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A Long Distance Type o’ Guy
by Florin Purluca
If somebody asked him to give her description in the blink of an eye, he’d be at a loss for words. At least, for the fancy words. But if the logic of a sentence wasn’t so important, then Abigail was: beer, froth, smile. And maybe dance. When she was chopping herbs she used to hit the hardwood floor with the tip of her foot. While waiting in line somewhere she used to drum her fingers on the surfaces nearby. Despite all of these, when real music was playing she only shook her ass like a monkey. The distinction concealed inside the ordinary, she’d say. She flashed a smile every single time she came up with such explanations. And he was only happy that the girl didn’t have to make a living out of dancing. She’d have starved for sure.
She was his tenth partner and he’d met her in Chicago, while he was working in a gin-mill. He didn’t actually need the money or the job but he mostly liked to be around people. He’d become accustomed working in busy avenues — restaurants, bars, hotels — for far too long a time to even remember exactly how long it was. Chic&Weak, even though favoured by decent people, it still looked like a honky-tonk. That was because prices were reasonable, the patrons quite scarce, and
Darius — the owner — lived not exactly from hand to mouth, but his living was humble enough that no big restoration could ever be a viable issue. In fact, he wasn’t good for any kind of restoration. The floor was worn-out and it creaked at every step. A good thing that the music was loud, it helped cover the noise. Elegance was out of the question entirely, for the tables were the same since the year after the Allies’ victory over the Reich. Despite this, the usual patrons turned a blind eye on all drawbacks. The beer was aplenty, exquisitely frothy, and rum went for almost nothing. How Abigail ended up in Chic&Weak, that was a colossal mystery. Or maybe the hand of destiny. Her spindly legs, quick darting, surrounded by the hiss of a gown he’s immediately compared to the summer blue sky. Josephine Baker would have raised an eyebrow herself. She equanimeously cut a path through the men in the room and perched herself on the first empty chair at the bar. She ordered a pint. With lots of froth. As she waited for her beer, she drummed her fingers on the countertop. And, fifty years after that moment, she still favoured a pint three quarters full of froth.
“You’re not that deft”, she told him.
He didn’t reply. He just shrugged and gave her a prudent smile, all the while seeing to pour her beer exactly the way she liked it.
“And you also wouldn’t tell me a beautiful girl like me has no place in a barrel house such as this?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Nice”, she said, and she passed her spread-out fingers through the muslin veil of her auburn dishevelled curly hair.
He knew the moment would come. It always comes sooner or later. He sometimes forgot, even though it wasn’t often that he lost himself in the euphoria of forgetfulness. He cradled in his heart the pain of nine departed loves (soon enough a tenth would join them there) and that made him restless. Especially when he felt the moment was near. Sometimes even a few months after that.
He’d gone out to do some errands and Abigail had made her mind to have her usual morning tea. The block they lived on had long ago started to drown into nothingness. People migrated towards downtown, pushed hard foreword by their hopes and dreams, leaving behind the ones who didn’t want or couldn’t leave. He knew the signs. He’d seen this happening before in too many places and far too often to even feign surprise.
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Since turning sixty, she’d started drinking tea. Almost any flavour, it didn’t really matter. She was convinced after a certain age you had to hydrate your body well. If that habit gained her a year of life, he couldn’t ever know. When he came back, she was sprawled down on the floor.
The coffee table was at its place, so was the teacup. Only the chair was upturned. Her lean body, Abigail’s reduced body lay mid-distance between the short table and that upset chair. She hadn’t gotten out of her nightgown, even though he’d went shopping for groceries first thing in the morning and he’d been away for more than three hours. Because of the coldness of her inert body and the white cotton that the excessive use of bleach had thinned greatly, she looked like an ice queen fallen from her throne.
The moment comes for sure but it is never easy to give up on fifty years of common history. You just can’t. It was impossible even for one like him, and time was maybe the only thing that he never lacked. It was painful, it had always been. With every parting something precipitates down there, deep inside the heart. You become in a way like a bottle of aged wine. The essence is good but don’t you ever shake it. The residue will cover the flavour.
It was the moment for him to depart. To leave everything behind as though all the years had been just a long dream. He kneeled and placed a kiss on her forehead. He caressed her hair now the colour of sugar. He stood and went to the parlour. He took the money, their years’ worth of savings. It was no good to her, anyway. He sat on the couch and started taking mental pictures of the place where they had spent most of their life as a couple. He knew that in a few years that image would be but a faded out memory, like an unfinished painting. But until then sadness would linger. The memory couldn’t take the burden off his shoulders but it somehow helped. Especially at night.
After you get to know enough people, you start seeing patterns. The type you hate, the type you love. And the one you’re indifferent to — as long as they mind their own business, because otherwise you inevitably come to hate them, too. Without any exaggeration, she’d been a special kind of person — the one you adore.
He still remembers her like she was that day when she asking that first pint from him. Because of all that froth, it looked more like a pint of cake than beer. He’s smiled — she’d smiled back — and they went on making small talk. A white vaporous moustache had bracketed her full lips. The following afternoon she’d been there again, at the bar, on a stool. A frothy beer, she’d asked.
With lots of froth, he’s added. And life, one next to another, from that moment on, had slid like honey on a piece of glass, for fifty years, downhill. Even after she’d found out his curse. Because, frankly, in time, he’d waited for discrepancy to creep in between them. But it never came, and that was good. Surprisingly good, even, especially given his physical stability.
He went to the hall, picked up the received and dialled 911. He couldn’t leave her like that. To be consumed by worms? Maybe someone else would’ve done just that. Not him. Even though he’d always taken a risk — you can bet on it — he had never done that.
“Hello. I want to report a death.”
And he put the receiver down. They would certainly come to take care of everything. He gazed at her for one last time and he went out of the house. His heart was full of grief, but his face was clean. After a number of such departures you forget how to make tears. He also took a picture of her with him. From times gone by. At least he had pictures with the last two of them. The other eight beautiful women were present only as vague memories.
It was a sunny day, warm and pleasant, a day fit for making a new decision in life, for getting ready to make a fresh start of it. Way too pleasant to even think that someone could accept death at such a time. But it wasn’t like all the rest had a choice. It’s not that everybody has time wrapped around their finger, like him. Not everyone is immortal.
This story was first published in Aphelion The Webzine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, May 2016.
FLORIN PURLUCA is a Romanian writer, living in Focșani, Romania. He has a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and works in a psychiatric hospital in his hometown. His fiction has been published in several Romanian periodicals, online and paperback. His work translations have been published in Samovar, The Singularity, SF in Translation and Aphelion. He has published five novels so far.