Author's Note: To you, who are reading this. Thanks for always, thanks for everything It's been quite the bilingual adventure And special Alerty salutation to my first and only "Nightminds" reviewer: Bacard. I won't forget your kindness ;) A zillion thanks :D
As soon as the service was over, Jude and Barbara leant on each other all the way to the portico of the church, where they said goodbye and thank-yous to everyone who approached them in order to offer their condolences. Some of the nosiest onlookers made a detour around the coffin, walking by Alison's side, just for the sake of prying into Robert's family pictures. The few decent people that queued behind the ones fulfilling their curiosity and morbid greed remained around enough to pay their respects to a lifeless picture before leaving.
After ten minutes of shepherding students out of the chapel, she was left alone with the only company of the kid in charge of the sound equipment and the chaplain, who stood vigilant behind the altar, sweeping the place with his narrowed gaze assessing possible damage to historic patrimony. Seizing the chance of privacy, Alison finally made the decision to come closer to the coffin. She wondered if he would be buried in the graveyard of that very same chapel or somewhere else, in some private family mausoleum in his home town. Maybe he'd be cremated and had prepared everything to have his ashes spread above the Severn estuary. She imagined he would have liked that... or perhaps she was wrong to believe it.
So many things, she thought, that she was clueless about. Things she had never got to ask him, that she would have liked to know and share with him. Questions that would remain forever unanswered…
Her blue eyes danced over the different snapshots that portrayed his childhood, his teenage years and a young adult Robert. She felt hypnotized by the changes he exhibited over the years. It was not only noticeable in his physical appearance, in the loss of the cute chubby cheeks or the darkening of his once golden hair, which made Josh the spitting image of his father. It was not that he grew up to be the tall and lanky teenager in his high-school yearbook, with the long unkempt hair of a rebel or the shadow of stubble. All of a sudden, he blossomed and turned into the gorgeous man she had met, without the malicious acne of youth, and became the owner of a set of broader shoulders. But that was not the deepest change life and time had carved on him. She sensed the Change in little details, like the sharper gaze, clever but kind, filled with knowledge and self-confidence. It was in the endless joy and pride shinning through his eyes as he examined the perfect five-fingered fist of his baby-born son while holding Jude's hand in his own and ignoring her protests about having any more pictures taken that day. The change was in the shy curve of lips of a schoolboy which gradually morphed into a lady-killer's smile and then was turned-off by Fate in the most recent images, where he looked gravely sombre to the camera with a forced smile on. Changes that traced lines all over his thirty-something-year-old face, proving more loss, regret and sorrow than what any man so young was ever prepared to face on his own.
"He was dreamy, our Robert, wasn't he?", a determined voice asked on her left.
Alison tore her eyes away from the picture and did not hesitate. "Indeed he was. More than should be allowed for a University lecturer, in fact".
They laughed. Morgan, in his stroller, seemed to agree with a gleeful gurgle. God. It was all so…awkward.
The medium turned to safe territory searching what poor comfort she could find in Kodak-Robert's light-blue eyes.
"You can take that pic with you…". The offer fell like a bomb. "…if you want to. They are all copies of the originals".
Silence wrapped them tightly in its uneasy embrace.
"I…", Alison started, in a flawed attempt of relighting the conversation.
"Yes. I know. Me too…".
How Robert's wife knew what she was referring to, she would never guess, but the last itch of tension and rivalry between them vanished. It was nothing, really, just a childish game when confronting reality.
"Thank you…for the song". Alison's voice carried heartfelt gratitude.
Jude, née Wilson-Jones, future ex-Gilman, always Bridge in her heart… shrugged. She had had nothing to do with that particular selection. She would have been fiercely against the idea of playing the song at his funeral in other circumstances. Oh, but she had loved him deeply, still did, and she would have never forgiven herself if she had let that grudge come across her sense of duty, her personal commitment and the promise to see that his death wish was fulfilled. Besides, it would have been cruel and unfair to deprive…other people who loved him dearly of having their own peace of mind.
"Alison…". Her name sounded shaky but without the usual poison. She nodded, surprised at the respect and tact in the other woman's tone. "Robert left something for you at his home". Jude began rummaging in the travelling bag that was hung in the handlebar of the pushchair but finally found what she was looking for and extended it to her. The plastic bag was heavy in Alison's hand and the feeble handles did not look too suitable to resist the pull of gravity, so she held whatever it was to her chest with both arms.
Confusion was obvious in her eyes.
"It's…the script of the book he was working on. The only printed copy he got to revise and make the first corrections. He had chapters scattered all over the boathouse, in his office, at home…", she bit her lower lip. "I've tried to put it together as best as I could but I think he never got to write the final chapter. I found a blank page with the word 'Epilogue' at the top, as if it were the title, but", and she frowned thoughtfully. "I believe he….he intended for you to read what he had written so far and write that Epilogue yourself. He wanted you to co-write and finish the book".
