A blur of blue and white light. Voices. Electronic beeps. Geoffrey’s head pounded. He moved his arm. His limbs were lead. It would not move. It was tethered, somehow to his wrist. A cloth bandage there, like bindings beneath a boxer’s glove, a tube that travelled up, up somewhere. A beep. He struggled beneath starched folds of white sheets and blanket. He turned his head. The pounding intensified. A small red light shone on a clamp on his forefinger. A motor ran and he felt his upper arm being squeezed. The pressure stopped and then eased with staccato breaths.
Footsteps padded a lino floor. He recognised that sound, footfall on linoleum. The blue and white separated, the blue was vertical and crenelated, the white a washed light on ceiling tiles. He felt with his free hand beneath the sheets and realised he was still in his clothes.
The blue wall opened and someone navy entered his enclosure. He stared at her- him? – but couldn’t make out any fine detail.
“Ah, you’ve woken up,” a woman’s voice said. There was a slight clatter as she grabbed a folder from the end of the bed, took a pen from her breast pocket and wrote on the open folder.
“How are you feeling?”
He stared at her, trying to fit all the details together. His mouth was dry, and he struggled to think or see. He still couldn’t define the nurse’s features. Dark hair, she had three eyes like vague stains on a napkin. The movement below must have been her mouth.
“Still a bit groggy, huh?” the woman said. “That’s okay, plenty of time.” She looked at the machine that was attached to the cuff on his arm and noted what it said. Then she grabbed his wrist and checked his pulse against her watch.
“Not bad,” she said. She smiled at him. “Do you know where you are?”
He looked at her blankly, trying to pull her face into a recognisable shape.
“St Vincent’s Hospital,” she said. “ER. You were brought in about an hour ago. Apparently you fainted on the footpath. You took a nasty crack on the head when you landed. Luckily a man caught you on the way down, otherwise the bang could have been much worse. He very kindly called an ambulance and you were brought here to recuperate. You’ve suffered a concussion, which might affect your eyesight and mobility, so it’s rest under observation until you get better.”
Splintered memories of the morning came back to him. The ambulance, the bicycle, the man complaining about him on the phone. Dave. Where was Dave?
“Where’s Dave?” he said. His voice seemed far away, as if it did not belong to him.
“Dave?” said the nurse.
He took a deep breath.
“Doctor David,” he said. “Thompson.”
“Your attending doctor is Dr Sandra Heinrich,” said the nurse. “She has just placed you under observation for the moment, but now that you are awake we can run a few tests for you, to make sure nothing is amiss.”
“Dave works here,” said Geoffrey. “St Vincent’s. Oncology.”
“Ah, well he won’t be down here in Emergency,” said the nurse.
Geoffrey shook his head. The pain ripped through it. He closed his eyes and rode its bitter tide. Then he raised his hand.
“I understand,” he said limply. “But can you find out if he is in his office? I want to know if he’s in.”
“Okay,” said the nurse. “I’ll do that and let you know. In the meantime you rest up and we’ll see what we can do to help you revive. I’ll let Doctor Heinrich know you’re awake.” The blue curtains flapped and she was gone.
He lay on the bed, trying to recollect the events of the morning. He thought of the harbour park and the water birds with the big beaks. The cormorant on the marina, the blue sky, the ibis in the garbage can. Something else happened after that. The ambulance, he was running, and yes, the accident and Andrea lying on the ground bent like nobody should be bent. The wheel of her bike still turning. He spoke to Dave. Dave sounded frantic. So did he come to think of it. Coffee on the northern beaches. The impossibility, and the reality.
He had to find Dave. Dave would understand. That nurse, sure she’d make the inquiry, but it would take too long. He had to find out what Dave knew. What Dave was doing about it.
He took a deep breath and hauled himself up, levering on his elbow as he slung his feet to the side of the bed. They hung there as he sat hunched over, the ward swimming violently about him, the ache thumping into his temples. He closed his eyes in the hope that the spinning would stop. His body swayed. He knew he was in no fit state to stand up. But he had to. He let out a stunted groan.
When he had caught his breath he cautiously opened his eyes. The blue curtain still moved, was that him or a breeze? He felt nauseous. He put his hands on the edge of the bed. The mattress folded and crackled beneath his grip. He breathed in again, and out, heavy breaths. His feet were somewhere down there. He had no shoes. Where were his shoes? When he looked for a bedside table his head swirled again. A green plastic bag appeared in the tumble. Maybe his shoes would be in there. Keeping one hand firmly on the bed he lowered himself slowly to standing, with his back arched so he could launch back on to the bed if he started falling. He paused there and took some breaths. Then he stood erect, clinging to the metal end of the bed.
