THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE

Alice Munro is the reason I have this fiction blog. While that is not entirely true, neither is it entirely fiction.

            I used to think of myself as a novelist.  I was a lawyer, a recovering lawyer, and then after a considerable period of self-doubt, I called myself a writer. I became a writer when I finished my first novel and could no longer justify denying my ambition. One cannot write a novel without being a novelist. One cannot be a novelist without being a writer.

            I was therefore a writer when I enrolled in the BFA (writing) program at UVIC. Immediately academia began to whittle down my self-proclaimed novelist designation. One cannot write a novel each week to workshop with one’s peers. One must write short stories.

            My history with short stories had been, well, short. Hemingway, and miscellaneous bits and pieces of things left lying around doctors’ offices and law firm reception areas, the odd inherited literary journal, and my biweekly subscription to The New Yorker magazine.

            At university, a prose-writing program in fiction is a short story course. It may be entitled THE NOVEL, but it is the novel as seen in bite-sized pieces- for better or for worse, short stories. I’ve taken several such novel courses, and several acknowledged short story courses, notably delivered by respected and admired published short story authors Lee Henderson and Madeline Sonik.

            I am privileged to have the support of my family that allows me to indulge my desire for formal education and to have the support of the extraordinarily competent writing faculty and sessional instructors at the University of Victoria. I wonder, though, what the faculty would be like without those who smashed through the commercial and practical limitations of publishing short stories before me, without those like Alice Munro.

            Like Alice Munro. Who is like Alice Munro? In terms of her impact on the program I attend, I believe there is no one like Alice Munro.  “Don’t expect to see a big advance on your first compilation of short stories,” My professor said.  “Don’t expect to see a big advance on the second or third one either.”  Short stories don’t sell. Compilations of short stories don’t sell. They’re enticements- readership builders. Marketing devices. Warm-up bands. Paintings in the hallway on the way to the main gallery. Oh, unless you’re Alice Munro.

            By now the entire literary world knows that Munro won the Nobel prize for literature. The first resident Canadian ever to do so. And a woman. And a Westerner- from our side of the Rockies. And a short story writer. Thank you, Alice, thank you. We’ve not met, though you call my city home. We’ve not talked, though I buy my books at the store that bears your name. We’ve not collaborated, though I study the short story and post short fiction to my blog- my short fiction blog, from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, an half-kilometer from Munro’s Books.

            Alice Munro is a literary technician beyond my ambition, a people’s writer, and a talent to be admired. She’s as good as they come, reputed to be humble and worthy, and a true Canadian hero. Today Canada stands proud and one notch more respected in the literary world. Today my full curriculum of short story courses at UVIC is somehow more relevant than it was one week ago.

            Congratulations Alice.

Theatre Review: GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA (Good Morning Juliet) at the Belfry Theatre now

GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA (Good Morning Juliet)

Academics and theatre reviewers have been waxing poetic about Ann-Marie MacDonald and her relationship with Carl Jung since GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA (Good Morning Juliet) burst from MacDonald’s fertile mind twenty-five years ago. It would not be a stretch to add Joseph Campbell’s epic mythological journey to the considerable list of attributed source material for this play.

The lead character’s name, Constance Ledbelly, can be torn apart to support Jung’s influence (Jung wrote on the banks of Lake Constance, the character’s static demeanor significantly contributed to her worries), and there is no shortage of references to Jung’s alchemy (Le[a]dbelly’s quill turns to gold). The lead is the hero (she dives into Othello and Romeo and Juliet with abandon in order to right perceived wrongs and complete her quest for self discovery), and her journey- real or perceived- resolves her self-doubt.

But to anchor a review of GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA on these constructs would be to miss the point. Ledbelly is an academic with a decidedly feministic point of view, though she has failed to act to her potential on either ground. Discontented, abandoned, and desperate, she looks to her comforts- two of Shakespeare’s own- for reconciliation. And there she finds her voice. Academia is farcical. Tragedy is comedy. Life is Drama. MacDonald distils Shakespeare to an accessible composition and pokes fun at the molecular weight usually associated with the works.

