Geoffrey sat on the blue vinyl chair in the waiting room beside a reception desk piled with mail and files. The receptionist’s head was just visible over the top. He had kept his gaze away from her when he arrived, so as not to see her future. He figured she might be used to clients who don’t make eye contact.
Was that unkind? I’ve never been to a psychiatrist’s office before. Office? Rooms? Chambers? What do they have?
He could hear the receptionist’s nails on the keyboard typing. He thought, These are pretty basic chairs for an expensive psychiatrist’s rooms. You’d think they could afford something plusher.
Some light came through a solitary window overlooking a busy street. He picked up a copy of the New Yorker and leafed through to find the cartoons. He didn’t think he had enough time to read any articles. He wondered if every move he made was being somehow watched and interpreted to reveal some inner secret that only a trained psychiatrist could appreciate.
No, that’s paranoia. I’m not paranoid. No-one is watching me. There’s only the receptionist. At least wait until I meet Andrea.
He leafed through the magazine for the cartoons again.
Oh god, I can’t focus. I’m reading the same thing over and over. This is nuts. What can she do for me? Or to me? Will she recommend shock therapy? A lobotomy? Will I get electrodes in the brain?
He put the magazine down, crossed his hands on his lap and looked at the window, and then uncrossed them. It needed a bit of a clean. At its corner a spider was methodically wrapping up a moth in a grey web. Its spindly legs were remorseless in their movements, each leg pulling another fibre around the hapless victim. The moth battered its wings on the glass in a rhythm of helplessness. Geoffrey wondered if the receptionist could hear it as well, but her keyboard clatter masked the macabre beat. Eventually the silk engorged the wings and the beating stopped, and the moth became a bug in a silken death sack. Geoffrey watched as the spider inserted its proboscis and injected its venom. He crossed his hands again.
“Mr Hanson,” a voice said.
He jumped and looked up at the woman who had startled him.
“Andrea Perkins,” she said, holding out her hand.
Her short hair lay on the bitumen roadside. Blood spilled from her mouth, and her eyes stared mute and lifeless at the concrete guttering. Her lycra clad body lay at a grotesque angle, arms bending where they shouldn’t be, legs twisted, blue and bloodied and torn. Beside her was a badly cracked cycle helmet, with the wheels of her bike next to that still slowly spinning. And next to that, his phone – his, Geoffrey’s, phone – with Dr Dave lit up as the caller. His phone, with Dave ringing him. The phone said seven thirty-two, and it was this coming Friday morning.
He reeled back in shock and let out a cry, then curled his body into his knees, shaking. He felt a hand on his shoulder.
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.
“Geoffrey, are you okay?”
He leaned further down and focussed on trying to stop his tremor.
And what’s my phone doing there? With Dave’s name? What’s going to happen?
“Sheree, can you get Mr Hanson a glass of water,” he heard Andrea say.
He stayed hunched as raucous breathing rocked him up and down. A hand appeared holding a full glass, followed by another hand with a small oval pill at the centre of its open palm. He searched the scene. Her contorted body lying on the road, the objects beside it. There was a person’s shadow there, and a car wheel in the outer periphery. But her body was the only one. And the wheel slowly turning.
I’m not there, Dave’s not there, we don’t die for years. But she is, and my phone. Why? Why my phone? Why is Dave calling me?
He rocked back and forth breathing heavily, focussing on his breathing, trying to come back to the moment. But despair drove deep into him and he struggled to right his mind.
“This might help,” said Andrea, and he watched as the thumb on the hand reached across the palm and gently nudged the pink pill, its polished nail turning it over. The thumb retreated and the palm lay before him, slightly concave with the tablet in its middle. A plain ‘P’ was chiselled into its pink side and it lay bright coloured against the whiter skin and life lines of its owner.
