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An untimely death

My eyes opened, but nothing my eyes saw registered in my mind. I was still in a stupor. The news I received yesterday of a good friend’s death had not been expected, nor wanted. It came as one line in a message

‘Bill passed away this morning’

I remember staring at the screen, trying to make sense of this. I’d spoken to Bill only a few days previously. He sounded in good health (though still in hospital at the time). I had planned a hospital visit for that day, but with this news what was the point? I stared at the ceiling for a while. Bill had been a good friend for more than twenty years, my best friend for much of that time.

I kept staring at the ceiling. Knowing I couldn’t stay there all day I pulled myself from my bed and tried to face the day ahead of me. Over a cup of tea I mulled over the message, it just didn’t make sense.

After some time I left the house. I walked, but wasn’t really sure of any direction. As one foot guided the path of the other, I found myself at a place I knew well. The harbour had always been a place where I could shut off the outside world. In my catatonic state, that was all that I wanted, and everything I needed.

Standing on the west pier, a safe distance from the edge, I looked out to the many fishing and pleasure boats moored there. I began to gauge the impact of that message on my life. Although I knew people, Bill had been my one real friend for many years, and at that moment I realised I was alone.

Vertigo is a symptom, rather than a condition itself. It’s the sensation that you, or the environment around you, is moving or spinning. This feeling may be barely noticeable, or it may be so severe that you find it difficult to keep your balance and do everyday tasks.

Attacks of vertigo can develop suddenly and last for a few seconds, or they may last much longer. If you have severe vertigo, your symptoms may be constant and last for several days, making normal life very difficult.

Other symptoms associated with vertigo may include:

  • loss of balance – which can make it difficult to stand or walk
  • feeling sick or being sick
  • dizziness

This is something I’ve suffered on and off for years, particularly the loss of balance. This is why I keep a safe distance from any ledge, be it at the harbour, or anywhere where there’s a risk of falling any distance.

I listened for a while to the wind chimes created by the sheets and many loose accessories mounted on the boats that lay before me. Bill had once suggested he’d like to live on a boat, but knowing this harbour intimately, I knew he would not stand the noise for long.

Spiritualism is the belief that the spirits of the dead have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living.

The afterlife, or the “spirit world”, is seen by spiritualists, not as a static place, but as one in which spirits continue to evolve. These two beliefs: that contact with spirits is possible, and that spirits are more advanced than humans, lead spiritualists to a third belief, that spirits are capable of providing useful knowledge about moral and ethical issues.

I extend this belief to being able to contact the subconscious of all living things. I believe that all living creatures, from the smallest termites, to the largest elephants, have the ability to solve problems and make decisions.

It’s to these minds that I’d go when (in my view at least), I had no answers. Sometimes I’d be given a solution, other times I’d be made to realise that I already knew the answer and would be provided with the strength and inspiration to move forward.

The wind continued to create it’s nautical harmony.  The Sun created a continuous light show, reflecting off the many radar reflectors and polished embellishments dotted around the outer marina.

“Hello?”

I watched as boat owners checked their sails. It was a moderately windy day, but I guess (I’m no sailor), not too windy for a few hours on the open seas.  A few small fishing boats were returning with their catch, still pursued by a few hungry seagulls.

“Are you ok?”

That voice again. Neither the spirit world nor the combined subconscious of this one ever communicated in this way. Ideas, inspiration maybe, but never like this. I woke from my dream state and glanced over my shoulder. A young lady, maybe in her twenties, was standing a few yards away. She wore a knee length camel coloured coat and spoke with a gentle tone, pure, but with no discernible accent.

I wasn’t sure if I was ok or not, as I looked at her she glanced down and nodded slightly. Pausing for several seconds, I glanced down myself and noticed I was no longer a safe distance from the pier edge. I was in fact right on the edge. I took a step back, then another.

“I’m fine thanks”

I knew I wasn’t, but that was the best answer I could come up with. Still struggling with the loss of a friend, I had yet to find any answers. I told the young lady that I’d just lost a good friend, one that I’d spent a lot of time with over the years.

She beckoned me to sit with her on a nearby bench. As I approached the bench, I noticed it had been placed there by a bereaved family. A small plaque in remembrance had been mounted on one of the back supports.

‘In fond memory of Mick Galler
Who loved this harbour’

As we sat, she wore the same troubled smile she’d had when I first set eyes on her. She looked at me with a gaze that appeared to see past my eyes and into my soul. She seemed to be looking for answers, or questions, I think she was analysing me.

“Had you known your friend long? You don’t seem fine to me.”

While I spoke about my friend, I could tell she was taking in every word. I spoke of how we met, and how he had to be right about everything, even when he knew he was wrong. In many ways this made him irritating to be with, but I enjoyed the arguments. I’m still not sure why. Occasionally her troubled smile would raise slightly, possibly acknowledging the love / hate relationship we had.

“Are you mourning the loss of a friend, or the loss of friendship?”

This seemed to me an odd question. I hadn’t really had time to adjust to my new circumstances yet so in my current state of mind wasn’t really sure. I definitely missed Bill, but with his passing I’d also lost any sort of social life.

Thinking about this for a while, I recalled the journeys into the outback to find pubs he’d claimed to have frequented years earlier. These could end up being an interesting venture, or a trip into the unknown. Not finding the pubs he claimed were ‘right there on the corner’ in some tiny remote village were less than enjoyable.

While this mysterious girl listened, she gazed relentlessly into my mind. I spoke of the frustration of being kept ‘on call’ towards his final years. Hospital visits had become more frequent and I was often asked, at short notice, whether I could accompany him in case of problems.

“In some ways I think you’re glad he’s gone.  You’re free now to do the things you want to do without being bound by the feeling that you’re letting someone down by not being there.”

The gentle tone the girl had previously used became a more authoritative voice.  Thinking about these words I realised I was at a crossroad.  Do I turn left and sit at home all day, or turn right and try and create a new life for myself.  A few words in particular, ‘you’re free now to do the things you want to do‘, resonated around my mind.  Yes, I was free, but I had no idea what I wanted to do.  Everything for the last decade or so had revolved around drinking and arguing with my departed friend.

“I’m not sure I know what I want to do”

These words were the truth, Bill and I had been friends for so long it was difficult to remember the times before we met.  Old friends had moved away or just fallen off the radar.  The death of a friend had brought new challenges which I’m not sure I was ready to accept.

“Carry on doing the things you’ve been doing with your friend”, her voice sounded upbeat, as if this had always been the obvious answer, “go to the same places you frequented with your friend, I’m sure there are people there who would have known you both and welcome a chat.”

I closed my eyes and thought.  Yes, there were other pub goers we used to talk to, but I was never sure if they were talking to us, or just Bill.  This was the first challenge I had to face.  The cloud in my mind lifted slightly as I considered the weeks ahead.  After an extended session of reflection, I opened my eyes and turned towards the girl, but she had left.  Turning further to look along the pier, the girl in the camel coloured coat was nowhere to be seen.  Quietly thanking her for her insight (though I knew she wouldn’t hear me), I lifted myself from the bench and prepared to return home.

Published inShort story

One Comment

  1. An interesting mix of narrative and fact. I like it.

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