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 Dying to Live

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: Dying to Live   Sat Sep 09, 2017 6:35 pm

Chapter 12

 

His night was more tumultuous than ever. Various aches made every movement difficult, and his mind raced from one thought to the next. What would have happened if he’d died? What difference has his life made? Unable to sleep, Ari got up and read the booklet Ryan had given him. When he had finished reading he was more thoughtful than ever. A rush of emotions engulfed him. There were things he knew he must do tomorrow. Something was compelling him to be different. He wouldn’t notice it himself, but he was already changing.

            Next morning Ari reminded himself what day it was—it was Wednesday, the day before his funeral—and he had a lot to do. With a slightly more organised approach, profiting from previous experience, Ari completed his personal hygiene requirements and got dressed. He ate his cereal with abnormal haste, as he was one who usually savoured the refreshing cold milk with his flakes and starter cup of coffee. He was about to head to the Eddington’s when he saw the time and realised that it might be polite to turn up after nine and not before. The intervening time was taken up cleaning away the dishes and tidying the bungalow to a reasonable degree; to make it passable to limited scrutiny. His inability to move freely meant that these tasks took longer than he’d estimated, and so Ari berated himself for not getting a move on.

“You’ve got too much to do to be fiddling around here,” he muttered overly anxious, and he almost tripped himself up on the crutches. Outside he voiced a reaction to the temperature. He hadn’t anticipated such a level of heat in the morning on this late Spring day.

            He was halfway up the church driveway when Ryan appeared around the corner. He seemed surprised to see Ari up and about.

“You coming to see me? Anything wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong, but I do want to talk,” Ari was quick to dispel any concerns that the pastor might have about his well-being.

“Well, I’m going to the office now. Why don’t we talk in there? Charlie won’t be in till ten.” Then seeing Ari needed a bit of clarification about the last comment Ryan continued, “Charlie is the church office administrator, secretary and receptionist, and does everything else that makes life easier for a disorganised person like myself.”

Ari indicated his understanding with a slow nod and then followed Ryan into the church buildings. The office sections were quite new and, as well as being functional, had something of the comfort and décor of a lounge room. Ryan showed Ari the main building and it too had little of the traditional sacrosanct church. It was broad and light with coloured windows in a cross pattern at the front of the auditorium. The interlinked chairs, broken into three wedges, spread across the large hall and faced a low rostrum area with a minimalist pulpit a little to the left of centre. After seeing a number of other rooms and the various facilities, Ari was shown into the pastor’s office. The walls were lined with bookshelves with books fastidiously arranged in topic sections and commentaries on the various books of the bible. A couple of armchairs and a couch complemented the desk and office chair. As he sat down in one of the chairs he noticed how neatly the desk with the computer, phone and diary were organised. Ryan noticed his scanning gaze, prompting Ari to offer a comment. “You look very well organised.”

“Penny comes in and tidies...” he shrugged a little guiltily, as if he didn’t deserve to be treated that well.  

            In the hour that followed, Ari unburdened his heart to the young pastor and took steps he would never have thought possible. The whole prospect of a new life, a new start beckoned to him, and he prayed to that end. There was a quiet, reflective moment when they both raised their heads and looked at each other. Ryan smiled and nodded, and then a tentative tap on the door interrupted the hushed mood. They both looked to the door.

“Come in,” Ryan rose to open the door, but it began easing open slowly before he got there. A middle aged woman was half turned to back into the room with a tray and cups of coffee and cakes. She faced them and beamed delightfully at them.

“I brought you some morning tea. I hope I didn’t interrupt anything Pastor Ryan. Penny told me you had a visitor.”

“Ah, Charlie... thankyou, that’s perfect timing.”

She put the tray down on the low table, “Now don’t let it get cold the way you usually do,” she scolded good naturedly. Then she breezed out of the office and down the corridor.

“That was Charlie?” Ari was slightly puzzled.

“Well, Charlie to everyone around here... her name’s Charlotte, but Charlie fits better.”

