There was no answer.
Geoffrey pulled open the fly screen door and ran inside. He was scared of what he might find.
He cast his eye over the old couch and wicker chairs in the front room. He pushed open the doors of each bedroom. They swung open easily and the rooms were empty. The dining room was dark, the light from the small window obscured by a fading pink curtain. The bathroom door yielded to an easy push. It too was vacant.
Breakfast crockery was stacked neatly in the drainer beside the sink. Three envelopes were held to the chipped wooden bench by a small pot of dried lavender. They were marked “Hannah”, “Mum and Dad” and “Geoffrey”.
Geoffrey ripped his envelope apart and read the opening lines,
“To my friend, Geoffrey, too much has happened in the last fortnight.”
He flung it on the bench and ran outside, franticly searching for any sign of his friend.
His voice speared the ragged coastal gums that shredded the otherwise clear view of the sea in twisted bars of grey and green and purple. He followed the crumbling stepping stones down towards the sea. They were unevenly shaped and set at varying levels, so it was hard to look for Dave while he focussed on surviving the stones, tree roots and sudden drops in height. He swung around a golden angophora and ran along a rock ridge, which led to an ascent to the cliffs above the sea.
He located the track and sped along it, skipping over mud puddles and emerald tufts of grass.
The wind whipped his voice to air. He smelled salt and dead sea creatures on it.
He ducked through a low bower of dry branches that scraped his neck. Perspiration ran down it and stung the scratch. He was up now on a ridge. The wind blew the grass to one side, and buffeted the dry vegetation. On the next ridge he could see his friend, standing at the cliff edge.
Dave did not respond. It was no use, the wind stole whatever he might try.
He put his hands to either side of his mouth, in a vain attempt to direct the sound.
His voice was hoarse.
He ran down a muddy slope, and the spindly grass cushioned his fall. He was up again, shouting, ‘Dave!’ even though he couldn’t see him. He pushed through the spindly grasses up the slope to the crest where he’d seen his friend, but stopped. Dave was not there.
‘Dave!’ Terrified of what he might see, he and skipped across the grasses and loose stones to the cliff edge. Rigid with fear he leant over into the swirling abyss of the sea that battered the coastline. It was mesmerising in a sinister way, as the darkness surged and rocked against the cliffs in its unceasing endeavour to unsettle the earth. He fought to discern any hint of human form. He followed the cliff line, where the wash thickened in force then with a booming echo split into white clouds. But there was no sign of Dave. Thinking the waves would suck a body out he scoured the outer waters as they swelled for the next onslaught on to the sandstone walls below him. Strings of white foam adorned the broiling sea; he saw no hand, no foot or back or, god forbid, head in the swell.
He cast his gaze further along the coast where the waves clawed at a rock platform. They splashed up on to the stone, and reached for the base of the cliffs and then receded, leaving a host of rivulets and striated weeds and fungus glistening in the sun. But no body.
Then he saw him. He was standing at the top of the cliff above the rock platform. The cliff was lower than the crest where Geoffrey stood but still a good twenty metres above the sea. He realised that was Dave’s strategy, to plummet the cliff height and hit the rock, and be taken by the rapacious water.
Geoffrey started jumping and waving. ‘Dave! Dave! Don’t do it! Dave! Over here!’ The wind caught his voice; he hoped it carried it to his friend.
He saw Dave look up, then turn and run.
Geoffrey’s heart lifted. He’s either running because he doesn’t want to jump or he doesn’t want to jump in front of me.
He leapt over the grasses in the dirt path and sprinted in pursuit of his friend. The downward slope was fraught with loose stones and fallen wood, but he skipped and jumped, his arms swinging for balance and his knees high. He traversed the rocky edge where Dave had stood, skirting stagnant pools and treacherous undulations in the grey grain of the rock. Rising again, his feet dug into the soil and he flung his heart into the chase. The wind stopped amid a grove of low bushes, then hit him face on as he emerged. But at the top he saw Dave. He was closer now.
He raced on, gaining on his friend.
He bounded over low growth and large stones, and pushed hard to reach his friend. A stump of wood caught his toe and over he went, face first into a knot of weed and sludge. He felt a knee connect with a stone and he cried out. The world spun about him, the flash of green and the sudden blue of sky. He sat up and saw Dave standing near the edge of the cliff. His knee throbbed.