She becomes the wise fool, the alchemist, and the author of the meta-plays that she knows as required reading, and reinforces the academic view of art that the audience is the writer of the perceived work.

MacDonald stipulates the doubling and tripling of actors’ roles to emphasize the complexity of the individual, and the multiple personalities and possibilities that lie within. Male and female parts are interchanged in the play to focus attention on contemporary gender issues and the dialogue is rife with feminist dogma.

GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA was masterfully scripted by a talented and profound author and she has generously shared her journey of self-exploration with the audience. MacDonald has a reputation for producing barely disguised biographical material and it is not difficult to imagine Ledbelly as her actus personae in a hall of repeating mirrors. In this exploration of the lead’s mind, we must wonder if the authorship of GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA, MacDonald’s first and perhaps seminal work, did not itself set MacDonald on the right track.

Ultimately, it may be that Shakespeare was left over the burner a bit too long. The premise that Othello and Romeo and Juliet are comedy rather than tragedy was pushed too near farcical levels by the end of the play. In the last thirty minutes the audience tires of too many close-coupled footsteps on the hollow stage and an excess of high-pitched excitement. Castrato is fine, but it is unbalanced without tenor. MacDonald might have taken herself a little more seriously without losing the plot. Her language is divine. It is imbued with word games and misdirection, and demonstrates an extraordinary level of attention to detail. The dialogue is a mélange of contemporary accessibility and haughty artisanship that would survive more measured consideration. The farcical pace and frantic physicality of the later scenes deliver a bit of a letdown in an otherwise sublimely crafted and entertaining work.

WRITE A NOVEL IN THREE DAYS!

Why would you want to? I’m not sure. But someone thought it was a good idea.

            The 38th annual 3-day novel contest (3daynovel.com) happens on the labour day weekend (or the labor day weekend, since it’s an international contest). Being a novelist and a keener, I figured it worth a try, so I signed up. Uh-huh. The rules are simple. Start in on a novel just past midnight on Friday, and put your hands in the air and walk away from the keyboard at midnight on Monday. Oh, you can think about it all you want before the starting gun goes off (it’s a trap) and you can write notes or even make a rudimentary plan (another trap) if you are so inclined. You can write about whatever you want. There’s no genre or style limitations, and it can be as long or as short as you like (dare).

            Sounds okay, I thought. I’d not even think about it until 11:50 pm on Friday and in the ten minutes to the start line, I’d pick a place, a character, and do a first person walk-through of a story. I was walking down the street and who should happen across my path but… I’m wickedly fast at a keyboard and I figured a longer story would garner extra points for first impression. I was in the top ten percent before I started.

            So what went wrong, exactly? To start with, I got an idea for some characters about three weeks early. They started telling me how cool it would be if they did this and that and if I interpreted their actions in certain ways. And their plans for me didn’t include simply happening across my path, either. I have to admit I thought their plans intriguing so I went along with it. Just to see what would happen.

            Since I’m telling it like it is here- I really am wicked fast- I should probably confess that my memory is perhaps not up to average specs. So when the little men and women in my head did things that I thought impressive, crazy, or just entertaining, I took to writing them down, lest I forget.

            When Friday midnight came, I had notes stuck all over my study. Post-its on the wall, three-ring paper taped to my glass-fronted art and windows, and stuff spread around on the floor. And of course my lead writing assistant, Cruiser the Portuguese Water Dog was banned from his place under my feet for fear of treading on my plans.           

NOTE TO SELF: WRITING A NOVEL IN 3 DAYS IS A BAD IDEA. 

Here is how I spent seventy-two hours:

  • Showers (six)
  • Teeth flossing sessions(eleven)
  • Walking in circles (far less constructive than pacing, which I understand requires a back and forth action)
  • Eating bad things
  • Drinking (no alcohol) odd things
  • Sleeping (3.5 hours per night)
  • In bed not sleeping (approximately 14 hours total)
  • Communicating with others -Cruiser excluded- (ZERO minutes)
  • Communicating with Cruiser (damn near 72 hours)
  • Recognizing I wasn’t getting enough sleep (when Cruiser answered in English. He speaks Portuguese)
  • Reviewing Elmore Leonard’s ten rules for writing (three times)
  • Looking at my lists (constantly)
  • Sorting, filing, and resorting and filing, lists (constantly). 

