A walk by the sea (70)

The letter lay unopened on his night-stand where he had put it a week before. He had gone to bed that night with a turmoil in his heart he was shocked to experience at the sight of a mere envelope in which hid a few words from her, with all probability words of apology and regret, or a token of her continual friendship in the shape of ink on paper. Part of him wanted to read the letter the instant he lay eyes on the envelope, yet another part wished nothing else but forget the brief, tempestuous relationship he had been granted by a funny twist of fate at such a late period of his life. He was approaching seventy, which fact his decaying senses confirmed every day; he was not ready to go back and forgive, forget, move on- where was there to move on?

She still loved the one whom he, Andrew, was also trying to push into oblivion, despite the possibility that he was going to get in touch. The note- the note may have been a mistake, a rash decision to try and bring back memories, resolve the past vicariously through someone who lay unknowingly in his drunken state.

Every day since he had driven Joshua home, Andrew was watching his cellphone like a terrified hawk lest his prey should escape, and lest it should raise its head through the field of uncertainty. He was hoping for something that frightened him in a way nothing else had done before.

It was three in the morning, he had just lain down his book, a seemingly endless saga of family and friendship, developed over hundreds of pages, love and betrayal, hope and desire. He had no real interest for the characters portrayed in a mediocre style, but the meaningless words took some of the edge off his angst. Introduced into a world of emotions not unlike his own, but pushed more towards the edge of plausibility, he would often find that his own life was perfectly normal.

Getting up every day at six, he knew he was in dyre need of those three hours of rest, however fitful. It was no use, nevertheless. It would just have to be. it was the way of the world that a letter sent would always be read, no matter what lay in it.

Staring at the words scribbled in a sparce fashion made him realize just how damaged Mary also was. Instantly, a wave of guilt for having cut her off completely, and one of hope that they might, after all, keep in touch as friends, or mere acquaintances even, came over him. He breathed in deeply, fingers grabbing for an empty glass; he got up and once inside the bathroom splashed some cold water on his face, moistening his lips and tongue with a few drops.

In his old dressing-gown he flattened a slightly crumpled sheet of paper on his desk, a started but never finished letter to Mary. He had only touched the paper with his pen, but in his mind, the letter had been written and finished, mentally sealed and posted. Given a jolt by Mary’s distant plea it was impossible for him to remain senseless to her pain any longer.

Surprised at how quickly the words forced themselves on paper, he glued the envelope shut and placed it inside his suitcase. He would leave the flat at seven as always, and drop the letter in the mailbox just outside California Cofee Company.

Having switched the lamp off, he was beginning to rise to his feet to walk back to his bed and give his poor old body the skimpy rest of two hours when the sight of an improbable sunrise emerging from two high-rise buildings in the distance caught his attention. At four, he knew there could be no sun rising, unless in a state several hundreds of miles away. Yet he watched, fascinated by the vision that lasted only for a moment: when he blinked to make sure he was not dreaming, the sight disappeared, leaving him yearning for it, puzzled by the fleetingness of it.

***

-Good morning Mr Burrows. Someone called several times today, asking for you personally. I told him you would get back to him but he left no number –Tracy, the elegant and efficient secretary greeted him with her perfect smile.

-Good morning to you too, Trace –he smiled and gave her his coat. –If it’s so urgent, I am sure he will call again. Any news on the Dickson heritage?

-Yes. Mr Dickson, Herbert B. Dickson’s grandson left a note saying he would drop by at noon today. He sounded very eager to give away his grandfather’s paintings.

-The young have no idea what they are lavishly giving up –Andrew murmured and nodded at Tracy who excused herself to answer the phone.

He hardly had time to deposit his suitcase on a chair when he heard her voice again.

-Sir, someone I could not find out the name of is calling on line three, like I said, he called several times today…

-Put him through, Trace –Andrew said and picked up his phone.

There was momentary silence, just the raspy breathing of someone on the other end being audible.

-Hello… are you there? –Andrew asked.

-Mr Burrows… it’s Joshua Morgan.

Andrew froze for a second, regaining composure but a moment too late, he feared.

-I lost your cell number and it took me some time to locate your office –Joshua explained, clearing his throat.

-Yes. That’s fine. How can I help you? –Andrew spoke, realizing the powerful meaning of his simple question. He really felt like he was in the position to help the younger man, and yet he also was aware that his sudden sense of power may have risen from the veiled feeling of guilt towards his dead son.

