BETWEEN BEFORE AND AFTER
by Amanda Dick
"The three hour ferry ride across the Cook Strait from Wellington had been fairly smooth, as far as sailings go. Max Lonergan had certainly experienced worse in the almost ten years he had been making this journey. He had spent the time sitting as far away from the many cafes and eateries as possible, trying to distract himself by watching the horizon and reading the newspaper. He couldn’t remember the last time he had read the paper. The big wide world didn’t interest him anymore. Over the past three years, he had withdrawn from it, slowly and surely. The withdrawal was so complete, he didn’t even miss it now. Not the rush-hour traffic or the deadlines, not the planning for upcoming holidays or the latest cellphone, not even the Friday night drinks or the messy weekends that inevitably followed. No more kissing up to his boss, no more schmoozing the secretaries. Now he was on his own schedule. Gone were the suit and tie with matching expensive leather loafers. His corporate attire these days consisted of jeans, work boots, bush-shirts and hi-visibility jackets. Instead of drinks in the boardroom or a swanky cocktail bar, he had drinks in the shearing shed or leaning on the back of the supervisor’s truck. Over the past three years, his whole life had changed. He had changed. His priorities had shifted, his outlook on life had skewed, tilted sideways. The death of someone close to you had a habit of making you reassess how you spent your remaining days on this earth.
Just as he remembered, the paper was full of bad news. Disgusted, he folded it up and set it aside. He ran a hand through his brown hair, roughing it up so that it stood on end just a little bit more. He was overdue for a haircut. His usual short-back-and-sides had somehow morphed into a shaggy, wavy mass. Any kind of length just seemed to add volume. Somehow, over the last few months, a haircut had slipped through the cracks.
The smell of food turned his stomach, and he concentrated on his black coffee instead. Luckily for him, breakfast had never been a necessity. He was used to being up this early, having done a variety of short-term jobs that had altered his body-clock. Sheep shearing, forestry work, fruit picking, kiwifruit pack-houses – all ran on a different schedule to the office-bound nine-to-fivers. That was one of the reasons he had chosen to take the early run, the first ferry bound for Picton. It suited him. A shaft of guilt stung him momentarily. Maybe he should have contacted Kate to find out what ferry she had booked on. If she was flying down from Auckland to catch the afternoon sailing she usually favoured, he didn’t want to be in the position of having to kill time in Wellington waiting for her. Cities were most definitely not within his comfort-zone – not anymore. It was true what they said about feeling lonelier in a crowd.
He had meant to call her and touch base. Hell, he had meant to call all of them, but somehow it always kept falling to the bottom of his To Do list. Honestly, he wasn’t even sure until the day before yesterday that he was going to come this year. Each anniversary seemed to get harder, not easier. With the way he was feeling lately, he had purposefully kept away from everyone, telling himself he wouldn’t be good company. Yet here he was, bobbing up and down in the Cook Strait, in limbo between islands like some kind of metaphor.
His regular life – the one he lived daily – was mostly solitary, and he liked it that way. His old life, the one he had left behind along with the suits and swanky bars, also held his friends. They were the people he loved most in this world and for them, for three days, in exchange for that sense of belonging, he could pretend to be whole."
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