Prologue 11

Aaron scratched his head. What on earth did theories of general relativity have to do with the real world? He had enjoyed Newtonian mechanics at school, what with it's ability to accurately describe motion and such things, but this? It all felt a bit too abstract and irrelevant to the problems of engineering.

He sighed, pushed away his books and sat upright, stretching his arms out. The library was quiet as libraries should be, disturbed only by the whispered exchanges of two dusty spinsters who watched vigilantly over the rows and rows of books, ever wary of any student intrusions. The winter sun glinted through latticed windows, creating a light mosaic on the floor where gatherings of dust wandered aimlessly about.

The main door opened, sending in a chill draft that sent the dust scuttling for safety. Aaron turned to look. A young woman carrying a load of books under her arm walked in and headed towards the desk where one of the librarians looked up expectantly.

Aaron watched as she returned her books, her pale hands tipped with scarlet graceful in every respect. She had short, raven-black hair that curled around her ears in a bob and framed a delicate, white complexion that drew forth in him memories of childhood fairy tales. Aware that he was gawping he forced himself to look away, but not before their eyes had brushed, just for an instant, sending an intense, exhilarating frisson down his spine.

Prologue 10

Aaron was woken by a loud banging on the front door and the blaring of sirens. "Fire! Everybody out!" Soon he and Joe were gathered outside, shivering in the icy wind along with the rest of the building's motley inhabitants. He smiled at the the sight of Joe wrapped in nothing but a blanket, his scrawny bare legs poking out the bottom. Nearby the old man from upstairs stood to attention, fully clothed in formal naval attire. Aaron nudged Joe and nodded in the direction of the old man. "I bet the old nutter started the fire!" Joe chuckled.

Prologue 9

First exam results today. A's all around - the folks will be pleased. Joe however barely scraped a pass. I don't know what's up with him. Seems to have his mind other things lately, but doesn't seem inclined to talk about it.

Got another letter from Mary, the second this week. I really must write, but life seems so very full at the moment.

Prologue 8

Dearest Mother

We have arrived and are now finally settled, full of excitement and anticipation at the adventure that awaits. The apartment is just half a mile away from the university, on a lively road. It is very cheap but needed a desperate clean; Joe and I slaved away for 2 hours before it began to look remotely habitable. How you must be laughing at the thought of Joe and me on our knees like a pair of common scrub women. We then went shopping for some food and had scrambled eggs and baked beans for tea. Unfortunately Joe cannot cook either so we will have to learn quickly. We'll be fine, so don't go fretting now!

It has been a long day so I think I'll retire. Tomorrow we enrol and classes start on Monday.

Give my fondest love to Father, and Mary if you happen to see her - tell her I'll write soon.

Yours, truly.
Aaron

Prologue 7

Aaron looked around the room in disgust. "Is this it, then?"

Joe nodded, his usual confident demeanour dented by the appalling state of the place. The flat, a dingy two room affair with combined lounge kitchenette, had not been cleaned in years apparently, and the dust, like the rank smell, hung heavily, tangibly in the air.

"For God's sake, Joe," said Aaron. "What have you got us into this time?"

Joe smiled sheepishly, then brightened, his undaunted optimism shining through the temporary setback. "We just need to open a few windows and tidy up a bit. It'll be as good as new. You'll see." He headed over to the lounge window, thick with grime, and tried to open it but it would not budge.

Aaron sighed and walked over to his friend. He gave him a gentle slap on the head before joining him in straining against the reluctant window. Eventually it began to move slowly and opened gradually, filling the room with the strong scent of the salty Bristol sea air.

Prologue 6

"You're not seriously going to read the whole way?" Joe asked.

Aaron looked up from his book. "And why not?"

"Because, old man, I am so terribly bored and we need some female company."

"Joe, you go on ahead. I'm not in the mood."

Joe looked at his friend scornfully and said, "You never are, but that's why I'm here." He snatched the book from Aaron's hands and darted out of the compartment.

Aaron leapt up shouting, "Hey!", and ran after his whooping friend.

Prologue 5

I know she wanted me to propose but I couldn't. I'm not ready, at least not for that. I stand at the brink of an ocean of thrilling possibilities, my life ahead of me, and I long to taste and to drink deep, but not whilst fettered to premature promises.

I hope she understands and that she will wait for me. I promised to write, and we will see each other again soon, but I need to do this first. It is right that I follow my dreams, isn't it?

So why do I feel so bad? Her eyes, so big and brown, showed a strange, almost prescient sadness as we parted.

I hope I am doing the right thing.

Prologue 4

Aaron never tired of holding her hand. He still remembered the first time: the tentative reaching out, the awkward intertwining of fingers looking for that perfect match, the sweating of palms that would not be let go.

The breeze played gently with Molly's long auburn hair, causing it to rise and fall like waves of autumn gold. He could just catch her scent, like musky roses, still so wildly exciting.

George bounded towards them happily, almost knocking Mary over in the process.

"Down boy!" shouted Aaron angrily, but Mary just laughed.
"Let him be. I'm alright."

He looked at her sparkling eyes and freckled dimples. How beatiful she was. He leaned forward and kissed her gently on the lips. She looked up at him with surprise.
"What was that for?"

"Because you Molly, are beautiful to me," he replied, "and I love you."

Prologue 3

“Here, boy!”

The black Labrador looked at them briefly before returning to the smell that had caught his attention. He wasn't sure yet if it was rabbit or wild fowl but either way this was more interesting than his master.

“George!!”

This time there was a command in the voice of Aaron's father and the dog obeyed, bounding along the path towards his master, pink, wet tongue lolling a great big happy smile.

“Good boy!”

Aaron's father, like his father before him were great believers in affirmation and through it had the devotion of children and pets alike. He was a strong, quiet upright man with a wicked sense of humour which he was glad to see his son had inherited. Aaron ran on ahead with George looking for unsuspecting rabbits. They hardly ever found any and those they did easily escaped from the hapless hunters.

He loved these Sunday morning walks with these two and afterwards the homecoming to his wife's cooking. Family meant the world to him and it saddened him that his work on the boats didn't allow him to be home more. Life however, is never perfect, and perhaps its meant to be that way, he thought, the dark making the light all the more bright.

Soon his son would off to university, then no doubt marrying young Mary and leaving home. It had all passed much too quickly.

Prologue 2

Dear Diary. No that's just silly.

Dear Maxwell. Who's Maxwell? An imaginary friend, of course. But why Maxwell, and why a man and not a woman? Could I be as open with a woman? Even a fictious woman?

I think it is rather typical that I begin something as simple as a diary with more questions than anything else.

Ok, so here goes.

It has been a good day. Last day of school. Forever! Wooohooo! How I began to hate that place, with its dull, grey walls and uninspiring teachers. Still I got a decent education so they couldn't have been that bad, even Mr Fargot with his vile breath and collection of canes.

Now hopefully a nice hot summer to do some sailing, then off to Bristol with Joe. He says he's got somewhere for us to stay, really cheap, which is good, but something tells me it is going to be a real dive. Joe and his dodgy connections.

I think I'll pop over and suprise Mary tomorrow. I know I said I'd see her on Saturday, but tomorrow seems like a much better idea.

I must be coming down with something. Spontaneity, romantic or otherwise is not normal for me.

Well good-night Diary, Maxwell, or Tallulah, or whatever your name is. Tomorrow and the rest of my days await!

Prologue 1

Aaron watched the flames shoot high up into the sky, singeing the trees above.
“I told you we had enough petrol,” he said.
Joe smirked at him. “You are too cautious, my friend. The books need to be sent up to the heavens in glory, ne'er to return.”
Aaron smiled reluctantly. Joe was right. Of the two of them Aaron was the more conservative, but that's what made their friendship so solid – the fact that they were so similar yet so different. Their past together was littered with shared adventures, almost all of which were initiated by Joe, and most of which earned Aaron trouble with his father's belt.

It was the very last day of school ever for the two, and the ceremonial torching of school books was almost a rite of passage for the young people of Stokesby in Norfolk. Next term paths would separate, but the pair were off to Bristol university to study Engineering together.

Aaron stared into the flames. “You going to miss Stokesby, Joe?”
Joe threw another book into the bonfire. “Not really. Not that I'm not grateful for all that the Forrester's have done for me since my parents died, but I felt a bit trapped by them.”
“They meant well,” Aaron replied.
“As I said, I am grateful.” Joe replied in a tone that warned off Aaron from continuing this line of conversation.
“I will miss Mary.” Aaron continued.
Joe laughed. “You lovestruck old dog. There are many more fish in the sea.”
Aaron punched his friend playfully. “Oi, I love that girl!”
Joe feigned injury and raised his hands in mock appeasement. “Of course you do. Sorry!”

John Leibowitz watched the scene from the kitchen window. “They're going to burn down those trees if they're not careful.”
Martha looked up from her sewing. “You have always fretted too much about that boy, John.”
He turned to her. “Have I now? And do you remember the shed?”
She sighed. “That was a long time ago. He's a young man now.”
He returned to the window. “He may well be, but I still worry about him.”
Martha rose, put her sewing on the table and walked over to her husband, putting her arm around him. “He will be just fine.”

Done!?

Well folks, my tale is done. Yes, I know I've said that before. :)

A grand old total of over 35000 words! Would you believe it?

I would like to say a very, very special thanks to you Jinksy and LegalMist who have offered me so much support and encouragement through these Last Days of Aaron.

Last Days is what I would like to call the book which I am going to have a go at getting published.

Leave a comment here if you're interested in updates.

Epilogue 51

I sat on the rocks staring at the waves roll in, crashing forcefully against the jagged shore. I tuned in to hear the roar of the ocean and the fierce howl of the storm. This scene was a far cry from the sun drenched beach of my memories, but it was safe here - I would hurt them no more.

The sun broke suddenly through the heavy skies, sending a bright shaft of light to dance gracefully on the ocean crests. The gap in the clouds gradually broadened and soon I too was bathed in the warm glowing balm of the sun.

I looked up at the sky, closing my eyes against the brightness, and was, for the first time in ages, at peace.

My reverie was interrupted by a gentle touch at my elbow. I opened my eyes to see Elsbeth at my side, smiling.

