Geoffrey woke. The room was still dark, although day was up, and shreds of light stained the rims of the blinds which blocked the windows. He could see very little.
He was alone. He lay still in the sheets, the bedcovers half way up his body. He turned his head to her pillow. He could smell her scent. What was it? He was never any good at naming things like perfumes – rose and for some reason bergamot was all he knew, but he had no idea what the latter smelled like. It might not even be a perfume: was it a tea? Whatever the case her scent was rare, and clean. He liked that.
His thoughts turned to last night. Wow. She had slept with him. What a catch. What a gorgeous woman. She was so soft, so smooth, so supple and so splendid to touch. And the way she was in bed, again, wow. He had never had a lover like that. In fact he had not had many lovers at all, let alone one so enjoyable. For the most part his experiences had been less than thrilling, a matter which he put down to his own incompetence in the sheets. This usually led to a kind of determined and almost obligatory form of coitus which was only pursued to a conclusion out of a sense of thoroughness, and even politeness, in the event that his partner actually wanted what was on offer. One woman, a barrister he was working with at the time, said as she got up to dress, “Well, strike that from the record,” and laughed. He was left wondering if sexual passion was more than a myth, and if so, was it available to a mere accountant.
So it was fortunate that his fears about seeing the lovely Lucy overrode his low expectations and performance issues. As a result, he was surprised at how pleasurable it was. Sure he had been nervous and hesitant, but she had encouraged his every move, and welcomed his fumbling attempts at the start. When she laughed it was to acknowledge their newness with each other. She was all welcome and attention. He had never known anyone to take such pleasure in his body and it impelled him to reciprocate. The more active he got, the more activity she seemed to want, until they ended up in a heap of dark sheets giggling over the wet spot. They had fallen asleep entwined in an untidy sanctuary; he was enthralled in her being.
He slapped the sheets with joy, and laughed to himself. Maybe passion was available to a mere accountant, albeit one who saw dead people.
The door cracked open. A shaft of light sprang across the room. She stood in silhouette. She was clothed.
“You’re awake,” she said quietly.
In a fit of terror he clamped his eyes shut.
“How are your eyes today? Can they manage a bit of light?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. How long can I keep this up for before it’s just plain stupid? “They should be okay, the doctor said one day and I’d be fine. But just to be sure, I’ll take it slow, as I don’t want to cause any complications.”
She sat next to him on the bed. Her hand touched his cheek.
“Gorgeous man,” she said softly.
His heart thumped. Could he manage a peek? He held her hand and kissed it, and slowly opened one eye just a bit, acting as if to counter the severity of light, ready to shut it if a vision threatened. She was blurred.
“Good morning,” she said.
He kissed her hand again.
“Sleep well?” she asked.
“Not for a long time,” he said, grinning, “but I eventually got there.”
“You sound like a school boy,” she said, “boasting to your mates.”
“Don’t tell me you girls don’t compare notes,” he said.
“I could have gone another round,” she said. He snorted. She said, “I really enjoyed it. The whole evening was fabulous. “
“That’s an understatement,” he said. He played with her fingers. “I think you are wonderful.”
“Thank you,” she said, “and in case you have any doubts, I’d like to do it again as soon as possible.”
“Now’s good,” he said.
She swept her hand across his bare chest.
“But alas, my keen young friend, I’m in charge of a Ministerial Working Group on a trip to Orange today. Strategic rural development stuff. I’m leaving with ten others on a seven-thirty flight. It’s for two nights too, which is a bummer, I’d rather be here with you. I get back on Friday. And then you know what, I leave that night for Ningaloo, on the red eye to Perth. This is terrible timing.”
“Friday is Slabs’ funeral,” said Geoffrey.
“I could come to that. I mean it’s not an ideal date, but as least I’d get to see you. Maybe, rather than a kid picking his nose, there can be a pair of lovers kissing inappropriately over the casket. Or go even further. I’ve never had sex in an empty grave.”
“So you have in an occupied one?” he said.
“Oh this is too black,” she said. “I just want to see you again, and not stop seeing you.”
He lay on the pillow, and squinted at her, knowing he was taking a risk. She reached over and flung the sheets off him so he was exposed, and studied his body. She breathed in deeply and exhaled.
“Nice wood,” she said. She replaced the bedclothes over him and sighed. “It’s a tragedy, but I have to go. Kiss me.”
She leant down as he raised himself up on to his elbows and their lips met in a tender caress. He heard her breathe loudly again, and she withdrew.
“You stink of sex,” she said. She bent over and pressed her forehead against his. She growled, “This is so hard. It’s not fair!”
