If I Could Only Breathe

Part I:

Beads of sweat gather on my temples. I take a big gulp of air trying to fill my lungs. It’s absolutely useless. I’m no better off than I was before.  Desperately, I form a fist and place it over the left side of my chest. After a few minutes, I begin to pound at my breast with what I think is quite a bit of force. But as it turns out, it’s only a gentle thud.

Then my arm sweeps across the end table knocking it, and the books that were there, onto the hardwood floor.  My eyes are wide. I’m helpless. I can’t move. As I gasp for more air, my mouth is moving, but no words come from me.

I’m trying to prevent something from happening. But I have no idea what that something is.

Gretchen & The Red Ford Mustang

Flickers of white light crackle all around her body. Then sunshine warms her face. The landscape before her reveals green meadows, and some distance away, are white cliffs carved along the shoreline. A bird soars above the water, hunting.

Darkness descends.

A porch light switches on revealing a woman with blonde hair. When she turns around, Monica knows her name. Twenty-one year old Gretchen brightly smiles at her with beer-laced breath. Peter wobbles to his red 1969 Ford Mustang and reaches for his door handle. Once the door is open, he throws himself into the driver’s seat.

I want to say something. It doesn’t feel right.  Maybe they should stay? Or maybe Gretchen should just stay? But who I am to argue? They’re both adults.

The Mustang screams to life with a thundering noise, and then the King’s, “Jailhouse Rock” engulfs the air. Headlights shine light on the trees, but they are merely shadows of what I can see in daylight. The tree shadows remind me of a graveyard scene. I don’t know why.

Gretchen bounces into the passenger seat. She rolls her window down, and I notice she’s re-applied her red lipstick for Peter.  Joyful and giddy, from the booze and her man, she beams at me. After years of trying to catch Peter’s eye, she’s finally leaving with him!

Why should I say anything? She’s an adult, capable of making her own decisions. Besides, I tried to talk to her, and she said Peter was fine.

I watch the car backup, go forward, and then it races into the darkness. Red tail lights flicker at me. They seem to be saying with each pulse of red glow: you need to stop, STOP, STOP THEM – NOW!!

Gretchen’s ivory hand is out the window flapping from the car. A back hand wave, she signals to me, a final farewell.

One Moment, Please

“I’m suffocating.” Her eyes are wide. Hands rest limply by her side. She’s taken on the “look” as if she’s nearly drowned and was saved by some heroic passerby.

The man seated across from her scribbles something into his notebook. One eyebrow arched, like he does, he asks, “Physically, or figuratively?”

“Both,” she answers swiftly. Her voice is thick like overgrown trees and shrubs that will slow a hiker down in the woods.

His eyebrows arch towards the ceiling. He asks, “What do you think is causing you to suffocate?”

“The pace. The rat race. Crushing responsibilities.”

“Responsibilities? Such as your job?”

“Yeah,” her voice wavers. Quietly, she ponders how much more to say.  Of course, he picked up on the job immediately.  But there are other things. Responsibilities don’t only lie in a job. It’s everything, and at the same time, nothing at all. Will he think her a selfish whiner? One of those petulant children stomping their feet, screaming, “GIVE ME THAT! I DESERVE IT!”

This is a safe place, where she can say anything, right? That’s what she’s been told by him, and by others. With a sigh, her words tumble out in a rush, “I worry about being late for work, my boss thinking I’m slacking off, my neighbours thinking I’m lazy because I don’t garden more.”

“Are you slacking off at work?” His voice is a rhythmic hum as small dots of dust float up in the air as if there has suddenly been a gust of wind knocking them off of the bookshelf, books, or the oak coffee table in front of her.  But the two of them are barely moving. They sit there, talking. The shared words may mean something, or nothing. They’re digging, trying to get to the root of the problem. The thought comes to her of things she’s read about London and Rome where construction workers begin to dig and find burial sites, or ancient Roman ruins.  Who wins? Does the past get to keep the space? Or does the future, knock over the past?

She snaps herself back to the now.  “No, I don’t think I’m slacking off. I mean, I have days when I could do better.” There’s a pause as she waits for the moment of judgement to pass. She’s certain that’s the case. Will it matter if she says one more thing? She decides, why not? Finally, she adds, “I’m just so tired sometimes.”

