Copyright © 2011 -
1 Frank and Marlene
Frank lay on the sofa, five day’s growth lending a neglected look to his thin face. He was thirty years old. The curtains were drawn closed and had been so for the last fortnight. The stench of overflowing ashtrays mixed with the smell of rotting food and Frank’s unwashed body. The television was loud and bright, just as he liked it. David Attenborough was Frank’s hero and the dvd was on a loop. The sights and sounds of Africa’s Plains filled the grubby bed-
The key turned in the lock and Marlene walked quietly into the grubby room. She grimaced in distaste as she took in the neglect around her. Stepping over the detritus she entered the bedroom and pulled down a large suitcase from the top of the wardrobe. She began stuffing her clothes in hastily, wanting to be as quick as possible before Frank woke. A cough behind her told her she was too late. Frank looked at her.
“Hi Babe, whatya doin”
“Whatya leavin for?”
“Cos I’m fed up of this shit”
“The row was nothin, I love ya”
“Don’t gimme that, you don’t know the meanin”
“I’m lost Marlene, lost without ya, I need ya, don’t do this please babe”
Frank’s eyes were filling with tears and he stood looking, as he said, lost.
“What do you want Frank? We can’t go on like this you know”
Frank turned his head and stared at the African Plains as David Attenborough’s hushed tones filled the little room.
“I dream, Marlene, over and over I dream the same thing. I’m in Africa, see, and I’m wearing all this fancy stuff and I run, and I hunt, and I fish. I do all those things see and I’m thinking we’ll eat then I wake up and I’m here and you’re gone and there is nothing for me here. So I need to go back to the dream because that’s where I’m alive, Marlene.”
Marlene sat on the edge of the bed and considered. She loved him – in spite of everything, she loved him.
“Why don’t you get in the bed and go sleep and I’ll clean this shit up, eh? Go sleep. Back to your dream, man.”
Frank lay down closed his eyes and was struck with the strongest pain he had ever felt.
Marlene called emergency. Heart attack. Need help urgent.
2 Travelling Out Of Body
Frank looked down at the body on the bed. The bed was white, the body was black. The room was white and the bedding was clean. Machines bleeped and buzzed around the black man in the white bed. Frank smiled, turned away and saw a figure beckoning him. Frank moved towards the figure, who gently embraced him and drew him close. The two then travelled rapidly through time and space. Frank found himself standing at the head of a small group of tribesmen who were waiting his signal to move.
He was dressed in the most splendid, colourful robes and held a spear in his right hand. His neck was circled with precious stones and his cheeks and arms were painted with blue and red and yellow circles and patterns which glowed in the African sunshine. His feet were bare, the soles hardened through the years of living on the Plains. Suddenly a small movement caught his eye and Frank signalled to the tribesmen to act. Within moments a wild pig was dispatched and lashed to the poles to be carried triumphantly back to the village where the women were waiting for the hunter’s return. The women would then prepare the meal for tonight.
Marlene stepped forward to welcome back her man, Frank.
“You did well. Come home now. It’s not your time. Come home now.”
Frank felt himself travelling rapidly once again then a strong force pulling him until he was lying flat on his back staring at the ……sun? No. A light? No. A torch was shining into his eyes, and …..something was waving to him from above. A tribesman was watching gravely saying “Come back. Come back”. Frank gasped, coughed and woke. A tear trickled from the corner of his eye. Marlene was sitting beside the bed holding on to his hand. Frank closed his eyes again and felt his body straining to go back to his dream. Marlene held on tight.
“Come back now. Don’t leave me, come back.”
Some weeks later Frank and Marlene were back in the scruffy little bed-
“Would ya babe? Come with me? Would ya?”
She nodded, a wide smile lighting her face.
3 Marlene Takes Control
Marlene took control. She checked on what inoculations were needed, checked their passports were in date, researched flights and connections, researched living accommodation, and all the while Frank lay on the sofa watching David Attenborough. Eventually Marlene booked a medical health check for Frank.
