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parker

Keith Parker had the habit of pressing his large thumb into a place under your right ear that first induced excruciating pain then the slow absorption of your reasoning into some kind of infernal blackness as the pressure blocked both cranial blood flow and nerve response.

The last thing you heard was his low chuckle in your other ear.

So I asked him a question one day as were crossing Barrenjoey Road on the way to a cup of coffee at Avalon. The surf was rubbish so we declined to venture out. Not that it made any difference to Parker, being a wave-ski rider.

‘What do you reckon happens,’ I asked him halfway across the road, ‘in that instant after you die?’ Both of us were 70 plus. Friends dropping like old fruit off a diseased tree. A sorry harvest.

‘Nothing.’

‘Nothing?’

‘Blackness.’

Keith was born in Jersey. A complete and utter hardnut. Known for his tendencies to bounce intruders in the club that sometimes hired him all the way down the front steps and onto the concrete.

One of his favourite stories was about the time he was on ward duty in a psychiatric hospital in London back in the day when Timothy Leary’s answer to all things metaphysical was to tune in, turn on and drop out  .. Seems there was a jar of medicinal acid tabs in the lockup and Keith being a loose lad of the times sampled a couple this particular night and was confronted by a corridor of fire when he returned to his ward post.

I reminded him of this story the last time I saw him, he was out for the count in a Mona Vale nursing home. His body in complete revolt and the only nurse in the place a young Filipino girl with little English. I had to use my phone to google painkiller into Spanish so she knew what Keith needed.

Not that it mattered.

I asked him the same question before I left him that last time.

‘What’s going to be there, Keith?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Well,’ I replied, knowing this good man was just about done, ‘you’re going to be surprised.’

Keith had a private funeral, only family, then a couple of weeks later there was a farewell function at the Mona Vale Golf Club. I didn’t make it.

If I was there and had been asked to say a few words then what I have just written is what I would have said about one of the best friends a man could ever have had.

I think of that old rascal often, and my right ear rings unceasingly.

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