Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ghostwriter II: Dreammaker. Part 8. Approaching Storm

Approaching Storm

Outside, dark clouds were appearing. They moved slowly across the sky, hiding the sun and blanketing the world in deep shadow. Dead leaves blew across the grass, swirling together and sliding gracefully over the ground. The tall trees that stood outside the window swayed in a hypnotic rhythm. Their thin branches scratched against the glass. Like long bony fingers, reaching for the comfort and warmth of the inside.

I sat at my desk and cupped my hands in front of me. Inside, I held a seashell. With my thumb, I rubbed against it, feeling the bumpy texture of the swirls that covered its delicate surface. It was cold to touch, but my hands were warm. I would keep it safe.

"Theresa, it's your turn now."
I looked up to my teacher and nodded emphatically. Jane was walking back from the front of the classroom. She came towards me down the aisle, holding her favourite toy horse. It was light brown, had flowing black hair which she always had in braids. It was her favourite possession. As I jumped out of my seat and made my way towards the blackboard, I had a big smile on my face.
I always loved show and tell.

I reached the front and turned to face the rest of the class. I saw many beady eyes all fixed on me. Making me the centre of attention. At my side, I held the seashell my daddy had given me on our last holiday.

My favourite possession.

"What do you have for us today, Theresa?" Mrs. Brighten asked.
I took a deep breath, felt my heart thumping, and held out my hand.
"It’s a seashell," I said. "Last summer, my mummy and daddy took me to the beach. We made sandcastles and my daddy showed me how to dig a moat! And then he took me for a walk along the sand and we collected all the seashells we could find! Big ones and small ones! Even one where I could hear the ocean if I held it up to my ears!"

I looked down at the shell in my hand.
"I wanted to keep them all, but daddy said I couldn't take them all because then no one else could enjoy finding all the seashells. I just wanted one, so just before we left, my daddy took me down to the water and we found this seashell. Daddy said I could take just one home so I could remember the beach and this is it."

As I held it out again for all my friends to see, I heard the door beside me creak open.
All those beady eyes turned towards the door and I lowered my arm to my side.
A lady leaned her head through the door. I recognised her from the office. She always said hello to me whenever I went there.
"Mrs. Brighten, I'm sorry to disturb your class, but may I borrow Theresa for a moment? I need to take her to the office. Her father is on the phone. He needs to speak with her right away."
"Of course. Theresa, can you go with Linda please?"
"Yes, Mrs. Brighten.

The office reminded me of a doctor's waiting room. It had chairs lined up against one wall, facing a desk which Linda always sat at. Behind her desk was another door which was the principal's office. Today, I walked in still holding my seashell. Linda walked me over to her desk, and handed me the telephone.
I lifted it to my ear.

"Theresa! How's my little princess doing?"
"Hi daddy! I was just having show and tell! Do you remember that seashell we found on the beach?"
"I was showing it to Mrs. Brighten and all my friends."
"That's great, sweetheart. you remember how I said I would pick you up from school today? Daddy has to stay back and work late again, so I won't be able to."
"But you promised daddy!"
"I know, I know I did. But daddy's boss won't be happy unless I finish my work. So I can't pick you up afterschool today. I promise I will tomorrow, okay honey?"

I started to feel bad. Like I wanted to cry. I was looking forward to seeing daddy afterschool. "Can mummy pick me up?"
"Mummy's not home, sweetheart. She's on her way to grandma's house for dinner, remember? It was just gonna be you and me tonight."
"Uh huh..."
"How about your friend Jane? Do you think you can go home with her afterschool? I already rang her mother and she said it was okay to stay at her house until I finish work. Think you can do that?"
"Okay daddy. I can go to Jane's house afterschool."
"That's a good girl. Now be good alright! And I'll see you later tonight. I love you."

"I love you too, daddy."

To be continued...

Monday, September 04, 2006

Ghostwriter II: Dreammaker. Part 7. Words


There's something very powerful about words.
They tell a story. They are stringed together to create lines that allow us to learn new things.
When we see words written down, our minds read them inside us. Our eyes create a window that filters these words for our brains to comprehend.
When we hear words spoken aloud, our minds read the sounds we receive. Our ears are the window that filters these words so our brains can understand.
There's something very powerful about words.

