Category Archives: Remembering

On Atheism, Religion and the Human Being

[thoughts from ~burning woman~ by Sha’Tara]

Very recently I ‘accidentally’ stepped into a burgeoning discussion on WordPress. The question was simple and innocuous enough: is a child born with an innate sense of God, or in a broader sense, the numinous?

To a philosopher, such a question is a very personal one. You think about it and you answer it according to your own remembrances, memories, and experiences. Sadly the question was going to be caught, handcuffed and dragged through the streets to be tortured by one particularly strident and defensive ‘ism’.

I suppose the question was custom-made to being hijacked mostly by atheists, and I should have been a bit more wary to even try to wade on the shore of that stream. The water was acid on my bare feet.

I’ve never liked atheism. I tried it for a few years and I found it to be a dead religion, devoid of awe, beyond short-lived awareness of pretty sunsets, flowers and waterfalls, perhaps the enjoyment of sex; devoid of joy, since true joy can only be known on that spiritual plane atheists abhor and denigrate every chance they get.

Essentially, you are born to die. You can be no more than a superior intelligent animal and all accomplishments are but the results of a pointless evolution which cannot lead anywhere since there is no continuity beyond a mindless material level. There is no purpose to life beyond propagating itself, again, for no purpose. Though atheism denies “luck”, that being a spooky goddess we do not speak of in fear of losing our atheist badge, in its philosophy everything is happen-chance.

Self-professed atheism is a recent phenomenon, at least in the Western White Christian World, stemming mostly from deliberately mis-interpreted works of Charles Darwin and his speculations on species adaptation which he called natural evolution.

Here’s the contradiction. While life is pointless, evolution is of foremost importance and it is everything. Everything we can conceive of today has evolved… from? Well, we can’t say ‘from nothing’ that being too uncomforably close to ‘creation’ so we’ll just invent some beginning. But it can’t be anything that could remotely be connected to the effects of “divine” intervention. The perfect atheist world has a walled border; a zero tolerance policy to infiltration or refuge seeking from any sort of spirit, or spirit thought.

Though it is absolutely pointless, nevertheless atheism allows conditions such as love, caring, compassion, even empathy. Somehow, as curious as that seems to me, such unnatural conditions evolved from the same “Big Bang” and resultant muck and mire soup everything came from. Why such conditions settled on mankind, along with their too obvious opposites such as hate, racism, misogyny, egregious violence and spreading bigotry, evolution explains it. How? Dare I say by faith? Indeed, my own discovery is that it takes more faith to believe in atheism than in deism! That naturally explains why atheists have to propagate their belief by force of demagoguery, just like their opposites, in Christian “fuddlementalism”.

If everything stems from evolution, then religion is a natural product of evolution, therefore anything “happening” within those sacred halls of mostly nonsense is also a natural product of evolution. Can’t be any other explanation. So, why are atheists so vehemently anti-religious since everything is a product of their belief system? Could it be because atheism is not “science based” but a religion in its own right, its tenets subject to change without notice? And they have changed, for example on the subject of eugenics, for which we have Hitler to thank.

I’ve always known that atheism is a counter-religion, a reaction to the extremes of primarily Catholicism and Evangelicalism. Countering means engaging on the battle field and the battle field requires missionaries.

In that regard, Atheism lost one of its most strident mouth-pieces and missionary: Christopher Hitchens, who died of cancer in 2011. In my opinion, if that’s the best Atheism can come up with to prove its point, it may as well throw down its sword and yield to its opponents. You lost the Cup, go home quietly, don’t break any hearts or any stained glass windows on the way, and thank you very much for a century of dubious entertainment.

“The vocal fervour of today’s missionary atheism conceals a panic that religion is not only refusing to decline – but in fact flourishing.” (John Gray, The Guardian)

Indeed, despite “the obvious” the world’s religious population is currently 85% of total population and that number is not only not declining, it is projected to rise in the next 40 years.

See also: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/10/how-religious-will-the-world-be-in-2050/

Now I need to make a point here: religion(s) are not what matters in all of this. What matters is that we allow ourselves, and our children, the innate “right” to be spiritual beings. In that respect both, organized religions and atheism, are enemies of mankind as a full-fledged spirit-mind-body human construct. Both kill spirit, hence both deny mankind access to its ultimate claim to being a member of humanity.

