Category Archives: Relationships

What’s your Story?

[a short story by Sha’Tara]

I think we should observe one-another more; and without judgment. Not much of a starting line to a story, but where to start anyway? With the obvious, I suppose.

I normally work around the town of Abbotsford. It’s there that I noticed him last year. At first I paid no heed, but as he kept appearing along the streets I normally drive, I began to wonder about him. He was in his early forties I’d say, of normal height, that is, about my size; dressed clean, not expensive. Jeans, sweat shirt, jacket, on if it was cool or off on warmer days and slipped in the lower straps of the pack he carried. He was usually clean shaven, but sometimes he’s sport a short beard and mustache. He had reddish hair, curly and cut fairly short, complemented by that cheap Irish skin, you know the freckly kind that loves to turn bright red and peel at the mention of sunshine. He always wore a bone-head hat and I figured it was so the extended visor would keep the sun off his nose. He wore glasses, carried a faded dark blue back-pack and unless it was raining, he had a spiral bound notebook and a pen in his hands. And that completes my description of his general mien.

I’d see him at the intersection of Gladwin and South Fraser Way, then down by the Real Canadian Super Store or further down, past the Shell Station at the George Ferguson Way and Gladwin crossroads. Sometimes he’d show up further east, by the Chevron and McDonalds at Bourquin Crescent and South Fraser Way.

It wasn’t that he was usually at the crosswalks that intrigued me, but that he’d walk up to people, it didn’t seem to matter what age or gender, or whether there was but one person or several, and he’d say something, holding out his spiral-bound notebook and pen. The response was always the same: some kind of gesture, or words I couldn’t make out and he’d move on to someone else.

One day, I think it was a Wednesday if I remember correctly, as I waited for the lights to change on South Fraser Way I saw him approach an elderly man by the Toronto Dominion bank. I quickly rolled down the window of my service van hoping to hear what he was saying to these people. What I heard was unforgettable.

In a voice that carried well he asked: “What’s your story, sir? Would you tell me your story?” The elderly gentleman turns out not to be so gentlemanly after all. “Fuck off jerk or I’ll call the cops.” And to emphasize the point, he pulls a cell phone from his pocket. The spiral notebook guy backs off, turns away slowly, notices the lights have changed and proceeds across Gladwin to talk to a couple of young mothers with baby carriages. Again the gestures and the angry looks. Next he approaches three Middle School age young girls. They laugh in his face, say something and scamper across Gladwin as the walk light comes on.

I watch him put his notebook away and walk towards the next intersection. I remember it started to rain then and the wind was picking up. By the time I’d turned down Trethewey for the Husky station I’d forgotten about him. Slush machine issues require “Geek” level concentration and that particular Husky gas bar has three of them.

A few days later I remembered him again. I remembered suddenly that after months of his presence on the periphery of my life I had not seen him since the Friday of the week before. Well, you know what that’s like. You get used to something or someone just being there and take it for granted until suddenly they are not there and an empty feeling forms in your heart. I wondered what had happened to him. I knew he was well known in the neighbourhood so I asked the manager at the computer shop in the corner strip mall if he knew anything about him.

“Oh yeah, that idiot. The cops finally picked him up last Saturday. I guess someone had had enough of him going to people and asking for their story. Certifiable, if you ask me. You’d think they’d have places for people like that. Who needs that kind of crap around town?” Ok, so not the most compassionate person in the world here, but I’m trying to remain neutral. This is not my town, I just work here. I mostly just drive by on the streets so I don’t know what I’d done if the Note Book Man had come up to me and asked for “my” story.

I wonder. Do I have a story to tell that would be worth someone else’s time to write down? Would I ever get that chance? I did. My Note Book friend came back a month later. At first I wasn’t sure it was him. He was sitting on a bus bench, his back-pack lying next to him. On top was the spiral-bound note book. He was not accosting people, but holding his head in his hands, looking at the sidewalk. I had an idea. It was close enough to lunch time so I turned into West Oaks mall and parked by the Tim Horton’s in the corner there. I took my wallet, locked up, alarmed the vehicle and quickly strode to the sidewalk. I’d have to cross two lights to get to the Note Book Man. A bus came by and my heart sunk, but he did not get on. I made the lights and came to the bus stop.

“Hi!” I said. Not very original but one must start somewhere neutral with people. “Hi!” is usually safe. There was no response. I sad down beside the back-pack and looked at the note book. “Mind if I look at your notes?” I asked. He moved his head towards me, looking at my leg, I guess, then pointed to the notebook. I picked it up and opened it. I read the contents.

“What’s Your Story?” – an interview by Eugene Proulx.

I thumbed through the rest of the pages. They were all blank, except for those nice straight blue lines, like artificial veins under too thin and too white a skin. There was no story. There were no stories. No one had ever taken the time to give him one… or no one had thought that maybe they had one to give.

I felt a terrible surge of compassion for this man.

“I’ll tell you my story, if you want to write down some notes.” I said to him.

He looked up, not to my face, but as high as my shirt pockets this time. Then he took the note book, closed it softly, put it in his back-pack and closed that, slipping one strap over a slumping shoulder. I reached to him and put my hand lightly on his arm.

“I meant it.” I said.

This time he looked right into my eyes. Tears were welling up and rolling from his eyes. He stood up, turned and walked away.

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Take me Home, Lon

(short story – by Sha’Tara)

“Take me home, Lon!” She leaned heavily upon his arm though to him she seemed as light as an autumn leaf landed on his shoulder.

He looked tenderly upon his Lalika and in her gray hairs he read the story of their times together, times he knew were about to end. He knew also she was blissfully unaware of all that had befallen them, and their little world, in the last few weeks.

How does one face total disaster? If one remains alone in a destroyed world and a landscape reminiscent of a Dante’s inferno? That’s one thing. If there remains one truly loved one to cling to, or to care for? That’s another.

