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April Catherine and Paul: Part One

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The car park was large and empty. April beeped the locks on the Hyundai and entered the hospital through whispering automatic doors. ‘I’m Mrs Sullivan,’ she said. ‘I’m looking for my husband, He was brought in last night.’ The receptionist looked up without interest. ‘You won’t find him here,’ she said. ’This is the maternity […]

The car park was large and empty. April beeped the locks on the Hyundai and entered the hospital through whispering automatic doors.

‘I’m Mrs Sullivan,’ she said. ‘I’m looking for my husband, He was brought in last night.’

The receptionist looked up without interest. ‘You won’t find him here,’ she said. ’This is the maternity ward. You’ve overshot, here if you go up to the main gate and turn left.’

‘Thank you,’ said April. On her way out of the building she passed an ambulance disgorging a heavily pregnant woman. April thought that the woman’s face, racked with protestation, looked as swollen as her body.

Paul’s Honda was in a small loading zone near the façade of the old hospital. Had he been driven here? The trunk was ajar. April opened it and shuffled through Paul’s things, mostly large A2 and A1 sheets of paper pencilled with plans for shops and apartment blocks. She wondered how many people would be phoning the office asking for him. ‘Sullivan, Brooks and Jarrett. How can I help you? No, I’m afraid not … ‘

Another receptionist. Another over-lit waiting room. ‘Hello, how can I help you?’

‘Yes, Sullivan,’ said April. ‘S-u-l-l-i-v-a-n.’

‘Ok, if you’d like to sit down for a moment.’ The woman tapped on her computer before saying ‘He’s in intensive care. Down the corridor, turn right at the lifts, and go to level 3 then right and you’ll see it.’

‘Thank you,’ said April as she bundled up her coat and bag and hurried away, The sound of her urgent heels clacked off the walls. She passed the lift before having to double back, cursing herself, the hospital and Paul for all this. The ICU was isolated by dirty swinging plastic doors beyond which were folded up wheelchairs resting against a wall.

‘What happened?’ April asked.

‘Were not sure,’ said the young doctor whose name was Hunter.

‘He was fine yesterday.’

‘Yes, well a man can seem perfectly well and then … ‘

‘I want to see him.’

‘We won’t know anything until tomorrow.’

‘I want to see him.’

A young girl was lying on a bed in the first cubicle. Her breasts were exposed. There was no blanket on the bed. A nurse drew a sheet up and covered the girl slapping her wrists. The girl was asleep. ‘Come on Anita. Time to wake up.’ The girl pouted and kept her eyes firmly closed.

‘We’ve been helping him breathe,’ said Dr Hunter. Paul was in another of the stiff elevated beds. Neatly tucked in.

‘Sweetheart it’s me,’ April said to her unconscious husband. The tube in his nose was the first of many incongruities. The unnatural stillness and the normally strong jaw lolling on his chest. Paul’s hands were white, his palms up.

‘Nurse could we find Mrs Sullivan a cup of tea do you think.’

‘Is he asleep?’

‘He’s in a coma … induced,’ said Doctor Hunter.

‘Are you Scottish?’ April asked.

‘Irish, from Belfast’

‘Oh, I see,’ Said April ‘How long is this likely to last?’

‘We really can’t say.’

‘Come on Anita time to wake up!’

April saw a bag dumped in the corner of Paul’s cubicle, initialled P.J.S. (his middle name was James) She opened it to see what the ambulance had brought in and what Paul might otherwise need. She stared at T shirts, socks and underpants, unable to focus or think what she might have to add. She thought about his black boots, visualizing Paul wearing them and walking confidently back into the family home after this minor scare. This silly mistake. That false alarm.

From the front cubicle there came an unearthly groan. Anita was coming to. ‘I have to go,’ said Dr Hunter. ‘Let me know if there’s anything you need.’

April stared at her prone and unusually fleshy husband. His breathing seemed to suck everything out of him. She studied each of the machines and their computer read outs, wondering which one was the most important in keeping Paul alive. She drank lukewarm tea and realised eventually that her presence was of no great benefit. ‘I have to go,’ she said. ‘I’ll be back soon.’ She held Paul’s limp hand and waited for him to respond. After a minute or so she let his wrist flop down, and walked back to her car, stopping at the Honda and closing the boot properly. In her own car she began to weep.