He bent to pick up the bag. The world capsized. Blood rushed to his eyeballs and a hammer fell on his skull. He panted, but tried to remain silent in case he attracted attention. His lungs pumped unsteady air in and out. Each breath lifted his body and then dropped it. He hauled the bag on to the bed. When he stood, the world slumped, as if his innards were oil. His legs were brick, his eyelids lead. His vision receded again. He felt in the bag. Shoes. Wallet. Phone, keys, sunglasses and shoes.
He dropped the shoes on to the ground and pushed his feet in, not bothering to unlace them first. He pocketed his possessions.
He pulled himself upright and inhaled a couple of times. He opened his eyes wide. The world still moved, but he was determined. He marched a couple of steps on the spot to test his balance. It seemed stable, sort of. The blood pressure cuff started up, so he let it take its measurement before removing it. He unwrapped the bandage around his wrist and pulled out the cannula. There was no pain. That surprised him. He pushed the bandage on to his wrist where a blood spot appeared. He used the time to catch his breath and focus on his balance.
Got to make myself look sensible. Look like a visitor.
He left the finger clamp on the bed, tucked his left wrist in his pocket to conceal the hospital tag and pushed the curtain aside.
With intense concentration he began walking. He felt his movements were exaggerated. That might give him away. His knees were too high. He was too slow. The lights blinded him. He stopped, closed his eyes and waited for a moment. His head still ached. The he marched himself forward, past rows of patients in beds, past an administration desk, past banks of machines, wheelchairs and medical devices. Voices chirped nearby, navy figures moved, but he kept on, swaying as he trod, determined to find an exit.
A voice said, “You all good, sir?”
He turned to the nurse who spoke, a face, a shock of black hair poking out from a cloth cap.
“Yeah,” he said. “All good. Just checking on my mate in the bed back there.” He held his hand up and pointed feebly to where he had come from. Bile rose in his mouth as he did and he swayed.
The nurse turned to look where Geoffrey pointed.
“Well you aren’t supposed to be here without permission,” the nurse said.
“Sorry, just leaving,” said Geoffrey, and managed a confident smile.
“The exit’s that way.” Geoffrey made out the nurse’s raised arm.
Geoffrey forced a chuckle.
“Thanks,” he said. “I’m amazed you guys don’t get lost each day.”
“You sure you’re okay?” said the nurse.
“Yeah, yeah, fine,” said Geoffrey. “It’s just, I’m not great with hospitals. The smell, and blood.” He waved his arm about, like he was swatting a random fly.
He threaded his way past the banks of equipment again and pushed open the swing doors of the emergency department. He stood aside as a couple of paramedics pushed a bed down the corridor, a person lying unconscious on the mattress. He thought that’s what I must have looked like.
He staggered to the foyer and then through a marble annex around to the private consulting rooms where he caught the lift to Dave’s floor. He leant against the lift wall to catch his breath. He didn’t feel any better when he got out and forced himself to look at the tenancy board. He could barely stand when he arrived at Dave’s reception desk, and had to hold on to the marble bench.
The receptionist eyed him warily through thick rimmed spectacles, and said in a lilting Irish accent, “Do you need help, sir?”
He looked at her dark hair and white skin, the black rims of the glasses. He could just make out a plastic container containing a sandwich next to her, and a mug of tea. He stared at that as a focus to control his breathing.
“Can I help you, sir?” she said. “Do you need to sit down?”
“I’m … I’m looking for Doctor Thompson. Is he in?” he said.
“Do you have an appointment?” said the receptionist.
“No, I’m a friend. My name is Geoffrey Hanson. Accountant. I was just visiting a mate in the hospital down below and thought I’d pop in on the off cancer Dave was here to say hello.”
The receptionist glared at him.
“Ooh shit, off chance, sorry. Bad slip.” He reached for a box of tissues on the counter. “May I?” The receptionist handed him the box, and he took one to wipe his forehead.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” said the receptionist.
“Yeah, all good,” said Geoffrey and grinned bravely.
“It’s just that I noticed you have a hospital tag on your wrist,” she said. “I can get help if you need it.”
Geoffrey looked at his wrist, a mixture of embarrassment and nausea churning inside him.
“Oh that,” he said. “That’s embarrassing. My mate and I were playing silly buggers in the ward and he slipped this on me. I can’t get it off. They’re so bloody tough these things.” He summoned a laugh that sounded more like a grunt. “Doctor Thompson?”
