by Kai-Eric Fitzner (1996)
Once she visited me in Whiskey Creek where we sat on Winnie’s love swing, got closer and almost kissed, had it not been for Jack coming home early from his Seventh Heaven Flower Nursery and Herbal Delight Store, which he had opened less than a year ago in downtown Qualicum Beach. Before that it had been the Whiskey Creek Flower Nursery and Herbal Delight Store and had been attached to the house, but since Whiskey Creek was hardly a trading Mecca he was well advised to move his business to town. Also, adding Seventh Heaven to the name seemed to attract even more of the customers he wanted than those he already called his friends.
I should have accepted Jack’s impeccably timed appearance that Saturday afternoon as an ill omen. It was the second Saturday of the month, his secret Saturday. He would close around five and take off to a place whose exact whereabouts even Winnie didn’t know. I always imagined this secret place to be a secluded greenhouse where he grew an enigmatic brand of tobacco of which he brought a pouchful with him once a month. This was a ritual to him, so sacred, that I could not recall him having missed it once in the four years I was living with them. And now he would not only miss it for the first time, but he also didn’t seem to mind. He got out of the van and approached Stacey and me with a smile on his face.
„Lovely day, isn’t it?“
He then walked straight towards Stacey, held out his right hand and said, „I’m Jack. Nice to meet you.“
After that he fumbled his tobacco pouch out of his jacket and started rolling a cigarette. After he was done he lit his smoke and put the pouch away. He took a deep drag and from the look on his face I could tell the tobacco was fresh.
„Aaaah,“ he said while looking down the path to our backyard, where majestic Mount Arrowsmith was waiting for the sun to hide behind its snow-covered peak. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to pull my leg, or if he didn’t notice that Stacey and I wanted to be alone. She turned, looked at me, smiled and shrugged. I felt compelled to say something.
„Jack! You’re… early!“
„Oh yes,“ he replied. „Winnie called and told me to come home early. I closed ‚round 2 PM in order to get here on time.“ He took another drag from his cigarette and added secretively, „I stopped on my way back for…“ He held up his smoke and winked at me. I just stared at him.
„Oh, I see,“ he added. „She hasn’t told you! We’re going out!“
I felt great relief. This meant I had the whole place for myself. Stacey and I could do as we pleased without any danger of being interrupted.
„Where are you going,“ I asked but he shook his head.
„No, no, we are going out! The four of us! A double date,“ and as if they had rehearsed this, Winnie stepped out of the house, dressed up, smiling.
We hardly ever went out for dinner. Winnie was too good and passionate a cook to allow it. Usually we went out when Jack’s father came for a visit from Victoria but that had only happened twice in the past four years. The last time was for Christmas two years before. Jack’s Dad didn’t get tired of pointing out what a failure Jack was in his eyes, and how anyone who had studied biochemistry could be so stupid to make a flower nursery his business. He also insisted that Winnie was to be held responsible for this unfortunate turn Jack’s life had taken. Jack’s reaction was to collect his Dad on the spot and drive him all the way down to Victoria that Christmas evening. They hadn’t spoken since.
I believe scenes like that added to Winnie’s dislike of restaurants, so whenever we went out after that it was for a pizza. However, Winnie would always dress up like she’d been invited to a banquet with the Prime Minister. She claimed it was because dressing up was even more of a drag for her than elaborate cooking. That way we would stick to only occasionally going out which would save money and also made these rare occasions special. Furthermore would her appearance in the pizza place cause a certain kind of uproar with people only whispering and avoiding eye-contact while still staring at us. These evenings were our quality time, and they kept us amused over several days, and I never had a problem with that. Winnie and Jack were well known in Qualicum, and they had the reputation of being amiable freaks. With me it was different. Only their close friends knew why I had come over to live with them rather than my parents four years ago, but most people felt it must have been something terrible that forced me to live with the hippies. Therefore, they left me alone in a friendly way.