Geoffrey drew in a breath and took both the glass and the pill. He wondered what life lines meant. He didn’t believe in that stuff. A short line was a short life, yes? But which one was the life line, and measured from where on the hand? He took a sip of water, but did not put the pill in his mouth. He pulled himself upright in the chair, then took another drink. His breath was less urgent, but he still felt nervous. He kept his eyes on the table below him.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He drank again.
“That’s alright,” said Andrea. “How are you feeling?”
Terrible. Do I tell you? Such a promising career, gone. In two days’ time. Should I tell her? Would she want to know? I’d want to know if I only had two days left. Even just to get my affairs in order, say a few goodbyes, to family and friends. Or bust a flight out to Uluru, see the Red Centre one last time, or up to Port Douglas, explore the reef. For a day. A day. Do number one on the bucket list at least. Or just be with your lover. Anything but this, going to work, looking after other peoples’ mania.
He looked down at the magazine he had been flicking through. Cubist images of city towers in pastel colours danced on its cover.
Dave might know what to do. He’s an oncologist. He’s always telling people they have only a short time left. But even then, it’s usually a few months at least, and not even certain. They can’t give a definite date, like I can. I’m sorry, Dave, I’ve come to rely on you too much.
“I’ll be alright,” he said. “I’ll be alright.”
“Just rest a moment,” said Andrea. “You’ve had quite a turn there. Don’t get up until you feel able. And take the tablet if you want, it’s a very mild sedative, just enough to calm your nerves a bit. Do you drink tea?”
“Sheree, a cup of tea for Mr Hanson if you would. It’ll help for the shock.”
Geoffrey leant into the back of the chair, grateful for its firm support. “Sorry,” he said, not looking at her.
“That’s okay. Take your time.”
He sat for a while, conscious of the woman behind him. The receptionist arrived with a cup of tea and milk jug and placed them on the table. He looked away from her as she appeared in his line of sight. “Milk?” she said.
“Thanks,” said Geoffrey and held out his hand. He felt the cup touch his fingers and clasped it, feeling its weight, the promise of its comfort. He noticed small ripples on the surface of the tea; his hand was still trembling. He lifted the cup to his lips and took a sip. It warmed him as it went down his throat. He took another. It felt good.
“Sorry,” he said again, staring at his tea.
Hesitantly he turned to look at Andrea, hoping that, having seen her demise, he might see her in the now. But his heart sank with the knowledge that her end was so near. He wanted to make it go away, but he knew he couldn’t, and a flood of grief churned in his stomach. He hunched over again, breathing heavily, willing himself to take control and failing. He drank a slug of tea. It burned his throat as he swallowed, but did not distract him from the terror of what he had just seen. He squeezed his eyes shut and let the horror ride through him.
He hadn’t intended to see her, not without her permission at least. He figured that like the receptionist – more so in fact – she might be accustomed to people refraining from eye contact. But she had caught him by surprise. Now he was behaving more like a fool, more like someone with a mental health issue. More like someone in deep need. That’s how she’d see him, unless he could convince her that his visions were real.
Were they? He looked at her intently. She was neatly dressed in a simple beige smock. Her wiry tanned arms ended in long fingers which were adorned with several large and colourful rings. Her hair was cropped as in his vision, but her dark eyes studied him, sharp and observant through spectacles. He stared back at her, their eyes locked. One with professional curiosity and patient care, the other doggedly fighting despair.
She’s going to die in two days’ time. How do I know that? How could I be so sure? They’re just visions, crazy hallucinations for which she might have some explanation, or even a cure. Sure, I’ve had some accuracy, but as Dave says, that’s not a controlled group. Correlation is not verification. Or something like that. Perhaps I don’t really know. But my phone is there, with Dave’s number on it. And no-one is stopping the wheel from turning. I must be crazy. Andrea, help me, I need help.
He rose tentatively, clutching his tea.
Andrea smiled. “Are you up to walking to my rooms?” she said.
Rooms. So she has rooms.
Geoffrey nodded. “Sure,” he said, “you startled me.”
