"Katie," the old man said, "there's a bottle of whisky in the kitchen press. Three glasses and a jug of water..."
When she went off obediently, without so much as a questioning look, he said to the boy, "A drink might help us all."
He liked the way Katie had acted. She would know, would have been told, of his troubles with booze that had brought him so close to destroying everything. It was only since he had come back that he had decided to break his twelve-year-long habit of abstinence. It was a week since he had bought the bottle in the village shop and he had played every day with the thought of it lying in wait for him.
"Bell's," he said, "a good old-fashioned blend. Only snobs drink malts. Give us each a good measure, half a tumbler and top mine up with water."
Once again she obeyed, without questioning, without even the suspicious look he remembered of old. Not her look, that is, her grandmother's. A madeleine moment, he thought but didn't say, filling his mouth with the old taste. The boy said, "Are you at work on something now?"
There was that sentence on the typewriter. Stonewall Jackson's last words, Hem's title for the novel the old man liked best of his which all the critics had panned. Some had found it embarrassing. Jackson had been shot in the back. By one of his own men. Accident? Or? The old man preferred the "or". When he typed the words, had he been starting something? Or was it his suicide note? He couldn't tell. That day and the days before had been wiped out of his memory.
"I found a sentence on my typewriter when I came home," he said, "but I doubt if it could be called work."
"You stopped publishing ten years ago."
Statement in search of an answer.
"It left me," he said, "or I got left behind. I don't rightly remember."
He wasn't playing for sympathy. He really didn't remember. But there had — he knew this — been a marked lack of enthusiasm from his editor when he delivered the last typescript and from the publicity department when finished copies appeared. Sales had been lousy.
"I'd had my day in the sun," he said, "or what passes for sun in these sad islands."
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