Butter sweats. Little force beyond gravity is needed to slice a pat. The knife the two men use seems to fall only through air.
A bead of perspiration, its source his brow, follows the trail of its predecessor and veers sharply down the bend around his eye. A patch of crumbs catch in the hairy dams cornering his mouth. He follows the ball of biscuit mash with a pull of coffee. His throat pumps as he swallows, grunts, and hits a spot on his chest with a closed fist. Setting the mug down next to the tree stump upon which he perches, an oily film glistens on the liquid’s surface. Morning’s heat robs the steam of its visibility. He nods toward the figure facing the fire where their breakfast was cooked.
“What you think the girl wants to do today?” the bearded man asks, catching the cock-eyed glimpse of his companion.
The other man returns the look, briefly, then turns to the smoking embers. The girl is sitting on the ground, her back giving little indication of her mood, barely showing signs of life. Before long, she turns her head and looks back to find the men hunched over their breakfast. Their words are muffled, but she senses she’s the subject of their conversation.
“I’d suspect she doesn’t want to do much in this heat,” the companion says, using the edge of a biscuit to break the yolk of his second egg. “We’ll find a cool spring.”
Both men reach for the coffee pot at the same time. The bearded man wins the handle, but he fills his companion’s tin cup before topping his own. It is down to grounds; a river of grit spills over with the last of the morning’s elixir. He sets the pot on the ground and digs his thumbnail under a chipping flake of porcelain on its lid. The girl weakly gains her footing and limps toward them from her place by the fire.
The bearded man reaches his hand out and tousles a leaf from her blonde hair. “Might mean carrying her a distance,” he says, looking down.
“Don’t matter. She needs to swim. Dying wishes and all.” The companion smiles toward the girl as she struggles to stand beneath the bearded man’s hand.
“Alright.” The word floats past the bristling beard. His hand brushes against the girl’s cheek. “You up for one last swim?” Addressing her for the first time all morning.
The golden retriever nudges her greying snout at the bearded man’s hand, ignoring the pain pulsing with each breath, the murmuring voice of the cancer growing within her, and pants affirmatively. Swim — the one and only man-word she wants to hear.
Dan Metzger holds a BA in English from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania and an MA in English from the University of Massachusetts Boston. His short fiction has been published by Viewfinder Literary Magazine and The Drabble. He currently teaches, bartends, writes, and resides in the southern tip of Berks County, Pennsylvania.