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This year's good intentions:
Unplug the television. Read. Know the right thing and do it. Make a will. Vote. Learn French. Exercise. Diet. Floss. Eat your tofu and vegetables. Talk to him. Tell the truth. Do it now. Walk. Run. Crawl. Meditate. Remember. Recognize. Atone. Give. Receive. Hold her hand. Pay attention. Be very still. Breathe. Listen. Hear what they say. Accept. Sleep eight hours each night. Lift with your knees. Clean as you go. Keep your promises. Pay your debts. Write. Paint. Make pots. Make jokes. Use colour. Practise compassion. Be grateful. Speak your father's name once a day.
Before dawn, in the hard blue darkness of winter he would awake before she did. The room quiet as new snow. Her body still, hands held one over the other on her chest, legs straight together. Grey skin on her face like parchment stretched over her cheekbones. Lying beside her, he wondered if she had died in the night. He knew he should touch her wrist to feel for a pulse, or lean over and listen for her breath. But each morning in that frozen moment before he acted, he wished she was dead, then he wished she was not.
At last he dreams: he answers the phone, hears her voice. She greets him, says his name, before she asks to speak to someone else. He holds out the receiver to - who's there? - a woman, older than him, perhaps his sister or someone he knew before everything changed. The woman takes the phone from him and he wanders away disappointed, wishing someone else had answered the phone and handed it to him. He is the only one in the dream, it seems, who finds it terrifying that his dead mother should call and ask to speak to someone still living.
You showed up at the right time. He was waiting at the bus stop the way everyone does, staring blankly at the ugliness. He sensed you behind him before you spoke: "You could just blow it up."Wise advice: it helped him decide. He followed your instructions. Boom. Gone. Now there is just a gaping hole where everything used to be. There's something he needs to know. Which will be harder to bear: the pain he knew so well or its absence? Who are you, friend or enemy? Where are you now, when there is so much more to accomplish?
Wanting nothing, he sits very still and thinks of nothing. She will visit. It has happened before. Some time will pass, then out of nothing she appears, as if fabricated by the utter absence of intent. Side by side they sit. Nothing stirs their hair. Nothing lights the skin on their faces. They each say nothing. Always, after a long empty time, he will allow a thought. This is love, he will think. And of course she will be gone. It is inevitable. The question: does nothing reappear the moment he begins to think, or after the thought is completed?
The sea seethes and boils on the rocks below. Gulls, cormorants, fishers craze the sky with their wings and cries. He has been running and his heart labours in his chest and again the secret flares in his memory. He could say it now; perhaps the birds will steal the words or the sea swallow them or a gust of wind take them away. He opens his mouth, wants to scream, but he has done that so many times; his voice is just a whisper that the birds ignore. He turns his back to the wind and runs for home.
Even if he takes everything into account -- the rain and wind, and the relentless and uncreative profanity of the obnoxious teenagers on the bus, and the hungry pain gnawing in the back of his head all day long, and the fact that once again he spent no time at all in his studio -- this day was the best of all the days, because early this morning he watched her face as she slept, and as he entered the room tonight, her scent was the first thing he sensed, and that is all he needs to make him happy.
Was that a gift? Well, if he has to ask, it's probably something else. She boarded the bus and touched his hand as it was resting on the steering wheel. Come on. She is - what? - twenty-two, petite and smiling, almost charming with that nervous naÃƒÆ'Ã‚Â¯f-like beauty. He'll be fifty-eight next month, he loves his wife, he's a bus driver with a mortgage he wants to pay off by retirement. The bus lurches into motion and she teeters back to her seat and he will take her wherever she wants to go as long as it's on the number eleven route.
Some of this is probably not what happens, but it is what he thinks is true. The small child in the red hat. The black car. The green light.
This happens next. The child starts running. The light turns amber. He closes his eyes.
This might happen next: the car accelerating, someone shouting, a man holding up a hand to stop the car, a woman running toward the intersection, tires screeching, hands reaching for the child.
An instant of silence. The child has not yet fallen under the wheels. If he keeps his eyes closed, perhaps nothing will happen next.
The man with the pierced eyebrow and Mohawk hair boards the bus, says "I don't got no fuckin money,"and stomps past the fare box without paying. The two drunk guys give him space on the seat. Mohawk guy sits and stares at the driver, challenging him to make him pay. The driver checks his mirror, signals left, waits for a gap, and moves the bus into traffic. He is not a brave man. He drives the bus, and no one gets hurt, and everyone arrives home safely. The drunks mumble something to Mohawk guy. The driver smiles and drives.
