When I Was A Little Girl…

My playground was one hundred acres of overgrown fields that consisted of dandelions and various other types of weeds. I don’t know the names of them and would be remiss if I tried to name them in this blog post because at the time, I had no idea what they were called. But they were a splendid array of colours and many of them were long enough that when I wore shorts, the long yellow weeds scratched at my legs. Another issue is that I would clumsily trip over them.  With these impediments in mind, I would most of the time, slowly move across the fields. On the outskirts of the property line, green forests could be seen.

If the fields were not bad enough, on occasion, I would attempt to enter the forest. Very few memories are of the woods because the rare times I did try, I would be blooded from thorns that tore at my bare legs and arms. The woods were gated by hand-holding trees, vines, and shrubs that conspired together and were so tightly intertwined it was difficult to see where one plant ended and another began.  I was forbidden from entering by nature. Trespassers would be punished. If there was a secret code or pathway, that would grant me access to enter the hidden realm, no one ever told me.

I daydreamed a lot as a child, and as a writer now, I guess I still do. I would daydream that I was the third person on my favorite show, Voyagers, and would help with the task of setting time right with Phineas Bogg and Jeffrey Jones. (Full disclosure: I had to Google the show for the names of the characters.) I was smart too, just like Jeffrey, and the three of us worked as a team to correct historical timelines.

Penny! Get me a spoon! Grandma said from the garage where she cooked.

I craned my neck and turned to the sound. My finger reached over and flipped the switch of the vacuum cleaner and it hummed to quietness as the motor turned off.

I walked to the drawer that contained over a dozen glistening spoons. I grabbed one. Then I placed it back in the drawer. I doubted myself. Did she want a normal spoon? Or maybe it was a ladle? 

Something grandma said to me when I was in the middle of washing her stairs one day, early on in my life, stayed with me forever. The words she said were these: You have to keep a clean house and cook, in order to keep a husband. 

I tried to argue and retorted: If I get married, he’ll love me anyways.  

I remember her lips turned downwards. She grunted and dismissed my argument.

Penny! Grandma’s impatient voice came again from the kitchen.

I reached into several drawers and scooped up different types of spoons in the hopes that one of them was the right one. I ran in the direction of the garage and Grandma’s impatient voice.

Post-tip from Grandma of: “Keep a clean house and keep a husband”, I decided early on that I would work for myself. I would work hard at school and have a career. If I was able to support myself, there would be no need for a husband.

I disagreed with Grandma on her viewpoint regarding women, and the main role females should play in the world.  But my Grandma was born around 1920 (she never knew with absolute certainty her date of birth) lost her mother at two-years-old to tuberculosis, and her father left her with an aunt to be raised. She never saw her father again. At seven years old, my grandmother told me she started to do chores. (It was around seven years old, that I also started to help my grandmother clean her house.) Grandma had old world ideas from, well, the old world.

But she taught me this: WORK HARD.

As for the husband thing, I am married AND I am a VERY delinquent meal-maker. Yet for some reason, my husband sticks around. Grandma and I are different people. While the lesson she hoped to teach me fell on deaf ears, she played a different role in shaping me to become the person I am today.

When Grief Strikes

I’m waiting. Patiently.

Then again, perhaps not so patiently because if I were, that would mean my shoulders would be rolled back and I would be happily staring at a wall.

But I can’t seem to do that. Ever. While seated in the waiting room area of the doctor’s office I’ve already read about shootings, stabbings and earthquakes. I click on another article about an elderly couple who were victims of fraud and lost over $100,000 of their retirement savings. My mood begins to trudge dangerously close to despair. I realize I need to change gears. I rummage through my purse and pull out my paperback book and a few moments later, I giggle a little.

Tina Fey’s, Bossypants, is a good distraction from the world’s misery but it still can’t hold my attention completely. When the door chimes, my eyes bounce up to see a woman who’s pulled the front door open and carries an infant slung to one side of her hip. Behind her, two small hand-holding girls follow them. One of the girls is probably five or six-years-old and she continues to hold her sister’s hand. The little one wobbles in her boots: obviously, new to the walking thing.

The six-year-old is Deputy Mom.  I smile.

