Gerald raced home from the Orb & Scepter, a little unsteady on his feet as the last two pints of cask-conditioned really weren’t necessary –but so tasty that he was willing to give up his cab fare to the publican and trot home through the summer mist.

The cloying humidity combined with the persistence of the last 20 pounds he was trying to shed was causing his clothes to constrict him like a sausage casing and when he arrived home he was perspiring heavily. Letting himself in the back door as not to rouse his surely sleeping wife, Adriana, and their infant children, Faustus and Porfirio, he wrenched off his waterlogged loafers and socks before proceeding to tiptoe theatrically into the kitchen, where he went directly to the fridge door and put his fingers to the handle on the first touch in spite of the dark. The galley kitchen was bathed in the harsh light of the fridge bulb as Gerald rummaged through yogurt tubs, cheese blocks, diet seltzers and all manner of casseroles, pastas and unidentifiable leftovers in Tupperware to find what he was looking for at the back of the racks –his last tin of beer.

He closed the refrigerator door and, continuing in his efforts to keep as quiet as possible, chose to creep down the basement stairs in the dark before opening the can. There was barely a ripple on the quiet surface of the room as he gently pulled the tab and the beer let out a soft hiss. Gerald took a long draught and turned to grope for the desk light at his antique wooden roll-top writing station. Finding the familiar button, he held down the right side and waited for the fluorescent tube to engage. As the lamp blinked to life he was startled to hear his wife from behind him.

“You’re late again, Gerald,” she said coldly.

He turned around to see her in the overstuffed club chair under the Gustav Klimt print they had in their previous apartment, having moved to their first home a couple of years ago in anticipation of children. The happy times that the framed poster used to make him think of were in sharp contrast to the unhappy shock of being discovered in this way that immediately made him think of clichéd parlour mysteries. Gerald actually made a choked snort aloud in an unfortunate reflex response to finding his wife’s dramatic opening to this domestic scene a trifle humorous.

“And you’re soaking wet,” she continued “and there’s nothing funny about you coming home at one a.m. from the pub.”

“I… well, that is, it was,” Gerald began stammering, desperately trying not to betray his slight inebriation by slurring his speech or incautiously saying something ridiculous in the vain attempt at justifying the hour and his condition.

“Don’t bother. I’m not interested. I’m tired and I’m going to bed. I just want you to know that I’m disappointed in you, Gerald. Again. It’s been a long day for me and the kids and yet I’m staying up later than I can afford to just to reinforce that I don’t appreciate doing everything around here in terms of care of this household and its inhabitants while you seem to believe that going to the office to earn a crust entitles you to stay out to all hours drinking away our resources all the while feeling no compunction to be of the least assistance in domestic responsibilities.”

With his wife stooped-shouldered and plodding up the stairs, Gerald considered running to her to offer comfort and promises of better tomorrows, or perhaps to remind her that he remained in charge of yard work and the taking out of garbage but thought better of it. He stood by his desk and closed his eyes, enraged for receiving this talking-to as though he were an errant schoolboy. Yet this too was tempered by the relief that Adriana had gone away with no desire for lingering in discussion, which was much more to her usual way of doing things. He shrugged, sighed, and opened his eyes to see the beer can coming to his lips once more.

Following this last gulp, he walked to toward the laundry sink and deposited the now-empty tin in the recycling bin beneath before returning to his desk and sitting down in the knock-off ergonomic chair. Gerald lifted the screen of his laptop to the open position, pressed the power button and, before it was ready, the words came.

“How long are you going to let her talk to you like that?”

Gerald’s hands convulsed into fists. “And just what would you suggest, Carver?” Gerald asked facetiously, as he knew exactly what Carver was suggesting.

Carver opened the louver door which concealed the furnace in the semi-finished basement and, by extension, his hiding place. “You’re pathetic. She was certainly right on a couple of points: you’re wet and you stayed out too long.”

“I think I’m in a position to judge how long I’m ‘permitted’ to be out and how many beers I can have before coming home in the rain,” said Gerald with a false note of indignation.

“We have work to do, Gerald. And getting started now, when you’re late and… tipsy, is not a constructive way to get it done.”

“But dig this, Carver,” Gerald continued, running his fingers over his damp head and what was left of his hair. “I have good news about the work –I was at writing club.”

Carver was a small man and looked like someone –or something- that had spent his whole life (of indeterminate length) behind furnaces in basements that needed dehumidifiers to keep from turning into mold farms. He lunged at Gerald with surprising strength and speed.

“That shit? Didn’t I tell you to stop hanging about with those weaklings at writing cluuub, you simpleton?" Carver had drawn out the word club with a sneer that denoted extreme condescension. He continued, spraying spittle into Gerald’s face from close range. “You’ve got to get our words down onto the page, pack for the boat, and do that other thing!”

“Yes, yes. The words, the boat, the thing. I haven’t forgotten. I just needed a drink first. And I wanted to meet once more with the club.”

“Do you really need your member stroked that badly?” Carver grabbed Gerald’s crotch for effect. “Sure you do –except those clumsy oafs can’t possibly satisfy you. You’re an artist where they are dilettantes!”

“But I like them as a sounding board. I appreciate the feedback,” protested Gerald, a little more meekly this time.

Carver sensed Gerald’s hesitation and took the opportunity to drive his advantage home. “Feedback?” he exclaimed, slapping Gerald full in the face. “I’ll give you plenty of feedback. Plenty!” He slapped Gerald again.

Despite the raised voices and the violence, there was no sound from upstairs. Adriana and the boys had never given any sign of hearing Gerald’s exchanges, the placid or the abusive, with Carver. They had no idea of what went on in the late of night in their basement, where their husband and father was poisoning the well they all had to drink from.



Toronto, Canada

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What kind of boat should it be?

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