The Toll

by Stephen Page


I wake up and open the blinds. The sun has been up for hours. I have been sleeping late since my father died. Summer is birthing but spring is trying to hold on with windstorms and rain. It usually gusts and rains at night and in the mornings, and the temperature is cool during those periods, but somehow, right around noon, the air goes still, the sun comes out and blazes away the water on the ground, and singes your skin after just a few moments of exposure.

It is drizzling, but now, as summer moves in it is best to take a walk before noon. Over my gym clothes, I slip on my rubber cross trainers, an impermeable jacket, and a waxed-cotton baseball cap.

Amigo, the German Shepard mix who adopted Teresa and me, follows me as soon as I step outside. At the top of the first hill, I notice the lapwing chicks are bigger than they were last week Now they are the size of fuzzy baseballs, while last week the looked like fuzzy golf balls. The parents screech at me and Amigo, and the four fuzzy balls skittle away to hide behind bushes and flower patches. Amigo pays them no attention. I say, Hola Teros, vos me recordaron. Yo paso por aquí casi todos los días. Then I repeated it is English, Hello Lapwings, you remember me, I pass by here almost every day. You have nothing to fear from me or Amigo. We will not hurt your chicks. That seems to calm them down and they stop screeching.

At the top of the second hill. The yellow doronicum flowers are losing their petals. They grow in one of the last feral lots left in this area. Most of the feral lots that were full of trees, wild plants, and indigenous fauna have been razed and foundations are cementing in, and stone walls are erecting. When the pandemic hit, the government passed word that there were no infections here on Cáscara, so land prices inflated, and people with money from all over the world were buying up land like it was top-soiled with gold. Many months later news came out that the infected and dying numbers had been repressed, and this paradise was just a contagioned as the rest of the world.

My mask is around my chin so I can breathe better, but then I see a woman walking towards me. I raise my mask to cover my face, as she does hers. We nod to one another and say in unison, Hola!  She is a Native Cáscaran wearing a maid’s uniform. She has sad eyes.

As I pass the house where an immigrant Goth couple just bought a giant sheepdog. He and Amigo bark at each other through the fence. A smiling woman comes out, and I say, Lo siento, Amigo es un poco valiente cuando hay un alambre a dentro él y el otro perro. She answers in perfect English, Yes, my new dog is the same, he is really brave when there is a fence between him and the other dog, but just as friendly as can be when he meets anther dog face to face. We laugh.

Amigo and I continue our walk. The last few months since the lots of wild life and indigenous plants have been removed, there seems to be less oxygen for me to breathe I as go on my daily walks. Maybe it is just my imagination. Just as we reach the top of the last hill before we arrive home, I am wheezing and Amigo is panting.

The Toll

Teresa lies in bed propped up on pillows, her face white as death. I wrap the band around Teresa’s right biceps and press the button that starts the electronic blood-pressure reader. It is high again.

I prepare her toast and tea, put them on a tray with marmalade and carry the tray to our bed. She silently looks at me. I kiss her.

I grab a medical mask, take the elevator down to our car, then drive into town to buy groceries for us and medicines for her.

As I gaze at the city growing in my windshield, and peripherally at the sea and the shoreline rolling past my passenger side windows, I tell myself, I will take a break from my writing and care for her until she is well.

After I run the errands, I pick up some prepared fish and vegetables at Loose Coyote. The proprietor asks, ¿Como está Teresa? I answer, She is well.

At home, Teresa and I eat our meals while we sip whiskey and watch movies. Adventure movies. The sea outside is emerald and ripply. I sit with her. I laugh with her.

My journal, pen, computer, and electric bass mildew, mold, and rust in my office.

No, I Didn’t

“You killed me!” Teresa shouted into her cellphone.

“What?” Jonathan asked innocently and bewildered. Teresa was a hot-head and a bit of a dramatist sometimes, but maybe that is partly why he loved her, her feistiness, her spirit, her hot-bloodedness—aside, of course, from her beauty, goodness, and intellectualism.

“You killed me!”

“I would never”

“I am driving, here is Santiago, your Godson.”

“Hi Jonathan.”

“Hi Santiago”

“You killed me!” Teresa shouted from the driver’s seat. Obviously, they were on speakerphone. She was in Malos Aires to get her vaccinations, and Jonathan was still in Cáscara, awaiting his notification so that he could get his vac.

“In the story you just published. You killed me!”

“Which story?”

“About the widowed man who goes on a walking adventure.  I found it on my phone this morning.  You killed me!”

“I, I mean him, he, is not me. He is a fictional character.”

“That is you. And you know it.  Your wife is dead. You killed me.”

“It’s not me. And I never mention your name. I wrote that story before I met you. It is just a story about an old man who has been a shut-in for years after his wife died. He is a hermit because he loved his wife.”

“But she is dead. You know that’s me.  The women who died.”

“No, it’s fiction.  The main character loved his wife, and he loved adventure books. He went on a walking adventure shortly after he finished mourning. He thought it would be a great way for himself to experience release and closure.”

“I don’t believe you. You love living alone. You always have.”

“I am still here because I haven’t been notified that I can get my vac.”

“Liar! You hate me! You killed me! We will talk about this later!”

“OK, but . . .”

The messenger window closed. Jonathan shut his computer laptop, sat up, and moved over to his reading chair. He opened a book and began reading.

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3 Responses to “The Toll”

  1. The Toll: The Toll | Says:

    […] « The Toll […]

  2. Oxygen, The Toll, No I Didn’t by Stephen Page – Stephen Page Says:

    […] Oxygen and other two stories: […]

  3. The Toll: No, I Didn’t | Says:

    […] by Stephen Pageread the suite from the beginning […]

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