3.7 Smoke: Part Two

There are an estimated 70,000 heart attacks each year in Canada. That’s one heart attack every 7 minutes. Most of these deaths occur out of hospital. The number of heart attack-related hospitalizations has increased steadily over the past decade. Lying in bed that Sunday night, a thought came to Richard. It wasn’t anything that Rebecca said, it wasn’t the suffocation he felt at work, nor was it the research Richard conducted on heart attacks. It was Ted’s hedge trimmer and the fear that was captured in the silence that followed once the machine was turned off.

The lack of noise.

The ability to focus.

Richard always regarded himself as a creative person. He tried everything during his twenties: Painting regarded patience, filmmaking was a business than anything else, writing was too solitary, acting was for the ambitious. Nothing clicked. Lying in bed, he thought, perhaps he could become creative with his life. He could pursue interesting experiences and construct something that was meaningful.

The first problem was the financial viability of this prospect.

The second problem was Katherine.

The first problem could be alleviated easily. If they sold the house with all its bricks, the cars with their expensive hood ornaments and cashed in their investments, they could live frugally in countries with low inflation rates and inexpensive costs of living.

The second problem was more troubling. It kept him up for most of the night. The Katherine before the rings would have jumped on this prospect without question. The Katherine under the thumb of objects would be more difficult to persuade.

Beyond this, perhaps more importantly, or perhaps more troubling, was a different question, a question he was at first ashamed of. But once he turned the idea over in his head more than a few times, when he became more comfortable with it, the question morphed from being troubling to being truthful. Although he didn’t have an answer yet, at least he was able to pinpoint what he needed to discover. After narrowing all these life-changing thoughts in his head, after specifically finding this one question and its subsequent answer, he slept better and fell into the depth of the deepest paradoxical sleep.

Did he want Katherine to go with him?

In the old days, when he was younger and starting out at the insurance company, Richard became know as The Slasher. On any insurance claim, he had a preternatural instinct to locate the one loophole buried deep in the phonebook-thick contract that would alleviate the company from any responsibility.

He used those same skills with Katherine. Their relationship had turned into an agreement, a contract with small print. It was an arrangement he wanted out of.

Richard by-passed the washroom, the need to rally the troops and endure the morning was not necessary. He had some real work to do. He locked the door to his office, removed his blazer and rolled up his sleeves.

On a yellow legal pad, he made lists. Outlined the negative and positive aspects of their marriage. The material obsession that had a vice-like grip on their marriage was to be avoided. She would accuse him of the same attributes. The lack of sex was also not a good angle. She would turn this around and convince him that he was being selfish. She desperately wanted to have a child and in her mind, sex had become functional.

Richard stopped pacing.

He looked at what he wrote down: She desperately wanted to have a child.

Through their difficulties with getting pregnant, they were both tested numerous times to locate the problem. Richard checked out okay. The problem could only be with Katherine but this went unsaid. A plan was forming. He would try to convince Katherine that they needed to change their lives. When she disagreed, to which he most certainly knew she would, he would play his ace.

The loophole to alleviate responsibility. The small print.

* * *

“I’m not doing the Run for Cancer,” Richard said that evening at dinner.

Katherine was silent.

“But we’re all doing it. The Wilsons, the Symingtons, the Smiths. They’re all doing it to-geth-er. What will I tell them?”

“Tell them I’m not doing it. I’ll tell them I’m not doing it. What’s the big deal?”

“The ‘big deal’ is that I already signed you up,” Katherine said. “Is this about something else?”

“It’s about nothing else,” Richard replied into his collared greens.

“It’s for a good cause,” Katherine reasoned.

Richard sighed.

“Why don’t we go traveling for a while?” He asked.

“Where? Why?”

“We used to want to travel, to see new places.”

“You only have two weeks of vacation and we spent it visiting your parents last year,” she said.

“Well, I’m considering taking a longer vacation,” he couldn’t look her in the eyes.

“What do you mean?” She asked.

