The doctor’s words slid across his mind, played with his future and settled on the hand in front of him. His hand. “Three months at most”. The words were not ambiguous. He had a period of mobility, and armed with pain killers could cling to normal routine for a while longer: routine, had always been his most loyal companion, his order in an uncertain world: the habits between him and a fear of the chaos somewhere beyond the horizon.
Sixty- three years old and not much to show. A couple of children. Lovely in their own way but gradually estranged by his lack of circumstance. Somewhere in later middle age he had lost his way and now assumed the air of nonchalance so essential to survival in an urban landscape. His career was distinguished by a lack of progress. and his character by a failure to grasp the importance of the everyday.
He had become adept at whittling out nourishment and emotion from the bleakest scene: making a feast from a titbit, treasuring a passing view, but his time was mainly spent in solitude with music as his companion. Friendships cost money, and that was in short supply. “Not to worry”, he thought, “I’ve got memories”. And so he had. Journeys abroad filled with adventure. Parties where common sense had left the room. Meetings with minds who touched base with life’s eternal questions. Women who moved him with a tender curiosity. Who enjoyed ,with him, moments of suspended reality among the coffee cups, the tousled sheets and the bric a brac of a careless life. In turn, they left him for more certain landscapes, but without rancour. They had their needs, and he could not fill them.
By and large the place he sat in was full of known and unknown faces typical of a tourist venue. The rusty stalwarts like himself: same table, same coffee and a newspaper sat among the passing tourists who talked more loudly than the locals; excited by their new adventures.
Chance and coincidence were all that refreshed him, and there she was, a visitor from another land, another time and just across the shop. He remembered their conversations, lying there in bed. Her red hair, now grey, spilled out across the pillow. “You love life don’t you. You drink it up” . Her words had never left him. “It’s all I have” he replied and they had laughed. Now here she was, forty years on and sitting with a family, settled with her grandchildren and the picture of ordered and polite common sense. Across the room their eyes met and hers were warm; familiar but final: a nod is all it takes to share a history. He had three months but now he knew that part of him would live on in others, in their memories. Perhaps that was the right place for him.