A woman visits her elderly father on the outskirts of Halifax.
* * * * *
Ellie stands at the door waiting for her father to arrive. She presses his room buzzer a third time and is beginning to get anxious when she sees him step out of the elevator inside. “Dad!” she beams through the glass, waving with the sudden release of knowing that the physical distance between them is about to be closed.
They walk back to the elevator arm in arm, as Ellie feels her physical and mental pace slowing to match his. While part of her is engaged in small talk, the rest is taking in information about his health, his appearance, his mental facility.
“Did you have any trouble finding us?”
“No Dad, I just took one of the self-driving cabs. The roads were pretty rough though. And I hardly recognized parts of the city…so many buildings boarded up.”
“Yes things have changed. Too bad it’s such a short stopover. When did you say you’re heading back to Vancouver?”
“I’m leaving in the morning. I promised the girls I’d be there for their first day of school. They are starting Mandarin Immersion, you know. I almost didn’t come at all, but since my client meeting was in Montreal, I thought I could at least hop over for a quick visit. It’s been awhile.”
“Yes, yes. Well let’s make the most of it then.”
They descend to the lower level and find their way to a lounge painted in bright primary colours. “Used to be a daycare,” he explains. The building is among the many apartment towers that were built for young families on the outskirts of Halifax and that have since been converted to low-income housing for seniors.
“So Dad, tell me about your life here. I bet things get a little wild at times,” she teases.
“There are some sparks here…you’d be surprised,” he winks. “Well, mostly it’s pretty quiet. People look after each other. I guess there’s not much choice about that. We’re all getting good at basic medical stuff, and those who are more fit look after those who need it. A team from the hospital comes around every couple of weeks and sets up a makeshift clinic right here in this room.”
“How about meals. Are you getting what you need?”
“Yes, the food truck comes on Mondays and sets up a little market inside the gates. I’m on the cooking rota, so twice a week I help make meals for the people who can’t make their own.”
“You Dad!!? So now we can add chef to your illustrious resume. Speaking of which, do you ever hear from your old government pals?”
“Not often. I’m one of the lucky ones. Thanks to you I can afford to have my own place at least. After the stock market crash of 2017, provincial pensions shrank to next to nothing. I think many of us got demoralized as well. We just weren’t able to halt the slide.”
“Oh Dad, nobody could have. Nova Scotia has always been a wonderful place to live but you can’t create something out of nothing. All the traditional industries dried up ages ago and little Nova Scotia just wasn’t equipped to compete in the global marketplace.”
“I can’t help thinking of all the calls to action, the long history of trying harder, of sincerely believing…. But I think you’re right, boot-straπpping our way into a better future just doesn’t work.”
“I saw on the news channel in the taxi that there are some hopeful new projects on the horizon.”
“You mean the nuclear waste disposal plan? It’s true that Nova Scotia is sitting on very ancient bedrock, which makes for stable underground storage. The only catch is that all the fracking has shaken things up a bit. So that’s all being studied. There are also two new uranium mines, though the new extraction technologies are so efficient they don’t create many jobs. Most of the economic benefit goes to foreign investors. The same is true with tourism. There’s a Vegas-style theme park being built on the Eastern Shore by Asian investors who want to bring their cruise ships here. You’ve probably heard about the massive ships that are like floating cities. People wealthy enough to escape the terrible pollution, overcrowding, and crime in their home country live at sea more or less permanently. I suppose there are tax advantages too. They need places to touch down every once in awhile.”
“Yes, they stop along the coast in British Columbia as well. But Dad, this really isn’t your problem anymore. You gave what you could over your career, and it sounds like you’re still giving to the people here. You can’t do more than that.”
“Well maybe you’re right, and I’m not complaining. We Nova Scotians are survivors. We know how to make do with what we have. It’s not bad here.”
“Oh my goodness, look at the time. I should get going, though I’m sad to leave you.”
“Why don’t you bring the girls next time. I love seeing them through the G-glasses, but there’s nothing like being in the same room.”
“Okay Dad, we’ll see. You take good care of yourself.” She gives him a long hug and then quickly turns before her welling tears begin to spill.
Susan Szpakowski is co-initiator of Likely Stories.