His eyebrows knit together. Index finger rises, and pushes his eyeglasses up to the bridge of his nose.  “I think we all have days we can do better. After all, we’re human.” He stops talking for a moment. It’s a tactic of his to force her to consider the words he said.  “So, you’re not slacking off at work. Is there anything else you can do differently in the morning?  Maybe, leave earlier so you’ll have more time to commute to work?”

“I try to leave earlier most days.” She bristles as her arms fold defensively in front of her.  “I could skip my Starbucks run, but I don’t want to.” Eyes suddenly fill with tears. She knows what he’ll say next. He won’t get it, and will try to reason with her. Explain to her that it’s the most rational decision.

“You go to Starbucks every day?” His voice seeps with an incredulous tone as his hand begins to swivel and swirl around as the pen he’s holding stops and starts, racing from left to right, jotting notes down in his notebook.

“Yes, even if I really don’t have the time, and I’m already running late.” Stopping herself, she breathes out and then adds, “because I want just 30 seconds, maybe a minute of relaxing.” Her words rush out in a flurry. She needs to explain herself before he stops her. Make him try to understand her position. “I do the mobile order every day. But it’s the 30 seconds of running in and I hear the old time music, and the baristas are SUPER busy, but they’ll still take a moment to acknowledge me with a smile, or a hello. Then, sometimes all these people are in the coffee shop who are having conversations, reading their books, or sitting and sipping their coffee. All I think, I would love that. That’s how life should be.”

“How life should be?” He peers at her through his spectacles as wisps of hair fall forward onto his forehead.

“Yes,” her voice is emphatic. Hands wave in the air making small circles, “life should be full with books to read, feeling the warmth of sunshine and heat on your face….You know – sipping beverages and chewing your food properly, and when you have an indulgent delicious dessert savouring the lemon, chocolate, or cinnamon taste in every bite.  Versus shoving food into your mouth in between stop lights, while eyeing other cars suspiciously as if they’ve all conspired together to leave at the exact time you did, because they want you to be late for work.”

“Do you believe that?” His pen pauses on the paper. He reclines back and uncrosses and then crosses his legs waiting for an answer.

Paranoid, she imagines him writing.

She throws her head back, laughing at the question.  “No,” she answers.  “But it feel like I’m in a race with everyone else, and I need to get as far as I can quickly, to give myself the best chance of making it to work on time.”

“Have you thought about going to Starbucks after work?”

She snaps, “I’ll never go.” More than ready for that question, she didn’t hesitate. He’s not the first one to ask her that.

Eyebrows furrowing together, he remembers back to another conversation they had, and asks, “Is that why you take short trips?  Because you think you’ll never have the time to take longer vacations?”

Nodding her head, voice rattling a bit, she answers, “I know I won’t.  So many people say: I can’t go now because I don’t have the time or money.  I’ll go later, when the time’s right and I can do a bigger trip.  But for a lot of people, it never happens. I’d prefer one minute at Starbucks if that’s all I could have. I would prefer two days in New York, if I can’t afford five days. And if I never have two weeks off to go to Australia, I’ll do one week. I don’t want to wait for the perfect time, because one day, I won’t have any time left.”

Deconstructing Stupid

“Alright everyone, take your seats.” It’s said with a certain level of gravity Mr. Bryson seldom uses.

The kids wiggle into their seats as a quick hush descends over the classroom. There’s an unending pause that lingers in the air -; it’s the same weightiness found in churches when members of a congregation perched on wooden benches wait for an inspirational sermon to be given by a priest or a minister.

“Tom,” Mr. Bryson says. “Are you on your phone?”

“No, Mr. Bryson,” Tom lies as he casually scoops his phone into his Under Armour sweatshirt pocket.

“Well, if it’s already away, there’s no point getting it out for this exercise. Everyone else, get your phones out.”

The students wonder: is this a joke? They glance around at each other waiting for someone else to make the first move. After a few moments, someone grabs their knapsack, and there’s an echo of rustling bags being shuffled around as other kids slowly reach for their cell phones. Once found, twitching fingers are poised and rest lightly on their telephone keypads as they wait for further instructions.

