Prelude 67

They hurried on to the the train, managing to find 4 seats together amidst the grey commuting hordes. Liesel and Jojo could scarcely contain their glee – a trip to London, on the train!

Aaron smiled at Fiona who returned a weary smile. Getting the kids ready for this excursion had taken a lot out of her. It was alright for Aaron – he just collected his maps, planned the excursion and then hurried everyone along, not thinking perhaps to make himself useful.

Jojo chattered excitedly, pointing out everything she saw. Liesel just sat quietly staring out the window.

“Jojo, I spy something with my little eye that begins with 'B'”, said Aaron.

“Sound it out for her, Aaron,” said Fiona.

“Buh, Jojo.”

Jojo looked around, missing the obvious 'book' that lay on Aaron's lap.

“Snake!” she offered hopefully.

“No, snake begins with 'suh'. Look for something that begins with 'Buh'” replied Aaron patiently, then to help her along, continued, “Boo, boo, boo...”

Suddenly a ray of delight flashed over Jojo's face and she shouted at the top of her voice, “Booby!”

Fiona went bright red amidst a carriage full of grown-up chuckles while Aaron laughed heartily and gave Jojo a squeeze.

Prelude 66

The sun shone brightly over verdant, undulating hills punctuated by ancient hedgerows. The air was redolent with the fragrance of wild flowers and sheep. Aaron strode on, map in hand, his reluctant clan trailing behind him.

They had been walking all day, a family outing in the Kentish countryside. The children had enjoyed the first few hours, but now were tired. Fiona sulked at the back. She hated the countryside – it was dirty, smelly and full of bugs. She normally managed to avoid these outings, but today the normally pliable Aaron had insisted.

“How much longer, Dad?”

“Not much, Jojo,” Aaron replied, his patience wearing thin.

“That's what you said last time!” whined Jojo.

“That's because you asked me just two minutes ago!”

“I'm hungry!” Jojo continued.

“Eat an apple.”

“I already had one.”

“So you can't be hungry.”

“I'm staaarving.”

“You don't know the meaning of the word, Jojo.”

Behind him Jojo made a face. She knew her father was about to launch into his poor-children-in-Africa lecture and wished she'd just eaten the apple.

Nearby a bemused sheep watched the strange procession before tugging at another tuft of grass.

Prelude 65

“Aaron, you're a fine young man, and you know that I'm proud of you, don't you?”

“Yes, Dad, of course I do.”

“But I need you to do one thing for me.”

“What it is Dad?”

“Take care of your mother when I'm gone.”

Aaron at first thought his father was speaking about his next stint away at sea, starting tomorrow, but something in his eyes was amiss.

“Dad, what do you mean?”

His father didn't answer at first, his eyes focused dreamily on the setting sun over the waters.

“Ah, don't mind me, Son, I think I'm just tired.”

He put his arm around Aaron, holding him close, for the last time.

Prelude 64

The curtain drew back and a solitary young girl stood in the middle of the stage, draped in wispy muslin. She did not move, her face full of expressive concentration, her arms extended, her hands and fingers delicately curved.

The words of Ave Maria sounded in song and she slowly brought her hands together, in swanlike grace, falling slowly to her knees in prayer as the rest of the ballet troupe floated on to the stage.

The audience sat silently, spellbound. Aaron and Fiona watched the little girl before them, no longer little, but instead unfurled in the gorgeous bloom of young womanhood.

Prelude 63

Aaron fried the onions slowly in the olive oil, careful not to burn them. Once browned he added the freshly chopped tomatoes and basil. The secret to a good tomato sauce was fresh ingredients and lots of patience, and time was something he certainly didn't seem to lack these days.

Life in general, he mused, was about filling the space between birth and death, but the pointlessness of it all was less obvious when one had things to do, things to live for, goals to achieve, people to share it with. Now he felt the lack of purpose like a dull ache in his side, like he was just treading water, waiting for the end.

His tomato sauce started to bubble so he turned it down to a gentle simmer and returned to his book.