When the house burned; when the children and grand children died one after the other in screaming agony, Lalika had done all she could to ease their pain. When it was over she’d stood at the edge of the blackened skeleton that had been their home and simply shut down. She had turned to Lon, smiled sweetly and said, “Of course I’ll marry you, Lon. Why have you waited so long to ask me?”

Though she still recognized him, Lon knew he’d lost her. Her sorrow had captured her, heart and soul; stolen her human reality. She was gone into the world of the gossies, a ghost of times past. No future would be available for her to walk into. That was the price she had to pay at the end for having defied the gods and chosen a life of bliss in true love for herself instead of the expectation and the demand made of her, to serve the temple gods.

“You are cursed, Lalika, for chosing a man over the gods! In the end, all that you wanted; all that you lived for will be taken from you. All, even your memories; all that means anything to any living being. You will wander alone and haunted in the worlds of the gossies! You will have no voice, you will sing no song forevermore!”

Thus had the prophetess screamed at her as she had exited the temple for the last time to join her lover by the great River, running, smiling and jumping, lightly as a doe, into his wide fisherman’s canoe, to let him take her away from her family, friends and everything she had known.

“Take me home, Lon.”

She had never looked back, never once uttered a sigh of reget if she ever thought about her life in Barnard town. She lived with Lon, for Lon, in a fisherfolk shack on the edge of the great River. The children were born there, raised there, and married in turn. The grandchildren had come there to play and listen to their grandmother’s stories. There had been much laughter, some sadness, as when little Del drowned or when the fishing had been poor and food scarce. It was life and she accepted that.

Today, she accepted the inevitable by closing down the future. She would live in her happy past, forevermore. Lon would always be there with his cedar canoe. She would always be laughing with him, then with the children and their children. She would play the recording of her life, over and over and never get tired or bored.

“Take me home, Lon!”

Redemption

(a short story, by Sha’Tara – part 3 and last)

Morning came, and the noise of a truck backing out of the driveway woke me up.  It was clear and cold, I could tell.   I dressed as warm as I could in my sweats, my coat and wool hat and after wishing Pete a good morning as he busied himself with a couple of shopping bags dropped by the door, walked outside to stretch.  Everything was frozen, grey white, sparkling like fairy land.  The first thing I did was slip off the steps and land painfully on my butt.  But the beauty and freshness of the morning made me quickly forget my bruises.  My car was covered in ice but I realized the sun would soon melt it off – seeing it’s a dark blue and would attract the heat.  The dog was nowhere to be seen so I assumed (I know, bad idea) she was in the old van in some warm nest she’d made.  The food was all gone but something made me look closer at the ground and I saw small animal tracks.  So it had been taken by wild animals and I wondered what made such small tracks, and would not be afraid of the smell of a watch dog?  Did they have raccoons up here?

I walked around the cement foundations, now half covered in drifted silt and weeds.  How many years had it been since that dream had shattered?  I did something unusual then: I reckoned it from my own age.  I am thirty-two years old.  Those foundations must be thirty-three years old, maybe thirty-four.  According to the orphanage records I was born in 1975.  So these foundations were laid by Pete and Sally in 1973.  And that’s another thing that hit them: the Hippie era when young people suddenly left everything in search of something better than what they’d known, even if they had known the best life anyone had ever had on this world since history began.  They were an unhappy lot, and moved as such a lot, as cattle perhaps, or lemmings, following some path, some will o’ the wisp, with no real purpose to look forward to.  So they created a myth of peace and brotherhood, a mantra, a ‘mission statement’ and proceeded to screw it all up with drugs, irresponsibility and wanton lust.  Then they woke up one day, the lot of them except those too far gone to wake up, or those few who still believed, and went back to Big Daddy and his Big Machine.  Now they run the world and what a place they’ve made of it.

So Sally became a sort of Hippie.  Probably experimented with drugs, perhaps even when she was pregnant, drank too much, lost her sense of personal value, dumped her own kid and disappeared.  Was she still alive?  Physically, maybe, but spiritually, mentally?  Seems like whatever was done to her as a child had turned her into something a little less than human.  Some would call it karma.  I just call it sad, terribly sad.  If such a person ever wanted to, could she redeem herself?  How do you redeem yourself?  I can’t answer that.  Only if I get there and I have to make such a choice can I truthfully say, “I know.”

My shoes must be wrong for this world.  Not only do I find it almost impossible to stand, my feet are now freezing, although I have an extra pair of socks on.  I had to force my feet into these boots with those socks.  Why am I cold?  I’ve got more clothes on than I remember ever wearing at any one time.  I walk towards the sunrise and stand at the abrupt edge of a deep ravine, or as Pete calls them, a coulee.  I can’t hear any water running and it seems to me very strange that such deep clefts would not have rivers of water in them.   A pungent smell comes from some bushes I disturbed in passing as the sun is just beginning to melt the ice from their branches.  I see what I recognize as stinging nettles and foolishly avoid them thinking they would sting me.  Frozen, and through all these clothes?  Ah well, much to learn, and much that will never be learned due to more pressing matters.  I must conclude my interview with Pete today and start back.  I don’t like this weather and I’m suddenly afraid of this land and the strange dirt roads my car was never designed to drive on.  Edward was right.  I should have rented a real prairie dirt road vehicle in Prince Albert.  Stubborn.  But I like my car, it’s personal, private, an extension of me, especially when I’m far from my own home.

I smell cooking and I realize I’m past hungry.  I return to the house, being careful to stand relaxed on the icy steps.  My boots slip but I manage to stay upright, grab the door handle and walk in.  I hear eggs frying.  And bacon.  A steaming pot sits on the side of the stove and there’s a percolator chugging away on one of the burners, or covers or whatever.  A real percolator!  I lift the lid on the steaming pot and it’s porridge.  I’ve never eaten porridge.

Pete is busy tending the eggs in a large cast iron frying pan.  He seems to have dropped twenty years from his face since yesterday.  ‘What’s the occasion, kind sir?’  I ask him, smiling my widest and most natural, unfeigned smile.

