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You Get What You Get
About the Author: Jillian Shoichet's work has been short-listed for the Bridport Prize, the Exeter Short Story Competition, the CBC Nonfiction Prize and the Writers' Union of Canada Short Prose Competition, and her stories appear in Mystery Magazine and subTerrain.

“For a man of your age, you’re the picture of health.”

The woman sitting behind the desk was the sort of hale and hearty person that least appealed to him—all sinew and muscle, probably a runner.

But family physicians were harder to come by these days. And look what happened to Dr. Singh. Early retirement doesn’t agree with everyone.

Frank, on the other hand, was enjoying his retirement. He had no grounds for complaint—about doctors or anything else. In his experience, it wasn’t the complaining about a problem that solved it. As Lesley would say, You get what you get and you don’t get upset.

Solving problems required a different approach.

“But I would like to see you getting out more. Do you have any hobbies?”

She looked up at him over a pair of reading glasses.

He flexed arthritic fingers and pressed down on the arbutus-wood cane that lay across his knees. Slowly, his right leg stilled. He probed his left canine with his tongue and thought about what Lesley might have prepared for lunch.

“Mr. Walters?”

He shrugged. A puff of his own body odour escaped from the frayed collar of his plaid button-down and lingered in the air around his nose.

He took a shallow breath. “Well,” he said. “I like to trip people.”

She blinked. Then, with a whoop that sounded halfway between the braying of a donkey and the bleating of a goat, the woman said, “That’s not a hobby, Mr. Walters! A hobby is something you do for pleasure. What do you do for pleasure, Mr. Walters? Do you belong to a bridge club? Do you read? Do you have a dog?

Frank looked at her with distaste. “Yes.”

“Yes to which?”

“All of them. I do all of those.”

She stared at him. Then she put her glasses back on and wrote something on his chart. Without looking up she said, “Is there a Mrs. Walters?”

Frank said nothing. Let her think what she liked.

Dr. Swinton clicked her pen closed. “Mr. Walters, I’m sending you home with a new prescription. I’m prescribing you a hobby. When you come back for your next appointment, I want a full report. You can tell me all about it.”

The woman who patted him on the shoulder as she ushered him out the door managed to look maternal, condescending, and naïve all at the same time.

He wasn’t naturally good at tripping people.

He had some early luck, but since then he’d had to work at it.

It began by chance—a cane stretched a tad too far into the sidewalk at the local Starbucks. A child running too fast; a mother, distracted and inattentive, on her phone. A flash of runners through the air, a brief silence, a tinny wail. His profuse and stuttering old-man apology. The sudden change in the air as the mother turned and scolded the boy for not watching more carefully when there were old people about. The indignation on the boy’s face when the mother insisted that he apologize to the old man!

And then, as the boy looked him dead in the eyes, Frank’s unexpected joy at the bond of a secret shared: the boy knew very well that Frank had deliberately hooked his foot in mid-air.

Frank even waved as the boy limped away.

He had savoured the memory with the last dregs of his espresso and made his way home, where he shared a watered-down version with Lesley: You get what you get and you don’t get upset.

Lesley had laughed.

Lesley laughed at everything. At first it was one of the things about her that Frank found attractive. But her laugh had become irritating as the decades went by.

Over the last few years, Frank derived pleasure from making her laugh because it made him angry. Lesley would laugh, and Frank would shout, “Why are you laughing? I’m telling you a horrible story and you’re laughing!” Lesley would laugh louder, and Frank would get angrier.

At his age, being angry was the one thing that made him feel alive.

Until that morning at Starbucks. Tripping the boy also made him feel alive.

This story appears in our FEB 2024 Issue
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