Ode To A Friend

I’m constantly wondering, why is it that I have such amazing friends? It’s enough sometimes to give a guy a complex. I understand that our experience is relative, therefore I should assume that it’s my perception which casts this light on the people around me. That said, goddamn I have great friends and today I’d like to sing the praise of one in particular.

This particular friend is an old one. I believe we met in grade one. We were natural enemies at first, just as so many boys are with their later best friends. After some ridiculous altercation wherein he called me names and I pulled his hair we decided, on those grounds, we were fit to be life-long brothers. The following years were filled with an idyllic kind of growth which can only be found in the island communities off the west-coast of Canada.

Vancouver Island

Where our paths took an unusual turn was around the time were both reaching the completion of our first decade on this blue dot called earth. His family for work reasons left for Japan. Bonded as we were at the hip, to lose such a great friend came as a great shock. Adding to this shock was the place he was going. Japan to an adult mind carries with it mystical connotations, to a child’s you might as well say you’re going to another planet. Thus my interest in the place I now live was born.

Planet

The poor guy, or lucky, depending on how you look at it, was dropped into a Japanese elementary school as soon as he arrived. He had no training in the language. He was given no special treatment for his lack of its understanding. His life became the very definition of sink or swim. After a few years he came back to Canada and we were reunited again. He with an amazing understanding of a challenging foreign language. Me with a studied interest in where he had gone.

I discussed with him the dream that had grown in his absence: to live in Japan by teaching English one day. He supported the idea whole-heartedly. Also he shared with me his new interest in architecture. It felt like we could both see the future. He would become a successful architect, and I, a teacher thriving in a different fascinating culture. The powers that be, naturally, had something else in mind for the both of us.

paths

I fell in love. Hard. The kind of love utterly pure for its ignorance. Love untainted by discovering the cost of losing it. And for a time it was good: three years to be precise. Although the final year of the relationship suffered a sharp decline which forecasted its eventual end. In those years my dream to travel abroad was given up gladly. Love doesn’t care where it lives.

My friend on the other hand moved back to Japan to study architecture at the university of Kyoto. He’d worked his ass off to earn a full ride scholarship. This scholarship is given out to a handful of people by the Japanese government. Did I mention my friend is smart? So while I got fat, foolishly lazy content in the idea that true-love is infinitely patient, my friend laid down the tracks for a glorious future.

My relationship ended and I was left wondering, what the hell I should do? I’m, as my dad likes to say, a god-cursed arts student. I have a degree in history, which although interesting, is hard to apply in a job market which rewards understanding of the material world. For that reason I drifted from job to job for a couple of years. I’m lucky to have met more amazing friends and people who inspired me. Grateful as I was to meet these people, one of which I directly credit for making me realize I could write, I still didn’t know what to do. Cliché as it may sound, I’d forgotten my dream.

shattered

My friend reminded me. He reminded me about my dream to live abroad. My life came into focus immediately. I would come over to Japan. No matter what I had to do to make it a reality, I would. Strangely, I see in retrospect much as I thought the interview process was grueling and difficult, all that success required of me was an effort. But that’s a different story.

My friend gave me a direction and for that I will always be eternally grateful. It is an incredible gift that we as friends have the power to draw out the dormant potential we can see in the ones we care for. This is not some tired idealist phrase: you can change someone’s life for the better. And having learned this lesson from my friend, I will try to do the same for others until the day I die.

reflection

I felt reborn having come to Japan. Each day I woke up had purpose and excitement. I was living my life the way I believe we all should: with an awareness that each breath we draw carries a certain magic. I could not have been happier. That was, until my friend was diagnosed with cancer.

The news was especially staggering for the life he had led leading up to the diagnosis. There are certain people who are diagnosed and, cruel as it sounds, it makes a certain sense. If you live your life in excess when cancer comes to call it’s not always surprising. My friend is not one of these people. He was a young, healthy, non-smoker, active individual. No one could believe it.