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Suicide, Near Death and Looking Back

[thoughts from    ~burning woman~   ]

It’s good, sometimes, to just look back. If nothing else, it’s exercise, even if the neck complains and desperately wants to crick and push the head to face forward again. The thing is, is there something to look forward to? Mind and head disagree, but mind wins. Head is but a physical appendage after all, some sort of contraption stuck on a poorly designed swivel joint above the body.

Let’s never mind that, it’s not what I’m interested in at the moment. I’m looking back, some way back, at something that puzzles me sometimes.

Have you ever attempted suicide? Or even seriously thought about it? Have you had what they call a “near death” experience?

I’ve tried to explain “death” to my self, but my self isn’t interested seeing as it doesn’t die, it just morphs, ever and anon and takes it for granted. This, that, the other thing, whatever: life goes on, chameleon-wise.

Sure, life goes on, of course it goes on. If it didn’t we wouldn’t be here. The thing is, hardly any of us have the least idea what we’re here for, or where here is, for that matter. Some of us (many of us, too many) resolve the question by putting faith in something, usually a god. Then they play with their mind toy, imagining that it says and does all sorts of things it never does, of course, but it doesn’t matter. Dolls, stuffed toys, a favourite blanket, a dog, a pet god, it all serves the same purpose: it fills a desperate need within the Earthian creature; a need with no bottom. It answers the “death” question by making the believer-fondler forget the question.

If you haven’t, try to imagine what it’s like to come out from under an attempt at suicide. You went to all that trouble only to discover that, as in most things in your life, you muffed it. You’re not only alive but in the same body you were going to get rid of. Oh well…?

Well, no, not ‘oh well’ because you have a revelation. You think: I was dead and I’m resurrected. That means I can be a different person than I was. I can change anything about myself that I want because now I’m a mutant. I don’t have to try to fit anymore, and I don’t have to give a flying you-know-what about what anyone else thinks of me because, well, I’m dead. I’m a ghost to those who see me. To myself I’m very much alive, but this self is not what that self was. That self is dead. This is a new self, or at least the mindset is new, even if the body isn’t.

So I look back and remember: that’s how it came about that I became a totally different person. I died. Then I came back so I could be a different person; so I could choose who me was going to be. When one is no longer bound by the old rules (especially the ones that make little girls cry!) there is a lot of choice and a lot of freedom at the head of that path. The old rules still make me cry, but I don’t cry for myself anymore, I cry for the victims of the rules.

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (from the gospel according to John, the New Testament)

The Warrior’s Fire

[an allegory by    ~burning woman~   ]

After the dark night of the soul, when the battle is won, morning comes. But the sun does not shine that day.

You’ve won the battle, you know this, but all around you are the bodies of friend and foe alike and in this twilight you can no longer tell the difference, nor care who the dead are, except that they are dead and so are you.

In your own eyes; in your feelings, you’re not the great winner; the hero; the one who took the day. You’re the survivor while the best things of your life lie dead at your feet.

You don’t know what to do. You feel blood on your hands; on your body. Though most of it isn’t yours, yet you well know it is an indelible mark that will never wash away. You remember. You’ve been here before.

Do you blame others for putting you in this place because you were known to be a warrior and they expected it of you? They are all dead, what good would blame do? Would it ease your broken heart that continues to beat though your broken sword lies at your feet, it too washed in the blood of strangers?

You ask, though tired beyond the cure of sleep, did I not choose this path? This action?

Then you look within to the time before the battle, for is it not of supreme importance now to know what feelings; what moods; what emotions; pushed you to lead your small troop over that hill and confront the invader?

What was your motivation, you ask? Was it fear? Anger? Rage? Lust for revenge? Was it purely the sense of duty and did you move under the banner of simple courage? Was it just habit?

Does it matter now? Step after bloody step I made it from the top to the bottom of that Hill. Yes, from the top to the bottom. Perhaps that is what would qualify me as a hero, were there any left to do the qualifying. History will keep no record of this day and if it did, I would not be reading it.