We use words to communicate between each other. We continually improvise words whenever we speak to someone. Words pour out without even thinking too hard. They just flow.
We use words to tell people something. To tell them how we feel. To tell them how we are.
Sometimes we use words to tell someone good news.
And sometimes...
Sometimes we use words to tell someone bad news.

I sat nervously in the doctor's waiting room. I had only just sat down, but my hands were getting clammy already. I never liked coming here. Never.
My boss wasn't fond of the idea of me coming here on such short notice, but he still let me.

Health is more important than work, he had said. But work is still important.
I would have to work overtime when I get back. Long into the night. Again.

"Dr. Randall will see you now," the young receptionist said.
I stood up, and heard my knees crack as I straightened my back. The receptionist gestured into a room down the hallway and I nodded thanks.
When I reached the closed door, I read the name-tag under my breath.

I noticed the door was slightly ajar, and nudged it open. It creaked as it swung aside.
"David." Dr. Randall welcomed with a deep, husky voice. "Come in."
"Hello Doctor," I replied, hiding my lack of confidence.
I sat down in the chair beside his wooden desk and leaned slightly forward, elbows on my knees.
"You wanted to see me?"

Dr. Randall never seemed to be organised for his patients. He never had my file out ready for him to read. He would always spend a minute or two fishing it out of his metal filing cabinet. He always wore his black-rimmed glasses perched at the end of his nose. Never pushing them up in front of his eyes. Never taking them off.
I would be surprised if he needed to wear them at all.

But today, he had a thick manilla folder lying flat on the desk in front of him. My name was scribbled in permanent marker on the top. He wore his glasses in front of his eyes. I got a sense he was very serious today. I began to worry.

"David, I called you in today because your test results came in this morning and I spent a great deal of time looking over them."
He paused, opened the folder and sorted through several pages of writing and graphs.
He stopped at one, pulled it out and closed the folder again.
"You may want to look at this."
He handed it to me and I took it, turning it over in my lap.
I slowly read the words and glanced over the numbers.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news, David."

By looking at the numbers, I knew it wasn't good. I had been to Dr. Randall's office many times before. But this was something I had not been hoping for. I looked back up to Dr. Randall's face and waited for his explanation. I would rather hear the words from him.
"Just tell me straight out," I said. "I want to know everything."
Dr. Randall nodded slowly. "Okay David," he accepted graciously.
"As you know, when the body is healthy, the number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in the blood are kept in balance. The results from your blood test show you have a very large number of abnormal white blood cells. It also shows a severely low number of red blood cells and normal white blood cells."

"That's not good is it?"
"No. Now I also looked at a sample of your bone marrow under a microscope. You remember when I took that sample as a precautionary measure? Well, the result confirms my diagnosis."
He paused for a moment, appearing to gather his words together.
"I'm afraid you have leukaemia."

I stopped.
My eyes froze. I knew the words wouldn't be good. But this...
"It's a form of leukaemia called acute myeloid leukaemia. It mainly affects adults and would definitely explain the symptoms you told me about. Your tiredness, looking pale in the face, pain in your bones and joints. Stress from work doesn't help it at all.
I'm so sorry, David."

How was it possible? Why me? Why did it have to happen to me?
"What can I do about it?"
Dr. Randall leaned back in his chair and swung around to reach for a pamphlet on the wall. "There are several treatments, but I would suggest chemotherapy to be the best way to kill the cancer cells."
As I read the front page, I noticed my breathing getting heavier. My heart began to pound.
"David, you need to cut down your stress levels. Too much work and not enough rest. Your blood pressure is also very high. Its not good for your heart. You want to fight this cancer off remember? You need a strong mind and a strong heart to do that.
Does your wife know you've been coming to see me?"

I put the pamphlet down and shook my head, not looking Dr. Randall in the eyes.
"I haven't told Sarah yet. I don't want to scare her. She has so many other things to worry about."
"David, your health should be the most important thing to worry about."

I thought about Sarah, then I thought about Theresa.

My little princess.
More important than life itself.
"You need to tell her, David."
I nodded.

"Tonight. I will tell her tonight."