That evening, however, we were in danger of dragging an innocent into our game of social comedy. Stacey was new on the island and could quickly ruin her reputation, as well as her family’s, by being seen with us. Unfortunately I had no idea of how to break this to Winnie and Jack. All I could do was to hope that nobody from the Parksville area who knew Stacey or her parents, were at Luigi’s Pizza Palace that evening.
Luigi greeted us warmly while I was secretively scanning the restaurant. He gave Jack and Winnie a hug, shook hands with Stacey and pinched my cheek. I had always been uncomfortable with him doing that, but tonight it was really humiliating. I tried to keep cool and whispered to Stacey, „He’s Italian,“ and shrugged. Luigi was a dear friend of Jack’s and he always seemed happy to see us. He cheerfully guided us to a table in the smoking area and made it obvious to everyone around that we were friends. I kept watching Stacey closely in order to find out if she was comfortable with the situation or if this evening would blow it for us. But she seemed to be enjoying herself just fine.
While we were browsing through the menu Winnie entertained us with little anecdotes about previous dinner experiences. I prayed she would stick to that and keep off her favourite topic; I should have known better.
She started when Luigi brought the wine and asked for our orders. Jack asked if anyone wanted to share a capers and anchovies pizza, a request that usually made Winnie and me shudder, however, Stacey volunteered, which in return made Winnie giggle. I thought it had to do with Jack having found a tasteless soulmate and joined in. But Winnie had something else in mind.
„I’m looking forward to going to bed tonight,“ she said and, turning to Stacey, added, „That combination makes him really wild.“ When Stacey didn’t know what to reply, Winnie half whispered into her ear, „It’s an aphrodisiac… and a very powerful one indeed.“
I was about to die but Stacey laughed and saved the moment.
A couple of embarrassments later Stacey noted that it was time for her to go so Jack asked for the cheque and bummed another Grappa off Luigi, who made a little song and dance about Jack trying to ruin him. They always did that.
On our way home my heart began to ache more and more with each mile we got closer. I knew that I wouldn’t see Stacey for a week, because her field hockey team was touring the Victoria area. I tried to at least touch her, but of course I tried to approach her hand very casually so that by the time I had almost made it the car stopped and we had to get out.
Stacey then pointed out that it was very late already and promised to give me a call as soon as she would return the next Friday. I almost said that I was looking forward to it but she had already gotten into the car and said „Thanks for the pizza and the lovely evening. Bye.“ Then she drove off into the night.
My heart ached for as long as until the next Friday when she called and we talked for two hours on the phone about nothing, the way teenagers do the wide world over. But then she asked me how I would like going to the Englishman River Falls the following evening and even though I was stunned with joy I managed to say, „Yes, I’d love to“, to which she replied, „Then it’s a date.“
She picked me up at seven. I was hoping we would leave instantly for the Falls but it turned out that Winnie had other plans. She had prepared an Italian Tomato-Basil Casserole with smoked Mozzarella, one of her favourites, as well as one of mine, and when Stacey rang the doorbell Winnie immediately sped to the door in order to invite her in. I was stuck in the bathroom trying to fix our toilet’s water flush which had the tendency to get stuck at the most inappropriate moment possible.
When I finally got out of the bathroom Winnie and Stacey were already sitting at the kitchen table, engaged in what seemed to be a serious conversation. Stacey looked up and smiled when she realised I was with them in the room. Winnie, on the other hand, suggested I’d give Jack a hand – he was in the garden, picking tomatoes and other vegetables for a salad. My protest that Stacey and I weren’t staying for dinner she managed to shake off.
„Of course you are,“ she said. „Don’t be silly.“
I realised that I had nothing to say in this matter and, therefore, left to join Jack in the garden.
It took me quite a while to find him. He wasn’t too busy picking vegetables. Instead, he sat on a rock amidst his corn, smoking, looking to the West, enjoying the impressive sight of Mount Arrowsmith.
„Jack,“ I shouted which gave him a start. He held a hand to his chest and gasped for breath.