Now, though I sincerely wish I were one of those blessed and cursed dead lying on the hillside, there remains but the fire burning within, unquenchable. I don’t know what I am in this moment of deadly quiet before the scavengers of the night and the tombs claims the bodies that mark my passage, but whatever I am, my fire within made me.

That fire, it will re-forge both sword and heart and continue to drive me relentlessly against every foe to the ends of the universe and of time; a wild fire that burns under sun and moon, burrows under the peat bogs below the snows until the sun draws it out again come the raging passion of spring and mad lusts of summer.

“There is no rest for the wicked” saith the Lord. If I cannot rest, what then, does that make me?

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

(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)

(This is one of those stories, mostly fiction but enough personal life included in to make it more than just fiction. It’s fairly long so I’m going to post it in three parts over the next few days)

[a short story by Sha’Tara]

I found out about him from some research I was doing, trying to piece together what happens to old people who end up living alone in rural areas, particularly in the central prairies-forgotten on homesteads of farms long ago fallen through the cracks of commercial viability.  He’d shown up on police records-a man looking for his wife in the city.  According to the records she had a daughter at the time.  His name is Peter Breckman.  Further inquiries revealed nothing else but that he’d returned to his farm in Saskatchewan, north of the Saskatchewan River, somewhere to the north-west of Prince Albert.

I was hooked.  I asked my editor for some long overdue vacation time.  There was no argument.  With several awards, including the Canadian Association of Journalists Award, and a possible Pulitzer for a book I’m writing based on my work in investigative reporting (including a stint in jail for not revealing a source) I was not to be argued with on that point.  The House wanted me happy and of course, working.

“You’re going to drive all the way into central Saskatchewan in October?  You’ve never driven outside Ontario, all on paved highways, except those two trips we took to Chicago, and I did most of the driving.  Why don’t you fly to Regina, take a bus north, rent a real four by four when you get to Prince Albert and give yourself time to explore the country, you know, before you’re buried under the snow or die in a blizzard while listening to Leonard Cohen?  Come on, give yourself time to flush out your quarry, and regale us with another of your tear-jerking prize winning stories of people down on their luck who somehow manage to see themselves through it all.  Look, if it’s money you need, or an advance, we’ll be happy to give it to you, Reed.”

Even in heels I have to look up to see his round face.  I notice his hairline is receding more and more and there’s graying at the temples.  We, none of us are getting younger, hah!  “I know Edward.  But I don’t need money; I need time alone to think.”

“Suit yourself, I know when my arguments are wasted.  But stay in touch will you?  Call, or email once a day-promise?”

I took a very deep breath, studied the genuinely concerned look on his face.  “No promises Edward, not ever-remember?  That’s why as long as we were together you were always free to be with anyone else also.  I commit only to my work.  This time is for me – alone.  I’ll call if something warrants it.  If something happens, someone will call, I’ll make sure of that.  I’ll carry a note in a pocket so when they find my frozen body under a snow drift by a clump of waxberry bushes, they can contact you on your cell.”

He smirked and that was done.  We kissed goodbye as two people who had been married for many years would.  The romance, if there ever was any, and it was more House’s gossip than reality, was long gone between us.  We were business partners and that suited me fine.

The next morning I finished packing my CRV and I headed west from Toronto, hitting the number 1 highway until I was about a hundred klicks from the city and then switching to service roads and secondary highways.  I waited until the landscape became utterly unfamiliar to allow myself to relax.  The land began to flatten and the roads became margin lines on the edges of graph paper, or so I imagined it would look from the air.  Here and there, small rivers or dry ravines with denuded clumps of aspen, cottonwoods or willows, graciously offered a break in the scenery and let me pass, lost to their own concerns.  Eventually I got around to putting a Leonard Cohen CD in the drive and I turned the volume almost as high as it would go, rolling down the side window and letting my feelings have their way and flow on the breeze.  I literally flew as there didn’t seem to be any speed limits, or if there were, they weren’t posted.

