Preserving the Staff of Life

A short story by Roy Innes for 2010's Burnaby Writers' Society annual contest.

I missed his eightieth birthday bash at the Surf Pub last year. Bunch of young bucks from the golf course organized it. I'm out of town that day, I said. Not true. Real reason? At age seventy, my days of late nights and heavy drinking are over and Pat's party would have plenty of that. But he's eighty, you say. Right. Eighty going on twenty-five.

We logged together on Vancouver Island back in the late '50s; me, a greenhorn back-rigger; he, one of the elite who drove the big Hayes trucks hauling real timber, not the pecker-poles they call logs these days. I can't say which of us had the more dangerous job. Guys got killed every year doing both. I eventually escaped and went to university; he stayed on, survived and retired with a damned good pension. We both ended up living on a small gulf island, meeting most often at the golf course.

He never seemed to age. I guess “sprightly” would be the word most people would use to describe a man of his years, but somehow that didn't fit. A young stud whose hair had turned prematurely white gave a better picture. That, along with his apparent fixation on sex. After his wife died, he sprung loose like a bull let into a coral of heifers. I didn't believe his fantastic tales at first, but word soon got around after the old Lothario worked his way through half the widows on the island. When he ran out of those, he began to look for newer pastures. Cruise ships and travel tours satiated him for a while but he eventually became frustrated with the time wasted chatting up prospective bed mates. He wanted sex on demand [without marriage, god forbid]. To that end, he somehow found a series of women half his age to accompany him on his travels to warm climes in the winter, returning to the island each summer.

“What's your secret?” I asked him.

“Two of God's greatest gifts,” he said. “Water and Viagra.”

He believed that good hydration was essential to erections. The Viagra helped top him up when his water levels were inadvertently a bit low.

I lost count of the number of times I predicted his demise. Aside from his sexual perversions, he smoked, drank excessively and ate everything he shouldn’t have. Surely no one that age could survive such a life for very long. But he did... through the last of his sixties, seventies and now into his eighties.

He regaled me with lists -- where he’d been and with whom. Never any descriptions, mind you, just lists, like baseball stats. It became obvious that he was packing more into the December years of his life than I’d seen in my spring, summer and fall combined. The diabolical pleasure he took in pointing this out to me became grating. I took to avoiding him.

I heard through the golf grapevine that he had some eye trouble requiring surgery and one episode of chest pain diagnosed as a mild heart attack. Someone thought he’d needed a pacemaker to keep his heart beating. I took cheer in this -- the old bugger finally falling apart like the rest of us.

An entire year passed and no sign of him on the island. No one knew exactly where he’d disappeared to although rumours flew -- Europe, Australia, Egypt, South America. And then, out of the blue, he reappeared -- on the golf course looking not a day older. He came over to where I stood, my jaw dropped down to my toes somewhere.

“Hey, young feller,” he said. “Thought I’d died, didn’t you?”

I did, but I kept it to myself and asked instead to hear his lists. This time I was interested.

He rhymed off about eight countries and, I swear, every large body of salt water on the planet, before his grand finale.

“This one I just did,” he said, pointing to his T-shirt. Puzzled, I read ALBERTA RODEO ASSOCIATION in three inch letters across his chest.

“Alberta?” I said. “That’s not very impressive.”

He turned so that I could see the back.

I RAN WITH THE BULLS IN STRATHMORE. Strathmore, Alberta, Canada’s Pamplona.

“What a rush,” he said. “Got Dolly hotter than hell. She couldn’t wait to get me back to the hotel.”

I vowed right then and there to start drinking more water.

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