uu — 7 (the look of lost)

sandy beach

14 August 2015 – The end of the month looms. Was hop­ing to visit mom but she hasn’t returned any of my calls. So agreed to work an extra week. Wish­ing now I hadn’t. Time run­ning short. Too much on plate. All the lit­tle things to tend to. Been edgy and ner­vous. Excited, yes. But also mildly anx­ious. Not hav­ing a job lined up is new for me. Shouldn’t bother me but it does. Don’t know why. It’s not like I’m leap­ing into an abyss of unknowns. Guess it’s just how I’m wired.

16 August 2015 – Lunch with Clara. Her won­der­ing what she’s going to do with her­self once I’m gone. Told her she’ll have to come out and visit. Sim­ple as that. She tapped her head and said it’s in there for cog­i­ta­tion. Right beside her chief curios­ity of the moment. Adul­ter­ers. And their not so anony­mous online hookup club. She’d like to know if prospec­tive clients have to prove they’re mar­ried to join.

Told her about my pet project. The woman and the mini­van on the gravel road. She seemed more inter­ested in my dab­bling in sto­ries than the idea itself. While describ­ing scene to her Tom Jones song came on. Delilah. Think I have a name for my hero­ine. Ine?

18 August 2015 – Listed car for sale. Perused job list­ings. Got to pon­der­ing Delilah.

She’s retreated to her mini­van. Sit­ting in dri­ver seat with door open. Blank expres­sion on her face. Hands loosely grip­ping the wheel. Through wind­shield she sees cloud of dust com­ing up road slowly. A trac­tor mate­ri­al­izes. Shim­mer­ing in late morn­ing heat. Delilah gets up. Stands behind open door. As the trac­tor nears she starts hail­ing it with jumping-jack arms and sidles to mid­dle of road. The dri­ver of the trac­tor waves. Hear the engine’s heavy roar shift to a low grum­ble. Trac­tor stops. The dri­ver, salt of the earth farmer, tips brim of greasy ball cap in greeting.

G ecsta­tic. Told me he’s kiss­ing my tem­ples in cel­e­bra­tion. I told him I don’t think I’m get­ting very far with it. He asked how far I want to go.

A good question.

Clouds this evening like a sandy beach. Days get­ting shorter already.

19 August 2015 – Started file on lap­top. To keep notes on Delilah. Got down some ideas about what’s going to hap­pen (the arc, G calls it) and scratch­ing sur­face of what’s put her on the road (back story)—the more I pon­der the for­mer, the more rel­e­vant seems the latter.

For­wards and back. Ain’t that just the way.

Pos­si­ble exchange between Delilah and farmer:

You’ve the look of lost about you,’ says the farmer.

I am, I think.’

Where you after?’

Well.… Here. I thought. I mean, I thought there was a road around here. With a house on the cor­ner? Yel­low one.’

That were the Liv­ingstons. Just up from where you come. Half mile or so. Gone now. Sold up some 2–3 years back. Nasty bit of busi­ness that. Took down the house. Dozed the road. Upset more than few in these parts I’ll say. Rightly so. The Liv­ingstons though. Fine folk. They who you after finding?’

No. I’m try­ing to.… Do you know the Bridges?’

Peter and Mary, like?’

Yes.’

That where you headed?’

Yes.’

The farmer scratches at his stub­bled jaw.

Ter­ri­ble run they’ve had.’

20 August 2015 – Dad’s gone fish­ing. House feels like it’s ready­ing itself to return to hous­ing a middle-aged bachelor.

22 August 2015 – Finally a call from mom. Really should go see her. Timing’s tricky though. Mar­cus died on Tues­day. No get­ting around that. On Tues­day Mar­cus died. Still chills me. Doesn’t feel right not to be here. With dad. And I’m not sure being with mom on that of all days will do either of us any good. Plane’s on Fri­day. Christ. Too much to think about at the moment. Must to work. One more shift to get through. Then it’s din­ner drinks danc­ing with Clara.

Arthur, Hero — 9

possibly dangerousOne morn­ing Mar­vin takes me to a squat apart­ment build­ing. We park by the side door. A man is sit­ting there on the stairs smok­ing. Wavy thatch of heavy metal hair and a great tuft of a goa­tee on his chin. At our arrival the man flicks his cig­a­rette and stands. He crosses his arms. A men­ac­ing scowl takes over his face.

First impres­sion: impos­ing, pos­si­bly dangerous.

He’s an odd sight though. Tall and lanky. Bare­footed. Wear­ing what appears to be cov­er­alls with the arms removed and the legs cut just below his knees. Name patch above heart pocket says Herb. Red ban­danna around his neck, and a grey one on his right wrist, under a jum­ble of curly plas­tic key­chains, each a dif­fer­ent color.

Dan­ger­ous? Not likely. Any lin­ger­ing impres­sion quickly dis­solves as Mar­vin calls out his name. Gun­ther. His face becomes that of a happy child.

