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Ashes to Ashes
What's yet in this
That bears the name of life? Yet in this life
Lie hid more thousand deaths; yet death we
fear, That makes these odds all even.
-- William Shakespeare
In the fall of the year that I turned twenty, I set out for Europe to become a writer and to see all of Europe on four hundred and fifty-three dollars. Even then, the shameless foolhardiness of my presumptions amazed me -- but oh, youth. I had never been to Europe, nor had I ever gathered together a collection of words onto paper that anyone would have thought to rescue from a waste basket.
Fulfilling the initial requirements of traveling was easy enough: I packed my bags, got myself to the airport, stepped onto the plane and took my seat. As for writing, I had taken on what now seems the embarrassing premise of using the trivia or grandeur of travel, however bland or bizarre, as the substance for my fiction: a novel. I had promised myself not to let my words get tangled up in the attributes that such a premise might, by its very nature, dictate: self-congratulation; overwritten, maudlin, sexual, solipsistic confession, the use of existential aphorisms, obscure literary references, verbatim transcriptions of found dialogue, or endless, Dostoevskian narrative; but most of all, I had promised myself that I would do my best to keep my words from seeming naive, or, God forbid, young. I also allowed myself the option to change facts and situations as I saw fit, not as they happened around me or to me, but for the written word only.
As I sat in my seat on the plane, pad and pencil in hand, I stared at the enormity of an eight-and-a-half-by-eleven blank page. Soon, an attractive woman, fiftyish, trim and neatly dressed in black, settled into her seat beside me. Though her eyes were red and swollen, she greeted me with a friendly smile.
"I'm Audrey Thomas," she said, extending her hand to me.
"David Gatlin," I said.
"Your first trip abroad?"
"Yes, it is," I said.
"Well, I was born in London," she said. "Later, I lived with my husband in Lambeth, near the Houses of Parliament. That was years ago, before we moved to New York."
After a few minutes of conversation, the woman reached into a leather handbag and pulled out a red velvet purse, loosened the pullstrings, and revealed a simple bottle.
"My husband," she said. "He died last week."
She held out the six-inch bottle, full of flakes of various shades of gray, and seemingly, indicated an invitation for me to examine the vessel.
I took the bottle and held it cautiously in my fingers, perusing the contents in a perfunctory way.
"I'm sorry," I said, returning the bottle. Not knowing what to say, yet feeling obligated to say something, I finally spoke after the interlude of the plane's takeoff.
"Are you planning to stay in London now, or are you just visiting?" I asked nervously, awkwardly.
"I'm staying," she said, "I have a few relatives in London, and I see no reason to return to New York. I have no children." She paused and put her hand gently over the bottle of ashes, which was now in her purse. "I'd like to spread my husband's ashes on a hill in a little town just north of London; in St. Albans, where we first met."
I smiled soberly and tried to nod my head understandingly.
After two meals, a few drinks, and seven hours of intermittent conversation, we landed at Heathrow Airport at eight o'clock in the evening.
On our way to the baggage claim area, someone bumped Mrs. Thomas, causing her to drop her handbag. She stooped to check on the bottle of ashes, and untying the red purse dropped the glass.
"Oh no!" she cried, when it hit the floor. She stood over the shattered glass and strewn ashes, staring intently. She bit her lower lip nervously.
"Uh, Mrs. Thomas. I'll be right back," I said. "Don't worry, please. I'll try to find another container."
She nodded slowly, tears welling in her eyes.
Finding a suitable container for a man's ashes in an airport terminal was difficult. Finally, at the gift shop, I saw a bottle of wrapped mints, almost the same size as the bottle that had broken.
After making the purchase, I emptied the candy into one of the pockets of my jacket and returned to Mrs. Thomas. I separated the ashes from the broken glass, pushed the flakes into the new container with a card from my wallet and gave her the bottle.
Later, while we waited for our luggage, Mrs. Thomas stood quietly staring at the baggage-claim sign.
We were both taking the same bus into London. Our seven hours together on the plane, as well as the incident of the broken bottle of ashes, had bound us in a small way. I offered to accompany Mrs. Thomas to her brother's house and then be on my way. We arrived at Victoria Station and took a cab to the house on Aldford.
"You must come in, David, and have some tea. I insist."
"All right," I said.