She took my arm in hers. “It’s time to go home, Aaron.”

I nodded.

Epilogue 50

Anne opened her eyes and looked up at the white, hospital ceiling.

“Mummy?”

Liesel woke from her restless slumber on the chair next to Anne’s bed and leapt up.

“Anne!” she cried, hugging her daughter fiercely, tears flowing from her eyes.

The remained like that for a while, Liesel stroking her daughter’s hair gently.

“I’m so tired, Mummy”

“That’s ok, Sweetie,” Liesel replied, “Mummy is here. You get some rest.”

Anne nestled into her mother’s arms.

“Mummy?”

“What is it, Anne?”

“Grandpa says he loves you very much and told me to say bye-bye for him. He said he’s going on a long holiday.”

Liesel looked at her daughter’s big eyes.

“Tell him, I love him too, ok?”

Anne nodded sleepily and closed her eyes.

Epilogue 49

The darkness clung to us like an icy cloak, dragging us down, but I pressed onward towards the light, holding Anne tightly in my arms. I felt a wave of rage as I resisted the pull, but with all my strength continued forward. Finally, with a horrible scream, we were free of its pull, standing again in the middle of the field of wild flowers.

Anne clutched me, her eyes shut tight.

“It’s over, Anne.”

She opened her eyes and looked up at me. I saw both Liesel and Jojo in those eyes.

“Can we go home?” she asked.

I smiled at her. “We most certainly can.”

She beamed. “I miss Mummy.”

“Me too.”

Epilogue 48

The heart monitor flashed hypnotically, reminding them that their little girl, though comatose, was still alive. Tony held Liesel tightly as she wept. He closed his eyes, grieving quietly.

Outside the hospital room Jojo sat, waiting, thinking about the events of the past few months. Suddenly she got up and left.

After around half an hour she arrived at the cemetery and walked towards Elsbeth’s grave where the flowers she had left a few days before stood wilted in their vase. She stood quietly before the gravestone, waiting.

Then she felt it, a subtle change in the temperature, and the familiar sense she had felt before. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end but she stood firm, emptying her mind as Master Yeoh her Tai Chi teacher had taught her. The air around her grew suddenly quiet, apart from the gentle sigh of the breeze brushing softly against the trees. A dim, hazy shape appeared before her. She recognised the long, shaggy beard immediately, but Liesel was right, there was something else, something dreadful that was not her father.

“Dad?”

Her father shimmered slightly and drew forward, his eyes dark and intense. Liesel shivered as the air suddenly grew icily cold.

“Jojo,” he said, his voice sounding dry and rasping.

She started at the sound of her name, spoken by this strange yet familiar apparition before her.

“Dad, are you doing something to Anne?”

“She is my granddaughter,” he replied. “We belong together.”

“No, Dad. You’re hurting her. She belongs with us.”

A wave of terrible rage wafted over her, threatening to overwhelm her.

“No!” he roared. “She is ours. We will keep her.”

“Dad, please”, she pleaded. “I don’t know who or what is there with you, but this is not you. You are hurting us.”

The anger dissipated and Jojo felt a deep sadness.

“Jojo, I am alone here. I was not a good father to you girls. I need to make things right.”

“Daddy,” Jojo replied, crying, “You were the best you could be, and we love you. Please don’t hurt us anymore. Let go.”

He reached for her and she felt the icy touch of his fingers on her cheek.

“I love you.”

She smiled. “Daddy, I love you too, and miss you terribly.”

Then he was gone and the birds resumed their singing beneath the bright, fragrant sun.

Epilogue 47

Liesel shook her daughter gently, trying to rouse her.

“Wake up, sleepy head - time for school.”

Anne did not stir.

Epilogue 46

I reached the end of the cobbled road, now standing alone before a vast field of wild flowers. The sun shone brilliantly overhead, providing a welcome respite from the gloom. She stood in the field waiting. I waved and headed towards her, reaching out my arms. She smiled radiantly, her little eyes twinkling in the sunlight, and ran towards me laughing. I scooped her up in my arms and swung her around, holding her tightly with indescribable joy.

She shivered slightly as the now very familiar shadow enveloped her too, shrouding us in a dense, chill mist.

Epilogue 45

Jo watched her sister as she played listlessly with her food.

“What’s up, Lies?”

Liesel looked up, her eyes wet with held back tears.

“I’m so worried about Anne, Jojo. She has become so strange.”

“Strange?” replied Jojo. “In what way?”

“She spends so much time on her own, and seems to prefer it that way. It used be impossible to shut her up but now she hardly talks to me anymore. She just talks to her imaginary friend.”

Jojo smiled. “That reminds me of someone.”

Liesel shook her head. “There is something else. Like a presence.”

“A presence?”

“Yes,” Liesel continued. “It feels like someone is there with her.”

Jojo frowned. “I don’t follow.”

Liesel sighed. “I’m sure I’m going crazy, but I think its Dad”

Jojo looked at her seriously. “You know Lies, I didn’t tell you this before, but I get that sense whenever I go to Elsbeth’s grave. Like he’s there watching me. It’s very creepy.”

Liesel stared wide-eyed at her sister. “I thought I saw him the other night in our room. Harry woke me up with an almighty racket, and then I thought I saw him.”

“What did he look like?”

“It looked like him before he died, but I sensed him more than saw him. But there was something else that really frightened me.”

“What?” Jo asked.

“It’s hard to describe, but it felt dark and terrible.”

Epilogue 44

She sat opposite me, talking. I looked at her lips, trying to discern the words, but she spoke too quickly. Desperately I focused my mind with renewed concentration, observing every movement of her mouth, imagining the shapes that the words might take, and tried to imagine moving those shapes to my mind. At first nothing happened, but then gradually a sound became evident, like the rustle of a breeze through a field of reeds. I redoubled my efforts, trying to match the shape of her mouth to what I was hearing, and then suddenly, I could hear! It was not like I remembered sound, just as the world does not look the same visually as when I was alive, but it was recognisable nonetheless and I was thrilled! It was as if a tap had been opened in my mind.

“… we played catch, and I was it. I’m always it. I don’t like being it. Then Miss Jones came and rang the bell to go back to class…”

“Anne.” I framed the word in my mind as a shape and willed it across to her. She stopped midsentence and looked at me quizzically.

“You talk too?”

“Yes … Anne … but … it is hard … for .. me.”

She beamed.

“I can teach you! Mrs Jones is teaching us lots of new words. Wait!”

With that she ran off, returning soon with a batch of flash cards. She held one up.

“Do you know this word?”

I did. “C…at”

She nodded seriously and showed the next card.

“Very good. And this?”

“Mat”

Then she stopped and looked at me.

“What’s your name?”

“Grr…and…pa”

She furrowed her eyebrows. “Grr .. a… ndpa?” Then suddenly, “Grandpa!”

She squealed with delight.

“I'm Anne. Are we best friends?”

I nodded.

“For…ever.”

Epilogue 43

“I’m worried about Anne, Tony.”

“Uhuh,” he replied, not really listening, his attention focused on his newspaper.

“Tony!”

Her voice commanded his immediate attention. He looked up.

“What?”

“I’m worried about Anne. She talks to herself.”

He smiled. “Lots of children do that, Liesel.”

“Yes I know,” she replied, “but there is something about it that bothers me.”

“Like what?”

“I can’t put my finger on it. Something is wrong.”

He reached over and took her hand.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. It’s just a stage.”

She remained unconvinced but there was no point pursuing this with Tony who like most men had no concept of the irrational, valid or otherwise.

Epilogue 42

I have found a new joy in my regular interactions with Anne, and I exist for nothing else - not that there really is much else. I have become quite adept at moving things around and have even found myself to be stronger than when I was alive. I see her whenever I can, sometimes to the point of excess, I suppose, but where is the harm in that? For some reason Liesel cannot see me like the first time. I don’t understand that. Maybe I don’t want her to? I am jealous of my times with Anne. It is as if I am being given the chance to recapture the time I lost with my children because of my foolish mistakes.

I wonder why it is that I can see and touch, but can’t hear, speak or taste. It seems an odd limitation to place on inter-dimensional interaction. I am determined to speak to my dear Anne.

There is a dark cloud however, a new sensation around me, in me, intangible yet there, lurking with a dark malevolence. I experienced something like it once before at the cemetery. This is not as strong, but it seems to follow me, and grows steadily stronger.

It makes me afraid.

Epilogue 41

Liesel watched through the kitchen window as Anne swung effortlessly from the tree swing. She appeared to be chattering away to someone but the garden was empty. Liesel smiled to herself - she had had an imaginary friend as a child, particularly when there was blame to apportion. She knocked on the window and waved. Anne did not answer, so Liesel went to the back door and called, “Anne, time to come in, love!”

Her daughter still did not answer, continuing to chatter enthusiastically while the swing continued its effortless pendulum motion.

Something about her daughter’s expression troubled her, so Liesel hurried over and caught the swing, bringing it to a gentle stop.

“Anne?”

Anne suddenly stopped talking, waking, as if from a trance, and looked up startled at her mother.

“Who were you talking to, Sweetie?”

Anne looked a little guilty but did not respond.

“Anne,” Liesel’s voice hardened, “tell me who you were talking to.”

Her daughter started to cry.

Epilogue 40

I am dreaming again.

I stand beneath a sullen sky on a broad, cobble-stoned road, amidst a stream of grey souls who press against me, urging me to follow them. I turn my head to see where they are headed – it is a cold, dark tunnel, black as ink, beckoning. “Come,” they whisper. “Come.” But I don’t want to, because it is not my time. Not yet. I turn to face them, bracing myself, and take my first step forward, struggling against the torrent. In the distance the horizon glows with a pale orange radiance.

Epilogue 39

She sat engrossed in a world of tactile colours, interlocking blocks and cuddly toys. I approached cautiously, not wanting a repeat of the other night, but she did not appear to notice me, and was fully absorbed in the construction of a tower. She used her soft, pudgy fingers to place the blocks with careful, deliberate precision, all the while chattering to herself.

I sat down opposite her, watching her play. The wintery sun shone through the window, glinting off her soft, golden locks, forming a perfectly angelic picture, so much like Liesel when she was that age. I longed to pick her up, my beautiful granddaughter.

