Not Dead Yet
Two months had passed. It was still winter but no one in Gabriel and Amira’s Dementia Unit dance class was cold. Everyone was hot and pumping jive. The class had come to an equilibrium of its own accord. Gabriel was given notes from the “proper” dance instructors, although, somewhat begrudgingly. The notes were enough to give a loose direction and Wolfgang and Madeline would demonstrate the technical elements of each dance for anyone interested. Although Madeline’s mind could not remember the technique, her body remembered perfectly well the movements she had practised for so many years. Lacking in technical knowledge, Gabriel and Amira decided to go with transferring the feeling of each dance and giving their students an immersive experience. Basically, all that meant was turning the music up and dancing enthusiastically with the class members in, more or less, the appropriate style.
Gabriel would yell out encouragement and random bits of advice above the music. “Keep going. You’re doing great. Jive is meant to be fun. Have fun folks. Let’s go. Go, go, go.” Everyone loved it and they did have fun. Sometimes, Gabriel added loudly, “We’re not dead, yet. Keep those legs moving,” which was always greeted with peals of laughter. It was a fresh joke to most each time they heard it. Even the staff didn’t seem to tire of the joke and some, who joined in the frivolities, felt more alive than they did for the rest of their week. Amira was the only one who would look sideways at Gabriel when he repeated the joke, yet again, to which Gabriel would say, “I’m on a winner.”
When Gabriel and Amira got to the car, Gabriel said, “It’s so nice to only have to drive two minutes to home instead of forty-five.” This week, they had moved into an apartment owned by the College in Darnall. Gabriel was offered more work and the use of one of the apartments. They both felt that it would be a positive move. It would save Gabriel a lot of travel time and he thought that the change would be good for Amira too. Farkas and Ide had come to a workable childcare arrangement and Farkas was only working at Erdo’s farm when Ide wasn’t working at the hospital. Amira was no longer needed to care for Lan-Lan. Although he didn’t say it, Gabriel was glad to be living in neutral territory. As much as he felt welcomed into Amira’s home, it was her house, not their house. Welcome is not the same as belonging to. He wasn’t eager to get back to Waldmeer, himself, but said to Amira, “You go visit whenever you want.”
‘I’ll try and settle here,” said Amira.
Gabriel looked at her, not entirely convinced that she would so easily leave her roots in Waldmeer, smiled and said, “It will work out.”
Thomas never returned to school. After Kathleen’s passing, he took two weeks off. He had already been away from school the preceding two weeks on holiday with her. By the end of a month away from school, he met up with his Deputy in the cafe.
“I hear you have been doing a fine job, Dennis,” said Thomas who had heard that, by all accounts, his much younger Deputy had stepped up to the plate commendably.
“Happy to help,” said Dennis. Of course, Dennis was, also, “happy” to further his own career but it was a balance. “I hope you are feeling better.”
Thomas didn’t address whether he felt better or not but said, “I have made some important decisions. Before meeting with you, I went to the real estate to put my house on the market.” The real estate agent was a friend of Thomas’s and reminded Thomas of the morning Kathleen had come in to tell him that she was putting her holiday house up for sale. He then looked as if he might have said the wrong thing.
“You are doing such a good job at school,” said Thomas to Dennis, “that I don’t see why you can’t continue to do so. It’s not necessary for me to fulfil the rest of my obligation before retiring.” Dennis went to object but Thomas stopped him. “I have had a great run,” said Thomas, “and I am thrilled to see you growing into a bigger role so applaudably.”
“Where will you go,” asked Dennis, “once your house is sold?”
“I am in the process of lining something up,” said Thomas. “The old Darnall Arcade is up for sale and I am talking with the appropriate parties.”
“What on earth would you do with that old building?” asked Dennis unable to hold back his mistrust of the idea. “Does anyone even go there anymore?”
