Thursday, 14 May 2015

Two Stories I wrote before studying at Massey

All deal with the Human condition.  Enjoy.

The Free Spirit
and
Open Windows

The Free Spirit

He sat staring through the chain link fence, the passage of time fly past him as he did so. For three long years, every day in the same place, he sat there watching.

Carl watched the lanes, but not just all the lanes. He watched the second one in from the kerb, the supposed slow lane, as he did every day, counting the vehicles and itemising each into groups of cars, vans and four wheel drives, trucks and buses.



And whilst he sat there, he also practised. The same routine, but each day the exercises attained new and better results, achieved hitherto unreachable heights. The key to all this was his inimitable patience. Patience he had plenty of time was not a problem. If it was going to take forever, it would, such was Carls mind-set.



Yet still the traffic flowed. Such is the ritualistic vigour of the human race, precision machines, driven by near precision drivers, at the same precise speed. The four lane motorway was the epitome of modern man. It was also Carl’s fixation. And sitting as he did within 3 metres of that continual traffic flow, he couldn’t be nothing but fixated. Such was his demeanour these days that fixation was a pastime worth contemplating forever.



Suddenly, the tempo of the traffic changed in front of him. The peak was beginning to ebb and the make up of the flow was changing too. Less cars and four wheel drives, less buses, but steadily increasing flows of vans and trucks, the commercial daily grind of business taking over from the mad rush of the worker ants rushing off to work. Carl noticed the change instinctively, hardly reacting to it. He knew it happened but anyone else watching would not have even seen the change. But he knew. After three years of studying it, he knew.



Now it was time for him to put into practice all he had trained for, to bring to bear the fruits of his patient labours. All the precise calculations were set in his mind, the heights, the speeds, the distances between moving vehicles. Now was time to test his honed skill. He looked up from his deep contemplation and spied the exact point of his action. The second lane was now thinning as commercial traffic used the two faster outer lanes. There were the normal cars filled with people on vacation negotiating the motorway for the first time, the elderly safe in the knowledge that this lane was the safest for them, and the younger drivers feeling their way in life. Occasionally, a commercial van would whiz on through, beating the faster traffic that was going too slow for its liking. Even 13.3 vehicles to be precise, thought Carl. Even more rarely, a laden lorry or lightly populated bus would pass by, every 28.9 vehicles.



It was time, for sure. He scaled the fence, taking care with each step, as his size thirteen feet were not adept at the small holes. Carefully manoeuvring his way up the 5-metre edifice, he marvelled at the change in perspective of the target zone, mindful of both his current situation, and the objective situation he was destined for. Anyone looking at his 1.9 metre frame would have admired his strength and flexibility, and the panther-like grace he displayed in his physical endeavours. They would have if they had seen him, but no one could see him. Even if they did, he thought to himself, would they really care to notice? The world had changed too much in the past three years since the change.



Carl leaped flowingly down the other side of the fence, landing as softly as a prowling leopard on the course grit. He wasn’t worried if he made too much noise, the motorway traffic would drown it out anyway. But the soft landing allowed him to tune his muscles to what lay ahead so the movement was appreciated in his own mind. Feeling better for the action, he turned and faced his objective.



There were no doubts now, no time for second thoughts. He was as prepared as he would ever be. He closed his eyes tight shut, took a deep breath, felt for the heartbeat of the traffic, and stepped out into the first lane, pacing methodically and accurately into the second lane, measuring off two and one half steps into the lane, then he turned towards the oncoming traffic and opened his eyes. Just in time to see a small two door coupe driven by an ageing blond coming towards him 5 metres away.



With little effort, he leaped into the air, the car careening under him a full metre bellow at the apogee of his leap. He landed softly, as he had trained himself, in time to take a breath before the next vehicle approached. Once again he leapt into the air, and once again he cleared it by a handsome margin. Carl was starting to feel more at ease with his mission now, knowing that cars were no problems.



