Geoffrey flinched as the sun cut into his eyelids. In his fatigue last night he hadn’t closed the curtains. He blocked the light with a pillow beside his face and stared at the gyprock ceiling, succumbing to wakefulness.
He rose and went to close the blinds. Peering out he saw the day in stark clarity. Across a courtyard was a row of rooms, many with cars in front. There was no greenery, but a brilliant blue sky reigned above. Ponds of water were the only memory of last night’s storm.
He showered, and let the water pour down on him like the storm. He felt that was a more appropriate segue from last night to the clarity of day. He needed to cleanse his mind too.
He thought of the rig again and its monstrous act of savagery. He shut his eyes at the memory of the patrol officer suspended mid-moment before being taken away by the rig. He thought of the man who’d come across the scene, and how helpful he’d been. He’d sheltered Geoffrey beneath his umbrella, and then offered him his car, called emergency services, offered comfort, had not cared that Geoffrey might be waterlogging his car seats.
I’d like to thank him. I should find him, and thank him.
He tried to remember the man’s face beneath the umbrella, but couldn’t. It was dark at the time; even though he’d been up close to him he’d seen nothing.
Geoffrey lifted his head. He’d seen nothing. He hadn’t registered the man’s appearance, but nor had he seen the man’s death. He had no idea when the man might die.
He’d seen a man, up close, hadn’t noticed what he looked like and for the first time in weeks, hadn’t had a vision.
It was the same for the paramedic who first attended to him. She’d opened the door and asked him if he was okay. He had no image of her, whether she was blond, brunette, tall, short or anything. She had helped him into the ambulance, examined him and attended to his grazes. And she had driven him to the motel. But despite all that he had no recollection of her appearance or her end of days.
The constable was the same. Constable Drysdale. Geoffrey hadn’t noticed a thing about him, neither the current nor the future. Ditto any of the rescue workers, in their iridescent clothing, hauling equipment about in the spotlights they’d erected.
The last person he’d seen – the last death of a person he’d seen – was the patrol officer. Suspended mid-air, like a preserved specimen. All the others were still living.
Geoffrey turned off the water and reached for his towel. He was unsure what this meant. Was it just a temporary relief from his visions, or could he be tempted to think that it might be permanent? Had he been cured, or had the events of the night so distracted him form what he normally saw? He’d been focussed on his injuries and the trauma of the accident; he hadn’t thought to look at the personnel on site. It was probably that. Distraction, not a release. Or was it?
There was one way to find out.
He dressed quickly, in his clothes. They had dried overnight and fit him better.
He had no case or belongings take with him, so he closed the door and stepped into the sunlight.
The world had been washed. The sky was a new blue. The roof of the motel block was clean. The courtyard was clean. The windscreens of the parked cars sparkled. He thought of the truck and his car in the bush, and wondered if they too were clean, or still bore the wounds of snapped branches and mangled steel.
He swung open the flywire door of the motel reception and rang the bell on the lavender laminate counter. Rows of coloured pamphlets lined the wall behind. The door next to them opened and a woman entered the room.
“Hullo, love,” she said. “I’m Cath. I think you met my husband Des lest night.”
Geoffrey stared at her. She was stocky, with close cropped hair. Large arms were uncovered by the sleeves on her pink singlet. She had no make-up.
He did not see anything else.
He heard her say,
“You still with us?”
She was looking at him slightly angled as if trying to see what he was staring at.
Geoffrey grinned and his breath sharpened
“Sorry,’ he said, “I was just distracted by a thought.”
“That’s alright, dear,” said Cath. “Annie told us what you went through. Awful night. She’s the paramedic. She brings people like you to stay at the last moment.”
Geoffrey nodded and then turned away.
He hadn’t seen Cath at her death bed.
A four-wheel drive pulled up at the door. It pulled a caravan behind it. A man got out and swung the door open with a squeak.
“G’day,” he said to the room. “Just come in to check out.”
Geoffrey stared at him. He was tall, with leathered skin on his face and arms. He wore a short-sleeved shirt and shorts. He had a three-day stubble.
“You right, mate?” he said.
Geoffrey blinked a few times and said, “Yeah, all good. You go first, I’ll just sit here for a moment.”
“You okay?” said Cath.
“I’m good,” said Geoffrey. “I just need to sit down for a bit. Please, go ahead and let this man check out.”
He sat on the crimson cushion of the plastic chair near the window, and stared at them both, as Cath produced the bill and inquired if the room was up to standard, and he replied he and the missus had had a good night’s sleep. Much more than they would have had if they’d been in the van.
He could hardly believe what he was seeing. Or, he remarked to himself wryly, what he was not seeing. All he saw were two people, in casual garb, transacting a simple dealing, bidding each other well. Alive and here and nowhere else. In the now, and not the then. In the breathing living uncomplicated everydayness of living their lives. Not a skerrick of death about them.
He heard the man say, “Thanks, mate,” and the hydraulic door stoop wheezed as the door shut. Cath said,
“How’re you feeling, love?” she was standing over him. “Can I get you anything? Glass of water, a cup of tea perhaps?”
Geoffrey beamed up at her.
“No, thanks, I’m fine. In fact I’m more than fine. It’s a fabulous day, the rain has stopped, I’m alive, and you’re alive and the world seems sparkling clean.”
