WARNING - this story may contain adult content including coarse language and/or sexual content which may be offensive to some
a short story by Mark Kolke
May 9, 2011
My plan was to read that manuscript – write a forward for it and then get it off to Casey’s editor Eldon Rowley, at Random House. They’ve been pestering me. Not because of their advance so long ago – but after ten years, they felt it was finally time to publish her last book.They were hinting at some sort of re-launch, new printings of her previous work at the same time, to capitalize I suppose, on the cache of a writer publishing something new, so long after their death.
It didn’t matter to me one way or the other, but I had an obligation as her husband, as her lawyer, and as executor of her estate to help as much as I could to maximize the proceeds because she left her things to me, she left her money to the Animal Welfare League – where she got her pooch Curly.It seems a small price to pay, in terms of my efforts, to satisfy her wishes.But I’d been stalling so long.
I’d been on the road for a week; I’d driven east, and then north to Toronto. I wanted to look up an old classmate who was working on Bay Street – to surprise him.The surprise was for me, when I went to Tom’s office in a gleaming tower at Bloor and Bay, only to find that he was on a two-week bicycling trip in the south of France.Oh well, I’d not been to Toronto in many years so the time to explore and start my journey west was welcome decompress time.
As I moved across Ontario, through the rocky rugged Canadian shield route over the Great Lakes, into Manitoba,I stared at that box each night in the motel rooms – wondering just when I was going to quit procrastinating.“Tonight’s the night”, a tune I was tired of hearing inside my head, only to delay again, another day . . .
A wet towel. A corkscrew. A bungee-cord.Laughter, and pain, remembering again.I don’t remember who brought which or imagine what I would do if I had it all to do over again now. Oh how we laughed that weekend, unloading the car after all was done, laughing our asses off at the things you could do with a wet towel, a corkscrew and a bungie-cord.
She’d made it all worthwhile, a reliving of an unrequited love is, in my view, not unrequited at all.What was left of it now?
I like that saying, ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping . . . ?’
Imagine one lip kissing.Before you think of two lips., can you imagine one lip?
Kissing what?Exactly!Kissing another one, so then you have two lips kissing.And, if you have two kissing two, then tulips are the next progression of the rhyme . . .
I looked everywhere around the house – on my desk, her desk, under fridge-magnets, any obvious place and every obscure one too . . . in hope of finding some form of farewell note from her. Nothing.How could I know?I convinced myself, for a time, that she must have been thinking of it – and then seen an opportunity, leapt for it, without time to think of saying good-bye. I don’t know what rules the mind of someone facing a death sentence, so I can only guess.
Did she fall on purpose?
It didn’t matter, I suppose, whether she committed suicide by car tire or if she fell – but I am sure it would have given, Alberto Perez, the driver of the cab that ran over her some comfort if he could know for certain that she had flung herself in front of his cab.
I couldn’t be sure – her state of mind had been so altered – hard to say if she was grieving the loss of her expectations of our life not unfolding as expected due to her diagnosis, of losing our chance at adopting a baby, or finishing her incomplete manuscript – no way to know. I asked the cops not to press charges. Nothing they could do to an immigrant cab driver would bring her back.
Things we don’t know can hurt us - but we don’t know they can hurt us.There is some comfort in that, when a door closes, a chapter ends – or, maybe I just gave up on it.
Like an old Hoagy Carmichael song playing, in back of my mind while I walk in the blustery breeze on a deserted Lake Michigan beach on a cloudy day - I guess I've reached a point in my life where I have a very clear idea of what and who I'm looking for.
Memories of her float in and out, but mostly in . . . and they stay in.
Summer daze, gaze, in the afternoon, I was looking out the window at winter’s grimy entrails while spring, again, tries starting anew.The rains have been fresh, refreshing washes, to take the worst of the scummy crusted dust away.
“You are right, friendship is not precluded from our lives.”, Caseysaid to me that first day we met; clearly she thought she was too young for committment, and clearly – I thought she was wrong.
Soon, afternoon drifted to early evening – and I kept sitting there, looking out across the park and all I could see was her smile, her waving smiling head atop those tiny shoulders as she perambulated my way, her cane barely touching the ground on every second hop as she strut-skipped toward me. I can remember it all so clearly – it is as if my delicious bride was rushing back to meet me again – instead of clouding my head again.
