When I was able, I surruptitiously watched Harry out of the corner of my eye as we walked through the park on that cold winter day. Mostly though, he outpaced me so thoroughly that all I could see was the back of his long black coat. He galloped forward faster than I would have thought possible for a man twice my almost middled age.
‘C’mon Chick, keep up’ he flung over his shoulder, and my feminist feathers ruffled in outrage.
I contented myself with noticing how his skull perpetually seemed to want to shake loose its skinny cover and escape. The frown lines across his face seemed to say that it was only by sheer muscle control that his bones were kept inside. This made Harry look like he was angry, although his cheerful nature gave lie to this impression.
I searched in my mind for a way to tell him that, when he walked so fast, he seemed to be rushing forward into a future he just couldn’t quite seem to catch. It took me ten minutes to think of a way, by which time we had travelled a mile and had already reached the riverside path.
Half speaking, half singing, half to him, half to myself I called out “Rushing towards the future Harry, rushing towards the future.” and it seemed as inadequate to me as it must have to Harry, for he made no reply.
“How fast can you really walk?” I said; stung by his silence and that provoked a response. He began to march forward with real vigour now, his body straining onward, arms arcing, lower limbs barely keeping up with his torso. He seemed for all the world like a manic scarecrow on speed.
Frost lay on the ground thick as a beetle’s brow on that day, but this had nought to do with what happened next.
As the hammer fell silently, yet with brutal force, and sent Harry into a tumbling, arm-thrashing, bone-threatening trajectory, all I could think was ‘my fault, my fault’; but as inevitably as a snowflake, gale-blown from the top of a mountain, falls downward into the void, there was nothing I could do to revoke my words to Harry though I wished for many years after that I could have pulled them back into my mouth.
Harry hit the ground hard and lay still – breathless and broken.
There was a curious silence in the air, heavy and prescient as he looked up from the bird’s nest that gravity and momentum had made of his body and I could do nothing but watch helplessly as his life ebbed away, taking all will, all feeling with it.
Bending over him I touched his cheek gently, and suddenly I felt that I was with him, his feelings becoming my own. I heard as he heard, saw as he saw and our eyes locked onto the deep blue immensity of the empyrean.
As we lay there, an expression of utter serenity crept over our features. Creases ironed themselves out; the proud line of our jaw became soft as chewing gum; and a lifetime of narrowed eyes became an infinity of ocean.
I expected colourful scenes of his life to roll through our mind yet I felt his astonishment when, instead, a blank white screen appeared, superimposed against the sky.
And reason all but left him – I could feel it slipping away – when, instead of some manner of high and mighty judgment, a line of blinking red letters appeared on the screen:
‘ERROR – SYSTEM FAILURE IMMINENT – COMMENCING EMERGENCY UPLOAD.’
I felt him blink once; caught his sudden shock – hard like a bird hitting against a window.
Then the screen clicked off and he was gone from my sight.
I sank to the ground, threw my head and arms back, and howled uncomprehendingly into the sky.