There are no lights on inside the house. The streetlights give off a warm light reflecting off the snow. Both of their chairs face the big window like a movie screen.
The grey Persian cat comes and sits near Wayne’s hand. He slowly works the back of her ears; she starts to purr.
Frank nods towards her, “She gets fidgety in winter…when it’s too cold.”
“Tough to go outside when it’s minus 25C.”
Frank nods, “Not scared of anything that cat. She faces down everything.”
Wayne looks at her with a smile, “Not her nature to stay inside.”
“She owns the neighbourhood.”
With the glass in his other hand Wayne sips his rum and eyes the wide front window, “You don’t get too much frost.”
“I changed them a few years ago.”
Frank nods, showing his thumb and index finger, “With an air pocket.”
Wayne nods back, “That’s good.”
A flashing yellow light starts reflecting through the window. The sound of the grader starts to arrive. The cat moves away from Wayne’s hand.
Frank takes a sip of rum, “All this doesn’t mean much in the end.”
Wayne leans in, “All this? Sorry, I missed the first part.”
Frank waves him off with a frown as though the rum is bitter, “The treatments.”
“They can help can’t they?”
The rumble of the grader is stronger; the slow-turning light begins to flash off the walls disrupting the dark room rhythmically exposing the photographs displayed on the coffee table.
The cat’s ears go back and she lowers herself into a crouch, her tail begins to twitch. Frank eyes her with a concerned look, “I’ve never seen her like that.”
Wayne tries to fill in the spaces, “What matters?”
“We always want a better world. Sometimes it moves forward but it can be so slow. And when you die does all this really matter?”
Frank frowns hard, “Ah, the good part is time doesn’t exist anymore—telling you where to go what to do: You just are.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I don’t. All I know is that time seems to have an ending point so you can be rid of the damn thing.”
Wayne smiles, “You hope.”
“I hope. If everything is supposed to end at death then you’re home free. At least you don’t have to see things that way anymore.”
There are two graders now, one staggered behind the other. More lights flash off the walls, the photographs repeating like scenes in a silent film. Frank looks around the room in a loud voice, “It’s like a disco in here!”
They share grins ignoring the panicked cat.
Wayne goes on, “You’ve always enjoyed life.”
“You’re not like me.”
Wayne reminds him, “Upset about things.”
Frank grins, “Oh that motto of yours that you keep wrapping yourself in.”
“It’s what it is.”
He smiles at him, “Nice little bubble Wayne but everything means something—everything, that’s what life and death are.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“Oh,” Frank leans forward with a frustrated look, his hands together, his arms resting on his legs; “What exactly did you say Wayne?”
The orange light of the graders begins to fade. There’s a long pause until Wayne answers, “You mean ‘is’.”
“What life and death ‘is’—not ‘are’, they aren’t separate, they’re the same thing.”
Frank’s angry look fades into a smile, “Very philosophical.” He stands; “Time for more rum.”
“That sounds good.” Wayne looks at the cat, “It’s okay now, the graders are long gone.” She thanks him with a blink but stays crouched where she is.
Frank comes back and fills Wayne’s glass, “You’re pretty dry” then sits down with the bottle beside him, “No sense walking back and forth.”
They raise their glasses without a word. Through the window they admire the nicely aligned and even ridges of snow running down the near middle of the street.
Frank looks directly at him, “What about you Wayne—what do you really think about death and dying?” The words seem to linger, offset by the snowflake-interrupted light of the yellow streetlamp.
Wayne smiles quickly, “You’re supposed to lead with: ‘Would you mind if I asked you a serious question?’”
Frank chuckles, “Note taken. And so?”
Wayne answers without thinking, “Death does have a bit of charm.”
Frank doesn’t let him end it there, “Go on.”
Wayne hadn’t planned anything else; usually no one goes farther. He takes a gulp of rum
“Death…” Frank raises two fingers in the air “… is ‘charming’?”
The rum burns the roof of Wayne’s mouth, “Well it’s good to know that it takes everybody down—no exceptions.”
Frank responds with a twinge of sarcasm, “I suppose that helps you get through the day.”
“Sometimes…I mostly just stay away from people now.”
“True. What else?”
“Even if it doesn’t take them completely out of the picture you can pretty well leave them behind.”
“I hope so.”
“You want to know anything else?”
Frank shrugs, “Whatever you like.”
“We’re always rushing off to something else, wasting time trying to achieve something that means nothing but feeling guilty if we can’t or being judged if we don’t.”
