“No offence, but I hope I never see you again,” Reilly said, as he hoisted his knapsack onto his shoulder.
“No worries, man. The feelings mutual.” He clapped him on the shoulder. “And thanks again for what you did for our Kelly. That was big of ya.”
“Well, I trained as a paramedic when I was younger and so it’s not something you forget.”
“Still, thanks.” Reilly gave a mock salute as he walked through the door. He almost winced as he heard it slam shut after him, the lock being put in place again.
Reilly just kept walking. It was only when he’d made it past the fencing and the exterior gate that he turned around. He stood for a moment, taking it in, the gate, the fence, topped by fiendish razor wire surrounding all the buildings.
His eye went to a bird, a starling he thought, who’d made a nest in the eaves of the one outbuilding. He knew the name because it’s a bird for whom his late wife always used to feel sorry. She was always soft-hearted about things like that.
But imagine. Here was a bird who actually chose to come here. Most of them would run a mile to get away from the place.
He followed the serpentine road as it wound it’s way off the property. His mind shifted through a wide range of thoughts. Images of Trudy during her final moments. How he’d completely lost it when she’d died. How he’d turned back to his old habits, finally ending up in here. Reilly kept walking, head down.
He had an address for a place where he could stay for a short while at least, enough time to find a place of his own, maybe a job. It’d be worth his while to get in touch with his old union. Maybe they’d accept a former criminal. He shook his head in disgust. He’d made so many mistakes. Useless. But at least he was able to get off the heroin. There’d been nothing good about it, leading down sordid pathways through the underbelly of life.
What would Trudy say. He laughed, thinking, he knew she wouldn’t be disappointed. She’d likely say, well, this is a new chapter. But that was the problem. He just couldn’t see it. Rarely could. That’s why he fell so hard when she left. She’d been holding him up. He shook his head in disgust. He’s sure she’d tell him to quit his moaning. Things’d get better. Easier said than done.
He stopped by his new digs, just to check things out. Reilly still couldn’t get used to the whole idea of freedom, that he was free to go wherever he wanted, now. It’s only when one loses that freedom does the thought of just going for a walk seem almost magnetic. Go. Why? Because you can. There was a small park nearby and he might as well go for a quick turn around.
Reilly grabbed his jacket, cramming it into his knapsack. The weather was cooling a little, even though it was still mid-September. It was likely a harbinger of things to come, no doubt. He walked, soldier-like to the park. He passed a couple clearly out for an evening walk. He’d kept his head down, only sorry afterwards for being so, what would Trudy say? Don’t be so grumpy. She’d giggle afterwards. That would always pierce through his curmudgeonly mood, forcing him to laugh.
When he reached the park, there was the odd person out for a walk. He headed for the benches that’d been placed along the water. It’d be nice to sit there for a while, enjoy the blue sky and the feathery clouds arrayed in the sky. Finding a place, he watched the gulls paddle in the water, rising with the swell of the tide.
He opened his eyes, when he heard the crashing bang, realising he must’ve dosed off. Quickly looking around, he spotted the over-turned bike behind him and the young boy lying on the ground.
“Are you okay?” he said, rushing to the boy who was trying to get up. He looked to be around thirteen or fourteen, Reilly thought. He was at the age where everything seemed to be getting longer and you still weren’t quite sure where to put everything. “Just hold on. Not so fast.” He lifted the bike up and rested it against the bench. “Are you okay?” He lifted the young boy from the ground. “You better sit down for a moment over here.”
“Thank you, sir,” he said. “That was close.”
Reilly chuckled a little. “That was very close. Are you sure you’re okay? It was a pretty good tumble you did.”
“Not to worry.” He plunked himself down on the seat, dusting himself off and checking his knee where he’d scraped his leg through his jeans. “Thanks very much, sir,” he said, smiling. Reilly smiled, thinking how he reminded him of his Trudy, people who were never easily dislodged from their heartened perspective.
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Gilbert. Most just call me Gil.”
