That Other Guy
by Brian Clark
Table of Contents, chapters:|
1, 2, 3, 4,
Richard Callaghan got to keep the house in the divorce. Patty had no interest in staying in Dalesford.
There were many reasons for their breakup, but the main issue was simple and irreconcilable: she wanted kids and he didn’t.
“Not ever,” he had told her.
And so they had parted, and Richard now lived alone on the edge of town. He liked the three-bedroom, vinyl-sided bungalow on Hogan Street. It was just the right size. He especially liked the large lot and the privacy it afforded (along with his fences and hedges). He had a nod-and-wave relationship with his neighbors.
The home was like a furniture and appliance museum. None of his stuff — stove, fridge, microwave, TV, stereo, couch, chairs, bed, dresser — was newer than 25 years old. He drove a 1993 Honda Civic. Asked about any of his possessions, he would say: “It still works fine.”
Until recently, Richard had been a man of routine. He rose and had breakfast at 8 a.m., read the paper until 10 a.m., cleaned the house or did yard work until 11 a.m., took a walk until noon when he had lunch, called his mother at 1 p.m., napped until 2 p.m., showered, then headed downtown for a 7½-hour shift on the news desk at the Dalesford Express.
But the headaches had forced him to alter his habits. The mornings were the worst. The pain was like a jackhammer behind the eyes, meaning the housework often didn’t get done and he couldn’t even look at the paper until the ache had started to ease, sometime around 10:30. Some days he only glanced at the headlines.
But Richard still managed to take his walk most days, even if he sometimes took a shorter route. He preferred cloudy days; bright sunshine usually aggravated the pain.
* * *
The day was overcast, with the sun occasionally peeking through gaps in the iron-grey clouds.
Richard was about ten minutes into his morning stroll, making his way along Buchanan Street, when someone called out to him. “Hello!”
He looked to his left and saw a plump old woman in a floral print dress. She was waving to him from the porch of a red-brick farmhouse, a broad smile creasing her chubby face. Richard knew the old house well: it stood out as a survivor in the new subdivision. He loved its steeply pitched gables, gothic windows and quoin brickwork.
But he had no idea who the old lady was.
Richard flashed his palm in the air to return the greeting but kept walking along the sidewalk.
“I just wanted to thank you again,” the woman said as she hobbled down the porch steps to the front walk with the help of a cane. “You know, for cutting my grass.”
Richard stopped and looked at her. Old, fat and senile, he thought.
“Ohhh, well, you’re entirely welcome,” he said with barely disguised mockery. “Absolutely any time at all.” Richard smirked and continued walking.
“Oh, and I’ve decided on hunter green,” the elderly woman said, leaning on her cane.
Richard stopped again. He turned and faced the woman, tilting his head and narrowing his eyes.
“Look,” she said, “if you don’t have time now, that’s perfectly all right. I fully understand. Like I told you, I’m quite happy to hire a contractor to paint my porch. It’s just that you were so insistent that you wanted to do it.”
Richard looked past the woman to the porch, which spanned the front of the house and consisted of four wooden columns, long sections of railings, a plank floor and bits and pieces of gingerbread. The white paint was peeling and cracking.
My God, Richard thought, full-blown Alzheimer’s.
“No, I’ll be happy to do it,” he said. “Hunter green it is.” He stifled a laugh and headed off down the sidewalk.
The woman said, “You’re such a nice young man. Thank you, Ricky.”
It was like fingernails on a blackboard. No one called him Ricky. Ever. Not Ricky, not Rick, not Rich, not Richie, not Dick, not Dickie. His name was Richard, dammit.
“Something wrong, Ricky?”
Richard hissed out a long, hot breath and forced a smile. “Nothing at all. So it’s hunter green, eh? I’ll remember. Buh-bye now.” Then, as he started moving again, he mumbled under his breath: “Anile endomorph.”
It wasn’t until five minutes later, when he was turning onto Ballantyne Street, that it hit Richard. How the hell does she know my name, even if it is that stupid diminutive?
He slowed to a saunter and thought. There were a couple of possibilities. She could have attended the public meeting at the church hall where he had spoken out against the expansion of the Townline Road quarry. Or she might have seen his picture on the weekly column he wrote for the Express.
OK, but neither of those possibilities would explain why she thinks I have nothing better to do than cut her grass and paint her porch.
“Oh well, whatever,” he said and quickened his pace.
A hundred yards up the road, Richard turned into Nathaniel Morgan Park, following a dirt path through a grove of red maples on his way to a drinking fountain at the picnic site.
The dizzy spell struck with such sudden ferocity that Richard staggered off the trail and almost collided with a tree. He grabbed ahold of it and held on, like a sailor hugging a mast on a storm-tossed boat.
He spotted a bench twenty yards away and lurched towards it as his world spun. Anyone watching would have thought he was blind drunk. Rivulets of sweat coursed down his face, stinging his eyes and soaking his T-shirt. He collapsed onto the bench and almost slid off the end of it. He closed his eyes and felt like he was falling. Opening them again and tilting his head back, he beheld the kaleidoscopic whirl of the tree canopy — and threw up.
It was then that his spin-addled mind offered up an unexpected thought: The old lady’s name is Alice, and she’s a widow, and her husband’s name was Albert, and he died of a stroke.
The vertigo began to ease, like a merry-go-round slowly coming to a stop. He spit out a hot clot of vomit and wiped his mouth.
“Hey, buddy, you OK?”
Richard turned his head — sparking another momentary wave of wooziness — and saw a tall, bearded man jogging along the path.
“I’m fine,” Richard croaked. “Overdid it last night.”
“Been there,” the bearded man said as he trotted past.
Richard took in a few deep breaths and willed away the last traces of nausea.
Alice? Widow? Albert? Stroke?
How did he know any of that? Had he actually met that woman before?
No, he decided. It was just some invention of his fevered brain.
Richard haltingly got to his feet. He swayed a little but steadied himself. He spat again and headed slowly back along the path towards Ballantyne Street.
Something else to tell the neurologist, he thought.
Copyright © 2021 by Brian Clark