Tonight!

Each week, my writers’ group issues a prompt for a piece of writing. This short tale is prompted by the song ‘Tonight, Tonight’ from West Side StoryIf you wish, you can listen to an audio clip of my men’s choral group singing the song as you read the story—

The ring burned a hole in Tony’s pocket all day, from the time he picked it up just before noon until he found his way to the roof of Maria’s apartment building shortly after dark.

She knew he was coming, of course, just as he had for several nights over the past few months.  It wasn’t easy because her brother and his friends—all members of the gang that fought Tony’s crew almost daily on the mean streets of the city—would make short work of him if they found out.

Tony’s Jets, unaware of his repeated visits to enemy territory, would avenge him if her brother’s Sharks harmed him, but they would never approve of, nor understand, his love for Maria.  The star-crossed lovers were on their own.

The ring itself wasn’t much, not on the salary Tony earned as a car-jockey at Smitty’s Garage, but it had sparkled and gleamed under the light in the pawn shop where he’d discovered it.  He hoped it would do the same under the full moon tonight.

The fact that it was probably stolen property being fenced through the pawnbroker bothered Tony not at all.  He’d had to shell out a good chunk of his hard-earned dollars for it, and that was all that mattered.  He didn’t think Maria would care, either, although he had no intention of telling her.

All he wished for as he made his way stealthily up the fire-escape ladder to the roof was that the ring-stone would reflect brightly in Maria’s eyes when he slipped it on her finger.

At the top, he slithered over the concrete abutment to crouch on the gravel rooftop, almost invisible in the dark, glancing furtively this way and that, hoping to see nothing amiss.  And then, after a few seconds, he spied the miss he had come for, practically indistinguishable in the moon-shadows by the stairwell door beside the elevator shaft.

Maria saw him at the same moment, and even in the darkness he saw her face light up.  He thought she must surely hear his heart pounding, despite the distance between them.  A few heartbeats later, they were entwined in each other’s arms, Tony’s face buried in her hair, its smell like sweet caramel and spice.  Their eager bodies radiated heat as they pressed against one another, softly proclaiming their love in English and Spanish.

O mi amor! Maria whispered.  La luz de mi vida!

I have something for you! Tony said, reaching into his pocket.

As he had hoped, the small stone atop the ring caught the moon’s light, seeming to release a small, silvery fire.  He knew he would never forget the small gasp that escaped Maria’s lips when she saw it, a heartfelt response to last a lifetime.

Marry me, Maria.  I love you more than life itself.  

Maria’s eyes shone wetly as she looked deeply into his.  Si mi amor, me casaré contigo!  Te amo más que la vida misma!

They moved out of the shadows, closer to the parapet, and Maria leaned against the abutment as Tony plucked the ring from the box.  Carefully, lovingly, he took her hand in his, lifted her finger, and…

Oh shit!  Shit!

The ring, rather than slipping onto her finger, slipped from his hand, bounced once on the concrete ledge, and disappeared into the blackness twelve storeys below.  Tony made a wild stab for it, balancing precariously over the edge, realizing too late he was going to fall.  Maria grabbed his arm, his shirt, but he was too heavy and she was pulled backwards with him into the void.

No one was in the dark, garbage-strewn alley when they landed.  They were discovered the next morning—two lifeless rag-dolls embracing each other, arms still intertwined.

A small, cheap rhinestone ring was lying on the pavement between them. It was quickly purloined.

And Now We Are Old

We’d carve the ice

On rockered blades of steel,

Darting, dashing, in and out,

Around and through big bodies

Seeking somehow to impede us—

Hooking, holding, interfering

With the speed and elusiveness

We displayed so confidently

Before we scored the winner.

—And then we got old.

We’d sprint on grass

Of green, emerald beneath

The bright lights that marked the field,

From the crack of bat on ball,  

Tracking a white parabola

Arcing high against nighttime sky,

‘Til over shoulder it settled

In weathered, leather fielder’s glove.