Pretty soon, in fact the fifteenth vehicle since entering the traffic flow, a van came towards him, his first real test. He had to hope that the vehicle would be averaging 90kmh to ensure the manoeuvre would succeed. He had trained for a margin of error of plus or minus 10kmh, and his agility was primed primarily for the 80 100kmh range. Any slower and he’d no doubt be clipped by the back of the vehicle on the way down, and any faster the vehicle would collect him on the way up. The chance of this happening was 1 in 3000 so his preparation had been full. But still, the opportunity for failure existed. As did the anomaly of trailers and other towed vehicles. Caravans were no problem, he could land on them, run their length, and jump off, he was sure of that, but small undetectable trailers were a concern.

However, if anyone had observed his leap off the fence, they may have noticed a slight deceleration of his leap at about one third of the way down. Carl was prepared. He knew it.

The van, a 1965 VW Kombi chugged along towards him, the big circle with the VW monogram on the front growing bigger by the second. Carl estimated it to be travelling at 60kmh, so it didn’t come as a surprise that the music the driver was listening to, reached Carl well before the van did. In fact, the strains of Alice Coopers "I Love The Dead" boomed eerily towards him, and suddenly the driver sped up as if to run Carl over deliberately. Unfazed, in fact thankful, Carl began his leap, attaining his apogee well clear of the sure cruise microbus, the drivers intonation of "Great Leap Man" bellowing out over Alice Cooper, as Carl floated back to the tarmac behind it, in its smoggy residue.

He continued this all morning, the only other close call coming from a small utility vehicle towing a trailer sailer, Carl barely missing the following mast. But the time was now nearing, the time of his objective. The large Scania 18 wheeler would be roaring down the lane very soon, the second truck this morning to use this lane. But this wasnt going to be another leap of faith. This was the objective Carl had been both training for, and waiting for, all these years. His thoughts were only once disrupted when a cyclist, bearing heavy panniers and signs of a long distance traveller, including the obligatory "Jesus Loves You" sticker on the back pannier, yelled out to him, "God Loves ya man" and carried on his merry way.

Then he saw it. He looked down at the scratch marks on hardtop where his motorbike had been dragged along motorway, the point of impact. He leapt instinctively over another two cars before the moment of truth arrived. The Scania. The driver was mindlessly in control of his vehicle still, as he always had been when he observed him in the past years. The cigarette, or sometimes a joint, dangling between his lips. The wan, vicious smile permanently in position. Boy, was Carl ever ready. The truck approached, steadily rumbling along in the slow lane as it always did, at a sedate 120kmh.

The large flat frontage still bore the scars of his motorbikes last rites. His pride and joy Harley Fat Boy had borne the brunt of that ugly truck. But he was going to get even, attain retribution. Not only for himself, but for all the others who travelled the slow lane who had suffered the ravages of this maniacs wrath and lawlessness.

The time was nigh. Carl leapt, but not high enough this time, and sailed through the windshield, landing abruptly on the front seat adjacent the driver. The windshield was intact. Carl knew it would be. The driver didn’t realise that Carl was sitting next to him. Carl knew this would be as well. But he had time. And he had the place.

The obnoxious creature driving the truck lit up another smoke, a joint no less. Perfect thought Carl. The smoke had no effect on Carl, but the driver became a little less positive in the control of his truck. Carl looked at the manifesto on the clipboard next to him, and noticed that he was hauling a consignment of Kawasaki motorcycles. Thankfully, Carl didn’t like them, but how apt it was this guy was hauling motorbikes.

The truck soon overtook the cyclist, the driver leaning heavily on the horn as he whizzed by as close as he could get without hitting the cyclist, but close enough for the slipstream from the rig to blow him into the side gutter of the road. The VW Kombi also received the same treatment, the hippie carelessly chucking a finger at the passing beast. Soon the traffic thinned, and truck gathered speed, wobbling unsteadily as the marijuana took hold of the hapless idiot. Carl saw the chance, and as another Fatboy streaked past, Carl turned to the driver, coughed at him, grabbing the drivers attention for the first time.

