The old man was dying. He’d been aware of it for some time now.
He just knew it. He had exhausted himself on so many dreams and people and somehow had never been replenished by finding that special someone who makes it all seem worthwhile.
Alister Holmes was only 62 but felt a thousand. Like Scott Fitzgerald he believed that it was possible to become an emotional bankrupt. These days, and nights, he walked the streets and haunted the places that had once meant something to him. This was the whole world as he knew it now.
Some people believe you have to die to become a ghost but Alister knew better.
His only company, now, were other ghosts. He’d sit in the park where his father used to take him as a child and he’d talk out loud to him. And in his head his father would respond. He couldn’t help thinking that death had mellowed his father tremendously. These days Dad mostly agreed with his son about everything.
He knew better than to tell this to anyone lest they think he was insane.
Sometimes, if he was extra sentimental, he’d stand outside the little weatherboard house he’d been brought up in and chat with his mother. Passersby would stare but he was too old to give a fuck.
He thought about his Uncle Horrie and how everyone had always seemed nervous and on edge when his uncle was around. Even though Alister was a just kid at the time he’d noticed how Uncle Horrie always tried too hard for a laugh, an acknowledgement, a smile, anything. The poor man never seemed to be at ease, which probably explained the chain smoking that took him to an early grave. He died alone, in hospital. “Why hadn’t we all gone to visit him? He’d loved us didn’t he?” Alister asked his mother without ever receiving a sensible reply.
Then years later he found out that his Uncle Horrie had actually been his eldest brother. His mother had been raped when she was 14 and Horrie was the result. The poor bastard became the living embodiment of a horror and shame and scandal. Both he and his mother were innocent victims but they both paid the price and dealt with it badly in their own ways.
Horrie hated his name Horrie or Horace so he insisted on correcting everyone and telling them that his name now was Jim. Everyone’d nod dutifully and then after two drinks forget and continue to call him Horrie. He’d get upset and storm out. Alister sometimes would tear up when he’d think of how humiliated this man must’ve felt being disowned within his own family. Never being listened to, never been acknowledged as a whole person.
Alister liked to believe there was a heaven and that the two of them, mother and son, are now together and at peace. No more shame. No more dirty little secrets that damaged innocent lives. In the end it must all fall away, surely? What does it matter anymore? There can be no bigger picture than eternity.
Alister Holmes knew he carried some of his mother’s stubbornness in him, as well as her capacity for love, and life had been a constant battle as to which side would win at any given problem. But he had tried, he surely had, and in trying had come the weariness that was now overtaking him.
He had joked that his downfall had been his liking for people. So many of them had gotten the better of him and diminished him in spirit and in heart. But for the thousands he’d befriended it’d been worth it for the handful of golden friends he’d found. Those few who were loyal enough to not have a negative word said about you in their presence. Such friends were as rare as hen’s teeth in these times of gossip, backstabbing and elevation at another’s expense, but they did exist. Alister smiled when he thought of those dear friends he’s been lucky enough to find. Some were no longer of this world and had joined the passing parade on the other side. But he did continue to chat with them every day. He was a loyal friend if nothing else, and he never forgot a kind gesture and a true heart.
His day would usually end down by the beach watching the sunset. He found it puzzling, and fascinating, that God finally grants us wisdom just as the light is ebbing. Why? So we can look back at our lives and understand all the mistakes we made? Perhaps that is the true hell. It is not a place, it is a feeling. And once we have acknowledged it, truthfully, we are released to experience the bliss of letting go.
Alister had walked away so much of his life in dark deserted alleys. Sometimes, filled with a joy bordering of euphoric and, because he had no one to share it with, he’d walk it away until he was so utterly exhausted he could then go home and sleep. Perhaps that was the greatest metaphor of what Life really is. We come into it alone, our greatest despair and happiness usually experienced alone, and then of course, the final mystery revealed alone.
Alister was dying and it wouldn’t be long now. He knew that. People were coming back into his life as if it was choreographed that they should say goodbye and have one last hug. He had no regrets and seemed at peace. He’d been weary for some time and spent most of his energy trying to cover it with a smile. He knew they’d be surprised when he was gone. He’d given no indication and had covered his tracks well.
He hoped to hell this was his last life and that he wouldn’t be back. He felt he’d pretty much said it all this time around. God had equally blessed him as well as cursed him on this final ride through and perhaps that’s what comes at the end. You get to experience the whole giddy carnival in all its glory and ugliness as befitting a finale.
Just as the sun was sinking into the water, the only thing that sprang to his mind were the words that George M. Cohan would say at the end of each show he starred in, “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sisters thank you, and as for me…well that goes without saying.”
(c) 2014 Frank Howson


Frank Howson

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