Wrenches and Ladles
This past Saturday I was standing beside a gurney.
Across from us stood a tall woman, Arabic ancestry. She wore a baseball shirt with three quarter sleeves. A grad student with particular poise, she spoke to this cluster of parents and prospective students, asking questions in the way that one does when you know the answers. She had one of those lightly hooked noses I’ve always wanted. Carefully she removed the sheet from the cadaver lying before us. Our human subject was sinewy, liver-coloured; the texture of a sundried tomato. My body contracted as she lifted the prosected rib cage, revealing a mass of lifeless organs. Gently she reached in and scooped a human lung into my husband’s hands.
This morning I am sitting in Alice's Cafe in Carp. The early morning crowd is bustling.
At the long centre table sits a group of five, then six grey haired men. A few beards, one ball cap, sugar in the coffee. They chuckle and lend warmth to the cafe. There is the inevitable mention of a backhoe. As I am writing in my journal I hear them presenting one another with various facts. Justin Bieber is playing in the background; a fact I know only because I have teenagers. As I watch the men and listen to their jovial banter, I notice the lines in their brows. I remember the university tour, my daughter’s face glowing as she swelled with the prospect of studying nursing, the cadaver. Watching this gathering, I notice that I don't see them as "old guys" anymore. To my daughter, whose only connection to "old guys" is serving them coffee, people with grey hair might seem vague and amorphous. As a young barrista might, she divides men of this age into two groups; appropriate and inappropriate. These days the difference between the sporty, orange vested, sixty-two year old with loose curly hair and his table mate who is over eighty seems obvious. The older man has heavier earlobes and jowls hang more loosely on his skull.
The young lad at the table is in his mid-fifties. He is bearded and barrel chested, with distinct grammar. A booming voice. Sporty-Curly counters his opinions and, having finished his breakfast, fifty-something turns to his phone. As if there is something important there. The sun beams through the top of the glass ketchup bottle on their table.
I nudge myself to withdraw. Not because I shouldn’t be nosey. I am entertained but still, some sadness weighs in me. Maybe it is a contrast in how relatively expansive men seem to be in the company of women, how, in this context, far away from one another the men seem. And perhaps only around the corner from the cadaver, whose gender is unknown to me. I sit at my table with my breasts, humble at the border of cross-cultural understanding. Gratefully exempt from the whole issue of mortality. A smile thinking of a phrase I hear increasingly frequently: “Moving Forward”. Ian Black the weatherman on CBC. Economic analysts. And then in my mind's eye, my husband with his fingers wrapped around a lung, inspecting it's various sections.
One by one, the men cite somewhere they have to get to. Some push their chairs out easily. Others stand with a slightly concealed effort. They zip up jackets, remove a scarf from the floor. They tease one another and fold newspapers with great purpose, as if their daily visits were an inadvertent coincidence. Bidding one another farewell, they exit the cafe. They unlock trucks and sedans. There they turn the ignition keys, check over their shoulders and click into forward gear, the road stretching out before them.