The two Susans never met, but for a few moments, in this room, they existed for us in a most unusual way.
Our group had been meeting for more than a year.
Every Wednesday night, come rain hail or anything else for that matter.
The group was a little larger on this cold and frosty night. Someone had turned the heaters all the way up, and for a change, I didn’t complain. I could not get my hands to warm up. The noise from the heater was distracting but so was the potential chattering of my teeth.
A kind soul had switched on the urn, but the bloody thing took forever to warm up, and I was seriously caffeine deficient.
The noise of it warming up was also irritating, but I was prepared to forgive it as long as there was coffee at the end of it.
“Don’t bother mate. The bloody thing’s cold.”
The person putting a dampener on my caffeine ambitions was Paul. He is young and enthusiastic, two things I like; me being not young and occasionally enthusiastic.
“I’ll whack the kettle on, it’ll be faster.”
“You sir, are a legend.” My caffeine ambitions were back on track.
I knew almost everyone in the room with the exception of the older bloke sitting a couple of seats up and a teenage girl sitting about eight chairs around on my right.
New faces were nothing new. This group was a lot like that, even on a bitterly cold winter’s night. Word got around that something interesting was happening and friends of friends just turned up.
I’d been pasting up my latest book for the print edition, and I was glad to be out of the house. I love writing, but I dislike the stuff that goes on around it.
My back was a little bit sore, so I gave it a bit of a stretch while Paul put coffee and sugar in our cups.
For some unknown reason, no one had grabbed the comfortable armchair, so I staked a claim in the age-old tradition of throwing my scarf over it — tribal customs of the Hills people.
The caffeine was just starting to seep into my system when the group came to order. I’d spent the previous few minutes in conversation with various friends, doing the weekly catch up. Everyone wanted to know where my beloved was. “Crook as a dog, and it serves her right.”
“That’s not very nice,” was the oft-repeated reply.
“She knows that those bloody grandchildren of ours are walking Petrie dishes, but she will hug ‘em.”
“Grandmothers cannot help themselves.”
“Grandmothers, who are nurses, should know better.”
I wasn’t getting any sympathy, so I packed it in.
“Please say hello for us and tell her to get better soon.”
My beloved is very popular. Sometimes known as the Rainbow Warrior, she is about the height of the average sixth grader and has a heart as big as anything large that you can name. No one takes any notice of me when she is around, and fair enough too.
There was no set topic for this particular evening’s discussion, and the subjects bounced around the room quite energetically.
I was happy to sit and listen for a while, so I hid behind my coffee cup and soaked up the atmosphere.
I really do like these people. They don’t waste time talking about insignificant things. They feel the way I do; this time is precious. We spend the rest of the week wrestling with the world, and then we come here where it is safe, and people show each other respect. All opinions are valued.
It isn’t always discussion.
Sometimes people tell stories.
We have some excellent storytellers.
Like the night that our moderator told the story about his boss winning a full-size, fully operational ocean going dredge, in a poker game.
That story was hard to top, but a few of us gave it a try. I’ve had a couple of goes, but people know that I just make shit up. I can tell by the way they look at me. Mind you, as long as I can keep a straight face, I get them going. Especially the new members, the ones who haven’t been warned about me yet.
“You really came here direct from the airport, all the way from the US, just to be here tonight?”
“No Luv, I just made that bit up. Gotta keep things lively?”
“Don’t worry about him, you’ll get used to it, he does that all the time.”
Not ‘all the time’, just every now and then. When the spirit takes me, so to speak.
The two Susans turned up very late in the evening. I say ‘turned up’, but what I mean is, Betty was talking about a friend of hers who had died relatively young. She was diligently describing her, and I got the feeling that she admired this lady and she was missed. Apparently, she had a bit of style, dressed well and liked to spend time in classy little cafes, the kind that is hard to find these days since the advent of annoying American coffee houses.
She was just about to tell us what had caused this lady to die when Kate jumped in, “The woman you are describing sounds just like the mum of my friend from high school. How did yours pass?”
“Blood clot,a few days after an operation. Worked on her like crazy but they couldn’t bring her back. What about yours?”
“Mine took her own life six years after her daughter stepped in front of a train. I was there at the time, and so was our friend. The daughter put her red headphones on, turned and waved at us and calmly stepped in front of the 4:05 to Finders Street. I could not believe what had just happened. I ran to where her body landed, and I put my arm around her and sobbed. The ambulance guys had to pull me away. It took a little while, but it destroyed their family, and after battling her grief for six years the mum had had enough, and she left us too. I’ve never forgiven myself for not seeing it coming. I keep thinking that I could have said something, done something.”
“It’s not your fault kid.” I heard myself say. “When people feel the need to leave they will find a way, and nothing you say or do has anything to do with that decision.” She seemed to understand, but it was obvious that she had carried this guilt for a very long time.
After a moment, the two ladies looked at each other and, at the same time said the same thing, “What was your ladies name?”
“Susan.” The two voices spoke as one, and a chill went up my spine.
My group members were not describing the same person but the details of their lives, with the exception of their passing, were close to identical. What were the chances of that?
We were all a little bit stunned by what we had just witnessed, so we sat in silence.
Eventually, our moderator said, “I think that we are going to remember this night for a long time to come. Some conversations just stay with you.”
He was right.
Eventually, people began to stir, and a few of us expressed our amazement at what had just happened. We gathered up our stuff, put the chairs away, emptied the glacially slow urn, and hoovered the carpet. Almost everyone had gone home by the time I reached the front door. It wasn’t my job to turn off the light and lock up, so I had time. I turned and looked at the now emptying room and thought about the two Susans.
I had a few things to tell the missus when I got home, but she was asleep, so I told the dogs.
They were happy to see me, and they listened intently while I told them the story.
I climbed into bed, and so did the dogs. We fought for a bit of space while I thought about the tenuous grip we have on this glorious life of ours and I wondered if my story would end up in a room on a cold winters night somewhere, sometime.