Dudley Livingstone was the retired sea captain of the HMS Clipper Ship, the Valiant - a 3-mast vessel he had honorably commanded for over 25 years along the United Kingdom’s southern trade routes in the 1800’s.
Handsome in form, with full mantle of hair and piercing brown eyes, he sported a whiskered face that somehow seemed incongruous to his otherwise comely appearance. It was whispered, however, that the beard was but vanity to hide a birthmark darkening the left side of his face.
A childless widower, Dudley lived alone on a 40 acre estate along the River Mersey in Liverpool, England with adequate staff to maintain both house and gardens. To those of youth and adventuresome dreams, his existence after seafaring would appear dull and mundane; but then that would be true only to those whose lives had yet to be lived.
Just assuredly, as tempestuous seas test a ship’s worthiness - proud figureheads at its bow, masted sails above its decks and creaking, pitch-filled planks below; so too is the inner man tested in times of self-imposed isolation.
Dudley was considered a man of wealth; but he considered his possession as much a part of him as frost upon a window pane – opaque, translucent at time and temporary at best. Of all his material holdings, only three things were countenanced by him as being valued.
One, a wounded mongrel dog he’d found stray while combing the beaches of Northern Africa. That the dog was lame meant little to him – imperfections he felt were hallmarks of life.
The second was a parrot, the gift of a tribal king outside a rainforests in South America. “Parrots,” the king had told him, “tell a man what is in his heart. Because it is from the heart a man speaks and it these words the bird hears and repeats back to him.”
And the third, the Holy Bible, a wedding gift from his wife, Emma, who had died of typhoid while he was at sea. Not a day passed that he didn’t read the Scriptures aloud as Emma had loved him to do. His rich baritone now belying the pain beneath the words; yet finding in them also a balm, coating the opened wound of loss.
Through the years, Dudley spoke mostly to his dog he’d named Mandy. She as soothed by his voice as he was soothed by her quiet and tolerant manner of listening.
But to the parrot, he’d named Micha; words did not come as glibly off his tongue. They were reticent as if held prisoner – guarded by the dread of what might be repeated back to him. The words, a mirror to his very soul.
To his servants, Dudley seemed to love and respect Mandy and Micha equally- affection for one could not be discerned over the other. That Mandy loved being with her master was evident. She was obedient to his commands and cuddled at his feet even when his mood was foul or brandy had loosed his tongue in idle confessions.
With Micha, it was the affectionate way he bobbed his head and moved back and forth upon his perch, squawking “Aye Mate” whenever Dudley entered his study. Micha’s room was Dudley’s study. He had no cage, just a large sawn tree branch protruding upwards from a wide, round, sand-filled pan.
Here Dudley would feed him berries, fruit, and nuts and repeat to him safe, innocuous things.
Could Micha’s words be my legacy once I’m gone? Dudley often wondered. His voice my epitaph to be engraved on my tombstone?
Dudley’s study was his place of refuge. Paneled walls, shelved with books, fireplace and large mullioned windows. Here he was most himself. Here he read the Scriptures aloud and rambled reflective thoughts to Mandy and Micha, who always appeared engrossed by what he had to say.
And, while one remained silent at his feet,and looked up at him with soulful eyes, the other would pace back-and-forth upon his perch, guttering his breath and nodding his head. And, at such moments, Dudley would turn his head and ponder the yet unformed words.
Death waits for no man. Might-have-been at last swallowed in the dark abyss of what was. Character and substance remembered by repeated acts and words.
In Dudley’s passing, Micha’s words, the words most often repeated from John’s lips did became his legacy – one whispered prayer like: Love you, Emma. The others, just as warm and genuine: Love you Mandy. Love you Micha. And finally: Amen.
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