Tuesday, December 3, 2013

(Non)/Fiction #48

New fiction & non-fiction! Issue #48
Submissions now open for #49.

Special thanks to all who have been submitting. Enjoy.

(Non)Fiction #48: Sean Snowdon

My Life in Jeopardy

Making erratic decisions in my life has always been a typical living experience of mine. Never knowing what I truly wanted in life yet at such a young age, forced me to push nature to the limits to find myself. With this I have been fortunate enough to experience life before settling down with a family. Over the beginning years, there has been many situations where I have pushed life to the edge, however, there have been three where I truly did not know if the outcome would be death or the chance to tell the story. Here's my story of being at a stare down with the mother Grizzly and myself.

Tourists fly out to the resort, where they take are taken by bus to the spot to see the grizzlies on the river. Once there, there is a walk to two stands built so one can safely watch them eat and move around the waters. Of course I already knew they wouldn't let me camp out there so I phoned the Fish and Wild Life to make sure it wasn't private land and I had permission to be there. After I was told that they couldn't do anything if I were there, but I wasn't allowed to be up in the stands for that was private property I got on with an airplane charter out of Campbell River and hired a plane to fly me out to a small lake nearby. My plan was to then walk the trails to the road where the bus would follow and work my way over to the river where the stands were at. Easy!

I have been reading every book on grizzly bears over the last couple of years and was fascinated by the book "Among Grizzlies" by Timothy Treadwell. Grizzlies are not what everyone makes them out to be. nine times out of ten if a grizzly charges you, it is a bluff. All you have to do is stand your ground; if one has the courage, charge back yelling and it will back down. The one time out of ten it might keep charging if it felt threatened for its young ones, or had just killed and thinks the enemy is trying to steal its food. If this is the case, one needed to back down, protect the neck and play dead. If it thinks its intruder dead, it will leave him or her alone, hopefully not too damaged. Very, very rare will a grizzly want to eat a person, and if this is the case it will try and kill its opponent, then leave the carcass to rot and come back to finish it off later. Again playing dead was recommended. Now this was something I would never want to experience but at the same time I felt safe around grizzlies. The best time to come in contact with them was when they were eating at a riverbed, for there was more than enough salmon and this was one of the times when they would tolerate each other or another human close by. As for the river on the main land, the bears were already used to people taking pictures, so not only did they not feel threatened by people, but they had enough food to eat. Therefore, I felt this was the best place to go and explore taking photos and feeling safe in doing so.

I flew back to Vancouver, and this time met Ellie, the woman that I had been seeing, at the ferry terminal in Nanaimo, BC. I spent the night with her and her two daughters. The girls were 5 and 6 who hadn't seen me since that one day a few months prior during a visit, but the moment I showed up, they both remembered me instantly and were excited to play games again. I would have one on my back, while I chased the other around the house pretending I was an eagle. Another game the girls liked was I would be the bull, throw them on my back and try to get them off me. Usually I could frame a house easily, but after playing with them for an hour, I would be more sore and tired. It was just to hard to say no.

The next day I wanted to spend visiting Don and Teresa. I knew I was safe where I was going; however, I also knew sometimes things can go wrong and I was going camping in the wild with grizzlies. Even though I was taking no food with me, there could be a small chance that if something went wrong, I would need someone to know what I was doing who knew my parents. Because he was a good friend of mine over the years and was the only one that knew my family, it made sense to let him in on my new adventure. With the both of them knowing me over the years, they also new that there was no sense in trying to convince me not to go, for when I've made up my mind, I always pull through. Hell if Ellie couldn't, there wasn't a chance they would. In a way, I trusted them but it was a little selfish to put something like that on the two of them, for if I did get hurt, they would be the ones going to my folks. I have done some really insane things in my time but this was about the worst they had ever heard me planning to do.

That night I spent again with Ellie. Then in the morning a friend of hers looked after the kids, while Ellie drove me to the Campbell River airport. Laughing, she asked if there was anything I wanted her to say to my mom if I don't come back, but deep down I could tell she was a little worried. I checked in to the office for my flight, and had my gear, tape recorder and bear spray ready. I informed the girl behind the desk that I was camping at the lake. They would drop me off and they mentioned there were bears in the area and if I was okay with that. There was no way I was going to tell them my plans for I doubted they would take the responsibility of dropping me off. I waved good-by one more time to Ellie, and jumped in the seaplane, while the pilot closed the doors and started up the loud engine.

