Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Summer That Got Away - Part Two: People I Will Never Forget

Geez, just when I had the best of intentions to post again in a timely manner, a barge crane accidentally sprung the cables that connect Gabriola to the rest of the world and we were without power, phone or internet for several days. The peace and quiet were wonderful. I realized the world goes on without any input from me.

That being said, I will return to posting anyway, fully and shamelessly aware that I am clogging the arteries of the internet with my unnecessary content. For the time being, anyway.

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 So, last summer I was employed by a government agency to assist with this thing they do every five years. I signed a piece of paper stating I would not reveal any details of this work, but I did have a few experiences that etched themselves in my brain. (Disclaimer: The following is complete and utter fiction.)

1. A Heart Breaker: The property showed every sign of being unoccupied. An old vehicle sat in the driveway, its deflated tires and heavy coating of dead leaves and pine needles showing that it had not been driven in a year or more. The screen door hung askew on its hinges, the windows were dark. I knocked anyway. A faint voice responded, "Come in."

I opened the door and stepped into a shadowy hallway. My tentative "Hello" was met with an equally quavery "Down the hall." Now, I was there alone. My employer had stressed that we didn't have to do anything that felt unsafe, and this definitely felt strange. But I proceeded down the hall anyway.

The room I entered had the window blinds raised so at least I could see. A single bed almost filled the tiny room, which was lined with shelves of medical supplies. On the bed sat an elderly man. He wasn't wearing any pants, but it was obvious he posed no threat. A catheter was taped to his thin leg, and he could barely sit up. The bed was covered with bags of oatmeal cookies, and a glass of juice sat on a shelf. The overall impression I got was of extreme neglect, pain and loneliness.

"Is anyone looking after you?"
"They've already been here."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"What could you do?"

Well, I supposed I could do what I was there for. I explained my mission and asked if he would mind answering a few questions. I asked them as kindly and gently as I could, and I learned that he was very well educated. He had no family. He had a serious illness. Most of the questions were completely irrelevant but I asked them anyway, figuring the least I could do was give him the opportunity to contribute to a collective project of national importance.

When we were finished I thanked him fervently for his time and asked again if there was anything I could do for him. Again he refused, saying he had what he needed. I left, closing the screen door properly behind me.

I sat in the car for a while after, still wanting to do something to help.We have a social worker on the island, so I called her, asking if she could follow up with this fellow and see if he was falling through the cracks of the system. She said she would, but reminded me that this information was extremely confidential and that I would have to be content with never knowing how things turned out.

2. The Garden: I was assigned an address that I drove past daily, but didn't know who lived there. I assumed the occupant might either be a hermit or otherwise unorthodox, due to the unkempt exterior and piles of junk that never got moved. I was very surprised when an elderly lady with startling blue eyeshadow peered through the blinds at my knock. She opened the door, revealing an interior covered with artificial flowers as bright and beautiful as her floral dressing gown. It was like an art installation, a marvel of home decor. She was lovely and cordial and happy to answer my questions. I couldn't resist saying before I left how much I liked all the flowers, whereupon she insisted on showing  me her real garden in the back yard. It was obviously beautiful once, but now overgrown and untended. "It's hard for me to keep it up," she said, but I could tell she was still proud of what it had once been.

3. The Inventor: The property had an 8 foot high solid fence around it. I went through the small door and entered a yard with several small ramshackle shed-like structures on it. There was a couple of sawhorses front and centre, with fresh sawdust piled below. I called out and looked around, trying to figure out which of the sheds could possibly be a dwelling. There was no answer so I turned to go, preparing to delete the address from my list. I struggled with the latch on the gate and heard a puzzled sounding "Hello?" When I turned around again I saw a man's head sticking up out of what appeared to be some kind of plywood box, shaped like a flotation tank or enclosed tanning bed.

He lifted himself up so he could sit on top of this odd little structure, and was quite agreeable to answering my list of questions. He referred to his property as a farm, although no plants or animals were evident. I could not resist asking him what he was sitting on. "Why, it's a personal escape pod for a boat," he said, as if it were obvious. "Ordinary life boats can get sucked down into the vortex when a ship sinks, so I have created this to solve the problem." He pointed out features such as the small plastic window and sleeping pad inside. "I sleep in here quite often. It's very cosy."

3 comments:

  1. Such great stories, Heather! The world is chock full of interesting people we mostly never meet.

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  2. love these vignettes

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  3. Thank you for your excellent writing.

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