“I’ll turn away,” he said, “and you go!”
“You can’t, and you know it,” she said. They kissed again. Her pocket buzzed. “My uber’s here.”
“Give my regards to Rajiv,” said Geoffrey.
She rose from the bed. “Stay awhile, have a poke round, see if you can find my secret things,” she said. As she was about to close the door, she paused and said,
“Oh, and thank you for being so open with me. Honesty is a real treasure. I valued your frankness last night.”
Then the door clicked shut and she was gone. He listened, and heard the front door close. He lay down, his eyes wide open, the smile spilling across his face. A moment later his phone rang. He bounced out of bed and retrieved it from his pants pocket.
“Hi, it’s me again,” said Lucy’s voice. “I’m in the car. I’ve told the driver to go round the block so I can see you again quickly. Can you stand by the window and wave as I go by? Don’t hang up.”
He wrapped a sheet around his waist and waddled to the windows, and pulled up a blind. The sun seared his eyes. Even though he wasn’t actually sick, he had been in the dark all night and hadn’t realised what a glorious day it was.
“I’m coming round now,” said Lucy. “Can you see me? We’re the white Mazda.” He saw the car and shut his eyes as it drew close. Clenching the sheet under his elbow he began waving in the direction of the car.
“Bye bye lovely!” she said. He didn’t see her waving.
“Kisses!” he called.
“And to you. Lover boy!” She hung up. They were like teenagers.
There were internal translucent curtains which he drew over the window pane to allow the light in but maintain privacy. He pulled up the other blind and stood naked beside the ruffled bed, surveying the room. On one side was a wooden chest of drawers topped with a mirror and a mess of jewellery, combs, brushes and other make up tools. Necklaces hung from the hinge on the mirror. On the other side were the built-ins he had sensed the night before. The room was white. An etching of a beach scene hung on one wall.
He walked into the living room, which now was flooded with colour and form. The couch he had sat in was green, beneath it a Persian rug was splintered with curvaceous reds and blues. A bookshelf, stuffed with paperbacks and knickknacks – an iron Ganesha, marble bowls, a leather mask of Arlecchino. The white wall was littered with prints and framed photos. He saw Lucy in many, graduating, presumably with her parents, in hiking gear, some turtles on a beach, with groups of friends. He recognised Sienna but no-one else.
Standing nude in front of the photos, he thought of last night, and claimed for himself a special knowledge of Lucy that ranked as highly as the long term friendships depicted in the frames, if not higher. Sure they may have known her for years, and may have shared many achievements, but his acquaintance with her was equal in kind. It was odd, knowing her so well but none of her friends; it was as if he and she had meet overseas and had only returned to her home after many years away.
In the kitchen he found a note in a card with a modern artwork on the front.
Had a fabulous time. Help yourself to brekkie. Can’t wait to see you again. Luce. XXX
Luce. Light. He took himself into the bathroom to shower. While there he schemed what notes he might leave her, how he might record his pleasure at being there. He retrieved his clothes from the bedroom and dressed. He decided he should make the bed; it was the least he could do. He rummaged around the kitchen drawers and living room to find a box of cards and pen. He left a note under her pillow, another in the fridge, a third on the kitchen bench. Thank you, they said, in different words, thank you for entering my life and giving it light. He marked it with many X’s.
He left, preferring not to raid her larder for his breakfast. He went home. He had phoned his office on Monday to advise he would not be coming into the office, but would work on necessary projects from home. He caught a cab back to his car and drove to his apartment. The cab driver he noted had twelve years left, and would die in a hospital ward with only a nurse in attendance. He grimaced at the vision, less because of the loneliness of the man’s demise than the fact that it flung reality back at him.
At home he changed into fresh clothes and made himself a bowl of muesli. He contemplated his situation as he ate.
The night had exceeded his greatest hopes. He would have considered it a win if he walked away with a kiss and a promise of a second date. Instead she had, if not actually said she loved him, acted it in so many ways. His mind churned at the thought of it. It was an image of paradise. He had been shown a glimpse of Eden, all pure and innocent and gifted with living. Yet the cab driver had flung him back into the traumas of the world he now inhabited. He was split into two opposing and wholly different halves, one the excitement and promise of Lucy, the other the uncontrollable spectres of death. It was not the thought of death that bothered him, it was the inability to unsee people at their end. It was not an abstract idea of love that excited him, it was the sight and grandeur of Lucy.