I watched out the window as we lifted off the ocean and started to ascend to 3000'. We circled around towards the inlet leading to the mainland and flew over the treetops headed north. We were flying for about 45 minutes when I spotted the lake that we would soon touch down on. The pilot did a sharp turn and started a quick descent towards the lake. The floats on the plane hit the water as the spray bounced of the windows of the plane. We started slowing down as we moved towards the rough dock leading to shore. He got out, tied up the plane, and helped me with my gear. After a few minutes of getting my packsack and camera gear organized he was back into the plane, ascending back off the lake, turned the corner and disappeared around the trees. I just stood there on the dock watching him go, then looked back into the forest at this small tiny trail that vanished into the firs. That was when my heart started to speed up. Everything I planned and wanted to do, was for the first time sinking in. Wow, here I was really going through with this, nothing was stopping me; I was here. I kept looking into the shadows half excepting a bear to walk out greeting me. This was what I wanted, but my brain was disagreeing with me. What do I do? Should I proceed or just camp on the edge of the dock waiting for my return? Am I going to get mauled by a bear? Maybe I should have thought this one through a little more. With it being to late, I did the only thing I could do, and put one foot in front of the other, and slowly disappeared into the thick mystery forest.

The trail was only several feet wide. There were trees forever on both sides, with small bushes and shrubs in between. As I walked the trail, there were areas where a large animal slept and bent the grass and bush in many spots throughout. Grizzly country; this is what I wanted, so I watched for them and kept walking. I knew enough that when on a small trail with bears, it's risky to spook them so I made enough noise so that they would know I was coming. I figured the rhythm of my heart should have done the trick, so I talked out loud, sung (which would scare anybody or animal away) and make noise. I walked this trail for perhaps a half hour before I came to a wider gravel road. I could tell that this was the road the resort used to send people back and forth to the stands. So I knew that if I stayed on this path, I would end up at my destination, so I kept walking.

After an hour, I started to realize that, yes there were bears around here, so it might be smart (correction it might be smart to still be on that plane heading back to Campbell River) to make sure that my bear spray worked, just in case. I checked the instructions, flipped the cap and without thinking twice let out a good spray. Yep it worked fine, in fact it worked so good, that the 20km wind coming in my direction turned the spray around and blew it right into my face. I couldn't believe that I just did that, coughing and gasping I had just pepper-sprayed my own face. For 20 minutes I couldn't stop coughing, not only were my eyes burning, but so were my lungs. I was sneezing, coughing and crying from the spray only happy that no one was around to watch my stupidity. My intentions are always thinking everything is easy out in nature, but boy do I screw it up over and over. Finally, after being able to tolerate the spray I kept walking on the gravel road thinking, "good, I am now covered in pepper for the grizzlies. The only thing missing is barbecue sauce."

After a while, a pick up truck showed up with a couple of people inside. I could only imagine their surprise when they saw me walking the road. They worked for the resort and Grizzly tours and wanted to know who I was, what I was doing there and where I was going. After telling them my plans, they quit arguing and let me jump into the back of the truck. Great, I would be there in no time now. We were five minutes down the road when they stopped at a small bridge with a creek running under it and told me that this would be a great place to see bears and that I should stay there for the day. They had to be kidding. This was no river, but a small creek bed I could have made while urinating. I thanked them for the ride, but said that I will still walk up the road, this was not what I wanted. So discouraged, they continued driving me to there destination.

We arrived at a large clearing where there was a small peninsula about 100' long with the river running up one side of it and back down on the other. The peninsula was only about 10' wide, with bush and rocks on either side down to the river and a small trail to the end. At the beginning and end of the trail about 60' apart were two tall stands that the resort built to view the bears. The moment I stepped out of the truck, a guy came down from the first one asking what I was doing there. I found him quite ignorant and after ten minutes of arguing with him, basically told him to get stuffed, there was nothing that he could do, I was there for the weekend, and to deal with it. I put aside my bag, grabbed my camera and slowly walked down to the river were there was a mother and cub fishing. The moment I spotted her, I stopped and set up my camera for I didn't want to overdue it and stand to close. I set up and watched them sauntering closer to me. She knew that I was there but didn't care in the least. She was around 30' away from me looking for fish with her cub. I couldn't believe this. I was excited, shaking and could barely take a photo. After all these years, I was finally in the wild this close to a grizzly. Poor Ellie came second for I didn't even think about her once. Then the mother jumped towards me. At first I thought she was charging at me, but then realized she was just going for the salmon. After a while, she slowly moved back down the opposite side of the river and disappeared around the bend.