Mar­vin,’ he says. The two syl­la­bles stretched out and some­how joined into one—a well-practiced stoner’s drawl.

Gun­ther opens his arms and steps down hold­ing out his right hand to Mar­vin. They shake hands, the keys on Gunther’s wrist jangling.

Mar­vin says, ‘You remem­ber I men­tioned bring­ing some­one by.…’

Gun­ther strokes his goa­tee, looks into an inter­nal distance.

Yeah,’ he says. ‘Right. Yeah. Rings a bell. I knew I was out here for a reason.’

Mar­vin intro­duces me. I shake Gunther’s hands, am some­what sur­prised that he emits no odor or mask­ing fragrance.

Wel­come to Will­ing­don Arms,’ he says. ‘Come on up.’

The three of us head inside. On the sec­ond floor Gun­ther keys a door. Ush­ers us in.

Should have every­thing you need,’ he says.

I’m sure it’ll be fine,’ says Marvin.

He tells me to have a look around. So I do. A mod­est one bed­room. Decent size. Lots of light. Rel­a­tively clean, if a bit on the musty side. Like the win­dows haven’t been opened in a while. Sparsely fur­nished main room. The bed­room has a bed but no bed­ding, noth­ing but hang­ers in the closet. In the bath­room I notice there are no tooth­brushes or tow­els etc.

Back in the kitchen Mar­vin asks what I think.

About?’

The apart­ment. Think you could live here?’

And that’s how it goes. Mar­vin hands Gun­ther a white enve­lope. Gun­ther hands me a key on a yel­low chain.

Next we’re off to see about get­ting me some fresh duds. To smart me up. Shirts, pants, shoes. And for good mea­sure a stop at Larry’s Bar­ber­shop. To tighten my crop and show my face.

By the day’s end I’m exhausted. I take a shower. Dry myself with a new white towel. Stand over the sink entranced by the unrec­og­niz­able face look­ing back at me. Shuf­fle naked to the bedroom—my bed­room. Mar­vel at the fact of pil­lows and sheets and clothes in the closet.

On the bed a mobile phone and my back­pack. I unload the back­pack. Put on old jeans and t-shirt. Dou­ble­think the phone—pick it up, put it down, pick it up again, open it, close it, put in front pocket. Wan­der to the kitchen. Grab a beer from the fridge. Lean against counter. See myself in the win­dow above the table there. On the table my note­book. Beside the note­book a ring of keys.

I grab the keys. Put on my old sneak­ers. Take my beer down to the stairs where Gun­ther was sit­ting when Mar­vin and I pulled up this morn­ing. I stand there. Look at the peace­ful night sky. Let my gaze fall to the park­ing lot. Where four cars are parked. I walk to the dark-colored Rene­gade. Get in. Start her up. Turn her off. Get out. Sit down on the stairs and finally take a sip of my beer.

Out of the jun­gle and into the sedate world of Will­ing­don Arms.

uu — 6 (establishing a scene)

smooth terrain

11 August 2015 – Things that come to mind.

Since G was here been see­ing an image of a gravel road in the coun­try. The more I see it the more con­crete the image becomes. A line scored between end­less fields of tall corn. Nar­row and weed­mown ditches shoul­der the road. On one side of the road grey util­ity poles hold up a shal­low wave of cables undu­lat­ing into the dis­tance. It’s a bright sum­mer morn­ing. Mel­low blue sky, high white clouds that bear a strange resem­blance to a smooth and eroded expanse of rocky terrain.

A day­dream of sorts? Maybe. But. How to put this.…

Two sum­mers back, about this time of year, I came across a job post­ing that got my atten­tion. I wasn’t actively seek­ing a new job or even unhappy with my sit­u­a­tion. But the pos­si­bil­ity of doing what I do in a dif­fer­ent place had some attrac­tion and set me to imag­in­ing what it might be like.

Dad rou­tinely buys lot­tery tick­ets on Tues­days and Fri­days. I chuckle at his ded­i­ca­tion. He invari­ably repeats the com­mon mantra, ‘Can’t win if don’t play.’ And has done for as long as I can remember.

While I don’t play the lot­ter­ies, I do tend to fol­low the logic of the mantra. In keep­ing with vision­ing exer­cises, when I find myself day­dream­ing about some­thing I can actu­ally do some­thing about I will more often than not make the effort to do it—if for no other rea­son than to get it off my mind and re-inhabit my shoes, wher­ever they are.

So I cob­bled together a c.v., sent it off, and got on with things.

A cou­ple months later I sold most of what I could. Traded-in my car for a mini­van. And drove across the coun­try. To start a new job in a new city.

Struc­tured impul­siv­ity and com­posed real­ity. A per­sonal guid­ance sys­tem. Dri­ven by occa­sion to won­der. And daydream.

