From Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots. Published by New Star Books in 2017.

It's New Year's Day, 2016. I've decided to keep writing for the full seven days of shiva, which will take me until January 3. Never mind that January 1 is a holiday. When I go to bed on January 3, I’ll set my alarm for the early hours of morning on January 4, maybe 4:30 a.m. here in Montréal, which is 1:30 a.m. Vancouver time. I’ll get up and light a candle for the little man, to mark the passage of one month since his death in the hospital in Vancouver.

I still see him as warm and comfortable and safe there. His heart was about to give out. He had difficulty breathing but maybe they had him on antibiotics for the pneumonia already, and had him on a mask so he could breathe more oxygen. The oxygen makes a funny quiet burble as it runs through the tubes from the wall or canister into the mask; it’s right against your face and touches you, curiously a source of calm.

Probably the night shift started at 11 p.m. and the nursing staff went around at 11:30 p.m. to do the bed checks of all their patients. Paul would have been alive then. But when they went two hours later to do a check (probably they did one in between, too), Paul’s vital signs were all at zero.

I don’t like the word “flat-lining” though I know that that is what the monitor screen would have looked like. He had gone quietly. I think he knew he was being taken care of.

Of course I have no proof.

I can’t possibly imagine the last time he might have thought of me. I did think of him in Calgary though, where I was helping B. with her struggles, and I had mailed him his Christmas card from there, very probably on the day he died.

The card wished him a year of good health and happiness in 2016. And called him an Old Goat, my old nickname for him.

Empire, York Street was dedicated in part to The Old G.

When coming home today on the bus from bringing B., still frail, to the Montréal airport for her return to Calgary after the holidays, I was thinking of Paul’s teeth and of how often, because I have trouble with my own teeth (a bad occlusion), I have thought of those teeth of the little man. They were so worn in front. He grated his teeth at night so loudly that at times I could hear the noise of it. And the teeth were visibly wearing down.

I wonder how in his last years he managed to take care of his teeth.

I thought of another thing. When he lived in the basement suite at Tom’s house, every year Paul would raise his own rent.

We’d walk to another restaurant as well, on Main at West 18th Avenue, in a little strip mall on the west side of the street. It was owned by a quiet couple who had infinite patience with Paul, and when he’d walk out without paying, they knew quietly that he’d be back the next day to settle his bill. They even learned to tell him they were out of Grand Marnier. I mean, I think they stopped stocking it forever so that he wouldn’t stay and keep drinking after dinner. Yet Grand Marnier didn’t even matter to him; I don’t know why he was so fixated on it at that restaurant. I think it was called Mimi’s. Maybe it was called Mimi’s; I can’t find any reference to it at all now on the Internet.

Finally he brought the owners a bottle of Grand Marnier as a sort of gift. I think they were horrified, as here was the Grand Marnier again.

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Erín Mouré is a poet and translator. She holds two honorary doctorates, from Brandon University (2008) and Universidade de Vigo in Spain (2016), for her contribution to poetry.



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