While Mrs. Thomas made a phone call from one of the back bedrooms, I sat quietly in the living room, drinking tea.
"Well, just as I thought," she said, when she came back into the living room. "My brother and his wife went to Stockholm for most of the summer. I haven't told them about my husband. I want to tell them in person. Besides, it's over. Nothing to be done. Right?"
I nodded my head and shrugged my shoulders.
"Well, David, I think I can at least give you a room and some towels for the night. You've been very . . . . "
"Oh no, no. I've got to be going," I said quickly. "I'll find a place. I don't want to . . . ."
"Don't be silly," she demanded. "Too late to begin looking for a hotel now, especially in the summer, walking all night, looking for a vacancy. No. You've been too kind."
That night, too tired to struggle through my first bout against pencil and paper, I opened the tall balcony doors in the room Mrs. Thomas had prepared. I breathed the damp air deeply. The sheen of the wet London streets mirrored the swimming shapes of taxis. Rain poured from the spout of a gabled window awning and continued through the night; the patter of the rain gently metamorphized as the knocking at my door the next morning.
I got up from the large bed, put on a pair of pants and answered the door. Mrs. Thomas, wearing the same black dress as she had the day before, beamed as though she had revived from her traumas.
"Good morning, David. Sleep well?"
"Oh, not badly. The time change is confusing, but I'll catch up. You look rested this morning," I said.
"Yes, after yesterday, my luck can only get better. David? What are your plans for today?"
"Don't have any," I said. I hadn't told Mrs. Thomas that I was trying to become a writer, nor had I told her that I didn't have any plans because I was experience-mongering for the sake of art. "Oh, I might browse around Piccadilly Circus. Go to a few museums. I don't know."
"Oh, don't be a tourist! Why don't you come with me to St. Albans?"
"Well, I should really be . . . ."
"Oh, come on! You'll love it. I'm buying your ticket."
Victoria Station was crowded and noisy at nine o'clock that Friday morning. I was still not fully awake and I sat wondering what I had gotten into. I had become entwined in Mrs. Thomas' scheme of things through my own devising. My pact with myself to float aimlessly, on the tide, with the current, had quickly become tantamount to selling my soul. Yet, I wondered if this was merely an excuse for my own indecisiveness.
An hour later, we got off the train in St. Albans and Mrs. Thomas asked directions at the Horn of Plenty Pub.
The sobriety and loneliness of St. Albans -- closed shops, empty streets and the clatter of loose windows flapping against abandoned buildings -- depressed me.
After receiving the necessary directions from the owner of the pub, we caught a bus to a wooded area, got off at Doggett's Way, rounded a corner and finally came to the long-awaited charnel site. Mrs. Thomas stopped abruptly and stared down the street. A newly-built school, recently-finished houses, stacks of bricks and straw, and the sound of young boys playing in an abandoned lot had thwarted her dream.
Mrs. Thomas stood bewildered. She stopped, gasped for air, bent over in half, and held a hand tightly to her chest, then, frantically, reached into her handbag. After fidgeting around, she finally gulped down two pills. I squirmed and mumbled offers of assistance, but realized I was no help at all.
"Mrs. Thomas, are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine. Just get me to a place where I can sit down."
I helped her to a bench in a bus shelter.
"Well, I guess that was to be expected after such a long time," she said. "How silly of me to think that everything would be the same, that developers wouldn't have moved into these hills. Well, when I get my strength back, shall we return to London?" she said, changing the tone of her voice and forcing a smile. "When I was a little girl, Doggett's Way served as a path through the woods. Now, that path is practically a highway, isn't it? How stupid of me to have expected a town to stay the same. Do you think I'm silly?"
"No. Not really," I said, without conviction.
On the train back to London, Mrs. Thomas -- after a long silence --said, "David, I know I've burdened you. You must want to get on with your trip, but I'd like to make it up to you somehow, for all you've done. I'd like to propose that we travel together -- at your leisure and pace, of course. You should let me take care of the finances. You've been very kind to me and I greatly enjoy your company. How would you like to go to Stockholm?"
"Uh, well, uh, what about, I thought . . . . Oh, I don't know."