“He’s not in now, so let me see if he’s in at all today,” she said and looked at her computer. “Sometimes he’s in the wards all day and sometimes in other rooms in Westmead.”
Geoffrey swayed as he clung to the countertop, and fought to stay upright.”
“It seems he’s got the bulk of the day blocked out for a funeral,” said the receptionist.
Geoffrey reared backwards and almost fell over. His face blanched and his mouth dropped open.
“Oh Jesus, that’s Slabs, I forgot,” he said and turned to leave.
“Are you sure you’re alright, sir? You look like you are in difficulty,” said the Irish voice. “Why don’t you sit down here and I’ll get an orderly to take you back to the ward?”
“No, is fine,” said Geoffrey as he staggered out of the room and down the hallway, one hand on the wall to steady himself as he went.
A voice followed him. “Sir!” But he had reached the lift and pressed ground.
The hot air in the street buffeted him as he reeled down the driveway towards the taxi rank. It was empty. He fumbled for his phone, but could scarcely see the Apps. He sat down on a low brick wall and steadied himself with his hands on his knees.
“You okay, mate?” a voice said.
He looked up. The man’s features were obliterated by the sun. He waved a hand.
“Fine, thanks,” he said. “Jus need a cab, thass all.”
“There are two here,” said the man. “Let me help you in.”
He felt the man’s hand under his arm as he stood, and they walked over to the cab. As he stooped to get in, the man said, “You look after yourself, okay? Go home or something. Get some rest.”
He thanked him and said to the driver, “Rookwood, please.”
“That’s the one.”
“Big place, Rookwood. Do you know which part you want?”
“Not a clue,” said Geoffrey. “We’ll find out when we get there.”
He slumped back into the seat, closed his eyes and let himself breathe for a while. Pity it’s not Rajiv, he thought. He had no thought for where the route they took. He was scarcely aware of passing traffic and buildings.
He pulled his phone from his pocket and tilted his head to the screen. “Ring Doctor Dave mobile,” he said.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that” said the phone.
“Ring Doctor Dave mobile.”
“Ringing Robert Grave mobile,” said the phone.
“No no,” said Geoffrey and frantically thumbed the red button to stop the call. “Ring. Doctor. Dave. Mobile,” he said.
“Ringing Doctor Dave mobile.”
Oh thank god.
The phone rang, but it went to message bank. He wondered where Dave was.
Probably at the funeral. I hope he’s okay. I’ve missed the service by now. Have to see if I can find the interment and creep in at the back. Hopefully I won’t be persona non grata.
He relaxed back into the seat and closed his eyes. What a morning. What a day. He wondered if the hospital was upset, but figured they’d get all sorts there. Him leaving would be only a blip on their radar. He let the sound of the traffic fold into a general hum as it passed him by. He listened for his breathing. This was the moment’s rest he needed.
His thoughts wandered to the morning. He was calmer now, but no less confused. He had never fainted before. He wondered if people who faint have experienced an earth shattering event like he had. It was earth shattering. As he thought about it his breath sharpened and a tension grew in his chest. There must be, must be, a rational explanation for what happened. Dave must have got the times wrong. Did Andrea have a twin? She was addicted to her sport. That’s it: she couldn’t take the morning off. She wanted to brave the prediction, not by being absent, but by taking the risk and riding during the appointed time. She’d ridden that stretch of road plenty of times, surely, without incident. That must be it, she must have thought the best way to invalidate the prediction was to ride anyway, and survive it like she had survived every other ride she’d done.
But she hadn’t this time. In line with his vision she had had an accident. Coincidence, surely. I’m not recording people’s death sentence. I’m not a visionary. I’m just a bloody accountant for god’s sake. It’s all just coincidence. Surely. It’s not real.
The sound changed and he opened his eyes, partly to observe what caused the change and partly to divert his thoughts. He focussed on his surroundings and endeavoured to slow his breath. His eyes ached, but there was no detail to exhaust them. They were in a tunnel. Blank white walls flashed by beneath a canopy of black. Over the headrest in front of him the tunnel lights merged like two strings of pearls in the distance. He looked at the rear of the driver’s head. It was close shaven; a bald patch was emerging, or so it seemed to his unsettled vision.
He turned on the camera on this phone and turned it 180º to see himself. Nope. Just a blur, ears and eyebrows and hairline. He was ghost white. He looked at the driver again. He was also a blur. His head rocked forward and back. He squeezed his eyes shut and then reopened them. The driver’s bald patch bobbed above the head rest.
