Public Key (Lxiv)

I started off working ten hours a day. That lasted about a day.

It ended up making a nice addition to my routine. It didn’t take up much of my reading time, or watching or listening or cooking or cleaning or anything at all. It was still too wet for me to hike and my ears still too full of echoes for me to guitar. If anything it made me fresher, and happier to spend the rest of my time in any of those ways which I spent it.

It also made my financial situation considerably more tenable. I had the equivalent of more than twenty thousand maloti remaining me. I was spending about two hundred fifty maloti per month outside of housing. With free housing, I could afford to live on my savings for-

Jesus.

Yeah, I felt pretty fucking good about the world. The fact that I was the recipient of great generosity dampened this not at all. I was paying less for a month’s lodging than a couple would pay for a night in one of the nicer lodges. If Oakley felt he could afford it, I wouldn’t argue. I could afford to.

In return I tried to do good work, and look for new ways to lend a hand wherever I could. I used wood sparingly, nails as well, and went easy on saw-blades and drill-bits and files too. Over the next few weeks I made six small bookshelves, four woodsheds, four night-tables and two big benches. These latter made me particularly proud. Even if they were so simple as to make a Soviet housing block look like a chateau on the Loire.

When I went to tell Oakley about these latter, he told me to drag them over to my campfire. He met me there about half an hour later, just as darkness was beginning to rise from the ground up to the sky. He had in one hand a loaf of bread, in the other a bottle of whiskey. I donated water for the whiskey and butter for the bread. I started a fire – he was visiting my house, after all – and we sat, each to his own bench, and drank, and watched the flames.

You’re planning on staying here for a while, aren’t you? he asked, as if it was neither here nor there.

I am, I said.

Until when?

It was the first time he’d put a firm question to me. It was about the first time either of us had asked anything about the other.

I shrugged. I like it here. This is-

Home?

Yeah. Yeah, I think so.

He took a deep sip. This place does have a way of getting to be home, doesn’t it?

I tended to forget that he hadn’t been there all that much longer than I. The difference had been considerable when I’d first arrived. Now it was just a matter of degree.

How long were you planning to say here? I asked.

He grinned, and kicked a log deeper into the fire.

Not long.

Yeah?

Not this long, anyway.

But you own this place, right?

Yeah, but it was a shit-show when I bought it. I paid five grand Australian for the whole thing. The roofs leaked, the roads sucked, there was no power, no internet, the owner lived in whatever hut was empty at the time. And he had his pick, because nobody ever came here.

Real fixer-upper, huh?

Fuck that, mate. I just wanted a place to crash out for a while. Get my shit together. I was just gonna hide out in the nicest cabin and try, like, not to fuck up for a while. I didn’t care if the rest of the place burned down or what.

What happened.

He scowled. I woke up six months later to find I’d fixed the place up. And that I’d spent all my money to do it. And that it still wasn’t worth what I’d paid for it.

Not a prime real estate location?

Not so much. You want to build a house out here, you pretty much just pick a place and build it.

Yeah, well, I like it pretty well where I am.

Yeah, well, me too.

He passed the bottle over to me, then the pitcher. I topped off a little from the former and plenty from the latter. Oakley went for a more even proportion. I guess having secrets makes you a cheap date.

I never thought I’d stay here, he said.

I waited for him to continue.

I just wanted to get my, get my head together. Get it out of my ass, really. I’d been partying for, like, since I was fucking little. I was almost thirty and I didn’t like my girl and I didn’t like my life and I fucking hated myself. So I put together as much as I could, found this place, told my girlfriend, and got the fuck out.

How’d she take it?

He grinned, put down his drink and pulled off his shirt. Man, that was a big scar.

Jesus.

He shrugged. Too hot for a shirt anyway.

Yeah, well, tough.

He laughed.

But it’s okay, he said. I’m happier out here than I ever was at home. Don’t have to put up with my mom, don’t have to put up with my brothers, and I have to keep my shit together, because you have to out here.

Yeah, I figured that one out.

Too right. Too right.

What about the place now? I asked. Does it turn a profit?

Sort of. Sort of.

That was… cryptic.

He laughed. Sorry. Yeah. Yeah, it doesn’t make as much money as the books say.

Uhh… isn’t that the other way around? I mean, you’re supposed to skim off the top, not the other way around. Right?

He stared in the fire for a while, then killed his drink and got to his feet.

Come on, he said. I wanna show you something.

Um.

Get up, come on, I’ve wanted to show this off for a while.

Um.

What?

How about you put your shirt on first?

He really laughed – a big, deep belly-laugh that echoed down into the canyon below.

Then: Fuck you, he said, and started off into the night.

 

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~ by davekov on 1 March 2011.

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