This scene of the gravel road though. How it’s com­ing to me, how it plays. Has an alto­gether dif­fer­ent feel. It doesn’t seem to have any­thing to do with me. I see it but am not in it. It’s in my head but I don’t con­sciously visu­al­ize it. I don’t sit with the inten­tion of see­ing the scene. It just appears. Like the long wide shot at the begin­ning of a movie. A movie I know noth­ing about. But keep watch­ing (or, in this case, com­ing back to) to see what, if any­thing, will happen.

Cut to me in the shower this morn­ing. Eyes closed, rins­ing lath­ered hair.

Along the gravel road a comes stirred up a fuss of dust. I watch it for a time. The bil­low­ing plume. Focus in on it. See the van at its head. A mini­van. The color of ripe red grapes. It slows. Pulls to a sharp stop on the shoul­der. Becomes engulfed in dust. Zoom in closer. Dri­ver­side shot of mini­van. After the dust set­tles the front door opens. A woman steps out. She’s wear­ing sun­glasses. And flipflops and mid-thigh khaki shorts and an open longsleeve button-up over a low-slung under­shirt. Her hair’s in a messy pony­tail. She pulls the sun­glasses halfway down her nose. Squints against the bright­ness. She’s clearly agi­tated. Or con­fused. She pushes the sun­glasses back to cov­er­ing her eyes. Steps to the mid­dle of the road. Hands to hips she looks up and down the road. Corn for as far as the eye can see. ‘This isn’t right,’ she says, bring­ing a hand to her mouth, tap­ping upper lip with index finger.

And then there was no more hot water.

Day­dream? Or some­thing else? G gid­dily fig­ures I’m in the throes of mak­ing fic­tion. I wonder.

uu — 5 (timewoof)

cozy camper

04 August 2015 – G’s come and gone again. Arrived with the blue moon. Big and low in the sum­mer sky. Departed under scat­tered clouds and the promise of rain. A four day blitz.

His farmer tan. And those work­book white ankles—at first glance I thought he’d shaved them.

That unruly facial hair. His par­tic­i­pa­tion in a sum­mer­long beard-growing com­pe­ti­tion with the boys at work. A tick­lish heap of scruff.

Long walks and dri­ves with­out aim. Around here. Along the pop-up main streets of smaller towns and down rolling coun­try roads.

Mon­key­ing about in over­priced antique stores. Rum­mag­ing the incred­i­ble col­lec­tion of junk. Don­ning vin­tage hats, twirling para­sols and canes. Won­der­ing what our lives would be like if we man­gled our clothes and needed shot­guns to ward off large ani­mals and unwel­come vis­i­tors. Also won­der­ing how antique stores could stay in busi­ness with­out movies.

A nurs­ery on the edge of civ­i­liza­tion. So that G could gawp at the plants.

Hap­pen­ing upon an arti­sanal farm­ers fes­ti­val. All the stalls and activ­i­ties. The music and peo­ple. Horses and don­keys and chick­ens and cows and pigs and sheep. Scare­crows. A corn maze. The dis­play of trac­tors and trucks. Kid­dlies run­ning around with flavoured ices and sticked corn and sun­flower pin­wheels. The pyra­mid of hay bales. Our spon­ta­neous pic­nic under trees in an adja­cent field. Front row seats to pass­ing train. Count­ing cars and los­ing track after 50.

A botan­i­cal gar­den. So that we could stroll in the deca­dent delight of plants let to grow in the arranged com­pany of their green friends. An older gen­tle­man there, hand­somely dressed and roam­ing the roses with his hands at peace behind his back. He said hello, addressed the pleas­ant weather, and told us it was his 90th birth­day. His name was Reginald.

Used book­stores. Eyes open for a suit­able title to add to our ill-fated long dis­tance book­club. Which has become another inside joke between us. Nei­ther of us being all that inclined to talk about what we’re read­ing. To date we’ve only com­pleted All the Pretty Horses together. My pick. A fine book but I think the extent of con­ver­sa­tion gen­er­ated was to report how far along we’d got­ten. To fol­low he picked Infi­nite Jest. After sev­eral attempts I had to call veto. The book­club has set­tled into pro­longed dor­mancy. We’re fig­ur­ing we’ll try another angle when I’m back at the house—a sin­gle copy of The Cross­ing, to read to one another in bed.

Park­ing behind a cozy camper with Hudson’s Bay stripes. Want­ing one of our own. To cruise the high­ways and byways of this land. Dream­ing out loud a time when such an adven­ture will be ours.

Com­ing home after work on Sat­ur­day to dad and G talk­ing sports and get­ting drunk in the back­yard. Call­ing Clara, who didn’t have Dustin and was just about to open a bot­tle of wine ‘to nurse her­self through a wel­come lonely night’. Her get­ting a cab. The four of us throw­ing lawn­darts, eat­ing BBQ, yam­mer­ing non­sense well into the short­est hours.

And Mon­day night, play­ing around on the couch, the real­iza­tion that nei­ther of us knew from whence com­menced our togetherment.

