I think I’m going to leave it at that. It must be a year since that evening with Kevin after we’d been down on the beach all day, making sure everything was battened down, ready for the storm, and it’s been a good year for me – working in the fields two or three days each week, going out with Kevin on his boat, bringing home tuna and shark, lobster and abalone. A friend of his, Mari, has taught me to dive too, which, without the need for all that bulky equipment is an absolute revelation. I’ve spent hours down there, clinging to the giant kelp holdfasts, watching the wrasse and the sculpins scrapping and flirting and the urchins and abalones flinching and heaving on their rocks. The sunlight is beautiful down there, like marbled glass. I’ve begun making sketches.
I’ve got myself a set of books about the local wildlife – plants and animals, freshwater and marine, forest, desert and mountain, all beautifully illustrated but far from complete. I’ve spoken to the chap who compiles them and offered my services as an illustrator for the new edition and he seems quite keen in a stuffy academic sort of way. He said I’ll need to do some training on the scientific side of things. Meanwhile my design for the East Chapel is almost ready to go ahead. I’ve had a few meetings with the team and the scaffolding is in place and I’ve even begun marking out where the branches are to go on the ceiling. It’s very exciting and a little terrifying (not just because of the height of it). The East Chapel is an enormous place with an immense curved roof. A lot of the weddings and seasonal festivals go on there so it’s quite a responsibility. I feel very honoured. Otherwise I’m still working on the farm. I’m happy to just do as I’m told there – not to have to think too much.
As for the house, well, I’ve not done much to it. There was a problem with the drain from the shower (tree roots) but we’ve sorted that out, and I got rid of some of the old stuff that was here when I arrived and replaced it with some new items. There are so many talented people here it’s hard not to become acquisitive. Sonia bought me a beautiful little forest deer carved in wood, almost life-size and it stands by the fireplace, perpetually poised to dart off behind the sofa. And there’s a very life-like green glazed ceramic iguana on the kitchen windowsill whose beady little eyes follow you around the room. Last week I found some nice pieces of hand-blown glass at the market – blue and green, to stand in the windows and catch the light. (Sophie loves stuff like that. I remember that even from that place where I first knew her.) Also I keep acquiring these surreal collage creatures, all horns and fins and improbable plumage made out of wire and wood and paper and feathers and clay and painted amazing colours. There’s a guy up the river puts them together. I also got some ferns from a woman at the market who grows them from spores she collects up in the forest. Sophie always likes to have plants around the house. It does look lovely in here. She’ll love it.
Still, I’m far from lonely. I see a lot of Kevin and Mo and Cleome. We get out quite a bit at weekends, camping or hiking or sailing. We went and stayed with Jeannie and Duncan up the river a couple of times. They’re always good company. But to be frank, we’re fairly indolent, what with the beach so close by and bars and gigs and parties to go to. Most weekends we go out to eat at one of the restaurants in town, although our favourite at the moment is a little place that does fresh seafood a mile or so up beyond Kevin’s place. Either that or we go around to someone’s house, or for a picnic in the hills. Last weekend we managed to do all three.
What else? What about crazy Derek? What became of him?
It turns out there is in fact only one thing that becomes of us, ultimately, in the afterlife. There aren’t three options as Joe led me to believe. Ultimately we all fade away, when we’re ready, and nobody sees us go. One day we simply realise that the chap who used to occupy the flat above, or the shack on the beach or the cottage down by the river say, hasn’t been seen for a while, and then we go and look and he isn’t anywhere to be found. Perhaps he simply walked out into the waves or up among the trees or across the desert. Nobody knows.
And that’s it.
It doesn’t seem enough does it? You expect some big climax – some final explanation that makes sense of it all, a meaning, a purpose, happy endings and just desserts, tying up all the loose ends, as if it’s all been just a story. It’s like Alison said about my life and our hope of discovering some sort of monstrous event in my early life that would account for what happened next. But there isn’t one – just some thoughtlessness, some weakness, some bad luck. It’s like me massacring all those people up at the camp. What’s that if it’s not manufacturing a big crowd-pleasing finale? My final heroic triumph of good over evil? Don’t make me laugh.
So no, there’s no big ending – just a subtle fading away into the land. The only real difference between those poor desperate souls I heard so much about at one time, and us here is the mood in which we depart and I aim to depart in a good mood, and not just yet.
I asked Kevin one night if anybody actually knows where we go ultimately and if maybe we all move on into yet another after-afterlife. Or if it is simply another form of that dissolution we go through when we go back into the world and in fact we are all reincarnated, over and over again.
He looked at me wearily. It was late and we were out of booze.
‘I don’t think so’ is all he said and I had to admit, I didn’t feel like pursuing that line of thinking.
Hardly a day passes when I don’t expect Sophie to appear in my doorway and to smile and say ‘Hey gorgeous’. I know I’ll collapse at her feet and hug her legs and be blubbering incoherently probably for several days. I asked Brother Jeffrey what are the chances, did he think, that she’ll find me and he said that if she wants to find me there’s every chance that she will, but not to get my hopes up because not many couples, no matter how in love they were in life, would choose to spend eternity together.
I don’t know about that.
She told me she wanted to come with me when I was dying and I wouldn’t contradict her, as I probably should have done, strictly speaking.
All in all, if I have to spend eternity, then I’d rather spend it with her than without.
But I don’t know if Brother Jeffrey was just trying to be comforting. Only one other couple here that I know of has been reunited in death. I don’t know if that tells us anything. They do seem to love each other very much.
In the mean time, Cleome and I have become close friends and as it happens she too is still living in hope that her man will one day find her here. So we can’t let anything happen between us, just in case. We both know that.
So here I am putting the final touches to this manuscript. In the morning I’ll hand it to Simon at the printers and anybody who wants to will be able get hold of it at the sanctuary library, along with all the others. I don’t know if anyone will. I don’t really mind. I’m just glad it’s done.
I sit back and stare out of the window until the shapes of the leaves and shadows become wobbly blobs of green and black. This really is a most beautiful place but I can’t help wishing she was here with me. I make another little doodle of her face on my scratch pad, as has become a habit of late. I live in fear of not recognising her when she arrives. I’ve put her picture up in town in case anyone sees her... The other day Cleome said ‘You can’t spend all eternity waiting you know. It would be like some kind of hell’ and I said ‘Well you can talk’ and she just smiled a little and we gave each other a hug and I said ‘They’ll turn up’ and she just nodded and we went into town to cheer ourselves up with some hot chocolate and cinnamon biscuits.
Time to fire up the old cafetería and go and have a look at the river. Then I think I’ll give Cleome a call and see if she fancies celebrating with me. I believe they’re having a barbeque later on up at the farm. That usually promises a good time and I understand there’s a new lot of travellers passing through, so who knows? Maybe Sophie will be with them this time.