22. I Don’t Need to Poke

“Regardless what you think about death and time, I don’t have all night,” Duke said. “Let me lay this out for you.”

“A dead guy is explaining my life,” Doris said.

“I’m not brain dead.”

“Are you even here? Really?”

“What’s here? What’s real? You want to get started on this? You want to do the Doubting Thomas thing, go ahead. Stop doubting and believe. To quote.”

“I don’t need to be poking at you,” Doris said.

“Okay then. I’ll make this quick. I thought I was setting things right, Doris. I give you the house, the money, the cars. Turns out it’s like everything else. Unintended consequences. I make you rich, I leave Fatman a pauper. Trouble.”

“I keep saying,” I said. “I got my own money.”

“Sure you do. Enough for your Frogtown shack. For a twenty-year old automobile.”

“They last forever, those Volvos.”

“Exactly the problem. Anyway. The inevitable result. He sees himself as a kept man. A leech. A parasite.”

“I think you’re going…”

“Let me finish. Despite his air of ridiculousness, here’s what Fatman runs on.” Duke said to Doris. “Look at the way he carries himself. His reluctance to ask anybody for anything. Dignity. Misbegotten maybe, but that’s not what we’re talking about. I’m saying that’s how he sees himself.”

“You are dignified, Charles,” said Doris. “Nobody can say you’re not.”

“Except they do. Then you got your other problems.”

“What other problems?” Doris asked.

“I got to spell it out for you?”

“Maybe you do.”

“Maybe he doesn’t,” I offered.

“Sack time,” said Duke, ignoring me. “Conjugal bliss.” He made gestures with his hands.

“What do you know about that?” Doris demanded.

“The dead know a lot of things.”

“Charles,” she said, turning to me. “Our private life is…”

I raised my hands in defense. “I didn’t said anything, baby.”

“Doesn’t need to. You think it’s not obvious?”

“Why would it be obvious?”

“He looks like he’s being pulled under the earth. You get up close, the whiff of defeat.”

“Charles is getting a little older. Everybody slows down. A thousand other things work just fine.”

“A thousand other things are a thousand times less important to our friend.”

Doris sighed.

“I think I need a glass of something,” she said.

“What’ll it be, baby? Warm milk? Tea?”

“Whiskey, I was thinking.”

“Excellent choice,” said Duke.

Tomorrow: I Am Everywhere

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