The final out recorded.

—And then we got old.

We’d skim the waves

On cedar slalom board,

Jumping wake and swinging wide,

Ear almost touching water,

Leaning hard against the boat’s pull,

Great rooster-tails of froth tossed high,

Spraying, sparkling, sunlit curtain.

Near shore, we’d drop the rope and sink

Into water’s cool cocoon.

—And then we got old.

So now we dream

Throughout the endless nights

Of days of grace and glory.

Jagged, jumbled jigs of light

Run helter-skelter through our dreams,

Random reminiscences—joys

We took for granted in our youth,

When ageing and its frailties

Were ever far from our minds.

—And now, we are old.

Them and Us

It’s always them, it’s never us

We like to blame for all the fuss

We must contend with on our way—

It’s never We, it’s always They.

It’s always They, it’s never We

Who take us out on stormy sea,

Into weather, harsh and grim—

It’s never us, it’s always them.

It’s always them, it’s never us

Who make us swear, who make us cuss

The sea on which we sail each day—

It’s never We, it’s always They.

It’s always They, it’s never We

Who cause our pain and tragedy,

Shake our wee boat, gudgeon to stem—

It’s never us, it’s always them.

It’s always them and never us?

That’s what we claim.  Why is it thus?

Is there a chance the truth would say

It’s mostly We, not always They?

It’s not just They, it’s mostly We!

When will we learn, when will we see

Who rigs our sails, adjusts our trim?

The captain’s us, it’s never them.

A Striking Beauty

“Beautiful!” I said.  “Incredible!”

Reclining in a commercial-grade lazy-boy, staring through a huge, panoramic window onto the icy waters of the Alaskan fiord slipping past the ship, I was halfway through a herbal-oil scalp massage my wife had talked me into—an experience I had stoutly resisted, but to no avail.

The sun was gleaming off the water, off the glacier, off the long, blonde hair of my Swedish masseuse hovering over me.  Her name was Inga—short for Ingeborg she told me when we’d been introduced.  My wife was in a similar chair in the cubicle next to mine, the two of us separated by a thin privacy wall.

A striking beauty, Inga was exactly the type I’d have assumed would be working in a shipboard spa.  Taller than I, shapely in her white salon dress, she gazed directly at me through green eyes lit from within.  Her smile would have dazzled the most jaded of men.

As I’d settled into my chair, my mind had raced off in all directions.  This lovely vision was undoubtedly in her late-twenties, embarked on the adventure of a lifetime, probably searching, even if leisurely, for a husband of means, a rich widower who might endow her with everything she could ask for.

The warm oil she’d poured on my scalp, and the sensuous fingers working it in, further inflamed my imagination.  I knew it could never be I she would settle on; after all, I was four inches shorter and several million dollars shy of the mark.  Plus, I was already married—happily, I firmly reminded myself.

Despite the magnificent view through the window, I felt my eyes closing as Inga worked her magic on my scalp, my neck, my shoulders.  I’d undoubtedly have drifted off into who-knows-what erotic imaginings if she hadn’t begun talking, her voice a dusky alto, her accent delightful.

“I love this job,” she said, “especially on this ship, and on this voyage.  The scenery is magnificent.”

“How long have you been doing it?” I asked, eager to keep hearing her voice.

“Not long,” she said.  “I found I couldn’t stay home alone after my husband died, and this was something I always fancied doing.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said automatically.  And I was—and surprised, too, to hear she was a widow at such a young age.  “How long were you married?”

“Thirty years,” she said.

Thirty years?  I gave my head a mental shake.

“He was a partner in a large firm,” she went on.  “His partners bought his shares from me, so I am financially independent.  My youngest son is in medical school in London, my oldest is a commercial pilot, and neither one needs their mother anymore.  So here I am, on my own, free as a bird.”