“Listen, maybe you better call your mom or your dad. Maybe they could come pick you up, save you having to ride home. You’re gonna feel those bumps pretty soon.” Gil just looked out to sea, the gulls darting around offshore. He glanced quickly at Reilly, meeting his eyes.
“My mom and dad are gone.” He looked away again, seemingly hesitant to linger with any further human connection.
“Sorry. Really sorry to hear that.” Gil merely shrugged his shoulders. Reilly stared out to sea for a moment. “That’s rough. How’re ya doing?”
“Oh, I’m okay. Me and my sister, we’re living with our uncle and his wife.”
“How’s that going?”
“My aunt can be a bit of a witch sometimes, but for the most part she’s okay, I guess. I think it’s just hard for her to grow accustomed to two kids being around.” He gave a wide smile. “But my uncle, he’s the best. We’ve been living with them for a couple of years now.”
“Yeah, it’s good you’ve got someone you can look up to.” He paused for a moment. “It’s hard, though, losing someone.” Their eyes met.
“Well, I was pretty much gone for a while after the accident. But then I remembered what our mom always used to say,” Gilbert said. “She’d go on and on about how important it is to believe in yourself. She’d say there’s no one like you in all of history and there never will be again. So, your life, she’d say, is your beautiful creation. Makes ya feel kinda special,” he said, smiling at Reilly.
“She sounds like she was a wonderful person.” His thoughts went to his Trudy. It was something she would’ve no doubt said.
“Yeah, she was. My dad, too. He used to say how folks sometimes spent their entire lives trying to prove they’re value, that they’re worth something and all the time their answer’s within them, not outside.” Reilly nodded his head, looking out to the horizon. It seemed so obvious now with Gil explaining it. But he’d never thought about it.
“You were really lucky to have the parents you had. Mine,” he said, laughing wryly, “weren’t the best. Ruled by the bottle, if you know what I mean.” He put his head down.
“Aah, the way she goes. Luck of the draw, I imagine,” Reilly said. “But I met somebody afterwards, she’s no longer with us. She was like your parents.” Gil excitedly nodded his head.
“Sorry you had to say good bye to your lady. But yes, you know what I mean, then! It’s like you’ve now got a key to unlock the true beauty of the world—and of you.” He was beaming, pointing to Reilly. “Well, I better be on my way. If not, my aunt and uncle will be wondering where I’ve gone. It was really nice chatting with you, sir.” Gil put on his helmet and then waved to Reilly as he pedalled away.
Reilly’s eyes wandered back to the horizon. Gil was right. It was all within each one of them. He’d spent how many hours in prison, wrestling with his worth, trying desperately to find it. Reilly remembered looking into a mirror and seeing nothing but a total failure staring back at him. He knew he’d taken a seriously wrong turn to land him where he was. Trudy had helped him and he’d leaned on her, he realised, for everything. She was so strong.
Still, talking with Gil, it was only now he realised that, all the time, he was the one with the answer. What an epiphany. He’d spent a good part of his life trying to find his worth outside of him. Although, his worth and value as a person was there all along. And imagine, all it took was a ten minute chat with a thirteen or fourteen year old.
Reilly got up from the bench and walked through the park, the attributes he felt were at one time mediocre, ascended in their quality. The flowers were somehow brighter and the trees, richer in their sundry greens.
He hopped up the stairs, pulling out his phone.
“Hey, Matt, how’re ya going.”
“Great, man. How are you? I take it you’re back with us.”
“Yeah. Just this morning. I was wondering if there’d be any chance to get some work on one of the jobs. I’m more than happy to pay up and all.”
“Sure, I’d be happy to put your name in for some that should be coming up soon. Just let me go over to the computer.” He paused a moment. “And listen, I know things have been a little rough of late, but I don’t think that’ll be a problem. You’re good at what you do.”
“Thanks. I wouldn’t mind updating my information and paying my membership.”
When he got off the phone, he sat back and watched as the sun sank into the water, a melody of colours highlighting the sky.
“Well, here’s to you Trudy, my love. Maybe this really is a new chapter.”