The type of cancer he was diagnosed with was terminal. He would have to face dying. I know the world is filled with amazing people, and perhaps some of them would handle this news well, but none with the unique grace that my friend did. I know for certain he faced despair and under its weight he never gave in. He did the treatments. He watched his health fade. He made peace with death.

flatline

Then, a miracle. The Dr had mis-diagnosed his cancer. It went from being a terminal to case to one with a potentially positive outcome. My friend fought hard. His health came back. He recovered. I have rarely been so happy in my entire life. And I learned from him another lesson. Until something comes to pass its outcome is never certain. Good or bad.

I’m relieved to say that after the chemo and treatments his recovery was complete and since that dark time he has been doing extraordinarily well. He hasn’t however continued to pursue architecture. Nope, instead he and his brother have founded an international tech company which is rapidly on its way to being a massive success.

earth-rising-sun-desktop-background

The G7 summit was recently held in Japan and my friend was establishing offices there around the time of the event. It just so happened as well that the Canadian government, while at the event, were looking for new tech companies to invest in. My friend’s company’s meteoric rise earned him newly elected Canadian prime-minister Justin Trudeau’s attention and he was invited to a dinner whereat he received a grant for his business. I tell you I can’t believe it. Some people just don’t know when to give up.

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When You Bleed You’re Beautiful

Approach and state your name

Did you come here to fight

Did you come here to blame

This road is not yours this house is not mine

You’re building castles in the sand this time

I’m so tired of drawing lines

We can, can fly above them

They’ll not matter when you see them far away

One more argument you bought and sold

I’m sorry to be the one who tells you, baby, when you bleed you’re beautiful

Fall into me, hold onto me, be there, fade away, say my name, let me know

Appear, what twists and takes all your fears

Knock, knocking you, get up fall down

That familiar feel of crumbling ground

I know you’re tired of endings and beginnings

Life’s long lists of what ifs and letting gos

Just remember when we bleed we’re beautiful

Fall into me, hold onto me, let me go, be there, fade away, let me know

Forgive Me

Forgive me if I’ve forgotten what we argued for

We washed up here without our fear left it on the shore

It’s in each other’s arms we’re guilty wanting more

Like an old photograph you hold in your hands

Timeless till the waves melt what seemed like solid sand

Let me wake from just one more dream
Where the sun is rising and the light touches everything
An unending ending is it so much to ask
When all our time descending falls through an hour-glass

If I am no more than a blink of an eye let me fall a million ways let me feel before I die

All those friends who’ve come and gone loved ones whose memories may persist

Aren’t we all just the same leaving folded at the wrists

So please

Forgive what I am forgive what I am not forgive that I’m forgetting what should not have been forgot

Let me wake from just one more dream
Where the sun is rising and the light touches everything
An unending ending is it so much to ask
When all our time descending falls through an hour-glass

Chapter.4 Hiding in plain Sight

In the first weeks of his new school Daniel developed a routine. He would wake long before anyone in the house. After wishing the farm on his wall a good day, careful not to make any noise, he would rush a barely warm shower and get dressed. Then, tiptoeing lightly down the hall past his parent’s bedroom, he’d descend the old wooden stairs that led to the kitchen and receive there the warmest greeting he’d ever known. Lincoln waited for him each morning, in a bed they’d set up next to their ghoulishly coloured yellow refrigerator. Always awake, standing at attention. When Daniel entered, his tail would begin to wag in a steady beat—thump, thump, thump—hitting the side of the fridge, like a drum-beat summoning soldiers to war. Daniel would then invoke the ritualistic question which preceded all their walks: “Who’s a good boy?” Lincoln’s joyous reaction, wherein he leapt up on his owner nuzzling and licking his face affectionately, predicated the truism, he—most certainly was.

They’d lap the block once or twice, depending on Lincoln’s energy level, then return to the house to meet Kate sitting on the steps of their home, usually shaking her head in disbelief.

“You’re crazy,” yawned Kate.

Daniel ceased twirling Lincoln’s leash. A game which left the dog comically walking in a diagonal line at his side. “You know,” he said solemnly, stopping to strike a pose, chest puffed out like a Saturday-morning-hero from the nineties, “they say love is crazy.”