My mind was frantically doing the math.  A son in med school would have to be at least twenty-four, so even if she’d had two kids by the time she was twenty, she’d still be in her mid-forties—maybe even early-fifties!  And being wealthy in her own right, she was likely in no hurry to tie herself down to one man.  This woman, if so inclined, would have no shortage of companionship. 

I felt her warm breath in my ear, interrupting my thoughts.  “Oh, look!” she said.  “You are so lucky!  Many people never get to see this!” 

She moved closer to the window, and I saw a pod of orcas, seeming to race the ship up the fiord, leaping and twisting and falling back, their sparkling splashes transforming glassy sunlight into shattered shards. 

“Brad!” my wife called from the other cubicle.  “Are you watching this?”

Indeed I was.  The whales, a jumble of white-and-black juggernauts, were actually moving faster than we were.  Inga, her hands splayed on the glass, smiled over her shoulder at me, lighting my soul.

“Beautiful!”  I said.  “Incredible!” 

And they were—the whales certainly, and Inga most definitely—a tableau etched unforgettably on my memory.

I looked into Inga’s green eyes for the last time as we shook hands while my wife settled the cost at the desk.  “I hope you will enjoy the rest of your voyage,” she said.  “Thank you for sailing with us.”  And with that, she was gone.

Over drinks on the lido deck later, my wife asked if I’d enjoyed myself. 

“I did,” I said.  “You were right about the massage.  Did you like it?”

“For sure!” my wife said.  “Karin, my masseuse, was delightful.  And what a treat it was to see the orcas!”

“Yeah,” I said, reliving the window-scene in my mind.  “By the way, how old would you think my masseuse is?”

“She’s twenty-eight,” my wife said.

“That’s what I thought!” I exclaimed.  “But she’s in her late-forties, at least, maybe early-fifties.  She has a son in med school in London, and another son who’s a pilot.  I can’t believe she’s that old!”

“Yeah, we heard her telling you about herself,” my wife said.  “But Karin told me it’s just a story Inga tells to ward off all the older men.  She’s actually twenty-eight and single!”

“A story?” I whispered.  “Older men?”

Who Else Is There?

In the fertile imagination of a bookish, young boy, their names echoed down the years, a pantheon of heroes—some real, some fictional—whose gallantry and derring-do inspired dreams of glory.

There were Galahad, Arthur’s most loyal knight; Brian Boru, high king of Ireland; Ivanhoe, Scott’s noble warrior; Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest; and Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn—all of whom led me to think that perseverance and a righteous cause can triumph over all odds.

I read of boys I fancied to be just like me, and wished I could be just like them:  Peter Pan, Jim Hawkins, David Copperfield, Huckleberry Finn, and my favourite, Tom Sawyer.  It was delicious to imagine myself walking in their shoes, yet sobering to realize I could never fill them, except in my playtime fantasies.

As I grew older and my interests broadened, the list expanded to include heroes from the world of sport, some of whom had feet of clay I either was ignorant of, or chose to ignore.  Ty Cobb, the Georgia Peach; Busher Jackson of the famed ‘Kid Line’ with Primeau and Conacher; Arnie Palmer, the King; and the incomparable Ali, the greatest.  They inspired me to believe I could accomplish anything, even though reality kept bringing me back to earth.

By the time I came to realize that all my boyhood heroes were male, almost all of them white like me, the list of people I admired had already swelled to include both women and people of colour whose stories I avidly read.  The women included Joan of Arc, faithful martyr to a cause; Marie Curie, two-time Nobel prizewinner; Florence Nightingale and Laura Secord, who sought the battlefields heretofore trod only by men; Amelia Earhart, intrepid aviator; Anne Frank, diarist of atrocities; and Rosa Parks, igniter of a movement.

The men included Mahatma Gandhi, champion of non-violence; Jackie Robinson, who broke the colour-barrier in major-league sport, beginning in Canada; Willie Mays, the ‘Say Hey Kid’; MLK, another martyr to a cause; Bob Marley, the reggae Rastafarian; and Harry Jerome, world record-holding sprinter.  Sports heroes were prominent, of course, befitting my own predilections.