April pulled into the garage of the home Paul had designed for her in Beauty Point ten years earlier. In the kitchen she dumped her hand bag and threw the car keys into a bowl. She made herself a coffee and hugged the cup to her chest staring into the gloom of the lounge room where the lights remained off. Eventually April flicked on the ceiling lights in the living room and wound back the dimmer. She looked out over the Tamar and watched a small boot soundlessly glide towards Bass Strait. She was tall, pale and lightly freckled. 48. Her blonde hair was unchanged since agencies urged her to become a model in her twenties. She didn’t realise, or didn’t believe the effect she had on men. Her leather jacket made her look even younger.

The phone trilled, and April realised she hadn’t checked her messages since she’d received the call from the hospital. She sat in an armchair and took in a lengthy deep breath knowing there would be nothing on her phone that would be welcome. There were five new messages. She held the phone away from her face as the urgent news from the hospital played over in several separate calls from various nurses. They seemed to have come from a very different time, from that tranquil moment when she knew nothing of what had happened.

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And then there was Dee: ‘April, hi hun. I’m just calling to see if you’re okay for manuscripts this week. Buzz me.’

Dee in Sydney, unaware of events, offering more work for one of her perceptive, often amusingly caustic book readers, who would send her assessments by email from Tasmania. The perfect job. Working from home. Sitting at her desk overlooking the river and across to the East Tamar. It was far too late to call Dee now, and in any case impossible as she was consumed with Paul.
It was a forty-five-minute drive to the hospital. April looked around at the silent house then grabbed some clothes and drove to Launceston to book into a hotel.

April drove along Brisbane St, past the motels looking over Royal Park, unable to decide which would suit her best. For no special reason other than seeing a car park space, she chose the last, the Mercure. The sing song receptionist welcomed her. To the left of the front desk was a restaurant and bar. The smell of dinners being presented had April realising she hadn’t eaten. She hadn’t all day and still couldn’t.

April turned on the television, frowning at the late news before falling asleep in her clothes. She woke during the night and undressed, sliding under the blankets onto cool sheets. For a time the day’s events kept her awake until sleep took her under again. She was woken by the sun blazing in from the North through the windows whose blinds she hadn’t closed. April rustled in her bag for her phone.

‘Oh my God, April … oh no.’ said Dee. ‘Oh darling. What can I do?’

April said, ‘Oh nothing really. I’ll go and see him shortly. She and Dee had become friends.

‘Forget about writing for the time being.’

‘Thanks Dee.’

‘Listen if you should want me to come down, I will.’

‘Thanks,’ April said. ‘We’ll see how we go.’


‘He’s breathing a bit easier today,’ said the imposing Jamaican nurse.

‘I thought so too,’ said April, seated again in a chair next to Paul’s bed.

‘He spoke to me earlier,’ the nurse said.

‘He spoke to you? Are you sure?

‘Oh sorry,’ the nurse corrected herself. ‘It was Mr Leaf.’

April rolled her eyes and the nurse left her alone with Paul.

‘It’s me again,’ she said.

Paul seemed to be trying to force out words.

‘Louder, I can’t hear you hun.’

‘SHIT …’

A barely discernible smile creased Paul’s face and April blurted out a laugh. She pressed his hand against her chest.

Anita’s nurse opened the window curtains in the adjacent cubicle. ‘Home for you tomorrow madam’ she said. ‘And no coming back.’ April had no idea what had happened to Anita but suspected it was to do with drugs. She tried not to be judgemental but it did see logical. Anita had no physical injuries.

‘He spoke to me.’ April told the nurse. ‘He definitely said something.’

‘Did he now?’ she smiled. ‘What did he say?’

‘Um … well … the thing is he said something.’

‘Well that’s progress and we don’t want to stand in the way of progress.’