Kate rolled her eyes. “Well then, you’re madly in love.”

“Oh, I am, dear sister,” said Daniel. Pulling back Lincoln’s ears, he planted a kiss on the adoring animal’s head. Kate had a special name for this particular canine expression: bliss in a slipstream. “It’s alright though, I don’t expect you to perfectly understand what it’s like to love a beast.”

“I love you, don’t I?”

“You’re hilarious.” Daniel gave his sister a lop-sided grin. “Just wait a moment. I’ll be back. I’m gonna top off Lincoln’s food bowl before we leave.” Their morning ritual replete, critical banter and all complete, the two set off for school.

Bam!

Daniel jolted upright, hand pressed to his stinging forehead. The students were giggling; everyone turned in his direction. On the verge of sleep when he’d lost consciousness, his face had slid from its precariously balanced position on his palm to smack into his desk. Judging by his teacher’s sigh and head shake of resigned indifference, it might not have been the first time. He glowered round darkly at those who laughed. That was, until a gooey spit ball wetly smacked the side of his head.

“Don’t be so glum, chum. Trouble in paradise?” said Milton, a twice failed older classmate. In the first weeks of Daniel’s arrival Milton had tried unsuccessfully to acquaint himself. He’d mistakenly approached the friendship in a traditional way: too kindly and without expectations. Daniel never trusted those who offered kindness without weighing return on investment. That’s not how kindness worked.

“I’m fine, you dick, just bored.” Daniel peeled the sticky wad of paper off his cheek and flicked it back at his classmate who made a show of dodging the projectile.

Milton jabbed a confident thumb towards himself. “Well, you wouldn’t be bored if you’d hang out with me. If there’s one thing I understand, it’s a good time.”

“Right…” said Daniel cupping his face, this time in both hands. Daniel turned from the moronically beatific smile of Milton, attempting to take something from the lecture. It never did any good. The harder he focused, the more his teachers words became a blur. The more he just felt like going to sleep. He sighed. what’s wrong with me?

Bam!

Daniel’s face smashed against his locker.

“How’d that taste, loser?”

Daniel turned, the warm coppery tang of iron filling his mouth. With one arm he clutched his textbooks. The free hand he pressed against the backside of his weeping lip. Drawing it away slowly, examining the ruby-red that smeared it, he licked his lips. “Delicious,” he laconically answered the three boys standing over him at his locker. His unnerving reply caused their leader to screw his face up in disgust.

“You’re a freak, you know that right?” He shoved Daniel back into the lockers with a loud clang. Other students in the hall hurried past, heads down; hate and cruelty are always hidden in plain sight.

“I do,” came Daniel’s answer, equally terse.

“That’s good.” The leader made a show of nodding around at his compatriots, keeping up the bravado. But, Daniel could tell he’d rattled their hollow confidence.“Just here to remind you, it’s the usual deal.”

Daniel simply nodded. The boys departed giving Daniel a final shove. It sent him sprawling and the books taken from his locker skidding across the floor.

 

————————–

 

“I don’t get it?” Kate whined. “Why do we always have to take separate paths home?”

“Because, we have separate paths to walk in this life, young one.” Daniel deepened his voice and pretended to pull a cape in front of his body.

“You are a brutal nerd—seriously…” Kate bobbed along next to her brother laughing. “I hate walking home by myself, it’s dangerous; you’re failing to protect me.”

Daniel kept his voice deep and the cape held in front of him as he walked. “You—are an idiot, young one; you do not walk home alone; you walk with Sandy.”

“Stop talking like that!” Kate batted his arm down, destroying the imagined cape. “I do, but I would rather walk with you. Promise me one of these days we will walk together.”

Daniel acquiesced. “Sure, just not today, Okay?

“Okay,” said Kate.