Sometimes when she looks at him he falls into a panic. In that instant he doesn't know what he is supposed to do. Before things changed nothing was true in his relationships. It wasn't any easier then, but he had many surefire ways of making it seem easier. Now those old chameleon tricks are gone, now truth is demanded. At times like this, when she smiles at him, he has no idea what to do. For a moment he doesn't know whether this is happening then nor now, and the fear is strong enough to kill him on the spot.
It was no more than a breath of air, he thinks. You weren't there. Sitting alone at this table, coffee and sandwich in front of him, he was thinking of not showing up for work, enjoying the delicious feeling of doing something that was wrong but seemed right, and he felt it on the back of his neck. A breath, almost a caress. It's the way you might say hello - the softest touch on his skin. His body stiffened imperceptibly. He stared down into his coffee, willing himself not to turn around. Please go, he muttered. No, please stay. Please.
It's not that he wants a drink. It's just that sometimes he can taste it: the dark, peaty mystery of a single malt scotch, or the acerbic wit of a dry vodka martini. After seventeen years, four months, four days, the memory is still there. And there are occasions when he feels - knows - that taste would be exactly what he needs. Ah, the whiskey demons are crafty bastards, offering the exquisite pleasure of just one taste, with the hidden promise of more to come: the graceful ascension to euphoria, then the blessed onslaught of oblivion. He remembers, smiles, and forgets.
Too early in the morning. Black coffee. Black ugly sky. A greasy crow in the tree outside his window stares at him blackly. He walks around his house, wondering at the things they live with. Hums along with the Rolling Stones soundtrack whining in his mind, "...I want it painted black..."Fuck. What hole does this mood inhabit, and why has it oozed into his consciousness now? Sit, he commands himself. Put the cup on the table, sit, do nothing. Let the black bastard stay for as long as it wants, then bid it goodbye when it finally slinks away.
"Like me,"he said. He felt pathetic, lost, he felt like a goddamn fool.
She smiled and looked at something over his shoulder.
"Just like me, now. Now.-
"Buddy likes you,"she said. Buddy the cat.
Something soggy in his chest threatened to explode. He knew what he needed now, and it was not any of this.
"Just like me."He hated himself. Plead, plead, plead.
She laughed. A tight giggle. She looked away and giggled again.
"C'mon. Just like me. Now. Please. Please. Please.-
This was not love. This was abuse.
He didn't know how to make it stop.
Snippets of conversation heard while driving the bus:
"...a size and a half small, but they were such a deal!-
"My social worker? I don't think she ever showers.-
"So, driver, you wanna come home with me tonight?-
"If he wants to fuck me, he's gotta bring something really fuckin good to the table.-
"I met him in church.-
"...if you do that again...-
"My mother is going to die.-
"Weren't you at that party last night?-
"...Mexico would be nice, but there's a wedding in Regina...-
"...I mean it, it's gotta be really good or nothin doin...-
He sets his coffee on the table, pulls out the chair, and sits. Just before his first sip, he glances across the street. Someone -- man or woman, he can't tell -- stands on the sidewalk staring at him. The person wears a rumpled white hat, round glasses, nondescript clothes, and stands straight and rigid, black eyes magnified behind the glasses, staring fixedly as if needing to communicate something urgent. He sips his coffee, raises his eyebrows to the staring person. He hears his own voice: "What is it?"The person turns awkwardly and walks to the corner, limping slightly.
There is one true thing to be done today: know it and do it. Speak when spoken to; speak up when least expected; speak with compassion every time. Respond to touch as if it were instinctive even though it is not. Pick up the pieces. Be sure of the direction before assembly. Watch for the door opening outwards. Know the enemy, call him friend, make it permanent. Give way one step at a time. Talk like a fool but sound like a wise man for three minutes. Reverse the process. Forget these rules while following them faithfully. You will survive.
Somewhere far away in his mind lurks a memory of something, a day or moment, that might have made him happy. He feels his body and mind lean toward the memory, the way a light-hungry plant will yearn for nourishment. It's as if he is poring through an ancient book written in some unknown language, layers of bizarre images and disconnected sensations, shadows and light and smoke, and the kinds of crazy and unintelligible symbols dreams are made of. He knows he did this once before, tried to care, but failed, and he still cannot understand how to do it.
Each day he speaks his father's name out loud, something different happens inside. A simple eulogy, three syllables - soft diphthong sounds, gentle elisions of vowels, a fading sibilance. Once it filled him with anger that ached throughout his body for the rest of the day. Yesterday he laughed. Today it brings tears as he remembers the late afternoon phone call over twenty years ago: "Your father died today,"said someone he knew, although he couldn't identify whether it was brother or sister. The sun warms his face as he says it one more time while walking: "Charlie Giles. My father.-
How deep must he go to find something true in himself? Can he say I love you without saying anything else? What if he refused to take the next step; could he still expect to continue walking? If he forgets the words, can he just hum the tune? He wanted to be the Lone Ranger when he was a kid, and ended up being a bus driver: does this count as failure, or just a change of priorities? Does anyone's life turn out exactly as they planned it? Who the hell is he, and why are you reading about him?