            While they were finishing their coffee, Ari explained that he was going to drop into his mother’s place to sort some things out. He also checked to see if it was okay to use a computer later in the day. Ryan told him that Penny spent much of Wednesday afternoons typing up the weekly bulletin, so it might be a squeeze, but it would be possible after dinner. They spent a minute or two disagreeing on how Ari would visit his mother. Ryan volunteered some of his morning preparation time to drive him. Half an hour later, at Ari’s insistence, a taxi pulled up to take him into the city.

 

            After struggling to gain his feet, Ari moved to the driver’s window and paid the driver. He felt the heavy breath of hot, humid air. The pillared entry atop the wide granite stairs was clear evidence that this was no mere suburban home; it added to the very convincing case for wealth he had seen presented by the sweeping drive that passed through large wrought iron gates, and the manicured lawns and garden. Getting up the steps had Ari puffing. He pushed the door bell and waited. When nothing much happened he pushed it again and then pivoted slowly on his crutches to view the spread of the well tended greenery. Just as his back was to the door it opened and an imperious, “Yes?” rang in his ear.

He turned to see an overly painted face with a severe countenance, but he knew her instantly.

“Hello Mum.”

Taryn stared at him briefly and then it registered who he was, “Aristotle, is that you?”

“It’s Ari Mum.” He looked at her awkwardly. If she knew how ridiculous that name sounded to him surely she would never use it. Stunned, as if this situation was beyond interpretation, his mother just stared at him.

“Could I come in Mum? I’d just like to talk for a few minutes.”

His mother acquiesced, ushering him into an ornate library. Her astonishment was probably the cause of her incoherent attempts to communicate. “I thought... you writing... or politics...” She finally said something grammatically correct, but no less absurd, “You’ve done something to your foot.”

Ari smiled pleasantly, “Yes, I had a bit of a fall off my bike, and I broke it,” to Ari the conversation bordered on the bizarre. “But I’m managing,” he added.

“Are you still riding that thing?”

Confused for a second, Ari said slowly, “My motor bike?”

“Oh, a motor cycle...”

Her response impressed on him how far out of his life she had gone.

            They found some opulent arm chairs and sat opposite each other. He didn’t know what to say. His mother, still a handsome woman, looked at him barely concealing the twisting emotions within her. Ari cleared his throat, “Mum, I guess I have come to confess some things that I don’t feel good about.” This surprised Taryn but she found no words to speak. Ari went on, “Over many years now I’ve harboured fairly bitter resentment toward you and ... and Dad.” He didn’t use the word ‘hatred’, but it crossed his mind. “It got to the point where I’d blame you for everything, well almost everything that was wrong in my life.”

“Ari don’t...” Taryn looked alarmed, but Ari held up a hand to cut her short.

“No, don’t speak yet, I have to finish. Anyway, I’ve come to realise, recently... very recently actually, that I’m wrong. I shouldn’t blame you or resent you. What I’m trying to say is that I ... I forgive you...”

It didn’t quite come out the way Ari anticipated. His mother was shaken. Her mouth tried to move but no sound escaped. Then in a tight whispery voice she said, “I’m sorry.” She stared at her clasped hands in her lap and bowed her head, “I’m sorry,” she repeated a little louder, but just as strained.

            Ari hobbled over and held her hand. She trembled on the verge of tears. Ari thought that maybe he was getting a glimpse of how his mother really felt. Had she been tormented by the fact that she felt she had failed her one attempt at motherhood? Her mother in law had picked up the pieces when she had left the nest. Ari wasn’t going to lie. He couldn’t say it was all right. He didn’t know if they could have any sort of family relationship, but he knew he had to forgive her.

            A long minute passed before Taryn composed herself. “Thankyou for coming Ari, we should keep in touch.” Was she reaching out to him? Ari stumbled over his reply, “Er, yes, maybe we could, er, keep in touch.”

She dropped her eyes at the weakness of his response. Ari tried to rescue the situation his lame answer had created. “Look I could probably ring and let you know what I’m up to... actually that’s the other reason I’m here. There were some reports that I died in an accident and I didn’t want you hearing those rumours and not knowing the truth.”

