The Womanless Man

29 Jan


The Womanless Man

L. Stewart Marsden

The alarm clock pierced his early-morning dreams. It was four AM. The nagging beep-beep-beep continued until he swung his arm over to fumble with the various buttons and press the alarm stop. The alarm died in mid-beep, and it was silent. The morning air was crisp and clear. His tinnitus hadn’t kicked in — yet. It was normally worse in the quiet of the mornings, and at night, when he lay down on his bed. As aggravating as it was at times, at least it made it difficult for his mind to begin the uncontrolled whirring and spinning, bouncing around his memories haphazardly, like one of those robot vacuums advertised on television in late-night infomercials. Thank God for small miracles.

He willed himself into an upright sitting position on the edge of his bed. His calves burned slightly as his blood coursed through them. Each leg was marked with scratches and thin lines of clotted blood from scratching madly at his eczema. The itching was particularly bad last night, and he had dug into his skin several times on the edge of rage. The plight was sporadic, but tended to flare up badly during the winter months due to the dry heat of his fireplace. He had resolved to pick up a cheap humidifier for his bedroom, thinking that might help, but always forgot whenever he happened to be in the RiteAid.

He stood slowly, and lumbered to his bathroom, where he methodically repeated his morning toilet rituals: brush teeth; trim beard; urinate; shower; towel dry; pull hair back into the nub of a ponytail and tie it with a hair band. He shuffled back into the bedroom to re-don the clothing he shed the night before, smelling each article first to determine whether he needed something cleaner.

Dressed, he descended the stairway to the main floor of his condo. It was pitch dark, but the sky behind the mountains was dimly illumined by the nearby town of Boone. Years ago, his morning skyline was comprised of shafts of skyscrapers, and the ants of the world were already busy dashing for cabs or buses or subways — even at 4. Noisy and confusing there and then, quiet and serene here and now.

He flipped on the coffeemaker, prepared the night before to brew his necessary morning tonic. Years earlier he would have grabbed the newspaper from in front of his apartment door, poured his coffee, and sauntered into the living room while scanning the headlines. Then he would flick on the early morning news and sit in his favorite chair, awaiting a call from the doorman that the office limousine had arrived. Now, he lightened his coffee with half and half and sat down on his favorite recliner and quickly scanned through email and messages on his phone, deftly marking and deleting most. Now he avoided the news. It was always the same, and had long ago ceased to be of any significant relevance in his daily life. Here in the mountains, the only impactful bit of information was whether a winter snow was going to come through the area, and did he need to go stock up on anything before potentially being stranded for a day or so. Not a prepper, he nonetheless kept his condo storage room well supplied with jugs of water and cans of soup — as well as toilet paper, of course.

He flicked the gas log remote and the flames popped up with a slight whoosh, the blower fan kicking on automatically. The heat radiated throughout the room, and he glanced out the large two-floor windows as the sun crested. 

His phone vibrated.

“Hello?” he said, even though the caller’s name popped up on his phone screen.

“Stewbie!” crackled the voice. “We still on for today?”

He feigned ignorance.

”On for what?”

”Goddammit, you forget we’re going hunting?”

“Oh, yeah Brent. I didn’t forget. Just messing with you. What do I need to bring?”

“I got everything. You got warm clothing? ‘Cause it’s gonna be colder than a witch’s titty!”

“I guess. Jeans and flannel shirt. An old wool sweater and corduroy jacket.”

“Layers are good. Boots?”

“I got boots.”

“Not new ones, I hope. Cause you’ll get all blistered up if they’re new and I sure as hell don’t want to carry you back to the Jeep.”

“No, they’re not new. And I have those socks that wick up the moisture.”

“Perfect!”

“When?”

“Be by in about 40 minutes.”

“Do I need to bring bottled water?”

“I got all that, don’t worry. Plus I have camo overalls I’ll lend you. And urine.”

“Urine?”

“Fox and deer urine. Gotta have the right smells for those does. Oh, I made a rhyme!” he laughed. “See you soon!” 

Stew clicked the disconnect call button. He liked Brent. The two were not at all alike. Oil and vinegar, he often described their friendship.

Brent was a man’s man — in his own mind. In his seventies, his second wife died of cancer several years earlier. He had recently been diagnosed himself — with leukemia — which Stew knew enough about to cause worry about his friend.

But Brent could care less. “Carpe diem” was his mantra. And seize it he did. Hunting, skiing, weight-lifting, and women … He had made his fortune installing and maintaining swimming pools and hot tubs in central Florida — just at the early edge of the trend. He sold it a decade ago and still reaped profits as a silent partner. 

“I’m telling you, the babes I met putting in pools and hot tubs would blow your mind! And everything else, too!”

Brent looked like a combination of Mr. Clean, Charlie Chan, and Buddy Hackett.  Bald, he had let his Fu Manchu grow long, and his girlfriend wove several colorful beads into it. All he needed was a peg leg to complete the pirate look.

“Arghhh! Look alive, me matey!” he growled at the condo front door, his Jeep puffing white clouds of exhaust in the dark cold air.

They drove more than an hour into what Brent called dueling banjo territory. Stew was already lost after the first five minutes, and Brent turned onto backroad after backroad, finally veering down what looked like little more than a rutted path, causing the Jeep to toss and bounce. Stew was glad he had skipped breakfast.

“I figure these little roads are what the bootleggers use,” said Brent.

“Don’t you mean marijuana growers?”

“Nah. I think they still make hooch around here. You ever try it?”

“Uh, no. You go blind drinking that stuff.”

They slowed to a crawl, and Brent rolled down his window, peering off into the thick underbrush, then suddenly swung his wheel left and motored down what was little more than a creek bed. The bed finally emptied into a clearing, where grasses were waist-high. He stopped the Jeep and cut off the engine.

“We’re here! Well, almost. A few miles walking yet.”

“Define ‘few miles’,” said Stew.

“Six … more or less. We’re gonna hike in with our gear.”

ƒƒƒƒƒ

 

Continued …

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