Somehow it was all very fitting for as I listened to my all time favorite Canadian poet and singer my mind began to form the outline of the story I was going away to dig up and write.  Yeah, I guess you could say that I am an archaeologist of sorts, digging up stories of ghosts not yet dead and giving them one more moment of light before the final darkness drives them away for good.  Ok, so I’ve read too much gothic fiction, but I like it.

As I drove along and played with the words of the songs, mixing my own with them, I became convinced that whatever I found out there would not only change my life, but give me a greater awareness of myself.  Here, in this endless land called the Prairies I would lose the City that had formed the city girl and this Changing Woman.  Here I would find another me, one more real than this one.  That was what I was after.  The story was to be the frame around my new face,  and I didn’t care whether the world was ever going to see that face.

I eased off on the accelerator and stopped more often, choosing my overnight stops carefully, frequenting restaurants that catered to the locals, mostly farm people.  I did not hide myself and attracted quite a few hopefuls.  I asked questions and they told me their stories which I surreptitiously recorded for the main story.  I needed background material as I knew nothing of this land or its people.  Which is a good thing actually as I had no preconceived ideas about any of it, except for the questionable I had gathered from the CBC, McLean’s and the National Film Board.  I had done my desk research but now I was in it for the show-down, so to speak.
I took five days to reach Prince Albert.  This is what they have to say about this town of 35,000 people:  Prince Albert is the 3rd largest City in Saskatchewan. Located in the broad valley of the North Saskatchewan River near the geographical center of the province where the agricultural prairie of the south and the rich forest belt of the north meet.  Much of Prince Albert is built on the sloping south bank of the North Saskatchewan River while the north bank provides a spectacular view of mixed forest, typical of northern Saskatchewan.
I set up my ‘office’ in a hotel and began to inquire as to the whereabouts of Mr. Breckman.  The police were the most helpful.  They cross-checked their old files with up-dated information and found me an address.  I didn’t tell them who I was and they didn’t ask why I wanted to know.  These people still trust strangers here and I was somewhat surprised but said nothing.  Soon enough, I thought, soon enough when they will become suspicious and closed like those of us in the big cities.

After two days of Prince Albert, I checked out but indicated I could be back, and drove across the North Saskatchewan river and headed north, then west into what seemed to me terribly empty lands with modern machinery parked in the fields and huge ‘farmsteads’ of barns, storage sheds, silos and modest homes holding up the grey sky and keeping a vigil over thousands of flat, empty acres of cleared land.  I passed a church with its front door gaping open, its steeple fallen down and a couple of weathered sheets of plywood nailed over the hole caused by the fallen construct.  Well, I thought, at least now the door is open to all, at any time, even if there is only dank mildew and darkness inside.  Beats religion anyhow.  I know Leonard would have a poem and a song to write about this place.  His words would be gentler than mine, perhaps.

I hit the dirt roads and eventually serpented my way down into a deep ravine and snaked up the other side, thankful that the road was dry as I had heard tales of prairie gumbo and I did not relish the thought of being stuck at the bottom of this twisty, steep and not too well kept road.  As I crested and leveled upon the flats again I saw my destination.  A clump of blue spruce and some ramshackle buildings with a broken and falling picket fence that had once been painted white, along the road.  Slowly, I turned into the rutted driveway, sides and center of the drive overgrown with coarse horsehair grasses and dandelions, a few still blooming.  My car being narrower than the normal, if rare, traffic that had formed this road, I had to use my four-wheel drive and some skill to not be thrown sideways.  I was to learn later that the best thing to do when driving over a deeply rutted road is to straddle the ruts and create a new set in between.  I am a city girl.  There are things you have to grow up with; that cannot be learned overnight, or even by observation.  Sometimes you have to accept your own ignorance, knowing that if the foot was in the other shoe, you’d be the one explaining and demonstrating the rules of the game.