At this point, I began to have reservations about the raison d'etre of my first trip to Europe, and I considered abandoning it altogether. Maybe the idea was foolhardy from the start. Given the open-endedness of my premise for writing, I faced a vast and incomparable freedom. I stared each night at a blank sheet of paper that I found practically impossible to violate. Other than a few diary-like notes and descriptions, I had written nothing. Confronted with failure as a writer, I contemplated picking and choosing the course of my travels. At least I would go home with something; if not the makings of a novel, then some good times, some memories.
"Well, think about my idea," Mrs. Thomas said. "In the meantime, you won't turn down another night of clean towels and a comfortable bed, will you?" I guessed not.
We arrived back at Victoria Station at eleven o'clock. We took a cab to Aldford, where I decided to leave Mrs. Thomas alone for a while.
"Will you be back for dinner, David?"
"Sure. I guess so," I said.
I caught a bus to Piccadilly Circus and spent the afternoon thinking intently about Mrs. Thomas' offer. I didn't know if I wanted to see Europe in the style that her company would of necessity dictate, but I decided to stay with it. I wasn't going to give up my grand delusion so easily.
I returned to Alford later than I had intended. I entered the house after bouncing the brass knocker on the large oak door, and then greeted Mrs. Thomas. She had turned in her black dress for a beige summer outfit. Elegant shoes accentuated her long, taut calves, and her light brown, almost blond hair, no longer in a bun, but parted, and pulled tightly across her temples, was longer than I had imagined.
"What's cooking?" I asked, as Mrs. Thomas poured some wine.
"Beef Bourbon avec Champignon. Cooking is one thing I do very well."
"I thought we were going out tonight?" I said.
"Uh, well, I'll cook tonight and after dinner show you a bit of London. Oh, forgive me for imposing. You've probably got plans for the evening, don't you?"
"Well, not really, and seeing London without wandering around, trying to decide what to see or how to get there might be very enjoyable."
"I promise not to treat you like a tourist."
"All right. Fine," I said.
The change in Mrs. Thomas's appearance confused me. Changing her dress and the style of her hair had decreased her already hard-to-determine age by ten years. She had become vivacious and confident. Soon, at her suggestion, I was calling her Audrey.
"Well, shall we plan our trip, or take it one day at a time?" she said.
"Let's take it one day at a time," I said, later that night.
"Oh, you've decided we should travel together after all."
"But I want to pay my way. I have money of my own," I said.
"Oh, don't be silly. You're what? Nineteen? Twenty? I know you don't have much money. I'll have it no other way. You've been too kind."
"Well, we'll see. But what about your husband's ashes?"
"I'm not going to think about that for a while."
"Do you know where your brother and his wife have gone in Stockholm?"
"Oh yes, of course. They go there nearly every summer to visit Emily, my younger sister, and her husband. They'll be at her house all summer, no doubt."
Audrey was an inexhaustible guide that week in London, shuffling us around the city during the days, and pulling me through the pubs on Kings Road at night.
Friday afternoon, we took a train from Liverpool Street Station to Harwich, where Audrey bought a berth for each of us on the boat to the Hook of Holland. The night was cold and the only sounds were those of the sea slapping the sides of the boat and the muffled complaint of the engines.
We took a train from the harbor into Amsterdam and rented two rooms in a hotel off the Dam Rak. During Saturday and Sunday we went about our own affairs, seeing each other during the evenings for dinner, and each of the two nights, after an evening meal, we went pub-crawling. Audrey spent all of Saturday shopping for clothes; a sporty pant suit, puff-sleaved blouses, and a two-piece swim suit, not quite daring enough to be called a bikini. That day, I bought her a leather handbag from a boutique on St. Nicholaas Straat and gave it to her that evening. I spent most of the two days visiting the galleries and museums of Amsterdam, walking along the canals, writing in the parks and at the tables of outdoor cafes. I was enjoying the milieu of my grand endeavor. In one week, I had written all of a page or two, which, when edited, might have sufficed as a beginning sentence or an extraneous bit of description. Despite Audrey's communal attitude about her money, she began to let my insistence on taking her to a few restaurants and theaters during the week serve as recompense.
Monday morning, while eating breakfast in the open court of a quaint coffee shop, Audrey said, "David, I'd like to go swimming today. I bought that bathing suit the other day and I'd like to try it out. Will you come with me?"
That afternoon, we bought some bread, cheese and wine, and found a section of beach near Zandvoort. When we were lying in the sun, Audrey sat up abruptly, removed her sunglasses, and said, "David, let's go in."
