Tomorrow We Will Be Older

Illustrations by Kara Pyle

What I needed to understand was that life isn’t one big joke. Or so my son said.

Of course, William had never seen his skin shrivel and body sag. Had never had his gallbladder removed. He’d never felt hearing fade, memory flicker. The only way to survive getting old was with a sense of humour.

“You could’ve killed yourself,” William lectured as we raced down Highway 2.

“That was the plan.”

“This isn’t a joke, Pops.”

“Not with that attitude.”

William sighed. It was late, dusk fading into dark. Outside, windows glowed faintly in the roadside farmhouses. There would be horses standing in some of these fields, ears pricked to the passing cars, winter coats tinged with frost.

Should have learned to ride. I’d always liked horses.

“We’re making great time,” William said. “Shouldn’t be more than ten minutes.”

“Oh good. Please hurry me to the nursing home.”

“It’s a retirement community. Just wait until you see it. They have a pool and everything.  You can take aqua aerobics.”

“Finally, I can die in peace.”

Another sigh. “Grow up, Pops. You’re running out of time.”

We drove south in silence, leaving the highway without exchanging another word. Beyond a half-filled bingo hall, the town looked abandoned. A sprawling auction mart sat empty and the restaurants had all closed for the night. William pulled up to the retirement home and killed the engine.

“We’re here,” he announced cheerfully, like we’d arrived at Disneyland.

“It looks like an orphanage.”

“You’ll like it. Mom says the smoothies are to die for.”

“Your mother hates me.”

“Well, whose fault is that? This is the best facility north of Red Deer, so thank the Lord for getting us in on short notice.”

For the thousandth time, I marvelled at how divorce had transformed my bitter boy into a devoutly religious man. My own upbringing came closer to paganism, with my parents believing in the land they owned, the sun above and not much else. For reasons I could neither pinpoint nor explain, William’s born-again baptism irritated me. Badly. No point debating it now, however, so I unclipped the seat belt and opened the door, bracing for life in a retirement home, knowing it would be rotten with believers. The atheists always died first.

A bleary-eyed security guard met us on the front steps with a moving dolly, saying, oh, yes, we were expected. Welcome, welcome. They carried my cardboard boxes down a silent corridor. Incandescent lighting ran along the carpet edges, and handrails stuck out from each wall. I trailed behind, eyeing every exit.

My room contained a single bed and a small kitchenette. Faded blue paint hugged the drywall. A small nightstand accosted the mattress.

“It smells like someone died in here.”

“Got a big TV for your programs.” William stepped inside. “Big window. Nice view.”

The television was thicker than the microwave. Steel bars prevented the window from opening out. The bathroom had chrome grab bars and non-slip tile, but the vanity looked twice my age. Opening the medicine cabinet, I unpacked my shaving kit and lined pill bottles in two soldierly rows. At ease, gents.

In the main room, William jotted down contact numbers and taped the list above an oversized phone. I’d once imagined my offspring would be bespectacled, hale but bookish. Instead, Alma and I created a buffalo. William had sausages for fingers, a neck thicker than Christmas ham. You could crack walnuts on that chin. He studied the paper with a deep frown, as though my salvation lay inside.

“I thought of something today,” I said, clearing my throat. “Do you think people still die of syphilis?”

He flinched. “Don’t start. I’m begging you.”

“It used to be a serious health concern — brain damage, paralysis, the works.”

“Zip it, okay? I can’t hear another word about the dangers of STDs.” 

“Columbus died from syphilis. Al Capone. Oscar Wilde.”

William lifted a wool coat from the rack. “Okay, here are the rules: No leaving the facility without telling someone. No hoarding meds and no practical jokes.” He paused as though expecting me to object. “And stay away from chickpeas. You know how that story ends.”

I smiled. “Did you just make a bowel joke?”

“You’re seventy-eight with the sensibility of a teenager.” One more sigh. “Now, I realize you and Mom haven’t always gotten along —”

“We haven’t spoken in twenty years.”

“— but she will swing by tomorrow. So be nice to her and Lester.”

“The man who stole my family.”

“He’s my stepdad. And you left us, Pops.”

After William left, I slumped onto the corner of my new bed. Snow flaked outside. What now? Television played only nonsense, so I dragged a blanket over my face. A good twenty minutes passed before I rose to brush my dentures, dropping them in cleaning solution and watching the bubbles fizz. 

Yes, I should have ridden horses. Way too old for it now, and tomorrow I’d be older.


