Thursday, August 13, 2009

Chapter Three

Late that afternoon, I had everything pretty much ship shape and was standing at the entrance to the living room looking through the viewfinder of Ben’s old 35 mm Pentax with the fish eye lens. My house proud mother, used to do the same with her stainless steel electric kettle. With satisfaction she’d survey each tidy room in the curve of the polished kettle. Unlike my mother, I was not a neat freak. I didn’t make a habit of keeping the house spotless but I suspected Fay, my antithesis did, just as she used to keep her room in the nurses’ residence.
Fay would be staying in Susan’s old room. Susan still considered it her room but since she did have an apartment downtown, an apartment she’d be sharing with her sister come September, I didn’t think it would be unreasonable to start using her room for guests. I knew she resented me asking her to clear the closet of all the stuff she hadn’t used since leaving for university but hey, give me a break! How long do parents have to keep their kids’ stuff? I mean high school notes or stuffed animals for pity’s sake? And who uses multiple CD players these days? Get rid of it, I say. Give it to someone who can use it. It was a pack rat mentality that burdened me with too much of my own stuff. I’m always trying to find a good home for my rubbish.
“Sometimes,” Fay used to say, when we shared an apartment, “there’s just no better home for an item than the garbage can.”
Maybe, I thought wistfully, I could persuade the girls to help me lug some items down to the local flea market this summer. Susan’s room, I noted with satisfaction, passed the fish-eye test.
I hadn’t told Robyn that if her sister came home on this weekend, she’d be sharing her room. Why invite a hissy fit? I was getting wiser with age. So wise in fact that I’d finally begun to pick my battles. Except for the laundry, I’d given up on trying to get Robyn to pick up after herself or give me a hand. I found it took less energy to do it myself than deal with the anger generated in me by her grudging responses or ‘forgotten’ tasks. I kept the door to her room closed so I wouldn’t be confronted with the chaos I thought of as a hell hole. A few more weeks and she’d be attending the Ontario College of Art and Design on Beverly Street in Toronto. I had to laugh when I thought of her going to art school. The choice suited her well but this past winter she’d run a different plan past me.
“I think I’d like to go to university somewhere warm,” she’d said as she dropped her snow-flaked winter coat, gloves, scarf and rucksack where she stood in the living room.
“And where might that be?” I asked, glowering at her discarded duds.
“Florida,” she replied brightly, ignoring my testiness.
“Florida’s warm,” I agreed.
“So can I go?!”
“I have no objection,” I said with a breezy air as I stepped over the pile of shed belongings. I was trying to maintain my calm as I headed for the kitchen to make a cup of tea and maybe eat a cookie or ten in the bargain.
“You don’t?” She sounded really excited and followed me into the kitchen.
“Not at all.” I opened the tap and filled the kettle still acting nonchalant and hoping she’d leave the kitchen so I could sneak a cookie from the emergency package I kept under the tea towels. Neither Ben nor Robyn cared for cookies and could easily take one and let the rest go stale.
“Great I’ll apply!” She bounced toward me and gave me a big kiss on my cheek.
“Just one thing, Robyn.”
“Huh?” she said, pulling back and looking less excited.
“How are you going to pay the tuition?”
“I have to pay?”
“Count on it.”
“But Daddy said he’d pay my tuition if I…”
“Got accepted to a Canadian university. Remember?”
Robyn turned on her heel, tears welling up in her eyes. I thought I heard her mumble “bitch” and felt angry myself. Why did kids nowadays think everything was a given? Why did they think we had to fulfill their every wish and desire? Why? Probably because we’d done our best to do just that and had only ourselves to blame. I opened the tea towel drawer, felt beneath the ironed tea towels for the package of cookies and removed four. I scoffed them with my anger.
Anyway that battle was behind us now. She’d got into OCAD and was pleased to have been admitted. Art was where her talents lay and I was pleased for her. I also wasn’t unhappy about her leaving. It was time to empty the nest, a thought I relished. It would provide solitude, and give Ben and me time to rediscover what we saw in each other in the first place.
The last chore I had to finish before setting out for the airport was to take down and hang up another load of laundry. I saw Fred strolling around his garden occasionally bending over to sniff the odd bloom before adding it to a bouquet. He was better dressed than he had been this morning and I remembered he said he had a cardiology appointment.
“Hey Fred!” I called over. “ How’d it go?”
He cupped his ear and I walked over to his side of the garden.
“How did it go at the cardiologist’s?”
He frowned and said, “Now here’s the funny thing. Remember this morning when we were talking about dying?”
“Yes,” I said, dragging out the word.
