Everything Slips Through These Cold Fingers

Gina Morelli shut the clasp on her carry-on bag, a scarf no longer needed in the warmth of the bar tucked next to a gathering of cosmetics and the book she’d read on the flight south. She fluffed her collar, now free of the scarf or any covering, and smiled back across the table. On the other side, Donal Mannion sipped his scotch. “You’re bent on going, then?” he asked. “No way I can talk you out of it?” “No choice, my love. We’ve been over it too much already.” “Your ma’s 87, Gina. What are you really hoping to accomplish?” “She’s 87, Donal, and I want her to see 88. Company and care, and all those things that become more precious as we grow older.” “But she’s been on her own forever, Gina. Ever since the old fella passed, what, 25 years ago. She’s got her jigsaw puzzles, and her television, and her cats. She can walk, and drink, and cook. Christ, Gina, she won’t starve, and she won’t be spending her days any differently than how she’s been.” “Except I’ll be there. In case something happens.” “Except you’ll be there,” Donal sighed again. “And I’ll be here. And no telling for how long.” “It’s got to be done, Donal. We’ll talk, and send each other silly messages, and maybe even text each other naughty pictures. Time will pass. It all will pass.” Gina turned to gaze out the wide windows of the bar. In an hour or so a plane would bear her in presumed sterility 1500 miles away in a gesture of daughterly obligation that she could not allow herself to doubt. Gina sipped the last of her wine, gathered her things, and pushed back the chair from the wooden table. Donal already had the check. One last sip of the scotch, and a quick suck of the dwindling ice cube that floated on it. ‘Courage, Donal. Courage, lad.’ “Gina, I need to ask you something before you go.” Standing now, Gina looked to the door, then distractedly back to Donal. “My cab is waiting, Donal. What is it?” Donal hesitated, and said nothing. At length, he stammered, “You know, I’ve never met anyone like you. What we’ve had…what we have…...” “Jesus, he’s honking for me. I’ve got to go Donal.” She leaned forward to grant a quick peck on his cheek, placed her mask back in place. “I’ll text you tonight,” she said over a shoulder disappearing out the door. Into the cab, and then away. Donal Mannion sat back down. No rush now. No need for courage. He summoned the server. “Another scotch. A double if you can.” When she left he reached into his wallet and took out the picture he carried of he and Gina, taken last winter in front of a Christmas tree, taken before the smothering cloud of viruses and masks and restrictions wafted down onto them all. He placed the picture on the table. ‘The Before Time’, he said to himself. ‘Will there ever be an After?’ When the scotch came, he drank it slowly, then ordered another. By the time he left the bar, Gina’s plane would have landed. He searched his phone for a text, but no message had been sent. Donal Mannion walked back to his flat, staggered, really, through the detritus that grew deeper each day.

Everything Slips Through These Cold Fingers