„What’s the matter with you,“ he asked. „You’re trying to kill me?“
„Sorry,“ I said. „It’s just that Stacey is here and I’d sort of love to get supper going.“
He took another drag from his cigarette. „No rush.“
„Yeah, well that’s what you think. We want to go to the Falls.“
„Oh, the Falls.“ He turned away and continued to look at Mount Arrowsmith again. Then he took another drag and said, „That’s nice.“
„What the hell do you think you’re doing?“
„I’m taking a break,“ he replied calmly. „Had a rough day. One customer after the other. Nothing but work.“
I was becoming annoyed. „You’re breaking my heart. Now let’s get the goddamn vegetables and get supper going.“
He turned again and smiled at me mysteriously. „No rush. Let them talk first.“
„What do you mean? What are they gonna talk about. Did you plan this?“
He shook his head. „No, I didn’t.“ He vaguely motioned towards the house with his head. „Sit down now. It’ll take a while.“ And a moment later he added, „You wanna roll yourself one of these?“
I had noticed all through supper how Stacey had avoided looking at me for longer than five seconds. She looked at me briefly when I said something, but most of the time she tried to remain focused on her plate or Winnie. Also, she didn’t laugh a lot, which usually she did, at least when I was with her. So I figured, either it must have been something Winnie said, or something had happened during the previous week. Since Winnie wouldn’t have discredited me in any way I immediately thought, ‚She’s met someone else.‘ That considerably changed my mood but I still got in the car with her and drove off after supper.
She didn’t say anything on the way to the Falls and I didn’t either. I expected she’d tell me the truth once we got there and then I could walk home and feel miserable.
Therefore, when we left the car at the very bottom and started to walk up the long footpath to the Englishman River Falls, I wasn’t too surprised when she suddenly stopped and said, „Kyle!“
What did surprise me was what she said then.
„Why didn’t you tell me?“
„Tell you what?“ I replied. I had no clue what she was talking about.
„Why you’re here.“
„What do you mean? I’m here because you asked me out. Last night!? On the phone?!“
„No, that’s not what I meant,“ she sighed. „Why you are here, on the island.“
Slowly it dawned on me what she was aiming at. „What has Winnie told you?“
„Shit, I shouldn’t have said it. She asked me not to tell you.“
„Tell me what?“
She sighed once again. „She… told me about… about your parents.“
„Well, what did she say?“
„That your father is… in jail!“ She looked relieved after she had said that.
„And… well, about your mother… she told me that, too.“
„Stacey, if you want me to tell you why I didn’t tell you, you should tell me what it is I should have told you.“
For the first time in two hours she looked at me for a longer period. She was really upset, but I wasn’t quite sure I understood what she was upset about.
„Don’t you want to tell me what happened?“
„I thought Winnie told you already.“
„But I wanna know how you feel. Don’t you understand? I want you to tell me.“
I hesitated for a moment before I answered. „Alright then. My father’s in jail for drinking and driving, basically. I mean, he was totally pissed one night, and it was raining and all, and he sorta, well, accidentally killed my best friend. That’s it.“
I will never forget the face she made after I said that. It was somewhere between horror, disgust, pity, and disbelief. She didn’t say anything, though, so I added, „Oh, right, and I felt pretty bad about it.“ That did it. I could see tears in her eyes and her mouth started to quiver. And then she exploded.
„Oh, for fuck’s sake! How can you say something like that? How can you possibly… it’s like you’ve read it in the paper! How can you… I don’t believe it… that is so…“
„Well, what do you want me to say?“ I was annoyed about being put on the spot. After all my Dad had killed my friend, not hers. But she was the one who was furious.
„What I want you to say? What I want you to say? I want you to fucking tell me how you feel about that. I want you to tell me how much you hate your father. I want you to tell me how much you miss your friend. I want you to tell me how you feel about your mother sending you here to live with her sister. I want you to fucking behave like a fucking human being.“
„Oh! Well, forgive me for not living up to your expectations,“ I replied.
„SHIT!!! What’s the matter with you?“
A feeling of anger and fury started to build up in me, but somehow it wasn’t aimed at her. I noticed how a couple of tears ran down my cheek. I wanted to say something but all I could do was shake my head. And then she came closer. She gently wiped the tears off my cheek and whispered, „I’m sorry.“ Then we embraced.