Andrea smiled. “This way,” she said holding out her hand. “Why don’t I carry your tea for you?”
Geoffrey handed her the cup. It rattled as he did so.
“There was a spider in the window,” he said.
“Oh, that’s Henry,” said Andrea. “He’s our bug catcher. Did he startle you too?”
“It was wrapping up a moth,” he said.
Oh great, now she thinks I’m an arachnophobe, preoccupied with torture. To add to being crazy. She’ll probably think I’m projecting my death wish on to insects.
She stood by her door of her room and bid him enter. “Please, take a seat,” she said. “Make yourself comfortable.”
The room was sparse. It contained a desk, two chairs and no other furniture. The wall behind the desk contained Andrea’s numerous certificates and testamurs from a variety of academies. Her university degree – honours first class he noticed – membership of different medical and psychiatric institutes and research organisations, all on milky parchment with red seals and black cursive text. A shelf in the corner held an untidy stack of books in front of which a number of glittering trophies were precariously balanced. The opposite wall was decorated with framed signed cycling jerseys, and in one case, a crimson bike frame, Geoffrey presumed from someone famous. There was a small window at the far end, facing the same busy street as the reception area, but not as large.
So this is the inside of a psychiatrist’s office, he thought. Is it the inside of her mind as well? Blank, save for her work and her sports. With only a skerrick of light. It’s not very relaxing. He sat in one of the black leather chairs facing the desk and noticed a slight puff of air as he sank into the cushion. At least the chairs are a bit better. Hope she doesn’t think I just farted though. He giggled at the thought. Oh great, now I’m laughing. Now she’ll really think I’m nuts.
Having closed the door, Andrea sat opposite him and smiled.
“How are you feeling?” she said.
“I’m fine now, thank you,” he said. “I don’t know what happened just then.”
Like hell I don’t, and she knows it wasn’t the spider. I wonder how many others have been in here, spilling their beans. How many OCD’s, schizophrenics, schizoids, phobics, depressives, paranoids etc have sat here and thought, she knows it wasn’t the spider.
“Okay,” said Andrea. “First up, call me Andrea.”
“Geoffrey,” said Geoffrey.
“We’ll leave what just happened for the moment, as I am sure there is much more to explore which might help put it into context. Let’s just start from the usual spot. David sent me a very detailed referral letter, which set out the nature of your experiences and what has been happening since you first told him about them, starting from the hotel on the Saturday afternoon. I must say it all sounds very intriguing. But I’d like to get it all from your perspective if that’s okay by you.”
She looked at Geoffrey expectantly. He nodded.
“Good,” she said. “So tell me in your words, what’s been going on.”
Geoffrey looked up at the framed jerseys.
“You race, don’t you?” he said.
“Yes,” she said.
“Triathlons, is that right?”
“The full Iron Man?”
“You win much?”
She shuffled in her chair. “I make it to the end, but there are many faster athletes than I.”
“Have you done Hawaii?” said Geoffrey.
“Twice,” she said. “Are you a triathlete? As well as a football player?”
Geoffrey grimaced slightly. He swallowed and straightened himself in the chair.
“If,” he said, “next time you raced, would you want to know beforehand if you’re going to win? Assuming you could. Assuming there was a way you could know the outcome before you started. Would that change how you raced?” He studied her anxiously.
She leaned forward.
“Is that what startled you just now?” she said. “Did you have a vision about me?”
He felt his chest tighten and his breath increased. He tried to speak, but couldn’t find the words. So he just nodded. He felt ashamed.
Andrea looked over her spectacles at him.
“And do I take it from the extent of your actions a moment ago that what you saw was not favourable?” she said.
Geoffrey swallowed. He felt as if his heart was in his mouth.
“No,” he said softly.
“I see,” said Andrea. She pushed her spectacles higher towards the bridge of her nose with one finger.
“Humour me,” she said. ”Do I want to know how unfavourable? Is that something you want to tell me?”
