In the Summer of his 72nd year, illness came for the famed architect D.B. Welk in the form of bone cancer. It was said to have reached the marrow. For sixteen years, Welk had lived on the west end of Oak Island, North Carolina in relative seclusion. Despite hundreds of inquiries, he never returned to architecture after the fiasco in Myrtle Beach.
Welk received the news while enjoying happy hour at his favorite restaurant, The Fish House, which was two blocks from his home and where he spent almost every afternoon.
He went outside and wandered amongst the boats on the dock adjacent to the restaurant and placed a call to his only son, Carl, a syndicated satirical cartoonist, whose work he had never understood.
“This is a difficult pill to swallow,” Carl, said over the phone. “I’m so sorry, Dad, can I call you back? You’ve caught us right in the middle of family dinner.”
After hanging up with Carl, Welk called his ex-wife, Alice.
“Well, you had a fine run, D.B.,” Alice said, out of breath.
“What are you doing?” Welk asked.
“I’ve purchased a Peloton,” Alice said. “I’m in the best shape of my life.”
“Go to hell, Alice,” Welk said, and hung up.
Welk paid his tab and drove home.
He tossed his mail on the counter and poured a scotch. He stepped onto his oceanfront porch and called his father, Hank Welk, who had recently, at 104, been forced out of his architectural firm, the largest in Chattanooga, Tennessee, due to myriad health concerns. Despite this, Hank refused to move into a nursing home and instead hired his own full-time nursing staff and remained dead set on fighting to regain control of the firm from his palatial estate overlooking the Tennessee river and downtown Chattanooga.
“Welk Residence,” a nurse answered.
“It’s his son.”
“Hello, son,” Hank said. “What have you done now?
“Hello, father,” Welk replied. “I’ve gotten the bone cancer. I may not have much longer.”
“I’m a hundred and four years old,” Hank said. “I sure as shit don’t have much longer. I’ll be lucky to make it to tomorrow’s breakfast.”
Welk paused for some time on the line.
“Will you miss me if I die before you, father?”
“I’ve missed you for quite some time already,” Hank said.
“Thank you for saying that, father,” Welk said. “I love you.”
“Is there anything else I can help you with,” Hank said. “I’m quite busy over here, as I’m sure you know.”
“No, dad,” Welk said. “That’s all.”
Welk went down to the shore and walked until he reached the far western end of Oak Island and an area known as The Point; a picturesque section of beach where the intracoastal waterway, the eastern channel and the Lockwood Folly river meet the Atlantic. At low tide it drowns serene, with tidal pools and sandbars appearing where they could not be seen before, though that evening the tide was high, and the water covered everything beneath it.
As Welk walked home, the sun set behind him. Oak Island was unique in that its beaches faced south which caused the sun to appear to dip into the water at certain times of year. Welk had watched hundreds of sunsets on the island, but for this one he did not turn in awe.
Back home, as the sky darkened, and the many oceanfront windows started to reflect the light inside, a hollowness fell upon Welk which he hadn’t felt in years. He poured another Scotch and spent several hours reaching out to his vast network of colleagues, seeking a consensus about what he should do next regarding treatment. What he discovered was that his best chance for recovery was essentially the same afforded to anyone who amasses considerable wealth. He could make a sizable donation to a world class medical facility like Johns Hopkins, which would guarantee him the very best care, and then he could hope for the best.
The following morning, Welk woke early, like he always did, grabbed the newspaper from the driveway and poured a bowl of Cheerios. While eating, he received a call from Carl, but didn’t answer. He flipped the paper until he found Carl’s syndicated cartoon. One was published nearly every day. The cartoon had something to do with rising interest rates and the drawing was of a money man with a visor on, an antiquated sort of accountant stereotype with red itchy eyes, crunching numbers, and smoking a joint. Welk stared at the cartoon for a significant length of time, his Cheerios growing soggy in the milk, but could not, for the life of him, understand what was so funny.
Wilson Koewing is a writer from South Carolina. His memoir Bridges is forthcoming from Bull City Press.