Geoffrey reeled back into the seat.
There was nothing. Nothing apart from the driver, sitting in his seat, attending to the task of driving, in the here and now. There was no vision accompanying it. He wasn’t lying in a hospital bed surrounded by family, or in a family couch, or washed up on the rocks or crushed in the wreckage of a highway tragedy. Or anything else. He was simply there, in the driver’s seat, hands on the wheel, eyes ahead, drawing out a straight forward life as a cabbie, earning money to pay the bills, maybe to feed his family. Just the driver.
Come to think of it, there were no visions in the hospital. The nurse who took his pulse was a nurse who took his pulse, and not someone exhaling a last breath somewhere in seventy years’ time. The other nurse who showed him the exit, and all the other people on the floor – nurses, patients, paramedics, interns – they were going about their business unshadowed by any spectres of their demise. The receptionist too, in Dave’s office, she was there, in Celtic black and fair, in a chair in front of a computer screen, with her lunch and cup of tea. No death there, no wizened skin or faded hair, just youth and professional demeanour. And care; he recalled how considerate she had been.
But there were no visions in anyone. In his muddled sight he had seen only the now, only the here, the here and now and not the then, not the end, not the death.
Did that mean anything? Could it be that they were over? Could he possibly hope that the visions that had dogged his last week and caused so much grief were now finally over? Would he be able, once again, to look people in the eye and see them as they were, not as they will be? Was that possible?
His heart lifted at the prospect and he looked at the driver again. He fought to bring his eyes into clear focus, his head pounding with the effort. The image was not clear, but nothing accompanied the hazy lump of head on a head rest pointed at the road they were travelling on now. He closed and reopened his eyes, and looked again. Still just the driver, a vague round shape and a mass of spinning lights.
He slapped his knees and laughed. He wished there were others in the cab to test himself on, but it felt good to at least hope. The very thought of it was exhilarating, even if exhausting. At last, this whole fiasco would be done with, and he could carry on with life.
They emerged from the tunnel into a wall of blinding sun. He could see nothing. They were driving into a hot white cloud and he gripped the seat in case another car smashed into them. He hoped the driver could see, as his own sight was gone again. He put on his sunglasses. The world became soot. The intensity of the light eased, but the world was no clearer or better defined. He grabbed the head rest of the front passenger seat and pulled himself forward. His head spun a bit as he did and he had to pause to settle himself.
“Can you see in all this?” he said to the cab driver.
The driver looked in his direction momentarily.
“All what?” he said.
“This,” said Geoffrey, and waved his hand generally about the cab.
The driver didn’t answer. Geoffrey flopped back into the seat and closed his eyes as the nausea swept through him. After a while he was conscious of the cab slowing and turning. It stopped once, and Geoffrey opened an eye enough to discern a blurry red light above them. The road was less smooth and the sound of the traffic less regular. There was a bump and the traffic disappeared altogether. The car slowed to a standstill and Geoffrey heard the driver say, “We’re here, do you know where we need to go?”
Geoffrey pulled out his phone, and said “Ring Rookwood Cemetery.”
“Ringing Rookwood Cemetery,” echoed the phone.
After some confusion Geoffrey managed to ascertain where the burial was taking place, and directed the driver where to go. Through tired eyes he made out a crowd of people gathered on a stretch of sunlit lawn. He hauled himself out of the cab and stood leaning against it. He fumbled in his wallet and withdrew his credit card.
“You okay, mate?” said the driver.
Geoffrey bent over to look in. “Sure,” he said. “You go.”
A grove of trees lined the roadside, stringy barks and fragrant melaleucas. He stepped on to fresh mulch next to one and leaned on it to catch his breath. White sunlight stormed the cloudiness of his vision. He could make out the colours of green of trees and emerald lawn. It all shone, too brightly to be real, too brightly to define and detail.
In one corner of his sight he noticed a body of black forms standing solemnly under the sky. It was Slabs’ mourners. He scrutinised as best he could the crowd and its immediate environs. The stretch of green beside where the crowd stood was otherwise vacant, as yet unoccupied by gravestones or the adornments of memory.
The crowd itself fanned out in random assembly from a centrepiece where Geoffrey guessed the grave was located. Presumably the priest and close family were at the front. The rest of the black forms stood like sentinels in a breeze that ruffled through the trees and turned up collars. He saw nobody he knew. He tried lifting his sunglasses but that made things worse. He looked at his clothes. Runners, jeans and t-shirt were not exactly the clothes for a funeral. He ran his hand through his hair in a vain attempt to neaten it, took a breath and stepped into the sun.