Tom casually removes his mobile phone from his pocket. Mr. Bryson stares at him. There’s an exchange of glances between them. After he can’t handle it anymore, the boy averts his eyes and focuses on the desktop in front of him.

“I can’t believe he’s letting us use our phones!” Jenna whispers to her friend Beth who’s seated in the desk beside her.

“Yes, I am,” Mr. Bryson answers. His voice cracks through the noise that consumed the air with the movement of books, bags, and low murmuring of voices. Everything halts instantly.

“We were going to continue to talk about The Giver today. But I’ve decided to do something different.”

The tranquility returns. It lasts so long a buzzing fly’s zzzz is loud and long enough several children spin their heads around in search of the annoying insect.

“As everyone knows, I was a monitor in the schoolyard at break today. When I was outside, I heard a word that I feel should never be used.  The word was…”

Mr. Bryson’s arms were protectively folded in front of him as he casually leaned against a wall in conservative “teacher dress” of beige dress pants, and a short-sleeved plaid shirt. But he breaks away from the standard dress code with his funky red tie with Rubik’s Cubes on it. His attire is a reflection of his teaching style: strict when required, but otherwise, cool and jovial.

With the incomplete, unspoken word that hangs on tethers in space, he turns his back towards the class and grabs a piece of chalk. He scribbles STUPID on the chalkboard.  Once he’s finished writing the word, he tosses the chalk and it hits the ledge with a gentle thud.  The sound ricochets throughout the room. It’s louder than Mr. Bryson intended.

“Okay, that’s the word that was used in the schoolyard. Does anyone know the meaning of it?”  Mr. Bryson asks as he paces back and forth with uneasiness like a caged lion at a zoo.

Sixty-two dilated pupils stare at him.  Heads begin to turn in all directions. A low-level whisper begins as everyone poses the same question, “was it you?”

Mr. Bryson nods his head in answer to the question no one will ask him directly. He leans backwards and adjusts his tie. Quietly he says, “It was no one in this room. Thank goodness.”

Silence.

Time passes.

There’s a small cough.

Otherwise, nothing else is said.

Not one child raises their hand.

Finally, Mr. Bryson says, “If you don’t know the exact definition, that’s okay. Let’s brainstorm together.” He spins on his heel and snatches up a piece of chalk. With impatient fingers, he stands ready to write.

Hailey’s hand shoots up into the air.

Mr. Bryson points at her and says, “Okay, Hailey. What am I writing?”

“People say it when you’ve done something wrong.”

Done something wrong, Mr. Bryson writes, “such as?” He asks Hailey.

“If you… Spill your drink!” She offers.

“Well, that sounds like an accident to me. But we’ll put it down. Because you’re right – people say it in those situations.”

“Okay class, let’s go! You can just shout out your answers. Better yet…” He faces the students. Placing the piece of calcite down he continues, “I’ll give you five minutes. Just come up and write on the board what you think the word means. Or, you can also provide examples of where you’ve heard it said before. The examples might help us figure out the definition. ”

A line forms and the students write:

When another person in a car cuts you off in traffic.

When you don’t know the answer to a question.

When you chase your ball into the street, and forget to look both ways for cars.

When you forget your gym clothes. 

It’s a name that’s called.

They call you stupid when you talk about becoming an Olympic Figure Skater when you grow up.

Stupid is the opposite of smart.

When you tell somebody something, like a fact, and it’s wrong.   

When you wake up late for school.

When you fail a test.

When you trip on a curb…

***

Mr. Bryson quietly skims some of the sentences written on the chalkboard. It’s obvious to him these were things either said to the kids, or that they’ve heard.

“Wow,” Mr. Bryson says as the last student places the chalk down and returns to his seat. “We’ve filled up the board. Okay Tom, do you have your phone out?”

Tom stares out the window for a second. When he faces Mr. Bryson again, his cheeks are crimson. With a snort of laughter, Tom answers, “yeah.”

“Okay, can you look up the definition of the word for us?”

“Already, did it,” Tom says raising his chin proudly.

“Great!” Mr. Bryson’s head is bent downwards as he grins at Tom. “Can you read it to us?”

“It says, having or showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense,”[i]  with hands over his mouth he says in a muffled voice.

“Okay,” Mr. Bryson responds. He quietly stands in front of the chalkboard and writes the words Tom said.

