No Need To

“Well, I’ll see what I can do, Carl. I can’t promise to fix the problem, you know. It’s difficult…”

“There’s no need to—"

“I know that, Carl. I’ll do my best. I’ll talk to them if I have to.”

“Thanks, Jim. You’re a good friend. And the Association is lucky to have you.”


Jim closed the door politely on Carl, his neighbour for thirty years. Carl liked to tread softly, but he preferred it if Authority did his treading for him, like so many others in the monocultural community. Jim had been the president of the Lakeside Park Village Community Association ever since Gertie Murphy had resigned in a fit of pique over the street hockey issue. Kids had always played hockey on the streets, in all seasons, so why the call for a ban? It was good exercise in fresh air, it “brought people together” and it was a tradition. Kids always obligingly moved the net at the approach of a car. Changing times, increased traffic, less parental supervision, unsympathetic childless newcomers, all this made no difference to Gertie, so she knew she had to go. No one else wanted the thankless job until genial Big Jim Prescott stepped into the breach, albeit with some reluctance. He had been a city councillor, and a hockey coach, had run for provincial office twice, albeit unsuccessfully, and had been a fixture in the quiet neighbourhood ever since he and Dorothy and their five children had settled there more than half a century before. The kids had their own families now, scattered across the country, and Dorothy herself was gone now, too, to the columbarium in Memorial Gardens, to which Big Jim took a new spray of flowers once a month. In fairness, his new role was not really demanding: a Canada Day barbecue with fireworks and speeches, a bi-monthly newsletter, a few dull ill-attended council meetings a year, one of these a forum on refurbishing washrooms in a neighbourhood park. Pandemonium had arisen following a harangue from a young woman with purple hair who complained that no provision had been made for a washroom for those “of neither sex” until Jim made an abrupt executive decision: only one washroom, all to share. Half the cost, and loud cheers from all but the protester. Jim had been involved in mediation and ‘conflict management’ all his years in public service, and his expertise, his grateful neighbours agreed, showed. But Jim was nonplussed by Carl’s complaint.

It was a week before Christmas when Carl spotted the sign next to the newfangled “community” mailboxes that the Harper government had installed when it ceased house-to-house postal delivery. No one going to pick up their mail there could miss it. It was on the lawn of the house next to the mailboxes, and was a clear evangelical plea from a minority faith, to the unconverted, with quotes from its sacred book. It made clear the tenets of the faith, and promised a life-changing awakening to those with the spirit to make the leap to a new religion. The neighbourhood largely ignored it, but not Carl. He supported freedom of expression, assembly, and religion, he told Jim, but one line on the sign stuck in his craw. ‘God has no children,’ the line read. “It’s Christmas, Jim, the time when we celebrate the nativity of the Son of God. I find this offensive. I know I’m not the only one. How about you?”

Jim had not read the sign carefully, but he did have reservations about proselytizing, and knew he had been rude to some polite self-described “missionaries” who wanted to leave some tracts with him. Religion was not a subject he had ever discussed with any of his neighbours. He had last been in church years ago, and there were no churchgoers among his friends, but he occasionally enjoyed reading the sign outside a nearby place of worship: “Tweet others as you would like to be tweeted” was this week’s offering. Jim liked his religion-lite. It was something he did not think much about, but he had always, when pressed, identified himself as “a Christian, I suppose.” And now another one wanted him to mount a pulpit. “What would Jesus Do?” enquired a bumper sticker on the car in front. Good question, I guess, thought Jim, but when his anxious neighbour Agnes asked him if he had “taken it to prayer,” he was aghast. The idea! He wasn’t a—Catholic, he assured her. He was a member of that undemanding sect (what was its name?) that broad-mindedly employed a minister who proudly proclaimed herself an atheist.

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Peter was born in England, spent his childhood there and in South America, and taught English for 33 years in Ottawa, Canada. Now retired, he reads and writes voraciously, and travels occasionally with his wife Louise.
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