B. Butler | Lakshmy Mathur
A knock on the door. I put down my bowl of oatmeal. Through the glass I saw my neighbor, Cam Farley.
"Come on in Cam, get out of the cold." It was an unusually chilly February morning. The bright sunlight didn't put a dent on the ground frost. The frozen scrub grass didn't move in the breeze.
"Mornan Zak," said Cam.
I took a blue cup from the cupboard. It was one of those porcelainized metal ones. Part of a set that Martha got through the mail order store. I handed the hot coffee-filled cup to Cam. "What brings you over this morning?" It was good to see Cam. Our almond orchards bordered. We shared a well and sometimes pasture land. He was the closest thing to being a friend that I had, excepting Martha, of course, and maybe Puck, my yellow dog.
"Same thing as last time, Zak. We need to talk about Martha."
"I thought we settled that last week. I got it handled. We'll be all right."
Cam took a sip of coffee. "You sure make good brew." He set the cup down. "For right now, it's settled. But later."
"Come March," I said, "I'll go to Fresno and get something to sort it out."
Cam smiled. He did that a lot. "You're going to have to travel farther than that for what you need."
"Then I'll use one of Martha's catalogs," I said.
Cam laughed out loud. "What you going to tell them when you make the order? Look buddy, this thing you have going with Martha, it's not good."
I didn't take umbrage to Cam. He couldn't help himself. The guy had few expressions and they were mostly smiling or laughing. Anyway, he meant well. "Cam, my old friend, never question what goes on between a couple in love. Just because it isn't your way, or you can't fathom it, doesn't mean it isn't suitable for Martha and me. Have I ever asked what goes on between your wife and you?"
"That's exactly my point, Cam. You're a different couple. You have a different relationship. Martha and me get along well. We're happy. Why would that bother you?"
"Is she still keeping in the barn?"
"I visit her lots," I said. "It's almost like when she was in the house. Come out with me now to say hello."
I stood and pulled on my heavy jacket, then walked to the door. Without a word, Cam followed. The frozen grass crunched under our feet. The yellow dog followed us halfway to the barn then turned back. He and Martha never got along.
I slid back the faded red door. Just inside was Martha, sitting pretty as a picture on her favorite easy chair that she mail ordered from Los Angeles two years ago.
"Martha," I said, "brought Cam to visit. Say hi to her Cam, she doesn't talk much since the accident."
Cam put his hands in his pockets. "Hi, Martha." He turned his back to her and faced me. "Zak, what are you going to do come the spring?"
"It's okay, Cam. You can talk in front of her, we have no secrets."
Cam faced her. "What is Zak to do with you, Martha?"
That's another reason folks like Cam, he worries about the welfare of his neighbors. I said, "I'm ordering up a walk in freezer. I'll say it's for a meat locker. This way Martha and me will be together."
I knew what Cam meant. I never gave up on this orchard when everyone said it couldn't support anyone. They were wrong. Martha and I worked twenty years, day and night, and it paid off well. Just because, a week ago, her heart stopped in a stupid accident, doesn't mean that she and I should give up on our relationship.