Public Key (Lxi)

Before I could make any particularly stupid decisions, my body decided to step in and help me out. I got so sick I couldn’t leave my room for a week.

I was coughing. I was aching. I was shivering. I was rereading old science fiction novels and listening to Daft Punk. I was blowing my nose on my sleeve until I realized I could steal toilet paper from the outhouse. Yeah, I was in sorry shape.

What was the difference?

Sure, I felt like hell. I wasn’t able to get anything done. But what did I have to do? About the only real difference was that I couldn’t play the guitar as well. But at the time I thought I was playing better than ever. It was like being stoned. Except my mouth was dryer and my eyes hurt more.

I also got the munchies, hard. That always happens when I’m running a fever. I was craving sweet and salty and rich and heavy and basically anything I could dive into face-first. I made sugar-cookies using flour, sugar, butter and water. Or rather, one big cookie. Which took me about an hour to make. And which I ate in about five minutes.

A few times I got nervous. The nearest hospital was about ninety miles away as the crow flies. As the guy drives it was a bit farther, what with all the mountains you had to drive over or around, the rivers you had to cross, the leaded gas you had to stop and get. Oh yeah, and there weren’t any ambulances.

The lack of internet was one thing. Grocery store, cooking, refrigeration, Starbucks, these were all things I’d learned to live without. The lack of medical care was something else entirely.

Besides, if I showed up at a hospital, I’d either get made inside ten minutes or I’d have to spend every penny I had. Probably both.

If I got really sick, I’d have to fall back on what every traveler-to-an-antique-land keeps in reserve: the U.S. Embassy and its supply closet full of broad-spectrum antibiotics. I’d have to show my passport at the gate. I might as well just wrap myself in burlap and overnight myself to Montreal. At least then I could send myself COD.

Needless to say, I resolved to get well by my lonesome. Whatever it took.

I took care of myself as well I could. Which involved eating everything I had while laying in my hammock and playing through Planescape: Torment. Then I found myself out of three key commodities: out of food, out of computer games, and out of my mind.

I was far from well enough to walk into town by myself. The idea of me driving was right up there with engaging in a land war in Asia. But I was fast running out of alternatives. Since I was out of food, and giant pan-cookies weren’t going to make themselves.

I didn’t want to go to Oakley for help. I wasn’t sure why. I realized that I was being stupid about the time I realized my stomach was empty. Pride is easy to swallow when there’s nothing else around.

I made the trek up to the main lodge. I hadn’t remembered it being quite so far away. I was reminded of a time in high school where I was inspired to go mountain-climbing. The agent of inspiration was tequila. Not the only bad advice I’ve had from that particular muse – but definitely the last.

The main lodge was deserted. I decided that waiting around in the living-room was just a good way to scare off guests. I decided to be proactive. I went off to find Oakley’s house. Because wandering a mountain-side in the South African twilight… yeah, you get the idea.

There was only one structure in the camp that wasn’t in guestland. I’d always kind of assumed that’s where my landlord hung his hat. It was hard to miss, a long square-walled thing on a raised concrete foundation kind of sticking out of the mountain. I made my way over to his front door, gave a few knocks, and waited.

He showed upon about a minute later. He looked more than curious. Clearly Avon didn’t come calling all that often.

Hey, I said.

He squinted at me. You look fucking terrible.

Yeah, I said.

With that he opened his door, put his arm around my shoulder, and brought me inside.

There wasn’t that much discussion. He made me drink a glass of water with lemon juice in it and then eat a cookie. It definitely wasn’t as good as the biscuits his mother sent. Then he lay be down on his couch, put a blanket over me, and I woke up about fifteen hours later.

It was a nice room. Wood floors, wood ceilings, wood walls. After living for so long surrounded by stone and sun it was almost culture shock. After sleeping so long on his quilt-padded bench of a couch it was almost too painful to get up.

I found a note on his big wood coffee table. It was a diagram of the house. The bathroom was labeled 1, the location of aspirin 2, citruses 3. I decided to take these stops in the order in which they were given. Pee, aspirin, and then three little bittersweet oranges. At least, I lost count at three.

I wrapped myself in blankets and sat on his couch. About an hour later I realized I’d sweat through his blankets. About half an hour later I realized I felt fine. I helped myself to five of his aspirin tablets and put them in my pocket. I was debating whether I ought to take the liberty of his shower when the man himself returned.

So you look better, he said.

Yeah, I said. Listen, thanks so much-

Shut up. How are you feeling.



No, I feel like ten pounds of shit in a five-pound bag. But I feel better.


Yeah. Yeah, I do.

Good. Listen, mate, this isn’t fucking New York. If you get sick you have to tell somebody.

Yeah, listen, I-

I’m serious. Dead guests are, like, really bad for business.

I’d… yeah, I’d guess.

And there’s no county coroner out here, y’know? I’d have to dig a grave, give a eulogy, try to find out where your people are so I could sell them your stuff-

Yeah. Okay.

Okay? Do you get it?



He went to his medicine cabinet, took out, portioned out four tablets. Here. Take one every six hours. That’s twentyfour hours. In twentyfour hours you come back and check in with me and get more. If you don’t check in with me I’m gonna assume you’re dead and rent out your room.

He took my hand and put the pills in it. I looked at them, then looked him in the eye.


I may have lifted a few of them. Already.

Yeah? How many?

Five, I think.

He smiled. First smart thing you’ve done.

Shut up.

Too right.

He gave me a ride back to my hut. When I got there he handed me a bag of mixed citrus – oranges, lemons, and various points between – and another bag containing two loaves of bread, a jar of blue stuff, and a hand-sized wheel of white cheese.

I realized without much surprise that they were my bags.

I turned to him. Thank you, I said.

Don’t mention it.

Yeah, I think I will.

Thank me by not kicking off the minute I turn my back.

What do I owe you.

What, he said, besides your life?

Hey, I was very possibly not going to have died.


What do I fucking owe you?

The oranges are in the market now, the jam’s in Malefane’s store, the cheese I got off a priest in Chaba-li. Call it a hundred.

Uh huh.

Two hundred. Whatever. I’ll add it to your end-of-the-month.

Uh huh. And the aspirin? And your couch? And-

Okay, I’ll triple your rent. Happy.


Okay then.

How about the pot cookie you put me to bed with?

He didn’t blink. That’s on the house.



Okay, fine, fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.

So no dying right?

Go to Hell!

Yeah, you’ll be fine.

And with that he drove away, and I was alone once more.



~ by davekov on 28 February 2011.

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