Even tho it was Xmas

 

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Even though it was Christmas

I am as free as my father was free. He was free to walk on his walker, as far as he could go down the street. Free to walk in the wind and the rain. Free to sit on his neighbor’s wall when his legs and back got tired. Free to sit there, although it was raining, until he had recovered his strength and energy. Free to get soaked so badly that he caught a cold. And the cold was free to turn into bronchitis and the bronchitis was free to turn into pneumonia and the pneumonia was free to perform its assassin’s work as it tried to kill him. But my father was still free and strong enough to call the doctor and the doctor was free enough to call at the house and visit my father and write him a prescription for a free anti-biotic that would free his body from the pneumonia that was free to leave when it’s time was up and it felt ready to go. Pneumonia, the old man’s friend, they used to call it, sitting there, in my father’s lungs, muttering away to him, day after day, louder at night, and my father slowly getting stronger and the pneumonia growing weaker until one day it felt free to leave and freed my father from his immediate ills. Then my father was free to get up or to stay in bed. Being a free man, he chose to stay in bed all day and to listen to the radio and to read a book and when he got bored with reading he just lay there and counted the dots on the wall “one, two, three…” and “seventy five thousand, one hundred and forty three,” he told me one day when I was free to visit him, “though I have lost count once or twice and have had to start again from the very beginning. And the sun gets up at seven-oh-three, and strikes the third dot at seven fifty-three … and goes round the wall thirty-three dots to the minute; and leaves that third dot from the right at a quarter past three …” And there he stayed, day after day. But he was free. And sometimes the home help came and sometimes she didn’t, for she too was as free as the birds in the garden. And sometimes she remembered to buy him some food and sometimes she didn’t. And she was free to come and go, free to remember or forget. And my father was free to mumble or complain or grumble, though he rarely did. And he was free to eat, so long as there was food in the house. But when I went there to visit him I often saw that the cupboard was bare and my father had neither milk, nor eggs, nor bread nor cereal, nor tea nor butter. And all those people, those acquaintances, those friends, they too were as free as the sea-gulls in the sky. But to find the time to set my father free from the hunger and thirst he seemed predestined to freely suffer, they were never free enough for that.

Neither was I. Even though it was Christmas.

Even though it was Christmas
Voice Recording

 

 

This story is dedicated to all who spend time alone this Christmas, be they street people, homeless, or merely forgotten and neglected. Please consider sharing this story. And if you know someone who is alone at this time of the year, please phone them or visit them.

 

Touch and Go

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Touch and Go

            Rain. Persistent rain. Cornish mizzle that chills and wets. Basque chirrimirri penetrating flesh and bone. Low clouds blanket buildings, wrap themselves round the windshield. Cling with the tenacity of Saran wrap. Visibility variable, now clear, now a muffler round the car’s headlights. Darkness gathered, still gathering. Lights moving, cars moving, the road moving, blending first with the lights then with the shadows, shape-shifting.

            Down the hill now, out of the city lights, into the countryside. The road changing, patches and potholes, lights flickering in and out, darkness and light. Small animals of light, the potholes, shimmering, bumping by. Another pothole, moving, turning from side to side, a pothole with a ringed tail and two tiny eyes. A baby pothole, misses the front wheels, not the back. One dull, dry thump.

            What were you doing there, in the middle of the road? Why alone? Why no mother, no brothers? Why so small? I didn’t mean to … I didn’t want to … Why me? Why you? Why now? If only …

            Light breaks through the darkness clouding my mind. Memories: the driver on the road to Kincardine, chasing a jackrabbit, trapped in the headlights, a Belgian Hare, dodging down the middle of the country road. Laughing, the driver, with the joy of his hunt. Then: one dry thump. The car stopped, the hare, still twitching, held by its long ears, shown as a trophy at the car window, then thrown in the trunk. Memories: two lads in a half-ton, on a back road by Grand Lake. A sunny Sunday. Spotting the ground hog at the roadside. Driving at it with the truck. Swerving to hit it. The joy and laughter in their faces, looking back. One dry thump. The ground hog, front half viable, spine fractured, back legs paralyzed, dragging itself with its forearms to the roadside, dropping into the ditch.

            Legend tells of the man who met Death in Cairo. Death looked surprised to see him. “What are you doing here?” he asked. Fear filled the man. He ran, packed his bags, left Cairo with its vision of Death. Traveled to Baghdad. Met there with Death, who welcomed him. “Why were you surprised to see me in Cairo?” the man asked. “Because we had a meeting here in Baghdad, tonight,” Death replied. “And I didn’t know if you’d show up.”

