***just guess where this one is going…
“Franklin, you’re doing fine physically.”
“What a relief. Thanks. What about the rest of me?”
“You still need to sell the house. Move somewhere where people can take care of you.”
Franklin rose. “You ever hear of the 10,000 step-per-day thing, Doc? I counted. In the last forty years, I’m 30,000 steps per day.”
Doc looked up. He was a short man, much shorter than Franklin, and though courtesy said he should get up too, he didn’t. “That’s got nothing to do with dementia.”
On the way out, Franklin slammed the office door. The waiting room was full of people staring at him, except for the kids – they were putting snot all over the books and doctor’s office toys, spreading germs by the hundred thousand. “Hell of a place to get healthy,” he muttered, on his way out.
“Hi,” said the girl with the tattoo. Franklin stared at it. A snowstorm was falling on a city that had just been destroyed by a giant lizard. The monster’s tail filled a street at the end of the last block.
“Hi,” he said, slipping next to her. “Nice tattoo. Where are you headed?”
“Don’t call me Sir. No one ever teach you manners? Makes people like me feel old.”
“Sorry. You married, Sir?”
“Clara passed. That your real hair colour?”
She smiled. “I’m Irene. You always talk to strangers?”
“Yup. But all we do is ask questions. Ever notice that? Never answer them. Just question after question, like me and you. But Clara and me were different. We said things. We figured them out.”
Irene nodded and looked out the window. Her hair was purple and pink. Franklin stared at the tattoo. Snow was falling on the destruction, and he fell with it, into the streets and shattered buildings, crunching broken glass and new ice alike. Cars were overturned, leaking green blood on snow. And before him, there was Clara Hughes, standing in a coat and snowshoes, laughing about the coffee she’d taken from the ruins of a cafe. Same crooked nose he remembered, same thin little fingers, same grin. Only now she had coloured hair – purple and pink, and it had grown long, dragging behind her to make a trail in the snow.
“You’ll get cold,” he told her.
“Never mind, Irene. Here’s my stop. Excuse my questions. I have dementia. Makes me unstable.”
Her smiled opened up, as though they were the same, in the same boat, working to fix a rubble-strewn cityscape together. As though they were both crazy.
Franklin jingled keys. He found a bathroom with piss all over the floor, and stretched his legs about as far as he could to avoid the wet spots. His penis looked impossibly small. “Was bigger when I was a kid,” he mumbed. “Come on now, operate.” It took him three minutes to finish up, and then he had to uncurl himself from the awkward position he’d managed to occupy between the stalls.
“They banned smoking years ago, Henk,” he told the wheelchair’d guy. The room was full of smokers, all men, sitting at tables along the length of a bar that wouldn’t open till three.
“Who’s gonna come in here and stop us? Not like it’s gonna kill us faster than we’re already dying. What do you want?”
“Connections. I’m writing that novel. Need a publisher.”
“Agent first,” Henk said, writing on a post-it. “If it’s any good, agent’ll carry it on. Try this guy. What’s it all about again?”
“A postal carrier.”
“No, fiction. About a postal carrier who gets cancelled by technology. First he has to deal with super mailboxes – can’t even see the people he’s delivering to anymore. Then the internet and layoffs because there’s no personal mail. All his buddies get axed. But he gets terminated when on-line shopping starts up and postal carriers have to lug parcels around, and he’s just too damn old for that. On his last day, he finds the bags of Love Mail in the warehouse, those letters people meant to send to lovers, but either didn’t know where they were or weren’t brave enough to put on an address. So he makes it his life to deliver them, and one letter leads to this mystery…”
“Jesus,” said Henk. “Don’t tell me anymore. Written any of it yet?”
“Got time now. Clara’s long gone. Job’s long gone. It’s finally time.”
“Don’t know how many times I’ve heard that – ‘it’s finally time’. What’s it mean? No, don’t bother answering. I can’t handle answers. Here, have a smoke.”
Franklin took one and looked around. Everyone was doing it. The first puff reminded him of a dumpster behind a corner store, the smell of garbage mixed with cigarettes as bikes leaned against a fence and the sun dropped from a dark blue sky.
“Me?” said Henk. “I got a ticket to the moon. Cost most of my retirement fund. They say I won’t make it back. That I should buy a burial plot in a crater, some place to call my own. Some place with a view.”
“When are you leaving?”
Henk stared at him. “When? When? When? Franklin, my friend. I’m already gone.”