Smelling the musty and acrid smell of alcohol, Nick entered Angela Bar.
With stainless counters and subway tiles, the bar had a retro-modern feel to it. Beer bottles made up a sculpture-like lighting fixture and the old Belgium clock was the other focal point. It was crowded, tending to attract friends and workmates after unwinding their jobs. Noisy and bustling, this was place where people gathered to drink and have a laugh, sitting on round tables with dim red bulb above their heads.
Nick slowly walked to his favourite table – the one in the corner, close to the window. Arthur was already there. The old man with bald head shining, broad shoulders and grey overcoat, it just had to be Arthur Woods. Nick could even recognise him in a crowd of hundreds.
“You are late.” Arthur puffed his cigar off as Nick patted him on his back. Patting was the usual Nick-thing.
“Ah! Don’t ask! Work, work and loads of work.” Nick pulled the chair and sat. Weariness was all over his face.
“You look head-heavy today, buddy.” Arthur passed him a glass of water. He hadn’t ordered any beverage yet. It was a customary for him; he never ordered until Nick arrived. “And what’s this? You came directly from the office?” he questioned, pointing at Nick’s office-bag.
“Yes, the company’s juicing me. Asking me to improvise every time. There’s nothing of ad business in Calgary,” he said massaging his forehead. The waiter came in and asked for the order. Nick looked up, raising his eyebrows, and said, “The usual whisky, Canadian Royal Reserve.”
“No, no, no. Cancel whiskey, bring some rum. It’s too cold outside. Rum will keep it off. Bring Castillo.” Arthur smiled and changed the order.
The waiter noted and went away.
While Nick was only thirty-two, Arthur was much older to him, maybe in his late fifties. He was neither Nick’s neighbor nor relative. Angela Bar was the only place Nick would meet him, to have drinks together. They called themselves ‘barmates’. Arthur had not even visited his place.
“I think you should move to a bigger place, maybe Toronto.” Arthur tended to suggest.
“No.” Nick yawned, “I can’t.”
“Katrina doesn’t want to. Says she has her family here.” Nick looked past the window. The cold was building. Fog had covered the window-glass.
Arthur took his ink-pen out and noted in diary. He repeated, breaking every word, “Katrina doesn’t want to.”
“What do you keep writing in that old diary, man?” Nick turned back to the table as the waiter served them their drinks. He leaned forward. “The diary looks older than you. Use a tablet or something.”
“It was gifted to me by my wife.” Arthur kissed the diary. “The only nice thing she did to me in years,” Arthur said in his irritating sarcastic tone and winked. “And, typists type, writers write. Feel lucky that I am giving you and your Katrina a place in my next masterpiece.”
“Masterpiece, yeah?” Nick asked as he gestured the waiter to leave.
This was the other irritating thing about Arthur. He everyday talked about his masterpiece that he was always about to write but had never even completed a story. Just a few scribbles were all he had written. So crazy he was that he had even quit his job for the ‘masterpiece’. His wife had probably left him a few years back just for this reason. For others, he was a mad-man who was selling his property to drink but not for Nick. He believed him to be his true friend. He had sympathy for his old and alone friend.
“You know, you should come to my office sometime. I will try and set you as a jingle writer.” Nick passed him his card and smiled, “I have my address at the back, visit me sometimes. Katrina will like you.”
“That lady will like me? No way!” Arthur laughed as he raised the rum-filled balloon-glass for a toast. “All that she can do is make a hell out of your life. Even my wife was the same.”
Nick looked down, avoiding an eye contact with Arthur. “You shouldn’t say like that.”
“No no. Trust me. I have seen many. Your Katrina is the same.” Arthur sipped the rum.
“Leave it.” He gave a false smile and tried changing the topic. “How do you manage to cook these days, Arthur?”
Arthur laughed as he took another sip, this time a bigger one. “Ah! Don’t place tricks with me. Accept it, Katrina is making life hell for you.”
“It’s not like that.” Nick was failing to control his vigour.
“It is like that,” Arthur mocked, clinking his glass against Nick’s. “I know women like Katrina.” He pointed at another table, “You see that lady? She is the same, blaming his husband for everything.”
Nick couldn’t control it anymore. His neck flushed. Arthur was still laughing and he couldn’t bear the sarcasm in his laughter. He threw the alcohol on Arthur’s face and banged the glass on the table. “No wonder why your wife left you. You deserved it!”
Nick came out of the bar without a drink.