Geoffrey breathed in.
“It hasn’t been very long, but I have made a rule that I don’t disclose what I see unless the person consents.”
“That’s polite,” said Andrea. “David tells me you have recently met a woman who doesn’t want to know, but you are keen on her.”
“Lucy,’ said Geoffrey.
“Do you know what happens to her, Geoffrey? Have you had a vision of her?”
“No,” said Geoffrey. “My rule is not just about telling, it’s about not seeing. I won’t even see if the person doesn’t want me to. I don’t know how I could cope with dealing with a person if I knew that something awful was going to befall her, let alone fall in love with her.”
“But you jumped the gun with me,” said Andrea.
“By accident. You startled me. I was busy not looking at your receptionist.”
“Is it fair to say that you’re quite taken by Lucy?”
Geoffrey’s heart lightened at the thought. Love. He hadn’t actually mentioned it to anyone. He’d told Dave he was really keen on her, told Lucy she was everything that was good with the world, but hadn’t actually said the ‘L’ word.
“Hook, line and sinker,” he said. “Head over heels. I’ve never said that about anyone before, but yes, you’re right, I’m in love.”
He felt like singing. Andrea had opened him up. He had arrived with such misgivings about the appointment and in the opening gambit she had shown him the obvious. He was in love with Lucy. This is what it was all about.
“So you haven’t looked at her,” said Andrea.
“No,” said Geoffrey. “Here’s the thing. She doesn’t want to know, and I can’t keep a secret. Or more truthfully, I don’t want to know in case it’s anything bad I can’t share with her. Does that make sense?”
Andrea nodded sagely.
“So how do you intend to make this work?” she said.
“I had an unusual date with her where I pretended I had just had eye surgery,” Geoffrey said.
“David filled me in,” said Andrea. “That’s not a permanent solution, is it?”
Geoffrey sighed, suddenly crestfallen.
“No,” he said.
“So,” she said, “there’s our task. To get to the bottom of it all, both to get you fully functional again – so you can look at my receptionist next time – and to let you fall in love.”
“So you don’t think I’m crazy?” said Geoffrey.
“Oh yes,” said Andrea. “You’re as nutty as a fruitcake, but then most people I have met who have fallen in love are.” She laughed.
Geoffrey laughed with her, nervously.
“You’ve not been in love then?” he said.
“I’m a woman in a man’s field,” she said. “My passions are my work and my sport. Love will come when I want it to. But he’d better be able to go the distance. Or she. I haven’t decided yet.”
She reached over to one side of her desk and retrieved a pad.
“Before we get down to detail,” she said, “tell me what you saw.”
Geoffrey looked at her, worried.
He gulped and licked his lips.
“I’m a big girl.”
“What difference would it make?” he said.
“I don’t know until you tell me,” she said.
“If you knew you only had a few months to go,” said Geoffrey. “What would you do?”
“If I knew it, probably a lot of things. What I want to find out is what you know, not what I know.”
Geoffrey’s thought twisted in his head.
“The visions I have are real to me,” he said.
“I understand that,” she said.
“They are what I know.”
“And …” She left the sentence hanging.
“And,” said Geoffrey. He paused. His chest clenched again. He stood up.
“If it is too much – ” said Andrea, but he spun around and blurted it out.
“You’re lying dead in your cycling gear on New South Head Road at seven thirty this Friday morning.”
He sat down again hastily, bent over and crammed his fists into his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s okay,” he heard her say. “It’s alright.” She was standing next to him a gentle hand on his shoulder. “I shouldn’t have pushed you,” she said. “It was irresponsible of me. I let my curiosity get the better of me. I apologise.”
Geoffrey looked up at her sharp brown eyes. They seemed softer now, and he straightened himself up a little. She pushed a box of tissues in front of him.
“Here,” she said. “Take one if you need it. There is no need for shame. Crying, or just blowing your nose, is all part of the process. Take more than one. Take a heap.”