Morning arrived in a series of explosions: light, noise, pain. Prying my head off the carpet, I was surprised to discover myself wearing dark blue pyjamas. Disney cartoons played on a television I didn’t remember turning on. When did I remove my dentures? And why the hell did I sleep on the floor?

In the bathroom, I sipped water out of the tap. Twisting off the faucet, I studied my wrinkled fingers against the handle. There was a time when I wondered how old skin could possibly turn so thin and fragile. Now my hands flaked and cracked like pie crust.

Here’s a joke: What did the young faucet say to the old one?

Answer: You’re running out of time.

Sylvan Morning was a beautiful nursing home. Sorry, retirement community. There were double-paned windows and chandeliers in every hallway. Everything felt shiny and new. It was early and the place was still quiet. The only other person around was a heavy-set woman with liver spots doing a puzzle in the dining hall.

I was about to introduce myself when an automatic door swung open. Alma stepped through, hand raised in a passive-aggressive wave so familiar that I forgot to breathe.

The ex-wife that I remembered had been aging gracefully, silver hair with brilliant green eyes. A thirty-year-old’s body at age sixty. This woman wore jogging pants and had thinning hair. Gravity and time had shrunk her a good three inches.

“Speak of the devil,” Alma said. “Getting into trouble already?”

“Says the woman who pulled the fire alarm in the middle of a football game.”

 “It was cold and I was ready to leave.” She smirked. “You look terrible, old man.”

We eyed each other, a pair of familiar strangers. She’d grown wrinkled and heavy, bent and stooped, but up close Alma was still beautiful. Killer eyes. Features so fine a breeze could blow them off her face. I never wanted to get divorced. I only left because I knew she would eventually leave me.

“So,” she said, “are we going to talk about why our son put you in here?”

“Right after we talk about why you had an affair with Lester.”

“You left first, and that was forty years ago.” She erupted into a coughing fit. “Next time you try and commit suicide, make sure no one is home.”

“It was a joke.” I watched her cough. “Are you all right?”

“It’s always something these days.” Alma hawked, face flushed. “Listen, William might think that sticking you here is a good idea, but I don’t. This isn’t some long-lost family reunion.”

“Maybe we’ll fall in love.”

“I’ve got a better chance of winning Miss America.” She cleared her throat. “Let’s just stay out of each other’s way and let us all die in peace.”

A young lady in blue scrubs approached, telling us that smoothies would be ready soon, so grab a seat. The dining hall had filled up while we talked. Droopy-eyed octogenarians milled about as though waiting for a cruise ship to dock outside.

Alma pointed towards a table near the bay window. “That’s where I eat. Sit anywhere you want, but that’s off-limits.”


Time was a tricky thing. Alma and I were married for fifteen years, and that once felt like a lifetime. Now, as I claimed a seat at an empty table, it felt like a blip, a passing phase, like the year I grew a moustache or worked for the city. That didn’t seem fair. Some things should stick.

Sitting alone, I watched every table fill up but mine. Good riddance. I didn’t care about these pathetic geriatrics, halfway dead yet clinging desperately to life, dignity be damned. I didn’t want to socialize, didn’t need to make friends. I definitely didn’t want a girlfriend, which William had hinted was a possibility. There’ll be lots of single ladies, he’d said on the drive last night, as though we were heading to a key party.

A pair sat down, introduced themselves as Barb and Cyra, and immediately started peppering me with questions. What’s your name? Where you from? Aren’t the smoothies amazing? Fresh fruit, that’s the secret. Isn’t this a lovely place? Oh, we’ve seen worse, believe it. Before I could answer, Cyra launched into a detailed and disgusting story about a cyst that doctors had removed from her liver and the unfortunate infection that followed.

“It turns out the surgeon left a swab inside,” Cyra said. “They say it happens more often than you think.”

“Everyone’s in such a rush these days.” Barb shook her head at the modern world. Her neck jowls resembled drapes blowing in the wind. “You won’t believe what happened with my hysterectomy.”

I searched the room for a clock as someone else claimed the last empty chair. Cheekbones jutted from his sunken face and twig-sized arms poked out of his shirt sleeves. It took a moment to recognize him.

“Emmitt,” he said, hand outstretched.

“Lester,” I replied, ignoring the handshake. “You must’ve lost a hundred pounds.”

“Cancer is the best diet in the world. I should have gotten it twenty years ago.” He smiled, still irritatingly affable. “Come sit at Alma’s table and let’s catch up.”

