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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Romance/Love · #1599754
A dying man catches reflections of his life in the floor he falls toward
THE OSMOTIC FLOOR by William R. Finefeild

Thinned by loss, time tired, old Edward Hart clutches his heart and folds from his organ stool like a slowly closing book toward the polished rimu floor. A truncated chord in c minor floats like smoke through his long life’s last act played before the dry-white faces of the Tararua Live Organ Societies monthly hymn-sing. Their cracked purse-tight lips and widening eyes morph into the pouting mouths and lashey pools of memories dance-hall girls. Hanging there in that place where death glances back at life he hears the frocked girls scream, sees at nineteen himself, an idol, their idol, who once was chased and hurt now slickly popular, a small town pop star.

… Edward, Eddy then, with bravado eclipsing his pimpled shyness after an appearance with his band “The Crawlys” at the Makuri domain on Boxing Day 1966, asks the winner of that afternoon’s one hundred yard dash, under 25s women, out. He, at twenty had bought a car. She, Florence Redfern, one year out of Nga Tawa private school for girls through the Gap in Marton, likes winning.

They are both children of third generation farming people, the Harts with fifty dairy cows on the Pongaroa-Pahe Atua road at 'Ngaturi Folks' the Redferns with just over 11,000 acres of sheep and beef country at historic “Redfern” which fans up the Akitio river from its fertile mouth north to the high lands of Panui.

So in the heart of a Tararua summer flushed with winning the senior woman’s trophy at Makuri she thought ‘yes, why not?’ and glanced past the shoulder of this ganglion musician she hardly knew to meet with a raised chin her mothers dark glance. Her fathers deep, knowing? warning? eyes.

“Well Eddy Hart you are full of surprises. Anyone else going on this picnic to Waihi Falls on Sunday?”

“yes-ar, yes there should be lots-ar of others there.“

”Of course, it’s a popular place. However what I really meant was...” and Edward knew what she really meant.

“It's-ar only a two seater, my new-ar car you see... but if you'd-ar rather meet me there arr...?”

“Can you pick me up from Redfern after church say 'round 'leven thirty then drop me off at Massey House by tea time.” It wasn’t a question so she waited for no reply only tossing back over her shoulder as she jogged off,

“Don't be late”

He watched her ponytail flash golden in the evening sun, his ears ringing with the sound of cicadas though none were there…

…All sideways off his stool now, hand clawing his chest as he falls, old Eddy feels the ache in his heart his soul has waited for since Florence disappeared on him, died before he…yet here she is, her face so close, like a painting ringed with a pulsing golden hue slightly blurred in the ascending lacquer. Calm Flo, long gone, flashing her lamp, floating up through the floors deep polish to meet him... his first date…

...which went pretty darn good for a first. He got her to her hostel door in time for tea, received a peck on the cheek having spent the day playing records on a battery powered player with the many other young people at the falls that Sunday. He'd even got out his guitar and sung though stopped when requested to do more and went off rather quietly by himself for a walk after noticing Florence danced too close for his comfort with James Blakely, captain of the Tararua Districts first Eleven who happened to turn up to her obvious delight …

…A mist much like we experience in autumn over the Manawatu River, deep and damp draws over the dying eye as out of the mirror-floors honest kiss comes sweeter remembrance…

…Flo had really got to like Eddy over the three years since ‘66. They lost their virginity in an old musterers’ hut at the dawning of that epoch. Reading an until recently banned book by D.H Lawrence aloud, they experimented with touch and taste; timing as they got better at it over the weeks of their secret picnics at the hut back up a gully from an isolated bay over the dunes from the Redfern homestead. Curled together on an old mattress on the floor, Flo reads; “She turned and looked at him. 'We came off together that time', he said. She did not answer. 'It's good when it's like that. Most folks live their lives through and they never know it' he said, spea…”

“Can't-ar imagine your mother making the sounds that come from -ar your coming off eh Flo”

Florence drops the book hard in his crouch. Sits up, glares.

“How exactly were you born Eddy? No tell me because it can't have been through any loving union that you parents ever enjoyed. Were you found under a stone?” She looks into his brooding face. He picks up the book and continues to read, escaping the hurt she hadn’t intended, didn't understand, her words threw.

“…speaking rather dreamily she looked into his brooding face. 'Do they?' she said. 'Are you glad?' He looked back into her eyes. 'Glad,' he said, n'ay, but never mind.' he did not want to talk. And he bent over her and…”

Eddy pulled her back, kissed her then continued, “…and she felt, so he must kiss her forever. At last she sat up” Flo sat up again, playing the part and read from his shoulder.

“’Don't people often come off together’

‘A good many of them never. You can ar see by the raw look of them‘”

Eddy made a wild retarded face at her.