The nurse hurried off apparently unmoved by Paul’s moment of lucidity. April said to Paul ’I’ll see you tonight.’ She bought a sandwich at the cafeteria before walking from the hospital towards the city. She sat by the fountain in Princes square and ate quickly. Children ran around the fountain, squealing as mothers sat and chatted. It was early spring and already the sun had an edge which forced April to seek shade as she continued on past shops on Charles St towards Paul’s offices in Paterson St.

The hum of the office ceased as soon as she entered. Paul’s secretary, Pam, stood up but seemed unable to find the right words to say. ‘Oh April … I … ‘

‘It’s ok Pam,’ said April. ‘How is everything?

‘We’re in shock I suppose,’ said Pam. ‘Can I get you a coffee?’

‘Thank you. Are David and Tom here?’

‘They are, I’ll get them.’
Paul’s partners entered the foyer tentatively, brows furrowed. They hugged April.

‘How is he?’ asked Tom.

‘He spoke to me,’ said April. ‘Only a few words, but still –‘

The men smiled. ‘That’s the way,’ said David.

‘I’m going to sort a few things out in the office’ she said.

‘Of course,’ said Tom. ‘You must let us know when he’s well enough for us to see him.’

April nodded and walked from the foyer towards Paul’s office. She sat at his desk. Paul’s coat was hung on the back of the chair. Plans covered the table along with pencils and plastic geometric stationary, a compass and protractor. April booted up Paul’s computer where advanced plans for new projects shone back at her. April rolled up the loose papers and put them in a cupboard. Post it notes were patched on the cupboard door. She thought about throwing them away but she didn’t understand the shorthand Paul had used to remind himself of this and that so she left them. April did ‘the books’ for Paul which was never an arduous task but one she enjoyed removing as another burden for Paul who worked long hours in any case.

She picked up the receiver on Paul’s landline and made the call she’d been avoiding so far.

‘Hello mum. How are you holding up?’

Joe Sullivan lived in Melbourne. He was teaching art at an inner-city high school. Paul and April had Joe before they were married.

‘I’m not bad I suppose.’

‘Have you seen him today?’

‘Yes, he swore at me,’ April managed a weak laugh.

‘He did what?’

‘You know… shiiiiiit.’

‘Ha, well that’s a good sign,’ said Joe. ‘Do you want me to come down?’

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‘Not yet. Let’s monitor things for a while.’

‘If you’re sure.’

‘How’s Tilda?’

‘Fine. Thanks for asking.’

Joe was calm and reliable and somehow April was agitated by this. She knew she could rely on him but his tone was grating. She knew she was being irrational, but ended the call quickly.

There was little April could do in the office. she sipped on the coffee, emptied the cup and prepared to leave.

‘Please keep us appraised April.’ Said Tom ‘He’s not one to lie in bed doing nothing for long.’

‘No, I suppose he isn’t,’ said April.

April walked to her hotel, kicked off her shoes and slept again through the afternoon.

At about five she woke, thirsty, disorientated. She brushed her hair and caught the lift to the ground floor. In the bar she ordered an orange juice. And sat in a cubicle. The businessman was about forty, tall and handsome. His invitation had an unambiguous candour.

‘Would you like a drink. I’ve had a hell of a day and I’m stuck here alone, if you’re alone too?’

‘No really thank you but I won’t.’

‘Go on, he said, For the hell of it.’ He would tell her about his family, possibly pull photos from his wallet or his phone. He would ask nothing that she wasn’t willing to offer.

‘Truly,’ said April ‘But thank you’ She drained her juice, smiled at the man and headed for the lift. When had she been so surprised? The frisson of pleasure she felt at the attention made her a little dizzy and she had to lean against the wall of the lift. Her shoulder in the hard angle.

She let the bath grow cold around her. She was flat without volume or energy. Her long hair lay like tendrils of weed over her small breasts. The phone rang. April cursed herself for leaving it on the bed. Unsheathing herself from the dull sleeve of water she caught the phone before it was directed to her message bank. Calls were important now. Calls were urgent.