She had flooded his mind and heart. The gift, as Dave had called it, of seeing the ends of people’s days, did not even compare to the gift he had received from her. This gift gave him hope. It illuminated him, and set a beacon for his release from the burden he had been lumbered with last Saturday. Such was the weight of his visions, that it could only be vanquished by a love as potent as he had tasted last night. He felt he had a way out, a direction to follow that would renew him and relieve him of his affliction. Yes, he knew now, his visions were a sickness, he had been struck down with a blight upon his mind. But now a remedy was possible, and a smile curled his lips at the thought of her. The so called gift of his visions had no purpose, no utility or delight, and he had been adrift in their midst. Now, he had an end, a proper and real end, full of life and function. His mind recalled her image, and already he missed her.
He put down his bowl and wandered out to his veranda. He placed his hands on the thick brick wall which formed the balustrade and looked up. The sky was a brilliant blue. It was good to see.
He suddenly felt sick. He knew his dreams were doomed. He hadn’t even tried to avoid seeing the taxi driver’s fate. He knew it was hopeless. As soon as he looked at someone the ghost of their passing loomed at him, stark and irrepressible. He plummeted into a pit of doom. He was condemned to always look first upon a man’s end before he saw his present, a woman’s death before her life. What he and his mates had toyed with as a thought experiment bore no relation to the curse of its reality.
He would have to stop seeing Lucy. She had been firm on the phone, that if he had the gift of seeing her last breath, he should not use it, and if he by accident did find out, he should not tell her. But he could not avoid doing so. He had been very lucky last night, but he couldn’t maintain that rigmarole any longer. He would inevitably see her, and be forced to pretend he hadn’t and lie to her, again. He had lied last night, when honesty was the central pillar of her trust. If he couldn’t be honest with her the decent thing to do would be to stop now.
It was an acid thought that ate into his bowel. No sooner had he seen paradise than it was removed from his reach. He had been shown happiness when he would no longer be allowed it. Oh, he had read the books about how short-lived are the first highs of love, but he was a believer in their long term effects. He knew first love waned as couples entered the grit of life together, and mellowed into a craft that could weather the climates of living. But that just deepened his loss: if what he and Lucy had played in last night was the calm before a longer storm, he had been denied both the calm and her company in greater, more enduring, clouds.
He sat in a deck chair in the veranda, despondent. He reckoned he had three choices: to somehow abandon the gift, to control it, or to suffer its strain. He had no idea how to rid himself of the curse, nor how to control it. So it seemed his only option was to endure it. And that would mean without Lucy, and quite possibly alone. Right now, the loss of Lucy would be catastrophic, and he knew a solitary life would be unbearable. The best he could make of a bad situation is to hope that he might find someone who lit the same fires in him as Lucy, or something that approached them, but did not mind learning their fate.
He sighed heavily and wondered how he might break it to Lucy. She would be disappointed to say the least, but surely she couldn’t be too heart broken. As she had observed, it had only been three days and one date. And one mighty dosage of lust and loving. But one can’t claim heart break after such a short time. He could tell her he’d thought it over, the time wasn’t right, think up some excuse, apologise and free her to continue her re-entry to the market of love. She had friends who would prop her up.
But it wrenched his heart to contemplate the act. It went against every fibre of his being, to kill off such a perfect newborn before it had had time to live. He might as well cut off a limb. He had two days to ready himself. He’d be murdering his love at a funeral. What a dreadful irony.
The doorbell rang, and he rose to answer it. It was Dave. He buzzed him in. While he waited at his apartment door he steadied himself to regale his friend with the victories of the night and trouble him with the news of its early demise. Another irony, where he could see a person’s death, he now had to orchestrate his own.
“Dave,” he said as his friend appeared from the corridor. Dave did not smile or shake Geoffrey’s outstretched hand.
“I figured you might be staying away from work,” he said. “Number three’s gone,” he said.
“Come again?” asked Geoffrey.
“The patient in bed B5 died this morning. Right on six-twenty four, just as your note said she would.”
They walked through to the kitchen. More than the taxi driver, the news of bed B5 swamped his heart. He was never going to escape this.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
Dave nodded. “Your strike rate is currently 100%,” he said, “but the sample size is way too small. Three ICU patients and a homeless man in a laneway is not proof of a theory. You could say five cases if you include my lamp.”
“Did you tell your wife about that?” said Geoffrey.
“No, but she did catch me staring at the lamp in a funny way last night. I don’t know whether to love it or hate it.”
“It’s a thing, Dave, that’s what you always say. They are just things.”
“Things signify other things,” said Dave.
“That’s new coming from you,” said Geoffrey.
“Yeah, I know,” said Dave, “anyway, we’ve got to increase the sample size, which won’t be an easy task, and we have to work out a way of randomising a control group. Are you up for some work, Geoff?”
