Short Story: The End Is But The Beginning
Short Story: The End Is But The Beginning
The inside of Harold’s head was a wonderful, endless place, and Harold was happy to live in his mind. He pottered around his kitchen, cooking toast and making tea for breakfast. Harold didn’t have to think about doing these little everyday tasks. He had done them so many times that he could do them with his eyes closed, or in his case with his mind elsewhere.
Harold was slowly letting go of physical life. Once again, he had forgotten to put on his glasses, so his surroundings were a comfortable blur. But he had remembered to put in his teeth, which he put to work macerating toast until it was easy to swallow, along with sips of lukewarm milky tea. Tinnitus ringing in his ears was a sound barrier that protected him from people talking nonsense. He used the tinnitus as an excuse not to wear his hearing aids. In his mind, Harold was young again, and everything was new.
After breakfast, Harold wandered out to his gate to check for mail, then down to the shop for bread and milk. When he got back home, he was feeling a little tired, so he sat in his old worn-out armchair. His wrinkled hands rested on the familiar bald patch in the fabric as his breath gently sighed out and he relaxed into his mind. To an onlooker, it would appear as if Harold was staring vacantly into space. As Harold’s perception turned inwards, his inner eye travelled on a journey of wonder.
‘Remember the wind,’ the voice in his mind whispered.
Harold spun backwards in time. He once again was a young boy pitting his meagre strength against the solid force of the wind. He could feel his hair ruffling under wind fingers, then the breeze pushing gently against his breath as he exhaled. The wind offered him freedom as he ran with its boisterous company.
‘Remember the flowers,’ the voice murmured.
Harold looked at the bunch of wildflowers clutched in his grimy hand.
‘For you, Mama,’ he said.
His mind unfolded to a beautiful bouquet of lilies, sunflowers and gerberas held in Sandra’s hands as she walked the aisle towards him. The flowers reflecting the gentle sweetness of her personality. Then his memory moved on to the scent of the sweetpeas he had planted for her when she was pregnant with Barbara. For Harold, flowers were a gentle beauty the world offered to everyone.
Harold’s peaceful interlude was interrupted with the slamming of the door. Like a whirlwind, his daughter, Barbara, erupted into his lounge.
“Have you been sitting there all day?” she asked. “I’ve been ringing, and you haven’t answered your phone.”
She stalked over to the phone and slammed the receiver onto the handset.
“I’ve told you again and again not to take the phone off the hook.” She spat out the words like bullets. “Dad, are you listening to me?”
Harold blinked up at her with a gentle smile. “Hello Barbara, it’s good to see you. Would you like some lunch?” he asked.
“Haven’t you eaten lunch?” She frowned down at him. “It’s now dinner time. Huh, I suppose I will have to make it for you, or you will forget to eat. It can’t go on like this, Dad. I have a life; 1 can’t spend all my time over here looking after you.”
Harold could hear her muttering as she banged pots around in the kitchen. His mind drifted off again.
‘Remember water.’ The voice was a quiet sigh.
Harold once again was on the rope swinging out over the river. At the apex of the rope’s swing, he let go and plunged into the shockingly cold water. Down into the depths of the river he plummeted. He was living the experience again in all its glory. The sense of adventure filled his soul to its very edges.
Barbara’s angry voice pulled him from experiencing the immediacy of the memory.
He blinked his eyes. “Did you say something, dear?” he asked. His eyes traced the angry lines on her face. “I’m sorry to be a bother.”
She stood in the doorway, staring at him. “It’s not good enough. Dad, it can’t go on. I worry about you when I am at work: I worry that you are not getting enough to eat; I worry you will forget to turn off the stove, or you will hurt yourself.” Barbara paused in the outpouring of her feelings and looked at her father.
“Nothing I have said means a thing to you does it, Dad? I’m making an appointment for you to see the doctor. It would be best if you were in a home,” she said.
Harold got out of his chair and walked slowly across the room. When he reached Barbara, he gently took her hand in his, patted it and said. “Whatever you think is best, Barby-love.”
Barbara huffed out a breath, reached out and hugged him. “Come and eat your dinner,” she said.
Harold gazed around the doctor’s waiting room, remembering the many times he had sat in this room — as a young man waiting for Sandra to come out from her examination and the stress of waiting to hear if she was finally pregnant. He remembered the anxiety he felt. Sandra had already suffered three miscarriages and was losing hope of having a baby.
‘Remember love,’ the voice murmured.
His eyes slid sideways to Barbara, sitting beside him. He drifted back to that moment of joy when the news was positive, and the even greater joy when Barbara was born. A small smile curved his lip as his eyes rested on Barbara. She had been such a fussy baby and a demanding child. The teen years were a trial, but she had found her niche as an accountant. She liked managing things, and numbers fell into line for her. Harold was happy she had found her place in the world. His heart overflowed with love for the unique person who had come from his and Sandra’s love. He once again felt the beauty of his world through his love for Sandra. Her quiet gentleness had wrapped his heart in love from the first time they met at the weekly dance. Once he took her into his arms that first time he felt his heart open to all that was love.