The exit of the school was barely that, just a road that met another road. Its only semi-significant characteristic was a middling sized leafless maple tree. Before the two parted ways under its barren branches, Daniel gave his sister a kiss on the head, hugging her and wishing her well. Watching her leave he took a seat at the base of the tree on a serpentine thick root. One of many that emerged from the earth, like the coils of a sea monster. Resting his back against its ridged trunk, he waved perfunctorily at his sister in the distance as she met with her new friend, Sandy.

The girl wore an intractable smile plastered to her face at all times, like the personae of Greek theater. But her sad eyes belied that smile, and told the truth that lay behind them. Daniel wondered what drew his sister to a person like that—but perhaps not—he knew of nothing more seductive than a lie.

His sister and Sandy soon disappeared out of sight around the corner of the block. Daniel took that as his cue to stand up. He brushed off the dust and debris of the ground and grabbed his backpack. He’d lain it next to the tree. Throwing it over his shoulder he took from his pocket his Swiss army knife. When sitting next to the tree he’d noticed inscriptions carved into its trunk. Like any prophet of the school, he wanted to forge his own. Between the timeless wisdom of “Claires a slut!!!”—incorrectly punctuated he noted—and, “Brandon and Josh forever”, he added, “Daniel was here”, an epitaph worthy of a king. Finishing his work he blew on it, removing any last clinging wood-chips. A stubborn sliver of bark resisted his breath and disrupted the proper reading of “here”. To correct the offending chunk of wood, he dug in and leaned hard on the blade. It cut loose with a twang, but the sudden release of pressure popped the blade out of his hand. It fell bouncing down the tree trunk coming to land in the dirt with a plop. He bent over to pick it up; doing so brought his eyes level with an inscription unseen from any other angle: “What matter where if I be still the same”. He read it multiple times. Deep, he decided. Whoever said that had their shit figured out. Standing up to stretch, he pressed his knuckles into the small of his back. He groaned, enjoying the release of pressure. It was time to go.

Except for the main street entrance, the playground was waiting for him penned in on all sides by low-cost cement-grey residential towers. No one was playing on its grounds when Daniel arrived: no one ever was. The small area hosted several physical distractions: a rusting jungle gym for kids to climb and practice breaking limbs on; a set of drooping spring-loaded sea-animals with their paint flaking off for night-time drunks to ride, bend and wear out; and the feature Daniel most enjoyed using, a three-seater swing set. Whistling to himself Daniel took a seat on the middle swing and set his bag on the ground. He built up an arc pumping his legs. As he gained height, with each pass of the parabola’s bottom, he’d kick up a spray of bark mulch on his way to the sky. At the top, he’d smile.

As the three boys entered the park he slowed the swing to a stop by digging in his heels. Thommy Humphreys was an angry-faced, straight-haired, pear-shaped boy. His waist— grotesquely ballooning at such an early age—foreshadowed opponents to come; opponents he could not beat with fists.

Loping along at Thommy’s heels came Dean Beakman. A gangly, tall, back-woods boy with straw blond hair, moved from a place named after an animal’s body part to the city; Dean exemplified willful ignorance. He was fond of telling childhood stories, wherein inter-species relations passed for rites-of-passage. Born with a tin of chew in his cradle, Dean had developed a mild celebrity around the school for his digestive tract’s capabilities. His esophagus and bowels, inured by years of use, allowed the boy to munch on the acrid cud without spitting. Instead, he swallowed the acidic juice, like bitter medicine.

Rounding out the wayward trio was one of the school’s rich elite. Chris Branch, a neurotic tick ridden boy who, in another time, might have been referred to as “prosperously plump”. Not so fat as his companion, he lacked the certainty of a cardiac ward in his future. But soft easy living had molded the boy in its image: fragile and temperamental. All three boys belonged to a different social strata, and formed an uncommon alliance; anger, with its power to bind those of like-mind in common-cause, had brought them together. Surrounded by all three, sitting still on his swing. Daniel found himself the object of their inimical attention.

“Why do you always come here?” Thommy asked. He breathed heavily while gazing round the empty play-ground. “Looking for kids to fondle?”