But he stared dumbly into empty space. Suddenly, his features turned ashen, as Carl guided his hand into the morons body and grabbed his heart. He started squeezing, the affect on the driver instantaneous. The squeal of pain shattered the windscreen as the truck veered off the road and drove headlong into the ditch, disintegrating into oblivion as its 130kmh catapult forced the back of the trailer through the front of the truck, dismembering the driver in doing so.

Carl sat behind the fence contemplating the now near deserted highway. The truck still steamed in front of him. It had been easier than he thought it would have been. A vehicle pulled over, the Kombi, the stereo spilling the sounds of Roger Waters Every Strangers Eyes across the landscape. The bearded driver climbed out and surveyed the carnage. As he was checking out the remnants of the cab, the cyclist pulled up, and did the same thing. They exchanged pleasantries then both turned and approached Carl.

"Hey" crooned the hippie "nice job. How does it feel?"

"Yeah, how does it feel?" echoed the cyclist.

Carl looked at both of them. He didn’t trust his own voice since it hadn’t been used for three years.

The two spectators were still looking at him questionably.

"I feel much better, thank you" replied Carl "but how can you see me, Im a spirit"

"Man, you don’t get it" laughed the hippie, "we share your spiritualism."

"Yep," said the cyclist, "and now at least you can rest in peace. God loves you and so do all those he terrorised."

"Thanks, but what do I do now, now that it is over?" asked Carl uncertainly.

"You’re a free spirit, man, do Gods will."


Fin

Open Windows



            He’s alive!  He sees the Tiger hasn’t chewed his legs off.  He realises the White World has not enveloped his vista and sent him into another demented rambling.  He feels his arse and pinpoints the injections tell tale signs.  He knows he’s just turned sixteen, but what he remembers the most is the dreams and the daytime thoughts that cloud his sixteen year old mind.  He remembers his mother (Gertrude) and father (Hans) visiting earlier, but what they said was a blur.  He remembers their rough English, their German accents still strong after 18 years in Aotearoa.

            The door opened slightly.  He laid still, eyes closed, not wanting human contact.

            “Michael, it’s time for your afternoon meds.”

            This contact was the worst. The nurse was a sweetie, and meant well, but he had this impression he needed to be on his own, to deny he was in Manawaroa Hospital.  He’d heard of the place through friends at school who had ended up there through family admissions.  Now he was here, drab puke green walls, placid pink panelling’s, and pastel blue doors that could indicate the one road to hell.  He felt it was Hell.  He opened his eyes then and motioned the nurse into his room.  He hated the meds, but knew they did help his psychosis.  Heck, even the ECT was helping him regain his former control.  He didn’t hate the place, he thought, he hated that it was he getting the treatment.

            “Ready for another day, Michael.  You have Gym today, and the Pool Table is back in operation.”

            He thought then of Adam, the 27 year old paranoid schizophrenic, and part time crim.  He’d asked Mike for a smoke (he never had his own) and Mike had turned him down.  Adam had then done his nut and tried to whack Mike with the pool cue. He’d ducked, and the cue smashed into the pool table and smashed in half.  He’d then tried to use the sharp end to stab at Mike, but Mike’s senses were attuned and he’d leapt back, barely missing the cues intent.  The male orderlies were on the case very quickly and subdued the culprit.  The nurses also arrived and help placate Mike and recommended he go to his room for quiet time.

            Malcolm turned another page, his homework for Science flowing like a breeze.  It had been quiet for a few weeks now, and knowing his brother was getting the right treatment helped his own mind to focus on his own life.  The past few months had been sheer hell, and his moods and his work had suffered.  Mum and Dad wouldn’t let him come with them to see his older brother.  He resented this reasoning, he knew Mike was worthy of a visit from his brother and part time friend.  He’d argued until blue in the face that he was ok if he could visit.  He stopped thinking about it, and got back to his studies.  Mike had flunked school badly, but now there was a reason for that to happen.

            “Malcolm, are you ok to be by yourself”

            His mother’s accent made him smile.  He loved the lilt and the harshness in one breath, and though she was a wonderful person.  He also thought she didn’t understand her oldest son, and that what was happening to Mike was not actually in his best interest, but ‘hey’, he thought, ‘what would I know’

            “Yes Mum, say hi to Mike for me and tell him I love him and miss him badly. Oh and tell him about my B+ for English, let him know I want to write a story about him for my next essay.