It is a bad dream, sad dream – mad mad dream – the days we played in the sun and walked in the rain, the days we walked hand, in hand, down that beach as storm clouds rolled in.
It wasn’t always this way – we were young once and didn’t give a righteous goddamm about anything beyond the present bliss, the wonder of this; things like future health concerns and genetic tendencies are not the things you consider for discussion when you are trying to work your way into a young girl’s pants. I guess, the same would be true at any age, but we were only twenty-two so it didn’t concern me to ask, didn’t concern her to tell me, that there was a disease in her family she had a high likelihood of contracting.
“Hi Reg,” in Casey’s hand scrawled pencil, “thanks for the note and the flowers. I had to go back and look at my yearbook to see those photos and still am at a loss to determine which photo is the "hungry" look! About getting together again soon, I do on occasion visit Chicago – I have a sister currently living there, but she is ramping up to move to Seattlethis summer for her Masters in Community Nursing at the University of Washington. I only returned home to Detroit one month ago from a 1.5 yr stint in London, England, so I am so content right now to reacquaint myself with local life.. friends and family.Seriously, I’m not avoiding figuring out how we might go forward – your company on the weekend and your very sweet note have had an impact. Still, we are both smarting from recent break-ups; no doubt we are both in the afraid to break category. Warm regards, Casey”.
We met at a Northwestern reunion weekend – she’d been in a few of my classes so I recognized her in a fuzzy way – had to revisit the yearbook later, to refresh my faint memory of her from school - but it wasn’t till that weekend at the party at Kevin’s house that we actually got acquainted.Kevin was dating Kate, a Kappa Alpha Theta girl, so she invited a bunch of her sorority sisters who were in town for the weekend.Casey was one of those. I don’t remember meeting or looking at the others. I know they were there but they form no part of my memory.
She wasn’t a classic beauty, but she was mine. Reddish blonde curls framed her be-spectacled face, her body was firm – athletic – with trim legs and flattish chest. She was wicked smart, funny, and she toyed with me a bit, I suppose because my interest was so obvious and open.
It went so fast; actually it didn’t seem to at the time, but now, looking back it such a blur. A year of courting, getting married on that Mayan beach – then eight years of glorious fun with only one hole in the picture, Casey’s inability to have a child.We wanted one so badly. We were talking about adoption, until she got sick, and then the illness consumed us – left us drained of our hopes for a family, as Casey’s spirit drained the life from here so quickly.She was still strong physically, but not emotionally.
The diagnosis was Huntington’s chorea, the prognosis was one of textbook decline over twenty years, degeneration and then death.Three doctors, at three clinics in three states all concluded the same thing. Get used to loss ofphysical function, keep your spirits up and live a full life, albeit a shorter one.
The doctors, and everything I read, predicted the same physical decline, but none predicted emotional devastation.Casey’s depression was deep sadness.
And now, she’s gone – still gone - ten years this week since her death, and all I do is close my eyes to see her, feel her touch and all the feelings and memories come flooding back.
It seemed so strange the other day, I was walking by a card store with a big display of Mother’s Day cards. I stopped and found my eyes welling up.I suddenly had this image, if she hadn’t got sick, if she hadn’t died, if, if, if . . . if we had our lives unfold as we wished, I’d be out with our son or daughter picking a card for Casey, a card for their mom.
I don’t have these flashback moments as often anymore.
My attempts - thus far, to move on, have been short bursts of excitement and no long term substance, or staying power - or maybe my heart just hasn’t been in it. I miss it all, challenges and all, I miss it all . . . I miss her, I miss the dreams I had, the hopes I had, I miss the times of my life. There will be new times - of course - with new chances to take, new leaps to make, but always, there will be Casey - stuck there in my mind, the greatest treasure I ever found.How can I expect someone new in my life to compete with that memory.
I see it in their eyes – each time I start dating someone new, as if there is some novelty for them to comfort the lonely widower, to fuck the lonely guy and soothe his wounds. They don’t know, don’t have a clue – there is a third person in the room.
