus lying alone in his townhouse which has a floor plan exactly like ours.
I hugged Megan very, very hard when she came home.