Reaching what seemed like the end of the driveway, I turned off the engine and peered around without getting out.  I had seen some sad places along the way here, but this was the saddest imaginable.  There was an old Dodge van parked in front of a grey, sway-backed shack with a peeling tar paper roof.  The van had once been white but now was a mixed shade of green algae or mold and accumulated wind-blown dirt.  A weed with small, shriveled purple flowers grew from the windshield gasket.  It had a jack supporting the front struts and the driver side front wheel was gone.  All the others were flat and the tires were sun-baked and weather cracked.  From a broken window of the side doors a dog of indistinct lineage, age or gender stared at me without making a sound.  It looked strange until I noticed it only had one eye.  It seemed to be trying to smell me and I judged its remaining eyesight was not too good.  Safe to get out of the CRV?  I thought it was, but I was careful to open the door wide first, then put one leg on the ground, then slide slowly from the seat to stand beside the car, ready to jump back in at a moment’s notice.  The dog left the window and disappeared.  I waited and I heard it jump out of the old vehicle, heard a whimpering then it limped around the front and came slowly towards me.  It wagged its tail slowly, as if putting too much speed on it would detach it.  It approached me and sniffed, then just stood there until I bent down gingerly and petted it lightly on the head and behind the ears.  I don’t like dogs or pets in general and this was wild country.  I didn’t know if Mr. Breckman was even home, but likely he would be.  Obviously his supplies were brought in by someone as there was nothing around that was drivable.

The dog whined a bit and I felt sorry for the old thing but didn’t know what to do.  I walked to the shack, up the two creaky steps of loose boards and knocked on the door.  There was a shuffling inside and some indistinct words that may have been ‘Wait, I’m comin’ and in a few moments the door creaked open.  I saw an old man, old beyond his physical years I could tell.  A man who knew anguish and much suffering.  I introduced myself as Reed, the reporter from the “House.”

“Did you get the message I sent you about a possible interview?”
“Yes, the message was given to me. Sorry I couldn’t get back to you but I don’t have a phone. I’m Pete” he answered.  “I’m sorry about the state of this place but I don’t get around to doing much anymore.  My back just won’t let me.  Please come in if you care to and we can sit at the table.  Then you can tell me why exactly you’re here.”

We sat at a dusty table, on two old wooden chairs that certainly pre-dated my time.  A naked light bulb dangled from two twisted black and white wires that came from a hole in a yellowed drywall ceiling.  I was facing the man as he sat squinting at me, holding his head in his hands.

“Mr. Breckman” I began, but he waved me to stop.

“Please miss, call me Pete, or Peter, but forget the mister.  I’m no mister, just an old man waiting for nothing to happen.”

An interesting ‘tournure’ of words, I thought.  But before I plunged into my spiel I found myself wondering if I could do something for this ‘old man’ before me, or for the dog.

“Your dog, Pete, seems to be in great pain, and I think it’s very hungry.”

“Who, Bean?  She’s a great hunter, she doesn’t go hungry.”

“Pete, I watched her.  She can hardly move anymore and she’s starving, for food and affection.  Something should be done for her.”

“Ah, yes, I forgot.  She’s old and she don’t complain any.  There’s some chow stuff in the cupboard under the sink, I think.  D’you think you could get some to her, and some water too?”

I nodded and complied.  It was simple and heartwarming.  The dog was grateful to me and that was a first.  And so was the man I’ll now call ‘Pete’ for clarity.  I had some supplies in my car so without asking I brought in some fresh food and made us sandwiches.  Pete stared at me as I worked at the counter, wiping it as best I could first.  I was surprised to find running water, though not hot, at the taps and found a dish cloth that looked reasonably clean to wipe a few items of cutlery.  Then I brought out a couple of cans of Canada Dry ginger ale and we ate in silence.  I watched him eat.  He was definitely enjoying his sandwich and I felt gratified.  My heart was not just going out to the old man, but racing to him.  I wondered why I was so taken and accounted it to the emptiness of the place, being tired from my traveling and a degree of nervousness I was working to overcome.  My watch said it was already after 14:00 hours and the nearest hotel I knew of was almost two hundred klicks back the way I came.  I’d be driving back through unfamiliar country dirt roads with no signs, re-crossing those horrid ravines and if it rained, or sleeted as it seemed wont to do, I’d be in serious trouble unless I overcame my natural reticence of asking for help and pulled into one of those modern farms.  Surely, I said to myself, I can’t sleep here.