“You,” he replies, smiling in turn.  He has a beautiful smile, a perceptibly familiar smile.  Where have I seen that smile before?  Somebody I know, know real well, but whom?  Not Edward, not even close.  That priest who “advised” me when I left the orphanage and got me my first job as a copy editor and helped me find an apartment?  No, not him.  Ah well, never mind.  I’m starving.

“Can I help Pete?”

“We’ll need plates for the porridge and the bacon and eggs.  We’ll need to slice some bread and toast it.  There’s a couple of loaves in the fridge and a bread knife in the drawer to the right of the sink.”

I slice the bread and look for the toaster, feeling foolish.  Probably some too obvious contraption I should know about.  I see nothing, and no plugs above the counter either.  “Sorry, where’s the toaster?”

For the first time he breaks out laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

“Your question.   I’m currently using the toaster, but in a few seconds, as I move this frying pan over, you can have it.”

“The burners?  You want me to just lay the slices of bread on the top of the stove?”

“Sure.  I’ll tell you when to flip them.”

So we had a wonderful breakfast.  I began to think that maybe that’s what he ate at every meal, or that maybe he only ate breakfast.  No matter.  I felt great after, drinking the strangest tasting, but hot and strong coffee from the percolator.

“Where’d this food come from, Pete?”

“I should have told you, I have an old CB radio here.  I called Webster’s and they brought some supplies.  It’s been a very long time since I had company, Reed.  I spent the night wondering how I could express my gratitude for listening to my story, and for staying over last night, so as not to cause me worry.”

“Oh!”  I exclaimed, suddenly feeling very young, very childlike.  “Well, thank you.  I’m glad I stayed, I can’t imagine driving through this stuff.”

“The roads will be fine during the day except for the bottom of the coulees where the sun doesn’t shine in winter.  If you’re careful to drive from side to side of the road and not on the icy tracks, you wouldn’t have any problems.  Of course most people with those  modern 4×4’s don’t know how to use ’em properly and frequently end up in the ditch.  Too much power to the wheels at the wrong time, in the wrong places.  You have to feel the road, let it talk to you, tell you what you’re doing wrong.  And you have to feel your car or truck as well.  An empath should know that, hm?”  He winked at me and I laughed.  Then, in between mouthfuls and sips of scalding coffee, I began the questions again.

“So, you never ever thought to look up Sally’s child, not even out of curiosity?”

“Oh yes, many times.  But what stopped me after my initial bout of anger was that she’d remind me of Sally every day.  I’d be raising a part of her, but would never have her.  I looked at my life, what it had become and after a few years I convinced myself that the girl was much better off in the city, among people she knew, surrounded by opportunities completely unavailable here.  If I went to get her I’d just cause more harm and grief.”

“Don’t you think that maybe that was selfish thinking on your part?  That this girl needed a father of sorts in her life, especially knowing she had been abandoned by her own mother?  How do you think that affects a child?”

“I don’t know Reed.  I’m no psychologist.  I’m a farmer with a grade nine education.  I don’t know much about people.  And in the state I’ve been in, I couldn’t even help myself.”

“Well there’s another point.  This girl, maybe, being of Sally, she could have given you the love you never got from the mother.  This girl could have been the necessary filler your heart needed.  Don’t tell me you’ve never read of such things happening.”

“I don’t read much, but I have.  I just don’t believe it.  Just stories, Reed.  Feel good stuff.  Happy endings.  Not for us, just for writers and those who for a moment believe their inventive trash.”

“I’m a writer, Pete.  I’m going to write a story about our encounter and my trip here.  Will you read my ‘inventive trash’?”

“Oh, so sorry… so sorry Reed.  Please forgive me.  My bitterness is quite used to have me for itself anytime, anywhere.  I’ve never practiced the discipline of hiding my pain from others.  Probably why there are no ‘others’ in my life anymore.  I prefer to be alone so that I can give vent to my feelings without having to worry about the effect I’m having on others.”

“That’s all right.  I’m a journalist, a reporter.  I’ve got tough skin.  I too was raised in difficult circumstances and I’m a survivor and over-comer.  I could tell you some stories about my own upbringing in an orphanage.  It was a priest who helped me get out of that life and find a job and a place to live.  I suppose, depending on how you look at it, I got lucky.  And have been ever since, if you discount the sleepless nights working on a computer and the loneliness.

“But lately I’ve been questioning that.  I want something better than that animalistic instinct to survive and beat my competitor to the prey.  I’ve been seriously thinking it’s time I became a different, a better, person.  It will definitely hurt my career, maybe end it, but what’s left of my life I want to dedicate to me.  To myself.  I have a dream, a vision, of what I want to become.  It frightens me, Pete.  It frightens me because I’d be so alone in doing this.  No one can really share in it.  I see a great similarity between us.  You changed after Sally left you.  You dedicated yourself to nurturing your grief, to never let it ease or heal.  You became your grief and it grew to control you and in turn, it became you.  In it you have been intensely and utterly alone.  You could not share that with anyone without hurting them.  So you detached from all of them and kept only the suffering you.  And wasted over thirty years of your life to date.

“I want the opposite, but just as intensely as you pursued your own dream of living in heart-mind agony and grief because you lost something that was never yours to start with.”

“Oh yeah?  Hmmm.”  Long pause.  His voice lowers a bit:  “You’ve thought about this a great deal I sense.  How will you accomplish this dream of becoming better than yourself, of becoming a better person in your own eyes, assuming you intend to be extremely tough on yourself in this?”

