Now or Never

by Jack Swenson

We meet at a motel in the Napa Valley.  Four old sots, two of us reformed.  I belong to the Juice Chuch; Bob quit on his own.  We haven't seen each other for years.  One by one our friends are kicking the bucket.  Let's get together.  It's now or never, we figure.


We wander downtown and pick out a place to eat.  Every place is good in the little town where we are staying.  We eat ourselves sick.  Phil and Roger drink beer.  We ask Phil, who lives in Texas, how things are going.  He shrugs.  His wife won't let him back in the house, he says.  She won't divorce him, either.  She wants to get her teeth fixed, and she doesn't have insurance.  He sits around all day in his apartment, he says, listening to jazz and watching movies.  He gets DVDs from Netflix, he says.


We talk about sports.  Our health.  I have had a hip replaced.  Roger has had a couple of stents put in.  Bob is a survivor of lung cancer.  We are lucky bastards, I say.  We drink a toast with bottled water to our dead friends. 


After lunch, we walk back to the motel for a nap.  That night we eat at a French bistro.  The food is excellent.  Roger pays.  We are back at the motel at nine o'clock, and at ten we are in bed.  I share a room with Bob who has insomnia.  I wake up in the morning and tell him I didn't hear a peep.  "What do you do all night?" I ask.  He says he was up and down.  He's gotten very good at not making any noise, he says.


Roger and I go for a walk in the morning.  We talk about this and that.  We agree we've got to get Phil out here more often.  We laugh about Bob's pot belly and bald pate.  That afternoon there is a basketball game on TV that Roger wants to watch.  My friends camp out in our room.  Roger turns up the volume and lies down on my bed.  The rest of us go out on the balcony.


We pump Phil about his tete-a-tete with George Bush.  Bush was at the luncheon when Phil got his chair at UT.  Phil said he talked with him about reading for about an hour after the ceremony. "He's not dumb," he said.


We talk about famous people we have known.  I say I met Andy Grove once.  And when I was a kid I shook the hand of Harold Stassen.  Bob says he knew the cop who got killed in the onion field that Wambaugh wrote about.


That night I lie in bed in the pitch dark room and listen to Bob breathing.  I wake up later that night and all I can hear is the ticking of a clock.