The old man lay on his beaten mattress and feebly pulled the membrane thin former blanket up to his chin - it did no good. The chills still gripped him. His muscles had given up the idea of shivering long ago. Even if the thread-bare cotton had still the insulating qualies of its greener days it would have done little to ward off the cold.
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It was a windless summer day of 25 degrees and his cramped bachelor "suite" would have been stifling to anyone else, but not the old man. For him the cold was not environmental - eternal but not external. Just another symptom of the disease that would soon claim him. It was no more than another of Famine's calling cards.
His gnarled hand reached for the water glass on the table by his side and clutched it with the uncertain strength of cannabalized muscle. The tumbler touched his pale, cracked lips as he tilted it carefully, but not quite carefully enough, to his mouth. Much of he water meant to solace his scoured throat, and wash the taste of blood from his gums, spilled out the side of the glass to slake the thirst of his nightshirt.
"Soon." He whispered to the stagnant air.
There was some small relief in his knowing that most of the concerns of the past would trouble him no more. No schedules or appointments to keep. No bills - the telephone and power had long since been cut-off - to worry about. He was as effectively removed from all human worries as one could be and still draw breath. Soon he would be past even that.
The pain had stopped how long ago? It could have been a day, a week - maybe two. Time meant nothing to him anymore. He tended to sleep so often and irregularly that he couldn't even use the periods of light and dark as a guage.
But the pain had stopped. His body had filled his belly with gas or fluid or whatever it was that caused the merciful bloat and convinced his stomach that it was full.
Wondering if that was a function of the sympathetic nervous system had made him chuckle - briefly, weakly, grimly. It hadbeen almost a month since his body had fed on anything but itself. It hadn't always been this way.
All of his life he had worked hard jobs, honest jobs. Farm hand in Manitoba, construction in Ontario, the oil rigs in Alberta; always work that demanded much of the body and little of the conscience.
He had watched his father being slowly ground to nothing in a factory for barely more than a starvation wage. Just enough to feed one person but not two. He had left home at fourteen so his father could eat.
As he walked out the door that day he promised himself he would never do to anyone else what had been done to his dad - and he would never allow it to be done to him.
The spiritual son of Eugene Debs, Tommy Douglas and the like his, his life had been led free of the shared guilt associated with the system observation and osmosis had taught him to detest.
What money he had had left after rent and food were seen to went to various charities and shelters. What time he had had was given freely freely to soup-kitchens and drop-ins. He had never heard, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need", but he understood it instinctively. He understood it because he had seen his fathwer constantly short on ability and long on need.
Now, lying on his mattress, alternately hostage to light consciousness and heavy delusion, he came to believe he was no longer in his apartment but sailing over the vista of his more hale years.
He heard the countless cowrokers and acquaintences who had asked him, with varying degrees of gentility, "Why do you do this?".
Never had he spoken of the donations of time or money. He wasn't the sort to brag about what was done most honestly anonymously. Neither did he lie whwen asked outright where his paycheques amd off-time went.
It was well-known that he wasn't a drinker - he had never come to work with the morning-after tint to his breath or demeanor, and he'd always politely declined when he was invited out for payday beers.
It was equally clear to all that he had no lover since he never mentionnned one and was altogether too serene.
Yet his vehicle, clothing, and meagre lunches were of the lowest order and this disparity provoked universal curiosity. When asked where his money and leisure went he answered simply,
"To people who need it more than me."
Frequently this would lead his interogator to ask why he would work so that those, "scum", "parasites" or, most often, "fucking bums" wouldn't have to.
"Because they need it more than me."
At this point he would usualy smile and remove hinmself from their company. He couldn't bring himself to condemn the ones who didn't understand but their characterization of their less fortunate fellows made him wince. He understood his coleagues as poorly as they understood him.
There were rumours of course: he was a closet coke-head, had a growing fortune stashed in the bank, he had a thing for big-ticket call girls. He didn't bother to argue about the rumours when he heard them. He just smiled and said, softly, "no".
He gained a reputation wherever he went as a hardworking and likable - if somewhat strange - employee and coworker. The only hard word anyone had ever said about him - and the only one he would refute with any force - was, "communist".
He knew commies were the evil enemies of democracy and no good and honest person would ever think of being one. He took it as an insult of the highest order.
The only time he had ever hurt another man it had been vecause the other had persisted in calling him that name. He had visited his victim - that is how he thought of the man, as his victim - in the hospital everyday of the two week convalescence.
And, after a lifetime spent trying to relieve the suffering of those sacrificed to the holy name of Mammon, it had come down to this: an old man whose grey flesh hung in curtains from his once powerful frame and a pension cheque - delivered directly to his landlord - that just covered the rent, a handfull of possesions - pitiable by the most Spartan standards - a bloated belly and dead, hollow eyes, lungs that fought atrophy for breath and a sour rattle to mark their success.
Death would come to him soon, he could feel it. He could sense it in the thick settling of the air in his chest, in the tremors of decaying muscle and in the constant chills.
His own voice mocked him from a water spot in the ceiling directly above his sallow form,
"It didn't need to be this way, there are groups that could have helped and you know them all. You're a fool."
"No", he rasped, "I'm an old man who would die soon anyway. And there are others who need it more than me."
With that his eyes closed.
But would I be a good Messiah with my low self-esteem? / If I don't believe in myself would that be blasphemy? - The Bloodhound Gang Hell Yeah