Dalgetty was standing at the door last night. No knock on the door, no call, nothing. It had been a heavy day and I was probably asleep in my chair.
“Well now you’re awake, can I come in?”
I jumped up, startled. It was like a great crash of thunder in a clear blue sky. The door was open and he was looking through the screen. I opened the screen and he walked in. He threw a backpack on the floor opened the top and pulled out a tiny little white dog. I knew who he was immediately. Even after a lifetime.
“I hope that dog keeps quiet,” I said. “We aren’t allowed to have dogs in the flats.”
“That’s good. Because he’s not a dog. He’s a cat.” Everyone knew Dalgetty was as mad as a meat axe.
“What sort of cat?”
“A West Highland Terrier Poodle cross.”
“You mean he’s a dog.”
“Well physiologically speaking, I suppose you’re right. But the mummy dog died when he was an hour old and he was brought up by an old cat. He thinks he’s a cat. I’ll show you.” He put the ‘dog’ in the corner of the room and it sat looking at me. “Now whistle and call him.”
I whistled him and nothing happened. Then I called him. “Come here boy. Come here.” Nothing.
“Now call him as if he was a cat.”
“Puss, puss, puss,” I called and the little bugger hopped up, ran over and jumped in my lap.
“What’s his name?”
I did mention that Dalgetty was crazy. This was typical.
“How on earth did you find me?” I asked. “How long’s it been?”
“Thirty nine years, eight months and a couple of days. And you haven’t changed a bit.”
“How did you find me?”
“I never lost you. I keep a close watch on my friends.”
I hadn’t seen Dalgetty since I left the Army. I was doing a Chinese Language course at the RAAF School of Languages in Point Cook. So was he. He was a member of that great secret body called Army Intelligence.
“When did you get out of the Army?” I asked.
“About two years after you did. Then I went to ASIO. That’s how come I never lost you.”
“What does that mean? And would you like a whisky?”
I poured him a glass and he started talking.
“My job at ASIO was to train young operatives in the art of finding people. So I decided that you, of all the people I knew, would never be a threat to security, that you would probably not mind and so you became my target. Every time any newbies arrived I would give him or her your name, tell them where you were last known and to find out what you were doing.”
“You bastard. I suppose that accounts for some of the strange conversations I’ve had with people over the years.”
“Or maybe they were just people who wanted to know why you talk to an old teddy bear.”
“Anyway why did you think I wouldn’t mind?”
“Because we discussed the whole idea one night at Point Cook. You said it sounded like a ‘very neat exercise’. They were your words. And before you butt in, I couldn’t ask you because it would spoil the whole thing if you did know.”
“OK, you’re still a bastard but enough about me. What about you?”
Well it appeared that Dalgetty had spent the next ten years or so in places like Cambodia, Somalia and Yugoslavia with Australian Peacekeeping Forces. And in most places he was pretending to be someone he was not. He was not pleased with some of the things he did and some of the things he saw. But mostly he was not happy with the things he should have done but wasn’t allowed to do. He got out of ASIO and spent the rest of his time trying to find himself. In his words, ”’trying to find out who the hell I was and why I wasn’t happy.
“Did you get married? You seem to know all about me. What about you?”
“Yes I got married. Got unmarried. Had two children. Lost two children.”
It was nearly time to go to sleep. He dragged a beanbag out from under my table and dropped into it.
“It’s like a bloody nest, mate. The “Great White Sentinel Stork” in its nest.”
“There is no such thing.”
“There is so. Look it up on Google.”
I did. There isn’t one.
So Dalgetty rolled out of the beanbag, took my laptop and searched again.”Found it. Hans Christian Andersen, “The Storks.”
He then pulled a little notebook out of his shirt pocket, opened it, tore out a page and screwed it up. I picked it up. It had my name, my phone number and my address.
“What’s with the book?”
“It’s a list of all the things I have to do and all the people I have to see before I die in three months.”
“Why three months?”
“Because March the 4th is the tenth anniversary of the day I lost Michele and the girls.”
I started to say something.
“Don’t interrupt mate. I’m the same age as you. I’ve had a mixed life. I have a pretty decent case of Post Traumatic Shit Disorder. I don’t know if I believe in life after death but if it’s true I want to go the same day the girls went. I’m not giving you any details. The only thing you need know is that I made the decision six months ago and every page I tear out of the book gets me closer to the end and every time I tear a page out I feel happier.”
“How many people were in the book?”
“It started out with nine and there are three left. Now I’m going to sleep. See you in the morning.”
He flopped onto the beanbag, I crawled into bed and he didn’t go to sleep. He started telling me everything, until about three o’clock his voice started to fade and he was asleep. I won’t tell you what he said last night. But I didn’t try to argue with him.
This morning he had a shave, and a shower and I fried him some bacon and eggs.
Then the last thing he said was, “Every time I lay my story on you guys the weight gets less and less. You nine guys are the ones who, all my life, I knew were strong enough to take a bit without it breaking you. So, thanks.”
I couldn’t say anything in return because of the lump in my throat, but his smile as he walked down the stairs made me feel an awful lot better.
The last thing I saw was a little dog, called Puss, with a personality disorder poking its head out the top of Dalgetty’s backpack.