Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Good Provider

I clean the cream from my whiskers with my paw. I sit watching the delicious little birds hop from seed to seed on the dying thistles in the garden outside the window. This window seat is made for these lazy autumn afternoons. Red’ll be home soon. I love to watch his change of expression when he approaches the house to greet his latest wife. She’s Lola this year. It was Linda back in those days, Bennie’s sister. It’s getting harder to remember that I used to live with Bennie. The boys came up with the idea, in a poker game, at Bennie’s. There was Mutt, Jeff, Bennie and Slocum. I watched from the back of the couch, cleaning my paws with my tongue. There were clouds of smoke and interesting smells emanating from the table that night. The boys were flying high. Bennie figured his ship had finally come in. The next morning, as we drove to work, Bennie talked about the score. He talked to me, but he was really talking to himself. He was a good provider though, so I went along with it. Bennie was my owner, a cat worshipper, who also owned Brutus, a watchdog. Bennie took me to work with him most days. I was an excuse for Bennie to talk to himself, a warm body to have around. Bennie was the only employee left in Red Smith’s auto parts warehouse. Red didn’t make much wholesaling used auto parts, but he had a famous safe which made him a tidy profit. He held payrolls for a lot of companies which didn’t have the facilities to handle large amounts of cash. They couldn’t fit into bank schedules. The safe also held such items as receipts, estates and some money from questionable sources which Red labelled, ‘Other’. On the way to work the next morning, Bennnie dreamed along with the sports show on the radio. “With my cut, I could buy an island, like Brando. Down in Tahiti. So what if he’s fat? Women still love him. I’d have a party for the boys, but not for a couple of years. This is Slocum’s chance too. He can escape from his old lady, finally. The guy’s not well. She’s a bad influence. Don’t you think he’s shrunk and turned grey since he’s been with her?” I sat in the back seat watching some dogs on the sidewalk. Gross. Brutus ran out when Bennie opened the front door of the warehouse. There are dogs and there are dirty dogs. Brutus was dirty and aggressive with everyone except Bennie and me. Bennie had trained him, I had shown him my claws when we first met. He almost lost an eye that time, always respected me since. I wouldn’t turn my back on him, though. Brutus is big. He’s a big, dirty watchdog who would tear anything apart just for fun. Unless someone killed Brutus or otherwise incapacitated him, they’d never be able to steal from this warehouse. Unless they had an in and knew how the safe worked, that is. Bennie was counting on this as part of his plan. He could control Brutus and retirement was approaching. If he ripped the place off, he could sit tight for a few years and let things cool down. If everyone kept their mouths shut and they paid a lawyer Mutt knew, they would all end up rich. Even Red had some kind of insurance for a robbery, Bennie figured, but it wasn’t an urgent consideration. Red could afford it, no doubt. There would be questions. There would be all kinds of cops. They would insist on a lie detector test, but he didn’t have to take it, they couldn’t use it in court. Brando never backed down from a role. This was one for which Bennie had been preparing all of his life. That was the way Bennie saw it, anyway. I always thought he was a little crazy, but who could have known? The safe only opened once a day. If robbers did get past Brutus and the other alarms, unless they came at exactly the right time, they would have to blow the door off of it. It would take a big explosion to blow the door, neighbouring alarms would go off all over the place. There wasn’t much paper around, but there might be a fire. The other thing, which only Red knew about the safe, but no one else knew, was that it expelled all of the oxygen, slowly, after the door closed. Red got it from an art museum when the government closed it down. One of the perks of having a foolproof safe was that big companies were advised, by word of mouth, to use Red’s, in emergencies. Red made a pretty penny helping out big companies. When the boys thought up the plan at the poker game, it was after Bennie had told them all about the “special job” Red was doing that weekend. A big company was moving millions of dollars from city to city. They were leaving it in Red’s safe overnight on the weekend. Bennie and the boys planned to rip it off. I stretched and tasted the fresh cat food Bennie had left in my dish by the office door. I settled in the comfortable window, watched Bennie strike poses in front of the mirror. Every time I cleaned the outside of my ears, I remembered the ticks. Getting rid