Voice 1: I don't know if I have forgiven him.
Voice 2: Forgiveness always presumes a wrongdoing. What is there to forgive?
Voice 1: Too much distance. Lack of respect. Neglect.
Voice 2: Those are the sins all fathers commit.
Voice 1: I think I should love him. I don't know where to start.
Voice 2: Start here. Now, for just one second, go ahead and love him.
Voice 1: ...
Voice 2: Did it work?
Voice 1: I'm not sure.
Voice 2: Try again tomorrow.
Voice 1: You mean one second a day.
Voice 2: It's a good start.
He reads about a phenomenon among birds called "crazy flight-, something ornithologists can't explain. As autumn approaches, some birds abandon their familiar territory and embark on a journey that ends when the bird crashes into a tree or a house, or finds new territory. This appeals to him. The idea of flight motivated only by a wild and pointless hope. Risk taking for its own sake, and whatever happens is whatever happens. He has taken these flights before and has survived. This is his fear: have I flown all my crazy flights, or is there one more left in me?
He doesn't often make promises. It is so absolute to say "I promise to ..."Once said, it has to be done, and he fears that despite all good intentions he won't succeed. Fear of failure, fear of disgrace in the eyes of his wife, his son, his friends, his co-workers. So what does he say instead? It's not good enough to say "I promise I'll try to..."Trying is different from promising, and in his mind they don't belong in the same sentence. When he makes a promise, it is only after he is absolutely sure he can deliver.
Maneuvering the bus through late-night traffic the driver senses someone beside him. A teenaged boy with thick glasses and a scraggly beard clears his throat and says: "I am so jealous of Bryan Adams. Aren't you?"His voice is high-pitched and tight, as if it has been forced through his vocal chords with great effort. "His guitar. It's so beautiful." The driver remains silent, but the boy carries on: "I truly love him."Everyone boards the bus in the middle of his own personal story. This is all the driver hears, but he knows it is the boy's true story.
If he had taken a chance, stepped out first, there would be no rage. If he had listened closely, heard correctly, there would be no misunderstanding. If he had acted with compassion, opened his heart, there would be no panic. If he had spoken the truth, said the right words, no one's heart would be broken. If he had been courageous, ignored his fear, they would not have run away. If he had been the man he wanted to be and held his ground, if he had reached out and tried to touch, he would not be writing these words.
He swims frantically up from the dream into a sharp edged grey light. She sleeps beside him, face turned toward his. The light seems to have carved her features out of marble. He gazes at her lips, eyes, nose, amazed as always when the reality of her presence in his life is revealed in such a naked, emotionless moment. He reaches out his hand, holds it above her cheek, whispers a few words to her, and then touches the palm of his hand to the cool flesh of her face. There it is again: just the right amount of give.
In this dream he is driving a bus through a pitch black valley. His passengers sit silent and still as stones in their seats. Intermittently a wild, screeching music played on violins and pipes and high-pitched brass instruments blasts through his brain. He enters a long sweeping curve and feels the bus accelerate and he knows everything is out of control. The music wails around him as he grips the wheel and stabs his feet at the pedals and suddenly he knows with a certainty he will wake up now and the fate of the bus will never be known.
For a moment he's almost certain he had it. He was running to his car, desperate to be on time, cursing the wind and rain, and then, for the most infinitesimal instant, he experienced what he now can only describe as a flash of light zap through his whole being. A blue -- a silver -- a shimmering pure bright white light -- there is no way he can describe it because it's gone. Perhaps it never happened. Perhaps it never will. But for that moment he had it, and it felt like a state of grace, he's almost certain.
He stands in the middle of the living room and curses himself. Fuck goddamn shit sonofabitch fuck. He has an appointment, he's running late, and he can't find his goddamn keys. This has happened so often he couldn't begin to count how many times even if he wanted to, and every time it infuriates him. It is a small rage that overtakes him and makes him helplessly stupid. All he can do is stand and curse. If you walked into the room and found him in this ridiculous state you would laugh and laugh. Really, what else could you do?
A whining voice in his mind wants to complain. It has a litany of complaints ready - the way this chair hurts his back, the miserable cold he has, the grey weather, his habit of procrastinating. Wait! That's it! He will use the evil power of procrastination to do good for himself. Put off the complaining for now. Leave it for later. See what a master he is? He doesn't give a definite time, he just says "for later-. I'll get to it sometime later. I am a wise man, he thinks, as he gets up and goes about his day.
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