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Authors: Lesley Choyce

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BOOK: Shoulder the Sky
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So I mowed his lawn with our mower and he woke up around noon to see that someone had cut his grass while he slept in. Later, I would learn that he thought he did it himself while he was tanked and couldn't remember. Afraid that he might do it again and maybe cut off his toes or something, he put his lawnmower out for the trash. He wasn't interested in lawn care anymore anyway.

I know my mother would have liked the random kindness business. She used to give her paintings to sick friends until she discovered that giving away homemade pies worked better. Even if they didn't eat it, people cheered up when my Mom delivered a pie. Not everybody “got” my mother's paintings. She was pretty far out there.

Because of my mother and the pies, I decided not to give up. There were other acts of random kindness. I sent anonymous compliments to people by e-mail. Darrell showed me how to do this so no one would know it was me. I told ugly girls they were pretty. I told losers they were admired. I would always be very specific, nothing generic.

I tried in vain to do some nice things for people at the mall, but somehow it just didn't feel right there. I told one of my classmates, Julie, that the shoes she was about to buy in one store were actually ten dollars cheaper in another store. She just gave me a dirty look.

I opened the glass mall door for a woman carrying two heavy bags, but she walked through without acknowledging me at all. I even cleaned up the scraps of paper on the floor around the money machine. That was what brought the security guard.

“What do you think you're doing?” the uniformed guy asked. You could tell he'd watched a few too many cop movies.

“Tidying up,” I answered.

“There's no loitering allowed in the mall.”

“I understand the need for rules,” I said.

“Good. Then you'll understand why I have to ask you to leave.”

“No problem.”

I was going to offer to buy him a cup of coffee but I'd lost confidence.

I told Lilly about my efforts.

“How do you get into this stuff?” she asked.

“You're such a dork.”

Then she went into one of her well-rehearsed acts of exasperation for an audience that wasn't even there. “My brother is such a dork,” she said to herself in the mirror. Lilly often talked to herself in the mirror when she needed to express an important thought. “He is like so not-there.”

I didn't take any of it personally. I waited for her to turn around.

“Nice outfit.”

“This old thing? I hate it.”

“It looks good on you.”

“Oh pa-lease.”

“What are we going to do about Dad?” I asked, changing the subject.

“What is there to do? He's invisible. Not on the radar at all. He is who he wants to be. Why should we intrude on his coping mechanism?”

“Maybe he shouldn't be invisible.”

“Martin, you're the one with the wise-ass shrink.

What would he say?” she asked.

“He'd say that Dad has to get mad at something.”

“Great. Then he'd start yelling at us like he used to.”

“He didn't yell that much.”

“Not at you. You're such a dork. You never got into trouble.”

“I tried.”

“No one thinks like you do, Martin. You're on your own little planetoid. The Moon of Martin.”

“It's who I am.”

“Martin. Face it. We have a weird family. All families are weird as soon as you get to know them. We're no different.”

“Except that we lost Mom.”

“Why did you have to bring that up?”


I turned to leave.

“Come back here,” she said. Suddenly my sister was giving me a big hug. She was crying but pretending not to be. “Martin from the Moon. My little brother.”

Quote of the Day

“I'll be damned if I'll let any old nebula get in our way.”

Captain Katherine Janeway,
Star Trek:Voyager


Meaning of Life

For those who need something new to agonize about: some scientists occasionally worry that something really catastrophic will happen if all of the planets line up on the same side of the sun. You know, they're all spinning around in their own orbits and there's a kind of balance. But about once every thousand years, say, they end up on the same side of the solar system and all in a straight line. Something weird could happen.

The great thing about getting serious about worrying about catastrophes that are of a solar system proportion is that you can stop fussing with dumb little worries that clutter up your life. Suppose the scientists
say that next Thursday all the planets will line up on the same side of the solar system and we might experience earthquakes, increased solar radiation, firestorms, and waves that are two hundred feet high crashing against the continent.

This all sounds pretty wicked and you decide that the problem you have with your chequing account or those new shoes you can't afford or the fact that you haven't changed the oil in your car for several years — well, they all seem kind of trivial.