of them was a painful process. Bennie thought he looked like Brando when he practised a sneer. I thought he looked like an overweight Elvis impersonator. There was an inventory to keep, some paperwork to do, but Bennie mostly listened to a redneck on the radio and talked to me during his work day. When we were at the warehouse, Bennie kept Brutus in his run outside in the back. Red dropped in on Friday afternoon for a few minutes. He ruffled my fur, scratched my ears. Red was just getting to like me in those days. He went over the delivery of the money on Saturday morning, told Bennie that he had Sunday off, that he, Red, would be there to make sure of the pick up on Sunday morning. Red sat in Bennie’s chair, feet up, smoking a cigar, called Linda. He put Bennie on with his sister, enjoyed their fraternal banter. Red glowed with love for Linda. His face changed when he talked to her on the phone. When he spoke about her with Bennie, the latter thought he was kidding. Bennie looked at Red, quizzically, behind his back, after these conversations about his older sister. The boys planned to pull into the warehouse as soon as the delivery was made on Saturday morning. They would load the money and take it away. They would leave Bennie in the safe to be released by Red the next day. The story would be that the robbers showed up right after the security company delivered the cash, pushed Bennie into the safe, left with the loot and the security film. The key to getting away with it was for everyone to behave normally. These guys thought they could pull it off. It sounded good, that night, when the boys met for poker at our place. Mutt had all the papers and powers of attorney for them to sign. It would give their lawyer, who wasn’t above a bit of graft himself, the right to move their money around. No one could quit their jobs or do anything out of the ordinary for at least two years. They were all thinking about retirement. The boys were closer to old than young. The delivery Saturday morning went smoothly, the security company guards moved the cash into the safe. They had just pulled out of the parking lot when Mutt, Jeff and Slocum pulled up, at the front door, in Slocum’s black van. Bennie had already taken the film out of all the security cameras when they walked into the office. They wore gloves, but no masks or disguises. Bennie showed them the millions of dollars they were stealing by opening a package. They got lost in a delirious minute of congratulations while they admired the bills. After a short debate, they figured that I should keep Bennie company in the safe. There was nothing soft and warm inside the safe. I never did like it. They threw me in with Bennie after they put my dish and some water inside the door. I circled the safe quickly, ran out, just as they slammed the door shut. They left him some chocolate bars and water, but they couldn’t do anything about the light. There was no light, but Bennie planned to sleep and rehearse his shock and anger until Red arrived. They didn’t even notice me until it was too late. No one had time to worry about me, so they left. The three of them giggled as they got into Slocum’s van. In a few years, they would be on easy street. Margaritas all around at Bennie’s place in Tahiti, one island over from Brando’s. All they had to do now was to drop off the money at the lawyer’s. At the time, I didn’t know, nobody did, except Red, about the slow leak of oxygen from the safe. Bennie must have realized that something was wrong because he made a lot of noise in the safe around the same time that Red arrived, the next morning. Red’s Cadillac pulled up beside Bennie’s Celebrity in the empty parking lot. I watched from the front window as Red got out of his car and walked toward the building. He looked back once at Bennie’s car. He was about half way between his parking space and the warehouse when his cell phone went off. He dug it out of his jacket pocket and answered it. I could tell that he was talking to a woman he loved by the change of expression on his face. It lit up. He stopped, looked at the sky as he talked. He had a big smile on his face when he turned back to the car. He listened to the phone, smiled at his shoes. Red got back into his Caddy, talking on the phone, his eyes on Bennie’s Celebrity. He was talking to Lola that day. He thought Bennie had his days off mixed up, so that he was taking care of the pick up. He was partially right, Bennie was there, but he was in the safe. The noises from the safe got fewer and further between, quieter, then stopped all together. Brutus started howling and whining from the back of the warehouse. Brando’s death scene in The Godfather always was one of Bennie’s favourites, but I think he would rather have played it in a tomato patch. When the security guys from the pick up company arrived, there was no one around. They called Red and told