“Every morning, at day break,
oh Lord, this little prayer I make,
that thou wilt keep thy watchful eye,
on all poor creatures born to die.”

            Dylan Thomas wrote those words in his poetry play for radio, Under Milkwood. All poor creatures born to die. That’s us. That’s you and me. We don’t know how, or why, or where, or when. And it doesn’t matter. That’s the whole point: it doesn’t matter. Our death was born with us, walks with us, lives inside us, and one day will take us by the hand, each of us, we poor creatures, born to die. What matters is that we live while we can, rejoice while we can, thrive while we can, think while we can, write while we can, enjoy every moment of every day that is gifted to us …

            Enlightenment came last night, at the darkest, warmest of times. It followed me home and crept with me into my bed. I thought of all the creatures found each spring morning, their lives cut short at night along the sides of our New Brunswick roads: deer, porcupine, squirrels, groundhogs, foxes, domestic and feral cats, dogs, skunks, and yes, one, very special, baby raccoon, a tiny raccoon, so small as to be almost invisible in chirimirri, mizzle, and mist.

            His spirit came to me in the under-blanket dark, wrapped itself warm around me, and brought me comfort. “You too,” he whispered. “You too. But not just yet. My work is done. I can go now. But you still have lots of work to do. Remember: Vis brevis, ars longa,” his raccoon spirit nuzzled me and I reached out and patted him. Then both of us settled down to dream our different dreams of a life and death that is surely nothing but a dream, or a game of touch and go.

Teddy Bear’s Nick Pit

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Today’s the day the teddy bears have their nit-pick: and what a nick pit it’s going to be. Who knows who’s starting what? Who knows where it will go? Who knows where it will end? More than anything else it reminds me of the monkeys in the monkey temple, sitting on their steps and pinnacles, in hierarchical orders, each searching the other monkey for nits and fleas and squeezing them between thumb-nail and middle finger nail, with a blood-red ‘click’ and a life-ending ‘clack’.

“Great fleas have lesser fleas upon their backs to bite them. And lesser fleas have smaller fleas, and so ad infinitum.” I remember this from my childhood, but, more important, the rhyme bite ’em / ad infinitum goes back much father than that, as you will see if you click on this Wikipedia article. Oh boy, Jonathan Swift, and you thought I was bad. I am Canadian Maple Syrup compared to his Irish Thistle Honey. And don’t talk to me about Swift’s views on famine, and how to avoid it.

Anyway, who knows what will happen. Apparently, my former family and clan, the Brits, do not know the old Spanish proverb: Martes, ni te cases, ni te embarques‘ / Tuesday: don’t get married and don’t set out on a journey. Why ever not? Because Tuesdays were apparently the days when the Spanish Inquisition punished the adulterers, male and female, set them upon donkeys, naked from the waist up, and whipped them round the streets while the town criers sang out their crimes in time to the executioners who wielded the whips and painted their sins in red stripes upon their criminal flesh.

Tuesday, bruise day: it’s going to be fun (gallows’ humor). What will become of (once great) Great Britain? What will become of Europe? What will become of our cultural and philosophical world order? Climate change, cultural change, ideological change, political change, the wind of change …  I guess it’s blowing, but who knows in what directions it will blow us all? So easy to open Pandora’s Box: so difficult to pack everything back inside.

Martes, ni te cases, ni te embarques‘  …

By the bye:

I wrote this two or three days ago, before the test squad for the West Indies was selected. Today (Monday, Monday), Theresa a decided not to hold the vote tomorrow, Tuesday, Tuesday, which is now today. Does anyone really know what is happening? How United is the Untied Kingdom [sick]. I certainly don’t know. Meanwhile, the Teddy Bears are having a picnic, and they are all out there, in the woods, Sherwood Forest probably, watching out for the Sheriff of Nottingham, and nit-picking.

 

 

 

Show Don’t Tell

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A barber shop quartet, four of them, singing in unison, spring birds at a feeder, early morning sparrows at a jug of milk, abandoned by the milkman on the doorstep.

Except they were none of that. How could they be? They were four brothers, torn apart at birth. They never knew each other, never sang together, never embraced each other, never held each other in their arms. How could they have done so? The first one was stillborn. The second one survived for a while, but struggled to live, succumbed, and drifted away. The third one lived, marked for life by the scars on his forehead where they dragged him from the womb. The fourth one stopped struggling in the seventh month, but the mother carried him to term, even though she knew he was dead.

She carried them, blessed them, gave them all names, and buried three of them. They were her babies and she never got over their loss. Oh, she survived physically, but mentally she was destroyed.