If you are a kid in school and believe the world will be destroyed next Thursday, the odds are you will stop doing your homework. You won't give a rat's ass about the math test next Friday because it will all be smoke and rubble by then.

So you maximize the amount of happiness you can cram in between now and next Thursday. You're convinced there is nothing you can do to save yourself, your family, or the pet turtle you named Will Smith.

The conclusion here is that, for the right people, catastrophes, or even belief in catastrophes, can be a great way to improve your life. If the catastrophe does not happen, you have to backpeddle a little and cope with the mess of things not done until the next predicted catastrophe comes along. But you will have created a grace period in which you will have stopped fussing and allowed yourself to be the happy human you are capable
of being. Keep well informed through the media about potential sunspots, meteor showers, volcanic activity, odd migration patterns of birds, and threats from intelligent deep-sea creatures.

“What the heck is going on? I can't find my car keys. Does anybody know what happened to my car keys?”

I had not been awakened by the sound of my father's voice in a long time. Invisible and silent had been his style. It was good to hear his voice. I climbed out of bed and stumbled down the stairs.

“Martin, do you know where my keys are?”

“I'll help you find them.” Somehow, I always knew where the lost car keys were.

“I always keep them hanging up here by the refrigerator. Always.”

“I know. Did you have any breakfast?” Sometimes I worry that my father is not taking care of himself.

“I don't have time. I've got a meeting with Product Development in twenty minutes. And I can't find my darn keys.”

Ever since my mother died, my father stopped using swear words. When she was alive, he was a bit foulmouthed for a father. He was a nice guy, don't get me wrong, just a big fan of four-letter words. Now he only
used “heck” and “darn” and other replacement words — like “schist” — that came close to sounding like the real things. This was a kind of tribute to her.

I saw the keys to the van. “Here, Dad. They're here by the toaster.” I knew they were there even before I looked. Or rather, the other Martin, Martin number three, knew. And that made me feel a little spooked.

But my dad was happy. “Thanks, Martin. You saved the day.”

He almost gave me eye contact but he turned quickly. “Remind me to get an extra set of keys made for the van.” He was doing that father rushing around bit, slurping coffee from a cup, spilling it, and getting his arm stuck in the sleeve of his suit jacket.

He was just about out the door when he turned. “Martin?”


He looked at his watch. “Later.”

The door closed.

The van, which my father now started up and backed out of the driveway, was a family decision. Back before we knew my mother was sick, there was this plan to drive it all over North America — on weekends and during the three weeks my father had off in the summer. Lilly was not in favour of the plan unless Jake could come along. “When hell freezes over,” my father used to say. My father and Jake never got along.

My mother had maps of all the states and provinces. She really wanted to go to Alaska. She said she would do all the driving. I wished I were old enough to do some of the driving. I wanted to drive my family to Alaska — but not with Jake along.

Every time I got into the van now, I thought of my mother driving us to Alaska. My father would be reading the map and we would be in the Yukon somewhere, lost. When we stopped for the night, my mother would set up an easel and do a painting of a moose or a mountain. My father would cook supper over an open fire. I liked to think that all of this was happening right now in some sort of alternate timeline or parallel universe. My family is lost on a small back road in the Yukon. I can smell the shish kebab my father is cooking. There are mosquitoes the size of model airplanes but they are not biting. My sister is doing her nails. I am thinking about fishing. My father and I talk about going fishing, but we never really do it because we don't like having to kill fish.

“Holy shit!” my parallel father suddenly screeches out loud. One of the model airplane mosquitoes has bitten him on the neck. The shish kebab stick he had been wielding goes flying into the wilderness and probably lands on a moose turd the size of a squashed basketball.

After school I had to go for my visit with Dave. He had this once a week thing going. I never fully decided if I liked the idea of counselling. But I liked Dave and he was unconventional. All the kids at school knew I was going to the weirdest shrink around and some of them started asking their parents if they could go for counselling too, but most got turned down because Dave was fairly expensive. Three trips to Dave or a new TV set for your room? a parent might ask. Parents didn't want other people to know that their kid was going to a shrink, anyway, especially one who was recommending things like smoking as a cure for what ails you.

BOOK: Shoulder the Sky
5.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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