Mr. Bryson walks to the middle of the room with rows of desks on each side. He turns to the right, waves his arms at the students seated there and says, “You guys, google the definition for intelligence. And you guys,” he says turning to the left and motions to them, “look up the definition of common sense. As soon as you find it, raise your hands.”

Tap, tap, tap…..

There’s a steady clicking sound of buttons being punched into phones. Moments later, several hands rise up into the air.

“Brianna, give us the definition of intelligence!” Mr. Bryson shouts.

“It says the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.”[ii]

Mr. Bryson races to the board and scratches the words onto it.  “Okay,” he says with his back to the room as he casually spins his white flaky writing instrument around between his fingers reminiscent of baton-twirling girls at parades. Without turning around, Mr. Bryson says, “Liam, I think you were first? What’s the definition of common sense?”

Liam nearly drops his phone when he hears his name. The poor kid stutters, “ah sorry….okay, it says, good sense and sound judgement in practical matters.”[iii]

“Excellent!” Mr. Bryson says. He scrawls the definition onto the board. When he’s done, Mr. Bryson drops his white scribbling stick on the ledge. Facing his students he asks, “Does anyone see a problem with the definition of stupid?”

There’s no sound except for the steady hum of lights above them. Everyone holds their breath as they wait for the answer.

Mr. Bryson stares at the sea of wide-eyed blank faces.

“Intelligence is something you acquire over time. Some people have a natural ability in certain areas such as art, mathematics, or maybe science. But in order to develop a natural ability,” Mr. Bryson starts to walk up and down the rows of desks and continues, “you need to have access to education and the right teachers. Any ideas where this might not happen? Where kids might not get a chance to learn?”

“Third world countries,” James announces.

“Right again! Third world countries! Do you think it’s fair to use that word to describe people in those situations?” Mr. Bryson asks.

Each student’s head moves from right to left, signalling, no.

“Good. We all agree to that.” Mr. Bryson’s words are slower now as he considers each one carefully. He places his hands in his pockets and calmly strolls the wooden floor of the room as if he’s in a park on a warm summer’s day and says, “but what about when someone can’t learn because they’ve had a terrible teacher?”

Small snorts of snickering reverberate throughout the room.

Mr. Bryson’s eyes glisten in recognition of his joke. He waits to see if anyone is brave enough to answer the question.

No one says a word.

Finally he says, “No, it’s true. Just like in any job, we have some mediocre teachers. I try not to be one of those.”

A low chuckling sound quietly sweeps across the room. Some kids nod their heads in Mr. Bryson’s direction. The students are thankful for Mr. Bryson’s honesty: no one else, not another teacher, principal or parent – has ever admitted such a thing before.

After everyone stops laughing, Mr. Bryson says, “Here’s something else for you to consider… What happens when a good teacher who’s used a method for a long time, still can’t teach a kid something? Any ideas?”

Samuel says, “You need to change your teaching methods.”

“We sure do. Sometimes teachers don’t realize how they’re teaching might be wrong for a particular student. So we need to adapt our methods in order to help those kids. Is it fair to use that word to describe someone, when the person may learn things differently?”

“No,” the kids whisper together.

Mr. Bryson calmly walks back to the chalkboard and places a hand underneath the word saying, “words matter.”

He states it as a fact. It’s not a point to be debated.  

He waits a second and adds, “This word – is a value-based judgement word. It’s dependent on any number of factors. Who taught the person? Where the person lived? What kind of teacher they had?”

“Even the common sense factor in the definition of the word can be argued. It might be common sense in North America to look both ways before you cross the street, so you don’t get hit by a car. But in some countries, where there are few cars, maybe you need to be more aware of hippos hiding in lakes that want to trample you.”

Laughter bounces across the room.

Mr. Bryson waits a moment, and then continues, “I’m being somewhat funny. But I’m serious too. What you think is common sense and matters here, might not be important if you live somewhere else.”

“As for this one,” Mr. Bryson says pointing to the figure skating line, “sometimes people will use name-calling as a way to force another person to conform. They want the person to pick a reasonable career because the chance of success might be low, and if they do succeed, they will have done something that seemed impossible. But you can’t let their negative comments stop you. People dreamed of travelling to the moon, and wrote about it, way before it happened and were ridiculed for it. Without those dreams, without those books, without those scientists – we as a world may never have gone to space, to the moon, and now we’re looking at going further into the universe.”