Mom switches sides with the infant while she simultaneously fumbles to get her wallet out in search of her Health Card.  The woman glances over at the older child, wearily sighs, and says, “Mandy, can you take Julie and sit down over there?” Her head bobs in the direction of the clustered chairs.

I glance up briefly to see the older sister slowly guide her unsteady little sister to a chair. A second later, I notice the older girl unzips her sister’s coat, tugs her hat off, and places them on the chair next to her now seated sibling.

I stare down at my book. Deputy Mom clearly takes her roll very seriously. I continue to smile at the beauty of it all. Big Sister takes care of Little Sister. After all, Mom’s hands are full.  Big Sis is ever watchful, always guiding – forever there.

I continue to force a smile. It’s hard though. Something is tugging at me and is bubbling its way to the surface. I push the emotion back down by taking big breaths in and try my best to focus on Bossypants. I can’t sob in the middle of the doctor’s office. There’s no clear reason. People will wonder about me.

I miss him, a voice quietly whispers in my head.

Dear Mr. Winterman

Dear Mr. Winterman,

We’ve had a blast when you dusted my world with white fluffy snowballs and drenched the trees with snow capes. You’ve brightened a dark world in the longest and coldest days of the year.  During this time, I’ve considered engaging in winter time festivities such as skating on the canal or snowshoeing. I did not do that. Instead, I chose to sit by the fireplace with a post-activity drink to those considered fun events that consisted of hot chocolate laced with booze.

But now at last, I am done with you.

It may seem an abrupt departure from what was a fairly cordial friendship up till now. But I am tired of your ways: you offer truckloads of snow (I’m not joking, there have been tons of trucks moving snow! But you knew that.) and when you are done, I must shovel my driveway  for a minimum of one hour. Post removal of snow from my laneway, I then work to clear the car off. And then, I must shovel again.

Your cold ways give me nose bleeds, burn my lungs, chafe my legs, and I frequently lose the feeling in my face, fingers and toes. I do not want to go outside. I am trapped in my house dreaming of the days when -10 degrees Celsius will be a reprieve when I can walk around outdoors and it will take 30 minutes before I get cold.

You are cruel, Mr. Winterman, because we both know that when the temperature goes up you’ll hurtle icy spears at us causing hour-long congestion on roads and leaving me trapped again: but this time in my car because of ice-caked roads. When I’m finally given the chance to exit the car, I’ll slip and smack my head on my vehicle because roads and sidewalks have become skating rinks.

You think you are funny. But you are not. I am done with you. Leave now, or we will be forever done.

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. It’s probably true. So if you leave now, I’m sure I’ll welcome you with open arms again on December 24th, 2019.

Your friend (but soon to be enemy),

P.S.

Flatline

“Grandma, Grandma? When are we going to bake those chocolate chip cookies?” five-year-old Jessica says.

“Come on, Grandma!” the little girl shouts. “You’ve slept enough!” with that she reaches over to shake nana’s arm. Instinctively, she pulls away with a sudden snap of her hand as if she’s touched a hot stove. But, it’s the opposite of that. Instead it’s as if Jesse, as her grandmother liked to call her, has placed her hand on ice that cuts.

“Grandma?” Jessica whispers.

***

“What the hell, man? Just cut me off like that!” Brian’s hand makes a fist at the driver now ahead of him.

Shaking his head, he says, “Jesus. People are driving like we’re in the middle of a heat wave here! Look at the roads people: that’s black ice on the road, mixed in with a whole lotta snow!”

Brian’s eyes flick up to his rear view mirror. He’s not certain the reason at first. But then he catches sight of the Nissan Pathfinder that’s barreling down behind him as it pushes snow off the road and onto the sidewalk. The driver still isn’t slowing down.

There’s nothing he can do. There’s a crunching sound as the SUV hits the breaks. The truck’s wheels lock on the brown, salted, icy, snow-covered road as it begins to slide slowly at first, and then swings around and charges into the driver’s side of Brian’s car.

The SUV doesn’t stop. Medal twists. Glass smashes.

