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A Better Place

Sean Williams is an award-winning, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of over forty novels and one hundred stories. As well as his original fiction for adults, young adults and children, he has worked in universes created by other people, such as Star Wars and Doctor Who. He also enjoys collaborating, most recently with Garth Nix. He has a PhD in the literary use and misuse of teleporters, which feature in his Twinmaker series--"a gripping scifi story of friendship, identity, and accidentally destroying the universe." (Amie Kaufman)--available from Allen & Unwin in Australia, Balzer, and Bray in the US, and Egmont in the UK. He lives up the road from Australia's finest chocolate factory with his family and a pet plastic fish.
Pop goes the cork, momentarily stilling the dawn chorus, and I am filled with the sense that what we are doing in the cemetery is slightly profane. My mother, my sister Cass, and I on a picnic rug at the foot of Dad's grave. Thank God we brought sparkling wine, not a heavy red.
"Don't ever think you're too good for this world," Mum says, raising her empty glass to be filled with a blush that perfectly matches both the lightening sky and the skin around her eyes, "because you've probably got it the wrong way around. That's what your dad used to say."
"Well, cheers," says Cass with a determined tone, and we dutifully clink and sip. Bubbles go up my nose, provoking the tears that I have been holding back all the way here.
"I miss him." In my voice, the child I thought I'd long outgrown. I turn away from them, seeing through a watery veil the rows of memorials, each a rose bush raising handfuls of white petals to the sky. The marker at the foot of Dad's reads, "For the health and prompt release of asylum seekers. Gratis enim vita tua, Dennis Wright."
"I wish he was still here," I say.
"And what if he'd been hit by a car?" Cass responds. "Or got cancer? What would've been the point of that?"
"Please don't argue. Not today," Mum cautions us. "He wanted to help people. It would've been wrong to stop him."
I wipe my eyes. The bird songs are returning, as I suppose they must. Life goes on, not caring that Dennis Wright has been gone a whole year.
The roses. I had forgotten them. The most impressive thing about the cemetery is how many memorials there are, row after row, hundreds upon hundreds, stretching as far as the eye can see.
So many do-gooders, I think. Imagine how terrible the world would be without them.
My heart lightens as the sun crests the hills to the east. A new breath fills my chest.
"Has Sam heard from the Mission Board?" Mum changes the subject.
My sister looks uneasy, her focus on Dad's death rocked by this intrusion from the real world. "Yes. The email came yesterday."
"Does that mean you'll be leaving?"
"In the next two months. We don't know exactly when."
"Well, congratulations. That's wonderful news. I'm really happy for you."
"I didn't want to tell you because...."
"Honey, I understand. Your father would be pleased, too. Perhaps he made this happen--you know, one last gift to us all."
Mum raises her glass and we clink again. I can hear the ache in her voice, but Cass doesn't. My sister beams at the thought that Dad played a part in her future happiness. I beam back at her. Perhaps it's true. It's not my place to tarnish what he so bravely did, with words or tears, both of which I fear will be too liquid ever to entirely quell.
Some nights I imagine the priests opening the vein and wonder what they said to him as his life ebbed away, whether he thought of us one last time or if he focused instead on those who would benefit from his gift. He never met them, and never would, but he believed in them with a fierceness, a fierceness that seemed almost like ferocity when I asked him once if he was completely sure that this was what he wanted, if he had no thoughts at all that maybe, just maybe, he could do more by staying here, with us, with the ones who loved him most.
"There is no measuring the good in this world," he told me the last time we spoke. "It multiplies endlessly. But don't ever be fooled into thinking that it comes without sacrifice."
There's that word. It sits on my tongue, tasting today of sparkling rose, not ashes and loss.
"Well done, Dad," I say, thinking of that line from the Bible, Do this in remembrance of me, and we clink glasses a third time to seal the charm. We bourgeois, we favored, we bereft, we fatherless, we blessed by the good man who departed the world in hope of making it better.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

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