23. Bernie

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They were standing on what looked like a vast platform of metal

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They were standing on what looked like a vast platform of metal. The roof was so low it felt like they were in an endless crawlspace, in an attic. Kevin saw Geoff staring into the distance and up at the canopy of packed dirt.

"It's a little claustrophobic, isn't it?" Kevin said. "You get used to it."

"We had a house that felt like this. Before we died. The ceiling was about this low," Geoff said, "It wasn't really a house, more like a shack."

"Well ain't that funny. My house is more of a shack than a house as well," Kevin said.

They walked through the infinite crawlspace. The direction they were walking in seemed arbitrary. Geoff wondered how it could be anything but random, seeing as how they were looking at a plain horizon in every direction. There didn't seem to be any landmarks except for the occasional hatchway of light where another ladder reached the scaffolding. These were only tiny pinpricks in the distance though. The light around them was dim. It felt like twilight, or the first rays of dawn.

Kevin Sargent seemed to know where he was going. Occasionally he would stop and look above him at the earth ceiling.

"What are you looking for?" asked Geoff.

"Roots, rocks, different coloured dirt."

"Is that how you find your way around here?" Asked Naomi.

"That and my gut instinct," said Kevin, "If you do what I do for long enough you get to know a place. If anyone walks the same paths for long enough they get to know them. Even when there's almost nothing to tell them apart. This has been my life for a number of years now. I know this place. I don't know how I know it, I just do."

"What is it that you do?" asked Naomi.

They walked on in silence through the twilight dusk of the scaffolding

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They walked on in silence through the twilight dusk of the scaffolding. Occasionally stopping for Kevin to consult the galaxies of dirt and constellations of buried objects above them. Eventually they could see the shadowy cube outline of the old man's shack on the horizon. It grew clearer but not much bigger as they approached. The cube became a box with rectangles of light. When they got closer still, only a few metres away, the rectangles of light were cut by the dark shapes of shadows from inside the home and sitting inside the biggest window, was a shadow that Naomi remembered. It was bonier, sharper, but unmistakably cat like in its pose. Sitting with its back straight its head turned to gaze through the glass into the twilight was the outline of a skeleton cat.

"Bernie" Naomi shouted.

Naomi broke into a run towards the house.

"The door's unlocked," Kevin called after her.

Geoff was suddenly very tired. Even more tired than when they'd first finished the ladder climb and fallen onto the cool metal of the scaffolding. He didn't think he could keep up with Naomi if he had wanted to. But he also wanted to make sure the old man was okay. Naomi was about to break into his house uninvited after all. He didn't want the old man to think that he wasn't being considered at all. But mostly Geoff didn't run with Naomi because he was tired, because he had no more running left in him.

As Geoff and Kevin walked towards the shack the silhouette in the window changed. It was like a puppet show. Suddenly where there had just been a cat there was now the shape of a skeleton, a human running and then lifting the cat and then the cat and the woman became one and the silhouette was of a cat and woman hugging.

His voice was lower than moments earlier and sounded resigned

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His voice was lower than moments earlier and sounded resigned.

Kevin and Geoff walked into the house. It was a shack not much bigger than the shacks Geoff and Naomi had lived in. But it was much neater. There were no posters on the wall. Just a couple of oil paintings and a framed photograph of a young couple standing on a balcony in Greece. Geoff knew it was Greece because his grandmother had had a similar photo on her wall. The blue ocean and sky and pure white buildings were unmistakable. The man and the woman were grinning. They looked happy. The man had his arm around the shoulders of the woman and she was nuzzling her body into his. The photo made you feel like you had just stumbled into the middle of a private moment between two lovers. The man and woman both had flushed faces. The woman was holding an empty wine glass.

Naomi was standing in the room and she was crying.

There were no tears. But just like Kevin knew how to find his shack in the infinite plains of the undercarriage by an almost magic knowing, Geoff had lived with Naomi long enough to know when she was crying, even if he couldn't see the tears running down her face. Looking at her now, his memories, the ghost vision of her overlaid it onto the woman standing in front of him. Her big brown eyes were red rimmed and her lips were trembling. Her cheeks were wet and her face was as rosy as the woman in the photograph"

"It's her," Naomi said, "It's Bernie".

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