Following his earlier heart attack he had to be assessed by doctors to get the all clear to travel.
“Frank, you have an appointment at the clinic tomorrow at 9.30 for your health check. I’ll go with you if you want” Marlene spoke firmly.
“Ok, if you want.” Frank mumbled, and reached for a beer.
“You should’ve quit that stuff, babe, it ain’t good for you.” Marlene looked and sounded disapproving.
“Don’t fuss, babe, it’s only a beer for cryin out loud!”
“Well, you know what the doctors said….”
“Ah, whadda they know, eh? I’m friggin bored outta my friggin head, that’s what, and if you don’t like it you know what to do!”
Marlene stopped, her mouth opened to speak, then she thought better of it. She grabbed the remote from the arm of the sofa and switched off the wide screen.
“Hey, whaddya doin – put that back on, bitch!” Frank was angry, and made to snatch the remote back from Marlene’s hand. She stepped out of reach.
“I’m sick of seeing you slobbed out day in day out Frank, you gotta shape up or we ain’t goin nowhere. You wanted to go out there, get away from here, see it, change things, but you ain’t doin nothin but lyin around again gettin pissed and fat! Well I’ve had it. You shape up or you’re on your own!”
“Up to you babe, think I can’t manage? Go on, piss off out of it, and leave me alone – I don’t need no nannyin, an I don’t need you!”
Frank struggled up from the sofa and pushed and shoved Marlene until she was backed up against the unmade bed. She held her hands in front of her, palms up, head turned to the side.
“Ok, if that’s what you want.”
She turned and pulled her suitcase out from under the bed and started throwing underwear and other clothing into it. Frank stomped back to the sofa, sat down heavily and popped another beer. He grabbed the remote and the dvd started up again. David Attenborough’s voice once again dominated the room. Marlene turned to face Frank.
“I can’t take much more of that either!” She shouted, “It’s gonna drive me mad!”
Frank turned the volume up to it’s loudest and ignored Marlene’s efforts to make herself heard. She put her coat on, picked up the suitcase and walked slowly out of the bed-
Three days later Marlene was at her office trying to concentrate on work. She convinced herself that Frank would be okay without her, he needed some space. Her mobile rang. Frank was in hospital having had another heart attack and the hospital thought she should know. Marlene didn’t stop to think, she told her colleague about the call and rushed straight to the hospital. Announcing herself at the reception desk as Frank’s fiancée, she was escorted to his bedside. Frank was lying unconscious and attached to life support. Marlene felt a sense of deja vu, as she bent over Frank and kissed his forehead.
“I’m here, darlin, time to come back now. Come on home.”
Frank’s eyelashes fluttered as he gave a shudder. Marlene looked at the nurse sitting just inside the door.
“He is waking.”
The nurse looked unbelieving, but stepped forward to check. Sure enough, Frank’s eyelashes fluttered again. The nurse rang for assistance.
Frank was moving rapidly through a brightly lit corridor and as the corridor widened he looked back. A distant group of tribesmen raised their hands in salute as they faded into invisibility. Frank saw his body lying prone upon the clean white sheets as a powerful force drew his spirit down, down, down and into that waiting husk. His eyes flickered open. Marlene was sitting beside the bed holding his hand and tears flowing down her face.
“Don’t leave me Frank, I love you, please don’t leave me..” She was wailing and repeating the words and Frank wanted to tell her he loved her but the words wouldn’t come. So they stayed, holding on until the dawn broke and a new day began.
4 Living The Dream
All through that dreadful day Frank drifted in and out of consciousness. Marlene barely left his side as she prayed and hoped for his recovery. As darkness fell Marlene allowed her eyelids to droop, the hum of the life support machine lulling her to sleep.
Suddenly she awoke, Frank’s grip on her hand had tightened and his eyes were opened wide. He struggled to sit up, struggled to speak, a look of panic flitting across his face.
Marlene leaned over and stroked his cheek.
“Shush now, you are safe, I am with you.”
Frank calmed, closed his eyes, then mumbled softly,
“I love you babe, I’ve always loved you. I love you.”
