Photograph © Vadim Guzhva  /


Almost The Truth: Stories and Lies

So here’s how it usually goes.

I walk into the Rosens’ unlocked house and Nida makes me some sort of sandwich. If I’m lucky it is some pressed chicken with hummus and the bread isn’t more than two days old. Nida knows better than that. I wheel Harold to the table before pouring myself a glass of the last of their orange juice.

I mean that’s on them. They know I am going to come by.

I eat my sandwich and regale Harold with some story of a woman who doesn’t want anything to do with me.

At first Nida pretended not to pay attention but now she just makes herself a cup of coffee and finds a comfortable place to sit and listen.

I can’t blame her.

Who doesn’t love a taste of someone else’s misery in the middle of the afternoon.

I then wheel Harold back to his spot in front of the computer, kiss him on the forehead, making sure not to kiss him where Handleman might have kissed him, put his baseball cap back on and head towards the door. Just before I reach the door I turn back and say, “You need anything?” And then Harold says, “We’re good.”

That’s how it usually goes

It works for me.

This time I say, “You need anything?” and Harold says, “Actually, I need a favor.”

I do an about-turn. Sometimes he needs his one leg lifted over the other leg in a certain way. It usually takes me about seven tries to get it right. You’d think he’d learn.

So I say, “What do you need?” Am looking down to see which leg needs crossing. But it isn’t a leg. This is what he says:

“I want you to go to Yorkdale with me tomorrow so I can buy Gili a new mattress for her birthday.”

Yorkdale is a shopping center. I imagine it is a bit like what hell might look like.

Although I suspect hell has better parking.

“You want me to go mattress-shopping tomorrow at Yorkdale?”

Harold says, “Yes. You would be doing me a big favor.” I see Nida fighting a smile. She is enjoying this. She is saying to herself, “That’s right, come over and drink the last of our orange juice.”

I arrive at the Rosens’ house the next day at the appointed time. This is what you can say about me: there’s always an even chance I don't show up. But if I do show up, it is going to be on time.

I walk in the door and pray that Jonathon has shown up to take my place. Jon is his next-door neighbour and good friend. He is the resident handyman and go-to fixer for these types of things. But no such luck.

Harold is waiting for me in the hall. He is freshly shaved. He is wearing his shabbos clothes.

He says, “This is going to be fun.”

For the first time in my life, I think of striking a man in a wheelchair.

It was actually the second time I have ever wanted to strike Harold. The first was over 35 years ago. I had gone to spend the weekend at his family cottage in the Laurentians—the Quebec cottage country a little more than an hour from Montreal. Carl, his father, had made us dig irrigation ditches. That night I got a phone call from a woman I knew. A woman I wanted to know better. She was also up north with a friend. Did we want to meet for a drink? Harold, who had the week before gone on all of one date with a woman—to be fair, it turned out to be the woman he would eventually marry—the woman we were now about to buy a mattress for—but we had no way of knowing that at the time—shook his head and spoke the words which caused me unspeakable ire, grief, and anger.

“I’m spoken for.”

And now “this is going to be fun” is a close second.

It takes me a few tries to get the wheelchair up the ramp into the van. I finally figure out I have to back it in. Harold of course knows this but all of a sudden his MS has affected his tongue. Not a word out of his mouth.

I strap him in as best as I can. It doesn’t seem right. It is like building an IKEA bookshelf and having 20 leftover pieces. I give the wheelchair a shake.

“Is this secure?” I ask.

He says it is good.

It doesn’t feel good.

Fucking Jonathon!

I close the van door and shuffle towards the driver’s door. A blast of wind hits my face. It is freezing. Makes sense. It is February in Toronto. I reopen the sliding van door. Harold is not wearing a coat.

“You’re not wearing a coat,” I say.

“I don’t need a coat,” he replies.

“It is February,” I say.

“We are going to the underground parking. We have a handicap sticker. We are going to park right next to the elevator. We are taking the elevator to the store. I don’t need a coat.”

Once a lawyer. Always a lawyer.

With my luck, I am pushing the wheelchair in the mattress department of The Bay and we run into somebody we know. Word gets back I took Harold to Yorkdale without a coat. I need that like I need a hole in the head.

I say, “Wait here.”

He says, “Where am I going to go?”

Once a comic.

I go back to the house and find what I think is a blanket. Later, I would realize it is a rug. But that was later. I grab it. Open the sliding door and wrap it around Harold’s shoulders. Not great. But it would have to do.

I ease the van out of the driveway and head towards Yorkdale. I should take the Allen Expressway but I don’t feel all that comfortable driving the van. Plus I have a handicapped religious Jew wrapped in what I later learn is a Persian rug tethered unsecurely in the back seat.

So I take the side roads.

The side roads have a lot of stop signs.

I think a big van like this requires a hefty stomp on the brakes in order for it to come to a full stop. But it turns out the brakes are hair-trigger.

Every stop sign, Harold and his chair lurch almost all the way into the front seat.

It’s like a ride at La Ronde.

I curse Jonathon under my breath.

I finally get the hang of the brakes but by then we are already in the parking lot. Harold was right. Perfect spot right next to the elevator.