He had finished his sandwich, mine being half-eaten and he turned on the light.  To my surprise I saw a set of battered blueprints which I’d earlier taken as some kind of tablecloth.  He sighed, leaned his head in his hands again and stared at the drawings.  I saw tears welling up in his eyes, reflected by the light.

“Ahhh!” he groaned.  Then he looked up at me again and apologized.  “So sorry miss, but you have no idea how much your presence is hurting me.  You look like her.”

“I’m sorry Pete.  So sorry.  You mean I remind you of your wife?”

“My wife, yes, my pretty little Sally.  My life.  Yes, you do remind me and I suppose I’m an old fool who never made the effort to get over his love for one woman.  I only knew Sally, no one else.  We grew up around here and kind of became attached to each other.  She had a bad home life and ran away to our place many times.  Finally at sixteen, and me eighteen I couldn’t stand it that she’d be abused at home, so I went over there, threatened her old man and took her away.  We married in the church and lived with my parents for a short while, then we moved here.  Kids didn’t stay with their parents in our day, you had to make your own way in life.  There’s a quarter section here, not something you can live on you know, but you add on and add on and eventually you have a real farm.  It’s tough, those first few years but that’s why you do it young, when you have plenty of stamina and you know everything and you know you’re going to get what you’re after.  If you have a good woman behind you, it’s even more of a sure thing.  Sally was a good woman miss.  A very good woman, make no mistake.  But I think deep down she wanted more than life had given her and it didn’t look like we were going to hit the good times soon.  Ours was going to be a life-long struggle which eventually would be for our kids.  We’d see the results of our hard work in them.  That’s what I saw at any rate.  And I think that’s what she saw too, and she wasn’t as accepting of it as I was.”

He stopped talking and looked at me again.  He took another deep breath and stared at the blueprints.  I could see stains, cracked folds and rips in them.  How long, I wondered, had it been since he brought them out of wherever and put them on the table to look into his past?  For I had no doubt they were linked to his life with Sally.  How to ask?

“I noticed a set of footings to the side of this house out there.  Are these the plans for what was to be a new farm house?”

“You are sharp, miss.”  It was my turn to wave him to stop.

“Please call me Reed.  That’s what everyone calls me.”

“Oh yeah, Reed, that’s what you said.  What’s your full name?”

“My name is Jones, Reed Jones.”

“OK Reed Jones.”  He pronounced it heavily and deliberately, each syllable as if he was driving them with a sledge hammer.  “I should thank you for the fresh sandwich.  That was good food.  You’re much taller than Sally was, an’ your hair is longer and darker than hers was, and o’ course you’re much older than she’d been, but seeing you at the counter there, preparing the food, well, no woman’s done that here since she left.  I’m sorry.”

“That’s OK.  I won’t patronize you by saying I understand, but I can feel some of it.  I’m an empath-makes me stay one step ahead of the competition in my field, and the competition is fierce.   But I’m determined to be the best at what I do, whatever it takes to get there.  Look, if you’re tired or you want to stop, I can come back tomorrow and we can go on, or finish then.”

“Actually, if you don’t mind, I’d like to continue.  I feel much better when I talk to you about that time.  It’s like something clears up and I can see through it for the first time.”

“Well, I was thinking about the drive back to my hotel.  It’ll take me over two hours if I don’t run into rain, or sleet or whatever you call it here.”

“You looked at the sky when you went out, didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“What do you make of it?”

“Well, it’s uniformly grey and the clouds seem a bit low.  But there’s no storm that I can see, or sense.”

“Well, let me tell you.  In about an hour it’s going to start to rain.  Then the rain will begin to freeze.  The first coulee you hit, you’re dead stuck at the bottom, no way out until you’re towed with a tractor.  Gets pretty cold out there, even for us who’ve lived here all our lives.  I don’t think you want to get out on that road this evening.  Besides, it’s October.  It’ll be pitch black in half an hour and I’d bet you’re more used to driving with street lights.”

“Yeah, driving in the dark with only headlights to go by is weird.”   I hesitated.   “I brought a sleeping bag and a comforter.  I could sleep here, maybe, somewhere.”  And I looked around hoping for that suitable ‘somewhere’ to manifest.

(end part 1 of 3)

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.”