So where are we so far? I have little people in my head, fast fingers, a slow mind, a literary canine sidekick, and 72 hours to write a novel. What could happen? 

I’ll spare you the suspense: I did it. I wrote a novel in 72 hours. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It has a protagonist, an antagonist or two, a love interest, several unduly complicated plotlines, three murders, one psychological journey, consistently progressing character arcs, a payoff, and three- count ‘em- three acts. I feel pretty good about that. It’s about 33,000 words long (135 pp) and I left nothing off the page. At least that’s the way I recall it. I haven’t slept much, remember.

            I must have learned something, right? So I’m going to share:

            I wrote as much in the shower as in front of the keyboard. That must mean something.

            There’s a time when I can’t write because I’m intellectually spent, but I can’t sleep either. That really messed up my plans. I think there’s something in that too.

            I never did tax my fingers. I could have typed a lot more. It was the thinking that I didn’t have enough time for.

            I don’t care about dangling participles.

            If anyone asks you to write a novel in three days, run. Run fast (in the other direction, if that is not patently clear by now).

            Have a good dog. And a family that understand that support sometimes means leaving you alone. Have an avocation that you love and will pursue if it kills you. Enjoy ridiculous challenges. Write and write and write.

            The contest was absurdly difficult. Horrendous at times. It was also fascinating, invigorating, shocking, surprising, ethereal, enlightening, and unbearably worthwhile. I am a far better writer than I was last week. At least I will be when I get some sleep. How often can you say that?

            They interviewed me twice (before and after) online at cbc.ca/canadawrites. You can look at that if you want. The older post is called Bleeding at the typerwriter (w/credit to Papa). The new one should be front-and-centre tomorrow at 7:00 am.

            Will I win the contest? I don’t know. There are lots of really talented writers out there and I don’t know what they’ll submit. I do know that when I sat down at midnight on Friday, I pointed over the outfield wall. And when the pitch came I gave it my all. I left nothing off the page. I finished two hours early and at that place and time I couldn’t have improved a single syllable of those thirty-three thousand words. I had nothing left. How often can you say that?

An Afterlife

E. (Ted) Sullivan Jr. reached toward father’s solid brass doorknob. He paused and showed Sis and I the hefty key. As slow as fucking molasses, he inserted the key and turned it. Listen carefully, son. Hear that? That’s the sound of quality. Those tumblers are solid brass. They have weight and purpose. Hear them drive home. That’s your goal in life- to have weight and purpose.

 

It’s been 32 years since I last entered father’s study. Nothing has changed. The pen set he got from the under-secretary is in the exact same spot on his desk. His Churchill painting is still slightly off-kilter.

 

The lawyer pulled out father’s tufted leather chair. Sis and I both reacted instinctively, our fingers in sync.

            “Uh, not there, Ted,” she said. Sis spoke before I did. Three minutes older than I, and years ahead in language development, she never gave me a chance. I walked first though, and ran.

            “And ran.”

            “What?” she asked.

            “Nothing. I’m just a bit nervous.”

            The lawyer pushed the chair back in place and instead balanced on the edge of the tufted window seat. It was an unusual choice, as though he would just be there for a minute. “Shall we get started?” he asked.

            Sis and I exchanged glances. I thought she looked warmly toward me, but as I said, I was nervous. He pulled a legal-size buff envelope from his briefcase- one of those envelopes with a red string binding the opening flap. He unwound the string from the cardboard button as though the process properly executed would improve the quality of the contents. He looked inside and then up at us. Jesus, get on with it.

            “I think you might find this somewhat out of the ordinary. Unexpected,” he said.