Darnall had two arcades. One was the newer, larger one with a bright tiled walkway, supermarket, and thriving, well-appointed shops. The other was the relatively forgotten, old arcade. One of the shops took up three shop fronts. It had been a sewing school for twenty years. Across from the sewing school was the Curiosity Shop which had been there much longer than the sewing school. It was full of old books and crockery and war trinkets. Strangely, the other four businesses in the Arcade were all something to do with healing or alternative health. There was Holistic Healing, Darnall Health Foods and Natural Medicines, Alternative Health and Well Being Naturopathic Clinic, and Darnall Arcade Therapies. It was strange because one would have thought that a town like Darnall would not have had that many healing businesses in total. It was, also, strange that they were all next door to each other competing for a limited customer base. Although the arcade was usually quiet, the businesses had all been there for some time, so someone was supporting them.
“I’m going to use one of the shops, myself,” said Thomas, “and educate people about things that will be of use to them.” Dennis wondered what, exactly, the “things of use” were but didn’t ask. After hesitating, Thomas added, “I would like to form some sort of community with the existing shops and see where it leads.”
Dennis couldn’t help blurting out, “That’s brave.” He imagined that more things could go wrong with Thomas’s plan than could go right. “I mean… entrepreneurial,” corrected Dennis a little too quickly.
“It’s not entrepreneurial,” said Thomas. “It’s listening.”
Gabriel and Amira’s apartment was fresh and light. The lounge room window had a partial view of the meandering river running through Darnall. Many of their neighbours were, also, staff from the College. Although the apartment block was new, it was on the grounds of the original old home which preceded the College. The original house was a large, double storey building needing renovation and currently unoccupied. Someone in Waldmeer told Amira that, at one stage, the old house was owned by her four great aunts and their mother. From youngest to oldest, the sisters were Rose, Evanora, Melba, and Pearl.
By the time Gabriel and Amira had moved into their Darnall apartment, Thomas had moved into a rented flat, on a nearby street, next to the river. It was a pleasant place with an appealing courtyard and outlook. He did not want to put money into buying another house or renting a large one. Besides, all his eggs were going into the Arcade. Not entirely by choice, he was having a clean start. Kathleen’s passing had had a deep and irrevocable impact on him. He already knew what it was like to lose a partner that was long-term but not close. That, in itself, was impactful enough. Now, he knew what it was like to lose someone that you love. He could neither return to school, his house of decades, or his identity of equally as long. In fact, it was a breath of fresh air to walk down the main street of Darnall and not be greeted by every second person as the Principal of Waldmeer State Secondary School. Although the loss of identity was disturbing and, at times, frightening, its retention would have been worse. Come what may, he was going to pursue an updated identity and direction and he hoped, by the grace of God, that he would find it.
It didn’t take Thomas long to realise that he had a neighbour who he already knew. Grace lived a few houses down from him. Grace and Joe’s twins, Harry and Mary, went to Waldmeer State Secondary School. They had been in the same year level as Maria. Some years back, Grace had been ill and after a trip to Eraldus, she had returned to Waldmeer well. She credited her recovery to Amira (or Maria as she was called in those days). Grace and Joe then separated and Grace came to live in Darnall, while Joe stayed on the dairy farm outside Waldmeer. After seeing Grace a few times, Thomas told her about his Arcade venture.
“I know it doesn’t look much now,” said Thomas, “but I think I can do something with it.”
“I’m sure you can,” said Grace who was always gracious and true to her name. After reflection, she added, “I have quite an association with that Arcade. I have been involved with the sewing school for years and have even considered buying it, at times, but I wanted to do something different with it and I was never quite sure what to do.” Thomas was listening with interest. Grace added, “The peculiar old Curiosity Shop across the walkway from the sewing school was owned by some of the sisters who lived in the original house on the College grounds. Maybe, it is still in that family. I believe that those sisters are Amira’s great aunts, although, none of them is living now.”
“Is that so?” said Thomas. “Apparently, Amira and Gabriel have recently moved into the College apartments.”
“Really?” said Grace. “Amira is here in Darnall? How wonderful. I will go and see her and I will ask her if she knows who owns the Curiosity Shop now.”
Thomas and Grace looked at each other and couldn’t help feeling a trail of excitement running through their veins. Something was going to happen and if they were all in it together then Thomas and Grace, for two, wanted to be counted in.