Driving the homestretch, I have a deep thrill when Lenny Breau folds his guitar jazz notes into flamenco. I turn off Sperling Avenue in Burnaby and my cell phone interrupts. I pull over onto the extra lane on Deer Lake Drive beside yet another new-view- condo development, this one with Spanish tile roofs. “How’d it go?” my brother Benjamin asks.
“I found it. I want it. I will get it.” I hold the phone close to my ear.
I turn the music down. “Well, it’s not in the pocket. I need my expiry date. How’s it going with you?”
“Same old. Old. Want a visitor?”
Benjamin plays a minor but critical role in my major life: he picks up the tab at lunch, seeks out tickets for the symphony and the museum, and fights for my causes. His life passages are less colourful than mine. A decade ago when his wife died, rain descended on our dreary street. It was like she rinsed herself down the drain. It stamped him; he’s my grey slate. He still wears her sweater on certain days. When I look at him I feel young. He is my older brother.
“I’m not home. I need a couple of days. I’ll talk to you after I’ve convinced Dr. H to play the game.”
“Don’t scratch,” he warns me. “And don’t pot the eight ball.” This is code. The closest religious certainty in our family was my mom’s reassurance that when it rains we remember a sadness. That was Winnipeg. She’s never get away with that in Vancouver.
Benjamin lives on my adjoining property across the road. He’s the beaver of the place, solving foliage, and drainage issues. He also ensures my privacy from busybodies.
My post and beam home circa 60s welcomes me. The place floats me with reminders of Art – he is the actual spirit lord of this manor and I, the impostor in the flesh. Wood and glass, trees and lake, I live within my lover’s walls. When I look at the skylight I feel his hands tilt my head towards him in the clouds.
Two days later, I arrive early at the 70s doctor’s office on South Granville. Nothing unusual, I’m always early. Once I see him I explain the travel agent who sells tickets for the cruise. “I saw it myself, it’s a legit business. The price matches what you get. I want to go full steam ahead.”
Dr. H faces me. His eyes focus elsewhere as he perches on his chair. His jeans, tight under the lab coat, have got to be uncomfortable. We have been through so much together; he was like a trusty Horatio, but now he is racoon furtive. I’ve encountered this before in men in their sixty. His torso movements jerk, his hands are perfectly manicured, and he’s not wearing his wedding ring. A love interest or a Harley? But no one gets preoccupied by their Harley.
I look past him past him two floors down there are dots of rain painting the sidewalk like a pointillist canvas. Stooped figures trudge along the street beneath the shrouds of their umbrellas, towards their hidden vanishing points. The traffic din with sloshes from the wet pavement is amplified. I sit tight like a kid wishing my dad will come around. I can’t very well ask the doctor how he’s feeling.
“First things first.” Dr. H harrumphs as he scratches his forehead between his eyes, the third eye. “What do you say we schedule treatments for next week?”
“Thanks, but no. The cruise counts for more,” I say.
“Sooner we start, the better our chances.” His hope-by-rote tenor offers no fertilizer.
“I’ve been through your body audits and medical manoeuvres. Yes medication worked last time.” Something sinister crawls up my spine. “This time we both know better. There is no stay for this execution.” My voice sticks on the noun.
“Boris, the last execution in this country was December 11,1962.” I hear his death fear.
“No wait and sees.” Pipes hammer inside my skull, blood rushes and a ship’s horn sound. “This is the last resort.”
He watches me. The corners of his wax lips melt, and his torso stiffens on his skeletal hanger. I lean in. My face reflects blue in the doctor’s lens. “You’re born, you live and you die.”
He stays steady. “Boris, at sixty-eight”
“No holds barred death-care needed,” I interrupt.
“There are steps we need to take. What do we know about this cruise?” Cruise pronounced as if it were a four-letter word.
“Mmm. It’s not written up in the Don’t Waste Your Time Travel Guidebooks if that’s what you’re getting at. Not a member of the Better Business Bureau. What are we talking here? ” His face scoffs, so I look down at his holey plastic croc shoes. His toes curl in his expensive brown socks.
“We need to hear from someone who has actually been there,” he says once again.
My turn to grow rigid. What he wants is impossible he’s cock blocking. I’m snookered.
The doctor massages my wounds, “Boris, you might think you have.” He uses two fingers in the air and says “patient rights.” Another two fingers. “Before you see my copy of the specialist’s file you are going to have to provide solid data. Solid particulars.”
My bottom lip lowers. I want to holler that I have the right to refuse treatment, but I remain silent. Most uncharacteristic. Instead I choke that turns into a hack.
Dr. H pushes a free sample cough drop from his crowded pill drawer. I shake no.
He says, “Remember Dr. Sulkie, the psychiatrist?” He glimpses down at my three-inch file and raises his eyebrows, his commanding steely eyes over his glasses. His eye colour changes depending on his mood. “You were very sad when your partner died.” He flips through the file, “Erickson?” He pulls a paper to the top, and says stiffly, “Noncompliant ― you didn’t follow the treatment plan of antidepressants. Let’s just say that you are too fragile to know your expiry date.”
I have stopped coughing, maybe even breathing. The doctor’s covering-his-ass words stick as if they possess fingernails. I swallow: my anger sours nicely, my pride puffs and purples and bleeds inside. I look past him through the window at the pointless dots. I will never again hear Art say the words “I love you,” and I will never hear Dr. H say the words “It’s benign.”
One is a depressed man in the same way as one is Superman or Robin; but one isn’t AIDS or cancer. I choose to die with cancer, not of cancer. Dr. H aka The Prudent Doctor ignores my leftover parts, the fabulous complexity and mystery of my life. Instead, he dwells in scientific medical certainty. He heals specific failing body bits.
After reflection I nod my head and say, “It’s not a suicide cruise.”
His coat pocket vibrates. Without apology, Dr. H pulls out a cell phone and begins to talk, “Yes.” “Uhuh.” “Fifteen minutes?” on his side of the conversation, ending with a throaty chuckle. He nods in the direction of the door, indicating the end of appointment. I linger while gathering my things, giving me time to flip the bird when his back is turned, and steam past Grace the receptionist who gives me a sympathetic smile before I slam the door.