Coby and I were sitting in a back booth at Good Bites. We’d finished lunch, the dishes had been cleared, and we were having a coffee before heading over to Safari for a few games of pool.

"Jane told me, yesterday, that I lack empathy," he said.

“What brought that on?” I asked.

"We’d just come back from visiting my old friend, Alex, in the hospital. He’d fallen asleep and driven his car into a bridge abutment. Along with two broken legs—his left one, in three places—he had a shattered elbow, six broken ribs, a broken nose, and a fractured skull. There he was on the hospital bed, all bound up in bandages like a mummy, tubes sticking out everywhere, with his two broken legs hoisted on pulleys—one sorry sight, to be sure.

“First thing I said to him was, ‘Alex, you don’t seem your usual spunky self. What’s up?’ He smiled, I think. Then I told him that white didn’t become him, that his greenish pallor called for a gentle shade of rose or violet. And I told him I’d checked out his car and he’d be pleased to know it was no longer too long for his garage. And I asked, if he didn’t make it, could I have his golf clubs. I just spouted a whole lot of nonsense like that, trying to keep things as light-hearted as possible. When our fifteen minutes were nearly up, just before we left, I asked if he’d like me to sign his head, which I’m pretty sure amused him, though, with all those tubes and bandages, I can’t say for sure."

I laughed. "Jane appears to have had a strong case. What was your defence?"

"I told her I was pleased to hear it, that she hadn’t acknowledged my remarkable lack of empathy for quite some time, now, and that I’d begun to think she was taking it for granted."

“Did she laugh?”

“She did.”

"I take it Jane is a more empathetic person than yourself."

"Yes, though probably less so, now, than she was. I think I’ve persuaded her of its flaws.

“What sense would it have made, I said, to try and feel what Alex was feeling? In what circumstances are two miserable people ever preferable to one? How would both of us feeling that miserable have benefitted either one of us? Did it not make more sense, I said, that he do the empathizing? She agreed I had a point but thought I may have gone a bit overboard with all my joking around, and she’s probably right—I can be a little manic in situations like that."

“You’ve just reminded me of something,” I said. “Did you know that Jackie’s back in Canada again? Yea. Been back about a month, now. We got together for a couple of drinks, recently, at the Rose and Crown. She’s hardly changed at all—still as much fun as ever, still looking great—and she’s 75! Can you imagine? Looks more like 55.

“Anyway, you’ve reminded me, just now, of what she said when I told her I’ve never known anyone as joyful as she is nor as lacking in empathy. She said I was mistaken, that she isn’t lacking in empathy, just smarter about it than most—she only empathizes with the more fortunate. Which, she said, might well account for her joyfulness—a good part of it, anyway—and her youthfulness, as well. When her time is nearly up, she said, as the lights are dimming, the last thing she’ll want will be empathy or sympathy or any of that. She’ll be calling out to send in the clowns.

“ ‘And in we’ll come,’ I said. ‘I’ll borrow a silly hat for the occasion.’

“ ‘A ghost in a silly hat,’ she said. ‘Perfect.’ ”

We both laughed. “I can hear her saying it,” said Coby. He pointed to the clock over the door.  “We’d better get going.”

>  whistler !!!