***

 “Hey, you!” Carmen shouts at the red coat-wearing woman she hasn’t spoken to in almost six months. It’s not because the ladies had a fight. The reason is a simple and a common explanation: lack of time because of too many other obligations; and because at the end of the week they’re too damn knackered.

“Hey! Oh my goodness! I haven’t seen you in ages! How’s everything?” Dana enquires.

“Good, good. Jobs great. Kids, are getting big. Oh, Brent and I are celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary on Saturday!”

“Has it been that long?”

“Yup,” Carmen says with her chin raised proudly.

“Geez, that’s fantastic! Congratulations. Are you guys doing anything special?”

“Yeah, we’re having a party with friends and family. You should come!”

“When is it again?”

“This Saturday.”

“Are you guys still living at 185 Wimbledon Lane?”

“Yeah, still there,” Carmen says chuckling. “Now, you have no excuse NOT to come! Okay, well, I’ve got to dash as I need to pick the kids up from their music lessons. Shit. Didn’t even ask though, how are things with you?”

“Good, good,” Dana says. “We’ll catch up on Saturday. Go!”

“You’ll come then?”

“Absolutely!”

“Great. See you on Saturday!” Carmen says as she turns and continues to jog in the direction of her car.

(Later that day)

“We admitted her into the hospital today. She was complaining of indigestion: felt some nausea coupled with chest pain. We gave her some aspirin as a precautionary measure. She was in her mid-40’s and on observation, was well within her normal weight range. Unfortunately….”

Losing It All

When things begin to deteriorate it sometimes strikes swiftly and with a fierceness of a single white dazzling electric thunderstorm bolt. But sometimes it also moves like red lava that slowly seeps down from the mountain, creeping towards everything you love devouring grass and trees in its path until it swallows your home.  And there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Miles away with hands clasped over your mouth, and tears in your eyes, you watch as everything that belonged to you is swallowed up by the lava.

The Better Man

“How many times did she ask you that?” Brett asks while his fingers tug on the Budweiser label. It shreds a little more and another part of the label falls to the counter.

“Man, it was only a couple of times. But it was like she didn’t believe a word I said: like I was building a different life behind her back while she was at home making mac n’ cheese for Brianna and David.” My fingers slide down the cold Labatt Blue bottle as I shake my head. Tina Turner’s, What’s Love Got To Do With It, plays in the background of Jackson’s.

This bar, Jackson’s, is a dingy joint with dark lighting. The women here walk by us with dresses too short, and wear pants and shirts that are too tight.  My eyes casually pass over a blonde woman as she walks past us wearing a black dress and stilettos.

My thumb pokes at the label of the bottle. I’ve been fighting this fight for a decade. I’m sick of it.

“Maybe you should buy her some flowers, or something? Make sure she feels appreciated for the stuff she does. Puts up with your belly-aching and all?” Brett says as he throws his head back and takes another slug of his beer hiding his smile.

“Who are you, Dr. Phil?” I snicker at Brett. I swivel around on my bar stool adding in, “and, who’s side are you on anyways?” I ask as I peer over at my best friend. I’ve known him since eighth grade when we went to school together and played hockey. We lost contact for a couple of years when he went off to College. But now he’s back. Brett was also the best man at my wedding. I’ve had lots of good times with him. I can tell him almost anything.

My phone buzzes. I flip it over from the bar counter.

The text reads:

Kaitlyn: Where are you?

“Look,” I say while shaking my head. “I can’t even go out for a drink with a friend before the warden’s checking in on me.”

Brett’s eyes quickly pass over the text message. He half nods in my direction when he finishes reading the message.

“Well,” he says standing up, “I’ve got to get home. Jessica needs me home by 8:30 to watch the kids. It’s her book club night.”

I snort at him saying, “What the hell, man? Who’s in charge of your relationship?” My mouth twitches into a half smile.

He looks past me, smiles, and says, “Make no mistake. It’s her.”

“Fine,” I say as I pull out two twenty bills and shout at Mike, “hey, is that enough?”

Mike moves towards us, flicks his eyes over the money, and says, “Yeah. That’s good. Want change?”

“Nope, we’re good.”