A common theme running through these lists, although I may not have been aware of it at the time, is the willingness on the part of these iconic figures to persevere through all manner of tribulation before finally achieving success.  However, I also admired others whom some considered failures, despite their ablest efforts against all odds to attain their objectives: Horatius at the bridge; William Wallace of Braveheart fame; the doomed troopers of the Light Brigade; Jimmy Carter, a one-term US president; Terry Fox, forced to surrender short of his goal to a relentless cancer; and Roméo Dallaire, who strove unsuccessfully to prevent the Rwanda genocide.  The passage of time, however, has heightened the regard in which most of us now hold their accomplishments.

A number of the people I looked up to, although famous in their own right, have been linked inextricably in the historical record, rightly or not, to someone else.  Lee and Grant at Appomattox; Stanley and Livingstone in the Congo; Holmes and Watson in Conan Doyle’s famous works; Churchill and Roosevelt in WWII; MacArthur and Truman in Korea; Mantle and Maris of the Yankees in 1961; and Mandela and Tutu combating apartheid in South Africa.

All of these figures are from the past, however, so what of the present?  Are there people I regard as heroes out there right now?  Are there people to whom today’s youngsters might justifiably look for inspiration?

A partial contemporary list for me would include:  David Attenborough and David Suzuki, devoted to the preservation of our planet; Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem, pioneers in the feminist movement; Stephen Hawking, physicist and exemplar of courage; Malala Yousafzai, girls’ and women’s rights advocate; Alexandra Octavio-Cortes, US activist and congresswoman; Greta Thunberg, climate change protester; and Alexei Navalny, Russian political dissident.

Almost everyone on that list is younger than I, unlike those who populated my boyhood lists.  They are all, if not politicians, quite skilled in the political arts.  And every one of them, devoted to the betterment of society, has put their commitment to their causes into constructive action.

None of the groups described in this piece is complete, of course.  Any of you reading them could come up with names of others who might accompany, or replace, my choices on lists of your own.  The most important of those, however, is the final one, the people you would consider heroes for today, people who will inspire and lead us to a transformed, more equitable society.

So, I leave you with this question as you consider the people I’ve mentioned—

Who else is there?

Bubba’s Shrimp

For two years at the turn of the century, my wife and I spent our winters in Gulf Shores, Alabama, five months each time, in a modest, seaside cottage painted a lovely periwinkle, perched on stilts above the sand.  With two bedrooms and two bathrooms, an expansive deck looking out on the Gulf of Mexico, and a large, fully-equipped kitchen to enjoy, we were as happy as two transient northerners could be.

We golfed three times a week at several of the south Alabama courses, toured the area extensively, including a couple of ferry trips to Mobile, and walked the beach every day.  Despite the chilly waters, we even managed to frolic in the Gulf on a number of occasions.  On our off-days, we planted ourselves on the deck, eyes almost blinded by the sun’s glare on the whiter-than-white sand, entranced by the ever-shimmering aqua-emerald-blue waters of the Gulf.

Fortunately, we had decamped to warmer climes nearer to Sarasota by the time Hurricane Ivan ripped through the area in 2004, destroying the quaint community we had lived in, leaving us with nothing but pictures and fond memories.

The fondest of those is of a place we learned about from Willie, a wizened caddy who regularly humped both our bags at one of the golf courses.  Once he learned we were seafood lovers, he insisted we visit Billy’s Seafood, a local store in Bon Secour.

“Y’all gon’ thank me,” he said.  “Jes’ make sure to talk to Bubba.  Tell ‘im Willie sent y’all by.”

We found Billy’s Seafood at the end of River Rd. on the Bon Secour River, a haphazard collection of buildings hard by the piers where the fishing trawlers and shrimp-boats tied up.  The motto emblazoned on the main building said it all: IF IT SWIMS…WE’VE GOT IT!