“’Have you’'” Flo snorted a giggle pulling the book her way to gain composure before looking Eddy full in the eyes. “'Have you come off like that with other women?’”

“’You know I haven't’”. He holds her eyes, “Have you come off like that with another man?”

“That’s not what it says”

“Have you?”

“Don't be a moron Eddy of course I haven’t” But she is up and out the door running for the waves as the words come out.

It's half a mile down a rough sheep track deeply rutted over the years by thousands of passing animals with large slabs of rusty red shale jutting through the grey dust so when she reaches the sand Flo’s feet are on fire and tears smart in her eyes as she splashes through the shallows.

She dives into the first breaker thinking of James and the back of his car, how rough, violently hard he had been that night and she rolls on her back kicking her legs in a wild tantrum screaming at the blue of her lie and that of the woman in the story. Perhaps for all she knew, of all woman. She did feel something, go somewhere in these sexual experiments but felt that there must be more to her sexes roll with a male than just, well, just that, to roll over and be done to… like a dog. Oh no I didn’t think that! she thought as she dove again.

About smoko time on many a summer afternoon, cumulonimbus plays “let’s soak the picnic”. The higher the accumulating vapours rise the bigger the drops of rain. Hail can shred the day. Does as Flo emerges from the sea, runs exhilarated for the hut, finds Eddy picking out a warm riff on his guitar. Ah what better sound than the snare-drum of ice at terminal velocity shattering on a tin roof to make up to. Out to? Hendrix, live at the Albert hall, London England, February 24th 1969, that precise moment; though they can't hear him for the hail.

Nor can they hear her father’s landrover.

Lawrence Redfern’s stature causes him to stoop through most doorways and it is this motion combined with a habit of kicking the toe of his boots on any step he passes over, whether it be church, homestead or hut, that allows the young lovers to disengage and almost, almost, cover up. Looks pass like those of sentries from opposing forces surprised by the others proximity. Nothing could be uttered. Something had strayed where it did not belong and the door closes quietly, almost apologetically on it. The hail stops and a square of sun comes blasting golden through the tiny window to the mattress on the floor.

It’s another floor, rugged from Persia, which Florence crosses once the storm has passed, the fallout settled, as a dust that is never wiped, after the row with her parents on their discovery that she is having sex. Forbidden sex, sex before marriage. Sex that horrifies them more than it should. So she visits her Grandmother.

Ruby, Lady Redfern lives in her own wing in Redfern house, Sir Sydney having died on Mt Aspiring in '53. As Florence glides over the rugged floor she holds the eyes of framed, fading ancestors on the hallway walls. From their looks of reproach, she slips into a fine bright bohem parlour with treasures billowing out from a jeweled centre. Ruby Redfern rises smiling like a nine year old from an eighty year olds body.

“Florence, Florence oh my dear calm Flo let me look at you, ah, your grandfather will be glad to know you are keeping up with the fashion, what amazing trousers, so colourful and so wide they put my old rags to shame and such a blouse like I haven't seen since Sydney and I were in India. How have you been my Flo?”

“Really good Gran, the shirt is from India, they sell them on the street in Auckland, how will my grandfather know?”

“Know? silly me, would, what did I say, would be happy to see you dressed so mystically, he was a one for colour was your Grandfather. On the streets of Auckland, my my you must take me there again Flo dear so I won't feel I have to travel to The East to get my dose of cosmopolitan salts. This country must be growing up... and you with it. Tea? or since it's after three, let’s put a gee before it eh”

“Ratherrr Ruby”

“You'll like this, Uncle Felix sent a case from Bombay at Christmas. Can't get good gin in the village.”

The pair talk of fashion and food, fads and fools, tinkle ice on crystal in the latening sun. Then a silence.

“What is it Ruby?” they look at each other, feel a truth. The Grandmother places her tumbler, rises and drifts to the bay window, looks up at the turning sky, sighs happily then twirls slowly round like a jewel-box ballerina.

“Come sit with me a while Flo” Florence walks over and they sit down on the window box together. Ruby smiles, knowingly, warningly?

“I guess it's... you've heard. Dad's told you… about the hut”


“Ev-ery- thing?”

“Yes. Now I must tell you the reason why you cannot see this man in that way again.”

“Oh come off it Ruby, I really thought you would understand times have changed since the white wedding night nuptials of yesterday.” It was a prepared speech “Look at me Gran, do you not think that I know what I am doing with my life?” and the old Lady let it run “We are fighting for our right to freedom, freedom from stoic conventions that would see sex outside marriage banned like, like “Lady Chaterly's Lover” another thirty something years while wars are fought against Asian peasants just because they are not Americas friends, not Christians, but Communists. War while we make love! God Gran…God.”