Then, suddenly, looking directly at me as if I had been there all along playing with her, she held out a block, her bright eyes enquiring and her mouth moving as if to say, “Ta?”

Transfixed I reached out and took the block. It stayed in my hand for a fraction of a second, feeling almost like a wet sponge, before falling to the floor. She leaned forward, picked up the block and gave it to me a second time. Again I took it, this time concentrating like never before, and watched as it hovered shakily, inches above the ground. She seemed to squeal with glee and pointed to the tower. Slowly I willed the little block towards the tower and watched as it settled, almost miraculously in place on top of the other blocks.

She shook her arms with scarcely contained excitement, and picked up another block to give me.

“Ta?”

Epilogue 38

Kyle Standford cowered in the darkness.

There were others, like him, but he feared them, sensing their rage, their universal hatred.

If this was Hell then there were no flames or leering gargoyles, just an infinite, cold, loveless, dark eternity.

In the distance he could make out a solitary candle, its light and warmth tantalisingly close but somehow unattainable. In vain he reached for it, but his self-made darkness clung to him and drew him back where the others waited.

Epilogue 37

It has, rather surprisingly, taken me a long time to recover my composure. I don't know why that is. You would have thought that this breakthrough would be just what I wanted, something to celebrate. However, it caught me by surprise, much like you might feel if you were spotted with your pants down, an intruder, a dark voyeur with no business in the land of the living.

But what else is there to do? Am I to spend my days in sad solitude staring at soundless waves and dreaming of happier times? No, this is my family, and if whatever Fate does not like it, they can darn well move me on to some other place.

I didn't like it however that Liesel screamed. I wonder what I looked like to her, whether something like my old self, or some horrible, decayed ghoul? I also wonder why just at that moment I was visible to them, whether the strong emotional connection enabled that, or whether it was something I could turn on or off at will.

So many questions again, and no Amy to help me lighten up.

Epilogue 36

“I was not dreaming!” she shouted, her irritation at her husband’s insouciance growing.

He looked across the breakfast table at his wife, barely concealing a smile, and replied, “I mean, come on Liesel, your father a ghost?”

“I know what I saw,” she pouted. “Harry woke me up with his racket and then I saw him. I nearly jumped out of my skin.”

He laughed, “You and me both. You screamed like a banshee, so to speak.”

She hit him playfully. “You’ll see, ye of little faith. You still haven't explained the broken vase, smart ass.”

“Some more tea?” he replied, fluttering his eye lashes impishly.

Epilogue 35

Her name I found out was Anne. It was written on the door of her little room amidst a wreath of flowers and teddy bears. She lay sleeping peacefully under soft covers, her thumb buried comfortingly inside her mouth. Above her a mobile dangled sparkly planets and comets, twisting slowly in some invisible draft.

I willed myself through the wall to where Liesel and Tony lay sleeping, entwined in each other’s arms. I had misjudged Tony the Accountant. He was a fine man and husband, and Liesel had clearly found happiness in him.

Then I noticed a small movement at the foot of their bed, a cat, a familiar though different figure, was breathing gently as it lay curled in a ball. Could it really be Harry? I drew closer, noticing the absence of his stomach. Liesel was clearly looking after him properly.

Suddenly his eyes opened he started and jumped up, letting out a low, menacing growl, the hair on hid back bristling. I realised he could sense me!

Liesel stirred and sat up sleepily.

“What is it, Harry?”

Then she stiffened, looked straight at me, and screamed.

I fled from the scene, knocking over a vase, sending it crashing to the floor.

Epilogue 34

I had what seemed like a dream, a vision perhaps, of a time gone by. In it I stood on a beach, the benign, warm sun on my head, watching the sea emit an endless assault of foamy waves against our brave little sand castle. We had laboured all morning with buckets and spades on shell-studded walls, turrets and moats, and now stood waiting for the tide. Nearby, Fiona lay under our beach umbrella reading some irrelevant yet engaging bestseller. She noticed me staring, looked up and waved. I nudged the girls and we all waved back, smiling and whooping gleefully like the little children we were.

I was happy, truly, deeply, blissfully happy, as never before, but the moment did not last, and the waves did come, eventually knocking down our little fortress of contentment. The vision faded but my heart was strangely encouraged.

Epilogue 33

What is this place, this gloomy doom that is my ageless prison? I spend my moments drifting aimlessly from one memory to another, listlessly observing life as it is, as it was. Sometimes I sit by the sea as I used to with Amy before she too disappeared - the endless, noiseless cycle of waves provides a soothing yet insubstantial parallel to my existence here. I sit there oblivious to the passing of the days, and even perhaps the seasons - who can tell? I long to see how my children and now grandchildren are getting on but the pain of seeing them without the possibility of touch is too much to bear, so I don’t.

My grief overwhelms me but I know not where to turn.

Epilogue 32

It did not occur to me for quite some time that perhaps she would not be coming, that after all she had no unfinished business.

I followed the ambulance to the hospital, waited as they placed her in the morgue, waited as Rev Dave was called to identify her, waited as the undertaker washed her frail body with unashamed carelessness, and waited as she was buried by an immense crowd of friends.

I waited, but Elsbeth did not come.

Epilogue 31

I knew it was just a matter of time and waited with a patience I did not know I had. My beloved's body lay bloodied on the side walk, dead. Soon she would arrive, confused, but I would be here to greet her, to embrace her, and all would be well.

I waited with growing anticipation.

Epilogue 30

Kyle Stanford sat behind the wheel of his new car, waiting impatiently for the traffic lights to change. That was the problem with London, too many fucking traffic lights, and too many fucking rules for that matter. His car had been clamped and he'd needed to fork out £50 to release it. The bastards!

He stared with growing frustration at the empty road ahead of him, while he waited at the pointless red lights. In the distance an old woman crossed the road but he did not notice, nor would he have cared particularly.

Suddenly the car leapt forward, roaring, as if the accelerator was flattened by some unseen force. Kyle was thrown back in to his seat. Cursing with alarm he reached forward and grabbed hold of the steering well and slammed on the breaks. The car was filled with plumes of acrid smoke until he could see nothing, but continued to accelerate, pausing only briefly with a loud, soft crunch as it hit the old woman. Kyle screamed and continued to pump the breaks furiously but to no avail. The car hurtled inevitably towards the canal, eventually crashing through the barrier into the murky waters. In vain he struggled to open the doors but they wouldn't budge. The water slowly filled the car causing him to beat against the window in blind panic. Finally the air ran out and leaving him scrabbling desperately at the closed windows, trying to escape.

Outside a pale young white face looked on sadly, then reached forward through the glass to grab hold of him.

He screamed one last time.

Epilogue 29

Elsbeth locked the shop door and pulled down the shutters, sighing again at the foul graffiti spray painted all over it. Why did someone with such talent not do something more useful?

The sun lay low in the Autumn sky, casting a golden glow over the city. She looked up at the pale blue sky littered with straggling grey remnants of the afternoon gloom. There was bound to be a beautiful sunset this evening, she thought, and started a gentle walk towards the pub, humming "My Jesus I love thee" to herself.

Epilogue 28

The cup moved slowly across the table.

"That's it!" Amy shrieked. "You've got it! Feel the cup! Be the cup!"

I was thrilled beyond belief. Perhaps this was the beginning, the first feeble steps of my journey towards being able to interact with the living. Dared I hope for more?

"Do you think we'll ever be able to materialise, like ghosts in horror stories?"

Amy shrugged. "I guess so but I've never been able to."

I gazed at her, deciding then to pursue an avenue of conversation I had been avoiding so far.

"Would you want to?" I asked.

She did not look up but replied, "I don't have anybody."

"Nobody?"

"No.

"Amy," I hesitated, "tell me what happened."

She shook her head. "I told you, I don't know."

I took her hand and spoke to her gently, "Tell me."

She looked up, her eyes filled with tears. "I think he killed me."

"Killed you?" I exclaimed. "Who? Kyle?"

She nodded. "When I was sleeping. I remember waking up and being unable to breathe, and struggling against an immense, smothering pressure over my face."

I felt a rage rise within me. "What a bastard. Where is he now?"

She pointed ... to my block of flats. Understanding suddenly flooded my mind: the noisy couple, the fight, Harry, the silence.

"Do you visit him?" I asked

Amy shook her head. "No, I'm too frightened."

"Frightened?" I replied. "Of what? He can't touch you any more."

"No," she said, "of what I might do to him."

Epilogue 27

She lay the flowers against her father's gravestone. It was one year since he had passed away and Jojo, or Jo as she now liked to be called, stood silently, reflecting, her long hair fluttering gently in the late Autumn breeze.

She missed the old man, his dry, twinkling sense of humour, and the way he crinkled his nose in disgust at humanity. Well, he pretended to, because she knew his deep capacity for love. She brushed a stray tear from her eye and sighed.

From somewhere he watched her sadly, wanting just for a fleeting moment to reach out and touch her, to sense the warmth of her soft skin, the fragrance of her hair, to feel the touch of her embrace.

Life and death had one thing in common it seemed: both were intensely cruel.

Epilogue 26

The front door opened quietly and a man stepped into the room. He paused to listen, watching as she lay sleeping on the bed, exhausted from an evening of sorrow.

He did not feel bad about the arguments. This was life, shitty as hell, and he did not care for the weak. He was strong. He had made some limited success as a pimp and was not going to let some deranged junkie take him down with her.

He did not turn on the light - there was no need - and made his way to the bed where she lay breathing gently. He watched her for another moment, perhaps stirred by some stray tenderness, but then leaned over, reaching for a pillow. She stirred, whimpering softly. He placed the pillow firmly over her face, causing her to struggle violently for air. She was however no match for him and her futile protests gradually faded.

He waited a minute to be sure, then whistled softly to his waiting companion waiting outside the front door.

Had the old man in the flat below been awake he might have heard the sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs outside his door, but he was not, dreaming instead of long, windy walks on the Broads with a panting black Labrador by his side.

Epilogue 25

She lay sobbing on the bed, her body heaving. They had argued again. It seemed now all they did was argue.

