The heat of the day hit him like a plank of timber as he emerged from the controlled coolness of the hospital. He had spent the night in a pleasant enough private room on the fourth floor, fasting in readiness for surgery this morning.
An emergency had pushed his surgery to the following day, and one of the nurses suggested he take a walk. He hated sitting around doing puzzles in magazines and watching from his window, the traffic roar along the highway nearby. The best thing about the private room in this ward was the view of a park from a height, enabling him to see the Banksias in full flower and seemingly laughing at the hot sun and dry winds of summer in the west. Banksias had always been his and Kit’s favourites.
Feeling a little woozy as he walked slowly toward the pedestrian crossing leading to the park and those shady Banksias, he realized he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since the evening before, nor his medication for his Parkinson’s’.
The crossing on the highway wasn’t controlled by a warning light for motorists, so it took several minutes for all three lanes of vehicles to clear long enough to allow his journey to continue to the park’s entrance. Swearing under his breath about the lack of care and consideration from motorists and government bodies for pedestrians, he shuffled clumsily onto the pavement leaving the roaring traffic to speed in the direction of their various destinations. He felt hot and sweaty, and so very thirsty.
Shuffling along a concreted pathway inside the park, he eventually reached a shallow valley where the Banksias bushes and gum trees provided shade and some respite from the heat a short distance from the path. Now into the third week of a heat wave with temperatures of no less than 42deg C day in day out, cooling a mere 5 degrees by night, the city was beginning to dry up. Grasses were brown and brittle, burnt to a crisp by the hot relentless sun.
He sighed in relief as he sank to the shady ground under Banksias heavily laden with blooms – and ants. There were hundreds of ants running in and out of each flower and up and down the branches and trunk of the tree. He slid his bottom away a little from the tree, brushing a few of the ants from his legs. Hearing a plane overhead, he squinted his eyes against the bright sunshine and looked up to watch it glide through the few wispy white clouds like a shark gliding through the water at sea.
Suddenly feeling exhausted, he closed his eyes, breathing in deeply the aroma of the trees, dried grass and dirt. Ah it reminded him so much of a time so long ago when he lay under a similar tree, but in his home state of Queensland, and with his new bride. He smiled at the memory. Kit was the love of his life and no prouder a man than he lived on the day they married in the little church on her father’s huge cattle property.
He sighed and folded his arms up under his head to support his neck. He was developing a headache, and his mouth was so dry his tongue stuck to his teeth. He cursed being so thirsty but too tired at this moment to get up and make his way back to the hospital room.
Closing his eyes again, he smiled at the memory of Kit in her long white gown and soft, wispy veil held in place by a pearled tiara ordered and made especially for her big day by her father. Kit loved pearls and wore at least a string of them if not several, every day of her life, no matter what she was doing or where she was going. For their first wedding anniversary he gave her pearl earrings, which he was sure she never took off her ears till the very end.
Where did all those years go? They were mostly happy years together in which they proudly produced three daughters. Each daughter was so different and yet so very like their mother in a unique way. The eldest daughter, so prim and fussy, now married to a doctor but not happy with her lot. Money and status had not brought her the dream life she had craved as a small child on his knee. The second born daughter was an easy going happy girl who inherited her mother’s pretty face and dark hair, now a doting mother of five. Money was short for her but she was contented with the joy her family brought her. Then of course the youngest daughter who was so unlike anyone in the family and always had been a puzzle to him over the years. Pert, defiant, independent, and very much like her maternal German grandfather in looks only, she was the straight talking, no nonsense type. She told him exactly what she and her sisters thought when he decided to marry again and to move to the south a year after their mother died. Loneliness and the crushing loss of the beautiful and loving Kit propelled him toward the second marriage and the promise of companionship.
Now, feeling extremely hot, thirsty and uncomfortable, he attempted to sit up but lacked the energy required to move his body to an upright position. He sighed. If he didn’t move soon, he’d never be able to. He cursed his own stupidity in leaving the coolness of the hospital in the middle of a heat wave, at the mere suggestion of a chit of a girl to take a walk to pass the time. Who walked in this heat for God’s sake? He did, that’s who, and he laughed softly to himself. This along with so many other things he had done in his life was a big mistake.
