Back in his apartment, Geoffrey dialled the number of the only person he thought might understand his dilemma.
“Dave, it’s Geoff.”
“Geoffrey, how are you after yesterday?”
“That’s understandable. How bad is terrible?”
“Dave, I’m in trouble. I need someone to help me.”
“It’s hard to explain on the phone.”
“I’ll come round, in about fifteen minutes. Will you be okay for that long?”
“Things got weird. I’m frightened.”
It was the first time he had acknowledged fear. He had felt terror, and horror, but not this deep underlying fear. True, he had been afraid of what he might see in the mirror last night, but this was a subterranean fear, a groundwater of dread that leached through his being. Fear for what these visions might mean. Fear for his sanity. The fear of being totally alone. He was the only person in history he knew of who had this faculty, and it scared him.
He showered and ate some leftovers from the fridge while he waited for Dave to arrive.
The doorbell rang. Keeping his eyes lowered, Geoffrey let Dave in. Dave’s outstretched hand appeared in his field of vision. He shook it and ushered him to the living room.
“What’s up?” said Dave.
“I think I’m going mad,” Geoffrey replied.
“And why would you think that?”
Geoffrey walked behind the kitchen bench. “Tea? Coffee? Something stronger?”
“Water’s fine, thanks,” said Dave.
Geoffrey took a glass from the cupboard above him, filled it and, still not looking up, handed it to his friend.
“I’m over here,” said Dave.
“Oh right, sorry.” Geoffrey followed the voice until Dave’s jeans appeared. “I’ll make some tea while we talk,” he added, and turned around to fetch the tea caddie from the cupboard. “Let me ask you,” he said as he filled the kettle, “if you could, hypothetically, know the very moment – the time place and date of your death – would you want to?”
“Is this that thought experiment again?” said Dave.
“Kind of, but, well, it’s been on my mind.” Geoffrey pulled out mugs and watched the kettle begin to shake as the water approached boiling point. Dave said,
“To answer your question, absolutely. I work in oncology. Patients typically have two questions – will I get better and how long do I have? But we can never tell them the answer. It’d be great to know.”
“But for yourself?” said Geoffrey.
“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Why do you ask?”
“So if I look at you now and say you’ve got fifty, or ten, years left, you’d want to know.”
“But you’re not looking at me,” said Dave.
“Because I don’t want to find out without your consent.”
“How does that work?”
“Just like I said,” said Geoffrey. “If I look at you, I can see when you will die and where: date, time and place.”
“Okay,” said Dave. “Tell me more.”
Geoffrey lent back on the kitchen bench and related the experiences of the weekend. He reminded Dave about the premonition he had had concerning Slabs. He described the visions he’d had of the onlookers at the accident – the people who’d offered to help him when he vomited, the truck driver, the hobo and Rajiv the Uber driver. He finished with his experience in his bathroom last night.
There was a silence after Geoffrey’s summary. He poured a mug of tea, added some milk and pushed it across the bench towards Dave.
“I thought you might want some tea after hearing that.”
The mug disappeared from his line of sight. He heard Dave blow on it, and take a sip, and the mug reappeared on the bench.
“You can look at me,” said Dave.
Geoffrey hesitated, partly out of consideration for his friend and partly out of fear for what he might see.
“I’m sure,” said Dave.
Geoffrey looked. In place of the angular face of his young team mate, he saw Old Dave, Aged Dave. Dead Dave, sitting in an old leather arm chair, beside a dormant fire, his head turned to one side into a wing of the chair. Covered in blankets and sunk into the form of the chair, he may have been asleep, but for the pallor of his cheeks. A table light was on beside him, and it cast a peaceful chiaroscuro across the old man’s frame, fashioning a gentle smile from the whitened lips.
Geoffrey breathed out and let the image subside.
“Good news, huh?” said Dave.
“Just give me my age,” said his friend.
“Ninety-eight. You outdo me.”
