Geoffrey is unraveling, in episodes
By Doug Jacquier
Geoffrey goes visiting
As Geoffrey made his way carefully along the rutted track in his ancient, poorly-suspended car, he wondered for the umpteenth time why McGee had invited him to celebrate Hogmanay at his remote mountain cabin.
He knew that McGee spent a lot of time there, now that he’d retired, observing mostly the several species of owls that populated the region and reporting his sightings on birder websites. For his amusement, he would occasionally make a false claim to a sighting of an extremely rare bird and offer entirely misleading directions to twitchers wanting to add to their tally.
It wasn’t as if Geoffrey had anything planned for New Year’s Eve. He’d long ago eschewed the fake bonhomie of such gatherings, where total bores got spectacularly inebriated as quickly as possible in hope of being forgiven for any indiscretions perpetrated during the obligatory midnight kissing and hugging. His wife, Grace, had taken herself off to just such an event.
McGee had rung Geoffrey to propose the catch-up. ‘Come and join me, you miserable hermit. We can reminisce and lie outrageously as we work our way through my collection of wines and single malts. You can stay overnight and we can groan our regrets over our stupidity as we work our way through bacon and eggs and Bloody Marys in the morning.’ Hearing no response, McGee said quietly, ‘Neither of us are going to see many more New Years, Geoffrey.’
Geoffrey agreed, knowing that McGee had played him yet again. Before he ended the call, he asked McGee if anyone else would be coming. ‘Oh, you will be surprised at who might be there. There’s any number of desperate women who would leap at the chance to jump the bones of a couple of desiccated old drunks,’ cackled McGee, from which Geoffrey concluded that they would be alone. Two emotional hermits mocking the idea of regeneration.
McGee emerged unsteadily from his cabin and said in ironic avuncular fashion ‘Welcome, Geoffrey, old boy.’ Everything about McGee had become grey, including his skin.
Inside, a log fire was well ablaze in a handsome stone fireplace, above which hung an obviously recently polished framed picture of the three of them in their younger days.
After a ‘dinner’ that comprised seemingly random items chosen from an expensive delicatessen, they retired to the high-backed armchairs set in front of the fire. McGee poured whisky in to crystal cut glasses.
‘Take a cup of kindness, old boy’ McGee said as he excused himself and returned a short time later holding a hand gun. Geoffrey stared at the gun in disbelief. ‘McGee, what are you playing at?’ McGee laughed and said ‘This? This is our after-dinner entertainment.’
McGee laid back in his chair and said ‘I’ve always seen you as an owl, Geoffrey. Sleepy eyes parading as wisdom, striking in the night but cowardly in the daylight, and despised for their habit of fouling their own nests.’
Geoffrey said calmly, ‘Well, it’s just as well you like owls.’
‘Oh, Geoffrey, you’re as transparent as a window pane. Do you remember when Grace left me for you? Of course you do. She said I’d become tiresome and stale whereas you, Geoffrey, were being endlessly re-invented. Do you know how much that hurt me, old boy? Of course you do. And you’re about to pay the price for that perfidy.’
‘McGee, where are you going with this?’
‘I’m going to oblivion but you are going to penitence.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Let me spell it out for you, Geoffrey. In a moment, I’m going to hand you the gun and you are going to shoot me through the heart. Then you are going to call the Police and tell them that I got drunk and went mad and started shooting randomly. You tried to wrestle the gun from me and it went off, fatally wounding me. So, I’m about to fire off a few rounds around the room to make it look convincing and then I’m going to give you the gun.’
‘Oh, yes. If you don’t make that promise, I will shoot you now and then turn the gun on myself. I know you, Geoffrey. If you promise me, then you’ll have to do it because you’re not ready to die. Besides, Amazing Grace is going to need you in the years to come and that will be your obligation. So … do you promise?’
Geoffrey was silent.
McGee shouted ‘You’re looking like an owl again. Decide!’
Geoffrey said softly ‘I promise.’