Almost as big as the mistake he had made in marrying Thelma. She arrived in town as the new Community Health nurse, and soon made friends with Kit’s youngest sister. Thelma’s friendship with Abbie made the path to being accepted in the small town somewhat easier but that acceptance soon diminished drastically when it was realized that she and he were more than friends. The township was loyal to the memory of Kit. Kit was born and bred there and did a lot of charity work. She was loved by everyone who knew her and most of the township’s folk attended her funeral just a few months before.
The decision to marry Thelma met with a lot of coldness and disapproval. This was the home of Kit’s family for many generations, and as her husband he was thought of as part of that pioneer family and not expected to be marrying an outsider from the south. Grief was still raw in the town and it was far too soon for any of them to be capable of entertaining the idea of another woman taking Kit’s place in the home she had lovingly created for Bill and the girls.
His daughters disliked Thelma right from the start and all gave him their reasons as to why he shouldn’t marry her and then move to her home state in the south, Victoria. The most vocal of course was the youngest daughter who was adamant that Thelma was just looking for a man of means who could support her and end her working days. He had dismissed her fears as those of a young naïve girl who read too many novels and had a fine imagination. With hindsight, he grinned to himself now, she was so very right. Not that he would ever let her know of course.
Drifting in and out of consciousness now, his thoughts were becoming jumbled with dreams except for the vision of Kit, his bride, wearing her pearls and smiling, always smiling. The sun beat down on the sandy earth. His hands burned when they fell to his side in the sand. The humidity was almost non-existent and dried the air making it difficult to inhale. His mouth was uncomfortably parched and his tongue felt swollen, his headache throbbed painfully and he wouldn’t have been surprised if his head soon burst.
Dizzily his thoughts were darting back to various times in his life, recalling events in vivid realistic colour. He tried to open his eyes but they appeared to be glued shut. Ants crawled over his trouser legs and shoes, a Bob-tail lizard slid quietly nearby watching his form warily, as Bill lay motionless in the shade.
During the short lucid moments of consciousness, he thought of the parallels and comparisons between his two wives. Kit, the kind, loving and loyal one who was the cup half full type of girl, and Thelma the pessimistic, cynical and distrusting middle aged woman whose life was a sad and unhappy struggle as an unmarried mother for most of her adult years. She still carried so much bitterness in her heart. Baggage his girls called it.
He loved them both but in such different ways. The last time he saw Thelma was when she waved goodbye to him unsmiling, from the front door of their home in a leafy suburb, as the taxi pulled away from the kerb. He was booked in at one of the big hospitals for the removal of skin cancers from his legs. Thelma regarded the surgery as unnecessary and refused to accompany him to the hospital, promising instead to visit him the next day after his operation was done.
The last time he saw Kit in real life was many years ago now at breakfast before he left for work that day. How heartbroken and shattered he was when told she had been taken from him that day while alone in the house, struck down by a cerebral haemorrhage. Cruelly denied the chance to say goodbye to the love of his life he looked for something or someone to blame. His grief was deep and painful until he met Thelma who somehow offered peace and calmness to his broken heart. In his mind though, he saw Kit every waking moment of every day. On his wedding day to Thelma, he saw Kit in every corner of the church. She would always be his bride. No one and nothing could ever take that away from him.
Now in the mid afternoon the sun was at its hottest for the day and beat down on the earth below. His headache clouded his thoughts and clarity was lost. He felt his body swirling uncontrollably through a long cool tunnel, filled with a hazy white mist. Figures glided smoothly past him, unseeing and not looking his way or at each other, absorbed only with their task of moving forward. He was surprised and relieved to feel such ease and peace in the welcome coolness of the tunnel, and his head pain lifted slightly.
He looked upwards at a pink light shining in the distance as it moved toward him. Slowly and noiselessly it neared and he smiled contentedly. He could now see Kit’s silhouette in the pink light waiting for him. He would be with her again. He would be forever with the love of his life. Slowly, oh so slowly he glided toward her, he reached out for her outstretched hand and their fingers touched – together again at last.