I’m Oliver and he’s Milton. We used to make love and work hard and then make love again. He worked at the cafès and I wrote in them but we always missed each other. I cooked but when he came home he was too tired to do anything but make love and sleep. He nursed me when I was drunk and wouldn’t make love to me until I was sober again.
Milton never asked about my work. If he had I wouldn’t have said a thing so he didn’t. He couldn’t speak English worth a damn so we spoke French. I read him American books at night while we smoked but he couldn’t understand a word. I asked him why he wanted to hear the books if he could not understand them and he told me he liked the way they sounded. I never read him my work. I wrote in English and he didn’t speak it and I never showed my work to anyone until it was finished.
Milton had a garden behind the house. The house was small and cold in the winter and warm in the summer and did not have much furniture but we didn’t mind. We slept on a mattress on the floor and sat on wooden crates he had gotten from the cafè and covered the windows with newspaper. The garden was large and he grew everything we ate but the chicken and fish that I bought from the market. He wouldn’t let me touch his garden so I watched him cut and dig and press and trim. I sat in the garden on the crate from the cafè and wrote even though the sun was so bright that I could not see. We did not speak while we worked. It was different work but it was good work and we respected it.
There was no money for clothes. There was money for food and drink and cigarettes but not for clothes or cafès or books. My work did not sell but I continued to write it and Milton continued to work. When winter came the cold came with it and we didn’t eat if we wanted a fire. Milton died that winter. I borrowed everything I could for firewood and medicine and food but I couldn’t get a doctor. He stopped going to work and I stopped going to the cafès. I sat and smoked and read with him but we both knew he would pass before spring. When he was strong he wrote letters and when he wasn’t I wrote for him. He made me swear to send them and I swore but we had no stamps and they stayed tucked away for years.
Milton died on Tuesday. We couldn’t make love anymore and slept instead waking only to smoke or speak in the darkness. He asked me if he was going to die and I said yes. He grew quiet and pressed his cheek to my chest and I tried not to breathe very hard. He asked me if I loved him and I told him yes I did very much. He asked me to tend the garden and I promised that I would and then he closed his eyes. For a long time there was no one to tend the garden.