“Yes I’ve thought about it a great deal.  I’ve looked at the world from my journalist perspective.  We’re taught and encouraged to dig deep into the human psyche, to look for reasons, causes and to make value-judgments about everything.  We are supposed to be experts at uncovering what makes people do what they do.   So that’s the method I used to look at myself; at my motives for everything I think, say and do.  Who is the person behind it all?  And I’ve decided that perhaps that person needed to be what she was for a time, but no more.  She is past all that now.  She’s too young to give up the idea of positive change and too old to play the games people play, of seduction, money and popularity.  She’s at a crossroads that comes but a very few times in one lifetime.  Choice.  So she chooses change through self-empowerment.  That means the tough reporter bitch makes herself vulnerable, exposes her soft underbelly to those who would beat her.  She chooses the path of compassion.  And hopes she is strong enough to accept the inevitable.”

“Doesn’t that make you a sort of fatalist?  That doesn’t suit you, somehow.”

“I prefer to think of it as being pragmatic.  I’ve seen some of the world, perhaps using my life as a microcosm of the macrocosm.  I’m basically middle aged.  I have enough past to be able to surmise, or hypothesize my future at least.  I don’t want to live in the world I’ve come to know.  So if I can’t just leave it for greener pastures provided by someone else, then I’ve got to create change right here.  And there’s nothing else I can change but myself.  That’s what the people who chase after leaders do not realize: that nothing changes until they, themselves, become that change.  The change I propose to put myself through is going to cost me much.  I have no problem accepting the fact of those costs, but can I pay my debts?  Can I ‘take it’ to use the vernacular?”

He sighs deeply and stares straight into my eyes.  “You’re goading me, aren’t you.  You don’t mean any of this, you just want me to react, defend myself, or admit I’m a total failure and tell you I’m not sorry; that I choose to be where I am and I’m staying here, then to prove you are right, to ask you to leave and not write any story about me, but forget you were ever here.  You are pushing me into some kind of admission.”

I stand up and pace across the small kitchen, careful to avoid several empty cardboard boxes and a stack of firewood partially blocking one side of the table.  I’m feeling anger coming and I need to let it out carefully.  I don’t want to use that sort of energy in an interview.

“You’re wrong Pete.  Sure, I came here for a story, that’s what I do, write stories, do documentaries and spout off on talk shows.  But primarily I am using this trip to find myself.  You can help me.  I see many similarities between us, our lives.  We had it tough, both of us.  But here’s the interesting difference.  I chose to overcome my problems and rise above them.  You chose to use yours as an excuse to cop out of life.  Now, I don’t know.  You show me courtesy and treat me as your guest.  You order special groceries and cook for me.  You let me sleep in your shrine, knowing that no matter how careful I am, my presence in it will forever desecrate a part of it and it will never be the same to you.  You are taking chances with me, exposing vulnerable parts of yourself to me.  Showing me the Pete who wished he could have a chance at life again.  Why?”

“Good question Reed.  I don’t know.  You’re making me think back over things I’d stopped thinking about long ago.  You’re making me look at my miserable life… and maybe, just maybe, to question my place in it.  You’re making me think that maybe I can make the pain stop and I can change.  You’re a witch, Reed.  A very powerful witch.  I’ve always been scared of witches, you know.  They are unpredictable.  Sally was a witch, that’s why she attracted men who abused her and grew bored with me because I let her be, happy to just love her, or as near to love as I knew how to give.  I think witches have a death wish but have so much of life’s power they get stuck in places they grow to think of as prisons.  A witch must have her broom, Reed, always ready to fly off to some place where no man can go to.

“Tell me about your priest.”

I have a sudden vision of my own mother riding on a big black broom, holding me in her arms until she finds a suitable place and dropping me to fall through black clouds, then down towards a city and into my own prison.  I imagine she just wanted me to find my broom, learn to fly on my own, and leave my prison as she had done.  Which I did, to a point.  His question startles me.  “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“Your priest who helped you leave the orphanage life and found you a job.  What was in it for him?”

“Pete, that was the Nineties already!  We were lovers!  We met in the confessional.  I’d been baptized Catholic and had to follow through on the rituals, or else.  I had so much anger and hate then, I can’t believe it myself now.  So I confessed stories I made up of erotic and terrible sins.  I think my confessions turned him on.”

“So this priest seduced a young virgin from an orphanage, is that it?”

“You’d sooner find a virgin in a whorehouse than in that orphanage!  Shit man, we were regularly ‘farmed out’ to certain people for ‘domestic labour training’ if you get my drift.  But that came after the in-house fondling and other stuff.  Women and men used us: we were nobody’s property, so we may as well be theirs.  Father Logan, Bertrand Logan, was my out from that life.  If it hadn’t been for him, I’m pretty sure I would have been sold to some pimp, oh, excuse me, an employer who had a very legitimate job for me.  I’ve met some of my former mates on the streets, even did stories about them, but I never saw the point of taking it to the law, that’s not my thing.  Probably some day, when it’s too late to do anybody any good-as if this sort of thing ever does-someone will spill the beans and a battery of lawyers will make a killing, as will the Media sharks and the courts.  The orphanage will have to shell out some insurance money, maybe close down and re-open somewhere else as a new and improved institution.  Some old man or woman who worked there will be dragged out of obscure retirement, put on display for the public to vent its outrage upon and die in jail.  That’s it.  Nothing will change for the victims of these systems, not until the systems themselves are destroyed.

I could see the white knuckles as he clenched his fists tightly.  Was he upset because of what happened to me, or was he thinking that maybe the same thing had happened to Sally’s daughter and he could have prevented it?

“But you asked about Bertrand?  We met in my apartment on a regular basis for a while.  Then he had second thoughts.  He chose his vows over me.  I’m no fool and I wasn’t surprised-angry, oh yes, but not surprised.  He may have been a Catholic priest but he’s a man.  There’d be other, younger girls to choose from if he kept his profession.  Sure wish I’d a known I was a ‘powerful witch’ at the time.  I’d have revved up that broom to the max and rammed it up his ass.  I certainly was angry and very confused then.  What was I, Pete?  What purpose did I serve?  Everybody else seemed to have it so together, from my point of view.  I thought I couldn’t do anything right.  But then I found out, through my job as a copy editor, that I could write, and I could listen to people and remember, maybe selectively, but remember, what they said.  The rest, as they say, is history.  My history.”