I open the sliding door.

Harold says, “It’s a good thing I am already paralyzed.” He is having the time of his life. Only thing which would make it better for him is if I threw up.

I can’t figure out the strap. All of a sudden it is more secure than Alcatraz. I think about just cutting it with my Swiss Army knife. I think about just abandoning him here in the parking lot. And then the clasp just unclicks and we are both free.

The elevator takes us right to the mattress department of The Bay. We have the place to ourselves. A saleswoman makes her way to us. Very slowly. She is a short grey-haired woman with wire-rimmed glasses hanging on her neck. She is not a young woman. She looks like she may have been here since the store opened. She looks like she may have been here since mattresses were invented.

Her name tag says Marge.

She asks if she can help.

I say, “My friend,” I point to Harold, “is in the market for a mattress.”

Harold has done his research. He wants a queen-size Sealy. Firm. Marge says she has just the thing. And it is on sale. “Please follow me.” I get behind Harold, unhook the safety lock, and start pushing. Marge is walking so slowly that I twice have to stop suddenly for fear of clipping her heels.

“Here we are,” she says. “The Sealy Performa. Queen size.” And I say, “It is on sale.”

Harold wants to know if it is firm.

He wants it firm.

Gili likes a firm mattress.

Marge says it is firm.

Harold now says to me, “Lie on it. Tell me if it is firm.”

“You want me to lie on it?”

Harold says yes.

So I slip off my shoes and lie on the mattress. I am staring at the ceiling of the mattress department at The Bay.

I get off the mattress and put my shoes back on.

Harold asks if it was firm.

I really couldn’t tell. But I want to get the hell out of the mattress department at The Bay.

I say, “Yes. It was firm.”

I can see that Harold is not convinced. But he says, “Okay.”

Then Marge decides this is a good time to kick me in the balls.

She says, “You know, you really should lie on it yourself. After all, you will be sleeping in it.”

Harold says, “That’s not a bag idea.” No typo there. Harold likes to say bag instead of bad. He thinks it is funny.

I look at Marge. She doesn’t look strong enough to lift her glasses. I look at Harold. I curse Jonathon.

Marge, to her credit, has picked up on my panic. She says, “Let me call Hector from shipping.” She reaches for the phone.

Harold looks up to me. He is smiling.

“This,” he says, “is going to be fun.”

Marge says, “How are you going to pay?” Harold says Visa. His wallet is in his back pocket. It still has his old driver’s license.

33% off. Marge wasn’t kidding about the sale.

Marge asks if we want to take it with us or have it delivered. Delivery is $50 extra.

I say delivery.

I may have shouted.

Marge says fine. Then she whispers conspiratorially, “I’m going to waive the delivery charge.”

She is giving us the wheelchair discount. I am going to take Harold car-shopping with me next time.

Addresses are proffered. Signatures are scribbled. I can see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Marge gives us a smile and gleefully claps her hands.

“Perfect. Delivery on the 15th. Do you prefer 10:00-12:00 or 2:00-4:00?”

I don’t know a lot of people’s birthdays. But I know Gili’s birthday. I know it because it is on Valentine’s Day.

The 14th.

I say, “The 15th is no good. His wife’s birthday is on the 14th. Has to be the 14th.”

Marge looks at her ledger.

She looks at it for a long time. For a minute there I think she may have fallen asleep. Or died.

She looks up and has a very sad face. It looks like she might cry.

“There are no trucks on the 14th but, hold on. Well, yes. I guess. Maybe. I can get it to you after the last run. It will arrive just after 8:00 pm. Still no delivery charge.”

Marge is now very happy with herself. Until Harold says, “No, we’ll take it now.”

Now I look like I am going to cry.

I turn to argue but I see his face. It is the same face he has when I ask if it is okay if I use a milk dish with my burger. He isn’t going to be convinced.

I take Marge aside and tell her we are going to need Hector again.

Now, those of you who know me have figured out that I have already tipped Hector $50 for helping lift Harold out of the chair, onto the mattress, back on the chair, then back on the mattress because he just wanted to make sure one more time if it was firm enough, and then back on the chair.

So yeah. Hector is up 50 and he is about to be up 50 more.

I get Harold back into the van and we meet Hector at the loading dock.

Harold says, “Hey, Hector.”

Hector says, “Hey, Mr. Harold.”

Meanwhile I am freezing my ass off.

It is a shit show.

Hector explains how he intends to tie the mattress on the roof of the van. I nod my head but he could be explaining string theory.

I hand him another 50 and now I am Hector’s assistant for the next 20 minutes. After five minutes, Hector understands he has to talk to me like a five year old.

We get the mattress on.

I can’t feel my toes.

I have no idea how we are going to get the mattress off the roof but that will be on Jonathon.

I am done.

I take the side streets home.

I jam the brakes at every stop sign.

We eventually get back to Harold’s house.

And I would pull into the driveway.

But I can’t.

Because there is a truck in the driveway.

From Sleep Country Canada.

The mattress store.

Seems like Gili bought herself a new mattress for her birthday.

The end.