6. Woke up in Haiku

Anton found it difficult to move, barely able to open his eyes. The room was a distorted blur. Electronic beeping noises emanated from somewhere in the room, but even the sounds seemed out of focus. As the effects of the yellow pill gradually wore off he became curiously aware that there were far more wires attached to his body than he had been expecting. He lifted his head to look around, but he was stopped short by the searing pain in his chest. He immediately dropped his head back onto the pillow and his curious awareness escalated into a sense of confused panic.

Dr. Brynn came into the room. “You gave us quite a scare.” He sat down on the side of the bed and shone a penlight into Anton’s eyes. “Good … good.”

Anton tried to speak, but the pain in his chest barely allowed enough breath for a whisper. “What did you do to me?”

Dr. Brynn nodded reassuringly. “You’ll be fine, Anton.”

Anton tried to raise his head again. His face contorted and he vocalized the exact sound of sandpaper sliding over the strings of a violin.

Dr. Brynn consoled him. “Stay calm, Anton. You’ve been through a lot. You are healing very well, but you’ve got a way to go yet.”

Anton repeated, pleading. “What did you do?”

“I don’t imagine you remember much right now, but it will all come back to you in time.”

Anton closed his eyes for a minute, then he whispered, “Water … please.”

Dr. Brynn supported Anton’s head and gave him a sip of water. “Not too much.”

Anton lied back. “What happened?”

Dr. Brynn stood up and flipped through Anton’s chart. “Like I was saying, I know you’re confused. The air bag on the drivers side didn’t deploy. Fractured sternum. Collapsed lung. Internal bleeding. Concussion. Lacerations. You were in quite a state. The first responders thought you were dead – the ER doctor on duty even called it – but a nurse found a pulse. We didn’t give up on you.”

Anton gingerly touched his chest. “No. No, No. I was here for tests. Not an accident.”

“Yes, we ran a lot of tests after the accident. And I can say now, you’re going to be fine.” Dr. Brynn stood up and gave Anton’s foot a friendly squeeze as he walked past the end of the bed. “I’ll check on you again later this afternoon. I can’t promise, but you should be able to go home in a few more days.”

The doctor walked out into the corridor and Anton slipped back into oblivion.

Elena was sitting in a chair, reading in the wash of sunlight by the window when Anton came round again. He watched her for some time, turning page after page. She had looked at him several times, but at that angle the bandages obscured his eyes and it was impossible to tell if he was awake or asleep. Finally he gathered the strength to breathe out a “Hi.”

She looked at him again, unsure if it was an attempt at communication or just a transient in his respiration. He lifted his fingers and made a waving gesture.

She moved from the chair to his bedside. “Hey stranger. I haven’t seen you around in a while. Where have you been?”

Anton managed a smile.

“Want some water?” She bent the straw and held it to his lips.

He cautiously cleared his throat. “What happened?”

Elena set the polystyrene cup of water on the bedside table. “What do you remember?”

He hesitated in thought. “In thy purple cloak… I ate the yellow skittle… My brain in a jar.”

Elena shook her head. “That’s the worst haiku I’ve ever heard.”

Anton wanted to laugh but was held back by the pain.

“You don’t remember the car accident?”

“When?”

“What do you mean?”

“What do you mean, ‘what do you mean?’?”

Elena gently kissed his lips, barely making contact. “You need to rest. Give it time. It will sort itself out.” She walked toward the door.

“Hey.” Anton struggled to sit up. “Wait …”

She stopped and turned, looking back at Anton.

His voice cracked. “You’re not real. I’m only dreaming.”

Elena was at a loss for words. She blinked heavily.

Anton pointed at her with a trembling hand. “You’re not pregnant.”

Elena tilted her head and looked at Anton sympathetically. “I was. Two years ago… he’s at daycare.”

Dr. Brynn interrupted, stepping into the room from the corridor with a clipboard in his hand. “Elena. Can I see you for a moment.” He nodded to Anton and left again.

She looked back at Aton, “Rest”, and followed Dr. Brynn.