            “Well, Ted, and I trust I can call you Ted, If you mean to say that father’s death is out of the ordinary, yes, I’d say so. He hardly ever dies. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I remember him doing it before. Of course it might just be that this is the first time I’ve been notified.”

            Sis gave me the look. It’s too early for her to give me the look. I usually get three or four comments in before I get it. I continued: “As for unexpected, no. I don’t think so.”

Ted pulled a disc from the envelope. “What the fuck?”

            “It’s a video will,” Ted said. “Quite proper.”

            Quite proper. Shit. Father didn’t care about proper. Father only cared about the law as set down at 3225 Salisbury Place at the hand of the master and commander and CEO of those various and sundry companies collectively known as Egocorp.

            “I’m sure your father would have found that distasteful,” Ted said.

            “Did I use my outside voice?” I asked sarcastically.

            Sis shook her head. “Does this have to be the usual dog and pony show? Jesus, brother, can we be civil today. Please?”

            Ted got up and tentatively navigated between Sis and I and opened a cabinet door behind us, revealing an older DVD player. Sis raised one eyebrow. “Who woulda thunk it?” I said.

            “Your father did have some technical savvy,” Ted answered.

            “Bullshit,” replied Sis.

            “Bullshit,” I repeated. “And stop calling him my father. His name was Elford Dunning. Mr. Dunning to you.”

 

Ted began to open another oak cabinet. Movement and light burst out of the enclosure as though escaping a dark prison cell. Father jumped out at us, the oversized monitor barely containing his image. Then he backed away, gathered up his outstretched arm, and settled behind his desk. I swiveled my chair around to see the original of the set displayed on the monitor- but without father. On the wrong side of his study, in two dimensions, father opened his desk humidor and picked up a cigar. He appeared old and shrunken. His suit was too big and his shirt cuffs dwarfed his delicate hands. “Cohiba chomping, your-body-is-your-temple hypocrite.”

            “Jesus, brother.”

            I steeled myself for a judgmental tirade of epic proportions. If father hadn’t already skewered any chance of a normal life for me, this was his last opportunity. He ignited his Dunhill and sucked on the cigar as soft billows of flame engulfed his face. As he re-appeared through the smoke he gently placed the lighter between us and reclined deep into the ancient buttery leather. He looked admiringly at the Cohiba and stared off into the distance.

            “Hi kids, its me.” He drew a mouthful of the rancid effluent and tilted his head back as a cloud emerged from his once-powerful jaw. Then he clamped the cigar between his teeth and pushed himself up in the chair so that he could get one hand into a pocket. You could hear the change clinking around. Everyone could hear the change clinking around in his pocket. Oh, how I hated that about the man. Meet my son…clink clink, clink… He’s in grade three…clink, clink, clink… He pulled out a coin and examined it.
“That’s about right,” he said with a chuckle. “A nickel.” He sat back and flipped the coin in the air. As he watched it fly, he said: “I leave everything I own to…” He snatched the nickel from the air and smacked it onto his forearm. Without hesitation he continued: “Tails. Second born. Michael.” He looked at us and with all the enthusiasm of a man nodding to a passer-by. He added: “Good luck Michael. Sorry about that, Katherine.” He reached out to cut us off. The screen went black.

 

He cut me out of his life over a fucking sweater and now he’s playing god. That’s what this is all about. He wants to be god. And he might just get his chance. See if he doesn’t knock the old guy off of his throne up there.”

            “Michael,” Sis interrupted, “That’s enough. Can we talk about what to do now?” She was soft and calm.

 

“What are we going to do with the house?” she asked.

            “I don’t want it.”

            “I know you don’t. You can sell it.”

            “You going to bail on me too?”

            “I’ll be here if you want. But it’s yours.”
            “I want. I want you to be here. I want you to help me. I want you to…” exhausted, I dropped my head into my upturned palms. Eyes closed, I could smell stale Cohiba. Her voice became white noise. As I reopened my eyes, I could make out the shape of father’s cable knit sweater in the Tabriz carpet. What a fuck-up. I wore it once. Had it dry-cleaned and back in his drawer in two days. Father and son. Sharing a sweater. To think that date cost me my family. I didn’t even get laid. I didn’t even know what getting laid was.