him that they could see the cat in the office window and that Bennie’s car was there, but no Bennie. By this time I was hungry, the litter box was filling up. I knew, from Brutus’s mournful howl, that Bennie had somehow died in the safe. Red drove over from Lola’s the next morning. He took a long time calling long distance, pushing digital codes to open the safe before its special time. Red’s reputation was on the line. The reputation of his service to the big companies. The security company had to have the money. Red breathed through his nose a lot, walked around the office with a serious expression followed by the security guards talking into their cell phones. If they had arrived earlier, if Red hadn’t taken so long to open the safe, they could have seen Bennie gasping for his last breath. The police were called as soon as Red opened the door and found Bennie dead in the safe, the money gone. Red seemed surprised and a little hurt by the discovery of Bennie’s body. When he saw the cat dishes of water and food inside the safe door he adopted me on the spot. He took me home to his very comfortable estate. It was as if he was protecting me. He switched from Linda to Lola just after Bennie’s funeral. Linda accused him of holding out on her, but Red paid her off. It wasn’t the payment she wanted but she had to settle for it. The police questioned all of Bennie’s friends. Nobody talked and no one was caught for the theft. Lola’s a real cat lover so I’m pampered and lazy here. There are no poker games with smoke and interesting smells, but the food is great. Yesterday she got some cat treats and served them to me on a pillow. It gets harder and harder to remember life at Bennie’s. Red suffered his loss manfully, in public. Bennie’s death was so shocking that Red’s compensation from the insurance company went unnoticed. Red doesn’t know Mutt or Jeff or Slocum. They don’t move in the same circles. They were all there at Bennie’s funeral which was also attended by a large number of undercover cops. I watched from the passenger seat of Red’s Caddy. When it was over they filed past the Cadillac on their way to the cars. Red argued with Linda over Bennie’s grave. Slocum looked me right in the eye and winked as he passed the windshield. He knew that I had seen it all and that Red was a good provider.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Neighbour

I first noticed her while I was waiting for Yvonne. It was a throwback to the Hitchcock movie. Me and the rear window. Mine was the only house which looked over her back yard. When the tree by my kitchen window was full of leaves, I could only get glimpses until I cut the right branches. It was risky, but I had developed strong arms and the tree was close to the window. I started to use escort services when I arrived back from Iraq and couldn’t use my legs. I didn’t want a commitment of any kind. A whole year of hospitalization, only to find that they couldn’t cure the paralysis in my legs. There was a long period of rehabilitation after that. I was treated as a hero at first, felt like an object of pity, later. The reality was that I went to Iraq to boost my income and career. Some of my photographs won prizes. My impetuous nature, my thirst for adventure, my selfishness, they were all part of it. But when I returned, the benefits soon wore thin. I didn’t feel that I’d accomplished anything. The people around me had never seen war. They only knew the old me. My wife and young kids treated me like I was sick, friends hid their smugness and pity behind their concern. When it became unbearable, I made plans. Something had happened to me while I was an embedded photographer in Iraq, which I would never wish on anyone, but which didn’t make me feel the least bit suicidal. A descent into the bottomless pool of self pity wasn’t an option. The misunderstanding of my well meaning friends and family caused me to make the escape. I had been changed. I didn’t care anymore. I had been through too many operations, too many hours of physio punctuated by hours of doing nothing. I couldn’t deal with all the ties of my old life. It wasn’t worth trying to explain and I didn’t care what anyone else thought. If there is a god, may he or she forgive me. I played the role while I was recovering then I ran. Who’s going to suspect a man in a wheelchair of acquiring a new identity? It was easy. Only one person in the world knew my new name and where I was. She was a lesbian mother of two who lived in Vancouver. We met in university, kept in touch over the years. She was no threat. She knew as little about my former life as I knew about hers. Money was no object for me because of the insurance. The network had me well covered. I disappeared to an east coast city one day. Every so often, another story appeared in the media about my depressed state at the time of my disappearance. My wife moved in with