“Mr Norfolk, Mrs Livingstone, you can come through now,” the doctor called out.
Harold rose and along with Barbara followed the doctor to her room. The doctor was very young and remarkably earnest, Harold felt. As the doctor and Barbara began talking, Harold drifted off, his mind’s eye turning inwards.
Harold’s young face turned upwards, mouth open as he tried to capture rain on his tongue. He watched his bright blue gumboots as he splashed in the puddles on his way to school. He felt rain trickling down his neck as he and others searched the mountain for the lost hiker. The blanket of heavy rain hid the trees in the garden, creating an enclosed and secret world. As he watched, droplets fell into Sandra’s fishpond, pitting the water and creating ripples; the fish swam to the surface as if the raindrops were a massage they enjoyed.
“Mr Norfolk, Mr Norfolk,” the doctor called his name.
“This is what he is like all the time,” he heard Barbara say. “I never know what I will find when I get to his house. The way he is losing focus; he can’t be living by himself, and I can’t always be there.” Barbara’s voice cracked on her words and tears welled. “He was always so strong, the one we all leaned on. Now….” Her voice faded away. “I miss my Dad. Even when he is in the room with me, he’s not really there.”
Harold felt the warmth of Barbara’s hand as it closed around his, while his mind flowed with his memories of rain.
“Yes, we definitely need to get him into care. I think it would be best to have him taken straight to the residential care facility. His safety is paramount, and if he is disassociating like this regularly, he is a danger to himself,” the doctor replied.
Harold heard the words coming from a distance. The words didn’t have any real meaning. More important to him was the voice in his head journeying him into the wonder of life.
Harold looked out the window from his bed; it was a different view than he usually saw. He looked out towards a rich green belt of trees.
‘Remember trees.’ Again the voice spoke.
Harold balanced precariously on the thin branch of the apple tree, stretching to grab the last apple in reach. As his hand closed around the apple, the branch snapped with a loud crack. Harold once again felt himself falling through the stems and leaves. Finally, after a time that was both brief and endless, he hit the ground and all the air rushed out of his lungs with the force of his landing. He still held onto the apple.
Harold hardly left his bed now as he became frailer, and it became difficult for him to move around. He contracted a respiratory infection that restricted his breathing to rasping gasps – his chest rattled as he panted for breath.
‘Remember darkness,’ the voice crooned.
Harold’s mind lit up with the diamond light of stars cascading through his memory. The hushed whisper of night songs: the ruru’s plaintive call, the rasping of cicadas, the lonely howl of a dog left alone and the eldritch scream of cats mating. The night had its language, known only to those who embraced its darkness. Harold had spent many nights sitting out in his dark garden, enjoying its peace.
Darkness began to creep across Harold’s vision. He could no longer see the corners of the room. He felt a hand clutching his and heard sobbing, tears dropping onto the back of his hand. With great effort, he curled his fingers and gripped Barbara’s hand and squeezed twice. The darkness had taken over and he could no longer see, hear or feel. He floated in a dark softness.
‘Remember the wonder and joy of life, Harold.’ The voice echoed through the darkness. ‘You will take this into your next life, which will begin at any moment.’
Lisa felt the contractions tightening her abdomen; she grasped Tony’s hand, squeezing hard.
“Breathe, babe. In through your nose, then out through your mouth. I’m with you,” Tony murmured as he supported Lisa’s back.
“Your baby is impatient to come into the world,” said Jane, the midwife. “I can see the head. I want you to push now.”
Lisa pushed with all she had and felt the change in her body as her baby moved to be born.
“I’ve got him,” said Jane. “Lisa, Tony, meet your son.”
“Hello, Harry,” Lisa said, tears flowing as the midwife placed Harry into her arms.
Tony embraced his wife and newborn son. He and Lisa looked into Harry’s beautiful dark eyes as Harry gazed back at them.
“He looks aware, as if he knows us and everything that is happening in the world,” Lisa said. Jane smiled. “It looks like your boy has an old soul,” she said.
‘Love,’ Harold sent into the developing mind as he reached out and connected Lisa and Tony’s love and encased Harry within it.
About the author
Helen Gaudin lives in Taranaki “between maunga and moana – mountain and sea”; an environment that gives a sense of both stability and freedom that allows ideas to flow. An avid reader as a child, she soon turned her imagination from the reading of stories to the telling of stories. Her love of stories led to a BA in English Literature. Working in social services, she gets inspiration from them any people she comes in contact with daily. She has written stories for herself and to entertain family and friends. Now she is taking the plunge and sharing her stories with a broader audience.