“I’m sorry, Reed.”

“Why?”  Now I knew I was deliberately goading him.

“Because of Sally’s daughter; that girl who should have been ours, to be raised in a loving environment by us.  Because I realize now I was so wrong not to go and get her and get us a new life.”

Suddenly he was old again and his head dropped in his hands.  And just as suddenly I went to stand behind him and I hugged him.  And when I bent my face down to rub against his, noting he had shaved and smelled better, I felt that electric shock go through me again.  And I knew, without a doubt, as if I was seeing it happening in a docu-drama; as if someone else was explaining it to me.  I knew because my name is Redemption.  But more than that: I knew because I recognized the connection.  This was not just some man who had been married to my mother.  This was my father.  She was dumped by the surveyor when he found out she had been pregnant by her husband before she left with him… and she had known it.

“I’m your daughter, dad.  I’ve seen some of the records and it all fits.  My real name is Redemption.  I’ve come home.  Let me in, please?”

Redemption

(part 2 – a short story by Sha’Tara)

“Let me show you something, Reed.”  He got up and led me from the kitchen down a short hallway.  A closed door I knew hid a bathroom, I could smell it.  He opened the next door and reaching up, pulled on a string, turning on a light bulb also hanging from the ceiling.  I was amazed.  The bedroom had a clean, fully made double bed in it and the walls were painted white.  A crucifix hung over the headboard and a bible was on its shelf.  One small closet and a set of drawers completed the room.  He opened the closet and there were a few dresses and a couple of what were called ‘maxi’ coats, terribly out of style as were the two pairs of small shoes on the floor.  I smelled the mothballs that must have been in the pockets of the garments.

“After she left I moved out and kept it as ‘ours’.  This is all I’ve got left of her.  I got rid of the pictures, they were too painful to look at.  But this, I thought, was OK.  It was an invitation for her to come back.  Then it just became a shrine.  I come here to pray.  I read from that Bible, the only thing she insisted on bringing with her when I took her away from her folks.  But I don’t find any consolation in it.  I’m not of those who believe they re-encounter loved ones in heaven.  If she didn’t want to be with me in this life, what would have changed her mind that she’d want anything to do with me in the next?  I don’t know the rules there, but I don’t think I’d be able to court her all over and make her fall in love with me for the rest of time.  I’ve thought about that a lot.  It doesn’t add up.

“Anyway, if you want, you can have this room.  Just leave everything the way it is, if you can.  If you must move something, please let me know.  I want everything back the same after you leave.  I know I keep the house a bit chilly but I’ll make sure there’s a good fire in the stove tonight.”

I agreed to staying the night and we returned to the kitchen table to talk.  I wanted to hear the details of his story, why Sally left, how she left, alone or with someone?

“Except for her folk, mainly her dad and her oldest brother who were what you’d call assholes, the people around here are quite open and trusting.  We don’t think bad of any stranger until they give us cause.  So after we’d been here three years and eight months,  May came around and spring was in full when a government surveyor came by.  He offered us some money if we’d put him up.  We had the extra room then behind the house-kind of collapsed now-and he said it’d be fine.  We certainly could use the extra money.  He’d come back after each day out surveying and putting those steel markers at the corners of each section.  He had bundles of those in the back of his government pickup truck.

He talked to Sally a great deal; I was too tired to talk much, after the field work and the chores.  But Sally couldn’t get enough of his stories, and she looked through all his magazines.  He gave her a transistor radio and she was happy to be able to hear what all was going on while she worked around the house.  I never paid much attention to it all.  Up here, a man’s married, no one bothers his wife.  She’s safe with any stranger.  And women know to stay with their men, that’s our way.  You don’t worry they’d ever leave for another man.  That’s city stuff, Hollywood stuff, not what real people do.

“But one day I come home from the fields to do the chores and there’s no one in the house.  The dishes are done and in the drying rack, but there’s no cooking.  The table’s not set.  I get worried thinking she went out and got herself hurt.  I call her and I look everywhere.  Then it occurred to me that Jean (that’s the surveyor) isn’t there either.  Now I think maybe he’s taken her into the city and maybe she thought she’d be back in time, so didn’t bother with a note.  I waited a bit, made a sandwich, although I wasn’t hungry.  I milked the cows and fed the pigs, going through the usual chores, trying to figure out what had happened.  Finally I took the old Chief and drove to Webster’s Corner.   She’d been there, and left a note.  I could tell the store keeper, Mr. Jameson, was very upset when he gave me the unsealed envelope.  I guess Sally’d told him what she was doing.  He’d tried to talk her out of it but she had gotten really angry and left.   She’d gone off with the surveyor.  I read her note.  It was a terrible thing.  I remember it, although I tore it up then, then burned it later.

“Dear Pete,  Thanks for taking care of me and taking me away from my folks.  I never really loved you but I felt I owed you for helping me.  So I didn’t know what to say when you proposed marriage.  I really had no choice: either you, or them.  You were nice to me.  But that wasn’t the life I’d been dreaming about.  Jean’s taking me to Toronto, or maybe Montreal, he speaks French and knows people there.  I won’t be coming back.  Find yourself a proper woman, Pete and forget about me.  Take care of yourself, Sally.”