We read thru deliv­ery. Dis­cov­ered that it was some day after June 24th (‘a sud­denly thick moment’) and before July. We set­tled on June 25th. Because that was the day I started this jour­nal. Unbeknownstedly.

What are the chances?

Over a year now. How’d that hap­pen so fast?

Time is a woof­ing bark­ing thing.

Another pair of real­iza­tions. Close to half our time together has been spent apart. My con­tract is up in three weeks.

Near to nail-biting time.

Crickey.

uu — 4 (blue without showing it)

blue door

27 July 2015 - Dad’s back to work today. Odd not hav­ing him around. Pip­ing in with one or another tid­bit he’s read online. Moun­tains on Pluto. The mass recall of cars with hack­able on-board com­put­ers. Cecil the lion. Bat­ter­ies to power the home.

He’s a civil ser­vant. Like his old man was. And like his old man he’s prac­ti­cal, sen­si­ble. Not gen­er­ally given to con­sid­er­ing the messier issues gen­er­ated by the world we hap­pen to live in. Nor stricken by striv­ing for expe­ri­ences broader than the com­pass and penknife he keeps in his pocket.

For him work is some­thing you do to have a home and a cer­tain amount of flex­i­bil­ity to do as you choose out­side the office. He doesn’t think about lik­ing or dis­lik­ing his job. Or whether or not he’s doing enough to ful­fil himself.

He likes the social dynam­ics of work and the struc­ture it pro­vides. The daily chat­ter, the weekly rou­tine. From 8–4, five days a week, he knows who he going to see and where he needs to be.

The rou­tine, as he lived it, con­tin­ued after work. He’d drive home, park the car, then walk to the gym for an hour of exer­cise before head­ing back home, mak­ing and hav­ing din­ner and get­ting on with what­ever ren­o­va­tion project he had going on around the house.

There were vari­a­tions and excep­tions of course. But in the main his days were active and full. So being a layabout in his own home hasn’t sat well with him.

Until the last month or so he hasn’t been able to do much more than look at the goggle-boxes (TV and com­puter) and try to find lying/sitting/standing posi­tions that don’t aggra­vate his hip.

He’s been anx­ious, frac­tious, short-tempered. In turns bored and down­right blue. He’s con­sid­ered his own human frailty. Won­dered if his body fail­ing him is just the begin­ning of what he can expect of get­ting older.

To which I pointed out that he was hold­ing a pair of read­ing glasses. ‘Snarky devil,’ he said.

Seems he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

I tell him what he doesn’t want to hear. That he’s in sound health, doing very well for a man in his mid-50’s.

He cringes at the men­tion of him being in his fifties and tells me to stop using my x-ray vision on him.

Nor has he lost his play­ful sarcasm.

Which, from my per­spec­tive, sug­gests he enjoys hav­ing some­one in the house with him. Not to look after him so much as to just be good com­pany. A companion.

This has weighed on my mind for a long time. The fact that he’s alone in his home. I sus­pect he would like to share his life again. But it’s not some­thing we talk about. He is after all a man of his generation.

Blue with­out show­ing it.

Some doors needn’t be pried. They’ll open at the appro­pri­ate time.

Okay then. Where was I?

One of the rea­sons his recov­ery has taken so long is that once spring hit he got his annual dose of lawn fever and had to go and get the aer­a­tor out of the garage. He got it onto the front lawn alright but went and strained a few mus­cles try­ing to start the damn thing.

While hav­ing to keep his dis­tance from the lawn was a downer, the thing that seemed to put him in the deep­est dumps was not being able to go on early sea­son fish­ing trips with ‘the boys’.

Ah, the boys.… It’s always amazed me that he and his set of life­long friends have man­aged to stay so close after all these years. They grew up together. Started careers and fam­i­lies and bought houses around the same time. Some have gone away and come back. Oth­ers have lost what they had and started anew. But they still play on the same same beer league hockey team and get together to watch sports. And go on fish­ing trips.

This past week­end Hank and Chuck and Blair were over to final­ize details for an upcom­ing 4-day fish­ing odyssey in mid-August. Dad was in his glory. Telling sto­ries of his retreat. Hang­ing with a bunch of old phoneys and get­ting his yoga on.

He’s also men­tioned seri­ously con­sid­er­ing the pur­chase of an RV—what he called a retire­ment villa on wheels.

I teased him by say­ing maybe it would become a roman­tic vessel.

The boys got rowdy. Dad raised eye­brows and dim­pled a cheek.

He’s back. And as of today the struc­ture of his life, and a large part of his con­tent­ment, returns to full-on nor­mal. He was like a kid this morn­ing get­ting ready for work and prepar­ing his exer­cise kit for afterwards.

Eager, happy, excited.

I went to the front door with him. He looked over his freshly mown and edged lawn and nod­ded to himself.

Yup. He’s back alright. You’d never think he was gone.