Without hesitation, I jumped up, and even surprising myself, lifted her, marveling at how light she was. I carried her to the water and dropped her into a three-foot wave. She hadn't made any effort to free herself from this first physical encounter, but sat in the water, half-surprised. Turning quickly, she swam into the incoming waves.
When we were on the blanket an hour later, Audrey said, "David, I'm going to buy a car tomorrow."
"A car? You're kidding?"
"No, really. It'll be much easier, traveling in a car rather than putting up with trains and crowded carriages. I'll have to send for some money from my bank in London. Maybe I won't be able to get it tomorrow. Well, nonetheless, this week." She nodded confidently, pleased with her decision. After we left the beach and changed into fresh clothes, we went to dinner on the Leidsestraat, and later walked along the canals on the Oudekersplein. Red and green lights smeared the water in the canals with reflections. Lights beamed from the street-front windows of prostitutes standing like gargoyles at the entrances to their small cubicles. It had occurred to me that in a different set of situations, fate might have afforded me more interesting adventures and led me to the muse. The constant thought of endless possibilities made me self-conscious about my smallest decisions. Despite this, I often comforted myself with the maxim that good writers lead boring lives, though at twenty I hadn't yet found the dedication to accept such an idea.
Eventually, we left the street that enveloped us in the unreal feeling of a Hollywood set. We went to a small, crowded pub and took a table with two Englishmen, three young American girls, and a woman from Helsinki whose name was Luana. I left the table to buy Audrey and me some drinks. When I returned, the timbre of conversation at the table was high, Audrey having become talkative, entertaining and charming. The other people at the table listened intently while she told of a childhood in St. Albans and of her school pranks and mischief with other girls.
When we left the pub, I could no longer discern whether the situation I had put myself into with Audrey was convenient or cumbersome. I regretted having left behind the younger women who had been at the table, women closer to my own age. If I had been alone, I would have stayed at the table with the Englishmen, Luana, and the three Americans, and may have sparked a friendship there, or traveled on with some of them. I had caught myself staring at the white-haired Luana of Helsinki a number of times, but intermittently felt somehow chaperoned because of Audrey's presence. Yet I was beginning to like Audrey, and most of the time I felt glad that I had been seated next to her on the plane.
The next night, we had planned to go out, but Audrey wasn't feeling well. She insisted that I go without her; she said she simply needed some rest. I told her I would be at the same pub that we had been in the night before, and if later she felt any better, she should join me. When I arrived at the pub, I bought a beer and sat at a table near the front window. It was early in the evening and the pub was not crowded. I drank my beer and watched people walking by on the street. Soon, out of nowhere, Luana sat down beside me.
"Hello again," she said. I greeted her and ordered a drink. I asked where her friends were and she told me they weren't really friends, but acquaintances that she had only met the night before. She was traveling alone.
We sat at the table for an hour or more. We bought each other drinks and traded histories. She listened intently, her face in the palm of one hand, as I told her (in a roundabout fashion) about my novel that was nearing completion. Her knowing, complacent smile, pouty and seductive, made me swoon. At that moment, if she had taken my hand and led me out of the bar, I would have gone with her gladly, and never looked back. I had become the passive receiver of everyone else's decisions. I wondered if I was using my premise as a guise for lack of assertiveness again. Finally, I decided that it was possible to take things as they came and still not renege on my integrity if I led myself into encounters of my own choosing just a little.
After a while, Audrey came into the pub and sat down beside me.
"Feeling better?" I asked.
"Much," Audrey said, and smiled at Luana. "Hello, Luana," Audrey said. "Where are your friends?"
Luana explained for the second time that they were not her friends, but only people that she had met the night before.
I asked Audrey if she would like something to drink. She put her hand on mine and said, rather abruptly, "No, letís go."
"Right away?" I said.
"Yes," she said. "Let's go."
"All right," I said weakly. I was mortified by my concession, yet I swallowed the rest of my beer, got up from my chair assertively and said, "Good bye Luana. See you again some time."
Luana smiled, but said nothing. She nodded her head, waved her hand demurely and then opened a book that she had brought to the table when she had first sat down.
When we left the pub, Audrey said nothing for a long time. We walked together through the streets, watching people and gazing into shop windows. I walked a little faster than Audrey, hands in my pockets, looking around as though I were by myself; indifferent to her presence behind me.
