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Don't Miss a Dram

This piece of flash fiction was published in Celapene Press' 2017 Short & Twisted anthology

‘Hello, James.’

‘I’m late aren’t I?’ I hear him sigh through the receiver.

‘No, no, it doesn’t matter what time it is,’ I say.

The espresso machine, the computer and the landline sit side by side. My third coffee is cold in my palm, no longer soothing my arthritic fingers, but as far as physical discomfort goes that’s comparatively easy to ignore.

‘You’re being kind. I … I thought it was always two o’clock.’

‘It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. What am I doing, anyway? No treatment today.’

‘No. Treatment?’

‘No. So, how are you? Tell me about your week and don’t miss a dram.’

So he tells me, my oldest friend, and I help where I can.

‘I’ve been there at least a dozen times but I … I can’t—’ he falters.

Art galleries of New York, I type into the search engine. My fingers are slower on the keyboard each Sunday. Worsening with his memory. It’s a long list, this one, with lots of results. But we find the answer he’s looking for. We always do.

“David Zwirner?” I ask.

“Thank you! That’s the one,” he says. “Thank you.”

Some things – people from long ago – don’t need the internet.

‘You know, that girl, that girl!’ he says. “Remember her?”

‘You mean Sally Gibson?’ I ask. ‘The one who slapped you after the dance?’ 

‘Yes, her! Gosh, I’d forgotten that night!’

‘Our first whiskey. Your father’s best.’

He snorts. ‘He died before he forgave me for stealing that.’ 

Sally died also, I heard. So she wasn’t at his corner shop yesterday like he just told me she was. But it hardly matters.

‘And last night I finished the bottle of 12-year-old,’ he says. ‘You should have been here.’

Sometimes I dream of a library for him, like the one he used to work in before it got so bad. A great library of all the lists of people and places I know he’ll need for reference when I’m gone. 

‘You should come and visit,’ he says.

‘Soon,’ I say. 

Then it’s time for him to go. His daughter’s arrived to take him for a walk.

He will feel bad later, I know, for forgetting about my cancer. He’ll berate me for not reminding him. But it’s a relief, to be honest, not to talk about it.

We help each other in that way.