 

Father was a stickler for two things: you had to be up by dawn and you couldn’t lie. You could fuck the dog, burn the Bentley, shit on his carpet and move in with a crack-head whore for three weeks as long as you got up with the sun and told everybody exactly how twisted you were. He spent a half-million dollars to send me to private school and have me groomed for success. But for denying that I wore his hundred-dollar sweater, he’d cut me out, fuck me up, and burn me at the cross. I should’ve slept ‘till noon. “That’s what bugs me the most.” I snapped out of my trance. “I could’ve slept-in for the whole summer. Every summer. Up at five-thirty for nothing.”

 

“Lets talk,” Sis said. “It’ over now.” She wore her resignation heavily. Sis was always the expressive one. She couldn’t hide anything: not her marital affairs, her kleptomania, or her near-fatal cries for help. To look into her eyes was to read her biography and go through her underwear drawer.

            “Yes, it’s over,” I said.

            “I know.”

            “I think I’m going to just walk out that door and keep walking.”

            “Where will you go?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “For how long?”

            “Forever.”

            The life seemed to drain out of her. It was as if the lions were let into the Coliseum. There was no point in running, no point in screaming. The beasts turned on ancient instinct and set upon us. All of this was inevitable. Freedom of choice was a myth. I wondered what we had been expecting during all of those wasted years. She put her hand on my neck. It was warm, and much smaller than I remembered. Her warmth seemed to pull me out of the chair. Without conscious effort, I glided past father’s desk and through the study door. The room faded away as we left it behind. The long hall, the gated entrance, the cobbled walk, each floated off as we stepped away. There was no more pull, no more push, no more weight.

 

I shut the cab door slowly and heard the latch clunk. It wasn’t brass, or solid anything. “Drive me home,” I said, and Sis took my hand.

The Matrix revisited

One thinks the world is full of independent minds, capable of distinct thought. And then the fabric wavers just a little bit.

            While settling my father’s estate, I found a list of digital passwords and among them the PIN for retrieving his telephone messages. 7941. Not the kind of discovery that should have a profound impact on one’s life. But this did. You see, the passcode for my cellphone voicemail is 7941.

            Sure, you say, we each picked the number based on the same birthdays, significant events or a common numerology. Not so. In fact, if I am capable of concluding or even recognizing fact, I chose my PIN as a test of my memory. It was designed to be completely random. The numbers. Individually, in pairs, a triplet and a single, or as a four-digit set, mean absolutely nothing to me. Random.

            So what is random? A grouping of items with no apparent relationship. With no contrived origin. Of uncertain provenance. I would argue (now) that the prospect of computer generation has forced the mind to consider the source of apparent randomness. I am not a computer programmer. I am aware of allegedly random selection (lotto numbers drawn by computer). But I wonder how one could program a computer to select randomly from a given set of figures. The computer does not understand concepts the way we do (I think) and therefore must be directed as to the methodology of the choice. Tell it to select randomly and it must draw on its store of commands (past experience) and assets. Know it’s store of commands and assets and one knows the computer’s selection process. Know its process and the result should be predictable.

            Ten thousand to one. 10000:1. That is the likelihood of any two people choosing the same four digit code. The likelihood of a father and son choosing the same code may or may not be significantly greater. The likelihood of a father and son choosing identical codes for the same purpose among the myriad of codes that contemporary western people are required to choose, again, may be on a different scale. Clearly I am mathematically out of my element here.

            Whether spiritual or biological, it is reasonable to say that my father and I had the same programmer. That we chose the same passcode is both reasonable and arguably predictable. That I found this surprising is perhaps the only thing that is surprising.

A dog named Beckett

I’ll spare you the suspense; I’m unsure of what I can be sure.  This confirmation is the result of an innocent and insignificant event. I was out walking my dog, my companion of almost eleven years, and came upon a neighbour. She was pleasantly dressed, pleasantly enough for the occasion, being that it is a residential neighbourhood and the residents are known to wander about in the evening settling the excesses of domestic dinner. I saw this woman approach, not by design but by happenstance, the sidewalk determining our confluence. The sudden awakening of her expression projected her love of dogs.