That's when another one of the workers came back down the ladder and informed me that where I was sitting was a trail that the bears used to travel from one side to the other. If they came over the top they would stumble on top of me and be startled, so since I was too stubborn to leave, he suggested I stay on top of the peninsula half way in-between the two stands where I could see 360 degrees around me and the bears could see me from every direction. This would be a safer way for me. Agreeing, I thanked him and went to the middle and set up my camera.

After another half hour went by, a grizzly came running in my direction up onto the middle of the peninsula. It moved extremely fast and barely made a sound before it was up in the middle looking at me. All I could do was sit there and hope that it turned in the opposite direction. He looks at me, then looked the other way and started walking towards my camping packsack. Thank god, I slowly turned around and started taking pictures of him moving in the direction that I liked. He spent some time sniffing around my gear, with no food in it, continued down to the river on the same path that I was on earlier. I then turned and started taking more shots of the other half dozen bears looking for food. Another half hour, went by and I was still clicking pictures with over a dozen tourists doing the same thing in the safety of their stands when a mother and her cub came running again in my direction, but this time a lot closer. Within seconds, she was also up on the path with her little one on her heels. She was about 30' away from me and by the time she hit the path, I was only able to move 5' away from my camera gear. She wasn't running at me, but pretty close and that made me very uncomfortable. I was lying on my side supporting my upper body with my right arm by the time I froze. She was standing there looking in my direction; therefore, I wasn't about to move a muscle. I could see her out of the corner of my eye and was praying she like the other grizzly would go right and move away. But to my horror she turned and started to stroll towards me with her cub behind her.

That split second, everything changed. For the first time in my life, I didn't hear a noise, the wind, or my heart for at least a few seconds. Time pretty much froze, except for me and that bear still moving towards me. I must have read a half dozen books on Grizzly bears and I couldn't tell then how to spell Grizzly never mind how they acted in the wild. Everything I read was gone and lost, for the only thought was her moving closer and closer towards me. I didn't move a muscle, I don't even think I breathed for the next ten minutes and the noise of my heart now sounded like the pounding pistons of twin engines at full throttle. I couldn't control it, and worse my head wasn't covered. It was the first thing that would have gotten swatted and now it was to late to move so I was left with her hoping for sympathy. As she moved closer, she then disappeared behind me and now I couldn't see them. What seemed like hours just disappeared from my life. I did see a mother and a cub back in the river and was hoping it was her as I slowly moved my head around to look behind me. Thankful that she was now nowhere near me, I could breath and change my shorts. Everything I had ever read about grizzlies was just proven to me in that ten minute period, but that still didn't change how scared I was when she came in my direction. I have been stuck on the side of a mountain thinking I could die. I have been 160' below the surface of the ocean, and lost in the snowy back country, but this topped it all. I thought at one moment I would end up in the newspapers the following day. After that, my confidence with them did make me feel a little bit better, but it also scared me to be that close.

Once the tourists were finished up in the stands they descended to go back to the resort, where I had a few ask me questions. One guy was angry and let me know it, I guess I wasn't really thinking of them as this was happening to me, for they would have seen the whole thing and probably thought I was going to die. I asked how close did the mother pass by me and was told she walked up to me, stopped 2' behind, looked at me for about ten seconds then wandered off with her cub. They left with the group, and then it was just me out there with the bears. I went back down the path to the first stand, grabbed my gear and went to lay it out back at the end of the peninsula. I spent the next hour taking a few pictures of the bears but mostly just sat there watching them. I now had a couple more days with them before flying out. What was going to be my next thrill?