-I… I remember hardly anything from that night… I was so drunk and lost I could barely walk straight. I wanted to thank you for taking me home…

-You had already thanked me back then –Andrew cut him off, regretting his scathing tone right away.

-As I said, I lost that note you gave me with the phone number on it… but for some reason I remember that… I can’t explain this better so please bear with me…

There was a brief silence during. For Andrew, who held his own breath, it was easy to discern Joshua’s pained breathing on the other end.

-I sensed kindness in you that I know I did not deserve… I just want to thank you for… for that.

Andrew waited but there was only silence, so he knew it was his turn to speak.

-Are you free today? Have lunch with me –he threw the dice in a fashion he was not wont to.

-I… I’m free as a bird, Mr Burrows… because I broke the contract with Capitol, I am no more obliged to give performances for rich people –Joshua chuckled.

-You what?

-Well, I was not gonna step on stage drunk, was I? Even a braindead drunkard like me knew it would lead to disastrous consequences… so I just… stayed home.

Andrew took a deep breath and stifled his instinctive suspicion: breaking a contract with Capitol meant that Joshua may be in trouble and may call for financial help.

-Meet me at Jill’s Bar on the corner of Sunset Avenue –he ordered, and hastily said goodbye before hanging up on Joshua.

Leaning over his desk, he stared at the phone, his mind processing the events that would inevitably lead from his earlier decision. The note he had left on the young man’s table may indeed have been the biggest mistake of his life…

Without a warning, the sun broke through the grey clouds and seemed to cut through the vast fields of metal and glass opposite his office. Blinding light fazed him for a while, then he found his chair and he sat on it, recalling his vision earlier that night. Except that this time, the sun was real, the heat on his face was real, and the surge of optimism that was filling his heart warmed him from head to toe.

-Sir, Mr Dickson called, he asked you to take a raincheck due to some family business.

-Perfect –he turned and replied into the phone, then revolved his chair around once again to continue looking at the sun-orgy until heavy rainclouds appeared and shrounded every vestige of light.

***

When he walked inside the restaurant, he noticed that Joshua was already seated at his favourite table he kept reserved for all times and he called about earlier that morning. Approaching the young man he couldn’t help but notice how much thinner the former had become.

-Mr Morgan –he greeted him, and Joshua rose to his feet. He was wearing a suit jacket on a dark shirt with jeans, no tie. He seemed decent, like all details of his appearance but his hair and beard.

-Mr Burrows –said Joshua, his right hand twitching to be extended, then hanging limply by his side. The nervous lip-biting made Andrew think of someone under the effects of a detox.

-I’m glad you agreed to meet me –Andrew sat, watching as Joshua eased himself back on his chair. –I had been wondering how you were…

-Same old, same old –Joshua blurted out, rubbing his nose like a teenager. Throwing an agitated glance at the waiter who passed their table, he returned his attention to Andrew who was increasingly worried about his state.

-I highly doubt that –he replied slowly, motioning the waiter to approach. –Two sodas please.

-No need to drink that crap on account of me –Joshua swallowed with downcast eyes.

-Two salads of the day and one chicken Kyev –finished Andrew, wishing to spare Joshua from creating an unpleasant situation for both of them.

Taking a sip from the glass of water already placed in front of him, he couldn’t help but gaze over at the young man. There was much shame and much sorrow in those pools of dark brown under his thick lashes; Joshua seemed to be busy with his hands folded under the table, and Andrew wondered how he should break the silence so as not to mortify him.

-I would like you to elaborate on what you told me on the phone –he decided to take the safe way out. –About your broken contract…?

-Not much to it… –Joshua shrugged, finally lifting his glance. –I was unable to learn new music, my voice was a failure, I hated the mere idea of performing on a stage. Having missed the first five dates of my new tour, I was given the sack.

-Something you had been planning anyway, unless I am completely mistaken –Andrew ventured.

-I had, indeed… guess I should be grateful to get my liberty back…

-How much? –Andrew asked, wishing to get to the gist of the conversation.

Joshua looked at him and his eyes flickered in shame.

-I… I had some money saved, but not much… after all, I hadn’t performed for years… and I had also purchased a small house in England that I am forced to sell now –he slowly said.