The box jumped as she pulled eight or nine tissues from it and thrust them into Geoffrey’s hand. He sat and looked at the wad of white before him, then watched her sit back into her chair on the far side of the desk.
“I can see what upset you,” she said. “It must have been very disturbing.”
Geoffrey nodded dumbly. She seemed full of compassion. He felt a sense of release, and of confidence that he could confide in her. He rubbed an eye with the fat handful of tissue paper and held back a tear. Then he sat back and stared at her, with a bleary-eyed grin.
“You aren’t worried?” he said.
“Quite the contrary, she said. “Now that I know the time and date you saw, we can work with it. I’m going to take an approach that I wouldn’t ordinarily take with my clients, but this is an incredible opportunity.”
Her eyes beamed at him through her glasses.
“What opportunity?” said Geoffrey.
“I’ll be frank with you,” she said. “I have a few inklings of what might be going on – ”
“You don’t think they are real, do you?” said Geoffrey.
“Well, I think so, but he’s being professional about it.”
“Which is why he sent you to me,” Andrea said, “and I’m the same. What is important at this point is that you see something. That is real. Whether what you see is real is what we are going to clarify. It could be hallucinatory, it could be psychosomatic, it could be chemical, we don’t yet know. It could be real, really real. But that’s why the opportunity is so good.”
“What do you mean?” said Geoffrey.
“You said I’m going to die in a bicycle accident on my morning ride at seven thirty this Friday, and, while it might be a little unsettling to some, I realised it gives us the chance to test it that for you.” She banged a straight finger on her desk. “Ordinarily I wouldn’t thrust a reality test on a client so early in the piece, but there is a fantastic opportunity here and I think you’re strong enough.” She shuffled amongst the papers on her desk and extracted her phone and leaned forward with an intense and earnest gaze. “The plan is, I’m not going to go riding on Friday morning. In fact, I’m going to invite our good friend Dr David Thompson out for a lush breakfast at a café far away from the accident site, and have a good nosh up in his presence while seven thirty passes by.”
She picked up her phone and quickly scrolled through her contacts, muttering “Dan Danny, Dean, shit, too far. David, David T. Dr David Thompson.” Then pressed an ardent thumb into her phone. She stared at it while it rang.
“David!” she said when it answered. “Andrea. Andrea Perkins. I’m with Geoffrey … yes, that Geoffrey. I’ll explain at the time, but I want you to make sure I can take you to breakfast this Friday morning. Tell me you’re free …”
She looked over to Geoffrey. “He says Hi.”
She returned to her phone. “He says hi back. So, Friday … 6.30am to nine … No you haven’t, you’ve got breakfast with me … then cancel it … cancel, as in, you know, cancel … yes, this is more important than anything … you’ll be back by eleven at the latest … Bar Zoni … It’s that place we found on the northern beaches after sailing out of Pittwater last year, do you remember? … yes, Pittwater … I know it’s a long way, that’s the point. I’ll explain on the way up. Just say yes … no it’s just you and me, Geoffrey won’t be there … Also, you’ll need to drive … I’ll explain why on the way up. All will be revealed, just say yes … Good. See you at mine at 6am this Friday. Ciao.”
Andrea looked at Geoffrey with a nod of satisfaction as she forced a thumb on the phone to hang up.
“You get it?” she said, with an almost petulant tone. “I don’t yet know what’s going on, and it’s not great to expose a client who’s so new to this sort of validation or invalidation experience, but it’s too good a chance to ignore. I’m confident in your circumstances it will help us – help you – figure out what’s happening, and springboard us to an early resolution.”
Geoffrey nodded tentatively, aware of the mixed feelings that churned in his stomach. This would be a good litmus test. If she didn’t die – and she couldn’t, right? She’d be far away under the watchful eye of a professional – then his visions were something else. But that terrified him. If what he was seeing was not real, then what was going on? Maybe he was mad after all. They seemed so real. But if they weren’t, what were they. And what was happening to him? And, most importantly, what would it mean for him and Lucy?