Before going inside, we strolled down to the piers, marvelling at (and smelling!) the variety of seafood being transferred by conveyor-belt from the boats to the waiting fishmongers—shrimp, crabs, oysters, Flounder, Mahi-Mahi, Amberjack, Grouper, Tuna, Snapper, and Cobia.  Once in the store, we saw tub after tub of the harvest, freshly shelled, filleted, and cleaned, all being raided by hordes of eager customers. 

Being first-timers, we were a tad reticent to join the throng until we found Bubba, who turned out to be a large, middle-aged man with a gray-white beard, smelling of fish, clad in white pants, white t-shirt, and white apron, all stained from his hands-on approach to filling orders.  He knew Willie, of course, and welcomed us with open-armed hugs to which we submitted somewhat apprehensively.

Despite the crush of customers, Bubba toured us through the place, offering advice as to what might please our palates.  I don’t remember the entirety of our first order, but I do know we came home with a bag of Big Daddy Jumbo shrimp in the box, and Bubba’s ‘secret’ recipe for preparing it.

“If y’all do ‘zactly as I say, these shrimp gon’ be the best you ever ate.  I damn-sure guarantee y’all gon’ come back here an’ hug mah neck!”

To this day, twenty years later, it remains one of our very favourite dishes.  We started by washing and butterflying the shrimp, then inserting a sliver of jalapeño and shard of sharp cheddar between the folds.  Next we wrapped each one in a slice of hickory-smoked bacon, held fast with one or two toothpicks, and then marinated the batch in tangy Italian dressing for a couple of hours.

Bubba’s directions specified grilling over charcoal, but the best we could do was a propane-fired grill, an old but well-maintained rig on the deck.  It had three burners, so I placed the shrimp on the unlit middle one, and cooked them slowly, convection-style, using the two outside burners.  The timing was crucial according to Bubba, but he offered no specifics, saying it was up to the cook to judge the precise moment when they’d be done to perfection.  More by random chance than culinary skill, I managed to cook the shrimp just right that first time, taking them off the grill before the bacon got too crisp or the cheese all melted away.

We ate them on the deck, watching the sun sink lazily into the Gulf—accompanied by a Cajun rice concoction, a light salad, a crisp Pinot Grigio, and a lovely Mozart album on the stereo.  As I recall, our impression at the finish of the meal was that we should have cooked more of them.

And indeed we have in the years since that first feast.  The shrimp we find in Canada do not compare to Bubba’s, of course, but they suffice.  And when we are in Florida, we try to buy the freshest we can find so as to most closely approximate the texture and taste we remember so fondly. We often eat them now with red pepper added, and a pasta dish.

We shopped at Billy’s Seafood several more times during those two years in Alabama, and spoke with Bubba each time his shifts matched our visits.  On one of those occasions, we presented him with a bottle of bourbon to thank him for his kindness, a gift he graciously accepted.

I must confess, however, that we never did hug his neck.   

Who Abides?

The Dude abides

That’s a line from the 1998 film, The Big Lebowski, which has achieved almost cult status.  The dude in question is the main character in the film, Jeff Lebowski—played by Jeff Bridges, and based on Jeff Dowd, a real-life friend of the moviemakers, Joel and Ethan Coen.

The significance of the line has evolved over time, from a simple declaration that the character exists, to a more profound interpretation that he endures the many perturbations in his life and survives them.  In other words, he not only is who he is, he is cool with it.

I, however, have always taken a slightly different meaning from the line, one more in harmony with the archaic meaning of the word abides—to remain, to continue, to stay—as in the old hymn, Abide With Me.  Under my interpretation, the Dude is defined by those traits and attributes that constitute his individuality, the personas he inhabits, and which remain a part of him to the end.

In the film, we see the Dude as he was at the age of forty or thereabouts, over a period of a week or so in 1990, a small sliver of time in what we might assume was a lengthy life.  We do not see him as he was in his formative years, nor do we see what he might have become in his dotage.  Thus, the character abides in our memories only as a sliver of his entire self.