Dave shrugged and reached for his tea.
“It looked very gentle by the way,” said Geoffrey.
Dave eyed Geoffrey with a wry smile as he put his mug down again.
“That’s an eerie kind of feeling,” he said. “Much how I imagine a condemned man might feel before receiving his sentence.”
“A long life sentence,” said Geoffrey, “not a bad outcome.”
The two men drank. Through the glass doors which led out to the balcony at the end of the room Geoffrey watched a flock of black cockatoos as they wheeled above the eucalypts. Their cries were the voices of distant lands.
“What do you see now?” asked Dave.
“So, you get a vision, but then you get to see the present.”
Dave took a sip of tea. He asked,
“Can you turn it back on again?”
Geoffrey frowned. “You mean -?”
“Look at me again. Conjure it.” Dave was staring at Geoffrey.
Geoffrey returned his gaze, and then there was Dave again, in the chair, blanketed, head turned as if asleep.
“Still there,” said Geoffrey. “You’re sitting in an old chair under some blankets.”
“What colour are the blankets?” said Dave.
Geoffrey pursed his lips and said “I didn’t take note of that, sorry.”
“Silver, wispy. Not much left sorry. You’re pretty bald.”
“Well that’s started already. Nose hairs?”
“Can you go back again? I’m curious about those blankets.”
Geoffrey took a deep breath and said,
“Now that you mention it, I’m wary I could be recreating something as opposed to simply revisiting it. It hits me when I first look at a person, but I haven’t been going back and forth.”
“Okay,” said Dave. He paused a moment to drink some tea, and then said, “You feeling okay?”
“I think so,” said Geoffrey. “If truth be told, a bit relieved. It’s good to have someone to talk to.”
Dave chuckled, and said, “If truth be told.”
“You don’t believe me?” said Geoffrey.
“Don’t be offended, my friend,” said Dave. “I believe you are seeing something. I’m just trying to figure out what.”
“What do you think?”
Dave pulled a stool from beneath the bench and sat down.
“Well,” he said, “I’m an oncologist, not a psychiatrist or neuroscientist. In fact I’m at the wrong end of the body, as I specialise in bowel cancer. But I have plenty of colleagues in psychiatry who’d love to speak with you.”
“You think I’m crazy?”
“Not at all,” said Dave shaking his head. “Not that we use that term anyway. Your soundness of mind is not in doubt. But, as medicos, we have to look at the options. Option one, you’re experiencing hallucinations of some sort, for want of a better word. Option two is you’re actually seeing the future. The first – hallucinations – is something we know a bit about, albeit yours are unique to my knowledge. The second – clairvoyance – is totally unique in human history, barring B grade movies and the weekend horoscope. So we have to ask, which is the more probable – which will provide the more reliable source of investigation – a unique thing we know something about or a unique thing we don’t?”
Geoffrey closed his eyes and rested his head in his hands with his elbows on the bench. His shoulders dropped, and he let out a long sigh. Of course Dave’s right. Why trust my crazy ideas when medicine will explain it best? He looked up and said,
“But what about my premonition about Slabs? You saw it. It was real.”
“I saw it, yes, and was very curious at the time,” said Dave. “But again, premonitions are not unknown to medical science. An easy theory would be that you were elated by the success in the game, which ironically heightened your sensitivity to the vulnerability of life. So when the crash occurred, it triggered your visions.”
“You think that’s what’s going on?”
“I don’t know. As I say, it’s not my area of expertise. But it’s one possible explanation. And before we set you up with a definite interpretation we have to explore other probable options.”
“You mean more probable,” said Geoffrey.
“The problem is the visons as they stand aren’t verifiable. So we have to start with what we know, with what has been verified in the past.”
Geoffrey stood erect and dug his hands into his pockets. “Cos my other problem,” he said, “which you might consider a lesser one, is, I have a date with Lucy on Tuesday. I spoke with her last night. She’s really nice.”
