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 What is the Lie?

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: What is the Lie?   Thu Dec 07, 2017 4:50 pm

Chapter 14

            Tom slept deeply. It was hours later that he staggered groggily out of his bed and up forward, slumping heavily into the seat next to Lori. The welts and bruises all over his body hurt. His right shoulder felt heavy and numb like it was still asleep.

“You didn’t wake me.”

Lori grinned at him, “Oh, you wanted me to wake you?”

He turned to her and began to lift his right arm to give her a friendly shove. A searing stab of pain made him recoil and reel. Then, losing his sense of balance, almost immediately his vision blurred and a guttural emanation of pain escaped his lips.

            Lori immediately threw the controls into idle and tried to catch Tom as he passed out and slid off the seat. She became entangled under his limp dead weight. It took some time before she could extricate herself from the confines of the helm and then haul his unresponsive body across the floor back to the bed. Straining and tugging, and then getting on her knees and heaving from underneath, she finally got him onto the couch. His blood stained, bedraggled shirt was wet from the wound’s seeping fluids. Tom mumbled deliriously as Lori removed his shirt to reveal an angry red and swollen lesion.

“I’m sorry Tom,” her voice rasped apologetically. “I should have checked your injuries last night. Looks like you have a massive infection.” She touched the sticky, blood encrusted area, extracting a thread from a cut that had probably originated from his torn shirt.

He groaned, unhearing, unconscious to her words. His scratched, bruised and bloodied body made her shudder involuntarily. Using a wet towel to bathe him while she picked out tiny grits and gravel out of the shoulder laceration, Lori became aware of the extent of Tom’s injuries. She recalled the horrific event in her mind and considered again how close he had been to being killed by the impact with the car. She ran her hand tenderly against his bristly face and felt the burning of fever on his forehead.

            When she had heated some water, Lori put salt in it and soaked a small clean face towel. She used this as a hot poultice. The warm saline solution cleaned the wound further, which initiated fresh bleeding, as well as drawing out a pale excretion. Dabbing the inflamed shoulder, Lori said a silent prayer for Tom.

            Between intermittent cries and moans, tremors swept through his body. The constant washing eventually stemmed the bleeding but she maintained her gentle strokes with the cloth. Some time later the increased rocking of the boat alerted Lori to the danger of letting it remain adrift near the coast for so long. From the glassed in cockpit she could make out a line of breakers on the sandy shore fifty metres away. Instantly she engaged the engine and swung away from the shore, consulting the depth finder to instruct her on the best course away from the shallow water. Ahead was a sand bar. Somehow they had drifted into this deeper section. After cruising east for a minute and finding the lagoon becoming shallower and closer to the menacing breakers, Lori turned around and backtracked. Eventually a deeper channel appeared on the sonar screen and she surged through the rollers into open water.

            Anchoring ‘Perfect Treat’ securely away from shore, Lori prepared a meal of beans and toast and a hot drink. Despite her efforts, Tom couldn’t be stirred from his unconscious state. Becoming anxious at his condition and unable to revive him from his stupor, Lori placed her face against his chest and listened to his steady heartbeat.

“What have I done?” she whispered, “You should be in hospital.”

She folded a cool compress on his face and sat back to eat her meal. His occasional trembling and delirious ranting brought her alongside. She sat near his prostrate form to speak soothing words and caress his feverish face with the moistened towel. Realising that she had to get a move on, Lori splashed some antiseptic from the first aid kit onto the worst of the injuries. Then, after bandaging the wound, she dressed him in some clean warm clothes from the storage cupboard.

It was after four in the afternoon when Lori restarted the engine and pushed the craft to its limits, fearing that lingering any longer would put Tom’s life in jeopardy. Alternately leaping from wave crests and then tearing with jarring thuds through troughs, the motor launch reeled in the distance to the island destination.

Another southerly squall was scudding in from the southwest as Lori guided the boat through the narrow channel that marked the entrance to the lakes. Slowly she cruised past the marker buoys and then along a short inlet before tying up on a rustic looking wooden jetty. Tom was thrashing about and shaking with chills and tremors, although he was still burning with a high temperature. In a moment of apparent lucidity Tom saw Lori at the cabin door about to leave. He sounded panicky, “Don’t leave me Lori … don’t go … stay away from the house.”

She had replied twice, assuring him that she wouldn’t be long before she realised that he was hallucinating.

            Hastily, she ran atop the jetty and onto the sandy shore, wending her way between the she-oaks. In the cool inky blues of dusk, Lori concentrated on ensuring her white sneaker clad feet skirted the huge tussocks and exposed, gnarled winding tree roots. She had to traverse the grounds surrounded by cabins to reach the residence near the main gate of the camp. Her incessant knocking roused Joe. He had been watching his favourite evening television news show.

