Ease The Heart

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The funeral celebrant had been speaking for several minutes, but I wasn’t really listening. I could see his mouth opening and shutting, but my mind was elsewhere.

I snapped out of it as everyone else did, as the father of the dead young man rose to his feet and stepped to the lectern.

The bereaved family sat in the customary spot in the front row. Michael’s father was hidden from view until now. He hadn’t greeted the mourners and had probably been sitting on that front pew since the church opened some two hours ago. No one approached him. The force field of grief was too strong — it repelled all who would console him.

Dead silence greeted his opening remarks.

“When I became a father, I turned into a different person. I had a reason to get up in the morning. I went to work at a job I loathed, willingly. I was a father. My job was to provide and to protect. Everything I did had the welfare of my family at its core. I planned for the future for my only son.”

Michaels father stopped speaking and looked at the paper in front of him. Some of the gathered souls thought he would be unable to continue.

He struggled, through tear-filled eyes.

“Now, when I wake up in the morning, my day’s work is meaningless. I have no son to protect, and he has no future for me to plan for.”

Michael’s father stood silently for an agonising minute until the celebrant put his hand on the distraught father’s shoulder. He leaned in and whispered a question. Michael’s father gathered up his tear-stained sheet of paper and walked back to his seat and our hearts, which were already broken, ached even more.

The celebrant said a few more words, something about ‘gathering back at Michaels home after the burial’, but I’ve tuned out.

Funerals give me a headache, and this one is the size of eastern Europe. I want to be somewhere else, anywhere else, but good manners dictated that I wait for the family to follow the coffin out of the church.

Finally, I’m outside in the cold fresh air, and my eastern Europe headache has some room to move. I lean up against the bluestone walls of the church. This building would have been the centre of life for the local community some one hundred and fifty years ago. These days, it sees a bit of activity for weddings and funerals — mostly we have moved on from believing.

Conversations are scattered across the church’s forecourt. The mourners are deciding whether to go to the gravesite or head to the wake.

“I don’t like to get too close to an open grave at my age,” says the old lady next to me.

“Why didn’t you come into the service uncle?” says a young man, neatly and uncomfortably dressed.

“I don’t much like God when you get him indoors,” says the older man, opening a pack of cigarettes. He offers the pack to the young man who shakes his head.

I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn to see Michael’s father looking at me with dead eyes. Until this moment I have spoken maybe a dozen words to this man.

“James, I need your help.”

“What do you need me to do?” My mind went to the burial service — I really didn’t want to go to the cemetery or the wake. I need a drink, a large one followed by another large one.

“I want you to find who’s responsible for Michaels death. I know he respected you for all that you did.”

“You do know that I don’t do that anymore?” I was pleading with my eyes. If I hadn’t been jammed up against this bluestone wall, I would have been backing away.

“No one is doing anything. They all think it’s hopeless. You’re my only hope.”

I’ve heard this speech a dozen times, usually from distraught mothers or desperate siblings. Always the same hysterical tone, always the same wide eyes, hands clutching at my arms so that I can’t escape. If I get away, they know they’re doomed.

“I’m retired, and all my contacts have drifted away. Let the authorities do their job. It’s what they do, and they’re good at it,” I lied. I know it is hopeless, but I say the words anyway. His eyes are burning into me. He doesn’t speak, he’s said his piece, he’s just staring at me, his fingers digging into my arm.

“Look, the best I can do is ask around, see how the investigation is doing. But I’m not making any promises. I’ll just be asking the few friends I have left what they think. Best I can do.” My words are obviously thin and evasive, but Michael’s father sees them as hope. His eyes show a small sign of light, and I know that I’m being drawn back in. Back to that place that tried to kill what was left of me.

I understand, even if I know I won’t come up with the result he wants. This is Michael’s father’s way of being a protector, one last time.

Not that answers ever solved anything.

Not that knowing ever eased the heart.

I’ll go through the motions, ask all the right people, and when it’s all over, Michael will still be dead, and Michael’s father will still have no-one to build for. 

No-one to hope for.

  

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19

With 19 days to go in my campaign to raise the funds to publish my ‘connected short story collection’, I thought I would check in and see how it is going.

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So far we have raised 3.9920159% of the total which is interesting, sad, perplexing, understandable,worrying and testing of my faith hope and to a certain extent, charity.

Firstly, let me tell you how terrifying it is to embark on such a campaign……… it’s terrifying.

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It is a lot like the reason for the campaign………. publishing.

In both cases you are putting yourself out there and saying “love me”, or at least “love what I do.”

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I know how busy people can be and I know that there are always heaps of people asking you to buy this and contribute to that……. I know because it happens to me.

On any given day I receive two phone calls asking me to contribute to a charity that we have contributed to in the past [we had a bit of money a while ago and we spread it around….. just a bit].

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There’s a bloke who sits outside the supermarket and plays guitar and harmonica just like Bob Dylan….. he doesn’t ask for money but I know he would like some, so I give him what small change I have, whenever I can afford to do so…….and like Dylan, he doesn’t say much.