After that hour though, when I thought I would be by myself another truck came back up to the stands. Great, round two with these guys. I was prepared for an argument for I had the right to be there just as much as they did. This wasn't their land and besides who were they to tell me that I couldn't stay when it was okay for them to stay. So I went towards the truck, still shaken but ready for a fight. The owner was there this time, and politely told me I did have just as much right to be there as they did. He wasn't going to kick me out or try to. I could stay as long as I wanted, and they would even let me use the stand at night; however, he told me they had spent many years building up the resort for people all over the world to come and see the bears. They had sunk money of their own to start the business. If someone died from the mauling of a bear, then the bear would be shot, they would be closed down and no one will be allowed to come back for the tours. They built their resort for this alone. Not only that, but if something did happen to me, he would let the bear tear me apart, but some of his workers would now risk their own lives to help; therefore, I would be putting them at danger too. He asked if I could please leave and they would pay for a plane to come fetch me. After hearing this, it did make sense and he was very good about asking. I knew he didn't care about me and wanted me out of there but he was smart and played the game. I told him I would go, and when the plane came in, for him to come back and get me. That's when he said the plane was already phoned from the resort and would be there by the time we returned. Then, I guess I was on my way back to Campbell River.

Ellie was surprised when she received the phone call from me that night. At first, she thought I was seriously hurt, then came and picked me up. We spent the next several days together, and then it was time for me to fly back to Calgary and make some more money.

*



Sean Snowdon: I am a young entrepreneur always looking for better ways to gain knowledge of live and adventure. Over the last couple of decades, I have learned from many mistakes, and yet still able to accomplish much more than I could have dreamed.  I have a passion for adventure, and almost 40 still have a kid instinct of life in me. As much as I work 24/7, spending quality time with my family is still and always my favorite. I have been blessed with exploring most of the United States and Canada with them and being able to share some of the less dangerous adventures with my family.



With a hard work ethic, and a deep passion, I have been able to grow a successful business in construction and real-estate over the many years. Adding to this, over the last 2 years have written a 400 page memoir (not published), to which I have come to realize how much I enjoy writing.



I have put life and death to the test many times, dove 160' below the ocean surface, skydived from above and played with many dangerous wildlife. Having achieved this, and with a beautiful family forcing my adventures to be less dangerous. My next few goals are spending more time on learning how to write and a long time dream; learn how to fly.



My biggest achievement I can proudly say is my marriage and learning to surprise my kids on a regular basis.

Fiction #48: David Menear

Picasso in Prison

I had gone to visit him in prison a few years after what he had done because I knew that no one else would and no one else knew. All bravado had been beaten and buggered out of him. Bob’s face and hands were dry and creased like a crumpled up page from the phone book. The playful bright blue eyes now a milky grey looking inward as a guilty man should. He seemed shorter and much older all hunched in his chair just beyond the wire mesh safety glass.  “Your mother Okay?” he whispered. “She is.” I answered. “School?” he asked. “Doing great” I lied. “What about a girlfriend-you have one?” this, more of a demand then a question.  We didn’t so much talk Bob and I as exchange facial expressions, slowly shaking our heads back and forth with thin-lipped looks of regret and remorse blinking our stony eyes. He told me to get a haircut.

I walk heavily out of there hearing all the loud lonely clanging and ringing steel crashing echoes calling out behind me.  Under my arm I fumble with a large clumsy roll of ridiculous children’s pencil crayon knock-offs from Picasso’s “Blue Period”. I’ve promised to try and sell these drawings and then send the money to his daughters. I got him a wall in a Toronto Beaches café gallery where the old tie-dyed guy loved the story of the artist more than he liked the drawings. But then lit incense falls to paper and it all burns up and down to the ground.

From across the road where we jump from the streetcar it smells as cozy as coffee brewing on a campfire. Closer now the chaos typhoons around us shrapnel shards of thick choking smoke and screaming painful sirens and all the urgent strobing lights. Shadows and shapes darting past muffled cries. His drawings are only raven’s feathers of floating ashen black the roaring heat sucking them up into an angry vacuum spitting into a starless sky.  Any hope of any hope gone.

