Category Archives: Romance

O Beauty, thou art Relentless

[a sensuous meditation from ~burning woman~ ]

I drop my hands slowly to my bare thighs and gently pass them over my skin. I realize, mind fully engaged, that both, my hands’ skin and my thighs’ skin is my skin. The pleasure that arises from the touch is my pleasure, not someone else’s hand-me-down. Mine. I pleasure myself thus, as my hands, of my own free will, continue to feel me, down to my knees, then around the back, over my round buttocks, up and around my slim waist, up more, to my armpits, hairless and lightly tanned. I continue to explore this marvel of my body, moving to my throat, down, extending my fingertips lightly between my breasts, then outwardly, cupping, then gently rubbing my nipples to make them stand out, throb, hunger for a baby’s lips, adding to the effect of this beauty that is all mine.

I am not done exploring. My hands, of their own volition, move down, caressing, caressing, so gently, my fingers eagerly exploring between my legs which, as I stand on wet grass, spread out. I feel my heat there, my desire for that ‘more’ that drives ‘normal’ people to seek out another to complete the cycle.

But for me, the transgender, the androgynous, there is no need of another: I complete myself and with a loud moan of utter satisfaction, let myself fall to my knees in the grass, bending back to stare into an intense blue sky, my auburn, waist-length hair spread out under the back of my head, a living pillow of lavender scent. Up there stars without number play hide and seek and as they have all my life, invite me out to them to let them taste me.

An image of a nature creature appears in my mind, rolling over towards my knees spread in subconscious invitation. It murmurs, ‘Earth girl… earth girl… O Beauty, thou art, relentless.’ I lock the feeling in a smile so it can never be taken from me.

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When you Die then you Live

[a poem by   ~burning woman~  ]

When you die
(I said to him)
matters not how many are around you
in your hospice bed
or none
as you perish in the storm
you die alone.

Then why
(I said to him)
when you live
can you not be equally alone
however surrounded by insistent motion
or in the stillness
of a moonlit snowscape?

But how can I love you
(he said to me)
when you wish to be alone
when you go away
leaving no note
when you stand so still
under the moon in our yard
and neither touch nor word
you acknowledge?

When you leave
(he said to me)
with no word of farewell
(as in that old song)
I die inside
but when you turn your eyes
to look into mine
I come alive again
Why
(he said to me)
do you do this?

Don’t you know?
(I said to him)
Don’t you see it’s because
I want us both to know
what matters
and whom it is we truly love?
Love is a trade-off
where there is no pining
where there is no loss
there is no desire awakened
there is no gain

Would you know life
(I said to him
the last time I left us)
learn how to be alone
with your eyes wide open
with your mind on everything
except us.

 

 

 

 

It begins but it doesn’t End

[thoughts from   ~burning woman~]

I’ve begun wondering if I’m finally getting old. I don’t mean physically, of course I’m getting old but that doesn’t seem to matter a lot; just wondering about in my head. Asking myself, am I mentally getting old?

For quite some time now I’ve begun writing these “gems” of thoughts, only to realize that not one of them was ever brought to any conclusion. That being a new thing for me, I’ve started wondering what causes that unfinished business.

Am I losing track of things, or is it that I don’t care anymore; that is, I don’t care enough to bring it to a conclusion? It’s not a pregnancy anymore, just a flirtation, or so it seems. I like the idea, but not enough to push it out completely. Dumb, right?

Here’s another thought, another possible reason. Yes, I am getting old. Suddenly very fast. I’m feeling it, everywhere, even as I go on pretending to myself that nothing is changing. Everything is changing. Climate change? The end of civilization? No, it’s more than that on a personal basis, though it may be related. What is happening is, I’ve grown up enough to consider having a serious date with death.

You know what happens when you start getting serious with death: he’s a very serious character and doesn’t take fooling around lightly. ‘If you want to date me’ says the handsome and thoroughly desirable character, ‘you will have to marry me and I don’t care how easy it is in your world to get a divorce, in mine that is not an option. Date me now and you are mine, for eternity.’

Is that it? Have I fallen in love with my own very last lover? Is that why nothing gets finished anymore? How romantically sick that idea is! It’s fine in a movie, like “Meet Joe Black” but it’s not reality, is it.

No. I think the problem, if it is a problem, is the picture has grown so big in my mind that I don’t have the language to encompass it all anymore. As soon as I sit down to write it, it inflates like the craziest balloon imaginable until all I can do is let it go and just watch it rise into the night sky and disappear.

Some years ago as I sat alone in the dark pondering “stuff” and crying, for no reason but that it made me feel better to cry, I said to myself, “I know too much and it’s killing me.”

I didn’t die from an overdose of knowing, but it got me staring into that infinity telescope and the more I looked, the farther I saw and the more confused I got. It may be that there are limits to what we should dare look into. Limits to how much future we should try to absorb. It may be that wisdom calls to say, “Enough now, just go out and play with what you already know. Stop stuffing yourself or you will make yourself sick.”

I understand that death is that last door into my chosen slice of future. What I have yet to learn is that my chosen slice of future is all that I am designed to handle. It’s all I can be. It is my future, not yours, not anyone else’s. It’s my dowry and I need to own it.

Well, I got this one done. A good movie, a glass of wine and some ‘nasty’ salty chips… and it’s thundering outside. That’s a bonus: we don’t get much in terms of thunder storms down here. It’s a rather placid kind of a place, this Lower Mainland. When it comes to weather, we get the left-overs.

Ciao, everyone. Thanks for reading; thanks for the likes; thanks for being who you are, wish I could meet and get to know all of you personally. That would be so wonderful…

~me… Sha’Tara as    ~burning woman~

 

Dancing in Paris

[a poem by   ~burning woman~  ]

I’m dancing, really dancing
only I don’t quite dare know
who this girl is, dancing so freely,
with such uninhibited abandon.

Behind her looms that steely landmark,
the Eiffel tower.
She spins and laughs, closes her eyes,
it appears, disappears
now covered in lights,
now wreathed in fog:
the clouds seem to frown
and she shivers and trembles
thinking, “Such daring!” Is this me?

It’s her happiness, you see.
The mighty Olympians are confused.
Perhaps even angry
for they’d swore she would never
taste happiness in this life.
The man in whose arms she swims:
who is he? She can’t remember–
Is she dreaming again, lost again?

She doesn’t know what time this is.
How long has the Eiffel being?
This must be a recent time,
a modern time, so says her dress.
This time, this one time
it has to be real,
not just some pointless vision:
one more of countless.
This time she beat the odds–
she-did-it. I-did-it… me!

I’ve dreamed to be here,
to possess this experience.

But it was always just a dream,
one after the other:
dreams, I have survived on.
From dream to dream weaving
the plain web of my simple life
in my very own make-believe tower,
a prisoner of fate and of fear
until the day I die
to enter that final dream.

But here I am,
dancing in Paris.

No other city looks like this;
no other feels like this.
The world is my home town
but Paris, ah, Paris
is the front door to my heart
and it lies wide open!

Be angry, Olympians, hate me if you will,
it matters to me no longer:
your lying mirror lies on the floor
in a thousand shattered pieces!
If I die now, then I die.
You were powerless to deny me

this one moment when the taste of happiness
touched my lips.  I am laughing!

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)