From Sword Dance. Published by Exile Editions in 2015.
Uncle Tom lies in St. Paul’s Emergency pacemaker jumping like a sockeye salmon while he teaches two nurses four verses of Danny Boy. They release him and by the time the taxi pulls away eight nurses stand outside waving to him. He says, Cordova Streets the best home he ever had. Three square meals, a radio and people who listen to him sing Hank Williams: lawyers, hockey players, priests and shrinks. My mother says, Ach. He doesnae see the neighbourhood, he jist looks at the flowers.
He spends his days at the courthouse, gets free coffee from the court coffee lady who never in her life gave away anything for free. But Tom has a way about him. He was in fact up to three free coffees a day, overdid it a bit, and the coffee lady had to say, Eh, Tom, I didnae mean it quite like that. Said, I mean, I didnae mean three free coffees noo, and Tom looks up at her and says: You’re right, mother. From now oan, it’s only wan.
By the time McSorley’s hockey trial hit he was back up to three and that day court packed, standingroom only the guard said to Tom, Okay, big guy. Go on in. And Tom looked aroond, Big guy? Who’s eh talking tae? The way Canadians say things, Tom jist loved it. People in line looked at Tom, who wasnae tall, and said, Hey, why does he get in? And the guard stared back and said, Because he’s one of the family.
And Tom went right in.
Later Tom was interviewed on CBC about the trial from an old-timers point of view, except they got Tom who looked straight into the lens with his blue eyes and snowy white hair. Standing there with his free coffee, he said, It was tae hard te see oan TV Ye really couldnae get a good angle oan things.
The reporter told Tom to walk into the sunset, an oldtimer shot to close the show, Folks, there goes the oldtimer; walking into the distance, walking slow, but Tom, camera rolling, live TV walked slower than they wanted him to. Behind him the camera rolled, the reporters voice slowed and slowed, tried to keep pace with Tom walking slow: Folkss…there goes the oldtimer…walking…walllkingg…
But Tom walked slower than slow. Tried to drag it out, you know. By the time he pressed the button to cross the street, they liked Tom old, but not so slow.
Now Tom has a way of walking slow. Not like he was before. The night he staggered in circles around the backyard, drunk, shouting,
I’m a fucking Scot!
I’m a fucking Scot!
Before that, he made everyone laugh. Found cigarettes in his ears, made coins disappear. Then, when granda died, he handed in his gloves at the bus mechanic depot and walked and walked and did not stop. All the way to New Westminster.
They gave him electric shock. (I did not care what the neighbours thought.)
Back in Glasgow, he might have been the one with a football kick called The International, but in Canada, he did magic tricks, alone, on the living room loveseat.