By contrast, if I look at myself, I see a more complete range of the personas I have occupied from childhood to present-day, many of which have overlapped.  These include son, brother, student, friend, employee, husband, homeowner, father, investor, player-of-games, writer-of-books-and-blogs, singer-of-songs, traveller, retiree, and grandfather, to name a few.  Over time in these various guises, I have journeyed from self-centredness to a broader awareness of the world around me; from a laissez-faire perspective to a questioning of the status quo; from near-certainty in my thinking to more patience for countervailing arguments; from confidence in my physical prowess to a reluctant acknowledgment of my increasing frailty; from a blithe belief that life would last forever to a comfortable concurrence that it won’t.

As Gibran wrote, Life goes not backward, nor tarries with yesterday.

Several months back, I wrote some haiku verse about the link between boyhood and manhood, influenced by Wordsworth’s statement, the Child is father of the Man

from my aging eyes,

the boy I once was looks out—

hardly changed at all

now well beyond my

diamond jubilee, the

man is still the boy

While the sentiment is true in many ways, it is ultimately false, for I have had to abandon more of the incarnations I have lived than I’ve been able to maintain.  And many of those that abide are more passive now.  I am a father still, but not one who is actively needed on a daily basis by his children; I draw from my investments now, rather than adding to them; I am a player of far fewer games than during my halcyon days, and those that remain are much gentler; my travels are more curtailed, even in non-pandemic times; I roll creakily out of bed every morning—gratefully to be sure—but no longer bounding into each new day.

If, as the haiku verses claim, the man is still the boy, and if that boy is looking out unchanged, he must surely be exclaiming, What the hell happened?

Despite that, however, this tract should not be construed as a complaint, as a railing against the coming of the end-times.  It is intended, rather, as a wry observation of the inevitable decline that accompanies the march of time, to the accompaniment of  gentle, knowing laughter at the conceit that it could ever be otherwise.

The question does arise, though, as to who exactly I will be when I eventually cross the bar.  Which of these many personas will still be present to accompany me out, and how many more will have already taken their leave?  The answer, which matters to no one but me, lies partially in the list above; and I know it will not be I who will decide.

Still, I wonder.  I have been so many people over my almost four-score years—some of whom I liked, some I regret being, some lost to the fog of time, and some still a part of me.  In spite of my years, I remain convinced that I will continue to grow, to adopt new personas even as I shed longstanding ones.

Is that what we might have seen happen with the Dude if that long-ago movie had allowed a broader viewing of his life?  I like to think so.  And had that been the case, the opportunity might have helped me to find an answer to my own ultimate question.

Who abides?

Going Beddy-Bye

For the better part of seventy-eight years, I’ve gone beddy-bye every night—but I’ve been alone for only the first twenty-three of those.  In those early years, I slept atop an inexpensive mattress, twin-bed size, identical to the one occupied by my brother.

On my wedding night, no longer alone, I slipped under the covers on a similarly-inexpensive mattress, double-size now, which sat on a metal spring supported by three wood slats running between the sideboards of the antique bedframe we had inherited from my grandparents.  Those slats had the nasty habit of slipping off the lip they rested on whenever my wife and I were, shall we say, not exactly resting quietly.  Matrimonial merriment became a challenge, to see how frisky we might get without wrecking the bed.

Every night since that honeymoon eve—with a few exceptions due to travel, illness, or similar unusual circumstances—I have gone beddy-bye with the woman I married.

By the time we welcomed our first daughter some five years on, we had bought a more expensive box spring/mattress combo, double-size, but still resting on those same slats—reinforced now by two additional slats, all five screwed into the sideboards.  No longer did we fear capsizing while…..well, you know, canoodling.

Our second daughter arrived twenty months after her sister, and it seemed no time at all before we began waking to find four of us in our double bed.  With those two wee urchins snuggling between us, I remember being pushed so close to the edge of the bed that I would almost fall out.  It was about then that my wife and I, for decorum’s sake, began to wear pyjamas…..and to consider buying a larger mattress.