A staff member appeared and set smoothies in front of us. Mango pineapple today, according to Barb. I claimed the biggest glass and took a sip. Good God, it was delicious.

“I don’t think your wife wants me at her table,” I said.

Lester shrugged. “Since when did that ever stop you?”

On cue, we both looked over to Alma’s table, where she was watching us with a screaming kettle look on her face.

“Maybe some other time.”

“Okay, but we’re leaving in an hour if you want to join an unsanctioned field trip.” Lester leaned closer. “Unless you’d rather do today’s other morning activity. I believe aqua aerobics starts at ten.”

Sneaky bastard. Lester knew that I’d never learned to swim. Should have. Wanted to. Planned on it. Yet somehow never got around to taking lessons. He smiled. “If it helps, she will hate having you along.”

Why did I agree? Maybe I was lonely. Maybe I was offended. Maybe some part of my brain believed I could actually win her back. Mainly, I just wanted to avoid hearing about Barb’s hysterectomy.

“Dress warm,” Lester instructed, rising to join his wife.


We raced north in a rusted Honda Civic that belonged to Lester’s daughter from his first marriage. I rode in the passenger seat. As soon as Alma saw me waiting by the front entrance, she insisted on sitting in the back. Also, she immediately invited Barb and Cyra along, which meant I learned exactly how doctors had botched the removal of Barb’s uterus after all.

By the time we reached the highway, all three women were asleep in the back, snoring softly.

“You ever been to a donkey sanctuary before?” Lester asked.

“I’ve never even heard of one.”

“You’ll love it.” His fingers tapped the steering wheel. “I’m glad you’ve moved in. It’ll be nice having another friendly face around.”

“We’re not friends, Lester.”

“Not yet. But we both love the same woman, and she loved us. We both love William, and he loves us. I think we’ll get along fine.”

I stared out the window. “Alma never loved me.”

“Funny, she says the same thing about you. The two of you are like bourbon and beer: love ’em apart but terrible together.” He fumbled a flask from his overcoat. “Speaking of which.”

I took a swig and nearly gagged. “I think my tongue’s gone numb.”

“Good, isn’t it? I didn’t swallow a drop during the radiation. Couldn’t even keep soup down most days.” He shifted into the passing lane. “Honestly, I think chemo was worse than cancer.”

“How long did they give you?”

“Not long enough.” He side-eyed me. “I heard you took some pills.”

“It was a joke.”

“People like us are hard to kill. If I were you, I’d quit with that and just enjoy the ride.”

A few miles down the road, Lester pulled into an Esso. The others went inside to use the bathroom. The January wind made my bones brittle, and burning cold invaded my boots. I wandered around to keep warm.

On the back wall of the building, someone had spray-painted an eight-foot penis across the bricks. Tufts of red pubic hair floated above the flaccid member. Overhead, the clouds shifted and a sliver of metal caught the sunlight, flashing out from the nearby snow. I was about to grab it when Alma rounded the corner.

“Hurry up, we’re all waiting.”

A familiar scent of vanilla, body odour and peppermint caught the breeze. I paused, realizing that I’d recognize her scent forever.

“This drawing is wild,” I said. “My life for that shaft, eh?”

“In your dreams, old man.”

I plucked the canister from the snow. The metal felt cold in my grip. Alma rubbed her cracking forehead, frowning as I approached the wall and squeezed the trigger. A red dot appeared beside the oversized genitalia.

“Tell me you’re not doing what I think you’re doing.”

“I’ve never used one of these before.”

“I’ve never been to jail either but it’s never too late.”

The canister rattled when I shook it. My frozen hand trembled as I paused, debating the best way to draw a dick of my own.

“Start with the balls,” Alma offered eventually, looking a hundred years old in the wind. “Work out from there.”


The Donkey Sanctuary of Alberta sat on twenty acres in the middle of farm country. Hog barns surrounded the property on all sides. Carved donkey, mule and hinny heads perched atop the fence posts. Metal barn roofs reflected in the distance. Please let there be a shuttle, I thought.

Parking, we watched schoolchildren race around the building, gift bags stamped with cartoon donkey faces dangling from tiny wrists. Unheeded teachers shouted directions. Parent chaperones huddled together. A pair of mules stood tied to the porch, braying into the riot.

A few minutes later, sanctuary staff led us towards open-air tractor carriages pulled by an idling John Deere. Space heaters glowed from the aluminum roofs. At the front, a moustachioed guide named Austin lifted a microphone and launched into the tour.