Ari struggled to explain how such a thing could happen without telling the whole story. So he ended by saying, “Let’s just say that it suited some people to say I was dead, and people will find out eventually that it’s not true.”

“Thank you for telling me, that’s thoughtful of you,” she said quietly.

            With little else to say Ari excused himself and used his phone to call a taxi. Taryn insisted he have a cool drink before he left. So while he waited he sipped on a Coke, she drank a cocktail she had made herself. Conversation drifted from his work experiences to what his father was up to in the states. The taxi arrived just when he was beginning to relax. That his mother related to him better as an adult, helped Ari understand more of her complex personality. He said his goodbyes and even managed a cursory hug as he departed. Her appearance at the top of the stairs as he manoeuvred into the cab, informed him that some healing had taken place. He still had a mother, though at present she was more like a distant aunt. The small wave she returned to his comparable parting gesture was unusually moving for Ari.

 

            It was late afternoon when he arrived at the back of the church. Skittish showers and a blustery warm wind caused him to rush his exit from the taxi. He was delving into his pocket for the door key when he heard his name being called. He turned to see Penny Eddington standing on the backdoor step of the church. She cupped her hands to be heard as the wind gusted erratically.

“I’ve finished the bulletin. The computer’s all yours.”

He signalled that he understood, rather than yelling to compete with the wind. He went into the small unit and eventually reappeared with his keys in his hand. On those keys was attached the small drive on which he’d made a duplicate copy of Collette’s file the night he was pursued. A distant rumble of thunder had him hastening his movement of large arcing, pendulum like swings toward the rear entry.

            Some manipulation of crutches, keys and his balance was required before Ari gained entry to the church. At the office Penny was still there, obviously tidying up for him. She smiled her delightful smile. “I won’t be a moment.” Then looking at him warmly she enthused, “Ryan told me the good news. It’s great to hear. I don’t know if he told you, but there were a number of people praying for you.” Ari smiled sheepishly as she went on, “I should move. Ryan will be back from a pastoral visit any time and I haven’t cooked dinner yet.” Penny was just about out the door when as an afterthought she added, “You okay with the computer?”

“I should be okay... oh are there any passwords I need to know?”

“I’ve logged you on as ‘visitor’, password’s the same... just in case you time out. Bye...” and she was gone.

            Ari sat in the comfortable office chair and looked around. The smaller more utilitarian office had desks, computers, filing cabinets and shelves with a variety of pamphlets and forms. Easing into a chair, Ari placed his key in the USB port. The machine identified new hardware and installed it quickly. A distant rumble of thunder distracted him for a second before he recognised it for what it was. Locating the file ‘photos for Ari’ quickly, he opened the file and began to scan through them. Ari’s hope was that the evidence of criminal or scandalous activity might be obvious. There were over one hundred and forty shots that he looked at. Unlike other digital photo collections, these were high quality pictures taken by a talented photographer. Collette had followed Thomas McLeish over a couple of days to various venues. She had taken pictures of him at a restaurant, at a press conference, meeting with business men, walking through a protest group where minders dealt harshly with a few who got too close, and being interviewed for television. A strange sense of melancholy weighed on him as he saw one close up of him at a meeting. He marvelled that Collette could take so many pictures undetected.

            He sat and speculated. Surely, some of the pictures could only have been taken if Collette had impersonated staff or had inside contacts. How did she get those photos at the meeting or the shots with the business men? Also, some discreetly taken photos of a visit to a construction site caught his interest as it appeared to be a private audience with some notorious union leaders. Firstly though, he concentrated on the restaurant photos, trying to identify a number of guests. These appeared to be taken surreptitiously from some distance using a telescopic lens.