McGee turned and fired his first shot into the dead centre of the framed photo over the fireplace. That moment of distraction gave Geoffrey time to lunge, remove the gun from McGee’s hand and knock him to the floor.
He strode to the door and hurled the gun into the pitch blackness of the dense undergrowth. Before he drove away he hissed at McGee ‘I’m not your fixer.’
Geoffrey takes up gardening
Geoffrey had given no thought as to what he might do in his retirement. A career public servant, he’d not just survived but thrived within the Agency and made it to the finish line with his home paid for and a secure income from his superannuation for life.
Grace had many hobbies and a wide social circle and was rarely home during the day. However Geoffrey had slowly divested himself of friends, despised his family and swore he’d commit suicide before he’s take up golf or lawn bowls.
He’d never been a keen gardener in the past but now, home alone, growing things had become an obsession, albeit one with an emphasis on orderliness and strict boundaries. Over time, his wife’s random planting had turned much of their modestly-sized garden into a jungle; a riot of randomness that offended his eye and troubled his soul.
For the sake of peace, he retained some of the roses and the odd agapanthus but the rest he unmercifully uprooted and replaced them with what he saw as useful raised beds of vegetables and fruit trees in large pots.
Having used every square inch of arable land he owned (including what had previously been lawn), he had now taken advantage of the street gardening movement to colonise the verge in front of his home. He grew mostly herbs that he imagined passers-by would gratefully snip off to add to their evening meal. He even had a pair of scissors on a string hanging from a street tree.
When Mrs. Kafoops at No. 23 was taken into a nursing home, her grandson moved into her house, along with a few of his pals, allegedly with the brief to maintain the house and garden until such time as the house was sold. The parties until dawn started almost immediately.
One morning Geoffrey stood gazing in horror at the carnage in his herb bed on the verge, clearly created by vehicles possessed by those attending the latest booze-and-drug-driven bacchanal at No. 23. He began to coldly map out his dish of revenge.
Crucial to his plan were his contacts within the building industry and local government. Mysterious deliveries of gravel and sand began appearing in the driveway of No.23, blocking their cars in (or out as the case may be). Then a ‘routine’ visit from the Council building inspector discovered termites were threatening the structural safety of the building.
When Mrs. Kafoops’ lawyer was contacted by the representative of a buyer (protected by commercial-in confidence) with a half-way reasonable offer, they hastened to accept (while quietly wondering who this nutter could be).
The grandson and his cronies vanished from the scene and Geoffrey began designing his next field of dreams.
Geoffrey is without Grace
Grace had decided it was time to go. Mere existence held no appeal. She and Geoffrey had discussed ‘the end’ many times and despaired at society’s obsession with longevity. As they sat drinking coffee outside cafes, they watched ancients on walking frames grimly shuffling their way to the chemist for more of whatever was keeping them alive.
They got the ‘fear of the unknown’ thing but could never really understand why more people just didn’t say ‘Damn this for a joke.’ Except you couldn’t. Guns not handy these days, razor blades messy for whoever found you, chemists making sure you couldn’t stockpile your potions, and just as likely to fall of the chair before you could manage to hang yourself. And, of course, the nanny state forbade such crimes against humanity unless doctors said your case was hopeless and you’d already been in agony long enough to deserve an early minute.
So Grace and Geoffrey had agreed. Whoever decided first that they had had enough would help the other one. And the Devil take the hindmost became their wry catchcry.
‘The tomatoes are just about finished’, Geoffrey said, starting their checklist. ‘The birds can have what’s left.’
‘I’ve taken the screen off the top of the fish-pond’, Grace said. ‘The bin-chickens can have a banquet.”
‘Old Charles at No. 7 will take the chickens’, he said
‘You’ll take Arfer with you, won’t you?’, she asked. He reached down into Arfer’s basket and stroked the rise and fall of the German Shepherd’s belly. He nodded in his wife’s direction. They knew Arfer would pine for Grace once she was gone.
‘I’m ready’, she said. ‘Do you have everything organised for the continuing adventures of Geoffrey.’
