The Last Time I Saw Charlie

by David Paul
(Methuen, MA)

"You know when was the last time I really felt good? It was when I was drinking hard, and smoking two packs a day, and running around with loose women, and making do on about four hours of sleep a night."

Charlie Crutchfield was sitting, hunched forward, in his leather wing chair, near the window. He had a multi-colored afghan across his legs. He'd lost a lot of weight, and his cheeks were blotchy and thready.

His wife was sitting in the rocking chair at the other end of the picture window.

He ordered me to sit on the sofa across from them.

"That's what keeps you healthy," he pronounced bitterly. "Not the damn pills and all the crap the doctors tell you."

Last month he got some terrible pains in his gut and they rushed him to the hospital.

He won't say what they found. I'm thinking it's cancer, and he doesn't like that word.

His wife is not well either. Diabetes is taking away her sight. Her hair is snow white now. I remember noticing how pretty her brown hair was when Charlie introduced us and told me they were going to be married. Yesterday it was. 1962.

Annie had a large-print Reader's Digest on her lap. Her head was low, close to the page.

I watched Charlie watching her. The hurt and worry he was feeling was palpable. "You need to check your insulin," he said quietly.

Annie nodded.

Charlie spoke to me as if she were not in the room. "With any luck I'll stay alive long enough to get her comfortably through this piece of crap we call life," he told me. "And then one night I'll go quietly to my bed and I just won't wake up."

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