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How Much Is That Doggy? (excerpt)

“Dad, you know it’s for the best, don’t you?”

Earl Duarte didn’t know any such thing. His daughter had raised the suggestion of him going to live at the hideous-sounding “Sunset Dayz” more times than he wanted to remember over the last few years but he had no intention of giving in. He could just tell her that it was pointless now, but then he’d have to explain why and that would only cause more upset and anguish.

“We’ve discussed this Ellen. I’m used to having my freedom,” His once-pleasant baritone voice had a soft rasp that he tried not to let sound like a growl. “I wouldn’t be happy there.”

“How do you know that? You haven’t even looked at the brochures. They can take care of you, make sure you take your medications, and there’d be people to talk to. Not to mention how much easier it would be on me and the family. And how long is it since Steve visited?”

It always came down to the same emotional pressure: Do as you’re told, Dad. Give us a break, Dad. It’s funny When your kids are young, they depend on you, Earl thought; when they grow up you’re re-cast as a feeble, half-witted encumbrance. As for Steve? Earl knew his son didn’t come around anymore after a run-in with some of the local guys, but he wasn’t going to share that fact with his daughter.

Ellen didn’t let up: “You know you struggle here on your own. I have to fetch your groceries; the nearest store is over a mile away. I have nightmares about you having a fall. And I can’t be around all the time. We have lives too.”

“I get by. I always have.” Earl smiled, rubbing ineffectually at the brown spots on the back of his hands. “I haven’t needed anyone to look after me in a whole heap of years.”

“And what if something happens? This isn’t a good neighborhood anymore. Most of the people who lived here when we were kids are gone and the people who’ve moved in…” Ellen pulled a face. “They look more like squatters than home owners. And what about your kidneys? If I can’t drive you, you have to struggle half-way across town to the clinic. The temperatures are dropping now fall is setting in; you might catch a chill or something.”

He had to admit that was true. When he’d started feeling weak, Earl had reluctantly agreed to visit the clinic, knowing full well it wouldn’t be good news. There were growths on his kidneys, requiring another addition to the never-ending series of pills and potions he’d gradually acquired as part of his daily diet.

Dr. Makram had gone overboard of course; stubborn patients like Earl didn’t come in every day, so they’d taken the opportunity to run a whole series of tests. Luckily, Ellen hadn’t been party to it all and he’d “forgotten” to mention the problems they’d found with his eyesight and signs of degenerative Alzheimer’s. Why worry her and the grandkids? It wasn’t as if they could do anything anyway.

Except perhaps, put him in a home.

“Look, Ellen. I’ve taken care of myself since I was fourteen and your grandparents passed away. I managed to live through the war. I survived the Uranium mines. I looked after myself when your mother was alive and I’ve managed just fine since she died. I see no reason to change that now.”

“But Dad…” Ellen seemed to sense she’d lost the battle again. “Look, regardless of anything else you get lonely here. You know you do. At ‘Sunset’ you’d have lots of friends, people your own age who share your interests.”

“I don’t need friends. All I want is peace, Ellen. Can’t you give me that one small thing?” He didn’t want to watch people die and didn’t want them watching him either. Earl gestured towards the window, where the craggy, black outline of the Grand Mesa dominated the skyline like an ever-present approaching thunder storm. “I spent most of my life underneath that thing, Ellen. It comforts me being able to see it from up here now.”

Of course, they used to have friends, lots of friends. Isobel used to love entertaining and he’d been happy to indulge her. Even if he hadn’t enjoyed the parties, he’d have put up with them just to see her smile. Her whole face would glow like the sun on a warm spring day.

Bel had even put up with his beer buddies, including old Rafakat who quite honestly was a pain in the butt. Rafakat was always telling everyone how Earl had saved his life in the mines. But it wasn’t like it was anything heroic; Earl had simply pushed the strange little guy out of the way by instinct when the roof came in and that was the end of it. But that didn’t stop Rafakat from taking every opportunity to tell the tale, each time grander than the last and always finishing the same way: Earl saved my life-someday I’ll make it up to him. And if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, Rafakat was also partial to every crazy notion going and would happily prattle about them for hours .

Earl had often wondered how Rafakat ended up working in the mines. He never seemed to quite belong and talk about clumsy. There wasn’t a single piece of equipment that Rafakat hadn’t tripped over at one time or another.

What kind of name was that anyway? Rafakat? Earl had asked once, but the man had just smiled. It sounded foreign, Asian or middle-eastern maybe; and certainly the man had a light, coffee-colored skin that supported that idea. Earl couldn’t even remember if his old co-worker had ever used a first name -or maybe Rafakat was his first name. The memory was lost in one of the “fuzzy areas” Earl tried to ignore.

“Dad? Are you okay?” Ellen eyed him closely.

“What? Yeah, sure. Sorry hon, I was just thinking about old times.” Earl patted Ellen’s hand. “I know you’re worried for me but really, I’m doing okay.”

“You’re lonely, Dad. What kind of daughter would let you sit here turning to dust like everything else in this place.” She waved a hand at the bric-a-brac that overflowed every shelf and drawer.

Earl sighed. “It was your mother’s, you know that. It’s all I have left of her, other than memories.” It was more than the remnants of Bel’s life. A home isn’t just something that starts and stops with things, it’s like a shrine to the experiences of those who live in it. But Earl knew he couldn’t explain that.

“Well, it’s your choice. But I’m not going to just let things drop, Dad.”

Earl had to smile; at times like these he knew for sure that Ellen was completely legitimate – she had exactly his kind of stubborn.

 

Ellen was busy for the next few days—something Earl wasn’t too unhappy about. The clinic had contacted him again; the last test was worse than anticipated. His kidneys were degenerating more rapidly than initially thought and “we’re very sorry Mister Duarte to give you such bad news. If there’s anything else we can do please feel free to…”

Well, at least now I don’t have to worry about the dementia, Earl thought.

A quiet noise drew his attention to the door. “Probably just kids,” Earl muttered. Then it sounded again, a scratching followed by several squeaks.

Earl dragged himself out of the chair and shuffled to the door, cursing under his breath. His aching joints seemed worse every day and the deeper pain in his kidneys made almost every move a battle. He peered through the peephole, the ancient lens muddying the view almost to the point of uselessness. For a second he thought he saw the shadow of a man outside, then he blinked and it was gone.

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What readers say:

“This is a great short story…one that will trigger an emotional response from all but the most hardened of hearts.” C.M.

“Great short read. Kept my interest from beginning to end. the characters are relatable and well written. I would recommend this.” – M.M.

“Another fantastic short story with a superb set of characters. Such a great concept. wonderful!!!” – S.K.

 

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