“Ya disappointed, D? No kiddies today?” chirped Branch, snickering. He wore a glossy red chromatic t-shirt with the word “What” emblazoned across its front. Looking from Daniel and back to Thommy he itched at the exposed skin of his arms while shifting his weight nervously from foot to foot. Beakman on the opposite flank of Thommy stood silent and expressionless as a cow, the only audible impression of his presence, the constant grinding of teeth as he worked away at the protrusion of tobacco held in his cheek.

Daniel kicked his legs, causing the swing to sway slightly. “Maybe I enjoy irony?” he spoke to the blurred ground rushing under his feet. Wasting words on people who wished him harm was exhausting. Digging pointed toes into the mulch he stopped the rocking of the swing. Hopping off his seat he then picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder. He kept a level eye on all the boys aside from Beakman who stood taller than himself. Taking his back-pack from his shoulders he held it in front of his chest with both hands and looked at it quizzically. The odd gesture drew everyone’s attention to its matte black shape. “You know, I never thought this brand was ever any good, but my sister kept insisting, it’s the best. Costs three times more than the no-name version that looks similar—did you know that?” Daniel looked round at the trio, holding out the bag.

Thommy’s brow furrowed. “The hell are you on about?”

“No really, it is,” said Daniel, holding out the bag with a salesman’s can-you-believe-it expression and tone, “and you know the dumbest thing?”

Branch’s eyes shifted from Daniel to Thommy and back. “Seriously the fuck are you on about? We don’t give a shit about-”

Daniel interrupted, “The dumbest thing is, I’m such a huge nerd, I checked up on the manufacturer, and would you believe—it’s actually the same bag? Here look.” Daniel lobbed the bag at Branch. Instinctively the boy raised his hands to catch the thrown object. With his hands up and his guard down, Daniel kicked, hard as he could, into the boy’s unprotected groin, sending his nuts—Daniel hoped—somewhere up near the back of his throat. The boy went down making a sound akin to a pinched balloon releasing air. Shaken by their fallen comrade’s demise the two standing boys looked at his curled form. Daniel just shook his head. “I know… It’s ridiculous…”

The sudden ferocity of Daniel’s attack had momentarily pacified his assailants, but once the initial shock had worn off, rage replaced complacency, and they pounced.

The blows fell and Daniel reflected on what had brought him here. It was strange how violence could—at times—make perfect sense. He didn’t blame them.

He’d fought Thommy but the boy had knocked him down and his excessive weight kept him pinned to the ground. This allowed Beakman to beat away at his unprotected face. Without needing to look, he could tell the mounting damage was something he wouldn’t be able to hide from his sister—this time. Another fist connected with the crown of his skull and it rebounded off the ground behind his head. Pain blossomed behind his eyes and he saw stars: flashes of light. With his vision blurring, he fully expected a final concussive impact. Daniel kept open his swollen eyes and waited for the final strike. He wanted to see the end coming. Wished for it to release him from misery, into black nothingness. But Dean paused, fist raised, his face overcome with an idea.

“I think our boy looks thirsty.” Humphreys grunted in acknowledgment from atop Daniel. “I think he needs a drink.”

“You’re sick!” spat Daniel. New fear sobered his mind and he thrashed and flailed under his heavier opponent’s rolls of flesh, but Thommy was immovable. He achieved nothing.

“Pinch his nose, Thommy,” Beakman commanded in his woodsy drawl. Humphrey’s fat fingers stinking of onions clamped Daniel’s nose. Beakman started making sounds at the back of his throat like a clogged sink draining the last of its water. “Hold him still,” said Beakman, through a mouth half of equal parts spit and chew juice.

The last burst of resistance had drained what little energy Daniel had left. Accepting the situation’s futility, he chose to lie still as possible extending how long he could hold his breath, but the urge to breathe became overwhelming. A fire soon burned in his lungs, desperate for air. Anticipating Daniel’s breaking point, a leering Beakman positioned over Daniel’s head drew one final disgusting pull of air through his nostrils.