The priests wanted to know what sins she had committed for God to be so angry with her that He destroyed the fruit of her womb. She had no answer. Some refused to bless her. Others ignored her completely. A few used her sorrows to drag the survivor into the tangled web of the church. “He has been spared. He will be one of us,” they said, and rejoiced at the potential strengthening of their celibate ranks.

Three of her children were ever before her. But the fourth lodged like an albatross on her shoulders and hung like a crucifix round her neck. She could never see him clearly. How could she? He was rarely before her eyes, never in the range of her sight. She tried to mold him like putty, but like water or sand, he slipped through her fingers.

Her husband hated him. Was he the father? It’s a wise man knows his father, or his son. Yet they looked alike. But no, they never thought alike, or walked alike. Nor moved in the same circles.

The father, a gambler, had borrowed a large sum of money and placed it with a bookie, betting that this third son would never live and that his death would make his father’s fortune, if the child was indeed a product of the seed his father deposited in his wife’s child bank.

The father lost his bet. The son lived. The father hated him every day of his life.  A rich man he would have been, if … if only … and the scars of that lost bet raged ragged on his face as the father cursed the doctor who had pulled his  son, if he was his son, alive and struggling from the womb.

If he was his son … a strong man, magnificently muscled , it was not his fault, never his fault, it was the fault of that worthless woman, the woman who had carried his seed, if it was his seed, the woman who carried his other three sons, and never brought them alive into this world …

The ostrich sees danger, and buries his head in the sand. The son sees danger and learns to run. The wife sees danger and  learns to suffer, to be beaten, to be abused, to be the victim because yes, she is filled with guilt, and how could it be otherwise, when the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak, so weak that it cannot give birth and eventually takes to the black holes of victimization, of alcoholism, and eventually of oblivion.

And the son learned to hide, to make himself invisible, never to be there, never to accept responsibility, never to sit at the desk when the buck was about to stop anywhere nearby, never to be blamed … never to turn down the solace to be found in the darkest depths of those same bottles that finally destroyed the woman he loved, who was also his mother.

Instructor’s Comments:

Rewrite.
Next time, show don’t tell.
Minimally acceptable.

D

 

 

 

On The Outside Looking In

 

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Billy was walking home on his own. As usual. The church party was awful. As usual. Lots of trumped up noise and artificial gaiety.

The priest had made the boys sit in a circle on the floor, legs crossed. Then he put a bar of chocolate in the middle of the circle. He walked around the group and whispered the name of an animal secretly, he loved secrets, to each one.  Then he explained the game to them.

“I cannot remember what animal name I bequeathed to each boy,” he said, staring at them, his eyes golden, like a fierce eagle’s, beneath bushy black eye-brows. “I will say the name of an animal until one of you, whoever it happens to be, hears his own secret animal name. When you hear that secret name, you must grab the chocolate bar before anyone else can get it. Understood?”

The boys all nodded and the mums and dads who had brought them to the party smiled in anticipation.

“Are you ready?” He watched the boys as they nodded and shouted “Alligator!”

Nobody moved.

“Elephant!” The boys shuffled forward, like inch worms, hands twitching, fingers flexing and grasping.

“Tiger!” A sigh from the boys, some of whom were already licking their lips.

“Lion!” One boy moved, but the priest shooed him away. “Sit down. I didn’t give the name lion to anyone.”

“M-m-mouse!” The boys heaved, a sea-wave about to crest and break.

“I do love this game,” said the priest to the parents. “And so do the boys, don’t you boys?”

“Yes father …”

“Monkey!” All the boys moved as one. Some crawled, some dived, some leaped to their feet and ran. A surging heap of boys writhed on the floor as the chocolate bar was torn apart and the long awaited fights ensued.

All the boys moved, except one. Billy just sat there.

“I said ‘Monkey’, Billy,” the priest frowned at the boy.

Billy nodded.

“When I say ‘Monkey’, you join in with the other boys and fight for the chocolate bar.”

Billy nodded again.

“Go now and have some fun. Join in the game.”

Billy shook his head.

“Why not, Billy?”

“It’s a stupid game. I won’t play it. I want to go home.” Billy stood up and walked out of the church. He turned at the door and saw the priest glaring at him while a mound of boys continued to scrummage on the floor.

As Billy walked, it started to snow. Not the pure white fluffy snow of a Merry Christmas, but the dodgy, slippery mixture of rain, snow, and ice pellets. Billy turned up the collar of his coat and, bowing his head, stuffed his hands into his pockets. He turned the corner onto the last street before his own and stopped.