It was a cold and unusually dark evening. The foggy wind had a sharp bite. Nick wore his leather gloves and put the hood of jacket over his head, counting his steps. His house was very near to the bar. He looked around. The streets were dead, eerily quiet. The flickering streetlight above his head stared at him. He glanced away and noticed trees swaying in the wind. The clouds appeared thick white with a hint of grey. Others were smart enough to stay home; home, where he longed to be now. He picked up his pace and approached his home. Surprisingly, his house was dark too. Just a dim light came out of the window.
Carrying the little flickering lamp, Katrina opened the door. The wind chime tinkled.
“Why is it so dark here? Is it Earth Hour or something?” Nick asked as he rushed near the fire and started rubbing his palms. Ah! It had a feeling of great warmth and intensity.
Katrina stared at him, grinding her teeth.
“What?” Why is she mad today? Nick thought.
She continued looking at him with fixed eyes. “No, it’s Nick Hour!” Nick was clueless. “Remember I had called you to come home early and check the fuse?” She asked, nonplussed.
It hit his mind. Yes, she had. In the afternoon only.
“My fault, my fault. I am gonna fix it. Wait.” Nick said, blowing some hot air in his folded hands.
However, he didn’t seem to move. She waited for him to stand up, but he was busy embracing heat.
In smouldering tone, she said, “Yes, I’ll wait.” She stomped her foot on the floor. “That’s what I have always been doing, Mr. Nick. Waiting! Waiting for your time. Waiting for a child!” Nick simply stared at her, unsure of what to say. Her voice choked as tears filled her eyes. “Why couldn’t we just try again? One miscarriage doesn’t mean every attempt will end the same.” Her chest heaved as sobs racked her body.
“Sweetie, please don’t behave like that.” Nick couldn’t see her cry. “I really had a bad day today.” He came closer to give her a hug.
“And you think I was enjoying the dark?” Katrina pushed him back as he tried kissing her on the forehead.
Nick fixed the fuse and the house lighted back. The calendar was titled by the wind. Unmade bed and those scattered clothes irritated him. The T.V. remote and a magazine were on the bed too. “What’s for dinner?” he asked in a miffed tone.
“How do you expect me to make dinner in the dark?” Katrina spat, combing her mussed hair.
“Eat my head off!” Katrina was really in a mad mood today. She had missed her serials.
“I am not a zombie!” Nick ignored her expression of outrage and jumped on the bed.
He didn’t reply and put a pillow above his ears. Soon, he embraced sleep and snored.
The next morning, Nick woke up feeling groggy and disoriented. The embers were still glowing red and the towel was thrown on the dining table. He blinked several times, trying to clear his head, and geared up in his track suit, hazily.
Katrina was still by his side, sleeping. He hissed in her ears, “I’ll be back soon. And I am sorry.”
However, Katrina was in deep sleep.
As he stepped outside, tinkling the wind chime, a sheet of white cotton on the road welcomed him. A cold morning fog lingered in the air. Trees had stripped off leafs and not a single bird chirped. Nick ran for a mile to make himself warm but to no purpose. A small chill was building at his back and he could feel some cold under his trousers too. He stopped to catch a breath, exhale out some white air.
And when he stopped, he noticed something past the mist. There lay a man, at side of the road, near someone’s house’s gate. He checked him out of the corner of his eyes. The grey overcoat seemed familiar.
Nick hastened to him and covered him. He saw his face; it was Arthur. He was lying on his back, folded up impossibly small. His face was waxy white. Eyes closed but mouth open, his knee was blown out and boots covered with snow. Nick called for an ambulance and started rubbing his palms. He was hard hit, his hands and feet were swollen with cold and teeth chattered.
Soon, the ambulance came.
They settled him on the stretcher and wrapped a blanket around him. Arthur’s teeth were still chattering. On his way, Nick asked the ambulance to stop at his place.
“Bring me my wallet. How much cash do we have?” Nick hurried in.
“Where’s your jacket, honey?” Katrina rushed with a towel to wipe the snowflakes off his face. “What happened?”
“No fighting, please.” Nick folded his hands. “It’s an emergency. I am going.” He grabbed the wallet.
“Emergency?” She was very unsure what he was talking about.
“OK. But it was all my fault too. And I love you, sweetheart,” Katrina shouted as Nick ran out in the cold. She couldn’t notice the ambulance past the murk. “And yeah, we will always be together, sweetheart.”
