Salvage


The end, or the beginning? Where to start? It had all been so clear in the beginning; make it, get ahead. Suck up the overtime. Work hard. Such a cliché he’d lived.

Margaret had tried to tell him over the years. In the end, he’d worn her out too. It had taken him twenty-five years to use up what she'd offered without returning any of it. She hadn’t even been angry when she’d left. Just tired.

That, too, was a long time ago.

They’d started out so good together; the same values encompassing a wilderness life, using kerosene for light and wood for heat. Poor, yes, but working on a dream house of logs. God she had frustrated him then, young and spoiled and selfish. They’d had to give up their first home, their first land purchase. A beautiful area which taught them you cannot eat beauty and you didn’t work in the area unless you were married to one of the locals.

* * *

“My parents bought a chunk of property. Eighty acres. They’ll give it to us,” he’d waited expectantly, not surprised to see the look of horror cross her face.

“Live on the same piece of property as your parents?”

“It’s not what you think, really! We’d live on the far side with trees separating us. You have to admit we aren’t getting anywhere here. We never will. There we can have a home instead of just living in an unfinished basement.”

She looked around. It had homey touches, of course, but the plastic over the roof had holes and he knew she was tired of the wet, the mildew, and the mice. Finally, she nodded. “Even if we could manage to build the house, we can’t survive here. And it would be nice to live around people who do more than read romances and knit.”

So they’d moved. He’d felt good. He was getting ahead. Once they sold the river property they would have an income they could save. No more trying to make a living stacking pulpwood in the winter. Margaret could get a better job, maybe as a secretary in some office. They could build a real home.

They’d borrowed his parent’s motor home to live in until they got things together. Finally after miles walking through model homes – log, framed, timbered, they’d decided to stay low key for the time being and bought a used singlewide mobile home. It would soon be paid for and then they could save to build a real home.

* * *

With trembling hands, he picked up the glass of water on the table beside him. He managed to get it to his mouth. Yesterday, Mrs. Cronin, the day nurse, had finally convinced him to hire a companion; someone that would do more than come in, turn him and change his bed. The companion was supposed to arrive today. It would probably be some young twit that would drive him crazy.

No. That was wrong. That was exactly precisely what ‘was’ wrong. He’d spent his whole life getting angry before it was necessary – going close-minded to anything that was new. It was all wrong. Only now, bedridden, did he see what Margaret had spent so many years trying to tell him.

Where was she now, his Margaret? He’d dated, but never re-married. The dates had convinced him that a daily relationship would distract too much from his business pursuits. He’d never been lonely, except for holidays when everyone else was celebrating. Eventually he’d learned to schedule a heavier workload to see him through even that time.

Only now was he lonely - when he knew there could be no cure for it. Only now did he understand Margaret’s ‘your damn calculator won’t keep you warm when you’re old’.

He’d tried to learn to enjoy reading something besides business journals and reports, but settling into a novel had been trained out of him eons ago and he would turn pages, realizing none of it had gotten past his mental search for what he should be doing that was more important. He remembered his irritation; seeing Margaret relaxed in a lawn chair, deeply absorbing a mystery and the sun. He’d wanted to scream at her ‘get up and do’. Instead, he’d just made it impossible for her to concentrate. Doors slammed too hard, a request for something every fifteen minutes. At the time, it had all seemed very valid; blind to the real need that she be as busy as he – help justify his own inability to relax. He could still hear the thunk of her book snapping shut.

“Done already?” He would ask in sudden guilt.

“Oh. Yes. I’m done.” And later it hadn’t been reading she’d been talking about. Maybe it never had.

He’d raged at her when she’d left, broke her things, screamed obscenities. She’d known him so well! He could still hear her quiet voice, no anger, no tears, a monotone that said there was no way to hurt her anymore. The tone still haunted him because that was when he’d realized he’d truly lost her. The words were a reflection of how well she knew him.

“Break one more thing and I will take everything you own along with any future income you make. Leave me to go in peace, leave my stuff alone, and all I’ll ever ask for is twenty thousand from the sale of the house. You decide. I don’t care,” and she’d resumed packing.

He’d settled for the twenty thousand, as she’d known he would, calling her the fool.