He walked unsteadily to the edge of the group.
He saw a mourner turn and eye him. Geoffrey flashed him a stolid grin. The mourner lent in close to his companion and whispered something. His companion looked at Geoffrey and then turned back. Geoffrey forged an unsteady route into the group.
“Dave?” he said. He bumped into someone, who was forced to step aside. They growled at him.
“Sorry,” said Geoffrey, “I’m looking for Dave.”
He slipped his arm between two mourners, saying, “Scuse me.”
“This is a funeral,” said one of them.
“Sorry,” said Geoffrey, and pressed on. “I’m looking for Dave. Dave Thompson.”
He staggered towards a cluster of people in black. One held a handkerchief to her face.
“Do you guys know Dave Thompson? Have you seen him? ” said Geoffrey. They stared at him with what he understood to be disgust. “It’s important,” said Geoffrey. “I need to find Dave.”
He tapped a man on the shoulder. The man turned.
“Scuse me, I’m looking for Dave,” he said.
“Sshh,” said the man, “this is a funeral.”
“Yeah, I know, said Geoffrey, “for my mate Slabs. But I need to find Dave.”
“Will you shoosh up,” said a woman’s voice. “Stop being rude.”
“Sorry, but it’s important,” said Geoffrey, “I’m looking for Dave.”
He moved in another direction, to another wall of black suits. He heard someone sobbing.
“Dave?” he said. “Is Dave here?”
“For goodness’ sake,” said a voice.
“Are you crazy?” said another.
“I need to find Dave,” said Geoffrey.
“There’s no David here,” said someone. “Now leave, please, you are disturbing the proceedings.”
“It’s okay,” said Geoffrey. “I’m a friend of Slabs too.”
“Simon, Slabs, but I’m looking for Dave.”
He couldn’t make out the man’s features, but the voice was filled with menace.
“Look, I don’t care who you know, you are upsetting my wife and others who are in grief. Go away, now.”
Geoffrey swayed in front of the man. He sensed the gaze of a number of other people. He said,
“I get it, I was there at the accident, in fact I foresaw it, and Dave was there too, he certified Slabs dead.”
The aura of black in his vision thickened and he sensed he had become the focus of a commotion. The man’s voice was sharp and heavy.
“Listen, I don’t know who you are, but I won’t say it again. Go right away from here now or me and my mates will carry you out. Understand?”
Geoffrey waved his arm gently about him and turned to walk away amid pointed murmurs of “outrageous” and “disgusting” retreated as he moved. He continued to cut a swathe though the gathering calling out “Dave, is Dave here?” People parted to let him through like pedestrians avoiding a hobo, telling him to keep his voice down, or to get away from them. His gait became increasingly unsteady as he stumbled through the crowd. His vision was impaired by a darkness and he found himself bumping into blunt shoulders and black forms. “Sorry, I’m looking for Dave. Is important.”
He took a step and bumped into a black tie and white shirt.
“Dash, what are you doing?” It was Condor’s rich voice.
Geoffrey leant on his team mate’s chest to steady himself. He was breathing heavily and had become nauseated with the effort of searching.
“Condor,” he said limply. He felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Let’s get you away, mate, you seem to be upsetting the people.” The hand lead him through the crowd.
“Where’s the team?” said Geoffrey.
“A few of us are over there,” said Condor. “There’s Scrubs, Macca, Mudeye – ”
Geoffrey stopped, his hand still on Condor’s chest for support.
“Is Dave with you?” he said.
“No, haven’t seen him,” said Condor. “He’ll be around somewhere but.”
They were about to start walking again when Condor said,
“You look like shit, mate. What’s wrong?”
In his depleted state Geoffrey couldn’t cope with looking up at the tall man’s face, so he addressed the chest directly in front of him.
“I need to find Dave,” he said.
Geoffrey sighed heavily.
“Dash, look at me,” said Condor. “Look at me.”
Geoffrey stared feebly at the grass below him.
“You’re crook, mate,” said Condor. “You probably shouldn’t have come.”
“I need to find Dave,” Geoffrey said.
“Well, we’ll find him,” said Condor. “But you could do with a rest. Can you actually see anything?”
“Not much,” said Geoffrey. “It’s all pretty vague.” He was conscious of his heavy breathing again, lifting and dropping his chest in tense lumps of air.
“Let me take you over to my car and you can rest there for a bit. The burial will be over in a moment anyway.” His hand urged him to head out of the crowd.