a former mayor. She and the kids looked happy in media pictures. The first man I saw with the neighbour turned out to be her husband. When they sat out on their backyard deck around supper time, they seemed to have that intimacy. She touched him when she gave him a glass. Sometimes they argued, other times they’d sit reading while their barbeque smoked in the background. They seemed comfortable with each other for most of that early spring. I watched from my kitchen window the night of the party in her backyard. I drank tequila while I watched the couples till they departed. The guy must have been a close friend of them both. She kissed him goodnight before her husband, disappeared into the house. The guys talked, then the husband produced a hand held video camera, left it with his friend, disappeared into the house. By this time, I had my powerful binoculars focussed on the small screen in the camera which the buddy was watching on the deck. He sat with his back to me, as fixed on the images as I was. We witnessed the marital coupling from several angles. The husband made surreptitious smiles into the screen. When it was over, the bedroom lights went out. The buddy took the camera with him into the house. Lights in another part of the house went on and off. All was dark. I started drinking in a local bar but the other drinkers there were even more patronising and depressing than my real family so I joined some wheelchair racing enthusiasts. The athletics became too hard for me in a short time. I wanted to be comfortable, not driven. I didn’t really have anything to prove. I just wanted to take it easy, pay attention to the things I liked. I became content staying at home, playing my guitar and reading. I used the tv and computer, but usually when Yvonne wasn’t coming over, I read or played my music. The next time I saw the neighbour, she was sitting on her deck, sipping a coffee. She had discarded her robe, exposed her body in a skimpy bikini. I studied her closely with the binoculars. I noticed a mound in her backyard, just below the deck. She had planted a peony bush on it. The edges of the mound were visible, at first, but she kept it watered. Soon it blended in with the rest of the lawn. Her husband was never seen again. Cops interviewed her, the story of her husband’s disappearance was in all the media, for a short time. It was the man I’d first seen her with. His name was Norman. She shed tears for the press, played the role of the grieving widow-distraught spouse, in public. I knew, from watching her, that she smiled a lot, to herself, when she was alone, watering the peony. She was slim with short blonde hair, long legs and a pretty face. I came to appreciate her figure when I saw her from my kitchen window, on summer mornings. I had hours to inspect her body, through my binoculars. She stretched, drank coffee on her deck. She often wore a robe which she discarded when she sat down. I was blessed when the hand held rocket hit the truck in the middle of Baghdad. Blessed because when the shrapnel hit my spine, it didn’t affect my genitals. I could still function sexually. In fact, I was hornier than ever. Yvonne had no inhibitions with me. I paid her good money to dress up and take off her different costumes. It was a kind of visual foreplay. After I saw the neighbour, I insisted that Yvonne and I do it in the kitchen. She didn’t notice the neighbour, didn’t notice me looking out the window, while she was busy. The buddy showed up some months later. He had been around at first, offering the grieving widow the obligatory shoulder to cry on. She wasn’t a widow officially, but there was no sign of her husband. The buddy must have run into her somewhere a few months later. I watched Yvonne dance around the kitchen, strip to the music. The neighbour and the buddy sat together, on her deck, drinking something out of tall glasses. Yvonne left after supper. I watched them kiss on the deck, disappear into the house. Lights went on and off in her bedroom. All was dark. My neighbour sat on her deck again in late summer with two mounds in the back yard below her. On the second mound, which was barely visible, she had planted a rose bush. Often on summer mornings she sat on the chaise lounge, read, drank coffee, smiled to herself. On hot days I could see rivulets of sweat through my binoculars. They trickled from her neck down between her full, bikini’d breasts. Yvonne began talking about retiring near the end of the summer. Usually we didn’t talk. I didn’t get turned on by it and I was paying. Yvonne didn’t take offence. Instead, she told me about customers who liked to talk and liked to hear her talk while she satisfied their sexual desires. I would be sad to see her go. The neighbour cleaned up her deck for the winter with three mounds in the backyard. There were blowing leaves gathering on them. The third one sported a hydrangea