Geoffrey leaned against the edge of the stove top and let his arms hang loose by his side.
“I’m tired, Dave,” he said. “It’s only been a few days, but I’m desperate to be rid of this thing. It means nothing and it’s wearing me out.”
“We don’t know what it means yet,’ said Dave. “It could mean everything. You’re the first man alive who might be able to tell something of the future. Think about that, the future can be seen! No offence, but if you can do it, then so must others. If we can prove your accuracy, then we can examine how you do it, then maybe open up ways to discern the future. We could plan, we would know what to do, think of the possibilities.”
“You’re not the one carrying the burden,” said Geoffrey. Dave looked at him and, in words for which melted Geoffrey’s heart, said,
“It’s Lucy, isn’t it?”
Geoff nodded. “Yeah.”
“What happened?” asked Dave.
Geoffrey walked to the veranda doors and looked out at the brazen sky, so clear and uninhibited by Geoffrey’s woes. He turned and said to Dave,
“We had the most spectacular time. The sunglasses and eye patch worked a treat; I didn’t see a thing. We talked and laughed and went back to her place, and got together in the dark and it was absolutely fantastic. She was unreal. We were like teenagers, Dave. And I don’t just mean in the sack. We are like pimply adolescents in love, like the whole world is new and we’ve each found a soulmate. She had to go to Orange today, but she got the uber driver to drive around the block so she could wave at me.”
“She’s taking an uber to Orange?”
“To the airport.”
“LOL,” said Dave. “So what happens now?”
“It has to stop. I have to end it.”
“Because of this,” said Dave, and waved his hand aimlessly about the room.
“Yeah.” Geoffrey felt a tear rising. It was all building up. “I’m an accountant for fuck’s sake. I’ve had a lifetime of numbers, columns and order, all shattered by a few days of extreme emotions. Love, death, loneliness, fear, the lot. I can’t take it anymore.”
He stared at Dave, his eyes brimming with moisture.
“She sounds like quite a gal,” said Dave.
“Well you’ve been there,” replied Geoffrey. “What were you like when you fell in love with Hannah?”
“We were more of a slow burn, compared to what you’ve just described,” said Dave. “But that’s probably not relevant right now.”
“No, but when did you know?” said Geoffrey.
Dave sat on the couch.
“We’d been going out a lot together, and having a great time. We shared interests, liked the same stuff, even went on trips together. But I was pretty hopeless at it all, and was a bit focussed on my post grad studies. So she sat me down one night and said there was someone who was pursuing her, and unless I made a move she’d have to leave and take up with him. His name was Neil. He was an IT specialist. You know what I did?’
Geoffrey shook his head.
“I said, fine, that’s great news. And she got up and slammed the door on the way out. I had no friggin’ idea what was going on.”
Geoffrey laughed. “So what happened?”
“Two days later I woke up. I realised I’d been such an idiot. I missed her terribly, and was terrified I’d never see her again. So I rang her and pleaded and apologised and begged to take her out that night. She said she had plans – I presume with the Neil guy – so I hung up and raced around to her place and told her I loved her and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her and all that, and she just looked at me and said “And?”. So I dropped to my knee and proposed. And just like that, we’ve been together ever since.”
“And Neil, what happened to him?” said Geoffrey.
“There was no Neil. She made him up to give me a much needed kick up the backside.”
“She is, and I respect her for it.” Dave took in a breath. “But what about you and Lucy?”
Geoffrey ran his hand through his hair.
“We’re in first flush,” he said, “and it is absolutely unreal. I’ve never been this exposed before, I’m nervous. Which I take as a good thing. You know, when know you’ve finally worked out that big thing that has been occupying your mind, but you’re not quite sure but it’s thrilling anyway. I’m trying to step back a bit, and see it from a more distant view, but that’s really hard when you’ve just had a night of perfect sex with the most beautiful woman you’ve ever met who you wouldn’t think would have a bar of you and is as smart and nice as hell. Well, not,hell, heaven.”
“You’ve got those she’s the one feelings, huh?” said Dave.
Geoffrey nodded vigorously. “But it’s been so soon,” he said. “Do you get love at first sight these days?”
“I think I did,” said Dave.
“But you just said-”
“Yeah, I know, I just didn’t know I had it,” said Dave. “You have the advantage of being more self-aware.
“I’ve got no reference point though, nothing to test it against.” said Geoffrey.
“You say that after you’ve spent a weekend staring at dead people,” said Dave.
“Yeah, but she’s very much alive,” said Geoffrey. “And I mean alive. Alive live. I just haven’t had much experience with that.”
“So which is more unsettling?” said Dave. “Your visions, or Lucy?”