He realised Andrea was talking.
“… thinking what it means for your visions after I’ve had breakfast with David. Don’t worry. This is real progress. It means that we can place your experience in a clear context and figure out what to do. You’re jumping through hoops already, Geoffrey.”
“So you don’t really think – “
“As I said, my concern is for what you see. When you see I’m here after Friday, that’s one option out of the way, and your quick brain will jump at the options for finishing the job, and getting you together with Lucy.”
“Do you have any ideas yet?” said Geoffrey.
“As I said, I have some initial thoughts floating around in the back of my mind, but nothing I’m committed to. You could be responding to external emotional stimuli. Something you see sets you off, who knows. I’m not drawing any conclusions yet. I want to get down to the details before we start refining any understanding and strategy for assistance.”
Strategy for assistance thought Geoffrey. She means a cure. And understanding means diagnosis for my illness. Oh God, I’m sick. I’m crazy.
Andrea opened a pad on her desk and picked up a pen. Time for some notes,” she said, smiling. “I want to hear your story from your lips. Details.”
Geoffrey took a deep breath. “I left out a couple of details about Friday,” he said.
She peered over here glasses at him.
“And what are they?”
“Well,” he said, and shuffled in the chair. “In the vision with you on the ground, my phone is next to you and Dave is ringing it.”
Andrea sat up and put her pen on the desk.
“Wow,” she said, “that is intense. There’s something going on there.”
She picked up her pen and wrote.
“That doesn’t concern you?” said Geoffrey.
“On the contrary,” said Andrea. “It’s a keyhole, through which we might see a great deal. But let’s start from the start – Saturday I think, and tell me what happened, and if I don’t appear to be listening it will only be because I am taking notes as you talk. I think you were celebrating a win at football where you were the hero.”
Geoffrey told her all he could remember of the tumultuous week that had occurred. The game, Slabs, his uneasy feeling, meeting Lucy, the car crash, his visions, his trip home, Rajiv, all of it, the experiences with Dave and how supportive his friend had been, the lampshade, the ICU and the hobo lying in his alcoholic stench, all with the accuracy and care of an auditor interrogating accounts. Andrea scarcely needed to interject for clarification. The most she did was shale out her hand as it tired with all her notetaking. He told her about hair colour, smells, the brightness of lights, the speed of movement, the intensity and heft of emotions, about children picking noses at funerals, dugongs, fair skin and sweet perfume, blindness and sight, the caress of lips and the grind of soft flesh, rich Middle Eastern spices, laughter, the teenage thrill of lust, windowed nakedness, absence, longing, the intimacy of death, the heat of grief, the dark frenzy of love and his want, his need, his desire, for the woman he had recently met.
When he had finished she put down her pen and stretched her fingers back.
“You’ve had a very intense week,” she said. “Goodness knows I’m just tired from writing it all down. You must be exhausted.”
Geoffrey nodded. “I am,” he said.
“How are you feeling?’ said Andrea. “Can we keep on going, or have you had enough?”
“What else do you want to know?” Geoffrey asked.
“Childhood stuff,” said Andrea. “Not your childhood generally – we can go over that in future sessions. But I’d be interested if you ever had any experiences during your childhood that resonate with the events you’ve been describing. Not just childhood; any time really before Saturday night at the pub.”
Geoffrey stood up to stretch and then sat down again.
“I’ve been thinking about that,” he said. “Looking back, there were a couple of occasions where my radar might have been on.”
“Your radar now,” said Andrea.
“Is that bad?”
“Not at all, it’s just new,” said Andrea. “I like it. It’s a good word. But tell me anything that comes to mind.”
Geoffrey pursed his lips in thought and then said,
“I came from a pretty small family – two parents and a younger brother, and throughout most of my childhood both sets of grandparents were alive. I had four cousins from Mum’s two older brothers who we saw at regular family gatherings, but Dad’s sister had moved overseas, so I only saw her family once.
