“What the hell?” said Moe under his breath as the mall bench shook. He was ready to kick into survival gear thinking it might be an earthquake.
The guy on Moe’s left glanced at him; at his phone and back at Moe.
Realizing what happened Alex said, “Bro. Sorry.” Alex showed his cell phone screen to his bench neighbour. “I just couldn’t help it. Robin Williams man. He is crazy funny,” said Alex explaining how when he laughed so much he made their bench shake.
“Comedy. That’s some of the best therapy there is,” said Moe
“Amen to that bro,” agreed Alex.
“Oh, boy! Hnhn,” Moe laughed despite himself.
Alex had asked him why he was sitting on a mall bench waiting for his wife to appear laden with shopping bags.
“When my wife found out I had a second Instagram account she freaked. So here I am paying for it.”
“How’d she find out?” asked Alex.
‘My 6 year old daughter has a friend whose dad followed one of the accounts I followed and somehow the 2 girls outed their dads.”
“What happened to the other guy?”
They both swallowed the loneliness of being in a place with thousands of people yet feeling alone. Seeking community Alex asked;
“What’s all the fuss about shopping anyway?”
“I hate shopping,” said Moe as the elevator music played Dua Lipa.
“What is it about shopping malls; they just suck the energy right out of me?”
Ya, I know what you mean.”
“Usually I can swing it so I only have to drop them off and pick them up,” said Alex.
“I look forward to that day.”
“Hey man, I’m Moe.”
“Nice to meet you, I’m Alex.”
After their fist bump it felt weird to meet someone when you are sitting down.
“What do you do for a living Alex?”
“I’m a carpenter. I’m up for my red seal in a few months. How about you?”
“I’m in sales for a loading dock systems company,” said Moe.
“It keeps me outta trouble.”
“So do you do any of those huge Amazon distribution centres?” asked Alex.
“Ya,” paused Moe, breathing life into the doubt that blocked the sun out of his life. “I put in a bid a few months ago and they should be deciding. Any day now.”
In life there are beautiful pauses. Like, just before he says, ‘Will you marry me?’ as he is on one knee outside the restaurant. This pause wasn’t beautiful; it felt like it was filled with itchy scratchy fibreglass insulation.
“How did you get into dock systems?” asked Alex.
“I hurt my back framing and couldn’t do physical work anymore.”
“You didn’t want to continue in construction?”
“You know I did but my wife kiboshed that,” said Moe.
“Hmm,” Alex looked at the shiny floor between his boots.
“Ya, I know. Sounds pathetic,” said Moe.
“I didn’t say …”
“She was right.”
“Carrie, my wife, said, I can remember it vividly. She was standing sideways at the stove. She moved the chicken in the frying pan with the wooden spoon and said,” remembered Moe. “You have two tasks: the first is to get off the painkillers. The second is to get a job that pays.”
“Shit,” said Alex looking at the floor and then at Moe who was looking up at the ceiling.
“She was right. Again. I had been shafted too many times by general contractors. And I was hooked on codeine”
“So, whadya do?” said Alex.
“I got the pills from my truck, under my shirts in the bottom dresser drawer and the bathroom and poured them all down the kitchen sink as Carrie watched me. Then, I turned on the fan over the stove as she cooked the chicken and gave her a kiss.”
“Sorry man. I shouldn’t have vomited my crazy life story. You’re gonna think I’m a…,”
“I can think for myself,’ said Alex. “So you stayed off the painkillers?”
“Ya know I did. I have.”
“How long ago was that?”
“Like 5 years. Hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Moe. “But ya know what I miss the most? Talking smack on the job site. And the smells, believe it or not.”
You mean the sweet smell when you saw a piece a lumber. Or the porta potty?” asked Alex.
“Ya right! Nothing like the fragrance of a portapotty that has been on the site for a week baking in the August heat,” joked Moe. “But with two young children ya gotta do what ya gotta do.”
“I hear ya bro,” said Alex.
“So how long till you get your Red Seal?”
“By the end of the year I’d say.”
“Cool. What keeps you motivated to keep going?” asked Moe.
Alex was getting a little weirded out by how quickly Moe could get so personal.
“Same as you. Family,” said Alex.
“But what’s in it for you?”
“I love my family bro. It gives me satisfaction to provide for them” said Alex
“I believe you 100 percent. The thing is your life can pass you by and you didn’t live it.”
Moe had touched a nerve in Alex.
“Ya know who you remind me of bro?” said Alex detouring the conversation.
“Who?” said Moe.
The sailor in that poem Ancient Mariner.”
“I thought you were gonna say someone like Mike Holmes. Who the fuck is the ancient mariner?”
“He’s the wrinkled old man who stops the young people arriving at a wedding. He needs to tell them his story. Check it out,” said Alex.
“I’ll Google it,” said Moe. “But that’s a bit of a weird reference,” he said as he was used to a different reaction to his desire to help.
“Hey man, it was grade 11 English class. Mrs. Downs. Great teacher,” said Alex.
“Nice to meet bro, take care,’ said Alex as Moe saw his wife come out of the store with children and shopping bags. ‘You’re a bit of a weird random guy I talked to in the mall’ thought Alex as he watched Moe walk away.
Alex had related the conversation with Moe to Rebecca, his wife, as they were on the drive home from the mall. As he was merging onto the highway Rebecca asked him,
“So. Is your life passing you by?”