“I didn’t know what to do then.  I went to the police and tried to enlist their help to find her.  The RCMP were very sympathetic but there wasn’t much they could do.  Although Sally was a married woman, she had the right to leave.  Legally, there was nothing they could do, except to try to find out for me where she’d gone, or was staying.  They traced her in Toronto.  I sold our four cows and the pigs for the money and went there to find her, sure I’d talk her into coming back; that she’d have seen through it by then.  But that was already two years later, two years it took for the police to trace her from an employment bureau.  By the time I got there she’d moved again.  Again they traced her, in another part, where she’d worked in a hotel.  But she quit before I got there.  Three years now.  I traced her again to a slaughter house.  Four years.  I took odd jobs, lived in low-rent areas and sent just enough money to my folks to pay the taxes on the land.  Five years, and finally another break.  She was working for the CN as janitorial help.  I tried to locate her but that company was reluctant to help me.  Not our policy, they said.  So I had to hire a private detective.  It was him who found out she’d had a baby.  Not only that, but she did the one thing that made me stop looking for her: she’d abandoned her child in a department store.  I don’t know how these people find these things out, but I believed him somehow.  I suppose because I figured he knew it would mean the end of that job for him.  He told me to go home, forget her, and get my life back.  But all I heard was ‘get your wife back’ and isn’t it amazing how those two words are so much alike?  He told me the little girl’s name was ‘Redemption’ – that was the tag they found in a  pocket of her coat when they picked her up.  Even the police could not find her after that: she must have planned it carefully.  Maybe she knew by then I was after her and I’d take the child.  Only I didn’t.  She wasn’t my kid.  I wanted my Sally, not some bastard kid by some hated surveyor I would have gladly killed at the time.  I could have found the kid.  She’d be in an orphanage.  The police would know.  I could lay some claim to her and adopt her, most likely.  But I chose not to go that route and I came back home.

“But it was never the same again.  If you’ve ever considered the meaning of the phrase, ‘a broken heart’ well, that’s what I mostly suffer from.  Some people heal and some don’t.  I suppose it’s like other diseases that strike people, it seems, at random.  Cancer, heart attacks, that sort of thing.  I love Sally, Reed.  I know I always will.  Even if there’s a heaven, I’ll love her there just as much even though I have no hope inside me that I’ll find her there either, as I mentioned to you before.  It seems as if I’m under some strange spell that nothing can break.  Do you know how many times I’ve thought that maybe it was because I just didn’t want to stop loving her; that I was in love with something I’d made up and all I had to do was just stop?  Stop, then start again fresh.  ‘Get a life’ as the young people say now.  Yes, wouldn’t that be easy, simple?  Just change my mind about that part.

“Fine, except it’s not in my mind, it’s in my heart.  It’s in every aware part of me.  I guess you could say that half of me is, or was, Sally.  It was that good and great half of me that left me.  How could I deal with that?”

He started sobbing heavily, and tears ran down his face unto the old blueprints.  I walked over to stand behind him and I put my arms around him gently, then hesitantly I put my cheek against his stubbly one.  I was surprised at my own feelings.  I held him tighter and when he calmed down I asked him to tell me about the blueprints.

“Mr. Jameson had been an architect of sorts before he bought the store at Webster’s.  He knew how to make blueprints and everybody knew this.   Some of the richer folks around had hired him to draw buildings for them, and make blueprints of the plans.  One day while talking, Sally and I laughingly said, ‘Let’s get Mr. Jameson to make us a set of blueprints for our new farm house!’  Well, it was something we could laugh over together-we’d been drinking dandelion wine she’d made and feeling silly-but she decided on her own to ask Jameson how much he’d charge us for a house plan.  ‘I’d be honored to do it for you as a Christmas present’ he’d said.  We were shocked, but we accepted.  The plans arrived on Christmas day and we pored over them through that long winter.  We were able to scrape just enough money from the sale of our pigs to pour our foundation for the new house.

My folks and her two younger brothers (they were the decent ones in that family) came to help.  It was the happiest time of our life together.  When we’d taken off the shiplap forms, pulled the nails and stacked the lumber, we sat in what would be the living room and we drank her wine with our help.  She’d also made egg salad sandwiches and bowls of fresh vegetables from her garden.   Simon, her youngest brother, brought his fiddle and we danced to his scratchy music but no one cared.  It was the best of times.

“Give us two years,”  I said to Sally, “and we’ll be raising the walls and maybe put the roof on.  In five years we’ll have our new home.  You’ll see.”  And she smiled and sighed and kicked one foot against the other from behind as she always did when she wasn’t sure how to deal with a situation.  So, she smiled again.  That was her answer:  we’ll see.  But she meant more than that.  She was becoming restless again.  She’d always been restless as a kid but I thought it was because of her home life.  I didn’t think-didn’t know, even-that such people remained restless all their lives.  Join up with a loving partner and everything changes, right?  You know Reed, us humans, we’re a naïve bunch.  We don’t know anything about each other and yet we assume we know it all.  And that’s where we go wrong.  We should never assume we know what the other person is thinking, or thinking of doing, at any moment.  All of us, we’re liked cocked guns just waiting for something to pull that trigger.  Of course we have all sorts of safeties we could use to make others safe from ourselves, but of course, we don’t believe we are the dangerous ones, only the others are.  Our downfall is thinking that we are either better, or worse, than others and living within that constant judgmental attitude.”

I watched his head droop lower and I felt I’d heard enough for one day.  I too was dead tired.  The house was cold and I wanted a hot bath, which I would not get, so I wanted to get inside my sleeping bag on top of the nice clean double bed, pull my comforter over my head and cry myself to sleep.  Yes, me, tough Reed, the girl who survived the orphanage, was never adopted because she was too strong willed-was returned twice!-now feeling like crying over some vague thought, idea, wish, dream.  I’d come all this way in my own way to find a story-no, to find myself, or rather, to find a me that would be more real than the one that was raised in that horrible orphanage and who clawed her way to the top of her profession simply because she kept burning her bridges as she moved forth.  There had never been any turning back for Reed.  Her life was lived from a one-way ticket to another.  When she left the orphanage with the help of a visiting priest, she closed that door.   When the affair with Edward cooled, it was over-the end, that’s all she wrote.  Now here I am, all emotional over an old man and his rather pathetic story.