“Well, there were a whole bunch of women outside the medical plaza carrying placards with “stop killing babies’ written on them. You know, the anti-abortion brigade.”
“I think they call themselves, ‘prolifers’.”
“Whatever. Bunch a crazy women if you ask me, oh and one guy. Anyway, there they were stomping around the parking lot ‘cause there are a couple of gynaecologists working in the building too. So I got to thinking, I’ve got an appointment with a cardiologist, someone who might help me extend my life, but what if they blow up the joint? Do I have to die today for this cause? I don’t mind telling you, I was kind of nervous during that appointment. More nervous than on the operating table.
“Nut cases if you ask me," he continued. "I mean, can you murder someone if they don’t exist yet? You see, the thing is, I think a woman should be able to make the choice. It’s not a black and white situation. There are a lot of instances when it’s not a good idea to have the kid.”
I’d seen many a medical abortion in my student time. It needed the recommendation of two doctors and I don’t know what else. The cases were pitiful indeed, a teen raped by a relative, a destitute, crippled woman on welfare whose husband was in jail and she in a wheelchair. A forty-eight-year old mother of ten….
Fred interrupted my thoughts. I don’t see why someone who’s raped or for whatever reason thinks she can’t or doesn’t want to bring a kid into this world should be forced to carry that child. She’s not going to want it anyway. She’ll only dump it or treat it badly. Too many unwanted kids in this world if you ask me. I don’t think her choice is any of my business or anyone else’s. Hell! these prolifer nuts, to make their point, might end up killing me.”
“Murder of the unborn, they call it.”
“Yeah well, I’m already born. Where’s the logic in it? How can they be willing to take lives to save lives? Frankly, I don’t get it. Nowadays everyone has an axe to grind. Pro-choice, anti-abortion, gay marriage, whatever.” Then he chuckled, is belly moved perceptibly. “Ah well, guess I gotta die sometime.”
“But preferably not in your cardiologist’s office in a bomb blast?”
“Yeah well,” he said, not looking me in the eye but pushing his nose into the boquet he held. “They say, you start dying the moment you’re conceived.”
“Oh Fred! you think so? I don’t. I think there’s probably more of a halfway point when you start to die.”
“Maybe. All I know is we are programed for obsolescence and a heart only gets so many beats. Whatever the halfway point might be that you mention, I must surely have passed it long ago. My only wish is to have enough heart beats to enjoy the roses that surround me.”
Had he just told me how it went at the cardiology appointment? Not good? He still didn’t meet my gaze but added a deep yellow rosebud to his bouquet. Wanting to avoid eye contact, I bent over to pick up a wet shirt of Ben’s and felt my face flush as I cut off the circulation. Since when had bending over become a breath taking experience? I turned away from Fred to pin one corner of the shirt to the line.
“Oh and something else, Beryl. You may like this, I know Mary Frances will. My doctor told me to drop a few pounds before they’ll do another bypass.”
“How do you plan to do that?”
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing, I’m sure as hell not going to go on one of Mary Frances’s cockamamie diets.”
For as long as I’d known Mary Frances she was always on one or another diet, filling me in on her progress as the days and sometimes weeks passed. She always gained it back and then some.
“What will you do? Join her for a little power walking?”
“No, I think I’ll take it easy for a while and join the ‘Y’. I hear they’ve got a lot of new treadmill machines I can set at a slow pace and build up my stamina. Watch television at the same time if I want.”
“Sounds like a plan. Now, you’ll have to excuse me Fred,” I said, “but I’ve got to drive out to the airport…”
“Here, these are for you.” He thrust the bouquet he’d been holding toward me.
“Gee, thanks Fred. What brings this on?” He’d never given me roses before.
“Oh nothing. Just thought you might like ‘em.”
“Oh I do. Yellow is my favourite colour for roses. That’s really sweet of you, thanks.” I let another of Ben’s shirts drop into the laundry basket and took the bouquet.
“And there’s something else I don’t get.” He had a twinkle in his eye.
“What’s that?”
“People like you hanging out their laundry in this day and age. You could save yourself a lot of work if you put it in a dryer. But no, you hang it up, outside. You’ve always done that. What’s the matter? Ben can’t afford to buy you a dryer?”
“Yeah, well I don’t see the point of using electricity when the sun does a better job.” I didn’t smile to soften the remark but pushed my nose in the bouquet.
“Suit yourself,” he chuckled, turned, and, secateurs still in hand, extended his right arm to wave as he ambled toward his back door.
I looked at Fred’s receding back, the folds of fat flowing over the waist of his pants. Funny about his remarks on abortion, since I knew he’d talked Mary Frances out of one and married her with her belly full of another man's child.

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