I couldn’t stay in Chicago.I left the practice. My partners cashed me out. They had a low-key farewell lunch for me, and that was it.I didn’t have many friends left, I’d been quiet the prick to work with since Casey’s death and – as Kevin reminded me the other day, ‘you were no picnic to work with before either, but at least Casey kept you centered enough that you didn’t blow off at all the junior associates each week – not the way you have been lately”.
“I know, I know, I know”,. . . as my voice trailed off.
“Reg, maybe this is for the best – take a break, see the country, settle somewhere new – meet a nice girl, settle down!”, Kevin added. He’d been a great friend since law school.His wife Kate had set me up with so many great dates at dinner parties the last few years I started calling her Yenta.
“Tell Yenta she has to find me someone in Seattle, because I don’t think I’ll have much luck meeting women on my own”, I said, back over my shoulder, as I started toward my car with the last file-box of my professional life.
I planned on taking three lazy weeks to get to Seattle.I’d sold the house in Arlington Heights last month, sent the furniture ahead of me to be stored.
I’d been living the last three weeks in a motel with a couple of suitcases of clothes, Casey’s aging buddy - a mongrel lapdog named Curly – a brief case, my laptop, my golf clubs, the urn with Casey’s ashes and that file box containing Casey’s last manuscript. I’d not been able to look at it since she died.
Before she quit writing, I’d seen bits – sometimes she would give me a piece she was struggling with, and ask me to red-pen whatever I wanted because she was struggling with it. We’d done lots of that in our time together – not that I thought I had much to offer. Wills and corporate carpentry did not, in my view, give me credence to edit mystery novels. Still, she smiled when I tried – and sometimes she included my edits, but mostly I think it was a diversion to keep me busy, keep me at bay a bit, while she continued to work.
Well, the journey began with a fundamental decision – I’d go up to Canada, follow the Trans Canada Highway to Vancouver and then head south to Seattle.
I don’t know why I chose three weeks. I suppose I wanted to take my time, let Chicagoland memories get filed away, clear my head and prepare for new adventures in Seattle.
I hardly knew anyone in Canada. My travel agent Coreen suggested a few must see places along my route and off I went . . .
I didn’t know anyone in Seattle either. Casey’s sister Eleanor had settled there after graduating from U of W; her husband Terry Madigan and their two year old twins Alison and Ted were barely known to me. Christmas cards and meeting Terry at their wedding two years ago was all I knew.Eleanor had been to visit a few times over the years – and especially after Casey’s diagnosis, but when she visited I was often working lots and even when I was around, the girls spent most of their time together – shopping, talking, cooking – but very little time with me.I would touch base with them once I got settled in Seattle. They didn’t know I was coming.
I was just too tired each night to read, after a day of driving, sight-seeing, taking Curly for a walk and then crashing after one more greasy-spoon meal.
I pulled out a map, charted a course and set out the next morning for a two-day push to get to a place my travel agent recommended EmeraldLake Lodge. It was just inside the British Columbia border, near Field.I called, booked a week there and went to sleep.
The next days flew - it was spring so waving wheat fields are yet three months in the future. It was mind-numbing through the prairie flatland of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, but once I got into Alberta – as I was approaching Calgary, I started to relax at the sight of those magnificent Rockies.
Calgary was really what the brochures said – heart of the new west, dripping oil richness at every corner, a sleazy cow-girl in gaudy jewellery; young, fast, sprawling – second only to Toronto in power within Canada, and bigger in area than any city in North America.I stayed one night after a day of touring around.It was worth a return visit – but for now, I wanted to make my way to EmeraldLake, to get off the road for a few days, and soak up some wilderness.Or, did I want the wilderness to soak up me?
It was early afternoon when I arrived. I’d done quick stops to see Banff and Lake Louise – I remembered them well from ski trips Casey and I took in our early days, before she got sick. It just didn’t feel the same, walking down the streets alone, nosing around stores alone – or even picking out which kinds of fudge to buy at the fudge store.
Surrounded by mountains, so beautiful just the same – slow season, summer tourists yet to arrive and spring skiers dwindling.Road traffic was light, a week day, as I pulled off the Trans-Canada at Field, and made my way past the Natural Bridge where the Kicking Horse River cut through rock, then down the road to the Emerald Lake parking lot.The shuttle bus took Curly and I to our cabin - #25, Room 4, an upper, with a great look-out over the lake which was still iced over.