Grace looked at her drink.
‘Are you sure there’s enough? I want to go now. No mistakes.’
He recalled bringing back the pentobarbital from his last trip to the States and the frisson of feeling like an international drug smuggler.
Geoffrey nodded so she raised her shot glass and swallowed.
They gazed out from their ageing faces as the sun set over their journey together for the last time. Geoffrey waited, to be sure, and then slipped out the back gate to the laneway that he’d used when he came home that day.
Geoffrey goes to the country
Geoffrey had moved to the sparsely populated country town after Grace’s death ended the only worthwhile conversation left in his universe. All he craved was silence and isolation. His modest savings stretched to a small, solidly built weatherboard cottage and he’d calculated that he had enough to last. He had his castle; his solitude was his keep.
He would write, grow vegetables, chop wood and read until his silence became permanent. He would keep his social interactions to the minimum required to meet the necessities of existence but not meet the social contract to exchange meaningless drivel while he was doing so. No TV and no radio and no newspapers meant that he would be aware of Armageddon when it reached his doorstep.
He withdrew cash for his needs at the ATM. He had no computer and no email address, so most of the world had no idea he existed, let alone how to invade, and steal, his time and space.
He hoped the postal service would tarry through his remaining years, providing the conduit for his writing to reach the ever-diminishing audience for such anachronistic pursuits. Yes, he would continue to ‘speak’ but on his own terms. All mail except utility bills and rate notices would be marked ‘Return to Sender’.
Geoffrey’s only form of human entertainment these days was Julie, who delivered the mail. Well, not so much Julie herself but her reports of the never-ending cavalcade of rumours about him that circulated throughout the town.
Each weekday he’d meet her at the letterbox. Most days there was no actual mail but she would pretend to rummage through her pannier bags for show. You never knew who might be watching.
Their ‘relationship’ began shortly after he moved in to the cottage, with its rambling over-grown garden and mature, if neglected, fruit trees. He was in the process of hacking away mercilessly at a jasmine vine that threatened to engulf two of the only four windows in the cottage and create darkness at noon.
‘That was Mrs. Carmody’s pride and joy once. Loved the smell.’ He looked up to see an orange-vested woman astride a low-powered motorcycle, stuffing junk mail into his letterbox. ‘My name’s Julie. What else are you going to do to the place?’ She waited briefly and then filled Geoffrey’s silence with ‘Mrs. Delaney reckons you’re going to gut the place and tizzy it all up.’ Geoffrey turned back to his hatchet job on the jasmine and she rode off. Thus began a comfortable, if eccentric, exchange between Geoffrey’s silence and the speculations that Julie carried in her bags.
One morning, Geoffrey woke from a coma-like sleep, brought on by unfamiliar exercise, to the sound of insistent knocking. Threading his arms into his dressing gown, he girded his loins to see off his intrusive neighbour. Flinging the door open, he found the space filled by a uniformed presence with sergeant stripes on his shirt and a gun on his hip.
‘Morning. Thought I’d drop by and introduce myself.’ The face had a professional smile but the eyes said otherwise. ‘Sergeant Bill Stynes.’ Geoffrey waited.
Stynes said ‘And you would be?’
Geoffrey produced a notepad and wrote his name on it.
‘Some people in the town have expressed concerns’ he shouted, until Geoffrey pointed to his ears and gave a thumbs up sign and then in a normal voice ‘.. about your welfare and asked me to look in on you.’
Geoffrey wrote ‘I’m fine.’
‘Thirsty work, policing. Any chance of a cup of tea?’
Geoffrey shook his head.
Stynes heel-and-toed his sturdy leather shoes and the smallest of smirks appeared in the corner of his mouth.
‘See you around, Geoffrey.’
A non-committal Geoffrey closed the door.
After watching Stynes depart, Geoffrey headed outside to attend to his nascent veg patch. He knew enough to know that the spring soil, having not long come off winter, was still too cold for planting. Besides, he wanted to dig in some manure and compost to the depleted ground. And there was still the fence to repair to keep out the roos and the rabbits.
