A Short Story
Are you ready for your morning stroll, Mr. T? In a minute, he bristled unable to get his arm into his heavy cardigan.
It’s not that cold, you know, the Filipina caregiver reminded the harrumphing octogenarian.
He was in the process of making a 180-degree turn, trying to fix the pictures atop his credenza while he struggled with his sweater.
Did anybody move these pictures around, Luisa? Er, Maria, is it?
Dolly, Mr. T, she introduced herself as she does every morning now, her conches-like eyes widening in a bit of apprehension; he did not particularly like these pictures rearranged. That would ruin his day. He would have to be re-oriented to the east-west-north-south co-ordinates of his room. He was a “topgun” fighter pilot in WWII in the Pacific war, in Corregeedoor. You know, in your country. He never tires of reminding her or any of her Filipina compatriots who work at Erin Mills Lodge for Seniors.
I particularly like the picture of my late wife on this spot, Luisa, uh, Maria, or whatever you called yourself --- sorry --- It points me to where I get my underwear. You know -- undies? He tried to smile the scowl from his face away.
She’s just taken over. The nurse from Trinidad just upped and went complaining loudly that she’s sick and tired of being groped by demented perverts who should stop hoping they could still do it.
Dolly, Mr. T. And by the way, your walking partner, Mr. Alex, called while you were in the washroom. Said he will wait for you at the lobby. He said the sooner you get out today, the more sunshine you both would get. You’d have to get back quickly for a late breakfast.
Thanks for letting me know, Luisa. He must have something going for that name Luisa, she figured. But always a gentleman, he would say thanks for anything helpful coming his way. After a fashion, though. This is a community of civilized old farts, he would say.
Alex is always late anyway. His cane trips him up when I tell him to walk a bit faster. Between us we’ve got six feet, you know. Four crumbling ones and two wooden ones. Get it?
She laughed, relieved that he had been distracted away from the misplaced picture. She’s pretty, she remarked, by way of thanking him for not exploding. My son says, I use it to scare the mice away, he giggled.
At the lobby, that morning, his buddy and next door neighbour, and fellow three-legger, waited with a pained look on his face.
Got boils on your derriere
while waiting, Alex? What’s with the face?
Don’t even go there, Teague, the bent, scowling man sprawled on the lobby steps snapped.
It can’t be that bad, old chap.
My son did not pop up again. He’s got this wife problem, my daughter says. It’s been two months now. He’s still in the Philippines, you know. Teaching at that protestant university in the southern Philippines. Dumaguete.
He could pronounce Philippine words better than his buddy – he’s been there, too, in Corregidor, in Bataan, the last stand of General MacArthur. They were GI soldiers from Michigan. Both immigrated to Canada after WWWII so their sons (if they’d have any) would not be recruited to fight in any more war. Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Iraq. And all that s---.
Yeah? I have a son there, too. Teaching fine arts, painting, you know.
Of course, he got my son in there, too. Reverse brain drain. Canadians teaching the little brown people. Remember? Oh, no, you don’t. It figures.
Let’s walk. Oh, wait. Here’s the slow mailman. Doesn’t he look like Robert De Niro?
The ambling postie greeted the gentlemen with canes, and said he’s got only one letter for youse, gents. For you, Mr. Teague, sir. Urgent . Express Post. From the Philippines. The last syllable pronounced like “pines”. Paayns.
Teague knew it must have come from his son, the painter in the Silliman University school of fine arts. He cracked it open. He fell silent.
I’m going upstairs, he said.
What about our walk?
I’m going to my room.
Wait up, Teague. What’s wrong?
Dolly was still there when he got back. Please leave me alone, Luisa.
What’s wrong, Mr. T?
He sobbed into his pillow as his panting partner ambled into his room.
Did we have to take separate elevators, Teague?
He showed the half-crumpled letter.
God, no! Alex grimaced and fell silent. I’m going back to my room, Teague. You don’t need me here now.
Both men stayed up that night. They did not answer calls.
The following day, at the breakfast table, they exchanged envelopes.
Read it before your nap, they almost simultaneously prescribed.
When Alex opened his envelope, he read:Mr. Teague of Siquijor
Teague’s sandbox at Lo-oc beach spills
over to the slopes of Siquijor –
a kind of walking out on infancy
or bright courage, the carcass marching
nude to humour a carrion God
astride Siquijor’s dark mountain loins.
“O, when will the lad get out of his sandbox
to walk towards the mountain slopes?”
By the way, Teague’s body was fished out
of Lo-oc the other day, near Siquijor.
It is a poem from my son. Teague signed his single-sentence note.
In his room, Teague used a magnifying glass to read Alex’s note. A former CanLit professor, his partner wrote:The Habit of Mountains: A Dirge
It was his grief pursued the habit of mountains:
It moved the world with quietness. Quietness moved them.
No dearer madness there is than which he died for:
A will to perish in time and manner he chose.
It could not have been any kinder than this falling,
A manner of bargaining one’s way
Into a choice between a kind of dying and feeling dead –
No option for us who learn, too early perhaps,
That death prorogues a dream of fancy
Or a prayer of willing our pain stay
The ramrod poised to rend out days descending
Foglike upon us decreeing silence for our bed.
Earlier that day, Alex received a call from his son in the Philippines, a colleague of Teague’s son at the Silliman University. Dad, Teague Junior committed suicide the other day.
Why? Asked his buddy that evening. There was just the two of them like crumpled shadows beneath the dining room light.
He could not abide his being different. He went away, as far away as he could from me. He was gay, Alex. He promised he was going to see me here before accepting that teaching job in Mexico. He said he will exhibit his paintings here at the Lodge.
He fell in love with one of his male students. There was a case filed against him. Corruption of a minor.
They don’t have same sex marriages in the Philippines, do they?