Death belongs to the Lonely, his Son had said. (Inspired by Tim Winton's short stories)
|Death belongs to the Lonely
The gentleman hobbled through the aisles. His eyes were tight and his left arm rested over his slightly bloated stomach. The heat of the Christmas season became harder to bear each year, but each year he bore it to find a gift for his nephew. Each year he bore it because his own son didn’t.
Death belongs to the lonely, his son had said.
The boy had grown up since it became ritual, but he still came each year on the fifteenth of December to spend the day with his uncle.
The gentleman had been in the store for over an hour. He just couldn’t find the right gift. He coughed; the sound hacking at his throat. Reaching into the pockets of his jeans he heaved out his scratched watch. It was too big for his arm these days.
It was getting too hot, he needed to rest. He left, smiling at the cashier.
When the heat hit him he had to stand still for a moment. He reached out for something or someone to stabilise himself against, but there was nobody. Sweat slithered down his sunken cheeks and nose.
The gentleman sat just inside the door. The attendant approached him quietly. The gentleman saw no pity in his eyes, and was glad.
What would you like, sir?
The gentleman asked only for a cold glass of milk. It soothed his stomach, he said.
His dark eyes scanned the café. He knew he was looking at death itself. The sun began to sink into the obscured horizon. It was quiet. He went home.
It was only a week until the boy was to come, but the gentleman had still found nothing. The sun weakened him quicker every day, but every day he went out searching. Last year he got him a model Holden VL Commodore, the year before, he helped him build his own shed. He never had the chance to do these things with his own son.
He touched his dark beard. He hadn’t shaved in weeks; he didn’t like looking at his flaccid face in the mirror. The reminders of his fragility were common enough.
The gentleman failed to find the right gift today, too. But he couldn’t give up yet. He’d never have another chance.
As the shadows began to darken, he went back to the café. The attendant offered him the lunch menu, but again he declined, asking only for some milk. His swollen stomach grumbled, but they both knew he couldn’t eat much these days. The boy understood, though. He didn’t mind that his uncle didn’t eat much at their Christmas lunches.
The gentleman woke crying with pain. He ground his teeth as tears streamed down his face. He began to cough, and didn’t stop for an hour. It was still dark outside. He lay in bed, sweating and clawing for air. His dark beard was wet with saliva and blood and his eyes raw from tears.
Stumbling around the kitchen, he listened to the radio, trying to forget his pain. Among the white noise and news reports, the gentleman heard that tickets were on sale for a Christmas day car race in town. He didn’t know much about it, but he immediately knew that the boy would like it. He knew it was the right gift. He grabbed his coat and left the house.
Christmas had finally come. The gentleman opened his eyes with a smile on his face for the first time in weeks. His swollen stomach did not pain him so much and his sunken features did not scare him. The boy was coming. He shaved.
He poured himself a glass of milk and read the morning paper, waiting for the boy to come. The phone rang instead.
I can’t make it today; I’ve got tickets to a car race in town. I’ll see you next year, though?
The gentleman sat for a long time. No coughs came, no pain, no hate, no anger. He just sat.
Then he stood.
Death belongs to the lonely; his son had said when the kid’s wife died.
He sat in the same corner he always had. The guitarist of the café’s band was out on the street, the dead sat around talking quietly. The attendant approached him.
A glass of milk?
No, bring me the lunch menu.
He ordered. The gentleman saw there was no pity in his eyes, and was glad.