July 1. The country’s birthday. Canada. Does it mean that the country came into this world on this day? No. The metaphors are off. A country is not a person. A leader. A god. But that is the way we treat it. When actually we would like to thank those people that made the country possible. In Canada, it is mostly politicians who made it possible. Our attempts at rebellion were ill timed and failures. Which is why we find American history more interesting. More blood spilt. Wars and all of their wonderful romantic side effects. Canadian history is saner. It has dark sides (the treatment of indigenous peoples) but is mostly made up of meetings, concessions, fists slamming on desks. All of our stories are small stories. About individuals. Seldom about battles. It is the template most of the world wishes they could emulate.
THE RECEPTIONIST, THE KID, WALTER, AND THE MAGICIAN
“Do you have any idea how long we’ll be waiting?” the woman asked the receptionist in the medical clinic. I’ve got things to do.
Clutching her hand was her daughter. She looked up. Her frightened eyes said: Mommy! I’m not feeling better. Like you promised this morning.
The receptionist turned her radio down.
I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.
“Can I see your medical card?” the receptionist asked without looking up. Routine questions. Another routine day. Every one like the one before. She was chewing gum. It irritated the mother with the daughter.
“Must you do that?” the woman said.
The receptionist looked up at the woman.
“Excuse me?” the receptionist asked completely lost in the question that the woman had proposed.
The woman pointed to her own mouth. Still the receptionist could not gleam any clue.
“The gum,” the woman annunciated slowly.
The receptionist chewed on.
The woman pointed to her own daughter.
“I’m trying to set a good example to my daughter. It takes a village to raise a child.” The woman smiled.
The receptionist returned her smile and blew a small bubble.
“Your medical card,” the receptionist repeated then snapped her gum.
The woman handed over her medical card. The receptionist turned up her radio.
Got no mansion, got no yacht,
Still I’m happy with what I got.
I’ve got the sun in the morning
And the moon at night
The woman looked around. She hoped no one had a camera. Take a picture of her on one of her better days. When she wasn’t loaded down with a child. When she got the day off with the excuse she had to take her little girl to the clinic. And then her little girl had gotten sick. And it wasn’t an excuse. Carl wouldn’t have made dinner. He thought she was skipping work to shop. Nothing ever works out the way you expect.
The receptionist looked at the card. She had plastic gloves on. You never know where these people have been.
“Have you been here before?”
The woman turned back to the receptionist. She nodded her head and when she realized that the receptionist was not looking up responded, “No.”
And I’m not crazy about being here this time.
The receptionist handed her a clipboard with a form and pencil on it.
“Fill out the form and return it to me.” The receptionist looked at the woman and blew another bubble. She hated these people who came in here. Begging for help. And yet still looking down their straight long noses at her. God, I wish I was working at the cosmetic counter. Someplace where you could get some respect.
“Will it be long before we see the doctor?” the woman repeated her original question. Which the receptionist had not heard. And perhaps was never asked.
“It’ll be a while,” the receptionist said in the same monotone voice she had used before. Then she turned attention back to her radio.
If I was a little bird. I would fly from tree to tree.
I’d build my nest up in the air
where the bad boys couldn’t bother me.
“My daughter is very sick,” the woman pleaded. “I think it is something she ate. She’s had the runs. A stomach ache.”
The little girl continued to pull at her mother’s arm. This is taking an eternity, mommy. And I’m hurting now.
“The doctor will get to you as soon as he can.” The receptionist looked at the little girl and changed her expression. With regrets.
“Take a seat,” she said.
The woman looked around at the other patients in the waiting room.
“I’m sure that these people wouldn’t mind if my little girl…”
“I’m sorry, mam.” The receptionist intervened. “You’ll have to wait like everyone else.”
The woman took a deep breath, turned around and looked for a seat. They were all taken. A red headed man stood up and offered his chair to the little girl. The woman nodded her appreciation and sat down, her daughter climbing onto her lap.
The little girl decided to call the red headed man Walter. Walter was an uncle she had. And her personal hero. He had died in Vietnam. One of many Canadians who served in the American forces. Her mommy was always taking out pictures of him and crying. Over a glass of wine. While Carl made dinner.
Walter leaned against the wall. The air-conditioner droned on. Music squeezed out of the small radio. From where Walter stood it could hardly be heard.
I spoke last night to the ocean. I spoke last night to the sea.
And from the ocean a voice came back
‘Twas my Blue Jacket answering me
The dingy green painted walls shot arrows of pain into Walter’s brain. Sweat ran down Walter’s forehead. His breathing was shallow. God, I hope this is the flu. His father had died from a heart attack. As had his grandfather. The family talked about it all the time. Like it was the curse of the family. But no one told him what the symptoms were.
I like eggs and bacon served by the one I love.
They only said it was inevitable that Walter too would fall. Walter undid the top button of his plaid shirt. Gotta get out of here. Turning, he stepped out of the clinic and into the pharmacy. He needed fresh air. Stumbling through the aisles, he apologized to an old lady who pushed her walker across his path.
“Why are the young in such a hurry?” Mrs. Murphy asked and shook her head.
Walter headed for the front doors.
Once he was outside, Walter leaned against the glass walls of the drugstore. He took a deep breath. A few yards away an Asian kid with a Fu Manchu moustache sat Buddha like on the cement bumming money while he read a book about Nietszche. And listened to headphones. Ella Fitzgerald.
“You alright?” Fu asked, removing his headphones.
Walter slid to the cement. He shook his head.
“Food poisoning. I think?”
“Vomiting and diarrhea?” Fu asked.
Walter nodded. “I thought I was dieing.”
“Drink a lot of liquids,” Fu suggested. “Especially water.”
“I think I’m over the worst of it,” Walter said.
“A guy gave me his lunch one day,” Fu said. “Instead of money. I was sick for two days. I think the guy tried to poison me. You’d be surprised about the amount of rift raft you meet in my profession.”
“What’s your profession?” Walter asked.
“I’m not sure there’s a word for it,” Fu responded. “Beggar is too pejorative. If I lived in the middle-ages I’d be one of those guys who lived for years at the top of the pole. A sage. I think they were called sages. Can’t be sure. What do you think they were called?”
“Nuts, maybe.” Walter took a handkerchief out and wiped his neck.
“My father was a magician,” Fu said.
Walter looked at Fu wondering why the beggar had parted this information to him.
“And my mother was a lawyer,” Fu added.
“Your mother was a lawyer and your father was a magician?” Walter asked.
“How did that work out?” Walter asked.
Fu smiled. “They had me.”
“I’ll bet you were a blessing,” Walter said. Feeling better. Maybe all I needed was fresh air.
“You would have thought so,” Fu responded.
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?
Just at that moment, the doors of the drug store opened and the little girl who had been in the doctor’s office with her mother, ran out. She looked back and forth like someone who couldn’t decide where she was headed. Her mother had almost reached her, when the little girl made her decision. She stepped over to Walter sitting on the sidewalk. She opened her mouth and gagged.
“Please! No!” Walter begged. And threw up his hands.
“No Tara, not on the man!” Her mother cried. Too late.