He was sleeping with Angela and hadn't even the decency to deny it. She knew he was off her, but it was his fault that she'd started on the drugs that now held her captive, it was his fault for sending her out onto the streets where men demanded loathsome things that destroyed her inside, but it was her fault for letting him.

They had screamed at each other until there were no more words and he stormed out of the flat, slamming the door behind him, leaving her to cry alone.

In the flat below an old man stirred in his bed. Perhaps now he'd be able to get some sleep, he thought.

Epilogue 24

He walked into the lounge, struggling under the burden of a large flatpacked item, a cupboard it turned out. Something was definitely up at Liesel's. First the little bump, now the frenetic decorating activity in their spare room. Definitely a baby on the way! I felt an odd mixture of emotions: great excitement and joy at the prospect of my first grand child, yet immense sadness that I would not be there to share in the miracle.

I watched them as they laboured away together, preparing the room for their imminent arrival, joking together and still very obviously in love. It reminded me of so long ago when Liesel was born. Such an exciting time it was, full of joint anticipation and wonder.

I still remember, as if it were yesterday, bringing home the little bundle all wrapped in white from the hospital, placing her carry chair in the middle of the lounge and sitting next to Fiona, together wondering how on earth we were going to care for this little being that had invaded our lives.

I looked at Liesel, now all grown up, resting a little while Tony carried on trying to figure out the obscure flat pack instructions. She was every bit her mother, except perhaps in temperament where she had a bad dose of her old father's sardonic seriousness.

She looked happy and yet my heart felt as if it wanted to break.

Epilogue 23

"What's troubling you, Joe?"

He did not answer but I knew him well enough to wait. Eventually he sighed deeply and raised his eyes slowly to look at me.

"Aaron, my dear old friend, I've done something terrible."

I nodded encouragingly, continuing to wait.

"It's been on my heart for many years, and I've wanted to tell you, but coward that I am, I just couldn't."

I looked at him earnestly. "Go on, tell me. We're dead. What's the worst that can happen?"
He did not smile.

"I slept with Fiona."

I did not reply, stunned by what he had said, a whirl of confusion and emotions flowing over me.

"It was just the once, when you started going off the rails. She'd been crying and phoned me to talk. I came around, and one thing led to another. I am so very sorry."

He broke down, tears flowing from deep sorrow within. I sat, silent for a long time, watching him weep. I should have been angry, but all I felt was pity for my friend who had screwed up and been riddled with guilt for so long. I leaned forward and took his arm.

"Joe, my friend. It was a long time ago."

He looked up, his face streaked with pain, uncomprehending. I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him on the forehead.

"I forgive you, you idiot."

Then, suddenly, just as he had appeared, he disappeared.

Epilogue 22

He looked at her angrily. "What the fuck are those?"

Cowering, she replied, "Just a little something I bought."

"Just a little something I bought," he repeated mockingly. She could see the menace in his eyes. "Where did you get the money?"

"I saved it."

"Saved it?"

"Yes", she replied.

"You been keeping money from me? You earn little enough as it is!"

"No, Kyle. You know I'd never do that.

He grabbed her arm roughly, causing her to whimper. "I hope you you're not fucking with me. You know what I do with people who fuck with me!"

"Kyle, I'm not lying," she pleaded.

"You're pathetic," he spat, throwing her to he ground and storming out of the room. She lay on the floor weeping quietly, clutching the two little pigs to her breast.

Epilogue 21

Elsbeth was glad to be back at work. The charity shop had fallen into disarray in her absence so she busied herself organising the motley collection of unwanted offerings into attractive displays. She had a gift for making the ordinary look exceptional and applied it well. The busyness helped her to forget the dull ache that had been her ever present companion in recent weeks. She enjoyed the interaction with Mabel who managed the till, and even the occasional gruff encounter with Anne-Marie the area manager, who despite her dour fa├žade had shown Elsbeth surprising compassion when she needed it.

The door opened, clinking a little bell to announce the arrival of a potential customer. A slender young woman entered, dressed in an ill fitting plain, floral frock that hung awkwardly on her bony frame. Elsbeth asked if she needed any help, but she declined. After some time she settled on a set of porcelain pigs and brought them to the till for payment.

Elsbeth smiled at her. "Those are lovely."

The girl nodded shyly, looking nervously at the ground while paying, and then hurried out of the shop clutching her purchase.

Mabel turned to Elsbeth. "Troubled little one, that."

Elsbeth nodded.

"Did you see the needle marks?"

Epilogue 20

"You know, Aaron, in some respects I'm not surprised to be here."

"No?"

"No, my faith took quite a beating in the last few years, particularly when I started feeling unwell."

I looked at him, waiting.

"I'd served Him faithfully for so many years, and whilst it wasn't all roses, in general I had a sense that He was on my side. But then it all started going wrong and I began to doubt. Silly, I know."

I shook my head. "Not at all, Joe. It's a very natural feeling."

"Maybe for you," he replied, "but my faith was supposed to be strong, when in reality it was just untested. And I failed miserably."

Epilogue 19

They lived in a little flat. It wasn't much, but it was their home. Fresh flowers stolen from the old biddy across the road adorned the window sill, framed by tired, faded curtains that may well have been woven from forgotten cobwebs.

He lay snoring gently on the sofa bed. It had been a long night: trouble with the police, as well as a belligerent punter who'd had too much to drink and had demanded his money back. Kyle had told him to feck off and write to consumer protection if he liked.

She was so proud that he'd stood up for her, his little Amy.

Epilogue 18

I decided after much thought to mention my little success to Amy. She looked at me, not with surprise, but with bemused disbelief.

"You moved a teaspoon?"

I nodded, foolishly very pleased with myself.

She laughed out loud. "You are such an numpty, you know, Aaron?"

I looked at her, confused. She continued chuckling, then beckoned to me.

"Watch this."

And I watched as she hurled a chair in the room below from one end of the room to the other, causing a sleeping cat to leap 2 feet from the ground in hair-raised panic. She looked at me triumphantly, then softened, touching my arm.

"It'll come. I've been here longer than you, I guess. Just keep on practising."

Then she wandered off giggling and singing to herself, "I'm a little teaspoon, short and stout..."

Epilogue 17

She noticed the care slowing down, just as she had noticed it circling many times, cruising. The car stopped and she watched the window slowly wind down. She tottered over towards it, balanced on perilous heels, and leaned forward, deliberately revealing her deep, inviting cleavage.

"So what'll it be, lover?"

The phrase still felt uncomfortable on her lips, as did the whole experience, but she was learning quickly.

It was either that or starve.

Epilogue 16

"What are you doing here, Joe?"

He looked at me with pain in his eyes.

"I don't know, Aaron. This existence, if you can call it that, doesn't seem to be what was promised.

"Promised?"

"You know, heaven, pearly gates etc."

"Pearly gates??" I replied, incredulous. "You never really believe that crap, surely?"

"Take it easy, my friend. I'm hurting here."

I regretted the outburst, suddenly realising what it must be like for someone like Joe, faithful believer for so long, to end up in this place.

"I'm really sorry," I replied.

He took hold of my arm. "Don't worry about it. It is really good to see you."

Epilogue 15

Amy looked across the table at her boyfriend, tall and rugged, with steely eyes that held her in a gently gaze. She had not done well with men, but he seemed different.

She made up her mind.

Epilogue 14

I don't know why I visited the cemetery. It is a horrible, sad place where despair and regret hang heavily, interspersed here and there with a frightening intensity of hatred and anger. Yet I found myself there, drifting towards a familiar place, where Joe was buried, the words "beloved friend' adorning a humble stone. The plot was overgrown with weeds, angering me that my friend would have such an ignominious end. Dust to dust indeed.

"Hello, Aaron."

I spun around. "Joe!"

He grinned. "Yes, old timer. Long time no see."

I threw my arms around him, crying like a child.

Epilogue 13

"The thing is, David," Elsbeth continued. "I seem to have lost my way a little since Aaron left."

He nodded, urging her to continue.

"I just don't understand God's purpose in letting me fall in love again, after such sorrow when Tom died, only to put me through it again. I just need time to think."

The young man gazed at the saintly woman in front of him, his spiritual mother for so many years, now riddled with doubt. He so desperately wanted to find something suitable to say, but this was not a time for words.

Tears filled her eyes.
"I can't bear the sorrow any more."

He sat quietly, watching her weep.

Epilogue 12

Something has been troubling me, ever since Amy mentioned it. Why are there not more people here? Why can I see Amy but not the others? Perhaps I knew here down there?

I didn't think so, but there was something maddeningly familiar about her.

Epilogue 11

The doorbell rang.

Elsbeth woke from her daydream, got up, and answered the door. It was the young Reverend Dave.

"Hello David."

"I wish you wouldn't call me that," he replied, "Makes me feel like I've done something wrong."

She smiled.

"Anyway," he continued. "I just wanted to see how you were getting on. We haven't seen much of you since ..." He stopped, unsure of how to continue.

She took his hand encouragingly. "Would you like some tea?"

He brightened. "I'd love some."

Epilogue 10

The sea rushed and churned around our feet, seething over hungry, expectant rock pools. I loved the sea, and would spent many an hour sitting on the rocks just staring at the waves roll in endlessly, at least until a little hand tugged at me for attention.

"You know I used to live by the sea, Aaron?"
I looked up, startled, suddenly remembering where I was.
"Oh? Er, no I didn't. Where was that?"
"Rye, in Kent."
"That's a lovely part of the world."
Amy nodded.
"We had a dog called Goober that we used to take walking along Camber Sands. He was a complete nutter - used to try and bite the waves." She paused. "He got run over."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"It was a long time ago," she replied, then asked, "Do you think pets end up in a place like this?"
I shrugged. In the past I might have scoffed at such sentimental nonsense - dust to dust, man and beast alike - but now I wasn't quite so sure.
"You know," she continued, "I'm surprised it is not busier."
"It's the weather I suppose," I replied, "Not much fun sun bathing in the rain."
"Not there, dummy. Here, where we are."
"Oh?"
"Yes, I mean, with billions and billions of people dying through the ages, where is everybody?"
I chuckled. Where indeed?
She looked at me. "What's so funny?"
"Look who's asking silly questions now, Einstein!"

She poked me in the ribs. So to speak.