“Are you happy, Katherine? Does all this make you happy?” Finally he met her eyes.

“I think you should stop smoking. It’s a crutch. It gives you too much time to think up insane schemes.”

“A crutch. I don’t think you should be speaking about crutches.”

“This isn’t about me.”

“Life is short, Katherine.”

“That’s it, is it? You’re thinking of John. You hardly knew him. His poor wife and all you can think about is yourself.”

“She’s free. She can do whatever she wants.”

There was a silence that filled the room. Katherine placed her fork and knife on the table. Threaded her fingers, rested her chin on the bridge she made with her hands.

“Richard. Do you wish that I was dead?”

He responded quickly but not quick enough. He did not wish her dead, not ever considered it. But in that moment in the space between her question and his answer, the proposition intrigued him. Katherine saw this intrigue in his eyes. If there was ever a time to play his card, to exploit the loophole, it was now.

“Of course not. What kind of ridiculous question is that?”

The Run for Cancer was a popular event among the middle-class of the neighbourhood. As Katherine stated, and referenced multiple times in the days leading up to the weekend, many people made it a whole family event. Something they did to-geth-er. The car ride to the starting line of the run was quiet and felt longer than it actually was.

Katherine and Richard parted ways, she to register and get ready, he into the crowd of well wishers slowly building in number along the race route. He walked along the marked off road and stopped at the halfway point of the race. He waited.

Richard’s thoughts sailed along to the places he would visit. This new life he planned on building. Katherine would be upset, but she would get over it. Anything was better than this stasis, than this plateau. He couldn’t comprehend ten years, twenty years from now: Still running for Cancer, trimming hedges and contemplating the personality of inadament objects.

How would he would make his exit? He could just continue walking along the race route, and when it ended, continue walking. He planned to pack a bag but was that even necessary? And if he packed a bag, what would he bring?

There was the problem of passports. They had not renewed their passports. It was not something one thinks about until you have a destination. And what would that destination be? There are so many places he wants to see, but what would be first? And what about language? How would he communicate to people?

Richard tried to shrug these thoughts off. This was Katherine’s voice echoing these thoughts in his head, reasons to dissuade him from not moving forward.

It might have been Richard’s imagination, but his chest felt tight. There was a slight pain shooting down his left arm.

The runners approached the halfway point. Katherine was in the middle of the pack. She smiled at him but it wasn’t a kind smile. It wasn’t a smile of thankfulness that he was there supporting her. When she saw him, her running slowed.

Katherine’s voice in his head grew louder. He would eventually have to work. The well would run dry at some point. She came to a standstill position, her weight bouncing from one foot to the other.

Richard argued with her in his head. There are many things he could do, he was a very skilled man. What exactly were those skills? He could make it up as he went along. It would be a part of his new creative life. But how would he acquire work in different countries without a working visa? Who would hire him?

The pain was increasing. He reasoned to himself that it was his imagination.

Richard clutched his chest, massaged it. He put on a false smile.

Their eyes met but there was little recognition. Her mouth pursed open, allowing her increased heart rate to be settled by the intake of oxygen.

They stood like that for a long time. Katherine eventually stopped bouncing, fixed her feet to the ground. He wanted to ask her for help but thought better of it. The race was over but Katherine turned and continued on along the route. She was never one to keep something unfinished.

When she was out of view, he rushed back to the car. He got inside, slammed the lock with the palm of his hand. It was quiet in the car. The interior smelled of expensive leather.

The pain in Richard’s chest increased with the silence. It was crushing. The silence brought on an inexplicably loud rush of fear. A tidal wave. The same fear that was left in the air immediately after the hedge trimmer was turned off.

He opened the window to digest the noise from the race crowd returning to their cars. There was safety in the noise. He would wait for Katherine here. He would not renew his passport. He would endure. The pain deflated and his heart settled.

Silence was the enemy, not him. Never him. It was out of his control.

Never him.

He told himself over and over: No anxiety and no denial.