The Whisky Blot
Journal of Literature, Poetry, and Haiku
Soon Abigail would be coming up the street with her Husky. She’d be coming from the coffee shop. Not so long ago, when Abigail went for a coffee, she would stop and knock. She’d say Hey, did Rhonda want anything. Often, they’d gone together. Abigail had liked to walk arm-in-arm and talk about how to understand this year they had given to the mountains. Rhonda had come in June, Abigail in May, so she knew the ropes. This town was mostly a summer outpost, but it could be seen as a shrewd base camp, as skiing wasn’t far, and the rents beat the resorts. Abigail would have a latte, Rhonda a tea with bergamot. Sherpley would sit on the tiles with his head nearly to the level of the table, watching their conversation. The Sibe had a blue eye and a green eye and the white of his fur seemed blue like powder at first light.
There was the question about the hike. They’d kicked it around the day before. Abigail had been ambivalent. She’d sounded put upon. She’d become critical of Rhonda’s moods. The problem with Rhonda, Abigail said, was that while she hailed from the suburbs of nowhere, she kept getting homesick.
Rhonda went out to sit on the porch swing. Lights were coming on in the canyon. After all that awful wind, it was snowing again. The air smelled like cold mountain stones and grilled meat.
In the fall, Rhonda painted the wooden slats of the swing red and yellow and orange because she’d been sad about her life here. Rhonda had intended to live an outrageously fun life before returning for a career. It’s not that it couldn’t be — hadn’t been — great. Abigail introduced her around and there’d been a backpacking trip early on with nearly a dozen others. But most everyone worked weird shifts. Coordinating a challenge. A lot of free days there was no one around. Sometimes it could be disheartening all alone on a trail out in the middle of nowhere.
Abigail didn’t have to work as much. She’d become a reliable partner. And Abigail had been fun. She could make fixing a flat at tree line a big laugh where Rhonda would’ve been a big pain.
But with fall came Donnie. He’d bought a place he’d gutted and hoped to renovate before things got busy with his work. He made good money, but the job required frequent trips out of state. Donnie was gentle and loving. He had sincere eyes. In those first days of Donnie, Rhonda imagined he would ask her about maybe a hike or ride. Then Abigail had looked after some task or other for him and suddenly they seemed on their way to becoming a thing.
Now it was winter, and the narrow streets nestled in by these sheer rock walls a mess of snow and ice. All night and most of the morning the winds stormed the canyon, snapping at the conifers. Rhonda hadn’t slept well. There had been Abigail’s ambivalence. There had been what she said about Rhonda getting homesick too often. The worst part of it was that what Abigail had said made Rhonda even more sick for home and the life she used to know. Rhonda felt bewildered that wind could rush and whorl and crash like that, like it meant to scour the town from the canyon floor.
Now the tiny crystals drifted down to settle gently as turning a page.
Up the street came Abigail and Sherpley.
Rhonda lived in a tiny unit on a short row of apartments built so close only the sidewalk separated the front steps from the berm of packed snow and ice left by the plows.
“Hul-lew!” Rhonda said, wishing in the instant she hadn’t said it that way. She should have remained neutral. Passive. Calculating.
Abigail looked surprised to see her. The Husky stared up at the snow falling.
“It’s snowing!” Abigail said.
“I know!” Rhonda said.
A crow called from a rooftop.
“I was just thinking about our hike tomorrow,” Rhonda said. “Should be epic now.”
“Yeah,” Abigail said. “Not working out at my end.”
Rhonda pressed her tongue to the roof of her mouth.
Abigail shrugged. “I just found out,” she said. “Donnie’s back tomorrow.”
Everything now always about Donnie and how Abigail might stay on a while longer. About how Abigail might just stay.
Rhonda’s landlord had already asked whether she planned to renew. He’d be raising rents.
Something flared in Rhonda.
“What if I took Sherpley?” she said.
“Sherpley,” Abigail said.
Rhonda heard herself breathing.
“I mean, yes of course,” Abigail said. She bent down to the Husky to scratch his ears.
“You’re always welcome to give Sherpley a walk. Why, isn’t that right, Sherpley? Yes, he likes a good hike, don’t you, boy?”
“But I’m not sure about tomorrow,” Abigail said, standing.
“It’s just that, Donnie’s been away for days,” she said. She made a sad face. “We’ve been missing him.
“You know how it is when your man’s away,” Abigail said. “We’ve been climbing the walls, haven’t we, Sherpley?”
Rhonda stood. The swing lurched away to bounce against the backs of her legs.
“Maybe another time,” she said. “Maybe Donnie can walk Sherpley.”
Rhonda crossed her arms. She wished Abigail would go away.
Abigail sank down to her heels and pulled the dog in close and he licked her lips. “Oh, now!” she said, delighted.
Abigail stood. She smiled.
Abigail and Sherpley walked up the street to her place, the dog prancing along beside her. They went inside and it was quiet again but for a car coming down the canyon road and — closer — the scrapes of someone shoveling.
Rhonda sat on the hideously optimistic porch swing and wished she had never come here.
Chuck Plunkett is a Denver-based writer who directs a journalism capstone at the University of Colorado Boulder. He has previously published stories in Cimarron Review and The Texas Review. He has an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh and is currently at work on a novel he likes to think of as a literary thriller. He's worked in several newsrooms, including The Denver Post, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
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