Epilogue 9

Elsbeth could not shake the eerie feeling that she was being watched.

It was silly really, she thought, because here in her living room, behind drawn curtains, such things were impossible. She decided to put the kettle on - a nice cup of tea is what she needed.

She did not notice the teaspoon move imperceptibly.

Nor did she hear the soundless whoop of joy.

Epilogue 8

The days, if you can call them that, are long, and flow endlessly, timelessly into one another. There is no bliss of sleep to delineate or help forget the rigours of the day - there is just one long today.

I spend most of my time wandering, listlessly visiting the places I had been, and I don't know why I do, because they fill me with such sadness and emptiness. I cannot abide the detachment, and even the loneliness I once pretended to relish now just aches unbearably.

My favourite times are the occasions I happen to meet Amy. She is still the only soul I can more than just sense. The “others” remain distant though often I feel I can detect fragrances, emotions, and nuances of their beings, like the glimpses of a rainbow through a haze of clouds. Mostly it is sadness I feel, tinged with regret, but sometimes there is something darker, a terribly hatred awash with an evil that seems to draw you in like a dreadful despair, spiralling ever downwards.

Amy however is my ray of sunshine, reminding me so fondly of my little Jojo, impish in her laughter, relentless in her teasing, and full of irreverent mirth. I asked her if she thought we could interact with the living. She looked at me a long time before replying with a twinkle in her voice, “Now why would you want to do that I wonder?”

I think I blushed, or whatever it is called over here.

Epilogue 7

Elsbeth sat on the park bench, staring listlessly at the birds feeding around her. The sun shone brightly on her back but she did not relish it's touch. An unusual gloom had descended on her since Aaron's death. Even Tom's death had not affected her this way. She had mourned but after a while her practical, positive outlook on life had taken over and she had moved on. But this was different. It lingered and dragged her down, leaving her without any energy or appetite for life.

She looked at the empty bench opposite where she had first seen Aaron and felt a bitter pang of emptiness.

She got up, startling the birds around her into flight, and headed back to her empty flat, forgetting her book on the bench.

Epilogue 6

"Why aren't there more spirits around?"
Amy shrugged, "I don't know, Aaron. I never really thought about it. Perhaps its because we are new."
"New?" I replied quizzically, "How long have you been here?"
"Hard to say, but it doesn't feel very long. I hung around with another woman for a while, but she left."
"Left?"
"Yep, just plain old disappeared."
"Was she the only one?" I asked.
"More or less," she replied, "though sometimes you get a sense that others are near."

"What happened to you?"
"I don't know," she replied.
"You don't?"
"No. I went to bed one night, and woke up here."
"How strange. What do you think happened?"
She did not answer, but I sensed a darkness about her for the first time.

Epilogue 5

"Hello again," said a familiar bubbly voice, interrupting my self-pitying reflections.
I turned.
"Oh, hello."
"What are you doing?"
"Nothing much, just thinking."
"About what?"
"Do you always ask this many questions?"
"Definitely!" she smiled. "So?"
"So what?"
"What are you thinking about?"
I smiled despite my gloom.
"Well, Amy, I was thinking about how sad it is that I am so close to my loved ones, yet so far."
She looked at me with gentle compassion in her sparkling eyes.
"You miss them?"
I nodded.
"Tell me about them."
So I did, amidst anguished tears and laughter.
And like a good friend, she listened to all of it.

Epilogue 4

It is intensely weird attending your own funeral.

There I was, lying in a beautiful maple coffin, dressed in the suit Liesel bought me for Jojo's wedding. I thought I looked quite dapper, considering the state I was in.

Liesel, Jojo and Elsbeth sat in the front row, listening to the young Reverend Dave. I wished I could hear what he was saying. He was a charming young fellow and I bet he was bending the truth about me not a little.

A few other people I vaguely recognised were dotted around the place. Quite a disappointing send off, I thought. That's what you get for being a miserable old git, and it doesn't help that at my age friends were dropping around me like flies. Who am I kidding - I'm lucky anyone pitched up at all.

Then to my immense surprise Fiona rushed in, tottering perilously on inappropriate high heels whilst talking on here cranberry or whatever they call it. Straight from some important executive meeting no doubt, I thought bitterly, or perhaps doing her nails. Still, it was nice of her to come.

I followed them to the grave and watched as I was lowered into the dark earth. It was raining cats and dogs - how fitting. How I wanted to reach out and touch them, my girls, and my dear Elsbeth, but could not.

Was this Hell?

Epilogue 3

There are others here, but I've yet to meet somebody. There it is again, wrong word. How strange what assumptions language makes. I still think in English but am curiously encumbered by what are now inappropriate metaphors.

I don't know what form interaction would take in this world, whether communication is possible at all. There is no sound, an even the images are not that. I sense yet have no senses.

"Hello."

A voice in my head ... er mind, turning my attention. It's a woman, a young woman it would seem, though I'm not sure how I know.

"You're new here, aren't you?"

I want to nod, to speak, but can't.

"That's OK," she said, somehow smiling. "Just think it."

"Hello," I said in my mind.

She smiled.

"How come I can see you without my body?" I asked.

She shrugged, "I don't know. Is it important?"

I wasn't sure how to answer. Aaron down there would have insisted that it was, but now rational materialism, apart from being irrelevant, was also incorrect.

She laughed and I felt it like frizzy bubbles in my mind, the tinkling of silver bells in a spring breeze.

"I love your laugh," I said.

She bowed coyly, completely unperturbed by my unexpected directness, unlike me. I stood stunned at what I'd just said.

"Come," she giggled. "Let me show you around."

She held out her hand and somehow I took it.

Epilogue 2

Elsbeth unlocked the door to her flat, and noticed for the first time how quiet it was. She'd lived there for many years, ever since her husband died, and it had become her home: small, comfortable, "doily infested" as Aaron used to say. She missed him terribly and felt another wave of grief overwhelm her, overflowing in drenching tears.

She was alone again. Surely, she prayed, once was enough?

There was no answer.

Epilogue 1

I didn't think death would be like this. Actually I didn't have any expectations whatsoever, apart from oblivion - if nothingness can be called an expectation. But here I am. Me, just not me in the old familiar sense - more like a detached me, disembodied ... literally.

Dying wasn't particularly painful - I suppose I have the morphine to thank for that. I remember saying something to Elsbeth, and watching her fade from view as my eyesight went; then a flurry of jumbled memories as my brain shut down, followed by darkness, total and utter, not frightening but somehow warm and comforting, perhaps like the womb might have been. Then this, a detached, pseudo coexistence with the world I knew.

I could see Elsbeth weeping below, though 'below' is not the right word for what must be a transdimensional direction, but it will suffice. I reached out to touch her but my hand passed straight through her, so I watched, unable to comfort her in her sorrow. Two nurses came in and tended to me, or what was me, my body, my old material self, now lying like an empty husk under cold white bed sheets. Then Jojo and Liesel entered, tears flowing from their eyes, holding each other for comfort. Elsbeth stood up, looking a little awkward, but they went to her, bless them, and the trio stood together arm in arm, mourning for old Aaron who was no more.

Except that I still am here, I shouted, but nobody heard, not even me.

Prelude 75

Elsbeth had never needed to work, preferring to look after the children. Tom had not minded and they were comfortable enough on his salary, but now that he was gone she felt the need to do something. The opportunity came soon enough in the form of an advert on the church notice board - a shop supervisor at the local Christian Aid charity shop. She applied and was frankly surprised to get called in for an interview. Elsbeth was bemused at how years as a housewife and mother had dented her confidence. The interviewer was a terrifying woman called Mrs Annamarie Jones who's severe demeanour was only surpassed by that of her grey suit. She was the area manager but looked more suited to running a Dickensian poor home than Christian charity shops. It took all of Elsbeth's courage to keep her from running from the room, but stay she did, and the job was hers.

Prelude 74

She turned the page of her book, scarcely remembering what she had read. Overhead the huge oak trees swayed in the breeze, showing off their new summer hair-dos. In the nearby playground children frolicked without a care in the world, ignorant of the great sorrow in her heart. Elsbeth sighed. She could not go on like this. She missed Tom immensely but life had to go on, she had to go on. She closed the book, gathered her things, and marched off resolutely, unaware that she was being observed by an old man on a nearby park bench.

The man's gaze followed her for a while as she walked along the canal, then returned to his reflections. A sudden gust of wind tugged at his beard, causing him to stir and draw his overcoat close, before getting up and heading off in the opposite direction.

Prelude 73

She sat at the dining room table, head in her hands, sobbing deep heart rending cries. He was gone, her Tom, her husband of over thirty years, faithful companion and friend.
The funeral had been appropriate, with all the right things being said: that he had been a fine man, like none other, that he had gone on to a better place. Elsbeth knew all these things were true, but hated the insincerity of the occasion and was glad to have put it behind her.

But now she was alone, and the ticking clock that echoed through the house was a solemn reminder of time's haste and the brevity of life. Her son Andrew had stood by her dutifully, helping to sort out the arrangements and comfort her, but he had his own life, and so departed, leaving her to her sorrow and thoughts of happier times.

Day 20 (Revised)

I heard someone on the radio saying that it was completely illogical to believe in God. I didn't understand that. Why is it illogical? Sure there are some odd things about God like predestination and freewill that seem contradictory, but if there is a God and he is all the things they say about him (or her or them), then surely we're not going to understand everything? Does my world disappear into a puff of illogic because I can't explain where we come from, or why I have morals, or why I even think I exist?  

 Where is Joe when you need him? I wonder if he is in heaven or if he believed in the wrong God?  I would have thought that is a more serious logical objection to the existence of a Supreme Being. If it matters to him or her what we do on earth then it is only just that we have an equal (or fair) chance of reaching him or her. That means equal opportunity, and it's clear to me that someone born in the heart of the Bible belt has more opportunity than someone born in Iran - assuming of course that Christianity is right, or vice versa if it isn't. They can't both be right, and all roads lead to God theories are just a load of hopeful, illogical tosh.

Maybe I should start a religion? Church of The Irredeemably Sensible. Nah, wouldn't work – I'm too ugly. Nobody follows an ugly person. I need charisma, or even better charismata.