To be continued...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Ghostwriter II: Dreammaker. Part 6. Wheels in Motion

Wheels in Motion

Sitting at my desk, I leaned back on my chair and turned to face the large window beside me. Outside, the sunshine was fading away very gradually as clouds began to drift over. I looked over at the building across the street . Below my eye-level I could see several different coloured flags drooped heavily around their respective flag-poles. I hidden gust of wind caused them to flap gently.

The chair creaked against my weight, and I leaned forward once more. The computer screen in front of me was bright and seemed to flicker frantically when I looked down at the keyboard. My peripheral vision was not nearly as good as it used to be. Something about the brain not being able to process images that I wasn't concentrating my main sight on.
At least that's what the doctor had said.

In the far distance, I heard a single bell toll. It was the church bell ringing from a block away. I glanced over at the clock on the far wall. It was 1pm.
My stomach rumbled and groaned. I was so very hungry, but the pile of work that was amassing on my desk was not going away. I would be here all night trying to finish this.
Of course, arriving at work thirty-five minutes late doesn't help when your boss is already breathing down your neck about meeting tight deadlines.

I remember talking to Sarah about it. She was getting concerned that I was working myself too hard. She had noted my restless sleeping at night. Staying awake until the early hours of the morning finishing off paperwork and long hours in front of the laptop. Sometimes I wouldn't get to bed until 3am. Then I would toss and turn in bed while I slept, too much of my work still rolling around in my head.
Sometimes I would go several days with only a handful of hours of sleep.

Sarah was adamant that work and home should be kept separate. We were trying to raise a young daughter after all. I tried to spend as much time with her as I could, play games with her after dinner, read her bedtime stories before she went to sleep. There was only a few hours from when I get home from work everyday to when she goes to sleep to spend time with my little princess. I cherished every moment because they were so few.

But I had no choice.
I needed to provide for my family. Sarah even needed to leave her full-time job to raise Theresa. She had only just started part-time work at the local library.
But I worked hard and sacrificed my sleep and relax time for a good reason.
I did it all for my family.

As I thought about Sarah and Theresa, my eyes wandered over to the picture-frame standing next to my computer monitor. It was a photo of Theresa and I at the beach on our recent summer holiday. Looking at it always made me smile.

Suddenly my mind was pulled out of it. The phone next to me was ringing.
I pushed a pile of paper away from it, and picked up the receiver.
There was a slight pause, then a young female voice spoke.
"Is this David?"
"I'm sorry to call you at work at this time, but I tried at home but no one answered."

I frowned for a moment. Then I remembered Sarah was out shopping.
"That's okay. How can I help you?"
"I'm calling from Dr. Randall's office. Your test results came in today, and the doctor has had a good look at them. Would you be able to come in later this afternoon to see the doctor?"
My heart began to beat a little faster now.
"Yes, of course. Sure. I could drop by after work."
The young woman seemed to pause for another moment.
"Dr. Randall was hoping you could come in now. He said it was very urgent."
"If it's bad, then just say so. I'm going to find out anyway."
I heard the young lady take a long breath then she cleared her throat.
"Yes. I'm sorry to say it is."

To be continued...

Monday, August 14, 2006

Ghostwriter II: Dreammaker. Part 5. Lost in Thought

Lost in Thought

For a brief moment, I was lost.
My mind heard sounds and noises that could easily be distinguished from each other.
The rhythmic humming of the car's engine.
The irregular honking of other motorist's horns.
The perky chatting of the morning radio.
Yet they all blended into each other, until I couldn't hear them at all.
The noises became a constant silence.

My hands gripped the steering wheel and I stared off through the windscreen to the traffic blocked up in front of me. Lines of red tail-lights that stretched out as far as I could see.
Hardly moving. Slowly crawling.
I closed my eyes and let the world disappear for a moment.
In the darkness that I had created, the silence penetrated inside of me, and I could feel the slow thumping of my heart. Small, regular beats. Each beat pumping my body full of life. Then I pushed the feeling away, opened my eyes again and exhaled slowly.

"What are you doing, daddy?"
The world came back into focus. I blinked my eyelids, realised they were moist and batted them away. Releasing the tight grip on the steering wheel that I didn't realise I had, I turned towards the young voice beside me.

Looking very smart in her school dress, she had her golden blonde hair pulled back into a long ponytail. A dark blue scrunchie held it together, with a white ribbon which matched the colour of her school uniform. Tiny black shoes with white frilly socks tapped up and down as she sang to herself. She was whispering the words and humming quietly below the level of the other sounds. Hoping not to distract me while I drove her to school.