Geoffrey rubbed his hand across his jowls.
“The visions have rocked me,” he said. “They seem so certain, and as you say, it’s only a small sample, but so far they are one hundred percent accurate. Lucy: I’ve not been even seventy percent sure before, on even a smaller sample size, to put it in crude numerical terms. My strike rate on love is pretty low.”
“That’s the thing,” said Dave. ”Anyone’s strike rate is going to be low in love. There’s only ever a sample size of one for the One.”
“Well technically,” said Geoffrey, “but I know what you mean.”
“Leaving aside the analogy,” said Dave, sweeping his hand about him, “the practical thing to do is pursue it. You’re not going to suddenly fly out to Orange and propose- ”
“I feel like it,” said Geoffrey. “It’d be a grand gesture. Women like grand gestures don’t they?”
“Everyone does,” said Dave, “but not stupid ones. Your big task is to get control over your visions. You can’t act being blind every time you meet.”
Geoffrey put his head in his hands briefly and then said,
Dave leant back in the chair.
“I’m scarcely an ideas man,” he said, “beyond feigning eye surgery that one time. The best I can do is get you an appointment with a psychiatrist. A good friend of mine I went to med school with – Andrea Thomas – has a good practice in the city. I’ll give her a call, and see if she can fit you in. You’ll like her, she’s a very good triathlete.”
“A good triathlete?” said Geoffrey. “I don’t run triathlons.”
“You will be after you’ve spoken with Andy. You’re fast on your feet and have good endurance.”
“Are you booing me in for fitness training or my gift?” said Geoffrey.
“Both,” said Dave as he dialled a number on his phone. “Andy, it’s Dave Thompson … Good, good, and you? Listen, I’ve got an interesting client for you. A mate of mine, named Geoffrey Hanson, he’s the winger on our team … that’s right, scored the winning try … well he’s here with me, I can put him on if you like.”
Dave handed Geoffrey his phone. “Relax, old man, Andy’s cool.”
Geoffrey put the phone to his ear.
“Hello, Geoffrey, I’m the cool doctor Andrea,” said a woman’s voice.
“Hello,” said Geoffrey.
“Dave seems to think you’d benefit if we got together and talked,” she said. How is Friday for you?”
“I’ve got a funeral at eleven, which could go most of the afternoon,” said Geoffrey.
“Is that the funeral for Simon on your team?” said Andrea.
“Yeah,’ said Geoffrey, and felt a lump in his throat.
“Dave told me about what happened,” said Andrea. “It must have been very upsetting for you.”
The lump grew bigger. He tried to swallow but couldn’t.
“I’m seeing stuff,” he blurted out. “I see people when they’re dead.”
“Ah,” said Andrea. “That sounds really interesting. There’s a lot to explore there.”
Geoffrey rose from the seat, the phone pinned to his ear.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “But it’s driving me nuts. Every time I look at someone I see them when they are dead. And I need it to stop.”
“Okay,’ said Andrea. Her voice sounded rich and comforting. “We’d best get together soon then. How about tomorrow morning? I can squeeze you in at say, eight-thirty?”
Geoffrey nodded. “Thanks, that’d be great. It’s really upsetting me.”
“That’s alright,” said Andrea. “We’ll have a good look at it all first thing tomorrow. In the meantime you rest up, okay? If you need to I can get Dave to give you a script for something to help you keep your cool, or if you’re having trouble sleeping. How does that sound?”
“Fine,” said Geoffrey. “I think I’m okay.”
“I’m sure you are,” said Andrea. “Can you put me back on to Dave?”
He handed his friend the phone. Dave listened for a moment, then thanked Andrea and hung up. He looked at Geoffrey.
“Why are you people so nice to me?” said Geoffrey.
“Why not,” said Dave.
“Cos I’m a raving lunatic,” said Geoffrey. “I have hallucinations of dead people.”
“Is that what they are, hallucinations?”
Geoffrey slumped into the chair. “I don’t know. I’ve just been speaking to a psychiatrist for goodness’ sake. Isn’t that what she’ll say? That I’m crazy, gone nutzo.” He waved his hands around his head. “Look out, I see dead people. That’s perfectly normal.”
“Geoff,” said Dave, “it’s okay. Let Andrea sort it out with you. You’re not crazy, except crazy in love, and we’ll get this sorted. You’ll like her. She’s incredibly good. She came third in our final year at university, and works on the cutting edge of the psyche and neuroscience, so she’ll be a great fit for what you’re doing. She has an extraordinary future ahead of her. Who knows, you might even be the case that makes her name.”
Geoffrey took a deep breath.
“Tomorrow then,” he said.