            Ari examined each of the restaurant shots. Some of the people present were known to him but many caught in conversation with Thomas were unfamiliar to him and his curiosity was piqued. It took him more than an hour to go through the whole file. Darkness had crept upon him and Ari stretched and levered himself across to the light switch. His movement was stalled by a loud crash of thunder and the first huge drops clunked on the metal roof and slapped on the pavement outside the window. He closed his eyes and listened. The staccato splattering soon became a drumming and then a loud roar as a torrent was turned on. Lightening flashed luridly through the orange curtains, applauded after a short lag by the deep reverberation of echoing peals of thunder. The thunderstorm fled almost as quickly as it came. Switching the light on as the last vestiges of rumblings could be heard, Ari focused on the computer screen. He was irritated that nothing definite was revealed in the images. The problem was, he didn’t know what he was looking for. Was it a person? Was it a location? Or was it some item or event captured incidentally? Perhaps something in the background was significant. He scratched his head mystified.

“How am I going to do this?” he muttered to himself.

            Ari was just moving back to the computer when Ryan came in.

“You still here?” Ryan looked over Ari’s shoulder and then went on, “Penny has made some dinner for us, if you can come...”

“Oh thanks, yeah, I’m not doing any good here.” After removing his data key, and shutting down the computer, Ari followed Ryan out across the driveway to his house next door. The air had a humid, redolent atmosphere with the scented fragrance of freshly scrubbed garden. He breathed in deeply, taking his time to get across to the front door where Ryan was waiting.

 

            Well, he shouldn’t have been surprised, but there was Reece sitting expectantly at the dining table, bold as brass, as if he owned the place. Ari imagined that it wouldn’t be out of place for him to declare; ‘Penny, you may serve dinner now.’ Ryan also registered the situation and imposed his rightful position.

“Reece, make yourself useful and pour out the drinks will you?”

Penny brought out the plates heaped with steaming lasagne, covered with lashings of crispy cheese and accompanied by a side dish of salad. When they were all seated, the pastor said a short grace and suggested they eat heartily.

“What news have you got to share with Reece, Ari?” Penny was looking at him with an even more buoyant gaze than usual, if that were possible.

“Oh, not much... I can’t work out what’s so special about those photos...”

“I think Penny was thinking of something else.” Ryan interposed with an allusion to something other than what was in his mind. Ari knew they had a specific idea. He was furiously trying to think what because he hadn’t shared anything about his visit to his mother’s. Of course... he coloured slightly, “Oh, of course,” he tried to clear his voice from the squeaky croak that had passed his lips.

            He then shared with Reece his life changing decision of that morning, and went on to say that he still had a lot to learn but that it felt right. It felt right. It was the best description he could give and he was disappointed in his inhibited expression of the sense of relief he knew within himself. Reece made it a bit easier because he identified with Ari’s changed mood. He reflected how his life made more sense now and that he was growing in understanding.

 

            The evening was quite relaxed as they sat around. Ari explained how his near death incident had caused him to weigh up his life. This was like a new start for him. He was even having a symbolic burial. Ryan was reminded by his reference to the funeral that Alan Meadows had contacted them regarding a pick up time in the morning.

“He said he’d be here at nine, to give them plenty of time to set up.”

“Nine? I had better get going then, got a lot to do.” Ari thanked Ryan and Penny once again for their hospitality and worked his way to the door.

“I don’t suppose I’ll see either of you at the funeral?”

Ryan negated the suggestion with a head shake, “Sorry, I told you, I only do real funerals. Besides, I’d be compelled to tell the truth and that might spoil things for you.”

Ari extrapolated the sentence as an inferred judgement on his deceit, but that wasn’t what Ryan had intended. Penny sensed his interpretation.

“Ari, we realise why you’re doing this and I’m sure we can’t understand how you feel... I mean nearly being killed, and seeing the death of others.”

He looked into Penny’s compassionate face, then across to Ryan’s bowed head and clasped hands.

“I’m beginning to regret the idea.” He was going to add that he felt like a coward, but instead just excused himself, “Anyway, better go or I won’t get up in the morning.”

            Reece, who had sat silently during the exchange, rose and also offered his thanks and farewells before leaving with Ari. Once he’d helped him into the bungalow Reece waved with a parting comment.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, er I guess... tomorrow night when everything settles down.” He felt awkward referring to Ari’s funeral as if once it was over ‘life would go on’.
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