Frank shakes his head at him, “You don’t do that.”
“I don’t do it as much.”
Frank swirls his rum, “You’re just never quite happy because you always have questions” and swallows hard.
Wayne nods to him, “That’s true it could be healthier and smarter to just go with the flow and not pay any attention.”
“I don’t mean that, nothing wrong with asking questions. But there’s nothing wrong with being happy either.”
“Gee Frank, it’s a sin not to be happy? We’re told we’re unhealthy if we’re upset about something or getting more and more upset.”
“Sometimes—I thought it was the opposite?”
“Look around. Things are better all the time but it’s more fashionable to think life is so cruel.”
“It is isn’t it?”
“No, it gets better all the time. Nobody wants to admit it.”
“They need to find something wrong to shift the blame.”
“The blame for what?”
“For never experiencing life, too scared to admit it’s out of their control.”
“It can be pretty scary.”
Wayne frowns, “We’ve gone beyond all that fantasy stuff. We see the hard cold facts and understand things better.”
“Uh-huh, if it’s not bleak it must be wrong.”
“It’s just the truth.”
“Your version. The truth is you just learn more and become more aware of how much you don’t know.”
“Fine then, fine—everything is fine and then we live happily ever after in our ignorance—”
“It’s not ignorance—far from it. You accept what you can’t know. It doesn’t stop you from learning.”
“Fine, perfect—just accept it all and live a healthy life! What about you Frank?”
He grins in a loud voice, “Happier than you and much less healthy.”
Wayne tries to hold back his laughter but can’t. With his glass held high he announces, “There, it’s all settled” and finishes with a gulp of rum, aiming it at his tongue forcing him to close his eyes with a grunt. Frank holds up his glass and follows. Wayne continues in a loud circus-like voice “Any regrets Frank—any regrets?” Before Frank answers he pulls back and apologizes in a subdued tone: “Sorry Frank…it’s the rum.”
Frank answers with a normal shrug then pauses a long time…“Regrets, ah, lots of regrets, ah—lots of people do but ah…” He waves the back of his hand at his thoughts and quickly says, “It doesn’t matter what others do…forget about it.” With a conclusive jerk of his hand he says, “I have regrets—that’s normal. But I’m not going to spend all my time worrying about things I can’t do anything about; the moment is wonderful, wherever it may lead.”
An infantry of lights and noise begins to creep up the street. A line of dump trucks rolls by to join it.
For a moment Wayne thinks of what he shouldn’t say and hesitates; his curiosity ignores him, “How do you know what death is Frank? Everything can come crashing down.”
“Sure if you come back to life. But if you’re dead everything is the just the way it should be. Why not think of what you believe or hope for. It will be more likely to occur if we imagine it.” He grins, “And it’s more fun.”
“It’s all made-up.”
Frank shakes his head at Wayne, “There’s no cure for you.”
“It’s not what’s really happening.”
“It’s not true.”
Frank shrugs, “That doesn’t really matter.”
“Now you’re talking.”
They share a concluding nod. The cat stares at them in the hopeful silence. Wayne carefully taps on the table watching the ripples cross the surface of the rum.
With a yawn Frank looks down at his watch and up at the clock, “Bedtime.” He stands up slowly pushing his hands off his thighs with a muffled groan, “Make sure to NOT let the cat out.”
“Got it. What time do you go for treatment tomorrow?”
“Not till the afternoon—if I go.”
“You’re not going?”
“We’ll see.” He touches Wayne’s shoulder as he walks by, “Good night.”
“Good night Frank.”
Wayne moves towards the cat and puts his hand down rubbing his fingers, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” He pats her very gently; she rises to meet his hand.
Outside the noise builds. Wayne moves towards the window watching the massive spinning blade of the snow blower begin to turn. The frightened cat shoves herself harder against the door, stares and pleads to him with a silent meow. He whispers “I can’t let you out” and looks away. The snow fires out of the blower, smashing against the added-on backboard of the dumpster. Bits of snow grip themselves to the rough wood, other pieces clutch onto them. Clumps form until it all becomes too heavy and they all fall back into the pile below.
Wayne looks down and the cat is no longer there. He stares at her empty spot until the machinery is gone and makes his way back. As he refills his glass the rum bottle clicks against it and he abruptly looks over to where she had been. But there’s nothing there. He collapses into the heavy chair and begins waiting, anxious for her to show herself and restore things to normal.