“No,” said Geoffrey. “I’ve got to find Dave.”
“We’ll find him,” said Condor. “He’ll be here. It’s not like him to miss out on this.”
Geoffrey put his hand on Condor’s arm.
“Let me stand on the edge while you guys find him. How’s that sound?”
“Okay,” said Condor and led the way to the outer edge of the crowd. “Stand here,” he said. “When this is finished I’ll bring Dave over. Are you guys okay? Have you done something?”
Geoffrey shook his head. “I just need to make sure he’s alright,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot lately.”
Condor had his hands on Geoffrey’s shoulders. “Okay, wait here. You gonna be alright?”
Geoffrey nodded and guided Condor’s hands back towards the crowd of mourners. He saw the big man’s shadow move away and merge with the black crowd.
The sun warmed his back. With only a t-shirt on he hadn’t realised he was cold, but now goose bumps appeared on his arms. He looked up at the sombre sky. It was blue. He thought, This sky will continue long after we’ve gone. It’s continuing now and Slabs has gone. He lowered his gaze to where the world lay in three horizontal stripes, the green of the earth, the black of mourning and the blue of the sun. His breathing was still laboured and he needed to focus to remain upright and still.
He worried about the events of the day. Just this morning he was sure it was all a mistake. He had walked in the morning sun certain of purpose, rueful of his error. Now here he was, a pariah at a funeral, his head busting with anxiety and grief, unsure of everything he touched or saw. So much death now, too much to bear, too impossible to counter, too immutable a fate. His only concern was Dave at the moment. His friend had sounded desperate on the phone, but they had spoken for such a short time. If only he’d had the sense to talk more, but he’d been just as distraught. He feared Dave might be at risk somehow. He might be wandering around in a daze like Geoffrey. He might still be at the café wondering what the hell went on.
He pulled out his phone and said “Ring Doctor Dave.”
He saw someone look around so he took a few steps back as the phone dialled. Voicemail again. He rang it again. Still voicemail.
He looked up, scared. He said “Ring Hanna Thompson.”
The phone rang.
“This is Geoffrey, Geoffrey Hanson, from the football team.”
“Oh hi, Dash,” said Hannah.
“Hi. I was just wondering, is Dave at home?”
“No, he’s at Slabs’ funeral today. I couldn’t get there, my dad’s got pneumonia so we had to take him to doctor’s. Is everything okay?”
“I just hadn’t seen him, so I thought I’d ring to make sure.”
“Well he should be there,” said Hannah.
“Oh I got here very late, so I probably just missed him. We are at the gravesite now, so I’ll catch him when it’s over. I didn’t want to push my way through a crowd or mourners at a funeral asking if anybody’d seen Dave. So I thought I’d ring you.”
“Okay,” said Hannah. “I’ll leave you to it.”
Not at home, probably not here. Where? Geoffrey’s anxiety grew. He stepped around the outer circle of the mourners, searching as best he could amongst the homogenous wall of black mourning suits and hats. He stopped. A breeze struck his arm and he felt cold again. He plunged both hands in his pockets and stood, willing the morning to finish and for Condor to deliver Dave to him.
A hand slipped about his arm.
“I was wondering where you were,” said Lucy’s voice.
Lucy! He swung round and hugged her tightly against him. His heart rocketed as he smelt her perfume and her felt her hair sweep across his cheek. He buried his face in her neck and breathed her in, fervently clinging to her. Then he let go and took her face in his hands and kissed her ardently on the lips. Her hands were on his shoulder blades and she held him close as they kissed. When they were finished he hugged her again. Smell and touch and taste were all he had, and he let himself sink blindly into her richness. Then he kissed her again, softly, lips touching and breath like sugar between them.
“You have no idea how good it is to hold you,” he said. His forehead nestled with hers and he held his eyes closed behind his sunglasses. Their noses touched, and their sunglasses cracked against each other. They giggled. His grin was as wide as a grave.
“Good to see you too,” she said. He pulled her close to him again, and nuzzled her hair with his mouth, her face turned against his chest.
“I have so missed you,” he said.
He felt her chin bite into his chest as she titled her head up with puckered mouth demanding another light kiss.
“I like a boy who misses me,” she said. “I’ve missed you too.”
“Ha!” said Geoffrey and they hugged again. A little way off he heard someone say, “Have you no decorum?” He swung around to shield Lucy from the person who had complained. Then he ran the back of his fingers down her cheek in a soft caress, as he smiled and shook his head with awe.
They held hands. She was scrutinising his appearance.