            Gertrude walked through the door to Manawaroa with her husband.  He was usually very silent about these visits and his own mind had trouble attaching fancy to reality.  She knew her husband was deeply affected and he felt that it was duty to see his son, more than a means to gaining a successful treatment.  He was old school; she remembered his comment when Mike was taken to hospital. ‘The boy always had a weak mind’

            She noticed the paint on the walls and doors, the panelling and found it somewhat comforting.  This was their third visit and each visit, for her, was less demanding and more a realisation.  She loved her boys, and this admission of her oldest son to a Psychiatric Hospital was having an unbearable strain on her own resolve but she was now resigned to the whole situation.  Dr Avery, her son’s resident psychiatrist, was optimistic about his recovery, saying the treatment was working very well.  She thought about this as she walked down the corridor to Michaels room. 

            The open door suggested to her things were on the improve.  She remembered all too well her sons’ petulance with having his door closed at home.  He’d totally shut himself away, and refused anyone entry to his haven.  She’d remembered the fights, the disagreements, the pain he caused her, the frustration she felt for her lovely boy.  She remembered the smiling ten year old in the back garden playing with his brother.  She recalled the shine in his eyes when twelve and passing tests at school with flying colours.  She remembered the fourteen year old starting to place Iron Maiden and AC/DC posters on his wall, and his drive to have a decent stereo in his room.  That was the catalyst, she felt.  Puberty robbed her of her son, and the descent into schizophrenia bought pain to all, especially her Michael.

            She walked into the room ahead of her Hans, and saw the nurse medicating her dear boy.  He saw her then and smiled, and then he saw his Dad and his smile disappeared.

            There were always telephone calls from the Police.  Han’s never handled them, knowing it was about his Michael.  Malcs usually took them when his mother was out and he’d deal with the fall out from his errant brothers’ life.  Sure, he loved his brother, but after fourteen years of distraction, it was starting to wear very thin and even he was showing the strain.  This time Mike was in Dannevirke Police Station after starting another fight he couldn’t win.  He told his Dad, then txted his mother to come home and be ready to pick Mike up again. When he got the reply she was on her way, he made himself and his father a coffee and sat at the table wondering what was going through his fathers’ head.  He never spoke about these events and the harder he tried, the more closed shop his father got.  He didn’t hate his father for not understanding, but he did loathe his disinterested thoughts on the matter.  Often when it was about Mike, all he got from his father was a very dismissive ‘Humph!’

            “Close the bloody windows, Mike!!

            Malcs plaintiff plea could be heard through the door and Mike just shrugged his shoulders for the umpteenth time that morning.  He couldn’t tell if it was his schizophrenia playing up or not but no doubt when Mary Creswell, the key worker, arrived at midday, he’ll know if he is not right.

            “Why do you play this silly game, Mike? .”


            Mike felt the cool breeze on his exposed cheeks and thought it would soon be time to close all the windows he’d opened earlier that morning.

            “Hey Malcs, don’t fret bro, I’ll shut them after Mary has been and you’ll be right then.

            He continued rolling his Park Drive tobacco into a viable cigarette.  Normally both he and Malcs would smoke with the house all shut up, but he had to open them to freshen the place up when they had visitors, which were few and far between.

            His psychosis opened his mind and his thoughts started racing.  First there was the image of Malcs in a motorised wheelchair driving up and down the hallway keeping away from the drafts.  Malcs useless legs, and the accident, and then to him being held by Police in Dannevirke for vagrancy, the reason the accident happened.

            “Ok Mike, I won’t ask you again, you bastard.”

            Mike thought then of that fateful day two years ago, the day after his 34th birthday.  He’d been caught in a deep psychosis and when he was like that, he roamed, though only normally in the lower North Island.  He’d been to Dannevirke and back to Palmy several times with no problems.  Not with the Police anyway.  But this time he’d gone deep, and his mind was overtaken with visions and nightmares.  He knew a mate in Dannevirke that suffered the same and had hitchhiked there in the evening.  But his mate didn’t like the looks of him, and refused him a joint or something to help the thoughts.