We must have stood there for ages and no matter how much I had wanted to kiss her before tonight, I now was fully content with feeling her heartbeat. When she withdrew her head from my shoulder I felt like waking from a dream. I also noticed how cold and moist the air was. Stacey looked at me and caressed my cheek. Then she finally broke the silence.
„What was his name?“
I didn’t respond immediately. I felt the anger building up again but I wanted to fight it.
„Kevin,“ I said.
She kissed me on the cheek. Then she took my hand and we continued to walk up the trail.
„Do you miss him?“
„I guess I do. Sometimes I find myself still talking to him.“
„You were close, eh?“
I nodded. ‚Close‘ didn’t even begin to describe our friendship, but I couldn’t think of a word that would. I was still fighting back my tears but the prospect of being alone with her helped me a lot. And then we reached the top.
There must have been at least fifty people engaged in a wild party. They had three fires going and were drinking and dancing. I would have expected Stacey to stop and turn, and walk back down with me, but instead she continued in the direction of the party. She stopped only after I had, and looked at me confused. „What’s the matter,“ she asked softly.
I motioned into the general direction of the party and said, „This?!“
She gave me that cute smile of hers and once again stroked my cheek. „Please,“ she said softly, „I was so much looking forward to this.“
I withdrew from her touch. „Looking forward to what?“
Now it was her turn to point into the direction of the party when I suddenly noticed a group of three girls coming over to where we stood, waving and calling out her name.
„I so much wanted you to meet my friends.“
I felt the anger building up again, only this time it was aimed at her. I felt the tears running down my cheek again, and I turned on the spot.
Stacey caught up with me halfway down, because I was stumbling all the time. I could hardly see a thing through that curtain of tears, but I was desperately trying to.
„Kyle,“ she shouted, „wait!“
I finally stopped.
„What’s wrong,“ she continued. I couldn’t believe it.
„What’s wrong? What could possibly be wrong? Nothing’s wrong. I just feel like going home.“
„Why didn’t you tell me you didn’t want to go?“
That did it. I turned to her and my furious expression gave a considerable start.
„I might have told you if only you had asked.“
„But I told you last night.“
„No, my dear. You fucking didn’t.“
„But I asked you if you wanted to come along.“
„Well, it didn’t sound like ‚coming along to a party‘ to me.“
Then she slightly tilted her head to the side and gave me a funny look. „What did it sound like?“
„What did it sound like,“ I mimicked. My tears had ceased, all that was left was naked anger. „It sounded like a fucking date.“
She remained calm. „But Kyle, it still is a date. Why don’t you just give it some time?“ She gave me her cutest smile.
„Oh, you want me to ‚give it some time‘? Well, guess what? That’s exactly what I’m going to do. Good night.“ I turned on the spot once more and left. She called after me, followed me for a while, but I ignored her until she finally gave up.
When I reached the highway I felt a bit better already. ‚Look on the bright side,‘ I kept saying to myself. ‚You wanted to walk home and feel miserable. Here you are!‘ I almost laughed.
I kept looking up to the stars and caught myself talking to Kevin about Stacey. I wondered if she was right, whether I should have told her. But what did she expect from me? That I’d just walk up to her and say, ‚Hi, my name’s Kyle. My father’s in jail for killing my friend Kevin whom I miss very much.‘ I started to chuckle again and wiped the last tears from my face when I noticed the car.
It stopped next to me, a green Honda Civic – her green Honda. I immediately turned away and when the window was being pulled down by a sinister sounding servo-mechanism I shouted, „Leave me alone!“
Then I heard the music that emanated from the car. ‚Willie Nelson?‘ I thought. ‚What’s with her now?‘ I turned.
In the car sat a man bent over the steering wheel, one hand on the car stereo. The reason he was bent over the steering wheel was, that he was too tall for his car. His hands seemed too big for the stereo, and his pale, haggard face was crowned with a nose that could make an eagle blush. I was staring dead into a pair of dot-sized eyes that were the colour of a glacier, and then the man spoke.