‘Dave!’ he said.
Dave looked at him.
“I don’t know you,’ he said.
“Dave, I’m cured,’ said Geoffrey.
The wind whistled between them. Geoffrey saw Dave’s lips move but only caught his last words.
‘ – not something you can cure.’
‘I had a car accident,’ said Geoffrey.
‘So I don’t see anything anymore.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘I wasn’t in the car, but a truck took it over the edge in the rain and I spent hours at the accident with rescue teams and police and ambos and didn’t see any of them.’
Dave looked down at the cliff behind him. Geoffrey raised a hand and said,
‘Let’s just talk.’
Dave looked towards the woodlands that covered the escarpment above them.
‘You saw, Geoff, you saw,’ he said.
Geoffrey nodded. He had. He had seen; something had happened. It might have stopped now, but he was not cured of the past, not of what had happened. He wiped perspiration from his forehead. A broken leg might heal, but you can’t cure the limp.
‘Angela died, Geoff, just as you said she would.’
Geoffrey nodded again.
‘Not just a rambling prediction, but from miles away; you quoted the time and place.’
It felt stupid to nod again, so Geoffrey just sat in the grass, in the wind and smell of the sea.
’It’s not meant to happen.’ said Dave.
Geoffrey felt hopeless. He had come this far but had no answers for his friend. He sat in the grass and stared at him. He had nothing to offer. He was a failure. Dave was right. It wasn’t meant to happen.
Dave stepped closer to the rim. The wind picked up his hair.
‘Don’t do it, man, please,’ said Geoffrey.
Dave shook his head. ‘It’s the only way, Geoff. I’ve got to prove you wrong.’
‘How?’ said Geoffrey. But he knew. He’d predicted Dave’s death as an old man. But seeing that, listing the ICU deaths, finding dead hobos, transporting people thirty kilometres back to their death, all that – that‘s not how the world works. The only way to restore the balance was to prove him wrong and the only way to prove him wrong – to take control again and right the world – was to breach the vision Geoffrey had given him, of an old man in a chair lit by lamp light that Geoffrey had never seen and should never have known about.
‘I’m sorry, Geoffrey,’ said Dave, ‘I didn’t want to do this in front of anybody, least of all you.’
‘Dave, no. Please!’ Geoffrey struggled to rise, placing his weight on his good leg, one arm awkwardly extended in the air for balance. A sharp pain cracked across his knee and he cried out as he began to fall.
A hand gripped his forearm and pulled upwards. He dropped dead weight and yanked down. Dave fell on to him and he twisted over to be on top. He wrapped his arms around his friend and pressed his whole frame into him, determinedly pinning him to the dirt.
Dave struggled beneath him, but he held on. He twisted his legs about Dave’s, his knee throbbing painfully. He countered every attempt by Dave to knock him off, and clung on. Rock scraped the skin on his knuckles crushed beneath his friend’s back. He sucked in dirt and grass and the sweat from Dave’s neck. Dave’s breath was hot in his ear.
‘Geroff,’ said Dave.
‘I’ve got you, man, said Geoffrey.
Dave went limp. Geoffrey maintained his grip. The wind battered the high grass next to him. Dave jerked but Geoffrey’s weight held. Dave went limp again, and he sighed.
‘No,’ said Geoffrey. ‘You’re not going to.’
Dave patted his back, like a fighter’s surrender. Geoffrey hung on.
They lay rigid in the grass and rock and dirt, like twisted lizards mid battle. Geoffrey raised his head and stared at his friend. Dave’s eyes were bloodshot. Mud was caked on a four day growth. His breath reeked.
‘So what do we do?’ he said.
‘We stay until I’m sure you won’t jump,’ said Geoffrey.
‘When will that be?’
‘When you’re too weak to do so.’
‘Fuck you,’ said Dave and swung his fist into Geoffrey’s temple. The blow pushed Geoffrey to one side. Another blow followed. He yanked his knee out and pushed Geoffrey off. He leapt to his feet and turned towards the cliff line. Geoffrey sprang up, ignoring the pain in his knee. He lunged and tackled Dave and the two men fell on hard rock. Geoffrey crawled frantically up his friend’s back and put him in a full Nelson, Dave’s arms forced upwards like a bird in flight, his head down towards the sea, as if searching for prey. Their heads were over the edge.
