‘I didn’t take your book with me when I was away,’ he admitted; then quickly added: ‘But if it’s any consolation, the book I did take came back with only a page or so read.’ Her shrug was meant to tell him that it was okay. ‘And then, when I got back there were things to do, a backlog to clear, no time for reading. But I’d pick your book up now and then and dip into it like it was a jar of cookies, hidden from view but too tempting to leave alone; the cupboard door no match for my craving.’
With a tentative smile, she allowed herself to believe that her writing had inspired him to wax poetic; and felt gratified in that belief.
Some of the poems he’d selected, in that furtive, random picking of his, he told her, were sweet like flowers swaying in the breeze as if whispering coyly “pick me, pick me”. But it was the darker verses that he related to and stayed in his memory. And that probably said more about him that it did about her.
After a pause, she asked him: ‘Do you believe in Heaven and Hell?’
He thought about it for a long time; and his expression indicated that this was not a question he was prepared to answer with glib platitudes. It deserved serious consideration. So she did not press him for an answer. She knew that he would give an honest and sincere one when he was ready.
‘For most of my life, I didn’t,’ he began, finally. ‘I thought they were just stories made up by those who wanted to control and coerce the masses. But as I approach the final furlong of my race I’m beginning to see them differently. I still don’t accept the literal notions of fire and brimstone on the one hand, nor of harps and angels in a cloud-strewn landscape on the other. And I no longer believe that one has to wait until mortal death to experience either of these states. But I believe that there comes a point of realisation, when all your shots have been fired, that you have either succeeded or failed in life; and from that point onwards, depending on the conclusion you come to, you live either in Heaven or in Hell.’
The final furlong, she repeated to herself as a wave of sadness washed over her; and she felt compelled to ask him where he found himself, right now.
He smiled broadly, or perhaps bravely, and shrugged his shoulders; then apparently deciding that flippancy was now an appropriate response he recited: ‘This could be Heaven or this could be Hell.’
A tear formed in the corner of her eye and ran down her cheek as she bent forward and kissed him gently on the forehead.
‘Welcome to the Hotel California, Dad.’