Bill James allowed himself to smile as he watched the 20-something man come alive as he got down on the library floor with the children to talk to them about the trains they were playing with. Their days had become so routine and purpose driven, and Jake had been such a trooper about simply doing what needed to be done to get them to the next sunrise that Bill had forgotten that although his son’s body was 24, the occupant, at least in part, would always be a boy, and one that had been forced to witness, and even participate in the kinds of horrors that often made young men his age into much, much older men.
Bill shifted in his chair. He hurt. The catalog of aches and pains seemed to be growing, and yet none were as severe as they once were. A life of necessity caused him to rapidly drop much of the extra weight he had carried for so long. On the one hand, it had been a blessing, as he shed the need for the medications he had taken for years as he shed the pounds. But the improved health had come at such a terrible cost. It was only fatigue that let him close his eyes and sleep at the end of every day now, a sleep without the agony of having to rewitness the litany of loss and misery behind his eyelids every night.
He reoriented his attention to the young man who had almost magically transformed into a child before him as the library full of people, young and old, waited to see the doctor who came here twice a week to offer her services to the poor, the unwanted, and those trying to get by without any unnecessary attention from the authorities. He turned to a corner in the stacks where an attractive, auburn-haired woman in a pair of grey slacks, black sweater, and white coat quietly laughed and chatted up an old woman while checking her blood pressure. He looked again at Jake, who at the moment only had eyes for a blue train engine in the hands of the young boy in front of him, as the two talked excitedly about other trains. Bill hadn’t wanted to do this, but Jake seemed to be having difficulty with his eyesight, and some of the symptoms he had been describing to Bill had him worried. The two of them had come so far, and had lost so much that Bill could not bear the thought of losing his remaining son, and the last blood relative he had left in this world.
The clinic was busy, and sunlight had illuminated a dark sky and made it a brilliant unbroken blue before they were even close to Jake’s turn with the doctor. Bill blinked in the bright sunlight as it filled the library through a battery of windows. They had been here for three years now, but he still had not gotten used to the sheer enormity of the sky, or how it made buildings seem to sprout up out of the prairie, as if they had been planted there.
It was shortly after noon when it was Jake’s turn to see the doctor. Bill went back with him, in part to keep the young man from becoming too anxious, in part to make sure that the questions asked didn’t become too intrusive, and because he wanted to ask questions of his own, so he could gauge his son’s prognosis. The doctor was brief without being brusque, she got Jake to smile, and relax of his own accord, and after a short exchange, and examination, had concluded that the young man probably needed glasses and nothing more.
Bill had helped his son up out of the chair, and thanked the doctor for her time. As the two turned to go, the doctor said “OK, Dad. It’s your turn.”
For a second not longer than a breath, Bill froze. He turned, summoning a charm that had long lay dormant, and replied “It’s ok, Doctor. I’m an old man, with the aches and pains to prove it, but I am MUCH healthier than I used to be. I don’t need to take up your valuable time for you to tell me that. I was just worried about my son, and you helped to fix that. I really couldn’t impose on you further, especially when so many people are here because they are truly in need of your assistance.” And he motioned to the middle of the library, where twenty or so people still sat waiting.
“Mr. James, you’ve waited this long, and as you have stated, they are my services to give. I wouldn’t feel right not examining you both when I am here to help people feel better. Please take off your coat and sit down.”
She patted the chair opposite her as she made eye contact with him. Bill considered, noting that she did not have a fingerprint scanner like the ones in hospitals and doctor’s offices, nor had she been taking notes. He sighed as he concluded that it may be better to submit and then melt away after, than make a scene and be remembered. He told Jake to go back into the main hub of the library and he would join him in a few minutes. He took off his coat and sat down.
“This won’t take long. You do appear to be healthy, but you can never be too careful”, she said as she attached the blood pressure cuff to his left arm. After attaching it, she leaned in closer, seeming to adjust, then readjust the cuff, and said in a quiet, businesslike tone while not taking her eyes off the cuff “Mr. Wilson, I have been authorized by the government of Canada to offer you and your son political asylum here in our country. This would permit you to live under your own names, obtain identification documents, work, and obtain social services. The decision to make this offer was not made lightly, and frankly, I have no idea what will happen if you decide to refuse our offer.”
Cooper Wilson’s heart suddenly seemed to be in his throat, beating at a breakneck pace as his mind battled his body’s instinct to grab Jake and flee.