Anton lay back and closed his eyes, mumbling to himself as he drifted back to sleep. “Two years. It can’t be. Two years …”

The boy held tightly onto the rubberized handle of the spoon. Anton watched as he repeatedly plunged the blunt utensil into a small tub of chocolate pudding on the edge of the table. Brown goo oozed out between the tiny fingers of the boy’s clenched fist. Before each mouthful he spoke in a whisper, “Fo’ me”, then offered every other spoonful to Anton, “an fo’ you.”

Anton silently refused with a deadpan face and a subtle shake of his head. This stoic response fueled the toddler’s determination. He scooped up the last spoonful of pudding and held it out, touching Anton’s tightly pursed lips. “You hafa eat, Daddy.”

Anton stood up and wiped the pudding from his lip with the back of his hand as Elena walked into the dining room. Anton looked away, avoiding her eyes, and left without a word. In the living room he could hear their cheery conversation from the kitchen.

“Come on cutie. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

“I like tocka poon.”

“Chocolate pudding is yummy, isn’t it?”

“Mmm. Mummy like tocka poon?”

“Yes, I like chocolate pudding.”

“Daddy na like tocka poon?”

“He does. But I don’t think Daddy is feeling well, sweetie.”

The boy’s tone took on an air of concern. “Daddy tick?”

“No, sweetie. Daddy’s not sick. He’s just tired.”

“An tad.”

“Yes sweetheart. And a little sad too.”

Anton squeezed his hand over his mouth to stifle a sob, then quickly and quietly slipped out through the door. He walked to the end of the driveway, hoping the fresh air would help him regain his composure. He stopped at the sidewalk and looked back at the house.

Dr. Brynn silently walked up and stood beside Anton. “Trying to pick a new paint color?”
“Jeezus! Where did you come from?”

Dr. Brynn pointed back over his shoulder. “I just got home and saw you standing here. I thought I’d come over to see how you were doing. I hope you don’t mind.”

Anton tried to appear as though he was not on the brink of complete emotional collapse. “I’m good. Chest still aches, but it’s getting better.”

Dr. Brynn looked over the top of his tortoiseshell glasses at Anton. “How’s your memory? Are things coming back to you?”

Anton answered with a shrug, then opened up. “Not much. Little flashes now and then, but not enough to make any sense of.”

The doctor stroked his goatee. “Hmm. It’s been a few weeks now since you woke up. You’ve been home for what, ten days? Why don’t you come back to the office tomorrow for follow up – better to be safe. I’ll tell my receptionist to clear some time for you.”

Anton’s gut rebelled at the thought of returning to the clinic. “Oh, you don’t have to do that for me. I’ll be okay. Like you said, it’ll just take time. Thanks anyway.”

“Nonsense. Two o’clock tomorrow. I insist.”

“No really, it’s okay … “

“Nothing invasive. We’ll just chat.” Dr. Brynn smiled reassuringly and patted Anton on the back before starting across the street. “Two o’clock. Don’t make me come looking for you.”

Anton looked back over his shoulder and gave a small, parting wave. He took a deep breath and walked back down the driveway to the house.

Elena was still in the kitchen when Anton entered. The screen door closed with a bang behind him.
“Shhhh. I just put the baby down for a nap.”

Anton looked around the kitchen. “Do you remember when we bought this house?”

“What?”

“I feel like I’ve always lived here. I don’t remember ever living in any other house. When did we move here?”

“You grew up here. This was your parents’ house.”

Anton looked straight through Elena. His eyes wandered around the room. “I don’t remember much about them. I don’t remember much about anything.”

Elena approached, standing toe to toe with him. “Anton, you were pretty banged up. You were in a coma. You were pronounced dead. Give it time. There are bound to be some lasting effects. We’ll work through this … together.”

Anton’s stoic expression was betrayed by a tear, which he promptly smeared with the side of his hand. “I remember you were pregnant. I remember having bad dreams and not sleeping well. I remember going to see Dr. Brynn. I remember he gave me some pills.”

Elena put her hand on his chest. She could feel his heart pounding. “You remember the accident?”