A house. With a window lit up in the gathering dark. He drew closer, pressed his nose against the window and looked in. A Christmas tree, decorated with lights, candles, more decorations, a fire burning on the hearth, two cats before the fire, presents beneath the tree, stockings hanging from the mantelpiece. For a moment, Billy’s heart warmed up. Then he thought of his own house. Cold and drafty. No lights, no decorations. No fire. A snowflake settled on Billy’s heart and refused to melt.

When he got home, the house stood cold and empty. His parents were at work and the fire had gone out. Nothing was ready for Christmas. Billy sat at the table, took out his colouring book and began to draw the cartoon you see at the top of this page.

When his mother came home, he showed her his drawing.

“Very nice,” she said, barely glancing at it.

“But mum, you haven’t really looked.”

Billy’s mother stared at the picture again. This time, she saw the Christmas tree and the lights, the cats and the candles, the decorations and the presents. But she never noticed the little boy standing outside in the snow,  peering in through the window.

 

 

 

Turds

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I love the sales shows on the telly. The sales lady comes and and starts talking and you can’t stop her once she gets going. My golly, once they start talking they’d sell you anything from snake oil to …. well, I heard a good sales pitch today. It went like this.

“See how delicately the necklace is carved? Then it is highly polished in a new process that leaves it bright and shiny, like a brown diamond.”

The model whirls and twirls, showing off her best points,  not to mention what she is encouraging viewers to buy, the bracelet, the ear-rings, the shiny necklace. Television and online sales. No sense across the screen of touch, of taste, of smell. Just a temptation to enter a vision that the sales girl is selling. The model whirls, the music rings out, the camera focuses on the band in the background. The lead singer wears exactly the same jewelry as does the model: identical necklace, ear-rings, bracelet.

I struggle to catch the words, but you know how modern music distorts the lyrics, twists the sounds. Later, I put the words of the song back together. I recognize snippets, portions, and then the whole verse clicks. Intertextuality, I think, verse responding to verse across cultures and the ages. No wonder that I recognize it and can put the words back together with the help of the original.

“Only twenty left,” the sales lady says. The model smirks, wiggles, shows off her multiple gems, and smiles. “Call this number now,” the sales lady points to a number in the corner of the screen. “Nineteen, eighteen left, be quick. You don’t want to miss out on one of these.”

“Remember,” the sales lady says. “these are original dog turds. They say you can’t polish a turd, but you can. In fact, with today’s new freeze dry technology you can collect dog turds, freeze dry them, and then carve, shape and polish them. No more doggy bags and doggy waste. It’s one of the best forms of recycling.” The sales lady smiles at the camera and the show band breaks once again into that snappy song and chorus. While the lead singer sings, the camera focuses in on her necklace, her ear-rings, and then her bracelet. And I piece together the words:

“Gather ye dog turds while ye may,
for time it is a’flying,
and that fresh dog turd, dropped today
tomorrow you’ll  be drying.”

“Looks like a dog turd.
Smells like a dog turd.
Feels like a dog turd.
Tastes like a dog turd.
Thank Dog we didn’t step in it.”

 

 

 

 

 

P.I.S.S.

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I found the acronym PISS in the below the line comments section in the Guardian. I love it: apparently it stands for Post Imperialist Stress Syndrome, another lesser buzz-word from the referendum and its aftermath. It refers to the idea that a whole (and elderly) generation of Brits cannot get over the fact that they no longer have an Empire and yes, they want their Empire back. How that is going to happen is anybody’s guess.

So, here’s the weather forecast: heavy rain over Britain during Brexit. In fact, to use a local saying the rain will indeed be “pissing down”. For a while, everybody can wear rose-tinted glasses (you can see them in the cartoon), but soon enough reality will return and then the reconstruction of British Empire 2.0 can begin. The rich won’t suffer: they never do. But what will happen to those who are currently staggering under the current burdens of austerity? Nobody knows and the only ones who really care are the sufferers themselves.

Eau Canada: it’s great to live in a bilingual country where such fractures can be faced and overcome. Yet who knows what fractures face us in the future as we predict fires, floods, high winds, ice storms, power losses, and a host of climate change adaptations that will be as difficult to surmount as the political changes voluntarily sought by a small majority of 2% in a referendum where only 60% of the people voted.

As the Chinese curse would have it: “May you live in interesting times.” Whatever your beliefs, your faith, your vote, your IQ factor … interesting times are indeed upon us. But keep them at a safe distance from me, s’il vous plaît … And let’s watch it all unfold in virtual reality on the telly … I prefer to live my life that way.