The times I’m thinking of involve two of my grandparents.
I adored my father’s parents. They doted on us all and were in great health for people at their stage of life. Dad’s father was called Bebop, as he had played jazz as a young man and had an amazing collection of early jazz recordings. Classic vinyl stuff. Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, all in the original record covers and kept in mint condition. Probably worth a bundle these days. He loved playing them for us whenever we visited. He’d lean down and very carefully place the stylus on the record and as soon as the first bars sounded, he would push back and stare at us all, his dark eyes alive with the hope that we might one day get addicted to jazz as well. He’d say, “Not only is it the greatest music, but it gets the girls in.”
Bebop was the first of the grandparents to pass away. In his early eighties he suffered a string of illnesses that gradually wore him down, until a tumultuous week arrived where he had been hospitalised again and my parents frantically tried to manage work, school runs and hospital visits across different parts of the city. Dad was especially upset, as he and Bebop had a close bond – they played music together over many years.
Well, one Saturday morning when Dad returned from the hospital to take me and a mate to football, he announced that Bebop had suffered a seizure. I was only nine, so I had no idea what a seizure was, but it was obviously pretty serious.
I specifically recall being in the car, before we left to pick up my team mate, saying to Dad, in a really composed voice, “He’s going to die this afternoon isn’t he?”
I remember Dad was stunned at first, but then he thanked me for my honesty. He said something like, “Could be, son. Whenever the time though, he will have played a fine tune.” After he dropped me and my mate at the sports field he returned to the hospital to see how Bebop was getting on. At the end of the game another father came up to me and said he’d be taking us home because Dad wasn’t able to. I remember saying “Bebop’s died, hasn’t he?” The other father didn’t know what I was talking about of course. When I got home Mum was all red eyed from tears and gave me a big hug. I said to her, “It’s okay, Mum, I know about Bebop.” And she hugged me closer.
They probably reasoned that I had figured out that Bebop had died from the fact that Dad hadn’t been able to pick me up from the game, but the memory stuck in my mind. Maybe it was because Bebop was such a great old guy. I mean, sure, as a kid the jazz records seemed very out of date and nothing I would share with girls, but his enthusiasm was infectious, and I still like jazz today.
So that’s the first.
The second time was with Mum’s mother, who we called Marny. She’d been a professional dancer for most of her life, either performing or teaching. She used to encourage me in my liking for sports, but she’d chide me at the same time, saying that “footy” might keep me fit, but it did little for my deportment. She was big on deportment. I used to watch her daily exercise and stretching regime, which she kept up to her last days.
Her passing was uneventful. She simply aged to the point where she tired and her body stopped moving. She entered a nursing home frail, but in determined spirits, and spent eighteen months there before her death. My parents went to visit her one Sunday, leaving us in the care of a family friend. The whole family knew that she had not long to go. I remember calling to them as they left,
“Tell Marny all the best. Tell her I loved seeing her dance.”
Mum smiled and said Marny would like that. But I was insistent, and told Mum to give Marny the message as soon as they got to the nursing home.
When they got back later that evening, they were pretty sad, especially Mum. Even though Marny was very frail, no-one had expected her to die that afternoon, and I recall my Mum saying that she passed away just after they got there, so she got to give her my message.
My experience of my other two grandparents was not as involved. All I can recall was a vague sense that it was right that they went when they did, but there was nothing like the experiences with Bebop and Marny. That was pretty much it from the point of view of predicting when people might die.”
“So no others?” said Andrea.
Geoffrey shook his head.
“No,” he said, “but I should point out one time when it seemed to work the other way. When I was thirteen, Dad got gravely ill, I mean really sick and was not expected to survive. Some kind of sepsis I think it was. By the third week in hospital, Mum was distraught with worry and grief. My younger brother started misbehaving at school and picked no end of fights with me, probably because Mum couldn’t comfort him. The household was upended with the turmoil of hospital visits, I remember earnest and quiet discussions with doctors we weren’t supposed to hear and everyone’s sheer anxiety of not knowing what might eventuate.