“I got your drink ready, D, say-”

He never did finish his sentence. Daniel was just able to register in his vision’s periphery the swinging fist. It slammed hard into Beakman’s temple. The blow connected so fiercely Beakman’s head cranked to the side and the boy dropped unconscious. The light in his eyes extinguished. His head landed next to Daniel face down. No longer in control of his jaw the vile liquid intended for Daniel began to pool around his face, draining slowly from his mouth like an oil spill, soaking the mulch he’d passed out in and leaking into his blond hair. Thommy who’d until this point focused solely on keeping Daniel pinned, looked up.

“What the fu-” He was the second to not finish his sentence. The boot connected flat with his face. Daniel could hear the wet snapping of cartilage and breaking bone, watched as the boy’s nose exploded, felt the spray of blood sting his eyes. Thommy went tumbling backwards off him, clutching his ruined face. “Here little pig pig piggy pig, come ere boy.” Daniel identified the taunting voice of his savior. Milton. Stepping over Daniel he leapt on Thommy, who’d fallen on his back. Descending into a crouched position with a foot on either side of his victim, Milton grabbed a fistful of Thommy’s shirt, using it to pull the disoriented boy off the ground. He began swinging. Thommy feebly attempted to block the onslaught with an arm but Milton easily passed the guard and punched through it, again… and again… and again…

Daniel watched from propped elbows in disbelief as the older boy turned the other’s face into a horror show. Watching the carnage Daniel’s stomach churned. In no version of his desired revenge was there ever this level of ultra violence.

“Pu… Pu… Please,” a battered Thommy pleaded through blood and spittle. Milton’s face, which had remained chillingly impassive during the course of the beating, split into a wide toothy grin.

“You’ll have to speak up—what was that?” Milton took the boy’s stained shirt in both hands and pulled him upright. Cocking his head to the left he brought Thommy’s lips in line with his ear. “Again please, did you need something?” In a heart-beat Milton had transformed: remorseless reaper became attentive angel. Allowed enough time to catch his ragged intermittent breath, Thommy wept.

“We didn’t know,” he began to sob, “We’re-”

Milton savagely backhanded the boy, cutting him off. He then drew their faces closer still—nearly touching—and screamed.

Cringing, Daniel slammed his hands over his ears. The loss he felt when Milton cried out was terrible, like dreams, still-born. Overwhelmed, Thommy’s eyes bugged in their sockets and rolled back; he went limp. Holding the boy for a moment, no longer screaming, Milton then let the dead-weight slip from his fingers. The body hit the ground with a loud thwump.

The sound managed to pierce a paralyzing fog that had rendered Daniel’s brain a mute observer. He sharply inhaled, having forgotten to breathe somewhere amidst the madness. With his hands flopping from his ears to his sides, on his knees he took in the playground around him: Beakman face down, black tar oozing around him. Branch curled in a ball moaning, grasping his genitals. And Thommy, looking like several stacked bags of flour laid out on his back, blood running freely from his broken nose and ruined features.

“Need a hand? You look like hell.”

“Huh… what…?” Dazed, Daniel looked at the outstretched hand in front of him.

“Your face man, those bastards really laid a whooping on you before I showed up.”

“I… Yes, thank you.” Daniel touched a hand to his face and pulled it away fast. It hurt, badly. He took the bloodied slick hand of Milton and stood up. He felt strange, light-headed, grateful, horrified. A wave of nausea tossed his stomach and he pressed both hands to his knees. Hunched over he closed his eyes to stop the spinning. He did not wish to join the others on the ground. Speaking sideways he asked, “Why did you help me?”

Milton cracked another famous grin and smacked Daniel on his hunched over back. “Well, I’m just your guardian angel, buddy.”

Daniel raised his head, looked into Milton’s radiant smile—and threw up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter.3 Sins of the Father

The door slammed shut and the two siblings bounced down the steps. Books shifting in their backpacks, smacking their shoulders as they descended. Rushing away from the front door of the Victorian-style manor house, Daniel’s body shook with adrenaline. He would have stayed and defied Grant’s threat if not for the pleading of his mother that they go. The pair walked in hurried silence for three blocks before Kate spoke.

