Late that night and in the solitude of his study Harry took a large leather bound ledgerbook to his desk and sat with it open at page three hundred and five. Today’s page. In the bookshelves around the room were another fifteen such ledgers, with all of their pages completed in his fine dense handwriting and as of yet unread by any other.
Harry did not see himself as a diarist. He wrote to be able to know men better. To understand.
So he began.
Mrs. Hennessey was the first today.
She only filled a quarter of her bed. She was tanned deep and everlasting by her poisoned liver. A telephone lay by her side and she wanted it put on the table.
‘ That was my daughter, ‘ she whispered with a great weariness. ‘ I couldn’t talk to her any longer. ‘
Her thin hair stood poorly rooted in a great flaking redness of ruined scalp and her burrowed eyes mited out only pain made blackness.
‘ I think you’d best have a sleep now. ‘
She nodded then lifted the sheet to her chin. Her eyes began to close.
‘ Perhaps a dream of somewhere else. ‘
She quietly turned onto her side.
Pascal Romaine’s mother could cook pasta a thousand ways. Pascal had fallen from the roof of a two-storied house and landed on a stone path and on his feet. He had broken his feet a thousand ways.
‘ I have no insurance. He has no insurance. ‘
Pascal the carpenter’s smile mocked only himself. His widespread hands, palms held upward, pleaded for unasked assistance.
‘ My house is only just mortgaged, one hundred thousand dollars. ‘
‘ Perhaps you should get some advice. ‘
‘ He was here, the owner. A very nice man. He comes to visit me. I do not wish to take him to court. ‘
He looked down the length of the bed and at his still and tented feet.
‘ The roof was very steep and we were putting on the metal sheeting. I do not do this kind of work but the owner he asked me if I could do it as well. He has another house. I slid down. I could not stop. ‘
‘ The Doctors say my right foot is very bad. Very bad. ‘ He shrugged.
‘ I will not walk for six months, and then, – what? ’
Andrew Smalls’ rotted teeth made sly his ready smile. His eyes knew it. The stumps stood like wide-gapped fire blackened fence-posts stood around a hole in the ground, and the eye was physically drawn down to them. Andrew was about thirty. A pale and shifty man. Mistrust in his eyes.
Someone had found him lying on the ground and in the rain last night. Unconscious.
‘ Just keeled over. Bloody Hell! ‘
A blackmouthed grin.
‘ Dunno how long I was lyin’ there. Musta been a while because I was soakin’ bloody wet. ‘
He bent a long thin arm up behind his head and rested on it.
‘ You know they gotta Macdonald’s up at Wellington now?
Another stumpy smile. A glance sliding past.
‘ Would never have believed it. Wellington! Blow me! ‘
‘ I wonder whether you could perhaps assist me sir. ‘
Mr. Soames stood there, stooped yet dignified. Barefoot. Right up close. His hospital gown tightly strapped around his tall body. His eyes roamed into mine.
‘ I wish to proceed to Broadmeadow via Palm Beach. Perhaps you could show me to the station. ‘
He took my arm and we walked companionably up the long corridor. An attractive dark haired nurse smiled at us as we strolled past. With the door reached we turned and strolled back. As do a sedate couple of old friends.
Mr. Soames stopped as we passed a gentleman seated by a ward openway. He quickly leant down and peered intently into the man’s face. ‘ Have you anything to do with Dubbo? ‘ He asked suddenly.
The seated man only looked up at Mr. Soames. Mutely uncomprehending.
Ward 12B. Inside was Mr. Soame’s unmade bed, his chair outside by the door and discarded blanket thrown across the seat.
‘ Here we are. ‘
‘ What? ‘
‘ The station, we are here. ‘
‘ Oh yes. Thank you. ‘
Mr. Soames walked over to the seat, sat heavily upon it and cracked his head on the wall behind his chair. He seemed not to notice.
Mr. Thompson Silver’s skin covered his arms as thin glad-wrap does a bundle of sticks and tightly corded string. Coloured a poisonous yellow and puce the skin slowly decomposed even as the limbs moved. Sloughs of flesh hung disparate from his face and arms. His pillow lay stained and littered.
‘ Nice of you to come by.’
His voice still deep, still rich. ‘ Catholic you say? ’
That was what I had said.
‘ I was of the faith when young, questioned it though, ‘ said Mr. Thompson, ‘ thought that it made more sense if there was more than one God. You know? One for health, one for illness, that sort of thing. ‘
His eyes were all grey and white, blinded now and his books lost to him.
We spoke of God and of this and that until he grew weary and let his old head sink back into the pillow.
But there was one thing more and he turned to sight the shadow of me as I stood to leave his bed. He spoke thus.
‘ Myself when young did eagerly frequent, ‘
– he paused here for the faintness of a smile had touched his mouth,
‘ Doctor and saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door as in I went. ‘
The smile returned tenfold and he whispered to me, ‘ Omar Khayyam, just a couplet.
Nice of you to come by. ‘