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Justin Campbell Justin Campbell
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Daniel Morgan [8]


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Under the Double Star - Chapter One

September 27th, 1987


It was one of the more tragic days in Daniel’s life as he went to stand up in front of the assembled crowds in the room, which was draped in muted, dark colors. He had never thought he’d ever do this, but it fell on him because he was the family’s best wordsmith, best news source, best speaker. It was extremely difficult, and he had to suppress a lot of raw emotions as he shuffled into a stance at the podium, gathered the pages together, and began to read.


       At twenty-nine, it really was amazing that it was only now that he was delivering a eulogy for his recently passed-away grandfather, Edwin Hampstead. The man had lived for eighty-four years – eight decades that encompassed two world wars, a depression, prohibition, three Canadian Provinces having passed Confederation, and twelve Canadian Prime Ministers having entered office for the first time. The man’s life was a legend unto itself.


       Up to that point, Daniel had never thought of all the little things that his grandfather had made about himself, like all the cars he’d owned – he’d gone through fifteen of them, from a Fiat hatchback to a Toyota Tercel. Other than the sheer number of automobiles he’d owned was the diverse range – from little cheap compacts to pricy Rolls Royces.


       As for Daniel himself, he’d gone a long way since starting in the mailroom at CJOH-TV. After spending three months sorting mail (largely stuff from viewers of You Can’t Do That On Television, including his own brother) they’d promoted him to watching the teleprompter in the newsroom, ensuring it worked properly during broadcast, and watching for errors in the wording. Eventually he found himself working the position he’d originally hoped for, researching information for special-interest feature segments, but a big unexpected career prospect really opened up when his boss had him participate in a table reading for a one-off documentary program showcasing local community involvement projects. Realizing his voice meshed extremely well with the dialogue and narration, they gave him the role of the project’s narrator. This worked out so well that narration became part of his duties on the job, until another break came from a field reporter calling in sick unexpectedly. Everyone turned to him to give the broadcast its delivery. Taking off his large glasses only enhanced his image, so by 1986, he’d become a minor field correspondent. Under that position, the new health benefits now included in his salary made him able to finally make the move to contact lenses.


       Other than his career taking off, he’d moved out of his parents’ house in 1983 after the family had a rear add-on to the back of the bungalow constructed that was to serve as an extra bedroom for Leonard; up to that point Daniel and Leonard had shared the same room, and after years of saving up the funds and finally letting grandpa Edwin pitch in, the family finally had a construction firm dig a foundation into a portion of the backyard, construct the walls and the roof, and do some of the interior finishing. The project came at an unusual time because this was just as Daniel was getting ready to move out, and Leonard would have had the room to himself anyway. It didn’t matter, really; it was a project the Morgans had been considering for six years and they were happy to have the additional space either way. Daniel moved out of the family house – and into one of the garden homes along Meadowlands Drive, all of which served as rental units. It wasn’t far away – it was less than five minutes’ walk from his house, really – but it was a start, and he could afford it.


       In the six years since he’d left Andrea (who was busy doing accountant work at a company called Research in Motion) he’d gone through several relationships, all of which lasted between two months or, at the longest, two years. He hadn’t found his soulmate or at least any girl he could see himself starting a family with, but at the moment he was undoubtedly finding himself paying attention to one of the newer receptionists at the station, a younger girl of about twenty-six. She had auburn hair that was naturally wavy, a pale complexion like Daniel’s, and hazel eyes that intrigued him. He hadn’t approached her yet (something he had spent the last five years slowly mastering) but it was on his mind; indeed, everything had been going extremely rosy for him up to the day he got the news that his beloved grandfather, Edwin, had had a stroke.


       Up to the funeral, the same last words had been running through his mind over and over. When he’d gotten the call, he’d immediately driven to the Civic Hospital, where the man who’d given him so much, from advice to laughter, inspiration and even a car, was lying on his deathbed, looking surprised and uncomfortable. When he’d entered the room during his stabilized condition, it played out like this:


       Daniel said, “Thank god you’re alive.”


       “Daniel? Oh, boy, come here, come here.”


       “Of course. How are you feeling, grandpa?”