He was breaking up some hardened topsoil with a mattock when he heard Julie’s approach and went to the letterbox. ‘Hear that the Sarge dropped in. What’d he want?’ Silence. ‘Kevin, that’s my husband, thought it was probably just an outstanding speeding fine. Or a warrant.’ Silence. ‘Be good to see the garden tidied up. Mrs. Carmody would like that.’ And she rode off.
Of course, Julie was now the go-to person for all matters of local curiosity about Geoffrey. Although ‘fond’ would be too strong a word, she’d come to feel a little protective of him. So she took out a bit of insurance for him by starting her own rumour that Geoffrey was an avid gun collector..
Over time, the town exhausted all the possibilities that interested them and bored indifference settled around Geoffrey. He’d been relegated to a ‘character’ and that suited him just fine.
Geoffrey is hunted down
Geoffrey opened the door after a sharp, urgent rap. Two rumpled suits with unknotted ties waved badges in his general direction. ‘Geoffrey Arthur Goodman, I am Detective Inspector Thomas and this is Detective Sergeant Willis. I am arresting you on suspicion of the murder of Grace Anne Goodman on or about February 17 last year. You do not have to say anything …’
Geoffrey knew the rest and he didn’t plan on saying anything at all.
Later, in the interview room, Thomas leaned back in his chair and said wearily. “For the benefit of the tape, Mr. Goodman has waived his right to have a lawyer present. Why’d you do it, Geoffrey? Was she having it off with someone else? That would set me off. Wouldn’t it set you off, Detective Sergeant Willis?’
‘It would indeed.’ Willis responded.
‘Geoffrey, if there’s anything you’d like to say, go ahead.’ Thomas offered.
‘I suppose you want to know how we know it was murder. Don’t you, Geoffrey?’
‘You see, we were never convinced it was suicide. No terminal illness. No history of depression. So we started looking at your business trips before you retired. And we tracked down your source in San Francisco. So, you can keep calling it suicide, Geoffrey, and claiming you don’t know where she got the drug if you like. But we’re going to call it murder.’
Thomas said ‘In my experience, it’s better in the long run to just get it off your chest. Because of your age, you’ll do time in an open prison and you’ll be out in five years. What do you say?’
‘Alright, tell us again what happened.’
Geoffrey said flatly ‘It’s all in my original statement.’
‘Did you attempt to revive her?’
Geoffrey reiterated what he’d just said. He said nothing else. He knew they were bluffing; they had no information on his source. He’d found a way to get the drug she needed and he’d found a plausible reason not to be around when she took it. Thomas and Willis were on a mission to make someone pay for having the temerity to end their days as they chose. With Grace dead, Geoffrey was the logical scapegoat but they needed a confession.
Later that night, Geoffrey was released on bail. As he was leaving the Police station, Thomas snarled ‘I know you did it, Geoffrey, and I’m not letting this go. So stick that up your silence.’
After that, Geoffrey no longer appeared at the letterbox. Julie knew why. That two-pot screamer of a copper put the accusation round at the pub.
When the smell from old Mrs. Carmody’s cottage became unmistakable, Julie finished her round and rode to the Police station to tell them. As she left, she looked the Sergeant in the eye and said, ‘Happy now?’
Geoffrey speaks from the grave – Selected poems found in Geoffrey’s cottage
Remember the Revolution?
and marching in the rain against war zones
that are now tourist destinations?
and maintaining rage at symbolic loss
while secretly at home with the familiar futility?
Remember sexual honesty
and sleeping with whoever felt like you
and confining safe sex to heart condoms?
and discovering the ‘real’ you
and waking each time forgetful of the revelation?
and believing decibels were antidotes to megatons
and lyrics could shield you from the newspapers?
when it belonged to rock stars
and an endless list your mother claimed to have known?
and the bloody gutters of freedom
because fascism belonged to the right? Right?
Remember social action
and sitting in smoke-filled rooms with Nescafé activists
and Housing Trust women with no teeth and less hope?
left on some private shelf
in case they portrayed you to anybody that mattered?