She’s wrapped snug all around me like a life-jacket with her head nestled into my back a welcome weight on the shoulders like giving a kid a piggy-back ride. Anne’s sort of swaying and rocking us like a mother would a cranky baby. I couldn’t hear it but I knew she was crying too. I could feel the sobbing broken pulse of it rattling around inside of me.

One Sunday morning a few years back Anne realizes she hasn’t actually seen her mother in a few days. They’ve spoken on the phone most days though. The usual Mom questions, “Did you eat breakfast? Did you do your homework?” She comes home from school after band practice and sees that almost all of her mom’s stuff is gone. Her clothes, photographs, the watercolours of humming birds she’d painted long ago and a rather battered Lay-Z-Boy chair that her Dad was almost always sitting in with his beer in hand was upside down out in the back yard. It wasn’t too long before her dad stopped coming home too. If he did show he’d stink of it and look and sound like shit. When she tried talking to him at the kitchen table he’d only say something like, “C’mon sweetie, please… just screw off.” Her home wasn’t one so Anne left too. The police found her shivering and asleep sandwiched between some damp sheets of cardboard in the corner of a parking lot. Social Services, a couple of foster homes and then the girls group home near me.

My buddies and I had taken over a garage in our back alley for a hang-out. We spied awhile leaning nonchalantly against fences feigning conversation and all the while we kept an eye peeled and soon determined it to be abandoned. There was a side door densely grown over with grapy vines. We used this entrance so we wouldn’t be so easily spotted coming and going. We’d hang there and shit-talk our parents, teachers or some jerk-offs from school. For hours we’d invent schemes and pranks of revenge or fun well beyond the classic “burning bag of dog crap” on the balcony gag. The group home girls welcomed themselves to share our secret hideaway all boldly traipsing in one sunny Saturday afternoon being sexy and smiley and asking if it’s OK. We agreed to a one week trial. They would hang around the work bench near the small dirty window and smoke a lot and all laugh and talk loudly at the same time even while putting makeup on. Sometimes I’d study the girls. Seeing the strong red ellipse drawn so carefully and perfectly around the dark wet emptiness of their mouths made me both excited and confused.  A couple of times I heard my name in their conversations but never knew what it was about.

The next weekend Anne and I were alone together in the garage for the first time.  I was sitting on an old suitcase when she came in and nodded at me saying hi. Anne hauled herself up on to the scarred and paint spattered wooden workbench against the far wall. Her denim skirt climbed quickly up her thighs. I glimpsed a white triangle in the dark up there. I had once overheard an older boy saying that this was like “The Bermuda Triangle that you’d be lost down there and never get back” I didn’t get it. She’s older than I am. I figure Anne is probably twelve or thirteen. Behind her where she sat was one of those cork coloured peg-board walls with all the shiny S-Hooks scattered about in the hundred dark holes. I thought it looked like a big dreary “Lite-Brite” for dads. The tools were long gone, but still you could make out the shapes, the stencil-stains of where they once were like some gang of dusty ghosts of things undone. Promises not kept.

She pulled a pack of Players out her bag, popped a fag in her mouth and lit it up with her big old Zippo. Anne took a long hard haul off her cigarette, and then exhaled from between her lips while pulling a parallel stream of smoke sharply up into her nostrils, looking sophisticated and pretty cool. Her legs were crossed at the ankles swinging slow beneath the bench swaying in and out of the light. Pouty and pushing out smoke rings she looked at me smiling with her spring green eyes and asking “Smoke?” I stood up and shuffled over to her. She stuffed a cigarette in my mouth, pulled me close and whispered in my ear, “You can finger me if you want, five minutes for fifty cents”. Then she laughed a strange strangled laugh and pushed me away hard. This made no sense to me. All I knew about “fingering” someone I had learned from old gangster movies.

I did have some money somewhere in my room. Often, I’d bump into Bob late in the afternoon out on the street somewhere. It was always an awkward surprise for me when we met like this. All boozy he’d reach down and shake my hand, slap me on the back and hand me a crumpled dollar bill while slurring, “Promise you won’t tell your Mother you saw me Okay?-You promise Davey?” I would tell her about seeing Bob, but not about the money. I had said to Anne that I’d go and get the fifty cents and be back. But I was scared and so I was lying. I didn’t go home and I sure didn’t go back to “finger” Anne in the garage.

