24. A New Beginning

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Geoff sat on the threadbare couch in the gatekeeper's shack and sipped on a steaming mug of peppermint tea

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Geoff sat on the threadbare couch in the gatekeeper's shack and sipped on a steaming mug of peppermint tea. Naomi had already gratefully accepted two shots of vodka and was laying on the floor stroking Bernie. Bernie for her part was acting basically the same as when she was alive. Which is to say, she didn't seem particularly interested in Naomi, Geoff or anything else around her apart from the very careful job she was doing of cleaning her bones. She moved her tiny jaw back and forth along her raised leg bones, with enough room between her jaw and her leg for her phantom tongue.

Naomi stroked Bernie in a constant, rhythmic fashion. She kept murmuring over and over "I love you, I love you". She could usually hold her liquor but Geoff could tell from her mumbly slurred voice that she was drunk. Eight hours of climbing and two shots of vodka will do that to you he supposed.

"How did you know where to find me, that your cat was here?" Kevin asked..

The eight hours of climbing had left Geoff feeling as exhausted as Naomi looked so he struggled to know where to begin. But after a few false starts he managed to get the tale out. From living under the heat of their fire roof in a shack not that different to the gatekeepers, the attack in Kmart, meeting Jamieson and the long walk to the harbour and then the long sail to the sky ladder.

"That's quite a story," said Kevin. "Grief will do crazy things to a person."

"Grief, for the loss of your cat

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"Grief, for the loss of your cat. Maybe for something else as well. It can all get blended together pretty easily down here."

Geoff nodded. He wasn't sure he understood. But he was tired and he felt like the old man knew what he was talking about. He still didn't understand where Bernie had been all this time. There were so many pieces of the puzzle missing in his brain.

"How did you find Bernie? Did the woman who stole him bring him here?"

The old gate keeper sighed and walked to the kitchen bench to refill his tea. He spoke to Geoff with his back turned, staring out the kitchen window across the dimly lit plains of the canopy.

"She was my daughter," he said.

"Oh," Geoff said, feeling embarrassed, "where is she now?"

"I don't know" said Kevin. "In the before life, I thought I knew where you went when you died. When I was young I thought you went to heaven or hell. When I was older I was sure that you went nowhere, that you simply ceased to exist. I could never have imagined this. So who knows where she is now. Wherever you go after this place."

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