"Number please", he heard nasally.
"I want Oxford 0614".
"Yes". The shaggy proprietor of the boat rental shop was giving him the single pop-eye glance as the young fella secretly spoke into the telephone on the far side of the front counter.
"Thank You".It rang on the table by the front door of her seventh floor flat. She was in no hurry. It was a funny ring, the sound of an anxious woodpecker bracing itself and excavating short muffled bursts for a new woodpecker highrise.
"Hello", she laughed.
"It's me. Don't hangup".
"Who? Who's this then"?
"Sir Charles. I spilled the gravy on your expensive white dress".
"Oh. You". Her voice dropped to a level only a submarine dodging depth charges could detect. "Goodbye".
"No. Wait. Please".
"I've decided to kill myself".
"Oh?" She was uncaring, sorting through a stack of mail and postcards right there on the polished cherry table with two drawers. She began to read a postcard from her brother, away at metal ingot fastener training.
"I'm going to drown myself", he repeated forcefully after the line was silent for a minute.
"Take my brother with you", she said under her breath, shaking her head, lips pressed tight.
"Ma'am?". She flinched at being called that. She felt she was too young at thirty-seven to be one of those. He continued hesitantly.
"There's a book in my apartment. William will give you the address. It's too complicated to try to give you directions. On the shelf. It's hollowed out. My money fits snugly in it. You can take what you need to purchase a new dress. Would you send the rest to my poor mother"?
"A book?" She held another piece of mail up, squinting, trying to read the writing inside. She thought maybe it started, 'My Dearest Agatha'.
"To Have Or Have Not".
"Oh, that's clever", she countered, in a thick sarcastic soup.
"Yes", he laughed nervously,"isn't it"?
Charles hung up in a couple of minutes after what he thought maybe he detected as a metallic click. It was hard to tell, with the thumping sound of his heart in-between his ears. 'My Dearest Agatha', he whispered once. He made his way down to the beach, the shaggy man watching from the door frame, a twenty dollar tip in his hand. 'Oh, confound it, I don't need that, son', he'd say. 'I don't either', the young man replied, voice breaking.
He stripped, piled the clothes neatly at a dry distance, and walked to the edge, the waves tender, luring him to enter in his powerlessness, the blue sky like a distant calm ocean. At first he decided to walk in, but after repeatedly falling over after a few attempts, he tried running. Even with a starting gun sprint, he only made it up to his knees and lost his balance. He sat down in the green water, head hung. A wave slapped his back and he thought it never felt so good, like when he was a kid and created waves in the bathtub by sliding to and fro. And his mother would make him stop. She would devour the boy in an over-sized beach towel, soft and warm fresh off the clothes line as he stood just outside the tub. And she would use a cotton-swab to clean out Charlie, the name she would laughingly call out to his bellybutton.
photo: Meal Beach, Burra Isles, Shetland
by Robin Gosnall