IoN now available as ePub

IoN cover

After much behind-the-scenes tin­ker­ing Instead of Norm, the first novel fea­tured here on EXPERIMENT PAGES, is now avail­able to pur­chase! For $6CAN the ePub is yours—check side­bar for details.

IoN blurb - A comic/playful novel cap­tur­ing a day in the life of guy named Norm, who lives with his girl­friend in a city by the sea. Norm is an unpub­lished writer obsessed with inven­tive­ness and ways of express­ing his cre­ativ­ity. Things are about to change.

Thanks to those who have expressed an interest.

Should you be so inclined, feel free to spread the word.

I will be endeav­or­ing to have the other EX-PAGES nov­els avail­able in due course.

Cheers.

uu — 3 (phở room on nome)

Ford Mercury pickup truck

19 July 2015 — The things you hear some­times. Twice in the last week I over­heard young women say that some­one they know has Asperger’s. Both times the some­one was a he. The first diag­nosed by the dec­la­ra­tion that ‘all he ever talks about is him­self’; the sec­ond with, ‘He never listens.’

Another woman. This one a fully fledged med­ical pro­fes­sional. In the hos­pi­tal food­court. Telling a male col­league, who’s all eyes and ears with her, about her ‘depau­per­ate lovelife’. That it’s hard to find some­one who isn’t either stoned all the time or want­ing to be.

Man on phone in hall­way. ‘You aints liss­nin is you? I said I gots me phở room on me nome. Capiche?’ The last word said, ‘cap-ee-chay’.

A patient’s mother stat­ing with absolute cer­tainty that her boy has ADHD. Because he never sits down and won’t ever listen.

Who­ever they are,’ says one intern to another. ‘The own­ers of the world lord it over us like silent kings and queens.’

Speak­ing of queens. Walk­ing to gro­cery store last night passed two older ladies who’d stopped to pet and talk to a cat lay­ing about stretch­ing on a shady lawn. On the way back I saw the same ladies stopped out front of a house across the street. They were smelling white flow­ers and with­out bat­ting an eye each snapped off three or four of the flower heads. As they started to walk away, slowly, I noticed they both used canes. I kept watch­ing and saw them stop again. One of them passed her flow­ers to the other and pulled some­thing from her pocket. She put a joint in her mouth and lit it. Blew smoke. Pock­eted lighter. Took another drag. Blew smoke. Took flow­ers from the other and passed the joint. I stopped watching.

Aggra­vated insults and des­ig­nated sit­ters. Chas­ing visions.

Talk­ing vision­ing exer­cises with Clara the other day. She laughed at her devo­tion to the prac­tise. Hav­ing found that her ses­sions are more like a hobby these days. She’s so used to doing them it’s like day­dream­ing. I said I did them as a kid. Cut out pic­tures of things I wanted from mag­a­zines and posted them every­where. In my mind’s eye I walked through spaces I wished to inhabit. Envi­sioned my future hus­band. Saw what I’d be doing for a liv­ing and saw my older self rid­ing horses and hik­ing in moun­tain­ous places and dri­ving up to my own pri­vate hideaway.

Wasn’t til after Mar­cus died I took vision­ing more seri­ously. As means to set­ting goals and plan­ning my future. The first Sun­day of every month I’d sit down, clear the head for wan­der­ing, then write every­thing out. It seemed to work won­ders. Gave me a chance to stop think­ing about Mar­cus. Kept me focused. It got me to going to school, got me through school, got me to work­ing and even got me to mov­ing out west.

But I never fore­saw G—the man my pro­jec­tions sum­moned had a darker com­plex­ion and more pen­e­trat­ing eyes. And vision­ing didn’t pre­pare me for how I’d feel. About him, about the time it would take for us to hap­pen, about the flood of inse­cu­ri­ties that came with open­ing myself up. I didn’t imag­ine the house, liv­ing together, Liz, his dad. None of it fit the sce­nar­ios I’d envis­aged. It was so much better.

And I miss it. All of it. But mostly my G.

Who tells me he loves me at least twice a day.

I have to shake my head.

Was a time there thought about end­ing us. Because it seemed sensible—why post­pone the inevitable. But then he came out for Christ­mas. Was so car­ing and sup­port­ive. Stayed two weeks. Took him out to see mom. Hop­ing he might bring her out of her stu­por. They got on fine but mom has made her blind­ers per­ma­nent. He tried though. And didn’t put up a fuss. So I got to think­ing maybe we just might make it through how­ever long.

And now that how­ever long is look­ing like it has an end. We talk about me going back. Maybe as soon as my trip in August—return ticket be damned.

Just off phone with G. I read to him the above. He lis­tened with­out inter­rup­tion and said he loves it. Espe­cially the ‘aggra­vated insults’ bit. Because it sounds like me.