"Pretty, isn't she?" Audrey said, after a long, awkward silence.
"Who?" I said.
"Well, Luana, of course!"
"Oh. Yes. Very."
Suddenly, Audrey grabbed my arm and said, "Oh, let's go in here." She dragged me into a small pub that was below the level of the street. The pub was crowded and loud, and three brightly dressed musicians sang gypsy songs. Audrey bought us some drinks, and soon, whatever game we had been playing with one another on the street seemed to have ended. She laughed and sang, and drank and talked, and soon I joined her. We had a drunken good time.
Late that night, Audrey and I bought a bottle of wine, returned to the hotel and went quietly to her room. Audrey plopped into a large armchair, kicked off her beige shoes and mumbled silliness as she reached into her luggage beside the chair for a corkscrew to open the bottle. When I sat down on the bed next to the chair, she propped her feet on my knees.
"David, would you rub my feet, please?"
I gently pulled her by her thin ankles so that she was almost lying down in the big armchair, her feet resting in my lap. I rubbed and squeezed her feet while she sat in the chair and sipped wine from a drinking glass.
After I massaged her feet, Audrey stared at me for a while, then got up, walked to the other side of the room, and turned out the light. When she walked back to where I was sitting on the bed, I could see her in the half-light, taking off her clothes. When she was completely undressed, she stood in front of me. She put her hands on my face, and said, "David, come to bed with me." We woke early the next morning, the dead-dream reality of each other's arms testifying to a new and different relationship.
Audrey's heart acted up two more times after that, accompanied by that ritual of which she seemed so mortally embarrassed and apologetic; that gasping, looking frightened, stopping, bending over, holding her chest, and quick gulping down of pills. Afterwards, she always insisted that it was nothing; went on and on about how it was nothing, as though I needed convincing, even though I had said nothing to refute her claim. The idea of a woman having a serious heart condition who was as young-looking, fit, and vivacious as Audrey, seemed very contradictory to me. Yet the state these attacks put her into afterwards made her appear haggard and lost, and she didn't recover from these bouts as quickly as she tried to make it seem. One night, Audrey - while acting particularly sexy and flirtatious -- had one of her heart spasms. It was then that the rude fact of my youthfulness confronted me with how foolish I must have seemed to her, how helpless and inept. I wanted to leave, get rid of her, punish her for this quirk that would snap me out of whatever fantasy of idealism I was floating on. Then, soon after, I felt like a coward.
One morning, well past noon in Amsterdam, we were lounging around in bed, and the sun, insinuating and hot, beamed into our room.
"Audrey, how old are you?" I asked, after having thought about the question for a long time.
"An even fifty," she said, without skipping a beat. The expression on her face started out as a frown and then turned quickly into a self-satisfied smirk that crinkled the edges of her mouth.
"No! Come on," I said, and then felt foolish, my response having seemed like that of someone exactly my age.
"Yes, yes, yes," she giggled, and then wrestled me on the bed, tickling me, and poking me in the ribs. "You love it. You know you do."
Privately, I had guessed Audrey's age to be as young as thirty-four, and at the most, maybe forty-two, but these estimates vacillated constantly in my mind. The ambiguity in her moods and manner added to my confusion in this. Sometimes, she acted so foolish and giddy that I wondered why I was still traveling with her. Other times, she would ridicule me for some naive remark or observation I had made, and would scold me, not like a schoolboy, but as though I -- one person -- was an entire audience. "Fortunately, time passes, David, and a little bit of age will do you good; hopefully, you'll find a broader scope of experience than the narrow little world you've known so far." Her sharp intelligence and quick wit intimidated me, and when I tried to keep up with her, she would not be above pulling the rank of age on me.
One night, after talking for hours in bed, Audrey told me she loved me.
"What do you mean, exactly?" I said.
"Well, I don't mean that I want to marry you. I don't mean I can't do without you, or that I want to live the rest of my life with you. And I certainly don't mean that I have taken this situation that we have gotten into to mean any more than it does. I simply mean: I love you."
I looked at the ceiling for a long while, not knowing what to say or how to respond. Finally, Audrey sighed, put her hands gently on my face, held me to her breast, and said quietly, "Oh, David. David. David. David," and we went to sleep. Neither of us ever brought the subject up again.