"Nothing princess. You know how daddy doesn't like traffic."
She stopped singing and looked her bright blue eyes up towards me.
"Mummy said you're going to pick me up from school today."
"That's right, sweetheart. I'll pick you up after school."
"Can we get lollies on the way home?"
"Yeah, if you're a good girl."

She clapped her hands excitedly and reached a hand towards the radio dial.
"Can I listen to music now?"
"Not yet sweetheart. Daddy wants to listen to the news first."
Although Sarah always listened to the morning news while I ate breakfast, I never bothered listening to it. On the way to work was my usual dose of the daily news.
Theresa sat back in her chair and crossed her arms in the same manner that her mother would always do. I could see her exaggerate a frown. I shifted my gaze over to her and she couldn't contain her smile.
"You're a silly girl, sometimes," I laughed.

As the news update was finishing, the weatherman came on and I turned the volume dial up a notch.
"...and in today's weather, a big thunderstorm is heading our way later today. The forecast predicts very strong winds, lightning and heavy rainfall. It should arrive shortly before 4pm."

I froze.
Something about that caused alarm bells to ring in the back of my mind.
There was that number again.
Why did it strike me so much?
What was so significant about the number four?

I shook my head, and flicked the radio off.
Theresa let out a groan. "You said I could listen to music after the news was finished!"
"Not this time, Theresa. Daddy has a bit of a headache."
"Daddy always has a bit of a headache," she replied, crossing her arms again, although meaning it this time.
My heart began thumping harder now. My breathing became shorter, more erratic.
Then I grabbed the steering wheel again, yanked it to the left and pulled the car into a side street. The tyres screeched around the corner, and my body was pushed back into the seat. Theresa bounced up and down.
"Time for a shortcut," I said.

The car hurtled down the empty street. Passed parked cars that lined the edges and parents walking their own children to school.
Around another corner and through another intersection I drove. Theresa began laughing and clapping as she held her face up to the window and watched the world whiz by.
I navigated another bend in the road and could see the school buildings at the end of the road. A long line of cars was backed up again, not moving anywhere. I joined the back of the queue.
"So much for that," I remarked.

I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel. Glanced down at the clock and winced.
I was running late for work.
I looked into my rear-view mirror then checked by looking around the car.
There were many children walking to school. Some with their parents, others with their friends. Then I noticed a familiar face a few metres back from the car, walking along the footpath by herself.
"Hey Theresa, isn't that your friend Jane coming up behind us?"
Theresa swung her head and a smile lit up on her face. "Yes!"
"Do you think you can walk the rest of the way with Jane? This traffic will take forever to reach the front of the school. I'm already late for work."
"Sure Dad!"

She undid her seatbelt, leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. I gave her a kiss back and handed Theresa her school bag from the back seat.
"Check for cars before you get out," I reminded her.
She looked both ways, saw that the coast was clear, and opened the door.
She hopped out and ran around the front of the car, calling out to Jane.
The traffic crept further forward, and I wound down my window.
"You be good, princess. I'll see you after school, alright!"
"Okay!" she replied, waving. Jane waved too.
"I love you!"
"I love you too, daddy!"
And with that, I checked over my shoulder, turned the car into another side-street and made my way to work.

To be continued...

Friday, August 11, 2006

Ghostwriter II: Dreammaker. Part 4. Morning


I woke up with a start.
My eyes shot wide open. Sunlight was streaming through the window. Casting long beams of yellow warmth across the room.
It was morning.

I blinked my heavy eyes and turned slowly to my bedside table. My gaze fell upon a small alarm clock with a red digital display.
Four minutes until my alarm went off.

I narrowed my eyebrows as a thought filtered through my sleepy daze.
Four minutes.
That dream. The dream I was having before I woke up. It seemed so real.
I had felt scared. Scared of something I didn't understand.
But it was only a dream. Just a dream.
But something didn't feel right. I felt different.
I remember everything as if it had really happened. What I saw, what I heard...

I remember four.
I remember hearing four sounds. Something significant, something important.
But what were they? What did they mean?