Geoffrey peered down the cliff wall. The sea swept across the rock platform below them and then receded, vast and methodical, like a chef clearing a chopping board for the next dicing. Salt spray spat up at them.
‘Then I’ll take you with me,’ said Dave, and jerked his body worm-like forwards. Geoffrey pounded his friend on to the rock. Bits of flint flew over the edge and were blown away.
‘No you don’t!’ he said.
‘Then let me go!’ Dave jerked again. The sea roared and battered the cliff below them.
‘This changes nothing!’ said Geoffrey.
‘You’re a freak!’ said Dave. ‘I’ll rid the world of you too.’ He jolted once more and the pair inched further over the edge.
‘Dave, Dave!’ said Geoffrey. ‘You know you’ll survive this!’
Dave’s head drooped. With a grunt Geoffrey, lifted, twisted and rolled. Dave went over him and was under again, his face jammed on to the rock beneath Geoffrey’s weight. He pulled himself close to Dave’s ear.
‘Think about it,’ said Geoffrey. ‘I saw you as a dead man, not how you lived. If I’m right – and Angela says I am – you’ll survive the fall. But what will you be like? In all probability, a vegetable all your life, a burden on your wife and family, for over sixty years. Is that what you want? Hannah loves you, man, she’s very worried.’
He felt Dave shudder beneath him. The man was sobbing. Geoffrey relaxed his grip.
‘I only saw a moment in time,’ said Geoffrey, ‘not the years before. I saw me in a hospital bed surrounded by a grey haired widow and three adult kids. It doesn’t mean we’d been happy, or rich, or safe. I wish to hell I could see all that, but no, I only got the end point. And your end point is an old man in a chair by a lamp in a library. I don’t know what sort of life you will have lived, but don’t make it miserable by jumping off a cliff.’
Dave nudged him. He loosened his hold on his friend, but did not fully let go.
‘So, what,’ said Dave, ‘are we condemned to live the life you see?’
‘We are anyway,’ said Geoffrey, ‘whether or not I know it.’
‘So how do we live?’ said Dave.
‘Jesus,’ said Geoffrey. ‘How am I supposed to answer that? All I did was put our lives in perspective. But I do know this. Hannah loves you. And you can love her back. Not by being dragged up a cliff as a vegetable, but actively. Live for her and the things you love.’
‘You guys right there?’
Geoffrey looked up. The sun bit his eyes, and he saw the black shape of a man standing above them. He saw the sun hat, the bulk of a rucksack on his back. Long pants and hiking boots.
He twisted his neck. There were six of them, standing about, three men and three women. A couple of them threw off their back packs and stretched. He smelled the campfire in their clothes.
He rolled off Dave, but kept one hand on his back. Dave pulled his knees up.
‘We were just having a chat,’ said Geoffrey.
The man looked at the two of them. Geoffrey wondered what he saw.
‘My friend hurt his knee,’ said Dave. Geoffrey lay on his back and shielded his eyes from the sun with his arm. He stifled a laugh.
‘I was trying to help him and we fell,’ said Dave.
‘You want us to take a look?’ said the man. ‘Farez here is a doctor.’
The man called Farez dropped his pack and bent to inspect Geoffrey’s knee.
‘Which one?’ he said.
Geoffrey sat up. ‘The right.’
‘I fell over, and hit a rock.’
He felt the man’s hands gently exploring his knee.
‘Were you running?’ he said.
‘I think so.’
Geoffrey shrugged, and then winced as Farez poked the tenderest point of the knee.
‘Sorry,’ said Farez. He stood up. ‘This is Faruq, and Tony, and Carla, Adela and Sally.’
A few said hi.
‘Geoffrey and David,’ said Geoffrey.
Farez pointed to the knee. ‘I don’t think there is anything major. It’s pretty swollen as you can see, but you just smashed it, that’s all.’
‘That’s an official medical term,’ said the man called Tony.
Geoffrey looked at the group. One was drinking water. The others stood about staring at the surroundings. The sun shone, the wind still blew and in the distance the sea rolled and chopped with white lips. The roar of the waves on the rocks below echoed upwards.
‘You’ve got some scrapes there too,’ said Farez. “On your hands and knees.’ He bent lower. ‘A bit of swelling too, on the side of your face.’
Geoffrey touched his face gingerly. It stung when he prodded.