            He’d then taken off downtown to the Masonic Hotel to see if he could drown his sorrows, but the psychosis by now was severely debilitating.  Someone looked at him the wrong way and he threw his glass at him.  Next thing several patrons were knocking the shit out of him.  The Bartender had called the Police and when they came, Mike was in the middle of the floor with blood pouring from a split cheek.  They’d taken him then to the Police Station, determined he was psychiatrically disturbed and he needed treatment.  Mike had pleaded with the cops to let his parents pick him up and take him to hospital if they thought he required it, which the Police acquiesced to.

            He’d waited and waited.  After a few hours, the Police rung his parents again, telling him there was no answer.  They then determined to take him to Palmerston North Hospital to be assessed and dealt with accordingly.  The ride in the back seat of the police car was without incident until they had progressed a third of the way into the Manawatu Gorge.  All west bound traffic was banked up, with east bound traffic navigating around a couple of ambulances, some tow trucks, a fire engine and several Highway Patrol cars.

            “Been an accident huh?”

            The cop in the driver’s seat nodded his head, but didn’t speak.  Mike was aware enough to know that any accident in that part of the gorge was pretty serious, the long drop into the river likely to be instant death.  He saw the marks on the Armco barrier where the unlucky vehicle had gone over.  Not once did he think of his parents though he was aware that maybe they should have been in Dannevirke a lot earlier to pick him up.

            “Mike, I know you’re a total arsehole, I need something warm on.  That icy southerly is cutting right into me.  Could you get me a blanket or something else to keep me warm?”

            This time the plea in Malcs voice was pathetic, and ate into Mike’s thoughts. “Coming bro, just wish you’d stop whining.”

            “You know I can’t do anything by myself, why do you always play this stupid game with me.  I know you have mental issues, but surely you could for once be accommodating”

            “Seriously, you think I have issues.  Yeah I have issues! I killed Mum and Dad and got you paralysed.  Ya don’t think that doesn’t weigh on my mind all the time.”  He took another drag on his cigarette, the smooth sensation of peace clouding his fragile mind.

            “We got the van today Mike?” Malcs suddenly sounded happier, more perked up.

            “Yeah we got the van, three hours today.  Where do you want to go?”

            “I want to go to Mangatainoka and have a beer at the brewery.  I haven’t had a decent beer for weeks, Mike, and I’d really love that.”

            “We’ll have to go the long road, over the Pahiatua Track; you know I can’t drive the Gorge.”

            He flicked the last of the ash to the ground at Malc’s useless feet.  The poor bugger couldn’t feel a thing from his lower back down, and needed constant help for toileting and anything that he couldn’t do himself.

            “No, you have to drive the Gorge, Mike, it’s time you faced your demons head on.”  Malc’s scratched his head, bald since the accident, and always itchy.  He looked at Mike and could see he was nervous and fidgety, and maybe not up to driving. Mike had driven him once a fortnight in the Mobility Van and he appreciated the effort this took, but with the anniversary just around the corner, it was time Mike went that little bit extra.

            The smell of petrol was strong.  The sound of running water below was even stronger.  He lay wrapped around a tree in a staple formation.  He’d moved his arms and head, to try and see where the car was, to see how Mum and Dad were.  The dull ache in his lower back was annoying, but not as annoying as the lack of feeling in his legs.

            “Mum, Dad, are you alright?”  He’d called out several times after being ejected from the spinning car through the rear window that had smashed out.  He hadn’t been wearing his seat belt, and knew he was in the predicament he was because of that.  Mum and Dad always wore theirs, so he supposed they too had survived the long drop off the Gorge Road.  He couldn’t see the car, although the river was scant meters below him.  The petrol smell was a worry, what if a spark set it alight?

            “Muuuummmm, Daaaaadddd, answer me!”