 Harry has just looked at me with those condescending cat's eyes of his so I guess its time to turn out the light.  He doesn't mind how I look as long as I feed him. We have an uncomplicated relationship.

Day 5 (Revised)

Liesel and Jojo dropped by today, bless them. I love it that despite my numerous failings my gorgeous girls still love me. They brought some presents, mostly of the edible kind, helped me clean up my place, and played cards. I taught them poker at an early age so they robbed me of every match stick in the flat. They stayed a good few hours and we chatted at length, mostly about current things because of our painful past, but sometimes laughing together over happier times; like the time little Jojo, only 5 at the time, scratched drawings in the pavement with a stone and then decided that Daddy's new car could do with a nice smiley face on the side panel. Hmmm ... not sure that is such a happy memory.

I was sad to see them go, and cling to the memories of their laughter, touch and smell. They mean the world to me, those two, and to this day cannot fathom how I could ever walk out on them. But I did, and that regret will go with me to my deathbed, along with all the others I bear in the depths of my tired old heart.

 The apartment is very empty tonight but I decided to lay off the wine for a change.

Prelude 1 (Revised)

“Daddy, Daddy look!”

Jojo was up the tree again, higher than ever before. Aaron smiled at the little fearless, defiant, joyful bundle.

Fiona fretted. “She'll hurt herself.”
“She'll be fine.”
“You always say that.”
“Yes, dear.”

It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon and they were sitting in the garden, about to start grilling. Aaron liked to start the fire early and watch it while sipping a beer or two, sometimes for hours on end, staring into the flickering flames, pondering life or just thinking nothing. The neighbours with their multi-tier, twin cylinder gas deluxe BBQ did not understand that grilling was as much about the process as the result. Life was so hurried, and any time to just stop and reflect was worth its weight in gold. Maggy, their Yorkshire Terrier lay at his feet, glancing upward now and then, waiting hopefully for a titbit.

Fiona lay on the sun lounger reading a novel. Aaron looked at her, his desire stirring – she was a stunning woman, even after two children, and he still wondered why she had picked him when she could have had anyone. She looked back at him and fluttered her eyelids coyly. He smiled.

Day 1 (Revised)

Woke up with a splitting headache this morning - too much red wine again - plus the neighbours were at it again so I didn't sleep a wink! I mean, if they're not killing each other then they are destroying the bed springs and my beauty sleep. Last night it was a bit of both. I think he came home drunk and by the sounds of it slapped her around a bit. I heard some thuds. things crashing and quite a bit of screaming. Then at last it settled down, except that just as I started to drift off the squeaking and moaning started! For goodness sake!  I'm just jealous really - I hate being single and on the dole, living in a crummy one bedroom flat with an obscured view of the canal. I've got nobody, nothing.

 There I go again, dark thoughts. I should be grateful to even have a place at all. Those poor bastards under the bridge are lucky if they even wake up in the morning. If it's not the cold, its the guy who fancied your shoes. I was lucky to find this place. I heard from someone at the soup kitchen that there was a squatting opportunity, a room with a view as it were. Funny guy. 

 I should do something useful today. The dishes need doing, but then they did last week too so that could wait I suppose. Maybe I'll visit Joe – I haven't seen him in ages. We could play cards if he's well enough. That cough has been getting worse but he won't go to the hospital, old fool. "Death trap", says he.  Can't say I blame him. Why, just the other day there was an item in the news about some poor bod who caught some nasty bug in hospital and died. I think he was in there to have an ingrown toenail seen to! Just thinking about it makes me shiver. He should go though. I'll have to talk to him again.

 Really miss the girls today. I know its my own stupid fault since I walked out on them and Fiona, but it was all too much: working long hours, Fiona nagging me about everything and seemingly never satisfied. Then of course there was the drink - I never could handle it, but I have no self-discipline and it was an easy escape from the nightmare. I wonder how they are. Does Jojo have a boy friend yet? She's such a tom-boy, always was, and I can't imagine her being interested in that sort of thing unless the bloke is into forest ranging or something; and there's not a lot of that around here! Liesel on the other hand never had any problems in that department - what a beauty she is. Reminds me a lot of Fiona when we were younger; dark and fiery.  Its not that Jojo is not beautiful, because she is, but she hides it very well under a cloak of, well, pseudo masculinity I suppose.

 There's that cat again, mewing at the window. I wonder how it gets up this high? It must have fled from the neighbours. It isn't much to look at, and I'm not sure what breed it is; I would describe it as Shabby Tabby and it is certainly the scrawniest beast I ever saw. I think I'll give it some milk, poor thing.

God, my head hurts. 

Update

Just to let you know that this diary has been bundled as a book of a rather surprising 25000 words, and submitted for consideration to publishers. Initial feedback is that it needs to be longer, so you will have to endure some more posts from me... :)

I thought about introducing new characters etc, but wasn't sure that would work, so for now I intend to merely expand existing entries instead and post the revisions here.

Thanks for reading and commenting. Means a lot to me.

Prelude 72

“How much longer, Dad?” she pleaded.

He looked at her, his youngest daughter, struggling up the steep slope as the rest of the family bounded on ahead. She was not fit and athletic like her older sister, but what she lacked in ability she made up for in heart. He loved her dearly and put his arm around her to offer some solace and encouragement.

“Not much longer, my love, you hang in there,” he replied.

She looked at him, brave face hiding the deep exhaustion she felt, knowing that it probably was quite a bit longer, but that he would be there, and would carry her to the end of the world if needed.

Prelude 71

The cat looked at him suspiciously, eyeing the saucer of milk that was being held out as a peace offering.

The eternal decision lay before him: wild reckless freedom, or sensible comfortable bondage.

Prelude70

He sat on the rocks, staring dreamily at the wild North Sea churning white around him. The wind howled, tugging icily at his clothing. The girls had decided to give the walk a miss, pleading the atrocious weather as an excuse and preferring to curl lazily inside where a log fire roared in the cottage hearth.

Aaron needed the space his daily walks provided. As much as he loved his family he was by nature an introvert and became rapidly frazzled by too much social contact.

In the distance a light house stood solidly, bravely against the elements, ready to warn off stricken ships from these treacherous shores.

Prelude 69

Aaron watched from his window as the youth cowered under the lamp light, spray can in hand, painting graffiti on the alley wall. He seemed a pretty decent artist, Aaron thought, but had not yet decided whether graffiti was protest art or just plain vandalism.

Either way it seemed to be more about notoriety than point, and soon the inevitable trademark logo was sprayed and the youth bounded off into the darkness.

Aaron couldn't quite make out what had been painted but didn't really care. He wondered if he would have any luck getting back to sleep.

Prelude 68

“Its people like her that give you Christians a bad rap.”
“Oh she's not so bad,” protested Elsbeth.
“Oh yes she is,” insisted Aaron vehemently. “I was ready to give her a smack at the end of the interview. It felt like she would only welcome me in if I fitted her exact criteria. Not exactly welcoming, and certainly overkill for a little charity shop.”
Elsbeth didn't comment, so Aaron continued.
“Church is just like that. Frosty, dusty exteriors, impossible rules, locked gates, unfriendly, suspicious locals that wonder what evil you bring to their precious club.”
Elsbeth raised fiery eyes, and said, “My church isn't like that.”
Aaron paused and smiled. “Your church is certainly a lot better, and there are some pretty decent people there, people who really seem to care about God and humanity, but the elements are there. Its human nature for people to gather into like-minded groups, and to regard with suspicion those outside. Church is no different.”
“Jesus was different.”
“He certainly was, but that was a long time ago, and humanity has had much time to reinterpret his essence for its convenience.”
“Aaron, be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
“I won't, baby.” Aaron smirked.

He got a poke for that comment.

Prelude 67

They hurried on to the the train, managing to find 4 seats together amidst the grey commuting hordes. Liesel and Jojo could scarcely contain their glee – a trip to London, on the train!

Aaron smiled at Fiona who returned a weary smile. Getting the kids ready for this excursion had taken a lot out of her. It was alright for Aaron – he just collected his maps, planned the excursion and then hurried everyone along, not thinking perhaps to make himself useful.

Jojo chattered excitedly, pointing out everything she saw. Liesel just sat quietly staring out the window.

“Jojo, I spy something with my little eye that begins with 'B'”, said Aaron.

“Sound it out for her, Aaron,” said Fiona.

“Buh, Jojo.”

Jojo looked around, missing the obvious 'book' that lay on Aaron's lap.

“Snake!” she offered hopefully.

“No, snake begins with 'suh'. Look for something that begins with 'Buh'” replied Aaron patiently, then to help her along, continued, “Boo, boo, boo...”

Suddenly a ray of delight flashed over Jojo's face and she shouted at the top of her voice, “Booby!”

Fiona went bright red amidst a carriage full of grown-up chuckles while Aaron laughed heartily and gave Jojo a squeeze.

Prelude 66

The sun shone brightly over verdant, undulating hills punctuated by ancient hedgerows. The air was redolent with the fragrance of wild flowers and sheep. Aaron strode on, map in hand, his reluctant clan trailing behind him.

They had been walking all day, a family outing in the Kentish countryside. The children had enjoyed the first few hours, but now were tired. Fiona sulked at the back. She hated the countryside – it was dirty, smelly and full of bugs. She normally managed to avoid these outings, but today the normally pliable Aaron had insisted.

“How much longer, Dad?”

“Not much, Jojo,” Aaron replied, his patience wearing thin.

“That's what you said last time!” whined Jojo.

“That's because you asked me just two minutes ago!”

“I'm hungry!” Jojo continued.

“Eat an apple.”

“I already had one.”

“So you can't be hungry.”

“I'm staaarving.”

“You don't know the meaning of the word, Jojo.”

Behind him Jojo made a face. She knew her father was about to launch into his poor-children-in-Africa lecture and wished she'd just eaten the apple.

Nearby a bemused sheep watched the strange procession before tugging at another tuft of grass.

Prelude 65

“Aaron, you're a fine young man, and you know that I'm proud of you, don't you?”

“Yes, Dad, of course I do.”

“But I need you to do one thing for me.”

“What it is Dad?”

“Take care of your mother when I'm gone.”