He told me about work and the drought and tak­ing his dad to the Avengers and see­ing an old red and white Ford Mer­cury pick up truck in the park­ing lot. And then he told me about his morn­ing with the rat. How he’d gone out to water the plants and from between pots on the back porch saw the long tail of a rat. He jumped back. The rat moved but only slightly. He looked more closely. The rat was small and appeared to be labour­ing. He moved a pot. The rat under­went a kind of instant seizure, screeched ter­ri­bly and went onto its side, paws up in defen­sive pos­ture. It was badly injured some­how, its eyes pleaded to be left alone. Maybe it was wait­ing to die peace­fully. G didn’t know what to do with it. Decided to leave it be and went about water­ing. He checked on it a few times. Still there, in the same posi­tion he’d left it, its eyes seem­ing to acknowl­edge G as a kin­dred spirit. He went out front to water. At one point he heard a squab­ble of crows but didn’t think any­thing of it. When he next checked the rat was gone.

He’s been think­ing of the rat all day. Won­der­ing what its final moments were like. Per­haps a feel­ing of being lifted into the air, sight­ing the house and the street and the trees and now higher the sky and at last the sun blind­ing those dying eyes.

Arthur, Hero — 8

brick wall

Mar­vin informed me later that every­thing in the deli was staged. A test of my char­ac­ter. To see how I react to being invisible.

Appar­ently, in this regard, I am a nat­ural. ‘A fuck­ing prodigy,’ as Mar­vin put it. He’d never seen Big Al stand up to intro­duce him­self to a poten­tial recruit before, let alone per­son­ally wel­come him to ‘The Family’.

Given this unprece­dented turn of events Mar­vin saw fit to ensure my tal­ents weren’t wasted in a kitchen or on a load­ing dock. If I didn’t object, he wanted to take me on as his wing­man. I had no idea what tal­ents I sup­pos­edly pos­sessed but, con­sid­er­ing the alter­na­tives, I cer­tainly wasn’t going to chal­lenge him on it.

Exactly the point, I guess.

So it is that for the com­ing weeks I’m Marvin’s pas­sen­ger. There to watch and lis­ten, and when nec­es­sary lend a hand. From the out­side look­ing in he’s a highly func­tion­ing but­ter­fly. Going from one estab­lish­ment to another and man­ag­ing trans­ac­tions. Most are stan­dard arrange­ments that require lit­tle more than a rou­tine checking-in to make cer­tain every­thing is in order—delivery ful­fil­ment and sat­is­fac­tion with goods etc. Some vis­its entail pass­ing along details on prod­uct avail­abil­ity. Other stops involve tak­ing requests for spe­cific items. What­ever the deal is it’s Marvin’s job to keep lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open and to ensure things hap­pen as smoothly as possible.

I meet count­less own­ers, man­agers, super­vi­sors. Shake their hands, repeat their names, then stand back and let Mar­vin do his thing. The inter­ac­tions are all very male in exe­cu­tion. A fair bit of show­man­ship and puffy pos­tur­ing. Jokes are shared, deals are struck. On we go.

No guns, no body­guards, no pat-downs. Pretty straightforward.

Mean­time, my stay at the hos­tel enters its sec­ond week. I’ve got­ten used to the tran­sient bus­tle of the neigh­bor­hood. The enthused inno­cence of young tourists, the urgency engrained in the body lan­guage of home­lessly roam­ing locals, the thick-skinned and often kind and gen­er­ous spirit of those work­ing in these parts—many of whom over­look the poor pay in favour of that lit­tle bit they do to make life a touch more bear­able for the wounded souls who’ve grav­i­tated to Old Town.

I rou­tinely wan­der up to River­front. To stand in the mid­dle of the foot­bridge and watch the water flow. Fac­ing west you can almost for­get you’re in the city, smack dab in the mid­dle of things. Sure, in the dis­tance, there are elec­tri­cal tow­ers trac­ing the flank­ing hills, and two more bridges before the river banks south and out of sight. But with the trees in full sum­mer leaf blan­ket­ing the land in green hues, most of the houses and other traces of human­ity are blot­ted from view.

East, of course, is another story. It’s all about the city. Can’t see any­thing but. Down­town. The bridges and sta­di­ums and muse­ums and ramp­ing road­ways. And nearer to hand River­front, cur­rent jewel of the developer’s eye.

What’s already built is beau­ti­ful and fright­en­ing. Like an out­door mega­mall. Large pub­lic sculp­tures invite won­der and defy hum­ble descrip­tion. Novel condo tow­ers look­ing as light as trac­ing paper and as free-spirited in design as one might expect from a child with an end­less sup­ply of build­ing blocks. Along the river itself a wide board­walk, giv­ing onto green spaces and plazas. All of it put together to accom­mo­date large num­bers of peo­ple, so long as they are either on foot or pedalling.

In the glitz of new­ness, it’s hard to imag­ine that River­front used to be a ware­house dis­trict. Lit­tle trace of this pedes­trian past exists. The old build­ings are gone and the major­ity of the land between River­front and Old Town has been razed and is either in the dusty throes of con­struc­tion or fenced off for same. Bill­boards announce ‘The Future is Com­ing’. Archi­tec­tural ren­der­ings depict what the future will look like—and Old Town, as it exists, doesn’t fea­ture in any of them.