       “Dreadful. Actually, fucked up. Come closer.”


       “What is it?”


       “Listen to me.”


       “I’m listening.”


       “You have to find out.”


       “What? Find out what?”


       “The myth, the curse, the idea.”


       “Okay.”


       “You can do it. You might as well have been born to do it.”


       “Do what? What myth?”


       “You were placed on this earth for a reason.”


       “Okay.”


       “Listen. You’re a miracle waiting to happen.”


       “I am? Grandpa, are you – “


       “Listen to me! You’re going to be great. You already are. But you’re gonna be even better. Someday, you’ll find out. The myth. The idea of life. The curse of it. Why we’re here. It’s been bubbling inside you since you were born, I’ve known it ever since you asked me that question.”


       “What question?”


       “The meaning of life. The idea of its essence. How it works. Why we’re cursed to live so briefly, the myth of consequence, connection, circumstance, providence.”


       Daniel had been mystified and disbelieving by that point. His grandfather was essentially speaking in gibberish as far as he knew. “Don’t tire yourself with all those words,” he said.


       “Do you understand me? You have the answer, kid. You’re just getting ready to pounce on it.”


       “Okay.”


       “Understand?”


       “Okay.”


       “Not okay. Do you?”


       Daniel didn’t, but he said so anyway so his grandpa would stop going on about this nonsense and calm down. “Yes. I understand you. Thank you for letting me know.”


       “It’s my last wish that you do,” he said with relief. “Even if you don’t understand me right now, in time you will.” He sighed heavily. “Well. Everyone’s seen me.”


       “I believe so, I’m sorry I’m the last to pop in.”


       “Don’t worry, the timing worked because I didn’t need your parents or siblings listening in to what I really had to pass on to you. Anyway…thank you, Daniel. I feel sorry I won’t be around to see my great-grandchildren…”


       “Don’t say that,” Daniel said quickly. “You don’t know that yet.”


       “…but it is what it is. Again, my boy, thank you. You’ve given me something to look forward to. I’m proud of you.” He sighed again, and closed his eyes. Daniel stared for a second, thinking the father of his mother had slumbered into sleep, but then the heart rate monitor suddenly dead-lined, and to his dismay, as a nurse urgently paged a doctor and rushed to attend him, the man passed away, leaving behind this idea, this myth, this cursed life, as he’d put it.


       Daniel looked out at the large crowd in the room. In the front row sat his mother, father, Beatrice, Leonard, and two uncles that were Marie’s older brothers. Marie was quietly crying as Evan had an arm around her and stared painfully at the floor, while Beatrice and Leonard huddled forward in their seats, looking pale and distant. Behind Daniel lay the open casket in which lay the wonderful, brilliant man he’d known all his life.


       He cleared his throat. “My grandfather, an amazing individual who served his country in the Second World War and fathered three children – my uncles Leonard and Allan, and my mother Marie – was nothing if not a dignified, proud, caring man. He was there for us all our lives – always a phone call away, instantly supportive of every possible situation. Of course, you never could tell what car he’d show up in, but he’d be right there.


      “My earliest memory of the grand man that lies behind me is when I was four. I was an only child then, and my mother and father were young, inexperienced parents who had just bought their first house, where they still live today. The day we moved in, he was there, helping direct the movers, ensuring they did their work right, and watching me; we went to Mooney’s Bay that day, where he watched over me and took me down the beach. We went up to the top of the big hill there, and just sat, looked out at the water, talked. According to him, I asked him what the meaning of life is. I don’t remember what he said, but we can all be perfectly sure it was probably fitting or tuned for a four-year-old.


       “From then on he’d always pop into the household and see what was up, what was cooking, what he could do to help. He believed in everyone, everyone. When I was almost seventeen, he took me back up that hill to set my head straight after I’d gotten myself into trouble, the silly, nonsensical teen I was, and it was only to him that I could open up to. I owe it to him that I’m here today, and by any means successful.