“Lori, what are you doing here?” His expression was surprised and jovial. But realisation dawned on him and his smiling face transformed to dread. “You’re covered in blood.” She glanced down at her pullover and saw large dried blood smears all over it.

Joe sounded distraught. “You’ve brought that man here haven’t you? That man the police are after … Lori we have a school camp in at the moment. I can’t let you stay here. You have to go.” He tried to edge her out of the door.

“You don’t understand Joe, he’s sick, he’s hurt … he needs a doctor.”

“Lori, what are you doing?” Joe was jittery. He redirected his question. “What’s wrong with this fellow?”

“He’s got a wound and it’s become infected.”

“A gunshot wound!” Joe was apoplectic.

“No, no … nothing like that. He was in an accident. He needs antibiotics.” Lori was holding the door, “Help me Joe,” she implored.

“Look, you can’t stay here. Where are you parked? I’ll tell you how to get to the hospital.”

“I’ll call an ambulance.”

“No ambulance. I’ve got a school camp in Lori. Why can’t you just drive him to the hospital?”

“Joe, I came by boat. I’m moored on the old pier. Look I’ll stay on the boat if you want. We just need some medicines and I’ll get him to the hospital in the morning.” Lori’s voice crackled with emotion.

            The old, grizzled caretaker softened. “Look, I have some antibiotics left from a recent throat infection. They might help. In the morning I’ll drive you both to the hospital. If we get up early we won’t disturb the children.”

She stood at the doorway, the harrowing experiences of the last day telling on her face.

“Come in,” he beckoned. Lori walked uncertainly inside already beginning to agonise over her decision to leave Tom alone and vulnerable. Joe went into the kitchen and searched through a cabinet. Walking back into the room he handed a half used box of capsules to Lori.

“Thanks Joe,” she sobbed as she grasped him affectionately around the neck and hugged him.

“All right, all right, I’ll see you in the morning,” he said gruffly, but hardly concealing a chuckle.

            Back at the jetty, Lori picked her way carefully along the rickety, old construction. In the dark, with the slight backlit glow of the sky reflected on the water, she had to negotiate gaps and loose planks that earlier she ran across without thought. Inside, Tom was lying on the floor making noises like the distant bellowing of a cow calving.

“It’s a lie,” he cried, and then repeated it even louder, “It’s a lie.”

He was in his own delusional world, unresponsive to her as she said his name and asked if he was okay.

The dressing on his arm was stained red from fresh bleeding. Lori rolled him on to his back. She moved to sit him leaning against the bed. He reached out and clutched her wrist. “Don’t go!” he half shouted in a wild eyed plea. A spasm of pain wracked his body and he seemed to faint. Still holding her wrist he spoke in a throaty croak, “I love you.”

            Lori froze. What was he saying? He groaned again. His eyes were closed as his head lolled. ‘He’s delirious, just rambling,’ she thought to herself.

“Tom, are you all right? Tom?” she tried to get some reaction, in part to revive him and in part to determine his level of rationality.

            This time, to get Tom on the couch converted bed, Lori grasped him underneath the thighs and with a pillow against his back, half slid half levered him onto the bed. She tumbled on top of him with her last effort. Puffing and panting she found herself staring into his wide open eyes. Awkwardly and self consciously she clambered off. Momentarily, at least, he was conscious, though totally disorientated.

“Where are we? What’s happening Lori?”

Relieved, standing there untidy and grubby, Lori tried to explain. “You fell out of bed and … well somebody had to put you back on the bed. Believe me, you’re no lightweight.”

When she had given him some capsules and redressed his wound, she went and cleaned herself up. The tiny shower recess was a perfect luxury, providing hot, steamy water and a chance to become civilised again. Some of Tom’s spare clothes, though oversized, were comfortable and warm.

After observing him and dozing on and off for a few hours she woke Tom and gave him some more capsules. He then watched her as she used her mobile phone to text her parents not to worry, that all was well. He remained strangely quiet as he watched her, though his attentiveness assured her that, at least now, he was genuinely lucid.

“Those clothes look better on you than me,” he managed hoarsely.

Lori flushed perceptibly. Her wet hair framing her face made her feel particularly unrefined. She pinched a piece of the windcheater out, “We’ll at least it’s clean.” Then with a positive inflection in her voice she asked, “So, would you like something to eat?”

He nodded, “Yes please, and a drink please,” he added huskily.

            The smells of a tasty meal (as tasty as a meal composed of canned and frozen vittles could be) pervaded the cabin when Tom, still gradually recovering his bearings, piped up, “Where did you say we are?”

“Ti tree Island, we’re at the camp I told you about,” she answered over her shoulder. “You’re feeling better now?”

“Yeah … a bit.”