I’d been warned in college not to get involved with the people in my stories, or with my sources.  It was just business and you used your feminine attributes to get into places no one else could get into, and to get the answers that made great copy.  You bargained with the chips life handed you.  A female body was a great asset if you knew how to use it without getting slammed.  If you got caught, your career could be over in a day.  Found out.  Exposed.  A slut, cheat and liar.  Men could do it, of course, but women, while giving the impression they were doing it, could never afford the possibility they’d be caught actually doing it, not if they held any kind of professional status in a man’s world.  And journalism is a man’s world, make no mistake about that.  As is publication.  It’s a man’s world because it is a money world.

“Uh, Pete?  I’m sorry, but I’m dead tired.  Could we continue this tomorrow morning?  I notice there’s a bathroom next to my room.  Is it OK for me to use it, or… do I have to use the outhouse I saw out there?”

“Oh, sorry about that.  I didn’t think to ask you.  Sure, use the bathroom.  Everything works, but there’s no hot water.  It’s not the cleanest place in the house, I’m sorry.  If I’d known sooner that you would be staying overnight I would have cleaned up…”

“That’s OK, thanks.  See you in the morning then?  Say around eight?”

“Anytime.  I’m up around six anyway, don’t need to sleep much.  Today’s the most excitement I’ve had in years so maybe tonight I’ll sleep more.  Good night.”

I watched him for a bit but he didn’t look up.  So I went out to get my stuff.  It was raining, cold sharp needles that hit the skin and felt as if they were drawing blood.  I shivered, grabbed my bag, sleeping bag, comforter and ran back in the house.  Pete was stoking-that’s what I think it’s called-the fire in the stove and putting more wood in.  The smell of dry wood burning filled the house and I suddenly felt really warm, good, safe.  ‘Thank you’ I said to no one in particular, but if I’d been pressed to say, I would have said, ‘to the goddess’ and been none the wiser as to who I meant. Emotional shit is what.

(end part 2)

Update: Words by which to make a World

[thoughts from    ~burning woman~     Sha’Tara]

The particular phase of our volunteer rebuilding project came to an early end today. How this came about was through great cooperation and coordination of volunteers and home owners. More importantly perhaps, was the dedication along with supportive words and kindness expressed by all to all. The owners’ children, between home schooling and chores, brought us coffee and home baked “goodies” and always, without fail, with broad smiles on their faces. Elizabeth, the oldest child still residing at home, commented on how beautiful their future home looked after we had completed the “Hardie” type siding work. It was wonderful to see her face light up when I emphasized that the house was to be her home. “Yes! Yes, my home, yes!” She kept staring at it as she backed away to take in more of the scene. I think at that moment I came closer to understand what it would mean to have your home burned to the ground knowing that all the work that had gone into building the original was irretrievably gone. In these remote areas there is no fire insurance available.

More, longer term volunteer service is being planned or in the works in and around this area as last years’ wild fires swept over hundred of miles of forests, farms, homesteads, homes and villages in that central part of B.C., Canada. I’ve already put my offer in to be on one of the rebuilding crews.

On the way home my partner and I stopped at a road side hotel and restaurant in Cache Creek. On the walls above us many signs were hanging, carved or painted. While some of their messages did not interest me nor could I have afforded any of the signs based on their price tags, one said: “Always remember to be humble and kind.”

Coming from one entire week of such experience, I couldn’t help but ask myself, ‘Indeed, why not? Why not? Why can we not all be humble and kind as the most natural expression of our claimed humanity? Why not?

Consider the following quotes, no author given (nor needed!) in keeping with words and acts by which we make a world.

 

~~^j^~~

“Being rude is easy.
It does not take any effort
and is a sign of weakness and insecurity.
Kindness shows great self-discipline and strong self-esteem.
Being kind is not always easy when dealing with rude people.
Kindness is a sign of a person who has done a lot of personal work
and has come to a great self-understanding and wisdom.
Choose to be kind over being right
and you’ll be right every time
because kindness is a sign of strength.”

~~^j^~~

We don’t know
what someone is going through.
We don’t wear signs
that illustrate our personal struggles.
You don’t see
signs taped to people’s shirts that say
“Going through a divorce”
or
“Lost a child”
or
“Feeling depressed”
or
“Diagnosed with cancer.”

If we could read visually
what those around us are going through
we would definitely be nicer.
But we shouldn’t have to see signs
and have reasons to treat strangers with kindness.
We should do it anyway,
whether we know what is going on or not.
Whether they deserve it or not.
Let’s give everyone an extra dose
of patience, kindness and love.”

I find these sentiments appropriate and inspirational.

Greetings, from the Caribou Country

Update!

I’m off again on another volunteer stint in the Caribou country of British Columbia, Canada, with my ‘favourite’ bunch, the MDS (Mennonite Disaster Service) volunteer crew from my home town, Chilliwack. All that to say that I’m way too busy at this time to address much blogging except to read as many posts and comments as I can and respond to those I feel need immediate response and putting the rest in my “Hold” email file.

By the looks of my lively calendar and the requests piling up in my cell phone, it looks like this is going to be a very busy spring and summer for me, so much less time for blogging. I don’t mind, I was getting a bit antsy with little to do but sit in front of the computer or looking out a window to watch the rain, snow, rain, falling and somewhere in there and in-between, the wind blowing and howling.

Here in Lone Butte, just south of 100 Mile House and the highest elevation in the Caribou, the weather is as unsettled and unseasonable as in the rest of the province. It’s spring break-up time now and about half of winter’s accumulation of snow has melted as run off, leaving runnels and mud, mud, mud, everywhere not covered with layers of crush or gravel. Some of the country roads remain impassable due to flooding and… mud! Where the snow has melted and re-frozen there are piles of dirty ice trying their best to hold spring at bay.

Today was quite cold, with snow flurries, heavy rain squalls and hail taking their turn at trying to force us off our building to seek shelter inside. We didn’t, and thank goodness for the invention of modern “rain gear” that doesn’t leak putting finishing touches on a house, yet breathes. We remained comfortable despite “mother nature’s” best efforts to force us off the job. While we were busy working on the house (this is a homestead) a ewe gave birth to lambs this afternoon.