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A lady I know published her first book just recently and I bought a paper copy; I could not afford it but I went without coffee for a couple of weeks because it occurred to me that she is the first person I have come across who has gone through the process that I have, and she has seen it through and produced a book. I may never come into contact with another person [who I know well] who has done this, and I needed to mark the occasion by buying her book.

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We live in a bushfire prone area, and every now and then the local brigade stands at the intersection and collects money for one thing or another. It’s hard to say no because they are mostly volunteers and our lives depend on them and their equipment………… you see what I mean?

There is always a good cause to contribute to and I haven’t even touched on ‘keeping gay whales in the ground’, or ‘helping single mothers buy battleships’, or ‘stopping the logging of our native echidnas’ [we had an echidna in our back yard just the other night….. we felt blessed that the little fella passed our way].

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If, sometime over the next 19 days, you feel the need to help me get closer to the 100% mark then please feel free to join in.

If I get close but don’t make it, you will not be out a single cent………. it’s all or nothing………. boom or bust……. if we don’t hit the mark you will not be expected to contribute.

Remember that I am writing two special stories just for this campaign………. a very short one for anyone who contributes $10 or more and an extra special story [just under 4000 words] for anyone who contributes $50 or more.

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But, to be perfectly honest, I would be happy with a dollar.

I just need the encouragement.

As of pushing the publish button, I have one WordPress [thanks Mobi] person as a sponsor.

Allegedly, I have 1149 followers, and one supporter so far…………?

If you have had fun over the past year or so, reading my stories, then please consider putting in a dollar, or the price of a coffee………. if all my ‘followers’ did so I would have TWICE the amount I need………… just saying.

Contribute or not, I still appreciate the fact that you take time out of your day to read my stories.

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Thank you.

Terry

A Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.

He must have hit the road quite hard.

I heard the car hit him and I heard the crowd gasp but by the time I turned my head he was trying to get to his feet. As befits a surreal moment like this, he was looking on the ground for his sunglasses. It was pouring rain, the sun had set but he still had his sunglasses with him. Despite the darkness it was not a lack of light that had contributed to this scene. It happened outside the Forum Cinema; brightly lit as most cinema entrances tend to be. The rain definitely had something to do with it as did impatience and a possible desire to not get too wet.

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To get from the Forum to ACMI* (which you would probably have to do at least once if you are a dedicated MIFF* attendee) you have to walk away from your intended target and navigate two sets of pedestrian lights (both very slow to react) or you could do what many people do and cross the road directly. I’ve done it a couple of times during the festival but in daylight, when it was not raining and not during that vicious time know as ‘peak hour’!

Even in my younger and braver days I would not have attempted this particular crossing under these conditions, but this bloke did and there he was picking himself and his sunglasses off the road.

As he got to his feet I watched his body language to see what condition he was in and I guess the throng of people around me were doing the same.

As he straightened up, sunglasses in hand, he looked a little unsteady. The traffic had stopped but this was ‘peak hour,’ that time of the day when reason and compassion is thrown to the wind.

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As the seconds ticked by he seemed to be trying to make up his mind what he should do next. I wanted him to come back onto the footpath and sit down but he decided to continue his original course! His chances of making it across the first time were slim but now they were non existent. As if to prove the point, one of the cars in the waiting line pulled out onto the tram line and narrowly missed him. Fortunately, he got the point and stopped but now he seemed really confused and it occurred to me that I might have to go and get him but it also occurred to me that the situation was getting more dangerous by the second as the waiting cars were likely to take off without warning and I would have to cross three lanes to get to him. For those few moments he was still safe but it was likely to go pear shaped very quickly.

At this point the guy in the little white car (which I’m assuming is the one that hit him) began gesturing to the pedestrian to get into his car. He got the message and slowly came around to the passenger side and very, very slowly got in.

The watching crowd breathed a mental sigh of relief and we all returned to normal time. I say ‘normal time’ as these things tend to play out in what appears to be slow motion but in fact everything moves at normal speed but in what feels like compressed time.

But at least we had a reasonably happy ending and a large number of people, mostly queueing for cinema tickets, got to see it play out.

Every story needs a good ending with a bit of reality thrown in so here we go.

As the stunned, sunglasses toting pedestrian climbed into the car the car behind him started blowing his horn and he kept blowing it. He was obviously in a hurry, there was no need to worry about a slightly crumpled pedestrian, he needed to get home.

Most likely he was afraid he would miss the beginning of Big Brother.

It seems to me that the media likes to focus on incidents that appear to show that the general public does not respond in an emergency. This hasn’t been my experience, and I was reminded when I read this article in ‘The Age’, my city’s newspaper. http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/quiet-care-that-the-news-misses-20130208-2e3vi.html

* ACMI is the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

* MIFF is the Melbourne International Film Festival, it’s also the second oldest established film festival in the world.

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