The old Lady closes her eyes, opens them at her granddaughter cleared of the tears that had threatened her resolve.

“Everything you say is true. I am not telling you what you cannot do, just the why. The doing or not will be up to you. Now please sit down with me again, I have something I must tell you.”

“Oh-kay...oh-kay, sorry I lost my cool....these are…well there's a revolution... for women especially...youth. You must've when you were young, been, well, excited by something.”

“Yes. Yes I still am; by the amazing choices in life that you face today; the brilliance of today’s world that we failed to deliver. Even after two horrible world wars. We lost so many, so many friends. One of whom I...”

“What is it Ruby, what is it I should know?” The Grandmother drew a deep breath and returned here steady blue-grey eyes.

“In 1919 I was a nurse looking after very traumatised soldiers who had not recovered very well from their experiences at war. We had set up a sort of convalescence retreat in a large farm house that our family, the Redferns, had donated for such a use not far from here near Waihi Falls, Sir Sydney owned land there. I was nearly thirty then and had charge of the place. Many young men came to us for solace, for peace, to die. It was a beautiful place surrounded by bush and birds, oh the birds, such song they made, tui, bellbird, wood pigeon and at night the little morepork and even kiwi then. These men, you understand, were not wounded in the flesh, not even any broken bones. They were shattered in the spirit; shell shocked was a term the officials used but I could see it was more than that… How shall I describe it... They had crossed the Styx, crossed while still alive, there and back. But not all the way back. Many of them were boys who'd only the year before given up school for glory. Glory. They crossed back blind to life. We gave what little we could as reward for breathing still. Some would respond and grow stronger, find reason to wake up from the place their minds would send them to to escape, helped often by the drugs, drugs now illegal, opium that sort of thing. One young man wanted so much to go away we had to take turns watching him twenty-four hours a day as he had attempted various overdoses. He used to talk to me at night about heaven convinced I was an angel, ask me were my scythe was. During the day he would run about the grounds, just run he would, like a training athlete. He was a perfect youth, just eighteen with dark eyes and curly hair. One night he said to me he was going to heaven soon. He told me he knew I wasn’t really an angel but a nymph. A priestess sent by the gods to seduce him so his seed would remain in the form of our child to help ensure the world would be populated by a new golden bread of love-beings who would never know war. Never even hear the word. He told me there and then that he was ready to provide me such a child.”

Ruby pauses and turns to look out over the garden without seeing.

”How could I refuse” she whispers. Her granddaughter remains silent but takes her warm small hand. The old lady turns back with shinning eyes and says ”Your Dad was born. My Husband raised him as his own, he never knew.” Still Flo remains silent knowing there was more.

“Afterward, in a moment of clarity a few days before he died, this young man told me he had married the week before embarkation in 1918; had had to. While he was at war his wife died giving birth to a daughter which, because of his condition upon returning, he never saw. He told me they had chosen to call the child Anne if it were a girl.” Ruby falls silent.

“Wow Gran… But...What, what ...how does this... why should this stop me from being with Eddy Gran… So does Dad know that old Sir Sydneys not his real Father, boy ...Ruby that’s really beautiful.”

“It is real and beautiful thank you. Your father knows. We talked not long after Sydney died. As to Eddy Hart’s relationship...”

“Wooo Gran you're not going to tell me that my newly found real grandfather’s daughter is Eddy’s mother... Oh-my-god… you are?”

“Not long after the young man died I checked registrars of marriages and births and found he had married May Eve Green at Eketahuna on 28 January 1918. May gave birth to a girl on 14 September that year whose named is Anne-May. She married and is now Anne-May Hart, Edward Harts mother.” The late afternoons birds chirped for several breathes.

“Eddy is my cousin… Eddy is my cousin... Jesus… sorry Gran... my f…'n cousin” and both women had to have a little laugh at that.

“What was his name... my...real Grandfather?”

“Edwards, Edward Edwards. I called him Eddy as well.

“Nooo...Gran” and they rocked together some more these two... Flo with tears, holding the bowl of her womb in both hands. Ruby seeing this.

Of course Edward Hart was not privy to this. Is not now, as the strawberry of his nose squashes into the Live Organ Museums polished floor. All twelve of the Tararua Live Organ Museums monthly hymn singers have ceased harmonising to old Edwards final wheezing note. The generation of many gasps begin in diaphragms squeaky with wear; thin, veined hands flutter out toward his collapse as his head lolls. He sees blurred shoes, brown- black, religious footwear swim into view and a crouching girls hand to his cobweb of hair. A young face, Flo’s?, fills the space his dying eye perceives and before the switches all flick off a voice in his ear,

“Goodbye Dad”


2939 words

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