“You can piss in here if you need to.” My dad is holding up a large plastic cylinder, which I think was once a jumbo pack of Planters peanuts. I consider telling him I’ll wiz in the garden if need be, thank you very much, but I think better of stumbling through the skeleton-half of the house in the dark, and urinating on the front lawn, waterlogging the nice perennials—begonias, maybe?
He snickers about how nature calls in the night, how I’d have to constantly unlock and lock the door, which he feels is probably necessary in this part of Brampton. It kind of perturbs me that he’s calling to light an omphalos for childhood teasing–my hamster bladder–which, unfortunately, is still very much the Achilles’ heel of my REM cycle.
I am told not to worry if there are “visitors” outside my door in the night, that they tend to do no harm, and if they settle in, can be dealt with in the morning. They come in through the tarp now acting as a roof, which I am assured is “far more critter-proof” than the one that was in place earlier this summer.
I find a groundhog in a cage just outside its burrow. My uncle has set the trap to end a long-running reign of terror on the backyard garden, and the animal isn’t hurt, but it is pissed. We feed it fruit and baby talk, its starless eyes revealing nothing. I observe the insatiable hog–The Melon Felon, as I dub him or her–ramming itself against the steel enclosure for a while before my uncle decides it’s time to relocate the “furry terrorist” to a park a way up the road.
I ruminate on the groundhog’s life trajectory, and bum myself out when I entertain the thought of two hog youths eagerly awaiting their mother or father to bring home that dank cut of honeydew. Then I consider the groundhog’s eyes, its stench, and the ugly grunting sounds the animal made while stuffing its face. I’m torn between viewing its displacement as a turn of misfortune, or an appropriate punishment for lowly mammal’s folly.
My aunt and uncle live in the finished, roofed part of the house: a cozy quarters with a part-basement serving strictly lavatory purposes, a sunroof in the kitchen, and a hellish, near-vertical staircase descending from the couple’s bedroom loft.
Uncle makes a point of whipping up some homemade Eggos when I don’t recall if I’ve ever had waffles that weren’t frozen. His wife–who usually does the cooking–lounges with a bowling-pin shaped cat called “Lord Pistachio.” She wonders why her daughter couldn’t have picked a better name, “like Cashew.”
The feline cries like a child when my aunt steps out, and if her absence persists long enough, I’m told that the royal nut will crap on the floor. Daddio points out that it’s nothing like the raccoon shit he deals with on his side of the house. He compares shoveling fecal matter to his previous few years in Ottawa, and when no-one knows what to say to this, he tells a pretty nifty joke about a frog and his finances.
“That reminds me,” my uncle says. He asks if I want to see the pit.
It’s about 10 feet deep at the lowest point, and sits directly below my dad’s quarters. Last time I saw it, it was a just a big dirt burrow. There’s been concrete poured since, and the site has been shaped into a prospective basement area.
Digging the pit commenced several years ago, and was done mostly by the kinsman himself and a couple of students, until my dad came along. The two of them have made it a priority renovation project, and luckily, the house hasn’t collapsed in the process.
“There were some setbacks,” my uncle says. When the city caught wind of it, digging was put on hold, and the waiting game for a permit commenced. There may have also been a fine involved.
Now, however, the place is looking pretty solid, and there’s a sense of pride in showing it off.
“This here is my brother’s beam,” my dad says, pointing out a pine joist in the centre of the basement-to-be–one that supports the floor of his bedroom. It looks sturdy and considered.
When I ask my dad about the construction–how he’s finding the whole thing, working with his brother and the contractors, dealing with the noise–he says it’s good for him, good to channel his energy into something tangible. There’s just so much building and rebuilding to be done.
My aunt and the furball watch Dancing with the Stars. I subject myself to about half the show until she expresses how great it’s been having my dad around, how I’m always welcome. She notes that he and the cat don’t always get along.
A deaf model named DiMarco and his partner crisscross the stage. Inspirational ramblings accompany their allotted boogie-woogie time. Anything is possible. There’s a rather ironic bout of cacophonous applause, glassy eyes, and Lord Pistachio digging her claws into my leg.
