The Essay: Sudden Death in Films and Literature, the Act of Dying Is Always Accompanied by a Su Mming Up, a Lesson Learnt, a Sense of Closure. Douglas Kennedy Discovers That, in Real Life, Endings Are Rarely That Neat and Tidy
Kennedy, Douglas, The Independent (London, England)
T DAWN in the Daintree, it was hot. By early morning, the mercury was scraping three figures. By midday, the sun was at full wattage. The humidity was inching into sauna-room levels. Any activity involving physical movement was like wading through a vat of goo.
By nightfall, however, a hint of coolness descended upon this corner of Far North Queensland - and you suddenly discovered a renewed capacity for alcohol. Night was the only real time you could drink in the rainforest - something I found out my first day there, when I downed a beer in the absurd hothouse heat of noon and felt as if I had walked straight into a sucker punch.
I was staying in a wilderness lodge situated smack dab in the middle of the Daintree - one of the few extant rainforests still left on the Australian continent. It was located two hours north of the town of Cairns. To get there required negotiating a very bad road which was unsealed for the last 60 miles. A short ride on a barge was also involved - as you had to forge a river, the banks of which were used as sleeping quarters for the local contingent of crocodiles. The further north you travelled into this jungly void, the less sky you saw - as the canopy of the forest was so dense that it closed in over you. As light receded and a nocturnal soundtrack of sinister ornithological cackles broached the silence, you found yourself thinking: this is, verily, a haunted Eden. The lodge in which I was billeted was located somewhere in the midst of this forest primeval. There was a main lodge building and six simple cabins, all built on stilts, all eco-friendly, all the brainchild of a 60-year-old former property developer from Brisbane I'll call Jack Hamilton (all names in this essay have been changed). Jack was the archetypal Australian bloke, writ large: chummy, beefy, beer-gutted, no hint of reserve. His wife, Joan, was also welcoming - a thin, spindly woman who, five years earlier, had followed her husband into this back-of-beyond hinterland with the idea of creating a wilderness lodge in the middle of nowhere. And now, the lodge was finally up and running. It was gradually establishing itself as a unique retreat - though, when I was there it was still low season (right after the Daintree's annual bout of monsoons), so the only other guests were a honeymoon couple. They were called Chris and Alice. They were in their mid-20s - a nurse and a podiatrist from Melbourne. They were pleasant - but I didn't try to engage them in too much conversation. They were on a honeymoon, after all. I was keeping a low profile: bush-walking in the morning, holing up in the relative cool of my cabin after midday to work on a new novel. Around seven at night, I'd stroll over to the main lodge for the first drink of the evening. I'd come equipped with a book to keep myself company. I'd greet the honeymoon couple with a nod. Inevitably, however, they'd call me over after dinner to join them for a beer. On the night in question, Jack also sat down with us. We downed a couple of bottles of Cooper's Ale, then Jack said: "It's my round," and headed off in the direction of the bar. I turned back to Chris and Alice. We started discussing - I remember this with total precision - the vast number of bones in a human foot (well, Chris was a podiatrist). Then, out of nowhere, came this dull thud, followed by a deeply eerie sound: a strangulated inhalation of breath. It was a loud, startling gasp - like a contorted howl lodged at the back of somebody's throat. Suddenly, I found myself staring at Chris and Alice, wide-eyed. Within a nanosecond, we were all on our feet. Racing over to the bar, we found Jack collapsed behind the counter. His face was blue, his legs were kicking wildly. He was having a massive heart attack - and we were in the middle of the fucking jungle. Alice quickly snapped into ER mode. Crouching by Jack's side, she smashed her right fist into the centre of his chest, and started administering CPR. …