Anton shook his head. “No. Not the accident you and Dr. Brynn keep referring to. I remember an accident, but I was just a boy. I remember my parents fighting in the car. It was raining. I was reading Robinson Crusoe and eating Skittles. That’s the only accident I remember. It’s as if everyone else is confused. There was no other accident.”

Elena wiped a tear from his other cheek. “You remember waking up in the Hospital?”

Anton rolled his eyes. “I remember going to see Dr. Brynn for some tests. We had this crazy conversation about some kind of quantum theory of his and having two brains. I put on some special pajamas so he could monitor my brain activity. He gave me a pill to help me sleep. Then I woke up in the hospital, like this.”
Elena patted his shoulders patronizingly. “There. See. It’s coming back. It’s all making sense now.”

7. Condition Orange

“I need something I can tuck into my pants and pull out quickly. Nothing bulky or heavy. And it has to be inconspicuous. I don’t want anybody to notice that I’m carrying a cons… ” Anton’s brain halted his mouth before the adjective could be fully formed. It sounded as though the sentence was interrupted by a cough.

The clerk behind the counter had no trouble finishing. “… concealed weapon.”

Anton’s neck disappeared as he tried to pull his head down into his body in a remarkably turtle-like manner. His eyes darted around the sporting goods department. His fight-or-flight response was in full overdrive. His arms and legs tensed, his pupils were fully dilated, and he held his breath, waiting for an unseen threat to rush in from the blackness beyond his peripheral vision.

The clerk sat on the stool behind the counter, curiously watching Anton’s reaction. “It’s none of my business where you keep your weapon, but wherever you conceal it, in your sock, in your pants, in your jacket, whatever, just make sure it’s C-3.”

Anton relaxed a little. He squinted and tilted his head in a way that is universally understood to mean, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“C-3. Condition-three.” The clerk produced a handgun, seemingly our of thin air, and slapped an empty clip into the base of the handle and set it down hard on the counter. “The full clip is inserted in the gun, but there’s no round in the chamber. It’s convenient and relatively safe. Condition-three.”

“Got it.”

“No, you don’t got it, Poindexter. You see, my cousin used to keep his Glock-Thirty tucked in the back of his pants. He thought he got it too. He was the nervous sort, like you; twitchy, always on edge. I can see it in your face – you’re just like him. Trouble seemed to follow him like a shadow. He always kept his piece C-1, as they say; a round in the chamber, ready to rock’n’roll. What my cuz didn’t understand is that Condition-one is colossally stupid unless you live in Bagdad or East L.A or frequent the Tijuana nightclub scene. One afternoon, at a ball game, my cousin gets some bad sauerkraut.”

“Sauerkraut?”

“Yeah. On a sausage. It gives him real bad cramps.”

“How do know it wasn’t the sausage? It’s more likely that it was a bad sausage. Sauerkraut is pickled. It’s unlikely that it went bad.”

The clerk grabbed the pistol and ejected the clip. “Are you gonna listen to my allegory?”

“Sorry.”

“So about fifteen minutes after eating the bad sauerkraut, my cousin makes a panic run to the toilets. He’s in a bad way, you know; sweating, doubling over with cramps. Not thinking clear, he rushes into the stall and drops his pants real fast. The Glock-thirty that was tucked into the back of his pants falls out. As usual, he was all jumped up on amphetamines so his reflexes were tack sharp – like a ninja, he actually catches the Glock before it hits the floor.”

“Impressive.”

“Not really. He had some really greasy onion-rings too, so when he catches the Glock, it slips …”

Anton rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “Wait, wait, wait. Onion rings? At a ball game?”

“Yeah. Onion rings. What is your problem?”

Anton shrugged. “I’m a statistician.”

The clerk stared silently at Anton. “Interrupt me one more time, Poindexter.”

“Sorry.”

“As I was saying … he had just been eating some greasy onion-rings. So when he caught the Glock, it slipped out of his hand like a bar of wet soap. He ends up kind of juggling the pistol. Every time he catches it, three or four times, it slips again. Then on the last catch his greasy little finger slips right in over the trigger. In C-3 this wouldn’t have been a problem. But in condition-one …”

“Bang.”