bush which looked like it had always been there. I wasn’t surprised that the detective who talked to her, on the deck, with a notebook in one hand, a badge in the other, had disappeared. He showed up at later that night, had a few drinks with her, stayed out on the deck for a smoke. Her bedroom lights went on, he finished his cigarette, disappeared into the house. Her lights went out. All was dark. By this time, I assumed that my neighbour was having sex with, killing and burying the men in her life. I thought about calling the cops, but I didn’t want any publicity. It would be a big story. The black widow. The seductress-murderer. There was always the anonymous tipline. But every time I went to make the call, I was battered by questions: Was she doing anything that was more shocking than what I had seen in a war? Was it any of my business? Was it a connection, even so tenuous, to my former life? Did my neighbour’s men get what they deserved? Did she? Did I? Did the Iraqis and the Americans? The questions stopped me, then became unimportant when Yvonne retired to start her own agency. They remained in the back of my mind but they were impossible for me to answer. My finger was poised above the phone several times, but the questions stopped me. I had contributed to Yvonne’s nest egg. I didn’t regret it. She introduced me to Rita, brought her around one day. I got specials for free: Rita and I got along well. It was even easier for me than with Yvonne because Rita already knew what I liked. I figured my neighbour would probably get caught on her own. There was nothing to watch in her backyard during the winter. Boredom started me back into photography again. Slowly but surely, I got ready for the spring. I wasn’t sure what for, but I would be ready in the spring. But in the spring, she was gone. A new family had moved in. I watched the mother teach her children about the three bushes in their back yard as they came to life in the warm sunshine. They watered them carefully, fussed over them, pruned them. In the spring, the peonies bloomed, the rose blossomed all summer and the hydrangea put on an impressive show in the fall. The framed picture of the yard, deck, three bushes, hangs on my kitchen wall.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Me

I was of a young age when I was born. Lack of experience and physical inabilities forced me to spend most of the first few years on my back with a few moments on my front. Various big people coo cooed, picked me up, put me down, held me, changed me, fed me and kissed me goodnight. I was the centre of attention for a while. When winter ended I explored the world around me. My mother wondered at my insight. I crawled, poked and investigated the various rooms of our cardboard box. I deduced that summer was near when a flower bloomed outside of our cardboard door and an extremely hot thing above us in the sky burnt the bejesus out of our box. I was drawn to the sound of traffic as soon as I could stand. There was no turning back when it came to me and traffic. I rushed straight for it as fast as my little legs could carry me. I was saved from certain disaster many times by strangers. Several rainy springs, my mother gathered all twelve of us children together to collect cardboard for a new box. Waterproof cardboard was hard to come by. For a long time, I thought the furry fellow who kept licking me and wagging his tail was my father. It was Rex the dog. Big people kept him happy with food and water like me. The only apparent difference seemed to be that they made Rex defecate outside before they disposed of it, whereas I could go right in my pants. I went to school by following the herd of my brothers and sisters when I was of an age to do so. The teachers taught and the students, of which there were many thousands, learned. What we learned is another matter. Children followed marriage. They seemed to pop up regularly in various rooms of my home. I was, by this time, the proud owner of a wooden packing case. The appearance of new children always coincided with my wife gaining then losing a great amount of weight around the belly area. Often, when the family gathered in the packing case, we had a karaoke night. None of us could carry a note. Neighbours sent complaints our way but in the main our karaoke nights were successful. We all knew ‘Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog’, by heart and each member of the family sang it lustily. Perhaps the neighbours wouldn’t have complained so much if we sang some other songs as well. Now that I am old, I grow young again. The others grow old and young again at their own pace. The passage of years winnows things down to bare essentials. It’s normal to return to childhood as you grow old because as the years go by, more and more, you don’t care as a child doesn’t care. If all goes well, I’ll be of an old age when I die.