“That was brave of you.” She looked at Daniel intently and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder before speaking again. “To stand up to him.”

Daniel rubbed at his throat. “Lincoln better be there when we get back.”

“I have a feeling he will. Grant won’t want to go through the effort of returning him himself and Mom will refuse to do it.”

“Yeah,” said Daniel, “he’ll just be a pain about it the whole time now won’t he?”

“Is he ever not?” said Kate, looking down at her shoes as they walked.

That made him smile. “No, he isn’t.” Kate could be such a comfort. Like him, melancholy struck her, but she always managed to somehow handle it better; she wore it like an accomplishment around her neck instead of added weight.

No matter how far back he went, in every memory the black cloud of Grant hung over the family, like a specter that clung to happiness, staining it. Grant, at his most harmless, had always enjoyed spouting tired profundities, with an awareness of his own failures absent. If Kate, their mom, or himself, committed the slightest error, he’d shake a finger in their face saying, “You reap what you sow. Gotta put in one hundred ten percent.” Daniel could bear the harassment personally, but not watching him inflict it on the rest of the family. Even before the wealth came and went, Grant’s rotten behavior stunk to the heavens.

Years ago, when Grant returned home triumphantly to declare that one of his anti-depressants had finally passed clinical studies, Daniel had thought maybe he would get better. They’d be rich after all. What ever went wrong for rich people? Money however, like any other horrible disease, infected the family. Prior to Grant’s monetary success, he had at least a sort of forced humbleness, brought about by many unsuccessful attempts to create something capable of passing testing. He’d even had a partner he’d worked with, a kind man: Sam.

Daniel had liked Sam, he represented a counterbalance. Sam could deflate Grant’s overblown ego like no one else. He would visit sometimes; he and Grant were drinking mates. After a few, Grant would call Daniel or Kate into the kitchen, eager to reprimand them for whatever fault, but Sam wouldn’t allow it. Instead, on these singular occasions, Sam would turn the criticism around. He’d cajole and tease, in a self-deprecating fashion, he and Grant’s impotent forays into pharmaceuticals. Sam was able to split the blame between the two of them; his humour cut just deep enough that Grant would yield, leaving the target of his cruel affections free to leave. After Grant’s drug got approved, Sam disappeared, and along with him any sense of humility—forced or otherwise—Grant ever had. After that, he had as much confidence as he did money; the prosperity’s bolstering effect on his warped self-worth redoubled his criticism of the family. The best way Daniel could describe his father was a frenzied drowning man; he could only ever breathe if someone were below him. Suffering in his place.

Human existence, so often referred to as—life, a funny delineation Daniel always thought, considering so much of it is death—would eventually take its karmic revenge. Grant had just enough time for a meteoric rise. Soon after, many people prescribed his wonder-cure for depression—ironically—started killing themselves. In the tragedy’s aftermath it wasn’t Grant’s company that was going to go under, it was him. The resulting backlash against Grant was severe: loss of his job, humiliation in the public sphere, fighting off jail-time, and all accumulated wealth consumed by legal fees. The trauma on Grant’s psyche evolved his base meanness. A predilection for bullying his wife and children became something more sinister, something violent.

 

——

 

“Well that’s an eye-opener.” Kate pointed at a building they approached at the end of the block. Large at a distance, it took a closer look to fully appreciate just how immense it was. Gothic and ancient looking, it stood anachronistically at odds with the tiny 7-eleven and dry cleaning shop huddled insignificantly next to it in the shadow of its western corner. A mess of construction scaffolding and support lines held up sail sized blue safety tarps. Ostensibly erected for renovations, they blocked much of its eastern side from view. The project’s scale reached many meters up and off the side of the building. Through a high fence running parallel along the side of the block, the siblings could see a lone rectangular temporary portable, set back from Escher like labourer paths. Likely a headquarters for engineers to coordinate the work crews efforts. It sat atop cinder blocks, above the mud and muck of the winter construction yard.

Daniel stepped up to the fence lacing his fingers through its links. “Shut down for the winter.”