There was a thermostat in the ambulance to maintain the temperature and a man was wiping snowflake off Arthur. Nick sat beside the stretcher and continued rubbing Arthur’s palm. Arthur was turning blue and Nick feared losing him. He thanked God that the ambulance was nearby only, but the hospital, it was considerably far.
“Faster!” Nick shouted at the driver. “Don’t worry, man. You will be fine,” Nick said to himself more than Arthur.
Arthur’s hands were quivering and Nick was happy about it, he was alive at least. “Arthur, can you hear me? You will be alright.”
Arthur opened his eyes and smiled at Nick. “You came, kid?” he mumbled. “For me?”
Nick continued rubbing his hands. His eyebrows knitted, noticing his ink-painted palms.
“Will do me a favor?” Arthur asked while chattering teeth.
“Take my wallet out,” he said, trying to lift his hip up.
Nick did as Arthur directed him, uncertain of what he wanted him to do. The brown leather purse was considerably cold too. There were few dollars and an old photograph, Arthur was smiling in it with a lady with curly hairs. She was probably his wife.
“Take it out.”
Nick followed his words and took the photograph out.
“There’s an address at the back. Go there and parcel the gift that I have left at your house, will you?” Arthur struggled with every breath.
“What gift? And at my house? You don’t know where I live,” Nick asked in a surprised tone.
“Remember you gave me your card yesterday. I came last night. Tell Kate that I loved her.” His voice was turning into muffled whispers. The ambulance jerked as it hit a speed-breaker. Nick held Arthur’s hands tightly.
“OK. OK. You don’t talk. We are on our way.” Nick massaged his forehead. It was stiff. “Faster! Faster, I said!” he shouted again.
The hospital was nearing; Nick could see it past the mist. He turned to Arthur. “Look, we reached. Hold on …” Nick said but stopped. With the screech of the ambulance, Arthur closed his wrinkled eyes.
Nick couldn’t find his pulse. He tried pressing his chest but to no purpose. Nick grossed out.
Later, life-saving drugs, atropine and dopamine brought him back but the doctor said that he was in deep sleep. Nick took a sigh of relief.
He rested on a wall, standing. He was about to lose his dear friend. He closed his eyes and remembered how Arthur had called him his son once as he didn’t have any child of his own. A tear rolled down his cheek and he prayed for his health. He took the photograph and saw his smiling friend. He turned it and read, “Catherine Woods.” It had an address too – Toronto.
Doctors inquired Nick about Arthur’s family and asked him to come back after few hours. They didn’t want him to panic in the cold as Arthur was completely out of danger. He was sleeping. It was just a stroke and he had come out of coma too.
Nick made the payments and came back to his house with an infliction in his heart.
Katrina was cleaning the dust-caked photo frames. The house looked considerably clear today. Everything was at its right place. Pillows and the sofa had fresh covers. Nick asked her if she had found some gift in the house.
“Yes, I did,” she said humming an old John Lennon song.
“On the bed.” She came closer and pecked over his cheek. “I will always keep it there.” She smelt fresh today. Her hair was tied too. “Come, have your breakfast. Cheese sandwich or the omelet one? By the way, what was the emergency?” she asked putting on a light lipstick. It was very unusual of her to do make-up, that too on a snowy day. After all the fall-out they had in their marriage, she had distanced herself from any grooming.
She went to the dining area and started setting the plate. There was something unusual about her today. She was happy, and fresh. But neither did Nick understand nor did he care. His mind was racing back to Arthur every time.
“No, I will sleep first.” Nick yawned, rubbing his itchy eyes. He went to the bed and hugged a pillow. A light pink bedspread was there. He looked for ‘the gift’ and found a letter an envelope beneath the pillow. It had a letter in it.
He began reading it:
Let me start by stating that I really miss calling you ‘dear’ these days.
Life is a journey of highs and lows and it’s unfortunate that we have hit the low. But does that restrict us from riding the highs again? Certainly not, Kate!
Let me put this straight, I want you back.
My sadness is deep and love thirsty, every breath pinches my chest. I have no one to talk to about this. The path is lonely, eyes empty and the pale leaf is about to fall. I am incognizable, Kate. Please come back.
I know it’s not going to be any easy, things have changed between us. It’s gonna be really hard; we are gonna have to work on this every single day but I still want to that because I want you. I want all of you. You and me… forever, everyday. I want to hold your lovely hands and see you smile… everyday. Your smile as warming as the rays of a bright sun on ice sheets. Your smile that always lingered my senses and brightened my soul.