Aaron at first thought his father was speaking about his next stint away at sea, starting tomorrow, but something in his eyes was amiss.

“Dad, what do you mean?”

His father didn't answer at first, his eyes focused dreamily on the setting sun over the waters.

“Ah, don't mind me, Son, I think I'm just tired.”

He put his arm around Aaron, holding him close, for the last time.

Prelude 64

The curtain drew back and a solitary young girl stood in the middle of the stage, draped in wispy muslin. She did not move, her face full of expressive concentration, her arms extended, her hands and fingers delicately curved.

The words of Ave Maria sounded in song and she slowly brought her hands together, in swanlike grace, falling slowly to her knees in prayer as the rest of the ballet troupe floated on to the stage.

The audience sat silently, spellbound. Aaron and Fiona watched the little girl before them, no longer little, but instead unfurled in the gorgeous bloom of young womanhood.

Prelude 63

Aaron fried the onions slowly in the olive oil, careful not to burn them. Once browned he added the freshly chopped tomatoes and basil. The secret to a good tomato sauce was fresh ingredients and lots of patience, and time was something he certainly didn't seem to lack these days.

Life in general, he mused, was about filling the space between birth and death, but the pointlessness of it all was less obvious when one had things to do, things to live for, goals to achieve, people to share it with. Now he felt the lack of purpose like a dull ache in his side, like he was just treading water, waiting for the end.

His tomato sauce started to bubble so he turned it down to a gentle simmer and returned to his book.

Prelude 62

“Dad, I'd like you meet Tony.”

Aaron looked at the tall, slender, balding man in front of him, seeking out the two eyes behind the heavy, thick-rimmed glasses. Tony met the appraising stare without flinching. Liesel had warned him about her father.

“So what do you do, Tony?”

“I'm a Chartered Accountant with Hollings and Squibb in London.”

“Accountant, eh.” Aaron chuckled. He knew a good joke about accountants. “Do you know what accountants use for contraceptives?”

Tony shook his head.

“Their personality.”

Tony didn't smile.

“Dad!” Liesel protested.

“Oh well. I thought it was funny.” pouted Aaron.

“Dad,” said Liesel, “Tony and I are going to get married.”

“Oh?”

“Don't you mean congratulations?” asked Liesel, raising her eyebrow in an expression all too familiar to her father.

“Er, yes, I meant that. I'm … very happy for the both of you.“

Liesel rolled her eyes in disgust.

Tony looked at the old man in front of him, saw the mirth in his eyes, and smiled for the first time. He extended his hand. “Nice to meet you at last, sir. Liesel talks a lot about you.”

Aaron shook his hand and smiled back, regretting his silly joke. There was potential here.

Prelude 61

Elsbeth smiled to herself. She thought after James died that there would be no other relationships, no other men, but here she was, head over heals in love like a silly young girl.

He had looked so tired tonight. She loved the trouble he had gone to in his efforts to woo her, but she feared it had taken too great a toll. She thought about him dying and it filled her heart with an unbearable pain.

She knelt next to her bed and offered the same prayer she had offered so many nights before, that her Father in Heaven would heal this man that He had allowed to cross her path like this.

Prelude 60

“Holy Father,

I pray for Aaron. I pray that you will put Your healing hand on him and take away this awful illness.

Lord, I know You heal – I have seen You do this in my life and the lives of others - but I know Your plans are higher than ours, and so I ask this little thing trusting that You will answer it for Aaron's good.

In the precious name of Jesus,

Amen.”

Elsbeth prayed for Aaron every day. She had grown to love the dear old man, so full of pain, yet never losing the twinkle in his eye that endeared him so much to her. She wanted him to get better. She thought perhaps she might be able to grow old with this man. He was a good man.

Prelude 59

Aaron stood at the cliff's edge, surveying the wild, stormy sea, far below yet just one step away. The wind tugged at his clothes, almost inviting him to leap into its embrace. Cold grey clouds rushed by overhead, caring nothing for the scene below.

It would be so easy to just end it all, the endless bickering, the job he felt imprisoned by, the endless gloom. Just one little step. The wind whispered in his ear, encouraging him on, “yes.... yes…. yes.”

“Daddy! Come see the rabbit!” shouted Jojo.

Aaron came to his senses.

Prelude 58

They closed the door, placed the baby carrier in the middle of the lounge and sat on the sofa together. The little bundle of life that was their immense responsibility slept quietly, oblivious to the panic that had beset her new parents.

The pregnancy had been difficult and Fiona had needed to spend a week in hospital recovering, but now at last they were home.

Aaron put his arm around his wife and held her close.

“Isn't she beautiful?”

Fiona looked at Liesel and replied, “Yes. But I don't feel at all ready for this.”

Aaron looked at her, saw her weariness, and said, “Don't worry about it. You get some rest. I'll bring her to you when she needs you.”

Fiona smiled gratefully at her husband.

“You're a good man, Aaron.”

Prelude 57

“Joe, I'm going to propose to Fiona.”

“I'm happy for you, Aaron,” Joe replied.

“You don't look it.”

Joe didn't reply.

“Come on, spit it out.” Aaron insisted.

After a long pause, Joe replied, “Aaron, you know I like Fiona. She's a beautiful, fun girl, but I just don't know.”

“You don't know what?” Aaron could not hide the irritation in his voice. Joe was the only person he'd told and he was not expecting this.

“It seems to me that you and Fiona want different things from life.”

Aaron replied, “Look, Joe. We love each other and that's the only thing that matters. The rest will sort itself out.”

Joe looked at his smitten friend and saw that there was no sense in pursuing the issue. They were quiet for a few minutes, then he smiled and raised his glass in a toast.

“Here's to the two of you. I wish you long life, happiness and many children.”

Aaron smiled back. “That's better. You're going to be my best man, right?"

"I'd be honoured."

Prelude 56

He arrived late to the party, just as things were really getting going: the sound system blared, people shouted, screamed and laughed, writhing rhythmically to what he presumed was music. He stood silently, alone amongst the festivities, stranger, invisible, irrelevant. He knew this would be so but he came anyway - it'll be good for you Joe had said - what did he know. He missed his solitude, his music, his books, his space. Across the room he saw a girl, standing silently, alone amongst the festivities, stranger, but not invisible, not irrelevant, at least to him. He smiled, she smiled, and the emptiness was filled.

Prelude 55

“Aaron Leibowitz.”

He strode smiling on to the stage, dashing in his flowing dark blue gown, and shook the Dean's hand confidently as he accepted his degree.

She was so proud of her son, and intensely sad that John had missed this day. They had worked so hard to make this possible, the education of their only son, and she hoped that from somewhere, somehow her husband was able to see. She knew he would be smiling.

Prelude 54

“Aaroooon!”

It was his mother calling. He sensed urgency in her voice so dropped the wooden figurine he had been whittling at for the past hour and ran back to the house.

She stood distraught in the kitchen, tears flowing.

“What's the matter, Mummy?”

“Its your father. There's been an accident on one of the boats. A freak wave washed him overboard.”

“Is he OK?” Aaron asked.

She broke down sobbing.

As Aaron's world collapsed for the first time he put his arms around his mother and they stood weeping together. George looked on with big sad dog eyes, sensing in his animal psyche a great loss.

Prelude 53

The mist lay thick and cold over the fields. George had run ahead of him in his endless search for the perfectly interesting scent.

Aaron stood still. There was absolutely no sound and he imagined he was in a cloud on top of a distant mountain, surveying a world covered with ice.

What mark would he leave on this world? What difference did he want to make? Did it matter what he wanted or what he did? Was there a point?

His parents never went to church or talked about God, and neither did most of his friends. An old parish church called the faithful few every Sunday morning, amidst much cursing from his father who was trying to sleep in.

Aaron had asked his father once if there was a God. He had scoffed and said that God was like the Easter Bunny, stories for children. Aaron had thought to ask why then so many grown-ups believed in God and not the Easter Bunny but his father was not in an approachable mood that morning. The business was not doing well.

Prelude 52

“Martha, what are we going to do with that boy?” John asked.

“Oh, he's just being a a boy. I'd worry if he didn't get up to mischief,” Martha replied.

“Burning down the shed is not mischief.”

“It was an accident, John”.

“I know that, but he should know better than to play with fire near a petrol canister.”

“He's learnt a lesson.” Martha was used to placating her oft angry husband with regard to Aaron.

“He most certainly did.”

“I wish you hadn't used the belt.”

“Martha, you're too soft on the boy. I learned some fine lessons from the belt. He needs to be prepared for life. Its tough out there.”

Prelude 51

“Granda, look!”

Granda looked for what seemed to be the hundredth time that morning. He'd forgotten how much attention little children demanded. Aaron was their only grandson, a scrawny six year old with a passion for collecting things. Usually if they were lucky, the object of his affection would be inanimate, but today this was not to be. Aaron proudly held out his clenched fist.

“I found something,” he beamed proudly.

“What is it, Aaron?” the old man asked.

“Guess.”

“Is it, a … flower?”

“No.”

“A pretty rock?”

“No.”

“Perhaps a beetle?”

“No, look.”

He opened his hand to show a very unhappy looking frog.

“Ah, its a frog,” said Granda.

“No, its a princess. Do you want to kiss her?”

Granda didn't, but Aaron looked at him with such big, expectant eyes, that it seemed he had little choice, so he kissed it.

“Now what, Aaron? Will the frog turn into a princess?”

“No, silly,” replied Aaron with barely concealed glee, “its just a frog and you kissed it!” He scampered off to find Grandma to tell her all about the great trick he'd played on her long suffering husband.

Prelude 50

Saturday morning and Aaron got up early as always. He couldn't see how people managed to sleep late two days of the week when they rose at the crack of dawn the other days.

Everyone else was sleeping so he quietly busied himself in the kitchen. They hadn't had pancakes in ages - it used to be a regular Saturday thing but lately he hadn't had the energy. Today however it was different. The sun was shining and he felt good about the world for a change.

He prepared the pancake batter, dug out the sugar, cinnamon, lemon and maple syrup for toppings.

The kitchen door opened and a sleepy Jojo entered, rubbing her eyes. "Hi, Dad."

"Hello my love," said Aaron, giving her a big cuddle. "Sleep well?"

