The Sweat of the Brow (xxii)

I get a tap. It’s Katie Chandos.

I fight the urge to drink a shot of rum before I answer. Then I wonder why I’m fighting. I take a pull from the bottle, and let her through.

“Martin,” she said, and “thanks for picking up.”

I smile despite myself. Maybe it’s the drink. Maybe it’s just that she’s a friend. When you’re old, anyone from when you were young is a friend.

“How are you?” she asks.

Still just audio. I hear the sound of surf in my ears. It’s different than the sound of the Cove. Distant friends, distant waves.

“I’m looking for work,” I say, more bluntly than I mean to.

“Oh,” she says. “Is everything-”

She stops talking. I know what she’s thinking.

She’s thinking, he’s trying to save up for treatment. She’s thinking, he’s gone desperate, he’s gone soft. She’s thinking, he’ll never make it. And not making it, one way or another, he’ll burn out.

“We spent most of our money on medical bills,” I say. “I’m just trying to make some money. While I can.”

I hope it doesn’t sound as much like a lie to her as it does to me.

She doesn’t say anything. I listen to her waves and to mine.

“I heard, you know,” she says.

She isn’t talking about my unemployment.

“How?” I ask.

“Friend of a friend. He thought I knew.”

She didn’t. Sam didn’t tell her. I think about apologizing. I don’t.

“I did some digging,” she continues, “but by then she’d been sick for-”

“Years,” I say.

“Martin-”

“I don’t know what happened between you two,” I say. “She was my wife, she let me live my life and I let her live hers. But there were some things we just didn’t talk about. Some things we just…”

I know what’s coming next. So I reach for the bottle and drown it, if only for a moment.

“Martin-”

“I don’t know,” I say. “And I don’t really care. She’s dead now.”

“Martin,” she says, an accusation and a plead. And she doesn’t say anything more.

She taps out. I know she’ll have some crying to do.

I reach for the bottle, but find I’m not thirsty. I don’t feel bad. Not good either. But a little lighter, somewhere.

I go down to the seaside, get down on my knees, and run the sweet-salty water over my face, through my hair.

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~ by davekov on 19 November 2011.

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