“I was looking for the boy picking his nose,” she said, “but then I realised it was the boy in jeans and t-shirt.”
Geoffrey stepped back and looked at his outfit.
“You aren’t dressed for a funeral,” she said.
He breathed in and closed his eyes. Although he had not had visions since the hospital, and his eyesight was still affected by his grogginess, he didn’t want to risk it. He said, “It’s been a hell of a morning.”
The crowd was beginning to disperse now. Black suits filtered past them, in pairs or small clusters. Car doors could be heard opening and closing. The two stood arm in arm.
“It’s finishing,” said Lucy. “There’s a wake in the cemetery café. Why don’t we go there talk? I’ve got to make my Perth flight soonish, but we might squeeze in a quick chat.”
Geoffrey looked away from her and searched the crowd. “I need to find Dave,” he said. “We can go to the café when I find him.”
A tall figure emerged from the background. It was Condor.
“Hey, Dash,” he said. “I haven’t seen Dave. Oh hello,” he said to Lucy.
“Condor, this is Lucy. Lucy, Condor,” said Geoffrey, and then added, “Lucy do you mind if we stick around until everybody’s gone, just in case Dave’s one of the last? We can chat here.”
“Of course not,” she said. “He’s a friend of yours.”
He held Lucy’s hand as he peered at people wandering by. He couldn’t identify anyone. The two of them walked towards the grave where a small group was standing. They approached and Geoffrey squinted at them, but Dave was not there. The group looked him and moved away.
They were the only mourners at the edge of the grave. On the other side two men in work gear and olive beanies were shovelling loads of earth from a large mound into the pit. Their hi-viz vests were stark beacons in the obscurity of his vision. They worked methodically, one taking a load from the mound, the other dumping his into the grave. Their boots left large moist dents in the earth that fell from the shovels.
She put her arm about him as they stood side by side in silence, and rested her head on his shoulder. He felt warmed by her body, and her presence here gave him comfort from the furore that raged inside him. He looked at the trees, the rhythm of the men working, the blue sky that continued despite what was hidden in the ground. When he looked up at the men again he saw two bodies lying in state, one in what looked like a nursing home, another in a shaded bed in a dark room.
His heart fell. In the calm of her company his visions had returned. He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth against an urge to cry out. He held her tighter for the fear that welled in him. He would see her, he knew it, and he felt like leaping into the grave with Slabs and letting the earth fall upon him.
“I’m sorry I’m not better company,” he said.
“No, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry I can’t stay. I’d like nothing more than to be able to, but, you know, Perth and all that. I got in early for the service, and thought we’d have a bit more time before I had to leave but you missed it.”
“So I’m sorry for that,” said Geoffrey.
The two stood silently for a moment. The Lucy said,
“I really have to go. I don’t want to, but I have to.” She looked up at him. They kissed, long and soft. Geoffrey thought how bizarre it must look to kiss so earnestly by the side of a grave, but it did not stop him enjoying it. He was past any such petty concerns.
“I’ll call you when I get to Perth,” she said. “Can I give you a lift somewhere or is your car here?”
He turned to face her with closed eyes, and kissed her again, then held her close as they had before, and let her scent and the warmth of her body intrude upon his sadness.
Of course he should accompany her back to her car, and go to her place while she packed and they could laugh and kiss and say sweet things to each other while he drove her to the airport, where they would hold each other until the last second before the gate closed. But no, he would let her go under the guise of grief for Slabs. He would let her go so he could avoid doing he very thing he ached to do – see her open eyed and revel at the sight of her and tell her how beautiful he found her.
“Thank you,” he said. He swallowed at the duplicity of his words. “Thank you for making the effort and for being so kind. Thank you for being so fantastic about all this. It’s been a troubling week or so.”
“He was your team mate. I understand that,” she said.
They stood arm in arm again.
“I don’t want you to go,” he said.
“I don’t want to go,” she said. Then she kissed him on the cheek. “But I have to. It’s only a fortnight, nothing in the scheme of things. We’ll survive. You stay here if you want, and do the grieving you have to do. I’ll call you. Okay?”
He hugged her tightly one more time and kissed her with passion. Her grasp was no less urgent and comforting. Then she slid away and moved towards the road where her car was parked. Their hands were the last things to touch.
He did not look at her. Instead he kept his eyes on the ground, shadowed by his glasses and the afternoon sun. The breeze and picked up and forced a shiver from him. The grave diggers had finished their task. They threw their shovels into the back of a squat trailer hitched to a quad bike. The tools landed with a metallic clatter. The bike started up with a throaty burble and the two men drove off, one on the bike and one on the back of the trailer. Geoffrey realised the quad bike had been obscured by the earth mound.