Since last year’s forest fires much has changed with the wildlife. Bears, cougars and lynx have grown bolder and approach homesteads and farms looking for prey. Apparently large lynx and cougars  are regularly seen on the homestead here but none have appeared since we’ve been here. The dogs patrol the property but the owners say they rely more on a pair of domestic geese as their predator warning system!

Sorry, I haven’t wanted to break the team work rhythm so no pictures as yet. Maybe before my time here is up, I’ll have some.  Maybe I’ll even have time to post them too!

All the best, from the Caribou!

Intercourse and Aftermath

[a short story by ~burning woman~ ]

Intercourse, he said. He said it in such a way as to make the whole process quite disgusting. It wasn’t what he said caught my young girl’s attention, it was simply the fact that he, was a he. Men don’t downplay intercourse, simply not done. It’s the highlight of a date, a casual encounter, even of a late evening with “the wife” after watching a steamy movie.

Intercourse, if you think about it, is tolerable only to those who are so madly in love they are actually mad. It’s hot and sweaty; messy; painful even, certainly makes anyone who is anyone, vulnerable to another and who needs that? It’s chock full of expectations and more often than not, it’s a damn trap. She gets pregnant and then the guilt trip starts until a few months later you’re getting married, hitched, hooked and that’s it: your life’s essentially over.

That’s how he described it to me. We’d gone off in his car and we were parked on the top of Knobhill. I know, every mid western town has a knob hill and so did ours. Who was he? He was the guy, you know. He was Pete. Peter Nelson. Basketball, football, baseball, top marks in chemistry, and he owned his own car. Some of us would have publicly confessed to using hair extensions just for a chance at a date with Mr. Everything.

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to make him out to be this guy who can get any girl he wants just because he’s a hunk. He is a hunk, but there’s more to him than that. There’s a side to him I could boast of being the only girl at Simpson High who knows about. He’s intellectual. He likes to discuss issues, ideas, concepts. Even on a date when there’s only him and me, or whomever the lucky girl is. He likes to sample us. We don’t mind because we know that sooner or later his wheel will stop and land on one of us. Just let it be me, that’s all.

I wanted to stop him and give my two bits’ worth about intercourse but I thought my experiences, that being a grand total of none, simply would never match up to his. It seemed to me that the only way to convince him that intercourse wasn’t such a bad deal was to offer it to him. Make myself his guinea pig. I had some attributes too, it wasn’t like a was a charity case. I had my own list of social successes to look upon. Honour roll four months in a row. Chosen snow queen. Had played Juliet in the Player’s Guild Easter presentation and received a standing ovation. My dad had his own jewelry store and my mother was choir director at St. Jude’s Presbyterian. In short, we were ‘somebody’ and that had to mean something.

So here we are. It’s dark and the stars are sparkling and twinkling in a late Spring night. We’re kind of sprawled out on the front seat of his two-door, two-tone hard top 56 Meteor. The windows are partially rolled down to prevent fogging and so we can smell the freshness of Spring seducing Lewisburg. Below Knobhill on the east side are remains of a marsh and the frogs are in the midst of a very serious symphony down there.

Pete’s got the radio on and the local station is playing late night favourites for lovers. Elvis, “You saw me crying in the chapel” is playing as I reach up to Pete’s mouth and place mine on it. It feels really nice and I’m a bit surprised at being so forward. What’s with you, I think of myself. Well, I can’t help it. That wheel of fortune has to stop sometimes, and on someone’s number, may as well be mine.

He gets more interested in me, less in his deep philosophical ponderings. This is good for me. I offer more and more and his body seems to want to take more and more of what’s being offered. I take his shirt off and start caressing his back at first, then I move my hands to his chest and push my fingers through his chest hairs. It makes me tingle all over. I kiss him more ardently and to my surprise, he responds equally ardently. I’m actually in the process of seducing Peter Nelson, me, Anne Foley.

He fumbles around a bit and manages to unbutton my blouse and pull it off me. Now my heart is beating really fast. Next, he finds my skirt’s zipper and undoes it. I feel something new and strange happening to me. I let him pull my skirt off then reach for his belt. I undo him, then unzip his fly. My turn to push his pants off. As I slide down to undo his runners he unsnaps my bra and slowly pulls it off and lays it on the dash. I have his shoes and pants off. There we are, me in my panties, him in his briefs. Who goes next? I wait while he runs his hands and arms all over me, then fondles my breasts. By then I’m a goner. I impulsively pull down his briefs and grab his erection. I don’t know what to do with it, I just want the feeling of holding it.

And what a feeling it is! It’s totally nuts. I hear music. I hear thunder. It’s my heart sending waves of blood thundering in my ears. I have tears in my eyes when he lowers his face to my left breast and begins to suckle. I hold his head in my arms and the world turns. He slips my panties off me and I push and squirm until I’m lying on the seat and he’s on top of me. The world turns again… and again… and again and in my head I hear a voice that sounds like mine saying ‘I want you, want you, so want you, forever.’

Peter and I have been married for thirty years. Today is our anniversary. It hasn’t all been romance and flower bouquets. Our roses had thorns. Our first child, our little Rose who was engendered that wonderful night on Knob hill in Lewisburg died of crib death at three years old. Our second, our son John made some bad choices. Fancying himself a drug king, he had a brief career as a rich drug dealer and is currently doing life for murder. His Panamanian wife with her two children has returned to her homeland and we never see our grandchildren. Our youngest is now our family. A successful lawyer married to a girl I absolutely adore and they have one daughter who is allowed to spend so much time with Peter and I that sometimes I confuse her with my own first born and I call her Rose.

Ours isn’t meant to be a sad story because it is rather a common one. But I can assure you that after that first night Peter and I discovered each other and made love happen, he never again downplayed the pleasure of intercourse. After I teased him about his youthful philosophy he would say, “I found out what showers are for and let’s never stop taking them together.”