I felt something stirring beside me, stretching the thick blanket that was wrapped over me. I turned to my other side, and saw Sarah, my wife.
She rolled over to face me and as she opened her eyes, she smiled.
My heart filled up with a warmth I could never describe. Waking up and seeing my wife smile at me first thing in the morning was all I needed to make my day. I cherished this moment. For every day of my life.

I leaned in to kiss her. Her soft lips were like heaven. I pulled away and stroked her cheek. "Morning, sweetheart."
"Good morning darling."
As she ran her fingers through my hair, I heard a noise from downstairs. Someone else was awake, and I knew who that was.
My little princess.
The only thing that I cherished more than my wife's smile in the morning, was my daughter's kiss when I tucked her into bed at night.

As I sat at the breakfast table, the house felt alive. In the next room, I could hear Theresa watching the morning cartoons on the television. Sarah stood at the kitchen bench, packing Theresa's lunch-box and listening to the news on the radio.
I sat, daily newspaper sprawled out across the table, coffee mug in hand and slowly chewed my piece of toast. It tasted dry in my mouth, but we had run out of jam. My favourite spread.
No breakfast was complete without coffee and toast.
I always refuse to eat anything else on toast but my favourite spread.
It was jam or nothing.

"They say there'll be a big storm this evening," Sarah said from behind me. "Should arrive by mid-afternoon and last throughout the night. They predict strong winds and lightning too."
I turned the page over and took a long sip of my coffee.
"Sounds bad."
I felt Sarah place her hands on my shoulders and kissed me on the top of my head.
"Do you remember what you said you would do today?
I raised an eyebrow and placed my mug down.
"You promised Theresa you would pick her up from school today."
"I did?"

Sarah gave an exaggerated sigh and stepped to my side, folding her arms across her chest.
She always did that when I forgot something. Sometimes I would say I forgot just for fun.
I tried not to smile.
"Sorry honey, I forgot."
"David, you have the worst memory ever! I told you yesterday, remember. At dinner."
I purposefully didn't look up into her eyes.
"Ok, I will pick Theresa up from school this afternoon."
Sarah nodded approvingly and I listened to her footsteps as she stepped back to the kitchen bench. "Good."

I took the last of my coffee into my mouth and pushed myself up from the table. Popping the last bit of toast into my mouth, I grabbed my suit jacket.
"Theresa! Grab your lunch and your school-bag. We're going!"
"Yes Daddy!" she called back.
After I kissed Sarah on the cheek, I handed Theresa her pink lunch-box.
She took it and skipped out the front door towards the car.
"Have a good day, sweetheart!" I said.

As I stepped out the door, I heard Sarah call me from the kitchen.
"Did you remember to write down what you want on my shopping list?"
"Nope, forgot that too."
Sarah popped her head around the corner.
I felt my lips form into a wry smile.
"Jam," I said, looking back at my wife, a glint in my eyes.

"Just get me some jam."

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Ghostwriter II: Dreammaker. Part 3. Foreseen


Somewhere in the far distance, at the very edge of my senses, I heard a loud clap of thunder. It exploded out of the heavy silence and shook the air around me. My eyes moved slowly. They took in different washes of colours, each blending into another until I couldn't separate them apart.
I forced my eyes shut again, pulling a dark blanket over the world.
And listened.

I could hear the clap of thunder reverberate through my ears. A melodious ringing sound that half-lingered in the air. My hands were pushed up against my closed eyes, as if pushing the feeling of confusion out of me. Then I opened up them again and saw the swirls of colour rolling into each other. Stretching and pulling until they split into distinguishable shapes.

Then I heard another clap of thunder. Closer this time. Within my outer limits.
It rang out much like the previous one, only this one sounded different.
It didn't take on the form of thunder. It didn't crack the air like a ripping scream.
I blinked hard, the cloud of confusion dissipating. The colours took on solid shapes now. Reaching towards me and filling my eyes with a surrounding that seemed all too familiar.
My mind strained to adjust, to focus on what was before me.

Suddenly a third thunderous sound. This time it was definitely not thunder. It sound out with a broad, full pitch that captured my ears. It was almost like a giant monotonous voice that sang out from afar.
My hands reached forward and pushed down on something solid. A sharp corner that felt cold against my skin. Then I felt my body rock back, the world spun lazily as I could sense my eyes looking up above me. A bright blur of grey filled my eyes now.

