When this is that

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I know how to stop time. Take a heaping scoop of the Perseus constellation in mid-August, add a cup of blueberry zinger tea, a pinch from a beautiful wife, and finish with the flight of one night-wrapped huntress. Oh — and be certain not to stir.

“Oh my word!” said my mate. “Did you just see that?”

 From a porch perch aimed at the Pacific, Mercedes and I cuddled together in our annual search for something to wish upon. And the heavens did not fail us. We had already counted a double fist-full of Perseid meteor tails when a muted spirit swooped past, not five feet above the mossy peak of our aging A-frame.

“It’s an owl. Look.” I pointed across the yard to the tip of a thirty-foot cedar where the raptor had landed. “See?”

Mercedes squinted into the midnight, hunting for any hint of motion. Then it came. “That’s…” she whispered. From its throne above, the creature stared down at us and did what a big-eyed bird must. She blinked. And when she did, her eyes gathered up the golden light of the universe — and blazed. Even gravity held its breath. “Incredible,” said my wife, finally finding her adjective. Sometimes in the Big House there are days when you just don’t see the razor wire.

But what about the VICTIMS? Canada’s summer of love with hard-right conservatism is turning us into a nation of slogan drones. Now we’re either criminals or victims. You’re either with us or with the (insert enemy de jour here) — a friend or a foe of the reigning caucus. But that’s not this story. This story is about finding your way home; about how a conjugal visit with a tea-topped woman and a predatory bird can trump a hundred new laws in building a safer Canada.

“Is there anything you would like to say before I sentence you?” I stood up from my place in the prisoner’s docket of a Quebec superior court.

“I would like to speak to the family, your Honour.” The judge stared at me for a moment, then nodded. Every seat in the gallery was filled with the Catholic-sized kin of the man whose life I had taken. Taking a life. Somehow it seems less wicked when I say it that way. Murdering Mario in 1994 changed a lot more histories than just his. I turned to face the dead man’s mother.

It’s amazing really, to think of how the tiniest butterflies can breed the biggest hurricanes. What if the Archduke’s polka partner in Sarajevo 99 years ago had been a lefty? It could have been the shot that sheared the shoulder pad instead of the one heard half way to Hiroshima. Or if someone had just handed Ghandi a saltshaker — would Pakistan still be the nuclear-tipped sandbox of global jihad? And if little Stevie Harper hadn’t gotten wedgied so often by the heads from his high school’s smoke pit, would Canada now be the home of hydrogen fuel cells and restorative justice? The things that make you go hmmnn…

Downstairs, beneath the courthouse, I stared at my 27-year-old face in a 12-inch steel mirror. Upstairs, I had offered brief regrets to the murdered man’s family, and promised a hollow-eyed mother that each day forward would be my living apology to her. Not exactly a mission statement, but I meant what I said. And now it was time to pay. Will I still have hair — 25 years from now? Or be as fat as my father? Can the teeth hold out that long?  I wondered how a quarter century would handle a laugh line. And what it would take to find out.

“Today is an important day,” I said to my wife. Her eyes stayed in the treetops, watching the jewel-eyed watcher. But her modest hand stayed twined in mine, holding me like a promise.  A good marriage is like that. It’s the silence between the notes that make it a masterpiece. “It’s 15 years ago — today,” I eventually answered. But then, she already knew that, didn’t she? That’s love’s secret sauce: To be known.

Before that day in a Quebec courthouse, I was the self-appointed high priest of self-importance. And why not? If all we are is monkeys collecting calendars, then why not be the top banana taker? But in that moment – when Mario’s mom looked into my eyes – I knew. Life is the cosmos’ most complex equation. And with one glance, the exhausted matriarch made me carry it all. God, I hope I don’t drop it.

“Breathe,” said Mercedes. I followed my mate’s instructions and pulled the August night air into my chest above us, the owl’s eyes sparkled in a field of stars. It was the truest beauty I had every seen. Justice? Only Mario’s mom can answer that one. I just know we can’t call it time.stars razor wire


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