Mr. Bryson gingerly picks up a chalkboard brush, and using his other hand he places a finger beneath the word and quietly says, “This word… is a word…that should be erased from our vocabulary.”

With a slow wipe of the brush, Mr. Bryson, makes stupid disappear.

[i]  Stupid. Retrieved October 5th 2017, from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/stupid

[ii]  Intelligence. Retrieved October 5th, 2017, from  https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/intelligence

[iii]  Common Sense. Retrieved October 5th, 2017, from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/common_sense

Who I AM

I am not an enthusiastic gardener who aims for a bronze tan as a badge of honour that I’ve earned, after spending many hours toiling in the sun planting oleanders and roses. I’m allergic to dirt and mulch. My eyes become reddened after simply planting one Annabelle hydrangea. The truth be told, I only garden as much as I do to keep a respectable appearance that I care with my neighbours. Otherwise, I’m quite happy with grass.

I do not care that my dog’s tongue licks are smears on the glass door of the front hallway closet.  I vacuum as often as I do, only because my adorable beast carries soil on his paws and pollen on his coat into our home. Unknowingly, (as if he cares) he then distributes both across the floors and onto our couch. This pollen distribution in our home will give me sneezing fits, runny nose, and burning eyes. And if I manage to avoid a reaction – the poor shaggy beast himself, will chew at his toes after a couple of days, and will begin scratching at 3 AM due to his own pollen/ragweed sensitivities.  This bothers me for two reasons: 1) I love him so much and therefore I hate to see him suffer (especially because I know this – ALLERGIES SUCK!) and 2) because he wakes me from my already limited sleeping slumber.

Yes, that is right. Let me write it free of restraint, as it is the truth: I do not like to clean or garden.  I know of some people who love to do both. Not necessarily both, although I’m sure it’s possible.  But they may like one or the other.  To those people I have this to say, “I raise my glass of champagne to you, in a toast of celebration!” And that is the truth. Because I know that people are all different and enjoy different interests, hobbies, and things. Let us celebrate our differences.

I rarely wear make-up. My clothes are functional. The reason I exercise and wish to lose weight is not tied to my appearance. (Although, I admit, it is nice to wear pants that are not so tight.) Instead, my objective is simple: not to have sweat-soaked armpits after walking one block on a warm summer’s day; and not to be winded climbing two flights of stairs.

Women who invest time in their appearance, I admire. I know it’s hard. That’s why I don’t do it. Women, who take the time to coordinate clothes that don’t clash, and make a snap decision on the perfect shade of lipstick because they just know, are simply AMAZING to me. And I celebrate them too.

I want to return to sweating for a moment. Under the right conditions, I love to sweat! And for this reason, I love to run.  But at the same time, I lack a competitive streak.  My objectives for running are the following:

  • Get outside and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts
  • Sign up for the odd race and say, “Yeah, I did that!”
  • Endorphins, baby. Endorphins.

I can’t tell you what my split time is. Nor can I explain to you what my race pace will be. It doesn’t meet the requirement of, “have a good time.”  Once again those “speedster” runners who can almost keep up with the Flash when they complete a marathon in under 4 hours (Ahem, I’m much slower) I’ll buy you a drink. How FANTASTICALLY DEDICATED AND BRILLIANT you are!  Because I can tell you this: I’ve run a marathon, slowly. It takes a lot of hard work to just get across the finish line. But those other people, who do it quickly – WOW!

I have other loves, and you can guess another one, with this blog post. But I will not list them all here because that’s not the point. I am not the same person I was twenty years ago, when I devoured two whole large pizzas by myself on the couch. I have changed. Transformed. Become someone different.

Everything you read in this blog post about me might be invalid tomorrow. (Or, twenty years from now.)   As “Dr. Who” regenerates and becomes different, I too change, grow, add likes, revisit things that I thought I didn’t enjoy, and become someone different. After all, eighty years (I hope) is a long time to stay the same person.

I had a chance to see my favourite actor who played “Dr. Who” at Comicon a few weeks.  During the Q&A, he said one thing a few times that stayed with me, and it was this: “keep moving forward.”