Brett and I walk out the door together and I pull out the package of cigarettes in the pocket of my jacket and light a smoke. While holding the cigarette between my lips I mumble, “Want one?”

“Nope,” Brett says with a wave of his hand. “I’m trying to quit.”

My phone buzzes again. “Who’s that now?” My cheeks twitch in response to the annoyance. I wave my hand at Brett that holds the cigarette and say, “Go ahead! It’s probably Kaitlyn again.”

Brett gives a laugh, nods and says, “Okay, we’ll see you later.” Then he turns and runs through the snow to his car.

My phone shows this:

457-892-3675: Are you coming over tonight?

I type: Yeah. Leaving Jackson’s now. Be there in 10 minutes.

My fingers punch at the keys. After I’ve sent the message I delete both of them. Then I take a slow drag on my cigarette.

 

 

 

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.

Part II: Alvina’s Quest for Knowledge

 

Anywin Castle, home of the Elf Queen Gudrun, is a gold building. But once inside, Alvina notices that her feet are walking on a glass-like structure. Under her shoes are many levels with different rooms where elves are busy tending to various tasks: right below are elves standing up peering through a microscope, and in the next room are elves sleeping in beds as other elves in blue-white pants with matching shirts and black boots, pull blankets up around those who are resting. Are they patients? Alvina wonders to herself.

Several floors down elves rush around chopping long purple carrots and toss them into pots with bubbling water; other elves two floors up from those preparing food clink swords together; other elves are doing laundry; while other child elves are being instructed by an elf with a long white beard. On and on, elves work below Alvina’s feet, separated only by clear glass and see-through walls. None are distracted by what other elves are doing in different rooms.

All of a sudden, Alvina’s lips move together with thirst. It’s as if her saliva glands are working to produce liquid, but everything inside of her has gone dry.  Her hands that were relaxed at her side begin to open and close in fists as if she were trying to pump water from her hands up to her mouth.  Then the floor beneath her feet and the see-though rooms that were all separated, are closed in gold. Everything is shuttered from Alvina’s eyes.

“Are you alright?” A voice she knows, but can’t quite place, coos to her.

Alvina can’t speak. In answer to the question, she nods her head at the woman in the plaid shirt and blue jeans.

From her right side a hand touches her arm and says, “Here, drink this.”

When Alvina faces the voice, she sees a woman dressed in blue-white clothes, and she holds a clear liquid in a glass in front of her. Alvina takes the clear fluid, pushes it to her lips, and the zesty, sweet taste of orange-pineapple tingles on her taste buds. Some of the drink escapes from the corners of her lips and dribbles down the front of her shirt. Once done, she places the glass back on the tray the woman holds. Alvina whispers the words, “thank you.”

An eloquent and kind laugh echoes throughout the gold walls of the castle. Gudrun pulls from her jeans a white handkerchief and passes it to Alvina. When Alvina peers down at the cloth the letters: H.R.H.G.A. are embroidered on it. She takes it and wipes the corners of her mouth.

Gudrun nods at the other woman and says, “Satya, thank you. You may go now.”  The woman smiles slightly, steps backwards, bends forward, and then once she’s no longer facing the Queen and the child, she quickens her pass returning to her other duties.

Gudrun says, “I’m sorry. I should have asked them to close the floor before we arrived. I forget – some of your people are afraid of heights.”

“It’s okay. I’m alright. By the way, who are you?”

“I’m Gudrun,” the elf woman replies with a smile.  Gudrun waits a moment, testing to see if Alvina will ask a more precise question.

“Does everyone have a home like this?”

There it is. “No, I’m Queen of the Elves.”

Alvina’s face scrunches as she stares at the woman. “But you’re dressed in a plaid shirt and blue jeans?”

Gudrun’s hands rest easily at her side. She steps back and says, “What would you have me do?  Wear a silk gown and tiara on my head while tending to my duties? Also, dressed in an evening gown is hardly practical for flying.”

Alvina’s nostrils twitch as she chuckles.  Gudrun watches her guest carefully and notices Alvina’s shoulders relax more while her face returns to a pink glow. The child’s eyes focus on her, and are no longer distant as if they are lost in some other world.

Yes, the girl is no longer feeling faint. 