„Sorry, kid. I just have a question.“
His voice sounded exactly like Clint Eastwood’s in the Dollar trilogy or any of his Dirty Harry movies.
„I’m kinda lost. Am I anywhere near Qualicum Beach?“
„Say, you’re not from the island by any chance?“
He laughed. It was a gentle laugh that made me feel a whole lot better.
„No, not quite. I’m from Minnesota. So, what about Qualicum Beach?“
„What about it?“
„Am I anywhere near it?“
Now I had to laugh. „You sure are. Just follow the road for a couple of miles and then turn right at the signpost saying ‚Qualicum Beach‘:“
He nodded and the servo began to pull the window up again, stopped halfway through, and then changed direction.
„Wanna lift, kid?“
I don’t know why, but this encounter had such a surreal feel to it, that I was really pleased he asked.
„Sure,“ I said and got in.
„Where do you live, kid?“
„Where’s that, then?“
„Just follow the road for a couple of miles.“
„Is it anywhere near Qualicum Beach?“
„Everything here is near Qualicum.“
He nodded. „Is it on the way?“
„Is what on the way?“
„On the way where to?“
„You seem a little preoccupied, kid. Whiskey Creek!“
„Yeah, Whiskey Creek. Your home, kid.“
„Right. No, it’s not on the way.“
He turned the music up again. It was Willie Nelson, singing ‚Stop the World and Let Me Off‘. When the car started rolling again, I took the chance to look at him closer.
He looked like a gigantic scarecrow. He must have been at least six foot ten, and the way he sat behind the wheel made the Honda a toy car. His pale complexion, added to his height, his huge hands, the Dirty Harry talk, and his nose made him look dangerous and threatening. But there was a certain gentleness to the way he moved, a clumsiness to his huge hands. Yes, he looked like a scarecrow, but he had such an Ozian kindness to him that I found it hard to believe he could harm so much as a fly. He noticed I was staring at him, which apparently made him feel obliged to say something.
„What’s the matter, kid?“
„Nothing, really. Why do you wanna go there? Qualicum, I mean.“
He hesitated to answer, but finally he came out with, „Business.“
„What sort of business?“ I asked.
„I’ve bought a restaurant there. I’ll be opening two weeks from now… hopefully. Say, kid. Could you maybe do me a favour?“
„I don’t know my way around here. Could you, by any chance, show me the way?“
„Yeah! You show me where my restaurant is, and I’ll drive you home afterwards. How’s that?“
I thought about it for a moment. It was pretty late already, but it seemed that I had nothing better to do, apart from being miserable, so I said, „OK!“
„Alright. So, where’s Qualicum Beach?“
„This sure is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.“
I had never seen anyone that thrilled with driving the Coombs Cutoff, a dark road from Coombs to the road to Qualicum Beach. Why on earth anybody would want to connect Coombs with the road from Whiskey Creek to Qualicum was far beyond me. It must have been somebody from Coombs, that much was certain. Or a triangle-fetishist, for the Cutoff formed a neat triangle with the Coombs-Whiskey Creek-Qualicum connection. Mind you, it wasn’t much of a drive from Whiskey Creek to Coombs, but Coombs had been working on some sort of impact in the tourist business for years. Even though the only thing to be seen in Coombs were – apart from a lot of shops – goats on the roof, people seemed to believe that if only more people came, Coombs would become more interesting. And of course, the best way to lure people to a place with goats on the roof was to build roads there from any prominent town in the vicinity. And so they did.
The first thing about Qualicum the scarecrow seemed to like was Jack’s flower nursery. It was the name that made him believe that his quest for a place to live in had come to an end.
„Seventh Heaven Flower Nursery and Herbal Delight Store,“ he kept saying over and over again. „Seventh Heaven Flower Nursery and Herbal Delight Store. Yes, this is it.“
„You like the name, eh?“
„Yes. It’s so…“ He trailed off into thought.