Yes. Keep moving forward.    

Be Happy

“I want to be happy.”

It’s not a question, or a statement that ends with an exclamation mark. It’s not said with a red flushed face full of rage, and clenched fists by my side. Nor is it said with childhood giggles of naivety, and dreams of white unicorns, and rainbows at the end of every road.

I say, “I want to be happy,” as a goal that I reach for in the background of my mind. It’s something I raise my hands in the air towards, and stand on tippy toes to give me an inch of extra height, in the hopes I may reach it.

I’m old enough now, to know what doesn’t make me happy.  Reluctantly, I admit that what I’ve heard in darkened corners of doorways, and with whispered breath, turned out to be true: “It’s not about the money.”

Money is necessary. I’ve struggled financially. I know money allows me to purchase food to fill my fridge and cupboards, to keep the heat turned on, and a roof over my head. I know it allows me to replace worn out shoes, and tattered clothes when needed.

But for me, once those basic needs were met, I found myself spending money on frivolous items that brought me only temporary happiness.  Manicures. Pedicures. Facials. I would purchase clothes in a credit splurge only to realize once I was home, I never liked the colours, or the fit of the garments at all. The cast off clothes would collect dust (quite literally) until finally in a springtime purge I would reach into my closet, and pull the never or rarely worn shirts, pants, and dresses out. Forcing the items into a black garbage bag, I would haul them to my local donation box. I always hoped the discarded items saw more light with someone else, than they did with me.

Other things that I dislike: being stuck in traffic with cars lined up as if we’re all fleeing some natural disaster that’s about to strike. I’ve also found my happiness dial moves in the opposite direction, when I find myself in a perpetual five mile marathon pace rushing from one errand, or event, to another.  I’m impatient. What that means is that I get irritable and sullen when I’m stuck: whether it’s in writing a conclusion to a story, or in a long line-up, you’ll find me shifting from foot to foot, muttering under my breath, “Come on, already!”

I live to hang out with my husband and dog, reclined on my back deck, with a glass of white wine in my hand as we talk about our plans for the future, or where we’ve already been. I enjoy spending time with family and friends; whether the gathering is in a local coffee shop, in a restaurant sharing a meal, or on a walk through the woods on a crisp winter’s day with new fallen snow, you are guaranteed I am content.  I relish good food made at home, and if I’ve managed to make fresh bread, you can be certain that between mouthfuls of hot, spongy, white deliciousness, you’ll find a smile on my face.

Then there’s my passion: writing. I consume huge amounts of time on this “hobby” (and paper) with no guarantee of a rainbow at the end of it. But it’s the one area where I have a voice, and I am in control of the story. My protagonists can be brave, witty, strong, or smart. The challenge they must overcome can be small or large. I can make the characters similar to me, or completely different. And sometimes I may write something, some shared experience, that many people can relate to, and connects many of us together.

These characters in my mind, the places I create – they make me happy when I get the chance to unlock them, and place them on screens, or paper, and share the tales with readers. All the sweat and tears, (yes, I sometimes sweat when I write) all the late nights, all the money invested in books and revisions, is worth it because this endeavour gives me a sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, contentment, and most of all – happiness.

Climb

I’ll be honest with you. I sometimes get discouraged by this “writing thing”. I often second guess my abilities wondering if writing those manuscripts (there’s one that’s complete, and another I still need to rewrite) was worth it. Through weepy, sleep-deprived, blurry-eyed vision, and heart palpitations followed by anxious sweats, I wonder at least ten times a day, will it all be for nothing?

The answer is this: I still don’t know.

Why do it then? Why struggle? Why fight?  When there are no guarantees of a rainbow at the end of the road.

Stories consist of struggle: struggle between other people, within a person’s mind, or with nature.  I enjoy reading stories with a triumphant end, where everything is neatly resolved wrapped up with a pretty red bow. Don’t get me wrong, the ending matters. But when I read novels what makes them intriguing, interesting, and will keep me flipping the pages is the challenge the hero/heroine must overcome. Whether it is Superman versus Lex Luthor, or a waitress wanting something more but plagued by debilitating self-doubt, I want to see them overcome the challenge that is pummeling them into the ground. (Again – whether this is literally Lex, or just a relentless internal negative voice, I want them to win.)