       “My grandfather was more than just a man who fought for the Allies or ran a successful, profitable business, more than just a hilarious character with countless cars to drive, more than a benefactor of my and my sibling’s education, the transformations on our house; he was a grand example of how any person should live their lives, a benefactor of all of us in my family alive today. And I’ll miss him.”
--
       At the end of the day, when the ceremony had finished, when the casket had been lowered into the cemetery and the wake concluded afterwards, Daniel got a surprise when he found Nick hanging around his parent’s house as he drove through the intersection of Deerpark and Meadowlands; he honked the horn to get his attention, and then turned left into the tenant parking lot that served the apartment building and the garden homes.


       Locking the doors of the car, he met his old friend at the entrance to the lane from the road. “Look at you.”


       Nick, unlike Daniel, hadn’t bothered to cut his hair by much, though his moustache was gone. He didn’t look too different from how he’d looked when they were teens, other than the thinner, older skin shaping his face. “Nice to see you, Dan.”


       “I’m just going into the house, do you want to walk with me to my backyard?”


       “Sure. You live here now?”


       “Yeah, moved in about four years ago. It’s a place, it works.” They walked along a courtyard that served the little backyards that fronted the outer faces of garden home units, a grassy space in between the two rectangular buildings. They entered a yard second-last on the left, and Nick made himself comfortable in a patio chair as Daniel unlocked the door and went inside to deposit his belongings.


       A minute later, they were sitting by each other in an awkward silence.


       “So…what brings you here?” Daniel asked him.


       “Oh, I don’t know, just in the neighborhood I guess. Wanted to see you, the family, as it’s been a few years.”


       “It has. What have you been up to?”


       While Daniel had gone the University route, Nick, with ambitions to play guitar (something that had been obvious about him since their later years in high school, as he always had an acoustic guitar with him everywhere he went) had become involved in going to concerts, trying to find a way to mingle with the bands or artists, make connections. That served him such that he winded up as a roadie, carrying instruments and equipment for outfits such as Max Webster, Kim Mitchell, Spoons, Blue Rodeo, FM, many smaller, unknown acts, The Payolas out west, Gowan, and, most memorably, for a brief time, legendary band Rush. Eventually, though, he realized he really wasn’t getting anywhere and his idea of sneaking in his guitar-playing to impress the concert people and ultimately the promoters, management and artists themselves never came to fruition as he was always shut-down before he could start playing; they’d tell him to quit playing with the instruments and just carry them, etc. So he eventually left the road altogether, returned home, and got a job working at a bar downtown, which paid his rent.


       “I’ve returned to school, though,” he said, hoping to impress. “Sound recording. I figure, if I can’t be the band, then I might as well do something similar. So I’m at Algonquin right now.”


       “Sounds neat. I work at CHOJ.”


       “What’s that?”


       “You know – the channel? I work at the station on Merivale and Clyde.”


       Nick sat forward. “Oh! Right. What do you do there?”


       “Well, I recently became a field correspondent.”


       “A what? What’s that?”


       “You know, the guy on the news who’s on location to film his segment? Usually does interest pieces.”


       Nick leaned in. “You’re on TV?”


       “Well, yes.”


       “Holy shit! That’s amazing! My god. You’ve gone far, eh? From the nerd in high school I protected to the guy on TV? Wow. Atmospheric. Gee.” He shook his head. “Now I feel kind of small in comparison.”


       Daniel smiled in understanding and friendly sympathy. “Don’t worry. You got to be with Rush.”


       “Yeah, but all I did was move their equipment.”


       “Not just their equipment, but instruments they played.”


       Nick looked up. “Yeah, I guess.”


       “Anyway, don’t feel down about yourself. I just came back from my grandpa’s funeral today.”


       “What?”


       “Yeah…” and Daniel explained the whole situation to him.


       “Man,” Nick said afterwards. “Makes you think, eh? Life doesn’t go on forever. No one’s immortal. You know, man, soon we’ll be digging our own graves.”


       “I hope it’s not so soon.”


       “Well, yeah, let’s hope.” They smiled. Daniel was happy; he had his old friend back, and he obviously had no knowledge of the whole Andrea affair.


       They talked until night fell. It was enjoyable and refreshing.


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Justin Campbell's website: http://justincottawa.blogspot.ca/

Next: Chapter Two