“Ah,” said Dave, smiling, “and you didn’t want to see her dead without her agreeing to it.”
Geoffrey winced with the starkness of Dave’s phrasing. He did not think of seeing her dead, but that is exactly what he was afraid of. He did not want to experience the vision of Lucy at her last moments. His stomach turned at the prospect. Dave had been relatively easy; he was an experienced clinician, practised at impartiality, and had seen some pretty gruesome things in his ten years as a cancer specialist. And besides, he didn’t necessarily believe what Geoffrey was describing was true; he had a doctor’s ability to stand back and assess information based on the evidence at hand. Apart from Geoffrey’s description of events, Dave had no other evidence to go on. Lucy on the other hand had expressed a strong preference not to know her future, which, in Geoffrey’s mind, meant not subjecting her to his visions without her consent.
He said to Dave, “She said she wouldn’t want to know her future anyway. I asked her, in the hypothetical sense. It’d ruin any chance I had if I told her everything at this stage.”
“So what will you do?”
“Well, if they are just hallucinations, I’ll sit through it for a bit and discard it and get back to looking at her, as she really is.”
“Which is no mean task, I take it,” said Dave.
Geoffrey ran a hand through his hair. He looked out at the blue sky and snorted. Somewhere outside a rowdy motorbike sped up a road.
“They were so real though,” he said.
He turned and scrutinised Dave who stared back at him dispassionately. After a pause Dave said,
“Did you just pop back in there again?”
“The blankets were a red and greeny colour. They were kind of tartan or large check, or a quilt, I don’t know. I’m not good at fashion stuff and décor. The fireplace was a dark wood with green tiles. The table lamp was a kind of off white linen, with fine drawings of twigs and leaves and bottlebrush. The couch –“
“What?” Dave sprang out of his seat.
“The couch –“
“No, the lampshade. Describe it to me.”
“Sort of off white, mainly, but it had a really nice pattern of green leaves and bottle brushes. Or maybe it was banksia. I never get them right.”
Dave was frantically searching for something on his smart phone.
“Were the leaves filled in, or just in outline?” he asked.
“Just in outline,” said Geoffrey, “in a bushy sort of green.”
“And what colour were the bottlebrush?”
“A kind of yellow. Musty I’d say – mustard. There were some seed pods too, in the same colour, like small gum nuts.”
“Was this it?” Dave thrust his phone into Geoffrey’s face. There was a photo of a table lamp, close up, a bit better lit than Geoffrey had seen it, but undeniably the one on the table beside Dave in the vision. The identical leaves, and flowering, the same strokes of the designer’s brush.
“That’s the one,” said Geoffrey. “Different base though.”
Dave spun around with his back to Geoffrey.
“What?” said Geoffrey.
Dave turned back and eyeballed Geoffrey intently.
“My wife and I bought this lamp this morning, like, three hours ago. She’d chosen the fabric about a fortnight ago, and had the lampshade made. She was in the shop, and sent me this photo to show me the finished product. I said I liked it and she paid the balance and brought it home. How on earth could you know that?”
Geoffrey shrugged, a bit surprised at Dave’s reaction.
“And then, when she brought it home we agreed we didn’t like the stand. So we switched it for an old one in the garage.”
“Wow,” Geoffrey said quietly.
“I mean, you’ve never seen it. You haven’t had access to my phone, you weren’t at the shop, hell, you’ve been asleep half the day!”
Geoffrey let out a little laugh.
“Fuck!” Dave spun around again and walked to the end of the bench, staring at his phone. “How can this possibly be?”
He stared open mouthed at Geoffrey, his face taut.
“At least you know it lasts,” said Geoffrey. He looked out the glass doors again. The day seemed a little older, the light a little heavier.
Dave said, “How squeamish are you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Can you stand the sight of blood? Or really sick people? Most desk jockeys can’t.”
“Why do you ask?”
“Because we are about to do something highly unprofessional,” said Dave.