His eyes closed, he sighed, he lay still. The monitor emitted a single long note as Marlene held him tight and said “Go now, go back to your dream, be happy. I love you.”
The staff found them there, lying together, Marlene holding Frank whose face was now peaceful, and with what seemed to be a smile on his lips. A doctor gently touched her arm and led her away.
The funeral took place a fortnight later, a solemn affair as befitted a young man’s death. Frank was cremated and the ashes presented to Marlene who dealt with everything in a haze of unbelieving sorrow, going through the motions. Unknown to her, Frank had made a will some years before naming Marlene as his next of kin and leaving everything he had to her. Marlene moved back into the bed-
“You can’t carry on like this, my girl,” she said to herself. “Whatever would Frank say?”
A plan began to take form. She had done all the research needed for travelling to Africa with Frank, even though he had been too lazy (maybe too sick?) to bother himself with any preparations. Why not treat herself to a holiday – she could certainly do with it!
She paid a visit to her doctor and went through the inoculations needed for travel.
She spent hours online sorting out an Africa Safari and chose a package which would allow her access to the Kalahari. It was a twelve hour flight and would cost approximately three thousand pounds. She checked her bank account. There wasn’t quite enough, but if she sold her car and added the money to her savings she’d be able to do it. She advertised her car the same evening and sold it quickly. Taking a deep breath (she had never travelled alone in her life!) she bought her ticket. There was now no going back. The holiday date came around and before she knew it she had packed everything she needed into a flight bag and walked away from the scruffy little bed-
The flight was uneventful and Marlene slept most of the twelve hour journey. She landed at Johannesburg, where she was met by a holiday rep, and the following day flew on to the Kruger area. Her safari would begin in five days. She was overwhelmed by the sights and sounds around her. She enjoyed sitting in a relaxing chair admiring the beauty all around her. The evenings with the glorious sunsets were her favourite moments. It was all so familiar yet she had only ever seen this country on the wide screen television. She thought of Frank and his dream and she smiled thinking of how he would have enjoyed this trip.
“Oh Frank, if only you were here with me life would be perfect,” she thought to herself, then shivered as she felt a breath on her cheek. “He’s here!” she shook the thought away as fanciful and ordered a cool drink from the hotel bar.
Later that night as she lay in the single bed in her hotel room, the windows open, the sounds of the night thrilling her, she once again felt a cool breath on her cheek, and soon after, a gentle brush against her arm. She sat up, alert. She looked around and there was no-
“Frank? Is that you? Oh, you’re imagining things!” she chided herself. “Don’t be so silly, girl!”
The day of the Safari dawned. It was to be two days with a group of like-
Once there she hired a car and set off on her own expedition. Driving on the dirt roads she soon found herself a quiet spot to park at the foot of a hill. She checked her tour guide and considered it to be a reasonably safe place to walk. She set out and climbed to the top of the hill and the view was spectacular with all round clear views. Just what she was looking for. She opened her rucksack and removed a package from the depths. It was wrapped in purple silk with a gold trim. Marlene removed the silk covering and revealed the urn holding her beloved Frank’s ashes. Standing straight and tall, she held the urn high in front of her and called out in a strong, clear voice,
“Frank, my love, you are now free as the birds of the air, in the land of your dreams. I will never forget you. You live on in my heart until we meet again.”
She gently tipped the urn as she spoke and Frank’s ashes were carried away on the warm South African breeze. She thought she heard Frank’s voice softly saying “Goodbye” then thought perhaps it was the wind.
“Goodbye my love. Sleep well.” Marlene sat on the hillside and wept. Later, she rose and returned to the safari lodge where she went to her room and slept peacefully for the first time since Frank had died.
Marlene never returned to England, she stayed in South Africa where she felt close to Frank, eventually settling in Botswana, marrying and having a family. The children never tired of hearing of their mother’s adventures and how she, an English rose, had come to scatter Frank’s ashes and stayed to live her life in Botswana.
An African Dream