A massive attack, cardiac collapse. They had done everything they could. April sped to the hospital still believing that time was crucial, that Paul only needed her presence. The cubicle he had formerly occupied was empty. She looked through the curtains at other patients expecting Paul to be in another bed. Rejuvenated.

‘You should go home Mrs Sullivan.’

‘Where is he?’

‘Would you like someone to go with you?’

‘With me?’ said April, shaking her head. ‘No. We have two cars here. I’m going home.’

April returned to the hotel and gathered her things. At the front desk she checked out. The receptionist was aware that something bad had happened and avoided eye contact. April tapped her fingernails on the counter as her bill was annotated. The drive back to Beauty Point slipped away in a blur. April didn’t notice the towns she’d driven through; Exeter, Beaconsfield. Without thought she had dimmed her lights for oncoming traffic then spread the high beam again illuminating ghost gums and road markings. She had bought petrol but by the time she was home she’d forgotten where she’d filled up.

She wanted to keep it a secret. Silence would protect her. If no-one knew then it wasn’t true. She sat and waited for the pain. But she was caught in a netherworld as vague as the navigation light in the middle of the river which pulsed green in the blackness. Silently beating like a human heart.


April was woken at 9 by a call. What would it matter now if she answered or not? It was only the thought of another irritating message in her bank that encouraged her to answer. It was Tom.

‘April, we’ve heard,’ said Tom, shakily. ‘Why don’t you come in. We won’t get any work done today.’

‘Um … yes, I suppose I will.’

‘Drive carefully.’


Tom met April outside the office. ‘Shall we sit in the sun?’

‘Yes,’ she said.



When the girl emerged from the office April knew at once who she was. She wore a figure- hugging dress and glamorous shoes. She had boyish blonde hair, much like Jean Seberg. You rarely saw hair like that. But she was a natural beauty so it suited her.

‘Who’s that?’ April asked.

‘That, oh Catherine.’

‘Ah,’ April’s gaze followed the girl to her car

‘You’ve met her haven’t you?’ Tom asked.

‘Have I?’

‘Surely,’ he went on. ‘She’s been with us for a while; part time.’

‘What’s she like?’

‘Not too bad at all. Useful.’ Tom shrugged. ‘She’s leaving unfortunately’.

‘Oh, why?’

‘She’s French.’ He paused. ‘I’m sure you’ve met her. Oh you know. Shortish visa. Working holiday.’

‘Catherine what?’ April persisted.

‘Hmm? Oh Clavand. I think. Don’t quote me.’

‘She worked with Paul I presume?’

‘More his end of things than mine I suppose,’ said Tom

‘Would you say she was pretty?’


‘Would you?’ she asked again.

‘I suppose. I’ve never thought much about it.’

The young woman backed out her small sedan and drove past Tom and April. She waved half-heartedly unaware that there was anyone in the world who wished her harm.


April was wonderful. The family saw courage in a dignity which was sustained by hatred. April was buoyed by the mounting thrill of her purpose. As she followed the coffin to the grave she thought only of the girl. The supporting hands which reached out from her mother Margaret, Paul’s father (why not him. He was old?) from Tom and his wife Lisa were intrusions. Joe did not touch her. At some point he had grown much taller than she, taller than Paul. Cars took them back to Beauty Point. Lisa looked after the food. Tom dragooned volunteers for various small tasks.

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People ate and made admiring comments about the house Paul had built. Joe cleared the plates. As they left, they held April’s arm and looked into her eyes, looking for symptoms, looking for anything. Soon only Joe and Margaret, April’s mother remained.

April’s father had drowned. An experienced boatman he had been wearing heavy fishing boots when a rope snagged his foot and pulled him under. It had happened not very far from Beauty Point. Paul had to make certain, before they built, that April would not find the sight of the river too close to the bone. Margaret had been a woman of leisure but having begun to sell furniture and object d’art from the house she was soon dealing in antiques. There was a blurred line now between friends and clients.

‘You know this a is a lovely table April.’

‘I’m not selling it mum.’

‘I was admiring it,’ said Margaret.

‘I know what you were doing,’ April said, pulling the curtains closed. ‘Joe has a late flight. Could you take him to the airport?’