You know, sometimes I sit and gaze our marriage pictures and wonder what went wrong; we were never meant to be like this. I am very sorry for what I did to you. I realize now how much pain and suffering it would have caused you. Trust me, if I could change the past and take back what I did, I would. But, sweetheart, things had started taking a turn-around and our happiness slipped out like sand from squeezed hands. You had started behaving indifferently, cursing me for the entire foul. Trust me, honey, it really was a hard time for me.
I used to watch you weeping beside the window, sob in sleep but couldn’t help. It’s not that I didn’t want to, but your doctor revealed that sorrow had taken over you and there was very little that I could do. I was advised to give you some alone time. They said you will overcome the miscarriage, but, you never did.
And, it was so foolish of me to not speak to you. It was all my fault, darling. I am so sorry I let you suffer so much. I still regret it every single moment. I shouldn’t have heard the doctors then. Had I had followed my heart, things would have been so different today. Words will never suffice what I feel now but, honey, I want to start the healing from this letter.
A fear has crept inside me that I will soon lose what always meant the world to me – you. I fear our marriage falling apart and me having a lonely death, not in your arms. So please come back to me. I want ‘you’ back, I want ‘my’ Kate back. Won’t you come to me, please?
I miss so much that I can’t bear it now. With my arms stretched, I am waiting for you, waiting for you to embrace me. I will take you far away, into a new world, a world filled with happiness. And love.
As Nick read ‘the guilty’, his eyes moistened. Arthur was so full of pain that Nick could never understand. The old poor guy was much more than he seemed to. There was so much inside him that he never revealed, kept a mist over everything. Nick kissed the letter and kept it beneath the pillow again. With his hands behind his head, he rested on the same pillow and closed his eyes. However, he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t rest. He had to meet Arthur, talk about it and know about his wife. He wanted to comfort him, apologize for the last night. Nick rolled over the bed and took a deep breath. Arthur’s wife’s name reminded him of his college times; he used to call his Katrina the same name, Kate. It all reminded him of his mistakes; he had done the same thing to his Kate.
Katrina came and leaned to kiss him, “Didn’t you sleep, baby?”
“Did you read this?” Nick asked about the letter.
“Yes, I did.” Katrina smiled. “And, it made me realise how wrong I have been doing to you, to our marriage.” She heaved a deep sigh. “The miscarriage was not your fault, my neither. The wrong had happened but it slowly crawled into our marriage,” she said holding Nick’s hands. She had tears in her eyes. “I shouldn’t have behaved so. It hurt you so much. I am sorry.”
Nick wiped her tears off and looked into her eyes. For a moment, he couldn’t understand anything. He gazed into her eyes, her happiness, her fresh face and it suddenly hit him. Everything was falling on to its place now. Katrina had thought the letter was addressed to her, written by him.
“Glad you said this. I always wanted to hear this from you, Kate.” He kissed her lips instantly.This was his moment.
“Yeah, I wanted to ask about this too. What reminded of you ‘Kate’? I thought you had long forgotten that name.”
“Well,” Nick stammered. “Well, it was a love letter, so I was thinking of some lovely name.” He couldn’t come with a better idea. “You talk a lot by the way,” he said and embraced her lips into his. “Also, I have a surprise for you,” Nick said as they both fell on the bed.
“We are going to Toronto.”
“A second honeymoon would be a nice idea, no? Nick held Katrina’s hands. “Woodbine Beaches, Sunny Point, don’t you want to visit those places again?”
“Yes, yes, yes. I would love to.” Katrina jumped with joy like a teenager.
“Don’t you have your family here?” Nick laughed and poked her.
“My family is Nick Smith.” Katrina smiled and pulled a bedsheet over.
She passed her hands under his clothes. They both laughed and tickled each other.
She kissed him on his neck and drove her hands passionately. “Not now. I have to go somewhere.” Nick held her hands.
Katrina made a face as she would fume tiny fire from her tiny nose. Nick squeezed her red nose and rose.
He looked for his boots.
“Where? It’s too cold.”
He bent and tied the laces. “Darling, no cold can stop me to book tickets for my second honeymoon,” Nick said, lifting his collar up. They both laughed at his funny gesture and hugged tightly. “OK. I have to leave.” He put the jacket’s hood over his head. “And yeah, make the omelet sandwich today,” Nick said and Katrina smiled. She was happy to have finally got her marriage on the right track.
And Nick, Nick ran.
He ran to the hospital.