“How are you feeling?”
“I am dying.”
“What do you mean?”
“I feel that I am dying.”
“You don’t look as though you’re dying.”
“I feel it.”
“It’s natural to die. Maybe it’s the beginning of a new chapter in existence. Either way it’s unavoidable.”
“Yes. Would you like to walk with me?”
“Do you feel that your death is imminent? Where are you walking?”
“All our deaths are imminent, you said yourself that death is unavoidable.”
“I’ll walk with you to the river.”
“Should we pick up some beer?”
“I feel my death will be longer in coming than I had anticipated earlier.”
“Let’s walk.” I said and rose. Taking my coat up from the back of my chair, putting it on, I walked to the door and made ready to exit.
Ed, too, put on his coat and muffler. He turned off the lights, made sure he had his wallet and keys and joined me at the door, “we’ll get a six pack and go sit on the levee and watch the winter go by okay?”
We went through the door, out of the warm fetid trailer, into the cold wet wind. Hands in our pockets and heads down we trudged against the cold gusts to the seven eleven to get a six pack of Falstaff and a pack of Benson and Hedges menthol lights. Then back the other way to the levee that bordered the Brazos River near its mouth. We peaked the grassy mound of dirt and sat on the leeward side of the levee, watching the river eddy into the Gulf of Mexico.
We opened our beers drank them, holding them with icy fingers and smoked cigarette after cigarette under clouds the color of moonstones. Talking about the river and the gulf and the town. How, during hurricane Carla, everything was under water. How there were dead cattle and dead dogs and dead cats floating every where. And about how when the waters receded, the town seemed carpeted in dead animals. How that was a memory he’d take with him everywhere.
“And nobody seemed to care. Like that was the least of their worries. People had lost their homes and loved ones. The animals, who gave a shit about the animals? It just hurt my feelings. That people could care so little.”
“I guess if I had lost my house and stuff, I’d probably feel the same way.”
“Same way as I felt? Or the same way as everybody else felt?”
“I thought you liked pets. I thought you loved animals”
“Then why would you not care?”
“I’m not saying I wouldn’t care, I’m just saying, I might be otherwise preoccupied.”
“Well, that’s just disappointing.”
“You didn’t see the magnitude of it.”
“I’m sure that would have changed my opinion significantly, if it was of great magnitude.”
“Don’t try to mollify me.”
“It was of great magnitude! I’m telling you, the streets, the yards were carpeted in dead pets and barnyard creatures!” He was getting agitated.
“I’m not trying to mollify you, Ed. I’m sure that if I had seen it I would agree with you. It must have been terrible.”
“Well it was.”
“I believe you.”
“I just feel bereft about that. I feel bereft that I didn’t see mankind live up to its potential. That its all over and we’ve got all this crap that’s supposed to make life better and we’re supposed to be enlightened and intelligent and we’re no better than when we lived in caves, or when we were drowning people for being heretics. People still drown cats for fun, you know.”
“Well, don’t feel bereft. Maybe people felt so bad about the drowned animals that they acted as though they didn’t care as some sort of psychological self defense.”
“It’s has a certain plausibility. Maybe by convincing others it didn’t matter, they were attempting to convince themselves it didn’t matter, so that they wouldn’t be emotionally burdened.”
“I like it.”
We both looked back out to the river. The wind would blow over the levee behind us, just grazing the top of our hatless heads, and move the tall, tan colored grasses and dead cattail stalks with sharp, hissing thrusts. We watched the muddy water swirl faster and faster as it went downstream and turned into gulf. And we sipped our beers and smoked our cigarettes again in silence.
I could feel Ed’s face turn to me. I turned to meet his eyes. They were glazed. His face had gone from pallid to gray. “I don’t feel so good.”
“Oh shit Ed.” I didn’t move.
“I’m gonna lay down now.”
“Okay.” I looked away from him and back to the river.
“Hold my beer.” He handed me his beer and laid back into the soft dead grass on the old levee that protected Velasco from the Brazos River.
I looked at the river and finished my beer. Then I finished his. When both beers were gone I lit a cigarette. Ed was wheezing there on the grass next to me. I pulled the next to last beer from the bag and opened it.
I heard Ed say, “Thanks, buddy, I love you.”
I never looked over. But I said, “I love you too, man.”
About halfway through that beer he stopped wheezing. I never moved. I just finished my beer and watched the river swirl.
After about half an hour I looked over at where Ed had been. I felt for a pulse. It was long gone. His hands were cold and stiff. I went and hid the last beer in the grass closer to the water and headed back toward town. To Ain’t Maryanne’s house to start the whole round of bullshit.