            The sound of a siren in the distance shifted his focus.  Rescue!  He’d point the rescuers down to the car, to get his parents out and off to hospital first.  He could wait.

            Another siren; this one an ambulance.  Good they can save them, get them the help they needed.  The river seemed to be bubbling now, and he guessed the car was slipping underwater.

            “Mum, Dad, get out, you’ll drown!!”

            The smell of petrol dissipated, now he felt the sudden pang of loss.  He also had a vision of Mike being told what he was responsible for.  He tried moving his legs again, to stand up and rescue his parents.  The tree stopped all movement. And then there was his back.

            “Is anybody down there?”  A shout from the road, maybe cop, maybe anybody who could help.

            “Help my parents, help my parents” Malcs urged.  Then nausea took over and he drifted off into unconsciousness.
­­­­
            “Malc’s snap out of it, you’re thinking about the accident again.  You know you freak me out when you do that. Look I’ve been thinking, what say I make some white crosses up, and we go nail them to the Armco where the car went over.  We both have to deal with this issue and there really isn’t any going back from it.”

            “Good, it’s about time you faced it eh?”

            “Yeah, you’re right, though I doubt anyone will like us stopping the van in the lane though.”

            “There’s a lay-by about two hundred metres from the site, we could stop and make our way from there.  We shouldn’t hold up any traffic walking that distance.”

            A knock on the door suddenly wrenched them from their plans.  The key worker was here to see Mike, so Malcs wheeled himself to his room, shut the door, and moved over to his computer to continue the story he had been writing.  He could hear muffled conversation in Mike’s room too and felt better when he knew his brother was getting the right attention.  He should be in a good mood to drive this afternoon.

            “So how did it go then Mike?”  Malcs had come out of his room when the front door closed.  Mike was going around closing all the windows, to stop the chill, and to let the cosiness of the home return to normal.

            “Yeah, sweet bro, she thought I was in a good space and seemed to be coping with my own care and your care too.  She’s going to get me to see Dr Hankin to do a slight med alteration, but apart from that, sweet.”  He closed the last window, took a loving look at his younger brother and winked with a wry smile.

            The van arrived at 2pm, as arranged, with the delivery driver explaining all the ins and outs to Mike, which they did every time they got the van.  The mobility lift was an electric one, and thankfully a smooth loader.  Mike placed the two crosses he’d hurriedly prepared in the front of the back section, then loaded his brother into the main section, secured all the clamps, and they drove off, with his window wound down.

            “Close the bloody window Mike!!”

            “Oops, yeah sure, sorry I forget sometimes.” Mike had forgotten about Malcs morbid fear of open car windows, and wound it back up.  He was annoyed by this, because it meant he couldn’t smoke while driving.  They wound their way down Main Street heading east towards the ranges, and the Manawatu Gorge.  They slipped past Ashhurst, over the Manawatu and Pohingina Rivers bridge, and into the belly of the Gorge.

            “Mike, I’m sweating, I’m really petrified mate”

            “Don’t worry bro, I’ve got a major sweat on too, in fact I need to dry the steering wheel fast.” 

They travelled at fifty K’s, holding up traffic, but no way were they both going to tempt fate.  They pulled over in the first lay-by about a 1/3 of the way in, letting the traffic build up slide past.  When an appreciable break occurred in the east bound traffic, they slipped back onto the main road, and driving with care eventually made the lay-by short of where the accident occurred.


            “Are you ok, sir?”  He’d regained consciousness, in time to see a fireman standing metres from his face.  He could see the rope the man was dangling from and guessed that the rescuers were at hand.

            “I think my legs have gone, I can’t feel them.  How are Mum and Dad?”

            The look on the rescuers face suggested not good, but he looked back down below him and then back to Malcs.

            “What’s your name, sir?”

            “Um, Malcolm, how are Mum and Dad?”

            “I’m sorry Malcolm, they didn’t make it.  Right now Malcolm, we need to get you into the ambulance.  We’re going to send down a stretcher soon, and we’ll get you into it and off to hospital. Do you understand?”