“You know you’ve got a bad infection.” She faced him and in a low voice rebuked herself, “It’s my fault. I should have cleaned you up straight away. Instead, all that grit, dirt and germs were allowed to fester. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault. Heaven knows, you’ve done everything possible.” He examined his shoulder, and then his clean tee-shirt. “Did you change me?” he had a doubtful expression.

“Mm, you couldn’t stay in those filthy clothes,” she gestured at a pile in the corner. “Besides, I’m almost a qualified nurse now. It’s part of the job.”

“Right.” Tom still had a silly face.

            Lori altered the course of the exchange.

“You know you were talking a bit … when you were out … I think you were delirious.”

“What did I say? I didn’t confess to anything did I?” Tom had a wry smirk on his face.

Lori looked sheepish. “I think you were worried about being left alone. It was a dream, or nightmare. I don’t think it made any sense.” She said the latter for her own benefit as much as anything. Then as an afterthought she added, “Oh yeah, you called out ‘It’s a lie.’ Do you know what you were talking about? What is the lie?”

He fixed his eyes on her, “Yeah, what is the lie?” His words trailed off enigmatically.

When she asked him to elaborate he temporarily withdrew into himself. His mind harked back to conversations he had with William, something to do with believing a lie. And those verses that had made him feel guilty. Why was he torturing himself? He was innocent.

            The meal time in the early hours of the morning had an inarticulate awkwardness to it. Tom made the effort to sit opposite Lori at the small table. At times the proximity to each other, the soft light of the frosted side lamp and the moon shimmering on the gently whispering water made an altogether too romantic setting. The tendrils of mutual affection seemed to constrict their freedom to speak. And when they spoke, the words were hushed as if the mood were too precious to disrupt. Lori felt hindered by her feelings, her beliefs about her feelings, and her conjecturing about how aware Tom was of what he said in his delirium. Similarly, Tom felt hindered by his feelings and his speculation about what motivated Lori to care for him in the way she had. He wondered whether he had any right to continue to burden her with this calamitous escapade.

            Sipping the rich, aromatic coffee brew that Lori had prepared warmed them both. Like mirror images they both had two hands pivoting on elbows to drink. Their gazes met across the table. For a moment they communed at a different level. Then Tom averted his eyes. ‘If things were different. If his life wasn’t in such chaos or if he had some purpose … a more meaningful existence,’ he thought. ‘Ultimately, he didn’t deserve someone like Lori. She was selfless, caring, yet seemingly strong and under no illusions about what she was doing. Along with all that,’ he mused as he lifted his eyes briefly, ‘… she was beautiful, in a tom-boyish sort of way.’

“What’s wrong?” Lori responded to his drooping countenance.

‘How long has this all been? Is it really only a …’ he wrenched free of his thoughts. “It’s been a week now.” The full torrent of the tragedy immersed him for the first time. Now with his vigilante crusade put aside, pent up emotions overwhelmed him and with quivering lips and stuttering tongue he excused himself.

            Under the pretence of having to wash his sticky matted hair, Tom locked himself in a cabin and surrendered to his emotions. He emerged some time later, cleaned up considerably and he shared another drink with Lori.

            Before heading off to their separate cabins, Tom rejected any possibility of going to the hospital in the morning, saying that he’d done little to solve the case; although he hinted that he had garnered a couple of leads he really wanted to pursue.

The greatest contention occurred as they stood at their respective cabin doors ready to go to sleep. It was about what constituted being ‘well enough’ to resume his sleuthing. ‘Standing up was not a definition for able bodied,’ argued Lori. Tom was sure that his recovery would be hastened with the advent of the medication, good meals and some regular sleep. Eventually his dogmatic insistence prevailed.

 

***

            On the next day around mid-morning, after informing Joe that they wouldn’t trouble him with a trip to the hospital, they cruised slowly into a nearby tourist resort on the lakes. They spent half an hour taking fuel on board before they moored farther up the narrow waterway. The light breeze and mild winter weather gave a holiday atmosphere to their stroll along the waterfront. Gulls screeched and wheeled above them, large pelicans paddled gracefully alongside expecting titbits. A rusty trawler was lost in a haze of spray as a high pressure hose executed a final clean in readiness for another night of fishing. Lori and Tom ambled across a long wooden footbridge and over a vegetated dune onto a broad surf beach.

Trudging through the heavy sand aggravated Tom’s limp and Lori slid her arm inside his to assist him onto the packed sand near the water’s edge. Lori’s nearness caused an almost tangible rise in his spirits. The setting was so serene he wanted to delight in their time together, but his hampered gait and grimacing at any misstep soon had Lori steering him back to the township. When they reached the boardwalk, Tom was obviously tired and so they found refuge in a sunny corner of a dockside restaurant. Munching on fish and chips and slowly drinking large milkshakes, Tom couldn’t help thinking that the previous week had been a bad dream. Now he hoped that somehow he could wake up and everything would be all right.

           
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