He stopped in his tracks. With breath slow and body unmoving, he watched the bird land on the white fence post almost within arm's reach. Black and white feathers, the magpie looked straight at him, silently sizing him up before throwing its head back - open beak to an overcast sky. Giuseppe watched quietly. Imagining the soft warbled song of the bird, before it cast another sharp scrutinising eye over him, before flying off.
It was unusual to see them so close to the coastline, the backyard sure, but not here - not by the water's edge. He draped his old beach towel over his damp shoulders. Once a vibrant red, now just a hint of soft pink, the towel still did what it needed to do. A little dry comfort after the cool of the ocean, he leaned into the railing where the bird had just been.
He hadn't heard the magpie's song, but he could remember. Ahh, he could remember. He had listened to so many of these strange birds when he had first arrived. The fierce look of their beaks combined with that soft rolling singsong. He respected those birds.
She'd always said it didn't matter how cold the water was, no matter what the weather, as long she had song to distract her, she could swim in anything ... They woke. They swam.
Giusep couldn't remember the last time he'd heard the sound of a morning magpie. Much like he couldn't remember the last time he had heard his wife softly singing to herself as they had wandered down the back-beach track for their morning swim together. Very rarely do you know it's the last time - it just kind of sneaks up on you, and there you are - left imagining. Had he known, he would have paid more attention. Both to his wife's gentle songs sung as she entered the water, and to the sharp beaked magpie warbles.
She'd always said it didn't matter how cold the water was, no matter what the weather, as long she had song to distract her, she could swim in anything. While his method of immersion was far less poetic, they hadn't missed a winter in the last 15 years of swimming together - almost a reflex action. They woke. They swam.
Not today, though. Sophia had stayed home to finish making a cake for their son. They were coming over soon, he and the rest of the family.
If lockdown had taught them anything it was the importance of doing the things you loved. Swimming at dawn was one, but family would always win in Sophia's eyes. Especially when it involved little Riccardo coming over. Again, you just never quite knew when it might be the last time.
His grandson was a water baby that's for sure. Born by the water, it was like the sea already ran through his veins - it suited Giuseppe. With lockdown over, and before the season had turned cool, they had spent day after day down here by the water's edge.
Holding the boy up on top of his shoulders, they'd march into the ocean. Riccardo held on to Giuseppe's old-man ears as reins while he held tight to the precious boy cargo via his chubby little legs. Splashing through the water, they would run, until finally flopping on the sand, both laughing.
Seconds would pass before standing again, his sunshirt-covered body blocking the sun briefly before a small pudgy hand tugged to do it all again.
He knew when the boy was talking to him; face tilted, looking up expectantly, waiting for the right answer from Poppo. Sometimes he got it right, but other times he just had to guess. The water was a good distraction.
They'd raised three children, he and Sophia. The noise of family life was something he knew well. God, he had loved it. Every laugh, every passionate discussion, every late-night hushed whisper over pots of hot coffee - this had been his family's song.
That's what ears were for; the hearing of love and life. Not this, not this wretched silence.
Now? Just the sound of a perpetual ocean, like his ears were constantly submerged underwater with no amount of shaking of the head to loosen its grip. The buzzing in his left ear, the occasional word filtering through if it was just the right pitched tone, or sometimes if the words were yelled at him.
That wasn't really hearing though, but he would take what he could.
Smiling his way out of awkward situations, lip reading where possible and anticipating how conversations might go - he pitched in where he thought he should be.
Conversing like this didn't really encourage deep and meaningful conversations though. He couldn't really remember the last time he'd been able to contribute with one of the big family discussions. Now he just watched - enjoying the show.
Some days he cursed the loss of his hearing, quietly and to himself. On the outside though he smiled - and nodded.
The family would be arriving, and he was looking forward to the noisy song of silence to begin, and in the meantime?
He'd keep an eye out for that sea loving magpie, he wanted to see it sing again.