Audrey would often get maudlin at night, and tell me how futile life was. "You're an idealist now, David, but as you get older, you'll see why many people find no reason, or even desire, to go on with life." She depressed me, even frightened me when she talked like this. I would try to say something to change her mind about things, but she would argue, and we would go to sleep depressed.
In a week's time, Audrey bought the car she had said she would. I had gone with her to 21 Pieter Bastrsstraat and we both rode away in the shiny red Triumph.
A few nights later, at dinner, after I had mulled over the idea for days, I said, "Audrey, I think I would rather not go with you to your sister's. Why don't I travel alone for a while, a week or two, and then return to Stockholm and arrange to meet you somewhere. I think things might be better that way; more comfortable for both of us. Then, when we meet again, we can see how we feel about traveling together once more."
"Oh, David. You're not going to say good-bye, are you? Not now."
"Well, I'd really like to travel alone for a while. Don't be angry, but I've made up my mind."
Audrey brooded and sulked, and tried to persuade me to stay with her. But finally, she agreed. I would take a train to Oslo when we got to Stockholm, and Audrey would spend time with her sister. When I returned to Stockholm, Audrey would meet me at a certain place and time.
We stayed in Amsterdam for a few more days and then decided to leave for Stockholm. We took a week to get there, stopping now and then in small villages. Audrey tried a number of times to persuade me not to take the train to Oslo. She said I could stay at a hotel and go off on my own while she visited her sister, but I persisted in saying that I wanted to travel alone for a while.
We started sharing the expenses (right down the middle) for gas, food and miscellaneous things like wine. This came about, not through my instigation (though it seemed perfectly reasonable to me), but through inferences from Audrey. She was trying to let me know that traveling through Europe, in the real world, without a benefactor, was not without its disadvantages.
We had each drunk a lot of wine that night before finally arriving in Stockholm. Tired and nearly drunk, we took a room at a small hotel. When we went upstairs, I took off my clothes and got into bed. Audrey sat in an armchair, looked at the ceiling, swayed slowly from side to side and hummed a sort of lullaby. I felt the room spin for a few minutes, and shortly after asking Audrey if she was coming to bed, I was asleep. I did not dream of the difficulties of leaving the next day, nor did I dream about the pleasures of traveling alone. I was too drunk.
When I woke up the next morning, Audrey had her back to me. I was feeling very groggy, and I stayed in bed, only half-awake. I gazed out the window for a while, tried to go back to sleep, and unable to, went to the bathroom and washed my face with cold water. When I crawled back into bed, I figured the morning was getting old enough that I could wake Audrey and see if she wanted to get dressed and get some coffee; maybe some breakfast before I caught a train to Oslo. I touched her, and her skin was cold under my hand. "Audrey." I shook her gently. No response. Then I took hold of her shoulder and rolled her toward me. She fell limp against me. Her arm, that had been resting on her hip, slapped the bed in a way that sickened me. She wasn't breathing. "Audrey!" I put my ear to her chest to listen to her heart. Nothing. I tried to find the pulse in her wrist. - She was dead.
I was scared and shaking. I held her and said her name incessantly. I kept checking her body for the smallest sign of life. She didn't wake. I whispered, and mumbled, and held my hands like a child who has broken his mother's favorite piece of china, knowing full-well all the coming recriminations. The morning seemed to speed in around me all at once. Time was moving faster than I had ever known. Too many thoughts, visions, explanations, and remedies shot through my mind. Then, when I had given up the possibility that it was all just a too-real nightmare, I backed away from her as though her body was some kind of evil. I put my clothes on quickly, as if my own body needed covering now that Audrey was dead. I covered her with the blanket, but did not cover her face. I could not stop mumbling her name to myself.
I hoped for everything in the world that she had died in her sleep -- a heart attack, fast and clean. As I looked around on the floor on her side of the bed, I found two empty bottles of pills next to her handbag that had been on the adjoining chair; and the suspicion, the fear, the very first thought that entered my mind when I had first touched her a few minutes earlier, became real.
I went downstairs, and with the help of a Swedish boy, called a hospital. I asked them to send an ambulance. When I returned to the room, my clothes seemed to boil over my body as I waited and paced. Finally, when I had become too nervous with pacing, I sat on the edge of the armchair. I stared at Audrey, and mumbled "Oh God, Oh God" over and over again to myself, as all the little details of death gathered before me.
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