            My dog is a Setter, a sporting dog, or such was my previous state of knowledge. I admit to not having carefully examined the issue before. “Hello” the woman offered, an instruction to stop to allow her to pet my dog. “What a lovely boy,” she added. “What kind is he?” I advised that my dog is an Irish Setter. “A Setter?” she asked. “Are you sure?”

            I’ve always found the question off-putting. I had answered her initial salve the best I could and my response in the first instance was the sum total of my knowledge of the matter. If I were unsure I might have so indicated. If I carried the conviction of a breadth of expertise I likewise would have so expressed. The point is that I answered with a degree of confidence consummate with my level of knowledge. It was the best I could do.

            I had answered the advertisement for Irish Setter puppies. The breeder’s business card identified her as an Irish Setter breeder.  The litter presented as I had expected it to look, though I confess to not being an expert in canine identification. The receipt said that my new purchase was a six week-old male Irish Setter and the photocopied pedigree form that arrived in the mail some weeks later similarly confirmed the breed, as well as sex (male), birthdate (June 25), kennel name, and the identity of the dam and sire.

            Am I sure?  What is it to be sure? It would not have taken any measure of conniving for the breeder to have misrepresented the nature of the breed in the advertising. My expectations of the image of an Irish Setter puppy has been formed by media- hardly a reliable source of certainty. I’ve read about Irish Setters, not with the mind of a researcher, but again by happenstance. One tends to gravitate toward media depicting familiar circumstances, as one living on a boat responds to stories of boat-dwellers. These Irish Setter virtual exposures cannot be interpreted as authoritative or conclusive evidence of the identity of my pet.    

            Over the years many dog enthusiasts have approached me. They’ve proclaimed familiarity with Beckett’s breeding, or quickly accepted my claims to his authenticity. Am I sure? What is an Irish Setter? Is there a breed standard as to how many outside genes are allowed without compromising the dog’s identity? Perhaps. My dog has not (during my stewardship) been subject to DNA testing. Though I’ve heard many professed generalities, I’ve not examined a scientific exposition of the identifiable and exclusive qualities that make an Irish Setter an Irish Setter. Am I sure? Is my dog a Setter? Is he Irish? I am uncertain as to the nature of a Setter, though I understand it to be a subset of the sporting dog class. Sporting dog is a class that is at once exclusive and non-specific. Although a number of dogs apparently qualify as Setters (English, Irish, Gordon), none are only Setters (not English, Irish, or Gordon).

            I looked into my neighbour’s eyes and tried to assess her expectations. Am I sure?  At what level? I’ve been told, but not by a tested authority. I’ve seen, but I’m not an expert observer. I believe, but based on vague and unreliable precedent. If pressed I’d confess to being unsure of what Irish means. Is a man named Xian Xing, born to Chinese parents in Tullamore, Irish? Is a baby girl christened Caiomhe, daughter of Sean and Maeve, granddaughter of Liam and Siobhan and Conor and Eilish of Belfast but born in New York City, Irish?

            Am I sure? It’s a strange question requiring access to a set of assumptions I cannot get my head around by an unnamed neighbour on an ordinary evening in October. An interesting doorway to the architecture of certainty. My dog is an Irish Setter. I am absolutely not sure.

Yikes!

Just had my birthday and the novel I’m writing is going gangbusters!  Lenny is messed up something fierce and on his way to wherever he’s going at warp speed! I can feel the crash coming.

Meanwhile, I’ve had to bail on an invitation to do lighting (Key Grip) on Josh Turpin’s new film Rebel which is shaping up nicely. Because family stuff requires some last minute travelling.