“Yeah. Bang. My cousin’s branch of the family tree won’t get any longer, if you know what I mean.”

The clerk gave a sad little chuckle, half closed his eyes, and shook his head. Anton waited for a punchline. It never came.

“This is the fourth generation Glock-Twenty-six, also known as the Baby-Glock. But don’t be fooled by the name. It’s not as devastating as my cousin’s Glock-Thirty, but it’ll get your point across. Small, light, fast, and…”

“Does it come with bullets?”

The clerk snickered. “Right, your first gun. I’ll tell you what … I’ll throw in a box of rounds.”

Anton put on his tough face; narrow, steely eyes, flattened lips, clenched jaw. “I’d prefer bullets, if it’s okay with you.”

The clerk stared strait into Anton’s face with a seriousness that was several orders of magnitude beyond anything Anton could ever aspire to achieve. Anton shuffled nervously. After only a few seconds he conceded with a timid, uncomfortable smile.

The clerk spoke without blinking. “We call them rounds, Poindexter. If you keep calling them bullets, somebody will kill you and take your lunch money.” He placed the pistol on the glass top of the display case and slid it across to Anton. “The Baby-Glock holds ten rounds in the clip and one round in the chamber.”

“Condition-one.”

The clerk nodded approvingly. “Five points for Poindexter. You catch on quick.”

Anton held the Glock-Twenty-six, turning it over in his hands, examining it like a museum artifact.

“It’s heavy.”

“Yeah. The weight should remind you of what you really have in your hand: Power. Life. Death. A weapon like that only has one purpose.”

Anton held it very still. “Right. To kill.”

The clerk reached out and took the pistol from Anton’s hand. “No, moron. You just lost your only five points. Statistician my ass. Persuasion, Poindexter, persuasion. A good weapon will harmlessly persuade any sane person to see things your way. That’s its only purpose – not to kill. Killing is what humans do with their minds; that’s a decision we have to consciously make. A weapon is an inanimate object, like a road sign or a stapler, or a shoe.”

Anton stepped back. “What if I show them the gun, but they still don’t see things my way?”
The clerk put the Baby-Glock back in the display case drawer and locked it. “A gun can’t make decisions. It can’t act. It can’t kill. That’s not it’s purpose. Your mind is the only thing in the universe that is equipped to make decisions. You base your actions on those decisions. You either decide to pull the trigger or you decide not to. Like I said, killing is what humans do with their minds.”

“But the gun is the facilitates killing.”

“A butter knife facilitates killing. Killing is always possible. I could punch you in the throat or flatten you with my truck. I don’t need a gun. I have the most terrifying and devastating killing machine ever conceived of, right here under my hat. ”
Anton had heard enough.  He held out his hand. “Thank you. I appreciate your time. I have to think about this.”

The clerk shook Anton’s hand. “You never did tell me why.”

“Why?”

“Why are you here? What made you come looking for a handgun?”

Anton looked at the clock on the wall behind the counter. “I already told you. You just don’t remember.”

The clerk let go of Anton’s hand. In the span of one breath his posture changed from relaxed and friendly to defensive and alert.

Anton smiled. “Condition-orange.”

The colour drained from the clerk’s face. He reached his right hand behind his back, but before he could pull the Glock-Thirty from his waist band, Anton was pointing a fourth generation Glock-Twenty-six at his face. Anton’s hand was steady and his eyes were fixed on the clerk’s.

“You had me fooled Poindexter. Fifty points for that outstanding performance. You look too prep-school for a cop. ”

“I’m not a cop. I really am a statistician. Put your hands up.”

“Okay. Easy does it. How’d you get the Baby-Glock from the display case. I was watching you the whole time.”

Anton smiled. “I bought it from you.”

The clerk’s voice was pitching up. “Me? No. I’ve never seen you before today.”

Anton kept the Glock trained on the clerk. “Yes you have. And you haven’t. It’s complicated.”

“There you go Poindexter. See. The weapon is working, just like I said. I am very willing to see things your way now.”

Anton took his finger off the trigger and stepped back a couple of feet, pointing the gun away from the clerk’s face. “Do you know anything about quantum theory?”

