Out, Out, Brief Candle

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Prologue

What am I: a tiny island of isolation in the midst of a sea of other people’s experiences? Throughout my life, and I can say this dispassionately and without remorse, I have known all the customary highs and lows. Yet even in the best of times, I have felt a melancholy detachment, a sense of not quite belonging to the world I see around me. I am lonely because I feel that I’m alone, even when I am surrounded by people, people I care for, people I love. It’s as though I am with them but they are not with me – they are off somewhere else, in another realm, free from the burden of me; a world they prefer to inhabit without me, but leaving a shadow of their physical presence behind so that I won’t feel abandoned and alone. But I am alone; always alone. And I yearn for a kindred spirit.

But what is all this? If I were a proper writer I’d have set the scene by now instead of babbling on in self-pity. I’m on a plane, travelling economy class from Sydney to New York. Should you choose, you may infer from that something about my financial situation or about my parsimony; I’ll leave that up to you to decide. It isn’t important. Well, not to me at any rate.

No, none of that is true. It is in fact my turn. I’m on what is called my deathbed. It is presumed by those congregated around me, most of them medical professionals who ought to know better, that I am about to die. I am not. Not if I have anything to do with it. Not, at least, before I’ve had my say. But it all keeps getting mixed up. My memory has no sense of discipline, throwing up images – remembered or imagined – in apparently random sequence, or in a sequence whose pattern I cannot yet decipher.

I used to be good at patterns, deciphering them, understanding them. Life seemed ordered then. Not anymore.

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