‘It’s been a bit of an odd morning,’ said Geoffrey.
‘How far have you walked?’ said Tony. ‘We can help you back if you’d like.’
Geoffrey looked at Dave and said, ‘You safe?’
Dave nodded and patted Geoffrey’s thigh. ‘Yeah, it’s all good.’
‘That’d be great,’ said Geoffrey to Tony.
He was suspended between Tony and Farez, his arms across their bulky back packs. Each step was a stab of pain to his knee, but he managed to hobble across the uneven surfaces of the cliff tops.
They paused every now and then, to allow one or another to catch their breath, or to admire the views across the cliffs. One of the women drew their attention to a kite hovering above, its feather fluttering in the wind.
‘So,’ said Farez. “Just having a chat or running and falling over rocks?’
Geoffrey smiled at him. He had dark eyes, and an equally dark beard. ‘Let’s just say it’s been a bit of a week,’ he said.
When they reached the house Farez directed him to sit on the lounge with his leg raised. ‘Ice, rest and if you have a bandage it might help to wrap it up for a bit of compression. How long are you here for?’
‘Couple of days,’ said Dave. ‘End of the week maybe. We don’t have any real plans.’
Geoffrey and Dave thanked the group profusely and watched them as they headed back down the hill to the beach, their coloured packs bobbing amongst the green and grey of the trees. Dave helped Geoffrey back to the couch and retrieved a bag of frozen peas from the fridge which he balanced on Geoffrey’s knee. ‘I’ll make some tea,’ he said and left for the kitchen again. He came out with the envelopes in his hand.
‘I see you opened yours,’ he said. ‘Did you read it?’
‘I saw enough to know it was an emergency,’ said Geoffrey.
‘I spent days over these,’ said Dave. “I figured I had the time. Anything before ninety-eight would prove my point.’
He opened the one labelled Hannah and read it. Then he folded it again, and reinserted it into the envelope. He tapped his knee with it. ‘That was the hardest,’ he said. ‘Yours was easy. I just laid it all out. What a shit you are, what the fuck it’s all about. I don’t understand what’s gone on here, it breaks all the laws of the universe, but if we’re trapped here for an allotted number of days, then I suppose … well, maybe you’re right, we love for the ones we love.’
‘All I know,’ said Geoffrey, ‘is what I saw is not that much different from what we don’t see. We live in the want for a long and happy life. We are tempted to look to the future to reassure ourselves, but fear that we won’t see what we want. But either way – whether knowing or not knowing, we live an allotted number of days.’
‘And if you find out we have fewer than we want, we die young, what do we do?’
‘I dunno. Accept disappointment. Love more intensely. What do your cancer patients do?’
‘Both,’ said Dave. ‘Some of them – most in fact – are incredibly strong in their last days. Even when they’ve been worn down by months of chemo and radiation. They inspire me every time.’ The kettle boiled and he went to make tea.
‘You know,’ he called from the kitchen, ‘all this doesn’t answer the ultimate question, of how you did it.’
He reappeared with two mugs.
‘And you know I’m going to find out don’t you? I’m going to MRI the fuck out of your brain, cat scan it, measure it, theorise it, write papers and go out on a limb if need be.’
‘Knock yourself out,’ said Geoffrey.
‘Didn’t you say you were cured or something?’ he said.
Geoffrey took a deep breath and pushed it from his lungs. He ran his hand over his face.
‘After the accident yesterday I realised I wasn’t seeing my visions. I didn’t see any of the rescue workers, or any of the people in the motel I stayed in. I thought I was cured but then, lying in the grass just now, I saw the bushwalkers’. That nice fellow Farez, he and his partner Carla are the first to go.’
‘So you stopped and started again. Where does that leave you?’ said Dave.
Geoffrey shifted in the couch to ease his leg.
‘Effed if I know,’ he said. ‘I’m hoping it’s me getting some form of control. Things change in high emotion environments. I’m going to explore that. I’ve got ten days til Lucy gets back.’ He took a sip of tea. ‘I’m going to tell her everything, so she knows, and we stop pussy footing around. She can make a choice about seeing me again, and hopefully I will have the control not to foretell her end if she continues not wanting to know.”
He lifted the peas off his knee, and flexed it carefully.
‘It’s time to start telling people, Dave,’ he said. ‘You need to ring your wife. She is worried stiff.’