Remember party politics
and seeing neighbours become Ministers
only to fall in clay-footed exhaustion at the barriers?
when it was something other people ought to have and
you weren’t smoke-free, mineral water in hand and smiling at God?
and how it was never going to concern you
and then you learnt the golden rule and its defensible limits?
And do you remember when the penny dropped
that the personal was the political
and you found out you had to change?
And you decided to forget the revolution?
Now that you are gone
Now that you are gone
the cruelty is ended.
You, the speaker of many truths,
are no longer taunted
by a tongue in twisted battle
with a mind no less sharp
and arms no less caring
that could not be raised in love.
Now that you are gone,
I’ll have you near me always;
Close to mind and heart,
a constant in my chaos.
But in my selfish grief,
I want you here, and now,
so that I can understand
the true order of things.
Now that you are gone,
I will cling to calls in the night
and recall your thoughts
in my struggle for the truth.
But I would rather have the magic
to conjure you at will
so that we could save our worlds together,
even worlds apart.
Now that you are gone,
You’ll never wipe away my tears
and laugh rudely with me once more,
in this world that travels on.
I must learn to live
with not one more single hour
when you soothe my soul
and make all things possible, again.
Stopping all stations
It’s the same train.
Changing carriages hasn’t altered that.
But now the impenetrable darkness of tunnels
is neutralised by a hand reached for secretly
and the knowledge of the imminent re-emergence
of familiar faces in the light.
It is possible to disembark at the station of your choice
or, in an emergency, pull the cord
and trudge off into unmarked territory,
ignoring the shaking fists of railway staff.
But no; for the time being
familiarity is more potent than adventure.
It is still permitted to re-trace your steps
and peer into carriages where you once sat.
In some your space may even still be vacant,
amongst those who are, and will remain, unmoved.
In others your seat is now occupied and
despite the comforting smiles of those you know,
it will remain that way.
you must return to your new-chosen cubicle,
to weather report conversations,
to standard gauge concepts
and to waiting patiently
for the dawn
of the courage to get off.
The Devil Takes The Could-have-beens
Beware the wine-sodden brain flailing on,
kidding itself in the darker hours,
paying homage to could-have-been.
Beware the anger trotted out,
dusted off and laid bare to reflections in a bloodshot eye,
to spring a self-laid trap.
Let there be a new start,
urged on by forebodings of irrelevance
and eternity horizontal.
Stay away from old ground,
where every night is New Year’s Eve and nothing is resolved,
or risk seeing past comrades on distant hills,
their torch-dreams kindled by motion,
pausing less and less often to look back
at your immobile figure.
the grubby sticks of history are consumed quickly
in those parodies of hell,
the warmthless braziers of bitter reminiscence.
Forsake all wretchedness,
for you are not plundered.
Beneath your public rags lie priceless jewels,
secreted and perversely forgotten,
whose re-discovery waits on nakedness.
Choose not to wear sackcloth
and arise from your meal of ashes,
hungry for the flesh of the world
and the hard beauty of your diamond self.
carefully dusted off and swathed,
packed in the boxes
along with the more trivial possessions.
Like the apocryphal cat
they can’t be left behind.
Some you will unpack,
immediately upon arrival,
as handy conversation pieces
when old friends call.
Some will remain encased, with only
an occasional furtive private inspection
to check for silverfish and mildew.
And some will be ‘forgotten’,
but will only feign death
and, like ancient terracotta soldiers,
will wait in infinite patience
ready to ambush the present.
Doug Jacquier is a former not-for-profit CEO who lives with his wife on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. He’s a keen vegetable gardener and cook and an occasional stand-up comedian, as well as doing the best he can as husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He’s lived in many places around Australia and has travelled extensively, especially in Asia. His poems and stories have been published in Australia, the US, the UK, Canada, New Zealand and India. He has self-published two collections of stories available on Amazon and Kindle. He blogs at Six Crooked Highways (wordpress.com)