"Uhuh..."

"Want a pancake?"

"Oohh, pancakes? Yes please!" Jojo's eyes lit up with excitement, all thoughts of sleep gone.

She loved her daddy's pancakes.

Prelude 49

“Pass.... pass…. pass....”

The cards were handed to the left, each person deep in concentration, waiting for the magic card that would make their matching set of 4.

Aaron didn't even look at his cards. He was focusing on the spoons. The goal was not to get the first spoon. The goal was not to be last.

Suddenly Jojo lunged for a spoon. Aaron followed soon after. Fiona managed to grab hold of the third spoon but had this wrenched from her hand by a very triumphant Liesel.

“Hey!” shouted Fiona. “That's not fair.”

But it was. Spoons was a tough game and there was no mercy for the slow or weak.

Prelude 48

“Why not?” he insisted.

The kissing had intensified until his hands had wandered too freely and she pushed him away.

“Because I don't want to,” Liesel said firmly.

He pouted. What was the matter with her? Everyone else was doing it and they'd been going steady for a few weeks, so it was expected. His mates had started asking, forcing him to lie about his conquests. He could see the hungry envy as he spared no details about his supposed times with her.

Liesel was quite a catch. A beautiful, graceful, young woman, full of unspoken sensuality that drove the boys in her class wild with teenage lust. Dave wasn't sure what she saw in him. He could sense she was in a different class, yet she seemed to be drawn to him, so he wasn't complaining.

Liesel looked at the boy sulking besides her. She liked his strong, good looks and wild spirit, but she was not going to give in. Dave was just a stage and she knew it.

Prelude 47

Jojo sobbed quietly in bed. She missed her daddy.

Prelude 46

Aaron lay in the doorway, huddled against the cold, watching the passers by, his threadbare coat stuffed with layers of newspaper as he had seen the others do. He hadn't eaten all day and had drunk the last of his cheap vodka hours ago. Waves of nausea washed over him, threatening to rid him of what little food remained in his stomach.

A young couple walked by, laughing together, oblivious of the wretched old man just a few steps away. Their evening was mapped out: a West End show, a fine meal and perhaps a little something afterwards if the mood was right. In the distance a lone office worker hurried home carrying a sad bunch of flowers hastily bought from the stall on the corner. His evening too was mapped out: a long commute home, an angry wife, a cold dinner, sleeping children.

Aaron fell asleep and dozed fitfully, dreaming of happier times.

Prelude 45

“Don't forget to put out the milk and biscuit.”

Aaron poured half a glass of milk and found a stale biscuit at the bottom of the tin. He took a sip of the milk and ate most of the biscuit, leaving just a few crumbs on a saucer which he placed with the milk next to the fireplace.

Fiona had started to fill the girls' stockings when she found a note from Liesel saying, “Santa, are you real?”

She gave it to Aaron who smiled and retrieved a gold pen from Jojo's art set to pen a florid “Yes” on the note, before returning it to Liesel's stocking.

When all the preparations were done, Aaron poured some wine and together they sat on the couch, enjoying each other's company silently, staring at the fading fire in the hearth.

Prelude 44

Aaron walked aimlessly along the city streets in a daze, cardboard box full of office paraphernalia in his arms. Rush hour came and he felt himself being carried along by streams of grey, muted, hurried commuters.

Someone bumped into him and his box fell, spilling its contents all over the payment, but nobody stopped to help. He looked dejectedly at the debris of his broken career and walked away silently, overcoat flapping in the cold wind, fading into the darkness, first just a shadow, then nothing.

Prelude 43

“Aaron, have a seat.”

Aaron sat down, wondering what this was about.

“I'll get straight to the point,” said Duncan, “I run a tight ship here, as you know, and can't afford to carry any weight.”

“Of course,” began Aaron.

“And,” interrupted Duncan, “you and I both know you haven't been delivering of late, and if that's not bad enough, I found this.”

He held out an empty bottle of vodka.

Aaron looked at the bottle but didn't say anything.

“This is yours, right?” insisted Duncan.

Aaron nodded.

“Well, I'm not having it. You're fired. I can't believe I wasted so much time and energy on you. Go get your things and get out of my sight!”

Aaron thought about protesting, but got up and turned to go.

“Aaron.”

Aaron looked back.

“Don't forget your bottle.”

Prelude 42

She looked up at him, the tall young man she'd known since they were youngsters, the man she'd given her first kiss to, the man she'd let touch her like no other, the man she loved, the man she hoped to marry. She remembered fondly the long countryside walks, talking for hours, sometimes with his stupid dog, but mostly just the two of them, braving the elements or standing quietly watching the sun set dreamily over the Broads.

He held her in his arms, his Molly, his first love, and said good-bye. He promised to write and kissed her tenderly before boarding the train to Edinburgh.

And he did, a few times, before university and the wide world beyond captivated him and he forgot the simple things, and broke his first promise.

Prelude 41

“Go on Joe, let me have a puff!”

“Wait, Aaron, I haven't had my third go yet.”

“Hey, someone's coming! Get rid of it!”

They boys scampered off, leaving the cigarette to smoulder quietly in the dry grass next to the school bicycle shed.

Prelude 40

Aaron sat in the dreary Methodist chapel, next to Joe. An old woman played hymns on an out of tune piano and was joined by a few but very enthusiastic souls, resulting in a joyful cacophony of sound that both stirred and offended.

This was Joe's church, his place of fellowship and worship, and Aaron was his reluctant guest. They'd had a series of very entertaining and robust debates on the existence of God, most of which Aaron felt he'd won. Then one day Joe asked if he wanted to see his church. Aaron didn't particularly but that was hardly the point.

So here he was, in this decidedly odd place, sipping vile coffee with a lovely, decent, kind group of people who passionately believed in and served a Being they had never seen.

It was all quite troubling.

Prelude 39

The fact that Montmartre was abuzz with tourists was scarcely relevant to Aaron and Fiona. This was Paris in Spring, and they, young newly-weds, were in love.

Aaron sipped his hot, sweet expresso and gazed at his wife of but a few days. She was beautiful, bright, accomplished, full of life and laughter, and he was like a moth to her flame. She in turn loved his solid, practical, intelligent approach to life and knew that he was a man with which she build a lasting relationship and a family.

Overhead Le Sacre Coeur, The Sacred Heart, witnessed their love silently, just as it had done so many times before.

Prelude 38

Aaron sat in the train observing the young school girl near him. She couldn't have been much more than around 14, very pretty and well spoken, dressed in a smart green blazer, matching tie and grey skirt. She was talking to a young lad her age, and they seemed very into in each other, if the coy smiles were anything to go by. The boy, in complete juxtaposition to her, looked a sight: unkempt hair, shirt hanging out, tie completely wrong, face riddled with ugly red spots. What on earth did she see in him? he wondered.

This could have been Liesel, or even Jojo, though Jojo was never this smart in her appearance – the concept offended her sensibilities. Aaron smiled at the memories of endless argument between Jojo and Fiona as mother tried unsuccessfully to feminise daughter.

The young girl noticed him looking and whispered something to the boy. He sneaked a quick look and the two of them giggled.

Prelude 37

Aaron logged out of his work computer. He had put in extra hours so he could leave early today. It was Valentine's Day and though he didn't think much of this over commercialized occasion, he knew Fiona did.

In his pocket was the gift he'd lovingly selected, a single pearl pendant. For Aaron the present was full of symbolism: a thing of immense beauty and value, produced out of suffering, the irritating grain of sand that invaded the life of a mollusc.

Their marriage was like that he thought, though these days there seemed to be more grain than beauty. He hoped this would be the beginning of new things, a peace offering to his wife.

“Aaron! Before you go...” It was Daniel, the CEO and his boss. Aaron was expected to put his plans on hold, yet again.

He hesitated.

He made the wrong decision.

Prelude 36

Aaron stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep. Fiona lay next to him, crying softly. It had been a bad fight and wounds had been inflicted that would possibly never heal.

Their many years together had been good in general he thought, but the long list of unresolved issues had resulted in a volatile powder keg that exploded at the slightest poke.

Today it was the fact that he'd missed a parent-teacher evening at Jojo's school because of work. Fiona accused him of being an uncaring, self-centred part-time father. He had countered with something about if she spent less he wouldn't have to work so hard.

He didn't know how much longer he could go on like this.

Prelude 35

“Dad?”

“Yes, Jojo?”

“Did you want a boy?”

“I'm happy with my two girls, you know that.”

“I know, but would you have liked a boy?”

“I suppose in some ways it would have been fun, but in other ways I would have missed out.”

“Like how?”

“A boy would have never painted my nails green.”

“Oh Dad!”

“Jojo, seriously, I tell you this all the time. You and Liesel mean the world to me and I don't wish for anything else.”

“I think I might be half boy.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah, I hate dolls for instance.”

“Lots of girls hate dolls.”

“And I like to climb trees.”

“So you're part monkey?”

“Dad!”

"Hoo-hoo-hoo!"

"Dad?"

"Yes, Jojo?"

"Why do you and Mummy fight so much?"

"I don't know Jojo. I know its horrible and we try hard not to, but sometimes its better to argue than to be quiet."

"I don't like it when you argue."

"I know, my love. I'm really sorry."

Prelude 34

“Here, boy!”

The black Labrador looked at them briefly before returning to the smell that had caught his attention. He wasn't sure yet if it was rabbit or wild fowl but either way this was more interesting than his master.

“George!!”

This time there was a command in the voice of Aaron's father and the dog obeyed, bounding along the path towards his master, pink, wet tongue lolling a great big happy smile.

“Good boy!”

Aaron's father, like his father before him were great believers in affirmation and through it had the devotion their children and pets alike. He was a strong, quiet upright man with a wicked sense of humour which he was glad to see his son had inherited.

Aaron ran on ahead with George looking for unsuspecting rabbits. They hardly ever found any and those they did easily escaped from the hapless hunters.

He loved these Sunday morning walks with these two and afterwards the homecoming to his wife's cooking. Family meant the world to him and it saddened him that his work on the boats didn't allow him to be home more. Life however, is never perfect, and perhaps it is meant to be that way, he thought, the dark making the light all the more bright.