            Malcs was panicking.  The fireman had said they didn’t make it, yet they were in their seat belts.  Many things rushed through his mind, the pain of loss, the pain of failure, why them and not him?  The pain in his back too sent him reeling.

            “Yeah, Ok, I think I’m in bad way.”
            The traffic was lighter now, and it made their next journey less treacherous.  Malcs set off first with the chair opened up to full speed.  This job had to be done expeditiously and Mike walked behind with the crosses and the hammer and nails. None of the cars passing them tooted them in rage, perhaps seeing the white crosses they understood what was happening. Malcolm started to cry, his tears staining his cheeks and the memories started flooding back. 

            “How are you going Mike?”

            Silence.  Malcs could hear his footfalls behind him, but in his own way understood that Mike was finally facing his demons, and that this moment would be significant for both of them.  He’d seen Mike had taken time to use a Vivid Marker on the crosses with Mum and Dads names on each cross.  It felt good that Mike felt this way, it helped Malcs cope too.

            “Here are the marks,” Mike said quietly.  Malcs had almost driven past them.  He hadn’t known where they were, but did remember Mike saying he’d seen them from the Police car on that fateful day.

            He started nailing the crosses to an Armco support beam, the sound of an insistent hammer banging solidly on a compliant nail making both brothers feel the finality of the whole episode.  With both crosses up, they both offered a thought or two for their parents, and then returned to the van.  Both were breathing heavily and Mike was showing a sign of a tear or two.

            Mike loaded Malcs and the wheelchair into the van, then he got into the drivers seat and slowly drove east towards the Balance end of the gorge.  As they passed the crosses, each had separate thoughts.

            He was taken to the psychiatric hospital ward, a place he had been several times in his youngish life.  They placed him in the High Needs Unit, where he stayed for a week before being transferred into the day ward.   By now his schizophrenia was under control and he was no longer a danger to himself or others.  Many times during the next three weeks he wondered where his parents were.  He’d tried ringing home but the phone was never answered.  This worried him.  Even if Mum and Dad were out, Malcs was home writing his next novel and doing his Massey studies.  But no one answered and no one came.  What’s more no one had taken the time to telling him what had really happened, presumably to keep his mental distress at a low ebb.

            Then there was the day Malcs finally visited him.  At first the wheelchair didn’t play on his mind, the fact that his brother was here to see him overrode all thoughts.  He’d given up hope of seeing any of his family again.  Then when he told him, his older brother, to sit down and listen carefully, he was reluctant. ‘Mike’s in a fucken wheelchair’ suddenly hit him.  This was news, not good news, but news.

            “Where are Mum and Dad?  I’ve been trying to ring all you bastards and no one answers.  And what’s with the wheelchair?”

            Malcs laid it all out.  And suddenly the memory from the Police car hit him like a ton of bricks.  What hurt the most was the tone of Malcs voice.  Accusatory at best!  Condescending!  Harsh!  He’d even said the he owed him big time.  But worst of all, they both had been willed the house and they had to live there together.  Malcs said he couldn’t move back in until he, Mike, was right again, as he needed fulltime care.

            The enormity of the conversation didn’t strike Mike at all well, and he felt himself regressing.  Malcs said he was staying in the STAR Ward just down the hall and doing physio work in the gym to stop his muscles atrophying.  He would visit more.

            They passed through Woodville heading south to Mangatainoka, to fulfil their original plan. They drove in a dense silence, the sound of rubber on cooling asphalt the only sound both could bear.  Mike wouldn’t drink; in fact he’d not had a drink since the news reached him.            His only two preoccupations were smoking and the care of his brother.  His perverse mind would mean both would fight vocally till either tired.  Blame ruled their lives.

            “Man this would have to be the best beer in the world,” proclaimed Malcs “and with the best brother in the world next to me, I propose a toast.  To Mum and Dad!”

            They clinked pint with plastic coke bottle and tipped the contents down their respective throats.  After three rounds they got into the van and headed off to Pahiatua to do the round trip, avoiding the gorge.  They both swore then they’d never see those crosses again.

            “Mike, close the bloody window”

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