The exhalation of breath was held back in her chest, burning her lungs, when she opened the folder.
Afterlife – Robert Bridge, Psy.D; Alison Mundy.
A snapshot of herself was clipped to the corner of the first page, and she noticed the incriminatory prints left onto the image by the same fingers which had played with her hair the night before.
Alison turned every page of the script with utter reverence. Here and there, stains of coffee or tea tinged the margins and licked away some of the final letters of each sentence. Crossing-outs in red-pen left words like 'fake' or 'hoax' barely recognizable. There were notes, also in red, in his handwriting in every available space. Expressions underlined with different phosphorescent felt-tip pens. 'The truth'. 'Neurotic disorders of the personality'. 'PTSD: Post-traumatic stress disorder'. 'Coma'. 'Faith'.
Robert, Robert, Robert…
She did not know a thing about writing!
"Listen…". Jude waved her hands in the air, expressively, as soon as she sensed Alison's anxiety. "I reckon Robert's idea was very noble. His aim was giving you the chance of completing his work, giving your own version of the story, of the topics Robert discusses through the book. Explaining the world what you really do, why you do it, how. You'll never have another opportunity like this one. Free of condemnation and censorship to talk in first person about yourself and mediums and…that world of spirits you're supposed to be coping with constantly. With some science supporting the facts and making the most of Robert's credibility in the academic circles'. Jude paused to take a breath and seemed to calm down. 'Even if you won't write…you must know that…well, that he would have never published this project of yours without your approval and your blessing. Not even as classroom material'.
Alison believed her. It was what Robert would have done.
"Either he was meaning to request this himself…", Jude continued, well aware of her husband's like for tests and the challenge of self-improvement and personal development. "…or he would have given you the script as some kind of gift in the end. Just…because he felt he could still help you move on through it".
The blond woman returned the items back to the plastic bag in silence and then she readjusted the bag in her arm as comfortably as she could. She shot a fulminating glance in the direction of a picture of an adult Robert. He corresponded with his cunning smile and her heart warmed up. Alison turned to her other spectators. Jude had already released the brakes of the pushchair and was rocking her child, whose eyes were closing shut easily due to the midday drowsiness.
Alison caressed the baby's head, now covered with a tiny wool bonnet, and lifted her eyes to Jude's, who wore the hopeful expression of someone who's expecting some message from up above.
"He crossed over. That means he did not have unfinished business here…amongst us". Jude's jaw quivered and her chin sank low. Alison interpreted the gesture as disappointment. She felt a pang of guilt and feared that Jude might have not understood that him coming to terms with his death was a good thing. A fantastic thing, even. He was at peace with himself and the world, ready to go to Joshie. When Jude raised her eyes again, she could have swum in the sea of relief she found in them.
"I'm glad he has made it. It's for the best…".
"Yes. It is.", she confessed. The balm of acceptance soothed the anguish of both women. "Jude?".
Robert's wife motioned for her to go on.
"Would you mind if I… well, whenever you are ready and I could steal some of your time, of course", Alison signaled the sweet child who was turning the dummy around in his mouth in dreams. "Would it be possible that I dropped by your house to ask you a few questions?".
Jude did not shake his head but wrinkled her nose in disconcert.
"To complete Robert's book", she explained. "I…can only thing of one way of finishing what he started. And it's telling Robert's story. After all, he's as much a part of me as every spirit I've ever encountered in my life. I'd rather have you and Doctor Sinyard, his friends and colleagues, as source of information than just… pouring in the text whatever limited, distorted and subjective vision I might have got of him. I'm afraid I would be too biased and maybe portray him with less accuracy that I'd do with your help".
Jude took her time to weight up the pros and cons of accepting the request.
"I don't think you would be. Inaccurate, I mean…", she offered, motioning for her to get out of the chapel to leave the people in charge of the cremation alone so they could work. Outside the cold, not as harsh as when they entered the church, caressed their cheeks and reminded them that springtime was not too far away. Barbara was patiently waiting for Jude next to her car. She looked much calmer, more focused and even gave a nod in Alison's direction. Alison waved her hand in reply. "Neither Barb nor me will stop you from that task, Alison. We owe Robert and I…I trust you'll know to pay the proper tribute he deserves'. She let out a life-long sigh. "Rest assured that you can count on us with this ".
"I appreciate it. I'll give you a call when the time comes", she promised with her heart on her sleeve. "Take care of yourselves, Jude". Gratitude swing up the corner of her mouth in a quiet smile. "The three of you…".
Alison stood watching as Jude pushed the carriage till she met Barbara, who held her in a loose embrace and gave a friendly and supportive squeeze to her shoulder.
Through the greyish clouds that covered Bristol's sky that morning, a ray of bright light cast shimmering reflections on her blond curls.
So there it was - the end of the tunnel…