Then another loud sound rang out. So overpowering that it finally shifted my mind until I reached my senses. I could remember the sound. So familiar.
In the back of my mind the sound was there, but I couldn't quite point it out.
Just one more time.
Just sing out one more time.
It was on the tip of my tongue. So close. I just needed to confirm what it was. But it didn't come. No more sound.
It had occurred four times.
What was it? What did they mean?

Suddenly a tremendous roar exploded in my ears. A new sound. Unlike before.
It shook me. An enormous shockwave that threw me back. I heard a scream.
It pierced my ears with so much intensity I felt myself fall.
Down. Down.
Then I hit the ground. Pain shot through my entire body.

Then everything went black.

To be continued...

Friday, August 04, 2006

Ghostwriter II: Dreammaker. Part 2. Looking Up

Looking Up

I remember a time when I was sad.
When the world became shrouded in darkness, and the clouds would not allow the sun to shine through.
I remember crying.
Tears that fell onto the earth like an autumn rain. Falling so lightly they could not be heard, yet they would not cease.
I remember this. And I will never forget.

As I stood by my bedroom window, I smiled. Opening my hand slowly, I let the soft moonlight filter across my skin. So cool and soothing.
In the palm of my hand, I held a seashell. With my thumb I gently rubbed, feeling the curved spirals beneath my fingertips. I closed my eyes and took a long, deep breath.
Then I slowly exhaled, feeling my heart beating inside my chest.

Each day my heart has been beating. With every passing moment, I am thankful it beats with so much energy. So much life.
It gives me a new meaning. A purpose.
To enjoy each and every day. To take nothing for granted, no matter how small or trivial it may be. To open my eyes and see the world in a different light.
If only everyone could see life the way I see it. To live each day as if it were our last.
No one knows when night will fall.
No one knows when we will never wake from it.

I placed the seashell on the open windowsill and reached to my bed-side table. In the darkness I could just make out the rectangular form of a picture-frame. Lifting it up in front of my face, I gazed across it, feeling tears welling up in my eyes again.
But these tears were not of sadness. They were or happiness.
I swallowed slowly, and let my eyes find those memories.

I sat atop my father's shoulders. His hands lifted high above his head, holding mine up towards the sky. My eyes were closed, but the smile on my face reminded me of that moment. I was laughing so hard.

It was the happiest moment of my life.
My father standing on the beach, bare feet dipped in the cold white-wash of the evening waves. Me sitting on his shoulders, my long, golden-brown ponytail flapping in the cool sea-breeze.
We were both laughing. Both happy.
There was no other place I would rather be than right there. At that moment.

But moments pass. The photograph I held in my hand was only a snapshot of that moment. All it did was remind me of how happy I had felt at that moment. My mother told me that when she had taken that photo, she knew it was one of those moments I would never forget.
She was right.

As I ran a finger across the smooth frame edge, I felt something heavy push against my chest. It squeezed my heart and my breath caught in my throat. A tear ran down my cheek. I remember when my father had given me that seashell.
It was dark, the stars were out, and I wanted to take a piece of the beach back home with me to remember that day. My father took me down to the water's edge one last time and I found a seashell half buried in the sand. The spirals on its face peaked my curiosity.

As we were leaving, my father stopped me. He held my tiny hand and knelt down to my eye level. He told me to keep the seashell. To keep it on my bedside table so that every morning I could wake up and know that he would always be looking after me.
Loving me.
Then he placed a hand on my face and whispered into my ear. He told me that whenever I go to sleep at night, whenever I felt lonely, or sad. When I wanted someone to talk to, or just someone to listen. I could always look up to the stars.

He told me that life changes. People grow and the world progresses, but the stars will always be the same. No matter where I am, or how I feel, as long as I look up to the stars, I will never be alone.
He told me that when people die, they become stars. They continue to shine forever so that no one will ever forget them.

And now here I stand. Gazing up to the brightest star in the night sky. Wishing that my father was still with me so I could put my arms around him and tell him I love him.
But I don't need to. As long as I can see that star, he will always be looking over me. Keeping me safe.

"I love you," I said softly, letting my voice carry out up to the heavens.

And then for some reason, the star twinkled at me.

To be continued...