He was alone now. He shivered with the afternoon chill. He looked at the grave. It was an earthen rectangle, muddied at the edges by work boots, beside a strip of green lawn. The lawn had been recently watered. It shone, and the earth about the grave was fresh and rich and dark and as flat as the ground about it.
His shadow lay across the grave. It was his only company. The men gone, his girlfriend had gone, Slabs was gone. And Dave was not around. The day had been a failure. A mournful wretched failure. The memory of the morning burrowed through his mind. Dave’s voice on the phone, the mourners, and then the brief grief ridden moment with Lucy. In the cold, tears welled up and billowed down his cheeks. He pressed his palm to his face and his shoulders rocked with the sobs, the helplessness, the despair and fear. The fear he had no control over what was happening, the fear he would never be able to connect with Lucy, that splendid generous and beautiful woman who for some unfathomable reason seemed to like him. The fear he would lose all he had and succumb to, to what, madness? Was that to be his fate? Were the mourners who surrounded his bed in his bathroom mirror not a happy grieving family, but a group of people relieved to see him gone, having suffered a lifetime of his morose and insane temper?
This caper of his visions, they were useless. They told him nothing, other than a time and date. From that you had an indication that you’d better live fast because you’re dying soon, or take it easy as the end was a long way off. That was the only definite information. They gave no inkling of how you might live, or the choices you ought to make. The poverty of the circumstances of death may indicate you made some wrong choices, but even that was no guarantee, as they offered no information as to the subjects’ peace of mind. Even the rich die afraid. Yet, as the day had shown, your time was inescapable. No matter what you might do, Geoffrey had seen your end. Who cares how Andrea got from the Northern Beaches to Rose Bay in such a short time. That was her destiny, to die in abject splendour beside her bicycle on the morning peak hour roads. It was inescapable. A knowledge was revealed to him by some unknown and unidentifiable force that served no-one any purpose, other than to say this is how it will be. This is it, and no other way, no matter what contrivances you concoct in an attempt to avoid it, this will be what happens to you.
He felt cursed. Cursed and worthless. Cursed and worthless and captured by this, this, hyper-sightedness. This wicked oppressive faculty. This inescapably wretched ability. It was not a gift. It was a disease. An illness that would eat him from the inside and leave him lonely, sad and alone. He would be an untouchable. An ogre, an outcast, who would ever only have the company of others out of sympathy and never respect.
It had already affected his friendships. It had banished him from Lucy. He had not been honest with her. He could not continue the relationship. No, he would have to let her go so she was free to begin the process of finding another companion more stable than he, more reliable and unencumbered by the hideous anomaly of his mind.
And Dave, he had brought Dave into this. The doctor had been such a supportive friend, generous in his time and support, dispassionate in his assessment and care for Geoffrey. No man could have a better friend. Yet he had dragged Dave into the abyss. He had shown him the intractability of his visions, the inevitability of one’s fate. He was sure he had now cursed Dave with his own curse, that of seeing the future and being entirely incapable of doing anything about it. He knew, Dave’s scientific brain would be churning at this very moment, wherever he was. It cut across all he knew and all he stood for. It was savagely unfair, and he bitterly regretted the first phone call he had made to Dave on the Sunday after Slab’s death.
This will drive me insane, he thought. This will be the death of me. I’ve got to find a way out, or I’ll be mad in a week. But what? Think man, think. You’re an accountant for god’s sake. You’re practical, mundane. You deal with figures and order and balanced accounts. Come on, think.
He raised his eyes to the green of the trees near the grave. He realised he needed to first clear his head. You can’t think without a clear head. I’ve got no idea how to do that, but that’s job number one. And then, job number two is to find Dave. Make sure he’s okay, and not been as wounded by this as me. Then job number three, win Lucy back. Which means getting rid of these fucking visions. And I have no idea how to do that. But I’ve got two weeks. While she’s in WA tickling dugongs I can clean up my act. Or I’m done for. I’ve got to get fit. Two weeks to build muscle and stamina and quell the demons in my head. Come on Geoffrey, this is it. This is your golden fortnight.
He stood on the grave edge, the earth thick, the sun cool, his skin shaking with cold.
He looked up at the sky and let out a mighty cry, a cry of anguish and determination, of despair and hope.
Then he pulled out his phone and said in a hoarse voice, “Ring Taxi.”