Before he left Ottawa, Pa insisted that I take his bike. It’s a Brodie with a chromoly steel frame, which means double-butted tubes; which means welds are thicker and stronger at joints than the status quo, but thinner elsewhere to save weight. Further features include hydraulic disk brakes, and all-weather tires and fenders, if you care. The end result is a road bike you can take off trail, or a touring bike with minimal material baggage. Voilà.
When I tell dad that I use it daily, that it’s a joy to ride, it pleases him to no end. I ask him if he needs it back, say I can purchase my own bike, but he won’t take it. It was his primary method of transportation. He doesn’t own a car.
On an afternoon like Satan’s armpit, Pa and I take a walk downtown. He directs us on a supposed shortcut over a balding yellow hill that’s so steep I nearly lose my footing. When we reach the bottom, he proceeds to start zig-zagging up again. I stay put, watching him do two haphazard laps before I say anything, because at this point I’m too hot and tired to care, and frankly, it’s not the weirdest thing I’ve seen the man do.
He tells me it’s good exercise for his leg, as he developed a baker’s cyst sometime during the last couple months, which is essentially what happens when excess joint fluid gets pushed into a sac of tissue behind the knee. It caused the centre of his right leg to swell up about four or five times its normal size. He says that save for a few days of necessary recuperation, he’s been doing this diligently, citing some warped version of therapy in which you “work the leg until it has no choice but to heal.” He makes his rounds while sporting a roughly 30-pound backpack.
I want to tell him this is deranged and ill-advised, to ask if he’s taken to the crack that appears to be abundant in this neck of the woods, but his leg does look better, and he appears strong doing what he’s doing. There’s a spring in his step that I’m finding difficult to match.
We stop for a drink, both ordering dark beers. We get reminiscing. Pa apologizes for last winter, and I accept his apology, but I don’t want to talk about it. I ask him about the court proceedings, which have been skewed and unfair thus far. He says that things will be okay, but there’s more to come. The beer gets warm.
I help my uncle pull weeds from the front garden.
“They’re kind of pretty,” I say. A weed is just a plant that botanists haven’t found a use for. “This is plant discrimination.” I call him a ham-fisted bigot, or something similarly jovial.
He acknowledges that the plants have zest for life. Our hands are playing god, but the flowered shoots are “killing the clematis.” He’s having none of that, tearing handfuls of the stuff with rapture.
Later, during a drive, the kinsman emphasizes that this whole thing has been a major misunderstanding. I tell him I’ve started piecing that much together.
“How is his job hunt going?”
Not as well as burritos and bowling that evening. At the alley, when I enter my player name as “Ebowla,” I realize that I’ve inherited a little more of the Chilton dark humour than my uncle has. He’s a better bowler, but I get more strikes. Teenagers in parallel alleys sulk and roll gutter-balls.
My father shares his writing with me. This includes the manuscript for a sock-puppet musical he’s fleshing out, and a selection of poems.
From what I understand, the proposed musical follows Rayon Heel–a hard-done by hand-sock puppet–from drawer to torture, to life amid unwanted undergarments. Rayon is separated from his threaded counterparts during a performance gone awry. He finds himself lost and far from home, wherein he is abducted and tortured by malevolent forces known as “The Quiet Feet.” He is stripped of his sanity and a button eye, then left to wither in the doldrums.
In Act II, Rayon is given hope for heeling. He gets a new button eye. Though it does not compare to his original ocular appendage, it marks the inception of his second life. Companions and frenemies provide morale, lack thereof, and sometimes a place to rest. Soon, however, Rayon will be hung out to dry.
I read some of the poems. There is something vital living between the lines. I have raised my voice, but never my hand.
I tell him that she’s not angry, that she had no intention of letting things reach this point.
He understands. He says he isn’t bitter, and I believe him, but he wants more.
I could tell him that her career is going well, that there has been international recognition for some research she’s been involved in at the Heart Institute (I fantasize that the findings will help him). I could tell him that she’s in better shape than she has been in years; I could tell him she goes out in the evenings. I don’t, but I do tell the truth. “She asks about you.”
This is more than enough for him.
Sambo Chilton is a restless space cadet, writer, and musician residing in Ottawa, Ontario. He is currently finishing his second year in the Professional Writing program at Algonquin College, as well as a number of short stories, essays, and ditties to hum while contemplating one’s puny mortal existence.