The clerk’s bottom lip began to quiver slightly. “Are you fucking kidding me? Afghanistan. Chechnya. Serbia. And this … this is how I die? Shot by a crazy-ass mathematician because I didn’t finish high school? No, professor Dexter, I can’t even spell quantics.”

“Slowly unlock and open the display case drawer. Then take out the Baby-Glock and put it on the counter. Nice and slow.”

“You’ll shoot me.”

“I won’t shoot you.”

“You will. I’ll put my hand on the Glock and you’ll ask me about quadratics and I’ll get the answer wrong and you’ll shoot me in the face.”

“I won’t shoot you.”

“Then why don’t you put the gun down?”

“Because I need it to persuade you to see things my way.”

“Dammit. You’re good at this.” The clerk slowly took the Baby-Glock out of the drawer and placed it on the glass counter top in front of Anton.

“Take that slippery Glock-Thirty out of your pants and unload it, including the round in the chamber; I want condition-four, Castrati. And be careful not to fumble it this time.”

A rush of colour welled up around the clerk’s neck, cheeks, and forehead. “Castrati? How do you know …”

“I’ll explain later. Now, I’m going to put my Baby-Glock on the counter top next to the other one, and you’re going to continue to see things my way.”

The clerk nodded. Anton dropped the clip from the handle of the pistol and pulled the bolt back to eject the round from the chamber before setting it on the counter next to the identical Glock twenty-six. He slid them both toward the clerk. “Look.”

“What am I looking at?”

“The serial numbers.”

The clerk examined the numbers of both Baby-Glock pistols and looked up at Anton. “They’re the same. But that’s not possible.”

Anton smiled. “Five points for Castrati.”

Murrant’s Rant: DST (Dog Standard Time)

Originally Published on November 5, 2015 (http://southshorebreaker.ca/2015/11/10/murrants-rant-dst-dogs-standard-time/)

What do Arizona, Hawaii and my dog all have in common? Give up? None of them observe Daylight Saving Time. I think they’re onto something. For them, it’s business as usual year round. In fact, four-fifths of the Earth’s humans, and five-fifths of the non-humans, don’t bother to spring-ahead or fall-back.

Contrary to popular belief, the concept of Daylight Saving Time had nothing to do with farmers. In fact, farmers in the early 20th century protested against DST — and with good reason. Try explaining to a herd of dairy cows that they have to wait an extra hour to be milked.

Even Benjamin Franklin, erroneously credited with inventing Daylight Savings, never intended for us to change our clocks. His suggestion, after a late night in Paris, only to be woken by a too-early dawn, was that we adjust our sleep and activity to coincide with seasonal changes in the daylight.

Modern Daylight Savings Time began as means to conserve resources during the first and second world wars. Electric lights were inefficient. Businesses were encouraged to operate during daylight hours, leaving more coal, oil and electricity available to be used in the factories that produced goods for the war effort. An ideal solution at the time — but times have changed.

Today, in a world that never sleeps, with offices and factories that operate around the clock, when more and more of our energy comes from renewable resources, we need to stop and ask: What are we really saving by changing our clocks twice a year? Sure, we enjoy an extra hour of sleep in October, but we have to give it back in April. It’s more of a Daylight Loan than a Saving — and it’s a high interest loan, considering that it takes a few days for most people to adjust to the time change; a few cranky and relatively unproductive days.

Maybe it’s time to do away with Daylight Savings Time and stick with one time, all year round: Dog Standard Time.

Murrant’s Rant: The Bay of Absurdity

Originally Published on September 10, 2015, The Cape Breton Star 

I’m not an economist.  I guess that’s why the logic behind the Nova Star Ferry eludes me.  As you may have read recently in the news, we (taxpayers) are well on our way to spending $13-million this year to keep the Nova Star running between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine.  Oh, and we mustn’t forget the $28-million we spent last year.

This is excellent news … for the residents of Maine.  According to the Portland Press Herald, “Nova Star will use Portland as its home port. That means Portland-area vendors will be supplying fuel and services”.