“What do you think they’re actually doing?” said Kate.

“Just what it looks like I’m sure. Old buildings need repairs. Probably just taking longer than they thought it would. Sure would be fun to explore though. Look at that stuff. It’s a maze up there.”

Kate looked at her brother. “I won’t tell you not to get any stupid ideas—I know that’s impossible—please just try not to act on them.” Kate’s gaze was serious.

Daniel laughed. “No promises.”

“Are you kids alright?”

Kate and Daniel both jumped in surprise, turning to find a man stood behind them, hands crossed in front, resting at his waist, dressed in grey robes. While they’d spoken he’d walked up behind them after descending the white stone steps of the religious building.

“Christ, mister, you scared us.” Daniel put an arm around his sister pulling her to stand next to him. The man raised his arms, palms upwards, as if indicating he had nothing to hide.

“Terribly sorry, not my intention, did you two have any questions about our humble grounds? You seemed to have an interest in them?”

“Hell. Damn.” Daniel paused. “Well let me think.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. His sister cocked an eyebrow watching him bemusedly. “Now that you mention it, yes. What’s going on with all this construction? Looks like this project has gone on for a while.”

“Renovations, old building,” said the man in grey flatly. “We’d hoped to have it complete before the winter, but alas, the plans of mice and men.” He smiled invitingly.

“Of who?” Daniel looked confused.

“It’s from a book, oh wise brother.” Kate jabbed her brother’s ribs playfully causing him to keel over, loosing his protective grip on her shoulder. Kate stepped forward and looked up at the man who stood many heads taller than herself. “So what do you worship here?”

“The one true God of course,” replied the man.

“Which one?” Kate’s words cut quickly, she barely allowed the man time to finish speaking.

The man frowned, perturbed. “His name does not so much matter, young lady, as what he does.”

“And that is?”

“Why, free you from pain, from sorrow, all the sadness that this world heaps on you. Release from all those feelings, in a word, absolution.”

“I like my sorrow, it keeps me warm at night,” said Kate, crossing her arms.

“You’ve been hurt very badly, young one.” He put a hand on his heart. “I can see th-”

“You see nothing,” said Kate angrily. She did not let the man in grey continue. “Daniel, let’s go.” She tugged on the sleeve of his jacket.

“I didn’t mean to offend you, young lady.” The man gave a slight bow. “Please consider coming by to see us if you ever have more questions.”

Ignoring the offer, Kate pulled her protesting brother further down the block. The man in grey left waving pleasantly in their wake. Moved out of earshot, Daniel spoke, “What’s crawled up your ass and died, Kate? That was fun. How many more times do you think we could’ve blasphemed before he lost it?”

Kate never stopped looking straight ahead and walked with quick determined short strides. “I don’t think that’s the team he cheers for, Daniel.”

“Huh, what are you talking about? He’s some kind of Christian.” Kate did not respond. “Not a big deal anyways, he seemed nice enough.”

“Hitler was kind to dogs,” Kate mumbled.

“He really got to you eh? You’re usually a rock round people like that.”

“No one gets to say to they know me; they have no idea.”

Taking the hint, Daniel shut up. Three blocks later he and Kate arrived at their new school. As they did, the sun lifted high enough for its beams to flood down the city’s skyscraper lined corridors, unfurling like a blood-red carpet under their feet; they walked on light.

 

 

 

Love Has No Regrets

So strange that we call it life
When so much of it is death
You find yourself at another sad end
Always catching your breath

But please Mother never forget
Each time that sun sets it’s always gonna rise
So wipe away those tears from your eyes
And every drop of rain it may fall on our heads
But feeds the soil our sorrow a new life grows as it’s fed

Our Mothers make us through pain
And it’s for their love they will return again and again
Because of this she teaches me best
That it’s after pain which comes true rest

So cry let it out forget all your doubt
You aren’t alone everything is right
Your father returns to true rest tonight

And it’s ok to feel pain
I promise from this day forward I will never forget
It is you who taught me love is the same
And love has no regrets