Humanist Perspectives: issue 151: All Mysteries

All Mysteries
by John Gould

“Red,” said my father.

“Favourite colour… red,” said Mr Arnot, licking his pencil and making note of this morsel of information on his little yellow pad. “Now when you say ‘red,’ Mr James, you’re thinking rose red, are you? Ruby red? Blood red?”

“Wine red,” said my father. Ornery old bastard, it was his liver that was giving out.

“Wine red,” repeated Mr Arnot. “And your favourite place? I’m wondering about a natural location, now, a favourite lake or mountain or –”

“French River,” said my father. “Sheer rock, fast water. Took my boy there to learn to paddle, portage, lug a pack. Make a man of him, ha.” It was my father’s practice to speak of me as though I were down the hall. Even when we were trapped alone together — as we’d been in that godforsaken canoe, for instance — I felt as though I were eavesdropping. “If I’d of had grandchildren,” he added, “I’d of taken them there too.”

“I see, very good,” said Mr Arnot. Mr Arnot was not only the proprietor and sole salesman, but also the potter, the craftsman behind “You’ve Urned It.” A squinty accountant with artisan’s hands. His ad in the Sunshower News had boasted of “Customized Creations,” so Mr Arnot was here at the Sunshower Care Facility today to get to know my father, to “soak up a little of his essence,” as Mr Arnot himself had put it over the telephone. This urn was guaranteed to fit my father like a tailored suit. It would also cost a few bucks less than any of the other vessels I’d picked out in recent years, to hold relics of various friends. This assured it of my father’s blessing.

“Now, just to help me get a better sense of you, Mr James,” Mr Arnot went on, “let me ask you this. If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?”

“What kind of animal?” said my father. He was sitting on the end of his bed in his dressing gown, a scruffy, shrunken creature — an otter in an oil slick, say. He puffed up a little as he said this, though. Indignation had always suited him.

“Well, yes,” said Mr Arnot apologetically. “You see, if I know what kind of animal –”

“I am an animal, you dolt,” snapped my father, “that’s why I’m in this goddam mess.”

“Quite so, quite so,” said Mr Arnot. He made a little note on his pad — I’d have died to see it. “Now, just one more thing,” he said. “Words. Are there any words you’d… Is there any special saying, any quote…”

“No,” said my father. “Wait. One Corinthians.”

“Pardon me?” said Mr. Arnot.

“One Corinthians,” said my father.

“Like, in the Bible?” I said. My father had never, to my knowledge, quoted from scripture in all his life. Unless you counted “Let there be light,” which he used to murmur to himself sometimes as he struck a match for his pipe, or “Consider the lilies,” which he’d cry out in ludicrous rapture as he strolled around the back yard half lit, smoking and admiring the pathetic garden my mother tried to keep up. He was not, as far as I’d ever been able to detect, a remotely religious man. His objection to my “lifestyle” was based on other considerations.

“Damn right,” he said.

“I don’t quite…” said Mr Arnot. “Could you just refresh…”

“And though I have the gift of prophecy,” said my father, “and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could move mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.”

“Lovely,” said Mr Arnot. “Just lovely. Now, I wonder if we might shorten it just a trifle. We don’t want our urn looking cluttered.”

“Who the Jesus hell is we?” said my father. “What’s this our? How many people are you planning to cram in there?”

“Father,” I said.

“Mr James,” said Mr Arnot, “I intended no –”

“Fine, shorten it,” said my father. “Just keep in the mountains.”

Depending on which way you swivel it on our crowded mantel — depending on which way Mrs Sanchez sets it when she’s done dusting all our urns and jars and finely embossed boxes — Niklas and I are faced with one of two slabs of text on my father’s pot. I could move mountains. I am nothing. They drift there on that wine-red river, beneath those towering cliffs, bits of wreckage awaiting survivors.

originally published in ‘Kilter: 55 Fictions’ (Turnstone Press: Winnipeg), reprinted by permission