Al and me

by James

Al and me, best pals since…well, not forever, because, my God, we were two tigers in a bag when we first met. Chalk and cheese we were, as in, I was pale white and noble, the harbinger of knowledge chalked across a blackboard, and he smelled funny. But get past all that, him being from Upper Neck Ache and me from Lower (and don’t you think he never missed a chance to rub that in!), him being the perennial whizz with the girls and me being Johnny tongue tied, but look through all that and we became the bestest of friends.

It pains me to see him like this, once noble stag now slack jawed and glassy eyed, tucked up near the fire with a tartan blanket across his knees in a convalescent home. The nurses say it will do him good to see a friendly face so I take across his tray of mush and set it down across his knees. He continues to stare into the flames. What is it they show him as they dance their languorous steps up and down and over the charring logs? Perhaps it’s the fire in Lucy’s soul that snared the both of us from the very instant we laid eyes upon her.

The matronly figure of one of the nurses rumbles into my eyeline. She mimes an encouraging spoon motion so I smile through my distaste and settle myself on the chair next to Al. Dispiriting mush is too generous a term, pureed apple perhaps, with a whiff of something tropical as I break the surface crust with the spoon. I give the rim of the bowl a good few taps and there is a flicker of life from Al’s eyes that fades a moment later.

There is only one thing that will lift Al from this malaise: a smile from his beloved. Of course he forgives her for what she did. I know this man, besotted with her he is, driven crazy, driven mad with love, driven into this place filled with broken minds and shattered hearts.

One word from me to make it happen.

We sit in silence, Al with pureed goo dribbling down his chin and me with nothing to say. There’s a piano in the corner. On top of this a small black cat stretches lazily and then curls back to sleep. It’s not so bad here, is it? Open flame, comfy chair, and Al has ever been a cat lover. And think of the pain she would bring him if he did let Lucy back into his life once more. A heartbreaker, that one.

No flicker from Al when I rise from chair and squeeze his shoulder goodbye. Outside of that room there is life, a great whoosh of sound as if I’ve suddenly burst through the surface of the ocean. Lucy’s eyes are bright diamonds as she rises from her chair. No need for her to ask the question and her eyes fill up as I shake my head and open my arms for the hug. Her tears on my shoulder burn like ice. Her hair smells of honey and peach blossom.