We Turn Back to Our Dying
Peter Gibbon

A pair of squeaky pale blue doors opened wide. George stepped inside, looked 360 degrees and released a satisfying sigh. He turned right toward the coat room. He grabbed his pack of smokes out of his inside pocket and dropped off his coat. He grinned as he passed by the canes and boots lined up along the wall.

He waddled down the reflective linoleum hall. The dust and the age of the building coated his nostrils. He passed his fingertips along the closest fold-out table. He rubbed the dust between his fingers, savouring the sentiment. His hand then immediately moved to support his lower back while his other arm reached past his gut for the second set of double-doors—not without feigning some difficulty, of course.

Everyone in the Legion Hall obviously noticed the effort, but nobody bothered investigating. It was just something you expected at the weekly Legion meetings.

Tonight, George sensed tension. He wondered if someone had actually caught him sighing on the way in. He had, at one time been a victim of misinterpreted sighs and it had caused some awkwardness between himself and his legion buddies before. The politics of sighing.

He reassured himself—trouble like that only happened when the wives were around to notice those types of things. The source of the tension tonight was more likely the results of the recent election for Legion executives. They had caused a slight upheaval in the Peterborough chapter of the Royal Canadian Legion.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” George heard Alex and saw his index finger raised. He knew it would eventually devolve into him getting overexcited and trying to get up despite his paralysis—he might actually stand up this time. Although George hadn’t seen it with his own eyes the last time happened, he had heard all the stories.

He moved on, deciding that Alex wouldn’t get too excited until much later in the night—probably once someone drank all the 50’s in the fridge. Although George had a feeling that tonight’s squabble wouldn’t be over beer.

Standing in the middle of the Legion Hall reminded George of a no man’s land. He needed to find a place to sit. He saw a seat next to Dougie. He went for it. He plopped down and leaned in to speak to his friend —

“Why does Joey always need to wear that goddamn hat every Wednesday for anyways?” He leaned in closer, “everyone knows he’s a fuckin’ Shriner.”

“I’m not deaf, George. You can back up a bit when you talk to me.”

Then the mood is defensive, he thought. George got up for the first trip to the fridge. He cringed as he opened the sticky door. He briefly wondered how long they had had that old fridge.

These thoughts were whisked away when he saw a few bottles of Molson Ex still sitting in the back of the fridge behind endless rows of Blue and 50. He grabbed one and stashed two more in the dairy compartment of the door. He opened his beer and took a sip before sitting down with Dougie again.

“So, what are you up to these days, Doug?”

Doug offered a half-sneer, half-smile in response. He followed up with silence. George became increasingly nervous. He looked at the beer Dougie had in front of him that was three-quarters empty. Maybe he should have grabbed one for him on the way. But then it would have been half-warm by the time he opened it. George lowered his head—this was the sigh situation all over again.

But George reminded himself to stay defensive. He still wasn’t sure if he was the focus of the tension tonight.

“How’re you Georgie?” Doug finally surrendered a query. Relief.

“Oh I’m just fine Dougie. Just fine. The old back’s actin’ up but that’s all, that’s not much to complainaboucha’know?”

The exchange still hadn’t convinced George that he was safe. He decided to excuse himself and take a walk to eavesdrop on the conversations around the Hall:

“—and so he says he thinks it’s time for me to go home. I told him it’s time for him to grow some facial hair—well, you know Frankie’s what did you expect, there—and now it’s in the courts tellin’ me that it’s a man and a man not just a woman and a man. I tell you boys, ever since that moon landing—you’re not even old enough to remember that war, kiddo. What are you even goddamntalkingabout—and they pissed on it. The fucking war monument, Gerry—can you fuckin’ believeit?”

Across the room, Alex was getting angrier. George assumed he was talking to Barry, the newly elected president. He had recently won the election by a landslide, to the great surprise of all the senior Legion members. This was a difficult concept for them to understand. Gerry was running and he was much older than Barry. It was true that the majority of voting Legion members didn’t happen to be seniors anymore, but Gerry was still his senior. That’s just how the elections worked in the Legion. The older candidate wins. His experience had earned it.

The obvious tension in the Legion was broken by a match being struck. George turned to see Dan McCray lighting up his pipe. It was a good pipe. It had intricately carved designs running all along the side and everyone at the Legion was happy to see it when Dan managed to visit the Legion. With his cancer so far along, he had been around less and less.

Barry suddenly tapped Dan’s shoulder. He took great care not to touch his hair or long beard when trying to get his attention. Everyone turned to see the history about to unfold. Dan was the last to rotate his wheelchair to face him.

“Dan—I’m not sure if you’ve been told about this, but—it’s the smoking. It’s been banned from the Legion.”

Dan’s eyes widened. He looked down at the floor, then at his lit pipe, trying to process what had just been said.

“Banned.” He took the pipe out of his mouth and looked at it. George wondered if he was looking for some sort of band that had been attached to it without him knowing. Maybe he was confused.

“Sorry, Dan. It’s the rules from the head office. And, well, we gotta follow the rules.”

“Or else what, you little pissant—” Alex raised himself slightly from his wheelchair. George’s neck craned expectantly.

“No, Al. Don’t bother buddy.” Dan dropped the tobacco out of his pipe on the table. Barry then hightailed it to the fridge and outside “for a smoke”.

At the end of the night, George was tired of watching Alex and his magic index finger, “Well, it’s time to call it in. See you next week, there, Dougie.”

“’night, Georgie.”

Outside, George stopped to take in the fresh air. As he leaned over slightly to light a cigarette between his coat collars, he overheard Barry—loud and drunk, speaking to a bobbing head.

“Well, these things have to go change some time, fuck—it’s the rules from the Legion, I can’t change it—it’s my duty now. Probably a good thing anyways, hell it’s just to keep us all from ending up in the way Dan is now—”

George tuned him out as he stumbled toward his car.

The next Wednesday, George once again smiled as he creaked open the pale blue doors. He smelled. He removed his coat and glanced around—sigh. He wondered if he would see Dan this week.

He tried hanging his coat on the plastic hangers at least three times before he threw it on the shelf above the rack with everyone else’s.

Shoes squeaked along the linoleum hall and he passed by the fold-out tables. George paused briefly before his hand instinctively swept the table. His fingers formed a fist and he held it centimeters above the surface. He gazed into the blue plastic.

If Dan had just read the damn newsletter none of that scene that happened last week would have been necessary, he thought. But it had happened. And this week everyone’s smokes are still in their coat pockets.

George didn’t bother grabbing his back as he entered the Hall. Somehow, it didn’t seem to matter.

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