Back in Old Town, many of the build­ings closer to River­front have been evac­u­ated and slated for demo­li­tion. But peo­ple still take to these soon-to-be-forgotten streets, if only to get beyond them and into the nearby sub­way station.

It is here, among long­stand­ing brick walls, I’ve seen fit to make use of my note­book and record some­thing of what I’ve seen.

Late Fri­day after­noon. Mid­dle of busy side­walk. Delighted lovers in a pro­longed embrace. Her tippy-toed on his sneak­ers. Him telling her some­thing only she can hear. Their faces beam­ing. Love in their eyes. Unbreak­able gaze. The bus­tle around them not enough to pierce their happy bub­ble. Her hands around his neck, fin­gers a-dance, like a hair­less spi­der. His hands about her waist, the right one accen­tu­at­ing the cadence of his words? Per­haps one or the other of them has done some­thing won­der­ful. Against the odds. Proof of love. And this is another acci­den­tal moment nei­ther knew could happen.

Broad day­light. Scrawny dude tak­ing bolt­cut­ters to lock secur­ing bike to park­ing meter. His Yan­kees ball cap on back­wards. Along comes beefier mofo. ‘Get your fucken hands off my bike!’ Lock falls to pave­ment. Scrawny dude reel­ing around, hit­ting front wheel with elbow. Bike tip­ping. Beefy mofo, charg­ing, catches han­dle­bar in same motion as shoul­der clips scrawny dude’s jaw, send­ing his head back, his body fol­low­ing to ground, knock­ing ball­cap off his head. The bolt­cut­ters fly. Beefy mofo grips sad­dle post with left hand and tosses wild swing­ing punches. His posi­tion­ing isn’t great for this. Turns to stomp­ing. Scrawny dude tur­tles and par­ries and kicks, even­tu­ally push­ing him­self away, pur­chas­ing enough dis­tance to turn and scram­ble to palms and knees. He sprints away limp­ing and hold­ing his right wrist, the hand shak­ing as tho it’s numb.

The start of what will become an unbreak­able habit.

uu — 2 (nothering the bother cots)

forestfire sky

06 July 2015 — Don’t it just seem we’re all so fright­fully busy all of a sud­den. Clara, an HCA I’ve befriended, said this. In ref­er­ence to a guy she’s been see­ing. Matt. Who’s for­ever can­celling out on dates. Say­ing he’s too busy. Clara doesn’t buy it and has decided to let him dangle.

We went for a drink after work. Some­thing I don’t do too often. Not because I don’t want to but because I tend to con­sider the after effects (get­ting home, my head in the morn­ing) and what I’d be miss­ing (chats with G, being there for dad). Today the tim­ing was per­fect. It’s my Fri­day. Dad’s off on a week­long physio retreat. And G, well, there’s never really a prob­lem there—being three time zones ahead has some advan­tages, at least on the call­ing side of things. Doesn’t make up for the phys­i­cal dis­tance, but I can be as late as I like, or tipsy as a heavy wrench, he won’t raise a fuss.

Clara’s 33. A sin­gle mom with an 8 year old son named Dustin. She doesn’t have any­thing bad to say about his dad, who’s still in the pic­ture, takes Dustin on the week­ends, and oth­er­wise helps out how­ever he can. But she does go on a bit about the smaller stuff. Grey hairs creep­ing in, get­ting her nails done, vaca­tions in the sun, meet­ing a hunk. It’s weird. She’s such a strong and free-spirited woman. Very inde­pen­dent, con­fi­dent, deter­mined. Likes to have her fun. Is brazen and spon­ta­neous. Out­go­ing, flir­ta­tious. Yet some­times it sounds like she’s dis­ap­pointed about only liv­ing half the life she wants. Almost as though she regrets the past that brought her to now. That she didn’t get to where she’d hoped. I know she’s just ven­ti­lat­ing. Say­ing aloud what’s press­ing on her chest. To some­one she can be open with. Some­one she trusts. A friend.

Talk and lis­ten. This is what friends do, I guess. When it comes right down to it. With Clara I lis­ten more than talk. I do talk of course. And Clara’s good about try­ing not dom­i­nate the con­ver­sa­tion. Catches her­self when she’s got­ten her­self going. Waves a hand in front of her face like it’s too hot in here. Exactly what she did after rant­ing on Matt.

We switched tracks and had a long dis­cus­sion on busy-ness being the new norm. I’m not sure we came to any con­clu­sions on the mat­ter. To be hon­est, it twists the mind to think about it.

Or, as I put it to G this evening when I got home: it nothers the both­er­ing cots.

He had a great chuckle at that. Said I should write it down. Then asked how the note­book was going. Which is why I’m at scrib­bling now, after ten, on the back porch.