But I was the outlier. I had a kind of equilibrium that really surprised everyone. I made the beds, made school lunches and even did some cleaning, all because I could see Mum was incapable of running the house. Whenever we went to hospital, I did my best to encourage everybody, and even though Dad had little awareness of what was going on I kept telling him he was going to get through this and it’d all be okay.
There was one particular day when Dad was at a real low. Mum had come back from hospital late and I crept out of bed and found her slumped in a couch in the dark in the living room. She’d been sobbing and her eyes were a deep red. I remember her saying,
“I don’t know how much longer he can go on.”
In response I simply said, in a really matter of fact voice, “It’s fine, Mum, he’ll be okay. I just know.” That earned me a real tight hug – I was taller than her by then – and she bawled into my shoulder. After a good long while she said, “I don’t know how you can be that sure, but thank God at least one of us is.”
It took another month before Dad began to get better, and a further four weeks before he was discharged. Mum really fussed over him, paying real close attention to his diet and his exercise regime, and constantly proclaiming how handsome and healthy he was, as if she was trying to convince herself of his recovery. Of course Dad joked, “I should get sick more often.”
But later on he said to me how Mum had told him what a stalwart I had been while he was in hospital, and how I was the only one who didn’t give up on him. I remember him saying “I was close, son, very close. In fact I was convinced I was gone. But your mum said you never were, in fact just the opposite. She said you were certain I’d recover.” I told him that I just knew he’d get better, that was all. I didn’t know what else to say, but it felt right. Dad just said how good it was to have a son who looks out for his dad.
But beyond these stories I had zero acquaintance with death. I grew up in the suburbs, had friends, none of whom died prematurely, I played sport, ate food by the bucket load like teenage boys do, read books and spent a lot of time wondering what girls were about.”
He folded his hands on his lap as Andrea finished her notes and then put down her pen. She stretched her hand as she had done before.
“You tell a good story,” she said. “There’s a lot to go through in everything you’ve said. I need to go over it all and have a good ponder. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to make an appointment next week to delve a bit deeper on some issues, and maybe review your family history a bit more, although I have to say it seems pretty healthy from what you’ve told me. How are you feeling after all this?”
Geoffrey looked at her and smiled. “A bit worn out,” he said, “but not too bad.”
“Okay. Sheree will fix an appointment with you, she’s in charge of my diary.”
“Can we make it Friday afternoon? said Geoffrey.
Andrea smiled. “Why don’t we do this. Dave and I will ring you on Friday morning at about 8am, so you can rest easy, and then you and I will meet up next week. Does that work?”
Geoffrey nodded. “Thanks.”
She rose, and Geoffrey copied her. “It’s been great to meet you, Geoffrey. And don’t worry, we’ll get to the bottom of all this.” She extended her hand and Geoffrey shook it and thanked her for her time.
“And you take it easy okay,” she said. “If you have any concerns, any concerns at all, don’t hesitate to call me. Okay?”
Geoffrey nodded, then said, “One thing has been bothering me.”
“Oh, what’s that?” said Andrea.
“And I’m sorry to bring it up at the last moment, and sorry to come back to what happened in reception, but … ”
Andrea took a step back. “Yes, what is it?”
Geoffrey looked at his feet then up at Andrea.
“It’s just that Dave never told me you rode in the morning, or that you are a triathlete. Never mentioned it. The first I knew was when I saw the jerseys on your office wall. So I couldn’t have been reacting to seeing them, I just had the vision.”
She looked at him, her mouth agape, a pallor slowly discolouring her face.
“I’m sorry,” said Geoffrey, “I should have mentioned it earlier, but was too upset. Especially because Friday is Slabs’ funeral. So my bad. But next week will be good, okay? We’ll address it next week.”