The time is approaching six o’clock in the evening, the quixotic cocktail hour. We have maintained the preprandial ceremony in spite of a 50% abstinence rate; indeed we nurture it. Invariably we each have a plate of healthful hors d’oeuvres which include crudités, Kalamata olives and liberal slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano (an undeniable favourite of mine and ample compensation for the lack of liquor).
The sky is overcast. It looks like rain. We have turned off the air conditioner and opened the sliding patio door in the bedroom and the crank-windows on the front and side of the apartment. I relish the summer air if it isn’t too horribly humid. When the temperature moderates as it has done today the air conditioner freezes my feet and I am obliged to wear a sweater which always seems bizarre.
The fiction called retirement persists to astonish me. I more than most am entitled to label retirement imaginary since there is little doubt in my mind that I could not have careered it on my own, at least not as well nor as soon. The serendipity is yet another stroke of fortune in my very gratifying life. In the context of our partnership I do of course prefer to think of the blessing as reciprocal though more often than not I imagine the balance is weighted against me. Never mind. I have inchoate rights which may yet prove me wrong on that score or at least redeem me.
I began my day much as usual this morning – such sacrifice! – first a strong, black coffee followed by a hearty breakfast of 2 fried eggs, ham slices, baked Naan bread, avocado pear, Havarti cheese and grape tomatoes. I take no credit whatever for this matutinal production, yet another leverage on the scale to my everlasting prejudice. Admittedly I am hopelessly spoiled and I am only to willing to own it!
Promptly at nine o’clock this morning – maybe I can take some glory for the relentless prosecution – we trekked to the storage locker to withdraw our Electra bicycles for the routine 11.3 kilometre jaunt along Country Street, Rae Road, Concession VIII Ramsay and the Old Perth Road.
Afterwards showers and fresh clothing. And for me, jewelry.
Almost without thinking we then directed the nose of the Lincoln to my mother’s house which we are obliged to check daily in accordance with the peculiarly stringent terms of the insurance company’s Vacancy Permit.
We have a well established pattern of investigation: open the automatic garage door, in through the kitchen, run the taps in the kitchen and the main-floor powder room, one of us goes into the dreary basement and scopes the barren cement walls and floor, the other up the stairs to the bedrooms and study on the second floor where the toilets in the main bathroom and powder room are ritually flushed. The panoramic views of the living and dining room entail a gander at the back yard; and then we’re out the front door. Though we’re never in any particular hurry to accomplish our duties I’d wager we’re in and out within no more than fifteen minutes at the outside, maybe even slightly less depending on whether we stop to void our respective bladders for example. In the fifty years that my parents owned the house I never lived in it. The closest I came to doing so was to spend the occasional Christmas holiday there and several weeks one summer only while I attended undergraduate university in Toronto. Now that the place is completely vacant there is nothing whatever to commend it to me. I don’t say that with any element of regret as I cannot think of any home (other than the apartment in which we now reside) which to be perfectly frank has ever stimulated me to distraction. Apart from convenience, a home only distinguishes itself for me by the nature of its occupants. If I am absorbed in the repartee with the people then the bricks and mortar are all but negligible. Certainly I’ve visited some comfortable homes but if the camaraderie is nonexistent then the utility is otherwise lost on me. Nonetheless I reiterate that our current rental apartment is for me an exceedingly cheerful environment, “dense” for lack of a better word.
After returning a plastic container to my sister (at whose home we lunched yesterday), we made our way to my mother’s retirement residence.
We discovered mother at lunch with her crony though they were both just finishing. After my mother’s dining partner left the table, I invited mother to go for a drive which at first she resisted but she subsequently capitulated when I suggested we include some minor shopping for an eyebrow pencil sharpener.
Our aimless drive took us to the Village of Manotick where we stopped on Mill Street at a bakery/café for a Cappuccino. After draining our coffee cups we ambled across the street to a florist shop which my mother recalls having housed specialty Christmas ornaments. The clerk assured us the stock would arrive closer to November.
These nondescript outings with my mother perhaps go some way to pacifying her sense of isolation in the retirement residence and my misgiving at having enforced the transition (though we both know it was the proper thing to do). I was however reminded the next day when I spoke with mother that the depth of her sorrow includes the loss of my father and her escalating fear of mortality which is no doubt punctuated by a general feeling of being tired of living. As always in these sensitive matters I was only able to observe that nature teaches us how to die, an adage which while blunt is in my opinion nonetheless meaningful and moderately helpful without being trite. If nothing else the maudlin character of our conversation brought us yet closer to one another and I assured mother that she had done everything possible for my late father in spite of her qualms (she blames herself for having cooperated in my father’s removal to the Perley Hospital for the last four months of his life when he was clearly incapable of taking care of himself).
All told, it was just another day.