He sprang up. Regarding him closely, Cath retreated behind the counter. She said, “You’ re sure you’re alright? It was a nasty thing you went through.”
“Oh I think I’m very good,” said Geoffrey. He smiled broadly. “I think it’s going to be a terrific day. Let me pay up and I’ll be on my way. You’ve been very kind to me. I appreciate you making a room available so late at night.”
He used the reception phone to call a cab after paying, then thanked Cath again, shaking her hand vigorously. She said, “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Fabulous,” he said, and stepped into the sun.
The cab pulled up to the kerb and the driver peered across the passenger seat. “Geoffrey Hanson?”
“Where to?” said the driver when Geoffrey closed the door.
“A car hire place, please, any brand,” said Geoffrey.
He stared at the man as he drove. He guessed he was in his fifties. A crop of dark hair, a double chin, ears the size of pancakes. He didn’t see anything else.
“You right there, fella?” said the driver.
“All good,” said Geoffrey and smiled.
“You’re creeping me out a bit with the staring.”
“Oh sorry,” said Geoffrey. “I wasn’t staring at you, I was just looking at the town and thinking things.”
The driver looked at him briefly, drily.
At the rental office he was served by a young woman made up with red lipstick and plenty of eye shadow. She wore the company livery and a red scarf which extended to her shoulder. He saw nothing else. Nor did he see anything other than her manager when he entered from the almost invisible door behind the counter.
He felt elated. Four people today, without a vision of their end. Ten or so in total, if you count last night. Was he possibly cured?
He drove the hire car into the new mall. He thought he’d test his mind in a crowd.
He sat in the food hall, with the bright neon and smells of grease and spices suspended beneath the low ceiling. People milled around. Parents with children and loaded shopping carts. You men in baggy pants, girls in tops and leggings. An elderly couple pushing a canvas shopping trolley. Babies in prams, pregnant mothers, boys in baseball caps, siblings arguing. People shovelling trays of food served on plastic plates into their mouths, drink cps with straws like broken antennae.
And not one of them dying.
All of them were alive, doing their thing, spending their money, sweating into bain-maries, foraging for purses in tote bags, shoving their brothers, staring at screens, laughing, talking, walking about, everything that people in food halls do. Except dying. Or even thinking about dying. When you eat you don’t think about dying. Food is sustenance, and sustenance is life. There was not an inkling of non-life in what Geoffrey saw.
He wandered over to a café. The waitress, a young girl in her late teens dressed in black shirt, black jeans and sneakers approached with her pad and pen at the ready.
“Can I help you, sir?”
He stared at her and grinned. “Fabulous day, isn’t it?” he said.
“I suppose so,” the girl said.
“Value it,” said Geoffrey. “Live every moment. We’re alive, and we don’t know when the good days will end.”
The girl sighed and looked over to the kitchen.
“Is there anything you’d like to order,” she said.
Geoffrey blushed. “Sorry, I get a bit carried away.”
The girl waited.
I’ll have the full breakfast,” he said. “Poached eggs, bacon, hash brown, spinach, the lot, and a cappuccino please.”
A celebration breakfast.
He watched the patrons in the café as they came and sat and ate and left. Not one of them showed any signs of dying. No images cropped up in his mind, no apparitions or portents. Just people living, with futures unheralded.
He sank his face into his hands and started laughing. He was utterly astonished. The last fortnight had been traumatic. And now it appeared to be over. He stared at people, closely, quickly, intently, casually, but it made no difference. There was no automatic portrait of their deaths.
The waitress put the food in front of him. He looked up at her and said, “Thanks.”
Siting in the hire car afterwards, he contemplated what was happening.
Perhaps it was a shock I experienced. Maybe the shock of Slabs’ accident set me off on a train of thought, and only an equal shock could have brought me back. An episode bookended by traffic incidents. Whatever the case, I am free of it. I no longer immediate see a person’s death the moment I meet them.
And what if I had been making it up all along? Was that possible? What if I was so affected by Slabs’ death that I’ve been hallucinating all this time?
He felt foolish at that prospect but could not deny it as a possibility.
But what about Dave, he’d been so helpful and patient. Maybe he was just letting me go on, with that trip through ICU and setting up the meeting with Angela. In fact, was Angela even dead? Or did I imagine that too? Did I imagine even meeting with her? Have I been crazy these last two weeks? Crazy but supported by people who have put aside their own grief at Slabs’ death to help me?
He peered up into the blue sky. Here was life, in its full glory. The panoply of solar energy, the source of heat and growth and food and play and all things we like to do. None of it dark, or motionless like the patrol officer caught mid-air.
It may all have been a trick of the mind. My god, how stupid have I been?
He rested his head on the steering wheel.
I’m better now, I’m better now.
Am I better now?
He wondered who could answer that, and tell him what had been going on, who knew the truth of it.
Or maybe there’s no knowing, and I have to live with that. Live with the memory of the time I slipped in the head and had to rely on the generosity of my friends.
But this did not satisfy him. His soul demanded some reckoning, some account of his state of mind, of how real or how foolish he had been.
There was only one person he could think of who might offer some perspective on it all.
He started the car and turned towards the exit.