Without it? Without the challenge?

Why would I flip those pages?

It’s the climb towards something greater that makes the story worth it, not simply the ending.  Sure, there’s always a chance the hero/heroine while reaching up will place a foot on an unstable rock and will slip backwards falling hundreds of feet.  It might be heartbreaking to read, to envision it – to feel it. As a reader, I will find myself frantically skimming the pages while shaking my head in awe the hero/heroine doesn’t quit. Because with each step forward it’s a win, and with each fall backwards it’s a loss.  It’s the struggle that makes a good story – whether it lies in fiction, or in reality.

I don’t know how this writing thing will all end, and if I’ll ever reach the top of the mountain.  All I know is this:  along the way I’ve already seen pine trees that cling to the side of the mountain, with blue rivers and streams that cut along the rocky base, while birds soar in the air above me.  It’s not simply the final ascent to the top of the peak that only offers a heart-stopping view – it’s the climb towards it.

The Sum of All Parts

I prop myself up on my elbow leaning heavily into the mattress. A second later, I slump down onto my bed as if my elbow were a car jack hoisting the rest of me up, until some malicious person came along and kicked at it, and the whole car came crashing down. It’s important to fix the wheel, because without it, the car won’t roll.

My head and right hand dangle over the edge of the bed. Eyes glaze over staring at a mixture of clothes littered on my floor: blue jeans, black and grey dress pants, a rainbow assortment of long-sleeved blouses, and rock t-shirts. Too weak to stand, too exhausted to sit up, and I can’t do anything about the mess. The pungent smell of three day coffee-booze mixture envelopes my nose. Here I lie, helplessly stuck gazing into the pile of too many unwanted clothes, while my aged favorite drinks that no longer smell the same, conspire to offend my olfactory senses. A burning sensation begins in my chest, spills into my throat, and spreads so far it pushes into my ears.

Who knew burning could last so long?

The Beginning of: Dragon in the Mirror: Into Canonsland

I’ve spent a full  year working on a full length manuscript for a novel titled, Dragon in the Mirror: Into Canonsland, that is a follow-up to a short story I released on Amazon in 2016 titled, Dragon in the Mirror.  I’m currently working on the final touches to the manuscript such as ongoing revisions, but for the most part the continuation of the middle grade fantasy story about my heroic girl, Jayden, is done. (Hurrah!)

The problem is that it feels like at times I’m not working on my writing at all, even though I know it’s not true. But right now my “free time” is spent doing submissions that can include some, if not all, of the following: researching publishers; and writing cover letters, synopsis, and chapter outlines. This is all the stuff no one knows about and no one sees.

For that reason, and perhaps to prove to myself more than others that my manuscript does exist, I want to share with you the first four pages.

And without further wait, let the story begin….

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Chapter 1

Last year me, Mom, and Dad weaved along the highway in our truck somewhere between Calgary and Vancouver as rock formations on both sides slid by my window. At one point, I noticed a sign in front of us that had a triangle on it with small dots tumbling along one of the edges. I asked Dad about it and he said, Jayden, it’s a warning sign for falling rocks.

In my whole short life, it’s as if rocks threaten my family car as we travel along the winding road. Then when we were least expecting it, one pebble comes loose and travels along the side of the mountain, gathers force as it tumbles along the downward slope, and makes contact with our truck creating miniscule dents.  On occasion, one small stone hits the windshield in the right way, puncturing a coin-sized hole in the glass.

I know this because on that road trip, that’s exactly what happened. A drizzle of small pebbles danced along the edge of the mountain hitting our truck but more importantly, took a chunk out of our windshield. Dad was prudent – and had the windshield fixed. He said, if we don’t get it fixed, the small problem will get bigger.  

We didn’t know it before, but the small stones that we faced were nothing in comparison to the boulder that has now been hurtled at us.  Worse yet, it might be one of those situations that all attempts to fix it may still have the same final result: our car will be destroyed.

My fists are balled at my side and my teeth are locked together. Bob stares up at me with a tilted head. His brown expressive eyes seem to beg me to tell him what’s the matter. His tail is limp behind him. After a few moments, he slinks up the stairs with the understanding that he can’t help me. There is no happy puppy here.

