The silver gull can live for 30 years, thank God. This is the gull that steals your chips and yet regardless of a well-researched cholesterol problem, she somehow manages to keep on keeping on. I'm not sure if this applies to one-legged seagulls, but I hope so. I have my reasons, suitably poignant.
Down at the marina there is a car park and a bunch of trees that make a stand against the wind when it comes in from the south. If there is a storm coming, the local gulls arrange themselves on the tarmac in formation, all facing at an angle into the wind, dozens of them, like ornamental pieces on a Chinese-checker board. Among them is a one-legged seagull. She's been there for some years. Whenever I can, when the weather is bad I go looking for her. I don't know that she is, in fact, a she – I think of her that way.
We'll come back to that in a minute.
About 700 kilometres away, living on the water is a daughter of mine. The youngest of three. Each of them has their own mother, the girls, a fact that brings a cheesy smile to people, as if the whole arrangement is a comedy, which of course it is, the humanity.
People say to me: don't worry, be patient, she'll seek you out, this young child. I like to think they are correct but it's not a certainty to me. Or rather, I wonder if she'll find me in time. I'm not old, per se. But I'm in that territory when heart attacks come by surprise. It's morbid saying so, but these are the thoughts you have. I have the comfort that she'll no doubt find her sisters. They're waiting too.
We named her for the night, the littlest. I would think on this over the 4½ years I drove through the night to see her, the sweet and very funny child in the crossfire of an ongoing and exhausting dispute – a father wanting to remain as such in more than name, a mother unable to accommodate him for reasons of her own.
At one point, we were sent to post-separation parenting classes. There I was told that the longer it went on – the struggle – the greater the chance that the kid would let go of one of us. So I saw it coming. I'd read that bit in the Bible about cutting a child in two.
Hence I started planting some stories in her head, by way of insurance. Nothing about me, certainly nothing about her mother – but rather odd stories about the world by which she might recognise me.
"I saw that one-legged seagull last week," I'd say.
"Was there a storm?" she'd say.
"Just a little one. But her mates were on deck," I'd say and she'd roll her eyes, pleased but also mocking.
This is what I plan to talk about if we get to meet again. The seagull is my opening line. It was about six months after she let go that this research was published, the scientists so surprised that such a small hard-living bird might live so long. They were almost as pleased as me.