Word Count: 1556
Rating: green cortina
Summary: The march of time. Things change. Some things stay the same.
Britpicked and betaed by fawsley , talkingtothesky and thesmallhobbit ! And somehow, I needed each and every one of them! Thank yous!
“We don’t need jam. I swear it.”
“What does it matter, Gene? So we’ll have one extra jar of raspberry.”
“I thought you’d welcome the opportunity to be organized! One jar of marmite, one of marmalade, one of—“
“But there’s room for more. Why does it matter so much?”
“You stubborn git. The one time I care about things being organized, and you lose your picky bone? It’s so damn like you, Tyler! I swear you do things just to drive me crazy!” Gene slammed the jar down on the shelf and stamped off down the grocery aisle in a huff. Sam stared after him, nettled. Shouldn’t let it bother me, but fuck, it’s been like this all day.
Gene had tossed and turned all night, up to use the loo every couple of hours. After the first few times Sam had just pulled the duvet up over his face and tried to pretend he was alone in bed, but it just didn’t work. Gene was too overwhelming a presence. There was the snoring, the kicking, the heavy groan of his breath, and the goddamn heat of the man. There were times when the long-distant single bed in that fucking awful bedsit was a glowing dream of comfort. And that was a ridiculous thing to think, but Christ.
Breakfast had been no better; the tea was too hot, too sweet. The eggs were too runny. Gene had groused until Sam snatched his plate away and told him to make his own damn food, feeling testy and sorry at once.
And it was a Monday. Never a good day; no, never a good day for Gene. Sam had found semi-retirement far easier than Gene, taking up a new hobby or two, spending more time playing guitar or shopping for CDs, even taking a few classes at the local college.
But Gene fretted, and pushed himself too hard, twisted a knee and had to wear a brace. Dislocated his shoulder playing golf, of all things—although from the sound of it the game had been waylaid by an aggressive couple in a cart who thought the rules didn’t apply to them, and Gene had decided to take the law into his own hands. The law wasn’t in his hands anymore, but Gene didn’t ever seem to accept that.
Sam dug the shopping list out of his back pocket and consulted it half-heartedly as he reached the dairy section. Cream. Butter. Whole milk. Gene wouldn’t eat the low-fat stuff. Used air-quotes when he commented on Sam’s obsession with “healthy” foods.
He could finish the shopping quite happily by himself; did it himself most of the time. It had seemed a good excuse to get Gene out of the house to try to cheer him up. Sam grimaced, hefted a loin of pork, and turned toward the tills.
Gene joined him at the door. “Get the cream?”
“Yes, I got the fucking cream.”
Flared nostrils and narrowed eyes. “Don’t bite my head off, Samantha. I was only asking.”
“Yeah, well you could have helped me; then you wouldn’t need to ask.”
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Bloody big help you’ve been, too.” There were three bags of shopping. Sam didn’t offer any to Gene, who could have taken one despite his walking stick.
“What nasty creature crawled up your arse and died there, eh? If you didn’t want me along, you could have left me to watch the match in peace!”
“Do I have to do every single chore by myself?”
“You like it that way, you bastard! It gives you excuses to exercise your picky bone and complain about me!”
If looks could ignite they would both have been smoking. Sam tossed back his head to glare at the sky in exasperation, found no comfort in the clouds. Shook his head and stumped up the street without looking back, lengthening his strides and feeling the ache in his shoulders from the weight of the bags of shopping. Carrying a few groceries hadn’t used to hurt like this. He reached the middle of their street, past the record shop, the hairdressers’. There was a clatter far behind him—sounded like Gene had dropped his stick.
“Sam!” Gene’s voice was high-pitched and panicky. He looked back. Gene was leaning on a lamppost, his stick on the ground, his face white as a sheet. Sam dropped the shopping. He didn’t know he was running until he skidded to a halt, dropped to his knees next to Gene. Time was weird; time was slow and fast at once, the shocking, frozen moment of staring at Gene’s slack, drawn face, the painful hitch of his breath and the weird droop to one side of his face.
