My brother-in-law Cassius drives his red electric scooter out to the end of the driveway at full throttle and cranks a hard right onto the street. He tries to wrestle his canes into the basket on the front handlebars with one hand and steers with the other, but the canes won’t cooperate. They start to fall sideways and almost tumble free, which only throws gas on the fire that burns in him now. He stops the cart dead in the middle of the road with a jerk and uses both hands to straighten the canes. They start to fall over again, and he scoops them up in one hand while he slams the cart into reverse. He screeches backward to the end of the driveway, emits a fierce growl, and flings his canes down onto the front lawn where they bounce like a couple of bowling pins. He peels forward about twenty feet and then jerks to a stop and rams it back into reverse. He wheels back into the driveway and up onto the lawn where he slides to a stop and leans over to snatch his canes up off the sunburned grass. This time they cooperate and nestle into the basket as he streaks off down Lilac Avenue. Inside the house we breathe a collective deep breath and wonder if the neighbours enjoyed the show.
An hour later, he comes back with his eyes at half-mast and smelling like a grow-op. He parks his cart gently on the porch and uses his hands to pull his legs out and plant his worn brown loafers onto the slate tiles. Then he wrestles himself upright and heads inside for some Facebook time with his bucket of jellybeans within arm’s reach.
“Don’t you get tired of being angry?” I ask him as he struggles his way through the kitchen.
Cassius pauses then and turns to face me. “Hey, I shine like a diamond on the corner of Hastings and Main,” he says, standing straight-armed and tall on his canes. Then he grins, showing his skinny rotten teeth and his devil-could-give-a-shit moxy.
I want to smile with him, but the truth is I’m too pissed at him for everything from leaving the seat up on the toilet to calling his sister Jackie, my wife, a fucking bitch in front of the neighbours at eight o’clock in the morning. Of course, he apologized later, once he found the money he thought she’d taken from his wallet to keep him from running back to Vancouver; but he still leaves the seat up on the toilet. Then there’s the incident with the cane and the woman who wouldn’t leave his apartment, but the courts are sorting that one out. Me, I end up spending a week of my vacation packing up and cleaning his apartment after the cane attack gets him evicted from Still Waters, the subsidized housing complex he has lived in for four years. He still claims he didn’t hit her, of course, but I saw the pictures of the mark on the top of her shoulder, and it sure didn’t look like she had walked into any door.
He gets kind of quiet when I’m driving him to the lawyer’s office. It’s his 48th birthday, but I can tell he’s not thinking about that right now. He’s much too busy trying to decide how to plead as we cruise down Third Avenue past the pulp mill wafting out its never-ending plume of smoke. All things considered, he doesn’t look too bad for 48. His hair’s still thick with only a bit of grey beginning to weave its way through the sides. His pasty complexion is peppered over with small freckles that add to the boyishness of his thin-lipped face, but his arms are well developed with thick bulging veins from 20 years of dragging his reluctant legs around with the help of his canes. We’re just coming up on Smitty’s, which is not more than three blocks from the lawyer’s, when he finally pipes up. He looks at me with his eyes narrowed and a smug smile on his face and says, “I think I gotta be like the big Indian.”
“Like the big ‘Indian’?” I say. I contemplate calling him more directly on the term but trust he’s read my scowl.
“Yeah, you know, the guy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest who kept his mouth shut. He was the only one who got free in the end.”
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