“Donkeys are nature’s mistreated wonders,” Austin announced as the tractors lurched forward. “Did you know they can live more than seventy years? They often outlive the people who love and care for them.”

“Don’t we all,” Cyra muttered.

Tall and tanned, Austin spoke in the dead tones of someone who’d recited the same story too many times to care whether the audience enjoyed it. Sentences bled together without punchlines or pauses. The gist: sixty-three equines — donkeys, mules and hinnies — resided at the main ranch, with forty more living on foster farms scattered throughout Alberta.

Few people knew that donkeys helped build the pyramids or that they were domesticated long before cattle. Fewer realized that the Italian military had a long, proud history of donkey usage.

“Probably why they never won a war,” Lester added.

Chugging west, the tour passed through a cluster of poplars while our guide recited the history of mules. A sweetly sour diesel smell filled the air. A group of donkeys stood behind four-strand barbwire, coats brown and grey, watching the passing tractor through shaded eyes.

When we stopped for complimentary photographs, a mule with white socks approached our carriage. It rubbed its face against the closest fence post, streaking the wood with mud. A couple of others chased it away, kicking at each other before sprinting across the field. Something about the brutish play reminded me of William as a boy. I glanced at Alma, who was watching me with an unreadable expression.

“This one here is called Jack Daniels,” Austin announced as a Pinto approached. “He’s been with us for seven years. A real social butterfly.”

I reached out, fingers down and wrist loose. Jack Daniels inched closer and I grunted. Donkeys are nature’s forgotten equines, Austin had said. They are bred, bought and sold, over and over, beaten and abused, taking a bullet or a sledgehammer to the head as soon as they get too old to work.

“We try to end this inhumane cycle.” Austin’s voice trailed off as he picked wax out of his ear. “Here, they live out their lives in peace, free from obligation. All donations are tax deductible.”

On cue, the tractor roared, lurching us forward to the next set of barns. No donkeys were visible in the pen, so Austin dispatched the driver to open the doors. The first aluminum panel groaned open to reveal two mules deep in rut. The violent thrusts, the bites and the bawls, the braying and the blood attacked our senses. Whistling, Austin jokingly apologized for not knocking first.

The adjoining pen contained a short, almost silver animal that clip-clopped forward, staring at the carriages from ancient eyes. “Hinnies are naturally stubborn,” Austin said. “Matilda here used to run off full-grown horses. She was that ferocious. However, old age has mellowed her.”

“What’s a hinny?” Barb asked.

“A horse mated with a female donkey.” Austin’s clipped tone indicated this fact was already covered in the tour.

I watched Alma squeeze Lester’s arm as Matilda approached. She reached for the hinny, happy tears rolling down her cheeks. Lester dabbed Alma’s cheek with his mitt. I’d never remarried. Never even got close, really. After Alma, I had a series of increasingly terrible girlfriends before giving up altogether sometime after turning fifty-five. It’d never occurred to me that I’d end up seventy-eight and jealous.

When the tour was over, we returned to the sanctuary’s headquarters for lunch. Austin reappeared, clutching an acoustic guitar. He sat cross-legged on an empty table and played covers of Bon Jovi songs. The donkeys were better singers.

Spooning food from a steaming buffet, I studied the yellow stew. “Are there chickpeas in this?”

“I doubt it,” Austin said, before launching into an off-key version of “Livin’ on a Prayer.”


It was mid-afternoon by the time we staggered back inside Sylvan Morning. My stomach whimpered complaints about the stew. I’d spent the entire ride home deciding whether to tell Alma that I was still in love with her. On the one hand, we were divorced and she’d spent the last thirty-five years married to Lester. On the other hand, impulse control had never been my strong suit.

Shaking off my coat, I was about to ask her to hang back a moment when I heard shouting echoing down the halls. The noise grew louder and it took a moment to recognize William’s voice.

“Less than twenty-four hours and you’ve already lost him!”

“No one is lost,” a woman’s voice pleaded. “We think he’s with your mother and stepfather.”

“So you not only lost my depressed father, but all three of my parents!”

Now Alma and I locked eyes. Coat on, she rushed down the hall, Lester a step behind. I started to follow when suddenly a violent urge rippled down my intestinal tract. I grasped the hallway railing, clenching my sphincter.

Fucking Austin. Fucking chickpeas.