„No, that’s not it.“ He thought about it for a moment. „Well, maybe it is.“
He suddenly forced the car to a halt, the brakes squealing. He shut the engine down, opened the door and started peeling himself out of the car. Then he crossed the road and stopped in front of the old doughnut place. He moved his face so close to the window that his nose touched the glass, and stared inside. Finally, I got out of the car as well, curious what he was doing there. I walked over and placed myself next to him. „This yours then?“
He nodded and stepped back a couple of paces.
„I can see it. ‚Hank’s Gourmet Café‘.“ He held up his hands in front of his eyes like a camera operator, his fingers forming a rectangle. „This is it,“ he finally said. „Alright, kid, where’s Whiskey Creek?“
„Just about the way we came,“ I replied and we walked back to the car and drove off.
After a while, during which he didn’t manage to get the smile off his face, I felt I should restart our brief conversation.
„So, your name’s Hank, then?“
„Oh, yes. Sorry, Hank Morgueson. From Minnesota.“
„My name’s Kyle. Kyle Ghallager. From Vancouver.“
„Vancouver? I thought you said Whiskey Creek!“
„Well, it’s a long story.“
He threw me a quick glance, as if he wanted to say something, but then shook his head. „Pleased to meet you,“ he said reaching out his huge hand. We shook hands and he thought about something for a moment. Then he looked at me and said:
„You need a job, kid?“
„So, how was your evening?“
It was Winnie’s first question the next morning, the one I had feared the most. All these hours of tossing and turning I had spent thinking of an answer, of a response that would catch her off guard and stop her inquiry. But I couldn’t think of anything, except „OK!“
I didn’t dare look at her, instead tried to look casual as I ate my porridge. I can imagine Winnie throwing a glance at Jack who would have risen an eyebrow. That’s what they always did when they knew something I didn’t and they had just found out that I didn’t. But she pushed no further. Instead she changed subject.
„How about salmon for supper?“
I nodded. „Fine by be.“
There was an uncomfortable silence which Jack broke. „What are your plans for the day?“
„I’m coming downtown with you, if you don’t mind.“
I could see Winnie starting to say something, but Jack cut her off. „Sure, no problem.“
„Well, I’ll see you two tonight then,“ Winnie said. Then she got up, took our bowls and carried them into the kitchen, humming ‚With a little help from my friends‘. Jack only shook his head and said, „Let’s go“, and got up. I followed him.
I was hoping to get through without talking on our way to Qualicum and at first it looked like it. However, just before we got to Jack’s nursery he said, „Don’t be angry with her. She just cares too much.“
„How do you mean?“
„Stacey called, you know. She was crying and told Winnie what happened, and she said, how sorry she was.“
„Yeah, right.“ I was trying hard to concentrate on watching the trees rush by.
„Winnie promised her she’d try to talk you into calling her today.“
„WHAT?! How could she…“
„Don’t worry,“ Jack interrupted me, „I talked her out of it.“ He was patting my knee as he went on. „We both love you very much, you know that. And we promised your Mom we’d take good care of you. And we both intend to keep that promise.“ He turned right into his parking lot and stopped the car. Then he stroked my hair and looked at me. „Anytime you want to talk, tell me.“
I felt the tears I had suppressed last night move up again, but I still managed to fight them. I produced a choked „Thanks!“ and got out of the car.
„OK,“ Jack replied and opened the door. Then after a moment he added, „See you later.“
During the past four years I had always thought Jack to be the quiet, superficial type. I was amazed by what he had just tried to say, but I didn’t have much time to think about why he had said it.
It took me five minutes to walk down the road before I reached Hank’s restaurant. I could already hear him. He was shuffling pieces of furniture about, while he was singing something I couldn’t identify. When he saw me he stopped what he was doing to greet me. He looked surprised, as if he hadn’t thought I would come. But there was something else in his look. It was as though he was concerned, as though he sensed something was wrong with me but he didn’t say anything. Instead, he gave me a Coke and a cigarette.