Andrew connected the dots, deducing with unflinching certainty that the house Joshua was talking about must be very near Mary’s home. His own sudden rush of melancholy added to Joshua’s despondency and the two of them sat at the table like people who had lost a significant amount of money on a horserace.

-I like your sense of diplomacy, Mr Morgan –he said after a while, not even thinking of touching his salad. –Please eat, I ordered the chicken for you… I happen to know that people in… abstinence require healthy nourishment.

Wanting to say more but failing, he faced Joshua’s eyes when the latter frowned in recognition.

-My own son walked in your shoes, Mr Morgan… I believe I can tackle the issue without any judgement over your person –Andrew felt compelled to explain, his fingers trembling on his glass.

The younger man who could have been his son, had he survived a few more years, started eating in silence, reaching for his water after each bite. A tiny portion of his food consumed, and he was already pushing his plate away.

-I can’t take more at a time –he apologized, anticipating Andrew’s questioning comment.

Andrew nodded over his clasped fingers.

-Can I ask why you wanted to see me? –Joshua queried, shame slowly dying out of his expressive eyes.

The man raised his brows, then let them fall, thinking of an ideal way to bring into focus the thing that was common in both: loss and dealing with it.

-What I left you in that note is still valid now –he said, looking at Joshua. –Don’t take this as charity, but I have a strong desire to help you if I can…

-Why? –Joshua frowned, cocking his head, sounding hurt.

-Because you remind me of someone I loved… actually, of more than one person I loved –he added with a bitter smile.

-Your son… was he an alcoholic?

The question cut to the bone, but it was the simple truth and there was no way around it.

-Yes, he was, and I never stopped blaming him for his premature death –Andrew exhaled, the irony of his own craving a strong drink the moment he passed his merciless statement hitting him at full blast.

-You’re right, we’re a weak bunch –Joshua affirmed, scratching the hair under his cheekbone.

-I never said a word about you –Andrew protested, but in vain, he was aware.

-You didn’t have to… I can sense it with my whole being –Joshua emitted a laugh without any glee in it. –I turned to the bottle when I thought the world wanted no more of me, and now that I would love to get back to the world, I think it finally grew tired of me… for good. The world has grown to be ashamed of Joshua Morgan –he finished, letting his head fall back, his bared teeth glistening under the lustre.

-It is only up to you –Andrew leaned forward, excitement quivering in his stomach. He knew the next words he said would perhaps seal the fate of a young man he should, in his right mind, loathe. –Don’t make the same mistake as Richard.

-What’s it to you anyway –Joshua muttered, emptying his glass and wishing to re-fill it from the steamy water bottle. His distracted hand slipped on the shiny surface and the sound of glass crashing on the tile floor attracted the attention of more than one person sitting nearby.

Andrew watched helplessly as the waiter cleaned up the splinters of glass and wiped the liquid from the floor. The activity bought him precious time, and yet he was scared he was getting further and further from the truth.

-I have money and I boast the acquaintance of the best attorneys in town… I also know a couple of judges. I’m your best shot, Joshua –he turned his aces up, making himself vulnerable while waiting for the other’s hand.

-You should hate my guts… I remind you of your dead son and of… of her –Joshua breathed, apparently shaken by more than the bottle incident.

Andrew Burrows knew it then, what he had known all along. Looking at the young man who sat on the other side of the table, he knew that a love infinitely stronger than what he had ever felt for anyone in his entire life lay on the bottom of an ocean of hurt, untouched by currents of expectations. Something that neither society’s endeavours, nor a life of self-denial and self-destruction on either Mary’s part or Joshua’s could ever end. The fact that Joshua himself may have had no idea he still loved Mary gave Andrew a sense of unexpected authority.

Thinking of his letter posted earlier, he felt, although puzzled and shocked at his own feelings, positively exhilerated.

-Promise me you will contact Dr Merrill, whose number and address I will give you right now –he jotted down an old friend’s number and extended it to Joshua. –He has dealt with thousands of people suffering from addiction diseases. He will probably suggest that you enter his clinic. His fee is not insignificant, but I can assure you, his treatment is worth every cent.

Joshua took the slip of paper from Andrew’s hand and in that moment, without anything further spoken, the two men, connected through memories lived and re-lived, understood what the other meant in their own lives.

(tbc)

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