I’d been superbly briefed – this place was incredible, and #25 was the best situated cabin on the property; just a short walk to the lodge and dining room, and just across the path from a mega-sized outdoor hot tub.
I put the manuscript box on the table for reading après-dinner, and started down the path to the lodge.The host put me at a well lit table in the corner, past honey-mooning couples nuzzling over their bread baskets and cabernet glasses. Music poured in from speakers in the corners, Norah Jones singing It’s not the pale moon the excites me . . .
I settled quickly into decisions; Venison Goulash Soup with Squash Dumplings to start and grilled Bison strip loin with winter garden vegetables accompanied by my cabernet glass.My server, Simone from rural Quebec, was quick to recommend dessert. I settled for a strong coffee and a Grand Marnier chaser.Dinner was nearly as superb as my surroundings.
Fortified with liquor and caffeine, I made my way back to cabin #25.There was a light overcast, stars obscured, and a pale moon shining through . . .
Ascending the stairs I could hear the sounds of tender talk coming from the lower unit.
I got the sense, if asked, that Simone would have joined me to explore the contents of that bottle.She was far too young for me, but certainly appealing in a leggy, tight ass, perky-tits and very sexy pouty lips kind of fashion.Her French accent gave a sultry spin to her every word as if she could inspire me to rise to the occasion and then holler – encore, encore!
“Would there be anything else this evening, Mr. Carson?
Simone had followed me up the stairs – so quickly – as promised, with a bottle of that great cabernet.She followed me in, opened the bottle to let it breathe, and then busied herself lighting kindling in my fireplace. She soon had a roaring blaze, filling the room with heat.She bid me good-night, while reminding me of the breakfast buffet opened at 7AM.
“Thanks Simone, that will be all, thank you.”
“Very well, but if there is anything you need . . . I’m working the front desk tonight, so just give me a call if there is anything I can do for you, OK?”
“Thank you, Simone, good night.”
Whoa, “settle down Reg”, you are going to read this manuscript tonight; chasing Simone around a hotel room can wait for another night.I opened the now travel-weary box, pulled out the manuscript, pulled off the rubber bands that cross-straddled that sheaf of paper, the last of Casey’s words, turned over the first blank page to find:
Page 1 -untitled manuscript (Eldon, I was thinking we could consider “A wet towel, a corkscrew and a bungee-cord. )
Page 2 – DEDICATION
-for Curly and Reg, the loves of my life. I have only been able to carry on because of your unconditional love. You are my inspiration and, during my illness, it was your strength and support that were the source of my fortitude to carry on to finishing this book.
Page 3 -CHAPTER 1
Greg Pollock was a work-a-day Chicago lawyer.
His wife Shelby had been diagnosed with a disease, and they fell apart. Not apart, apart. They loved each other, held each other tight every night – made it through every night but it was the awake time, the day time when things were different.
Plans were dashed . . . any hopes of adopting a baby were out of the question given Shelby’s condition.Her disease would run its course, twenty years, possibly more, and then it would take her.It sucked the spirit out of her entire being that day the third doctor gave the third concurring opinion.Incurable. Inoperable.
Shelby began her day, like any other, walking Curly round the neighborhood.After depositing her pampered pooch at home, she called a cab to take her to The Loop for some shopping.The first stop on her expedition was Neiman Marcus on Michigan Avenue.As she exited the cab, she began walking in her modified duck fashion with her cane as a stabilizer, she got to a point – just in front of the cab’s front bumper – she fell, in front of the right wheel just as the light turned red. The cab lurched forward . . .
I rang the front desk . . .
“Good evening, thank you for calling EmeraldLake Lodge, this is Simone speaking, how can I help you?”
“Hi, Simone – this is Reg Carson in Cabin #25, room 4, could you place two calls for me please – to Eldon Rowley at Random House Mysteries in New York and to Eleanor Madigan in West Seattle.”
I gave her the numbers and she said she would place the calls right away.
“Oh yes . . . one other thing, could you please also call Mr. Sabih Pirzada at Yellow Cab in Chicago – ask him to connect me with a cab driver named Alberto Perez.” I gave her the number.
“Simone, one other thing, if it isn’t too much trouble, after you place those calls, could you ask someone to bring some more firewood up?I think it is going to be a long night, and I have a lot more reading to do . . . “