I’m ready for a fight. I scream, “I WON’T GO!!! YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!” Then, I turn on my heels and bound up the stairs with my feet hitting the floorboards heavily as if to emphasize my position. It’s as if each one of my foot stomps is meant to punch through the floor that would anchor me in my home.

If I’m anchored, they can’t make me leave.

When I enter my room, I throw the door open and use all the force I have in my eleven-year-old hands to thunder it behind me. The walls of my room shake, and my eyes catch a glimpse of a framed picture that falls down the wall and hits the wooden floor. I hear the smashing and splintering of glass.

“Oh no,” I say as I race over and turn the framed photo over.

When I turn the photo over my face burns with heat, and then small droplets of rain flow from my eyes. My lower lip punches out as if to gather the rain and save it for another day.  It’s all about conservation. That’s what Mrs. Whitemore says in geography class.

Conservation means protecting the natural environment.  We must conserve and take care of the things that matter to us. 

The photo is a picture of me, Mom, and Dad that was taken overlooking Lake Okanagan on our trip last year. We couldn’t go for long – but it was the one and only trip we’ve taken as a family.

Over my shoulder I hear a puffing from behind me; it’s a gentle puff, like breath flows through a nose. It sounds more like a purring sound.

“Leave me alone Bob!” I blurt out.

When I turn to look around, I notice Bob’s in his bed that is placed in the corner of my bedroom. His body is wedged close to the corner of the wall and he stares at me from there. It’s as if he wants to be as far away from me as he can. This causes the small sprinkle of teardrops that began like a slow dribble from a tap to increase in pressure, and now it’s as if someone has turned the tap on all the way.  My tummy drops a bit as I look over at my terrified pup that prefers to be against the cold wall instead of anywhere near me.  I fold over with the amplified salty pressure of tears that gush from my eyes streaming down to my puckering lip.

The breathing wasn’t Bob. Well, not that Bob.

I glimpse into my bedroom mirror. There he is. My hands still clutch my treasured framed photo. Turning away from the mirror for a brief second, I assess the damaged item. My fingertips cling to it tightly as if I can magically fix it if I never let it go.  Incredibly, even though the glass is smashed to pieces, the photo has not shifted in the frame.  Satisfied that the picture remains in place, I crane my neck back to see the image in the mirror.

That’s when I see a big, soft, brown eye that watches me as it flutters up and down when he blinks.

Bob is huge. I giggle at the eye as I forget for a few seconds about the fight I had with Mom and Dad downstairs.

There’s nothing creepy about my friend Bob the dragon’s eye. It doesn’t remind me of those ghost stories or movies where eyes peer through a framed picture and watch their victim. I know the person is the “victim” because the music that plays in the background starts off quiet and slow, and then gets a little louder as the sound gets more intense screeching to a final conclusion. The music makes my heart race and sweat gathers on my hands. I know there’s perspiration on my hands because my fingertips slip together with all the moisture that has gathered on them. It’s also because just before something terrible happens in that movie, I throw my hands up and cover my eyes, slapping myself in the face with my wet palms.

Those movies terrify me. When I told Wyndham about them, he told me not to worry because he’ll always protect me.

I continue to giggle and turn my head back to Bob the dog. His tail thumps against the wall as it begins a slow swish back and forth. Bob moves away from the wall as he edges himself to the lip of his bed with ears arched forward. He’s waiting for an invitation from me; my voice that will carry soft words will guarantee that now, everything is alright.

I place the photo with the broken frame on my dresser and pick up the bigger pieces of glass off the floor and throw them in my trash can. I move to another area of the floor where I’m certain there are no smaller pieces of fragmented glass and sit down.

Then I say, “Come here Bob!” as my hands pat the bedroom floor causing a gentle thumping sound. I’m lying to him; telling him that I’m ok, when I’m not. But he doesn’t seem to notice that it may not be the truth. He prances happily into my arms, and with a soft stroke of slobbering wetness of his prickly tongue he licks my face when he arrives. I wrap my arms around his neck while my hands stroke his velvety fur.

“Dear child, what has happened this night that you shook the foundation of thy house?”

In the time I spent turning my attention to cleaning up my mess and to Bob the dog, the dragon has disappeared from the mirror. Wyndham stands in the mirror now, dressed in tights and a white linen shirt.