But it’s good for Nova Scotia, too, right?  The Nova Scotia International Ferry Partnership estimated that a season with one hundred-thousand visitors would pump $16.3-million into our economy.  Well, it would, but last year we only saw about sixty-thousand visitors and we are on target for about the same again this year.  Based on that, with my limited math skills, I figure that each Nova Star visitors contribute less than $10-million to our economy each year.

Now, compare that to Sydney.

Almost one hundred-thousand visitors will arrive in Sydney on cruise ships this year; similar to last year and the year before.  According to the Port of Sydney, cruise ship activity will contribute about $27-million to the local economy.

It stands to reason that if the provincial government were to budget tens of millions for the Port of Sydney, like they have for the Nova Star in Yarmouth, the investment would result in an even greater boost to the provincial economy.  But, alas, I’m just a writer – not an economist.

Room 101

“George Orwell’s 1984 has always been a favorite of mine. Michael Radford’s 1984 adaptation is a masterpiece.  So in 1992, with a room full of synthesizers and samplers and a clunky old Atari 1040 computer, I produced this.  It’s pure, early 1990’s techno – really dated by today’s standards – but I still love it.  Some of my old songs are embarrassing to listen to – but not this one.”

Don’t ever pass up the chance to tell someone you love them.

I pretended to be asleep.  He made his breakfast and packed his lunch.  It was November – dark mornings, cold house – so I stayed in bed, listening to the sounds of the dawn: boiling kettle, butter knife scraping toast, ringing spoon stirring cup of tea, turning pages of paperback western.

I heard the back door open; the raspy cough of the car starting and the heater blowing warm air to clear the frost from the windows.  The trunk sprung open and I envisioned his rifle in its soft case stowed carefully away; a sandwich and a thermos of tea packed into his red knapsack, tossed on the passenger seat. The trunk slammed shut, and the backdoor opened once again. More footsteps – this time into my room.

I kept one eye opened just enough to see his silhouette against the dim light coming in from the kitchen.  He stood there for a moment, looking at me, waiting beside my bed, listening for some sign of lucidity.  Finally he put his hand on my head, ran his fingers through my curls, and walked out.

At the time I thought it was a funny trick, lying so still, pretending to be asleep – because everything is funny when you are a nine year old boy.  I was going to tell him when he got home that I had fooled him; that I was really awake the whole time. He’d laugh and rough up my hair with his strong hand and call me a “little scamp” – like he always did – but not this time.  This time, he wasn’t coming home.

You see, I could have hugged him and told him I loved him and that I admired him and wanted to be just like him, but instead I pretended to be asleep for a laugh. Things were never quite as funny after that.

Don’t ever pass up the chance to tell someone you love them.

Murrant’s Rant: Patient Patients

Last week I spent over four hours in the Cape Breton Regional Hospital ER with my son – and finally left without ever having seen a doctor. But we weren’t alone.

There were eight patients waiting to see a doctor when I arrived at 7:30pm that evening. During my 4.5 hour wait, only two patients were actually called from the waiting room to see a doctor – SIX got up and left.

It’s not an official study, just a 4.5 hour observation, but if this is a typical, quiet Thursday evening at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital ER, we have a serious problem.  75% of the patients seeking medical care that night, left the ER without seeing a doctor.  That cannot be allowed to continue.

Are 75% of the people in need of medical care really going without in CBRM?

Don’t let anyone try to tell you that this has anything to do with an over-burdened healthcare system.  This is a management problem (or lack thereof).

Case in point – a well-managed healthcare facility would not have a filthy (frankly, disgusting) ER waiting area.  Between 7:30pm and midnight there were no environmental services staff to be seen.  There were soiled tissues and paper towels strewn around the bathroom.  The floor throughout the entire waiting area was spotted with clumps of mud (or maybe it wasn’t mud?) and debris.  A hospital waiting area is ground zero for infection control, but it’s not even on the hospital’s radar.

And although the security office is within earshot, only once in 4.5 hours did a security person bother to get up and do a walk-through of the waiting area.

Lastly – when you rush out the door of your home with a sick child, you don’t have time to stop and check if you have the correct change for the hospital parking lot.  Why not use a machine that provides a code – like at the car wash.