Seven hours later the restaurant still didn’t look like much, but at least we had managed to clean it. I was hard work that didn’t allow for much talking, apart from what we needed to co-ordinate our efforts. It was around six when Hank decided we should call it a day and call for a pizza. I tried to convince him that the delivery service was just out the backdoor and we could easily pick up our food, but he dismissed my suggestion. He didn’t want to leave his restaurant until it was fully renovated and therefore he called next door for them to bring us a pizza. While we were waiting I asked him what on earth had made him buy a doughnut shop in Canada, in Qualicum at that, and turn it into a Gourmet Café.
Hank told me how he used to be a chef for all different sorts of employers, including a guy from Branson, Missouri. „He was a great fan of Leonard Darson,“ he said and when I shrugged he added, „He was a third-rate country and folk singer who died in a car crash in the late seventies. I had never heard of him before either. Anyway, this guy, he somehow managed to convince the local authorities to issue him a license for opening a restaurant on the cemetery where Darson was buried.“ He chuckled. „I worked there for four weeks and we had a total of twelve customers. Then we had to close and the guy moved to Nashville to try it again down there.“
The pizza came and we literally devoured it in under ten minutes. Five more minutes passed until either of us could move again, and he offered me another cigarette which I gratefully accepted.
We were well into our smoke when he broke the silence.
„You told me you were from Vancouver last night.“
I nodded. „Yes, that’s right. It’s been four years now.“
„I see. And why?“
I hesitated to give him an answer so he continued.
„Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be so nosy. My wife always used to tell me I should keep… wait, how did she put it? ‚Hank, keep your conk out of other people’s business!’“
„Where is she now?“ I asked, even though, somehow, I already knew the answer.
„She died eight years ago. Lung cancer. Nasty disease.“
I was afraid he’d say that, but couldn’t retort. He took another drag from his smoke and contemplated about what he had just said. Then he shook his head and continued.
„It still seems like yesterday. You know, at first I thought she’d just come back. Like, I’d be sitting in my chair and I’d hear a key in the front door and it’d be her.“ He paused for a moment. „Of course, I knew she wouldn’t come back. I mean, I’d been to the funeral and all. I knew she was dead. But I couldn’t stand the thought so I waited.“
„What happened then?“
„What happened then! Nothing happened. I kept waiting and waiting, and nothing happened. Then I began to make up my mind what I was waiting for. And you know what?“
„I hadn’t the faintest idea. I waited for years, and finally I noticed how I was in love with her memory more than I had ever been with her. That made me think. I wanted my misery to end. I wanted to feel good again. So, finally, I let go.“
„Just like that?“
He laughed. „No, not just like that. It wasn’t until I noticed that I didn’t miss her as a person as much as I missed her as part of my life. It was selfish, really. But I realised, she would have to die again.“
I felt the blood rushing up into my temples as he went on.
„I had to bury her again, this time inside of me. I started thinking of her, of what her life must have been like throughout our marriage, you know, being alone all night, because your husband is at work until morning. And yet, she always seemed happy. And she wanted me to be happy, too. So I figured the only thing for me left to do was to bury her inside me as well. It was a hard week or so. She died again inside of me. I went through all of it again and again, but when it was over I was at peace with her and myself. And when I think of her now, it feels good.“
Deep inside me the tears I had suppressed the night before came to life again. I felt one of these stings in the gut that send little impulses throughout your body, especially to the ears, making them all red and hot, and to the eyes, making them wet.
And then Hank asked, „What’s your story?“ as if he had recognised the symptoms. I tried to answer but if I remember it correctly I just got up and left.
I went straying through town until I reached the beach. I sat down. In the distance, across the sea, I could see the Rocky Mountains enveloped in a blue haze. They had never appeared that eternal to me. Watching them gave me that gut sting again I cried and cried for what felt like hours.
I was so exhausted afterwards that I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised at Jack having found me. I don’t know for how long he’d been sitting there, watching me but he gave me a warm paternal smile when I looked. Then he walked over and put his arms around me.
„I won’t tell you how everything will be fine,“ I remember him saying. „But you know what?“
I shook my head, still weeping, and he answered his own question. „There’s a damn fine piece of fish waiting for us at home, and we wouldn’t want Winnie to get mad at us, would we?“