We graduated, eventually, to a queen-size bed, the mattress set on its own free-standing base.  The old double-size bedframe was stored away, except for the headboard, which we continued to use, propped at the head of the bed to match the rest of my grandparents’ suite.  Even with the girls growing bigger by the day, the space was more than adequate, as if we were sleeping in the wide-open spaces.

During all this time, I slept on the right side of the bed, to the left of my wife.  The only reason for this, as I can recall now, is that in all the homes we lived in, the bathroom was closer to her side.

Not long after the girls had left our happy little family to start their own, we began to suffer hitherto-unknown aches and stiffness in the morning.  Thus began a period of frequent mattress-turns and flips, seeking to stop the sag.  Eventually, after some consideration of the alternatives (and the cost), we opted to purchase a king-size, memory-foam mattress.  We found ourselves at that point, just the two of us, sleeping on a bed that would easily have accommodated our little family of four. 

For the most part, at least in the beginning, we gravitated to the middle, close enough to reach each other, and to feel each other’s warmth.  And there were no sags—not in the mattress, anyway.

But lo and behold, into this blissful beddy-bye there came an insidious intrusion that negated the benefits of the mattress—to wit, snoring.  Increasingly, in the wee, small hours, one of us would waken to the other’s snorts and gurgles, toss and roll fitfully for what seemed like hours, unable to recapture sleep, and finally retreat to the recliner-chair in the den.  It was intolerable.

The cure arrived when we went, first I and then my wife, to be tested for sleep apnea—a condition where one stops breathing, sometimes for a minute or longer, thereby placing great pressure on the heart and other vital organs.  And when breathing  resumes, it’s often with loud gasps and splutters—AKA snoring.  Alas, both of us were diagnosed with apnea, which led to our acquiring CPAP machines (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) to combat it.

We feel now as if we’re sleeping with Darth Vader, each of us with a mask over our mouth and nose, flexible hoses running to the machines on our bedside tables.  And we’ve moved away from the middle of the bed so the hoses won’t be stretched beyond their six-foot length.  To anyone unfamiliar with CPAP machines, this must sound like a horror show.

Thankfully, however, the machines work!  After a short period of adjustment, they have put an effective stop to our snoring, allowed us to sleep more deeply, and longer, and to waken more refreshed.

So now—more than fifty years after I moved from my single-size twin bed to that double-size marital mattress, still sharing my bed with the love of my life, close enough on our current king-size mattress to reach out and touch—I find myself looking forward every night to going beddy-bye.

I am blessed.

Beginnings and Endings

A haiku reflection—stanzas of three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables—as the year we have labelled 2020 draws to a close—

why we measure time

is a mystery to me—

for time knows no bounds

beginning a year

or ending one at some point—

what changes for us?

the calendar is

nothing but a vain attempt

to measure our lives

but life is more than

mere beginnings and endings

to which we pay heed

life is a journey

from there to here, whence to hence,

uninterrupted

imposed beginnings

and endings do not change our

eventual route

they turn us perhaps

hither and yon on our way

to our destiny

for we are born, then

we die; from start to finish,

naught begins or ends

rather, life just flows

from this to that, to the next,

bearing us forward

when new year begins,

and old year ends, we don’t stop—

we simply move on

and so, it must be

that beginnings and endings

mean nothing at all

It’s Tolling for Them

COVID-19 is a killer, an indiscriminate killer.  And it is a determined despoiler.  Among those who fall victim to it, many who survive are assailed by debilitating after-effects that might last for the rest of their lives.

COVID-19 doesn’t care who you are, exalted or humble, although it targets most virulently, and disproportionately, those who are more vulnerable—the elderly, the frail, those with co-morbidities, and the economically-disadvantaged, especially those living in crowded conditions.