Recalling the statement the Queen said a second ago, Alvina finally says, “I guess I’m a little afraid of heights.” Her voice is a quiet confession.

Sympathetically, the Queen says, “We’re all afraid of something.”

Suddenly a monster appears behind Gudrun with light purple skin, red shimmering eyebrows, wide black eyes, and a glowing red mouth.  Wearing a yellow-gold shirt and pants, Alvina notices a white scintillating rope hangs on the creature’s black belt.

“Gudrun, run! There’s a monster behind you!” Alvina squeals. She reaches for the Queen’s hand and tugs at it to pull Gudrun forward.

The monster stops in his tracks. “Queen Gudrun, this is the reason why we can’t simply hand over the plant to the humans! They are narrow-minded!” The voice is an echo grumble as if the monster has a cold. The creature hisses the words at Alvina.

Alvina stops pulling the Queen’s hand.  The Queen’s fingers now tighten around Alvina’s hand as she nudges the child forward. The Queen only stops the motion when Alvina stands directly in front of her. Gudrun rests her hands on the child’s shoulders and says, “Alvina, I would like you to meet my friend, Radyalasana, who has travelled far beyond the Pinwheel Galaxy, where there’s a planet called Kysta. That is Radyalasana’s home.

Gudrun bends forward and whispers into Alvina’s ear, “don’t worry. We’ve already fed Radyalasana.”

Alvina twists her lips to the right side with annoyance at Gudrun’s joke. (By now she knows when the Queen is making fun of her.) “What does he mean, give us a plant?”

“I’m not a HE,” Radyalasana’s voice clips Alvina’s question.

“Well, she then,” Alvina corrects.

“You are wrong again, human,” Radyalasana says with annoyance. “I’m neither.”

“You have to be one or the other,” Alvina counters.

“No, I do not.”

Gudrun moves to Alvina’s right side and stares down at her. “Alvina, sometimes you must open your mind to other possibilities. Everything you believe, everything you are told, may need to be corrected at some point. That is why an A is not important. If you reach perfection, where is the ambition to continue to learn?” The Queen’s eyebrows pull together and with a soft smile she adds, “Remember, history is always being written – and re-written.”

Alvina looks over at Radyalasana. She nods, and offers a smile while asking, “What plant do you want to give us?” Alvina asks boldly.

The black eyes of Radyalasana blink quickly at the child. The Kystan’s wide lips remain silent.

“Radyalasana,” the Queen’s voice breaks through the silence, “Alvina pursues knowledge, and wishes to understand things. I sense Alvina has a special purpose in this project, and will be needed when she is older. Our encounter today was no accident.” Gudrun quickly peers over at Alvina as she says this.

Alvina can’t catch her breath. She’s special. The Queen said so. Alvina’s ears perk up as she waits to hear what Radyalasana will say. She is  aware now, that whatever the Kystan says today, she must remember for when she is older.”

Radyalasana’s eyes blink rapidly at the Queen and through clenched black teeth to Gudrun these words follow: “Very well. Only because I know you can see the future, and we have known each other for several hundred years, do I trust what you say is true, and will give the information to the runt human.”

“I’m a child!” Alvina shouts.

“Hmph,” Radyalasana grunts at Alvina. “You call me a monster, and when I call you a runt, you get angry?”

“Oh,” Alvina says as her eyes shift down to the floor. Then she blinks up to Radyalasana, and says, “I’m sorry.”

Nodding at Alvina, Radyalasana says, “I’m sorry too.”  The Kystan traveller begins to pace back and forth  and says, “It’s a plant that I brought from my home, and will transport and place in the ground in Brazil. It will be found by a researcher in the Amazon Rainforest, and will be the cure for many diseases that plague your people, according to Gudrun. Assuming your species doesn’t destroy the plant before it’s found with your clear cutting of the jungle, it will mean many illnesses will be eliminated.”

“Why don’t you just give us the plant?”

Radyalasana’s face scrunches. Eyes squint tightly at the child.

“Oh,” Alvina says.

With amusement the Kystan traveller smiles at Alvina, turns towards Gudrun and acknowledges, “You are right. The child is clever. She will find it.”