“Mr. Tyler?” Sam raised his head from his hands. “You can come in to see him now. He’s stable.”
“A stroke? But he’s only… seventy two?”
“People get strokes at younger ages, sometimes. Lifelong smoker? Definitely a risk factor. It’s not a serious one; the loss of speech was short term, and he doesn’t seem to have any memory loss. His left hand is weak, though, and we haven’t tested his ability to stand or walk yet.”
Sam slipped through the door, hoping for a moment to see, to watch Gene without being watched back.. But Gene’s eyes were open and intent on him the moment he entered the room. It was a nice room, as hospitals go; green walls, an abstract print on the wall that did not evoke anything particularly health or sickness-related.
The bed was all whiteness, except for the tubes and the blue print of Gene’s hospital-issue gown. And Gene, of course, although the grey of his hair and the pallor of his face would make him a particularly colourless presence in any other environment.
“Sam.” His voice was clear, though soft.
“Gene.” Sam sat on the chair next to the bed, shuffled it closer.
Gene held out his right hand. Sam took it.
“Can you… believe it?”
“What?” Sam stroked the back of Gene’s hand, the knobby, knuckle-y surface.
“We’ve… got to this. S’all downhill, Sammy-boy.”
“Don’t talk like that, Gene.”
“S’true.” Gene’s eyes were brilliant green, unyielding. Unwavering. Sam looked away again, at the door, at the floor under his feet. “My life’s over, Gladys. Can’t work. Soon… can’t drive. Then… can’t walk. Then… can’t piss by m’self.”
Sam clenched the hand in his. “You always look on the dark side. You always—“ He choked off. Stared at his feet some more.
“Realistic. Unlike you, y’little wanker. I know. I know ‘m not going to get better. A little better, maybe, back to home and walks in the park and… a drive down to the Peak District on a Sunday.” Gene rolled his head on his shoulders, sighing. “M’never gonna push a car to it’s limits again, Sammy. Only to mine. N’they’re easier to reach every day.”
Sam ground his teeth. “I don’t know why you think you—“ his voice was furry with frustration. “Why you think you get to be different from everyone else! I’m older, too! I can’t run as fast! I just had to get bifocals, for Christ’s sake! You are not the first person to get old and you won’t be the last!”
“It’s my first and only time, Gladys. Do me the favor of allowing me to wallow in my own misery.”
“No!” Sam stood, paced to the window, paced back. Could feel his heart racing. “Did you ever do the same for me? Eh? Stand by and let me whinge?”
“You’d better believe it! A million times.”
“Augh, you—you make me want to—“ His hands were waving around; the room wasn’t big enough.
“What? Hit me?” Gene looked more amused than anything else; at least it had brought a little colour to his face. “Bring it on, Sammy. But know this; I bruise easily. You might break something.” His mouth tweaked in a smile. “Or you might give yourself a stroke. We could share this room.”
“Fuck!” Two strides and he was at the bed, hands on Gene’s chest, clenching the thin fabric of his gown. “You old bastard. Just—“
“Sam—“ And he pulled Sam down, lips parted, eyes glittering, and Sam went with it, although he did punch Gene’s shoulder on his way into the kiss. Kept his eyes open and his rage burning.
“You don’t have to be like this,” he gasped when Gene let him go.
Gene looked away, out the window. The view was unimpressive; a corner of the building, a swath of muted green. “I’d die for a fag,” he muttered.
“You can’t have one in here.”
“But…” Sam fumbled inside his jacket, searching. “This is easier to smuggle in.” He held out a small, silver flask.
Gene gave him a tight-lipped smile. “Aiding and abetting, Sammy-boy? Contributing to the delinquency of a senior?”
“Guv. Take it. Or I’ll drink it myself.”
“Better with two anyway.” He flipped the cap, took a hefty swallow. Held it out.
“Most things are, Gene.” Sam sank back into the chair and tilted back the flask, feeling the whisky burn as he swirled it around his mouth. It tasted of smoke, of honey and flowers and the bittersweet march of time. Mostly, it tasted of Gene.