And I’ve registered to write in the infamous International Three-Day Novel Contest over the Labour Day weekend. A complete novel in three days. No drafts before, and no editing afterward. First prize is a publishing contract for the novel with Anvil Press. I’m init to winit. You heard it here first. That means my published expectation that The Manager will be my third novel, is wrong. The Manager will be number four, following the yet to be named (and written) three-day project. Please check out ARCHIVES on the left, way down there, and click on MARCH and go down to the bottom to find MY LIFE IN MOVIES. It’s not really just about movies. It’s informative and a little bit funny too.

Cheers-

More from Lenny’s Garage (Novel in progress)

Lenny stood in the doorway for a long time. Bright sun streamed through the window and clung to his uncle’s scalp. The light navigated the thin tangle of unkempt hair and appeared as if a halo. “Uncle Nathan,” Lenny said softly.  The old but robust man did not break off his stare. A trio of swallows whipped the air into braids as they plucked invisible flies from god. The man followed their trail with his head and eyes, his fingers sporadically digging into the puce vinyl arms of the tightly upholstered chair. Each spasm was a catch, a lunch, and consummation of manna from heaven. The old man’s mouth moved.

“Uncle Nathan,” Lenny repeated ever so slightly louder.

The man was clearly speaking now, though his words were whispered toward the swallows.

“Father,” Lenny shouted. And then he leaned out of the door to see if he had attracted unwanted attention.

The old man turned to Lenny slowly. “And the Lord our God said to Moses: Behold, I will rain down bread from heaven.”

“I’ve come to visit,” Lenny said. He approached the old man and stood before him. Do you remember me today?”

“I will rain down bread from heaven,” the old man said, and he casually turned back toward the window.

Lenny turned his back and retrieved a matching puce chair. He set it alongside the window so he too could see the swallows. “I’m your son, Lenny.”

“I have no son,” the old man said.

“Yes you do, uncle. It’s Leonard. Remember?

“They wanted quail.”

“What?”

“They wanted quail. Bread was not enough. They wanted quail.”

Uncle Nathan. It’s Leonard. I’ve come to visit. Remember last month? I brought you some of that rye you like. Mit Kimmel. From the Open Window Bakery. Did you like the bread? Did you eat it all?

“The nurses like bread. One nurse likes bread. Who are you?”

Lenny let his head slump. He closed his eyes and imagined the swallows twisting a trail of Shabbat challah. Uncle Nathan ripped off a hunk with his powerful hands, split it in two, and reached across the table to young Leonard. “Grab a handful, yes, like that! And lots of salted butter. This day we celebrate life. This day we celebrate a hard week’s work. This day we celebrate God’s bounty with a handful of challah and salted butter. Leonard, my boy, your father God-bless-his-soul, did not take the time to celebrate God’s bounty. That boy was always in a hurry. Rushing here. Rushing there. Spending his money on a palace in the suburbs! A station wagon! Your Zaida pushed a cart with chickens from Weston Road to Kensington. To the market every week. No horse, mind you!  Pushed it by hand!” Uncle Nathan stared at his palms. “Your father needed a station wagon. Echt!” Lenny put his forehead in his hands and let his fingers comb through his hair. He was startled by a touch to his scalp. He sat up.

“I know this scar. You are family, yes?” The old man said.

“Yes. I’m Leonard.” He held his hair away from his forehead. “You remember the scar.”

“I did that to you?” The old man asked.

“No. You did not.” Lenny released his hair and took in the surroundings. “They keep your room nice,” he said. “Can I ask you?” Lenny paused. “Would you help a boy, a six-year-old boy, if he did something terrible? Would you help him? I mean, if he needed help?”

“It’s Tish’a B’av.”

“What?” Lenny asked.

“Can you imagine? The second temple was destroyed on the same day as the first, but six hundred and fifty years later. The same day!”

Lenny stood. He checked his watch. He heard something crash in the hallway. When he looked back to his uncle, the old man was staring at the window. The swallows were gone.

“Uncle Nathan. Father. You’re a good man.” Lenny leaned down and kissed the old man’s head. He smoothed his uncle’s hair. “You need a haircut.”

“Six hundred years later. To the day.” The old man’s gaze seemed to be fixed on the glass, perhaps at his reflection. “They destroyed the second temple on the same day.”