Not Getting Older is Not in the Contract

“Lon?” Vera called.

She craned her head and spoke into the rest of the house. She listened.

“Lon, Eddie’s here.”

She cocked her head and listened again. She was a thin, tall woman with kind, brown eyes, and she always seemed to be smiling. Eddie believed it was genuine, but he wondered how she kept smiling. Things weren’t easy for her anymore. She and Lon had married in Alaska when he flew for the Air Force up there. Through the kitchen archway Eddie could see the mounted salmon that Lon caught up there. It was a monster fish. A few years ago, after they had both retired and returned home, Lon told Eddie the story of that fish. They were sitting in Eddie’s studio, drinking beer and living over old times, shared and otherwise. The fish story was long and complicated.

Lon didn’t tell that story any more. He didn’t tell stories any more.

The kitchen sink dripped. The clock that had been Lon’s grandfather’s clock ticked on the wall beside the archway to the rest of the house. There were times when Eddie felt very comfortable in this kitchen.

“Eddie’s here,” Vera said into the emptiness of the rest of the house.

She called again, the faint scratch in her voice taking on a musical tone. “Looon.”

They heard Lon clomping as he came down the stairs.

“There he is.” Vera said. “He will be happy to see you.” Eddie had known Lon since they were boys, before first grade. They grew up on neighboring ranches. They graduated together in ’67. Lon ROTCed at State and went into the Airforce. Eddie went East to DC and bureaucrated for thirty years. Lon had returned to take over running the place when his dad died. After his thirty years, Eddie came home and built a house and a studio on the old homestead.

“You want some tea? Coffee? Beer? I even have some wine.”

“Too late for caffeine,” Eddie said. “And any more, beer and wine give me heart burn.”

“I know what you mean,” Vera said. She was a nervous woman and kept moving salt shakers and small nicknacks around the kitchen counter. Eddie had been in this kitchen many times when he was a boy. Lon’s mother had made wonderful oatmeal and raisin cookies.

“I’ve tried not getting older,” Eddie said, “But that’s not in the contract.”

“Ain’t it a bitch,” Vera said.

Lon came into the room. He stood in the archway. He smiled at Eddie.

“Hi,” he said. He was a stout, freckled man. He had always been stout, even as a boy. His blue eyes looked watery and empty, but they smiled. His shirt was buttoned crooked.

“Hey, Lon, How’s it?”

“Oh, you know.” Lon said. He stood in the kitchen archway.

Eddie was not certain Lon recognized him.

“Sit down, you two, sit down,” Vera said. She moved a chair at the kitchen table. It grated on the floor.

“I know you want some tea, Lon.” She began to putter at the sink and clatter in the cupboards. She scratched a match and held it over a burner on the stove. Eddie smelled the sulfur of the match and heard the whuff of the gas as it lit. He sat awkwardly in a chair at the table.

“I think I’ll have some tea, too,” Eddie said. What the hell, he thought. I’ll have some tea with my friend. Caffeine insomnia be damned.

“Sit down, Lon,” Vera said.

“OK,” Lon said. He pulled out a chair and sat across from Eddie with his hands in his lap. He was smiling.

“I was just telling Eddie how you would be happy to see an old friend,” Vera said.

Lon looked first at Vera then at Eddie. “Yeah,” Lon said.

Eddie thought Lon recognized him now.

“How you been, Eddie?” Vera asked. She was sitting now, waiting for water to boil.

“Pretty good. Things are going good. I think I’ll have a booth for the Arts Festival next summer.”

“That’s wonderful. What are you painting?”

“Landscapes mostly,” Eddie said. “I should paint a picture of him.”

“You paint pictures?” Lon said.

“Maybe I’ll paint a picture of you, Lon.”

Lon grinned.

“Maybe a picture of that day when we were kids down on the creek and you were slapping the water with that fly rod like it was a. . . .”

Lon grinned.

“You remember that, Lon?” Vera asked.

Lon looked at her, then back at Eddie. “Sure,” he said.

“Maybe we should go down there and try our luck again,” Eddie said.

“Wouldn’t that be fun,” Vera said.

“Sure,” Lon said.

Vera got up and poured the tea. She put a teaspoon of sugar in Lon’s cup. “Sugar?” She moved the sugar bowl toward Eddie. Eddie dipped a spoon into his cup.

“Stir it, Lon. It’s hot,” Vera said.

“OK.” Lon said. He fumbled with the spoon. It dropped on the floor, and he bent over to pick it up. He clacked the spoon in the cup.

Vera put the pot back on the burner and turned the gas off. She turned around, looked at Lon, then Eddie. “I’ve lost my engineer,” she said to Eddie. She sat down at the table and sugared her tea.

They sat and sipped tea. Vera and Eddie gossiped about the people they knew in the Valley. Vera reminded Lon that his cup of tea was there.

“How’s the tea, Lon?” she asked.

“Good,” Lon said, and he lifted and sipped the edge of the cup again. The surface of the tea shook unstably in the cup.

Eddie sat and sipped tea. He did not believe they would ever go fishing again.

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