Too scared to move, I watched a pair of security guards rush down the hall. I wanted to shout that it was all okay, I was here and William was hot-tempered by nature. The boy is under a lot of pressure at work, so let’s all just relax. However, I suspected that opening my mouth would also mean shitting my pants.

“Twenty-four-hour surveillance and enforced bedtimes, that’s what your brochure promised,” William continued, voice getting hoarse.

A door slammed, opened, slammed again. The shouting continued, but inaudible now.

My sphincter quivered. I felt almost sick. I needed to find a bathroom immediately.

Counting to ten, I carefully and slowly started towards my room. Right foot first. Good, now the left. A couple of schoolkids rushed down the hallway. An exhausted-looking woman trailed behind, clutching their jackets like pearls.

Toilet, my bowels screamed as I inched down the hall. Toilet!

Please, not this. Anything but this.

Picking up speed, I calculated the distance to my bathroom. Too far, it turned out. Halfway, standing beside the bulletin board of upcoming events, a sharp convulsion halted me. I bent at the waist, eyes closed, clutching my belt.

This was karma, comeuppance for raiding William’s liquor cabinet and then chugging my meds in a fog of numbness. Or for being a shitty father, a worse husband and a million other sins. Or maybe it was just bad luck.

Ahead, a temporary yellow sign: Caution! Wet Floor.

Don’t do it. Please don’t do it.

Bombs away, I thought as the sphincter released and a thick, warm liquid gushed forth.

“Please stop,” I whispered.

A man appeared at the other end of the hall, whistling and swinging a lanyard. I gasped, light-headed with relief. William! My son would know how to handle a little diarrhea, how to sweep it all under the rug. As the figure drew nearer, its shape grew slimmer, leaner, noticeably more feminine, until it was Alma rushing to my side, rubbing my shoulder and asking why I wasn’t moving.

“William is fine, don’t worry.” She paused. “What’s that smell?”

A late trickle squirted out.

“Oh, did you have an accident?” A gust of diarrhea blew through my underwear. Alma flinched, forcing a smile. “Come. We’ll get you cleaned up.”

Clutching my elbow, she led me down the hall. The once-warm underwear puddle was already cooling as it ran down my legs, pooling in my boots and dripping off my cuffs, a trail of tiny brown dots staining the carpet. Stink rose up and I fought back a wave of nausea.

“Don’t tell anyone.” I gripped her sleeve as we approached my door. “Especially not Lester.”

“What is that on my sweater?” Alma paused, eyes dropping to a smear on her sleeve. The stench reached us in full force, and she coughed, face puckering.

“Don’t you leave me.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t be here.”

“I’ll never forgive you.”

Her eyes flashed. “Forgive me? You left me alone with a six-year-old and never came back.”

Then she was gone, rushing furiously away. In my room, I stripped off my clothes. I stuffed my pants in the trash. Underwear and socks too. Wiping clean, I avoided my reflection in the bathroom mirror. The paper towel came away streaked with brown and — this wasn’t good — bits of red.

A half-hour shower washed my skin but couldn’t make me feel cleaner. Drying off, I sat naked on the porcelain toilet, head in my hands. A headache pounded my skull.

Goddamn chickpeas.


Before sunrise, tucked into bed, I awoke. My head throbbed. The room reeked of lemon. I sat up, then lay down again. In a wave of light-headedness, I dialled William’s cell.

“It’s two a.m., Pops, is everything okay? Are you hurt?”

“I just wanted to tell you that I’m back at the nursing home.”

A pause filled the line. “I know, we talked this afternoon, remember?”

I squinted, searching the memory bank for that conversation.

“Mom and I got you cleaned up and into bed. You kept talking about horses. Do you really not remember? Because I can call the doctor right now.”

“No, of course I remember. I just wanted to call and say thanks.”

“You’re not thinking about trying again, are you?”

It took a second to understand what he was referring to. “Not right now, no.”

Hanging up, I went to grab some Tylenol. Easing onto the toilet, I massaged a migraine out of my temples. A faint fecal stink still coated my flesh. Showers alone couldn’t wash me clean. Chlorine was needed.


The pool room stood unlocked. The fluorescent lights buzzed when I flicked them on, dim at first, brightening as they warmed. It seemed remarkably dangerous to leave a pool open and unattended, but I wasn’t going to complain.

Dragging a toe through the clear water, I sat on the ledge as the door creaked behind me. A walker wheel squeaked. I didn’t look up until Lester lowered himself beside me. His bare feet broke the pool water, twenty wiggling toes. The filter motor hummed briefly, then cut out, and the ensuing silence felt dreamlike. We could have been the last two people alive.