It doesn’t care about your religious or political affiliations, your gender or sexual identity, your ethnicity or colour, your marital status, your nationality.  COVID-19 is an equal-opportunity predator.  You might be the nicest person anyone has ever known, or the most vile, but that doesn’t matter to the virus.  You are nothing more than prey.

The virus is not a living thing.  Like all parasites, it relies on a living host to propagate.  And to achieve that end, it is a relentless invader, ruthless, uncaring, insensate—in short, a perfect killer.  The human immuno-suppressant system, in most cases, is no match for it.  Although the reasons are so far unclear, some people are infected but suffer no sickness; others are infected, become ill, then recover; and still others are infected, fall seriously ill, and succumb.  All of them, however, are spreaders of the virus at some point along the continuum.

There is no known cure for COVID-19.  The promised vaccines hold the hope that we may, at least temporarily, disrupt the link between infection and illness—although, for how long, no one yet knows.  Repeated vaccinations may be a fact of life going forward if we hope to protect ourselves from its ravages.

Up to now, the mitigation measures prescribed by various governments to fight the menace—masking, social-distancing, handwashing—have proven ineffective, not because they, themselves, are ineffectual, but because we have not assiduously adhered to them.  As it turns out, as a species, we are not the most dedicated warriors.

And, unfortunately, there exist among us the pro-hoaxers, the anti-maskers, and most recently, the anti-vaxxers, all of whom present a clear and present danger to the rest of us. They appear to adhere unwaveringly to their denials that COVID-19 is a worldwide pandemic, to their disavowals of science, to their claims that government edicts are an infringement on their God-given freedoms. They contradict the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology with their strident, pre-conceived opinions.

The problem is that they are relying on idiosyncratic belief systems, where science relies on immutable, though constantly-evolving, evidence.

In Canada, for example, the number of COVID-related deaths among the overall population nine months ago was inconsequential, fifty-three in a population of 37.6 million (although those deaths were immensely consequential to the families of those who died).  As of this writing, the number of deaths is exponentially higher, 14,000+ and rising.

In the United States, the number of COVID-related deaths in a population of 328.2 million was reported nine months ago at 493; today that number sits at almost 310,000, a wildly-exponential increase.  

And in both countries, these are only the deaths reported; the actual numbers are widely deemed to be much higher.

Even before the onslaught of COVID-19, I had never been seen as a noted risk-taker.  The risk-reward scales have, for me, invariably tilted to the safer side.  Although I am not an overly-cautious person, I have always preferred to rue a golden opportunity I might have missed, than to suffer a major blow as a result of a miscalculation.

Consequently, as you might expect, I have adhered as closely as possible to the mitigation measures set forth by the government, and have encouraged others to do so as well.  That being said, I do respect the right of others to determine their choices—but, only so far as those choices do not impinge upon my right to a safe existence.

Suppose, for example, that a gang of armed thugs was roaming through your neighbourhood, breaking into homes, raping and pillaging, claiming it was their right to do so.  And if you dare ask them why, they reply, “Because we can!”

I don’t know about you, but I’d be terrified.  And I would expect the authorities to put a stop to their depredations in order to protect the law-abiding citizenry.  No one in a free society should have to live in fear of scofflaws who carry on as if there are no consequences for lawless behaviour.

Increasingly, I feel the same way about the pro-hoaxers, the anti-maskers, and the anti-vaxxers whose actions threaten the rest of us.  Normally charitable toward others with whom I disagree, willing to listen to and consider their points of view, I nevertheless find I am increasingly hostile to these covidiots, who endanger, not only themselves, but potentially everyone with whom they come in contact.

It is difficult for me, I now find, not to wish them ill.

In my ruminations, I have affixed a name to COVID-19, a name with which you are probably familiar—Quasimodo, Q for short.  And I picture Q in a lonely bell-tower, pulling stolidly on a rope, sounding the solitary bell.  Hearing it, I wonder for whom that bell is tolling.

Regrettably, but undeniably, I realize I am beginning to hope it’s tolling for the disavowers.