I haven’t got­ten around to mak­ing this, this jot­ter­ing, a part of my rou­tine. But I do think about it. Quite a bit actu­ally. Been tak­ing notes on my phone. Mostly a bunch of non­sense. Or stuff I’m not sure what with to do. Like this, from ear­lier in the week:

A woman with­out hands, a man miss­ing an eye. Dozens in wheel­chairs. The injured, the maimed, the addicted, the obsessed, the mis­shapen, the dis­eased, the con­di­tioned, the bro­ken. All in the course of a day. In the course of a day, all.

I wouldn’t know how to form a nar­ra­tive around this. Yet it exists. A con­densed and sus­pended expres­sion on what one sees work­ing in a hospital.

Many’s the time I leave work utterly drained and haven’t the energy to do much more than check in with dad, pre­pare a quick meal and plop down in front of the com­puter and watch Net­flix. Any desire to put pass­ing thoughts to ink evaporates.

Here’s the thing about being busy—it doesn’t have to be productive!

Inside now. Past 11. Get­ting ready for bed. Put on the lat­est G-mix CD. Reminded me of com­ing home last week to see the car in the wet sudsy dri­ve­way. Freshly washed and shin­ing. A nice surprise.

Dad was in the garage tin­ker­ing. Loi­ter­ing, really. He wanted to be there when I arrived.

I rushed up to hug him thanks. The smile on his face tak­ing me back to younger days.

There’s more,’ he said.

On the hood of his sta­tion wagon a pack­age. From G.

In it the mixed CD, a pressed flower (Matil­ija poppy), a short let­ter, and copies of two sets of plane tick­ets. One for him to come thi­s­aways in late July. The other for me to head out there late August.

Um.

And just now, last but not least, a photo from G. Texted with the mes­sage, ‘tonight’s sun in my forest­fire sky’. Fol­lowed by a sloppy wet kiss good night.

uu — 1 (patience and acceptance)

flowers picked for uu

Car in shop. Had to take train in to work this morn­ing. Early early. All those half asleep faces. Every­one avoid­ing eye con­tact. The ride long and dull. Didn’t think to bring head­phones. Don’t need them in the car. Where I get to lis­ten to G’s CD mixes. All by myself. Loud as I want. Helps me for­get the com­mute and keeps me from remem­ber­ing how far we are apart.

Got off the train feel­ing slow and a lit­tle lone­some. Hap­pens now and again. When time slows and the mind isn’t con­cen­trat­ing on what the hands are doing.

If your hands are busy so is your head. One of dad’s old sayings.

The other day he was sit­ting in his lounger mak­ing fists and explod­ing them. I’d brought him a glass of lemon­ade. Watched him make a few fists and blow them slowly apart. I asked if his hands were sore. He said no, they’re idle. I used his say­ing on him. If your hands are busy so is your head. He paused a sec­ond, as if to deter­mine how the phrase was intended, then gave me a bright smile.

Things are get­ting eas­ier. He’s mov­ing about pretty well and doesn’t have too much pain. The hip has healed but there’s a long way to go with physio.

He’s joked that all the mus­cle in his right leg turned into a flat tire around his waist. I tell him he has chronic waist­ing disease.

Such is our approach to deal­ing with the rough spots in his recov­ery. Biggest hur­dles: him hav­ing to let me care for him and him not being able to drive. He hated stay­ing in the house all day. Had to drive him around and lis­ten to him try­ing not to com­plain about this that and the other. Hella that. Being a mother hen to your own father. But we fig­ured it out. Inch by inch.

Patience and acceptance.

Like this morn­ing. At the train sta­tion. Mop­ing to the bus stop. Stand­ing there in an aggra­vated huff. Til I looked at my hands and prac­tised mak­ing fists and explod­ing them. Worked won­ders. Brought a quiet resolve to own the moment. Instead of con­tin­u­ing to stand there wait­ing I chose to walk. Few cars. Not many peo­ple. Good time to be on the streets. Even down­town. Dis­pelled my slow blue mood straight away. And as I got close to the hos­pi­tal saw the half moon low up there in my pale blue sky. Heard G say­ing, ‘When­ever you alight upon the moon I’ll be in your head.’

And he was. All day long. My thought­filled G.

I sent him a text on my cof­fee break. The usual lovey dove good morn­ing stuff. He replied with a pic­ture of flow­ers and a mes­sage: just picked these for u, my wub­bly uu.

My thought­ful G.

Who for Christ­mas gave me two things. A bound and printed copy of a book he’d made of a jour­nal he’d been keep­ing. And a notebook.

He called the book Deliv­ery. It’s the only copy. I almost fell into pieces.

The note­book, he explained, was for me to do some­thing sim­i­lar with. Or not. My choice.

It, the note­book, has been on my bed­side table ever since. Until this evening I hadn’t even cracked it open.

Then today hap­pened. Felt like the kind of day that starts some­thing I want to remember.