“Couldn’t sleep either, huh?” he asked. “Are you feeling any better?”

“Alma told you?”

Lester nodded and waved his foot in the water. “I thought William was going to attack the nursing staff today.”

“The boy has a temper.”

“He gets that from you.”

“Don’t be so sure. I once saw your wife spit on a cop.”

“That was a long time ago.” Lester shook his head sadly. “You just bring out a bad side of her.”

“I still love her.”

“I’m sure you do.”

We sat with that a moment. My right leg kicked the water sharply. “She and I never should have gotten divorced.”

He laughed. “Maybe you should have stuck around, then.”

I reached down, waved both hands through the lukewarm water. “Do you really think she still loves me?”

He nodded. “Not that she’d ever admit it.”


“Probably wishes she didn’t. Or maybe it has something to do with you refusing to apologize for the last forty years.” He pulled his feet out of the water. “You might start there, if you’re interested in mending fences.”

“You think that’d work?”

“Maybe, but we both know you’ll never do it.”

Lester tried to stand, slipped a little on the wet floor, and then rose fully. Body levers pushed, pulled. Synapses fired. As I scrambled upright, about to say something, who knew what, my wet foot slipped and pain erupted, so hot and hard in my leg that I screamed.


The bitter scent of coffee filtered through the hospital room. Technically, I only had a broken leg. I was lucky, according to the doctors. It was a clean break and would heal without surgery, provided I kept it elevated. With some physical therapy, I would be off crutches in ten to twelve weeks.

After setting the leg, the doctors had started looking at everything else. There was lots of blood work, an MRI, endless talk of heart disease and the risks of congestive heart failure, dehydration and electrolyte disturbances.

Three days and I was still no closer to getting out, I thought as the doctor entered the room. She had pencil eyebrows and a hungry, half-starved look. She repeated my name as if trying to memorize a new word. How are you feeling, Emmitt? How about increased memory loss, Emmitt? Slurring? Be done in a jiff, but have you noticed any visual disturbances? Emmitt, did you hear me?

The eyebrows rose, fell, waiting. I scratched at the tube taped to my forearm. Yesterday, she’d asked what I had done for a living and what I wanted from the rest of my life. Young people love peppering the elderly with questions they never ask themselves.

“I didn’t really do anything.”

“You must have done something.” She’d checked her watch, scribbled onto a chart. “You look like one of those old ranchers.”

“I never learned to ride.”

“There’s still time.”

I must have slept, because when I blinked next, natural light flooded the hospital room. Alma and William were sitting bedside in their winter jackets, heads pressed together. What’s wrong? I thought but must have also said aloud because they leapt out of the plastic chairs and rushed outside.

Someone had fixed my bed. Turning on the TV, I found Grey’s Anatomy playing on channel 4. I watched, not following the storyline, until William returned. Killing the TV, he set a disposable razor and can of shaving gel on the side table.

“What’s going on?”

“We brought Lester in for a tear in his peritoneum and now he’s in an induced coma.”

I didn’t want to know what a peritoneum was. 

Unwrapping the razor, he set it aside and shook the gel. “That stubble makes you look a hundred and ten.”

I eyed the blades. “You’ll cut me into ribbons.”

“Not if you hold still.”

On request, an orderly brought a bowl of steaming water and clean washcloths. “He’s a sweet one,” she said, nodding towards me.

“Trust me, he’s not,” William replied.

Warming my face with a wet cloth, he massaged a dollop of green gel into my face and neck. The razor’s first stroke hit below the Adam’s apple, heading north. Cheeks and chin came next, William whistling at each finished stroke while I braced for searing pain that didn’t arrive.

“All done,” he announced, dumping the razor in the trash. “Best you’ve ever looked.”

Reeking of ocean-scented shaving gel, I exhaled in relief. My heart thumped.

“Lester is a tough old bird. He’ll be fine.”

William feigned a smile. “Absolutely.”

“I’m serious. It takes a lot to kill people like us.”

The words sounded lame but William wrapped his arms around me.

“Okay,” I said, “that’s enough now.”

He pulled away and flopped back into his chair, reaching for the remote. I wanted to say something, some sort of apology, but didn’t know where to start.

“Feel like watching the Oilers game?” he asked.

“Sure. Do you think people still die of syphilis?”

“I don’t know,” William answered, pulling out his phone, “but let’s find out.”

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