‘I was going to stay,’ said Margaret.

‘I’d sooner you took Joe.’

‘I was only offering.’

‘I know.’

The next day Tom came back to Beauty Point to hitch Paul’s boat and take it away. April had no use for it and wanted it gone. She made no decisions about what should happen to the boat and Tom knew it was a matter that could be settled later.
April sat on a rock by the shore of the Tamar as Tom winched the boat onto a trailer.

‘Why do I hate everyone so much?’

‘Do you?’

‘I think I do,’ April said. ‘Everyone’s been wonderful and all I can do is hate them. I’m ashamed.’

‘Me too. I mean I’m not ashamed. Do you hate me too?’

‘I couldn’t have done without you,’ April mused. ‘Then you always were the one for the most disagreeable jobs.’
Reflections sparked off the water. April dipped her toes in the river edge.

‘Well, I don’t really want to bring this up, but you’ll be fine for money.’ Tom hauled the bow of the boat towards his trailer. ‘If we sell Paul’s end of the business. You won’t have to work if you’d prefer not to.’

‘I enjoy it. The work,’ April said. ‘But we could always pack everyone up and move to the south of France.’

‘I must read you sometime.’

‘You haven’t. You lazy bastard!’ April laughed for the first time in days. Something loosened within her and her body slackened. She watched the boat as it was dragged out of the water and guided Tom in his truck.

‘Done!’ He said.

‘Thank you,’ said April kissing Tom’s cheek.

‘Do you need anything?’

‘No I’m going to go into Beaconsfield, to the supermarket. I’ll be fine.’

April waved after Tom as he turned onto the highway and disappeared.


She looked through her wardrobe but had apparently become unable to make simple choices about clothes. It was only a trip to the shops, but April impatiently shuffled through her coats and tops as though each was completely inappropriate. She stood next to the open fridge trying to calculate what was needed for the next week. A bowl of pineapples slices covered in cling film was another reminder of Paul. She threw them out. For the first time since the event she entered Paul’s study. She had tidied it up for Paul days before. She had found something. A book. She only needed to find it again for confirmation. On Paul’s table she had bunched together four or five hardbacks. The Michel Houellebecq wasn’t the sort of thing Paul fancied. She thumbed the cover and opened the front page. “Catherine Clavand 2016”.

Soon after five April arrived back at Paul’s office. She was fearful that Tom (especially Tom) might see here and wonder what on earth she was doing back, but the girl’s car was tucked away from the sightline of the front doors. April waited. At 5.30 the girl skipped happily through the front doors, rifling through her bag for keys only seeing April when she was a few feet from her car.

April held up the book. ‘Yours I believe?’

The girl said, ‘I … oh,’

‘I think you leant it to my husband.’

The girl said, ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Paul,’ April said.

The girl said, ‘Excuse me.’

‘I’m April Sullivan.’

‘Of course, I recognize you now. It was a bit of a shock. Forgive me.’ The girl continued ‘It was horrible what happened. Horrible.’


‘Horrible,’ the girls said. ‘I can’t get over it.’

‘I don’t suppose it’ll take long,’ April said, a slight acidity in her voice now.

‘You’re wrong. You’re wrong,’ the girls said.

‘In what way am I wrong?’ April stood stiffly as though someone was taking something from her eye.

‘I think you know,’ the girl said.

‘Will you please come with me,’ April said ‘I would like to talk to you.

‘No there is no point.’

My car is around the corner. I’d like you to come with me now.

I cannot I’m sorry,’ said the girl, shuffling from foot to foot.

‘I insist,’ said April.


‘I think I have a right.’

‘I don’t think so.’

To talk to you? I think I do,’ April said. ‘There’s a coffee shop up the street.’

‘ … Very well. I’ll come.

*   *   *   *

Michael Witheford is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Launceston Examiner, and various periodicals. He is the author of the novel Buzzed (Penguin) and non-fiction book The Very Worst Of The Beatles (Vivid). In a former life he played in the Fish John West Reject and other bands.

Source: Tasmanian Times

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