Instead I walked slowly along scuffing at everything on the sidewalk. Pebbles, twigs or garbage, I kicked at it all. I wasn’t too sure what to think of Bob. It only made sense that my mom would get lonely and she needed friends too. He needed me to like him because he liked her I guess? Bob had taught me a few card games. I learned a little about Euchre and a lot about poker. He knew some tricks too, but I had no interest. Guys that did card tricks had always made me uncomfortable or annoyed me somehow. There seemed something desperate about them that I couldn’t trust.

He didn’t live far from us. His place was just out on Woodbine Avenue, only three or four blocks away. The house was a scruffy little wooden shack. I sometimes wondered why he wouldn’t paint the place. Fix it up for his family. He lived there with his wife and two girls. His wife was as pretty as my Mom was. The daughters wore those frilly Barbie Doll dresses. The one girl was maybe six and the other probably four. They we’re very cute and quiet and almost too well behaved.

Guns drawn and held up high and close the police swept silently into the place. A long stark line of light pierced past the closed curtains and shafted across the living room floor. She was found splayed face-up on the carpeted floor. The body was lying tight up against and with one arm under a glass and chrome coffee table. The glass and her face were badly broken. Sparkling shards were jutting in and around her eyes and much of her neck like satanic S&M jewellery. The children were cuddled up asleep against her. Bob was found passed out in the empty bath tub upstairs. He wore only his boxers and held a pencil in his right hand that lay across his crotch. There was no note. A skinny kitten stood on his wife’s chest carefully licking blood from her face.

*

David Menear: Five countries, four kids, two wives and multiple lives as an artist, graphic designer, singer-songwriter-musician, heavily awarded ad guy and writer/poet, now back in Toronto playing tennis with enthusiasm and mediocrity. Short fiction most recently published in QWF/Carte Blanche.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fiction #47

New fiction! Issue #47
Submissions now open for #48.

Special thanks to all who have been submitting. Enjoy.

Fiction #47: Scott Drake

The Daughters

He wanted to avoid the hospital.  But it was only a matter of time.  The next time he went in there would be no hope for him.  It was summer and I passed by the house every couple of days on my way to the library after dinner.  A faint yellow light peered through the dirty curtains of the front room.  Christine’s rusted Honda Civic parked in the driveway.  If he was dead, I thought, the car wouldn’t be there, the curtains would be shadows.  He had often said to me, “Soon I’ll be pushing up daisies,” and I had thought that was his way of trying to avoid death.  Now I knew he’d spoken the truth.  As I passed by the small house on the corner of two side streets and across from the Senior’s Recreation Center, the word pervert paralyzed me.  It had always hung, unspoken, about the house when Christine and I sat with him.  The drab frailty in which it showed its presence poisoned the perverseness of its lustre.  I shivered, and yet I could not shake a desire to think fondly of the old man.

Old Edgar sat at the kitchen table rolling a beer bottle around the flat surface, when I emerged from my room for dinner.  My aunt microwaved some leftover lasagna and Old Edgar stared at me with his good eye, as though my presence has wiped the trace of his thought away.  The other eye wandered and it was hard to tell whether he was looking at me. His head turned ninety degrees towards my uncle across the table with his back to the window, and he continued the conversation they’d been having before I came down, “Can’t say for sure . . . something just not right, you know . . . something up there,” pointing to his temple, “you know.  You wanna know what I think. . . .”

He took a long sip of beer, as though seeking guidance on what it was he actually thought.  Stupid hick!  Some of the folks had warned me about his stories, but for me, having never lived on the farm where my father and aunt grew up, he was local color.   When I first settled at my aunt and uncle’s farm, after my parents’ death, he brought me the thrill of a new world, or rather an old world my father lived in, one I would never experience.  But the more he talked the less I cared for his endless dairy farm stories.

“Got my own ideas about it, you know,” he said sort of nodding his head in my direction.  “Certainly a rapid demise . . . I’d say . . . makes you wonder . . .”

He leaned back on the stool, drank from the bottle again.

My uncle bristled, said to me in mock-seriousness “You might not have yet have heard.  The Great Emancipator has left us.”

“GE?”

He nodded.

“Dead, you mean?”

“Mr. Danders was in the process of telling us.  He’s come from the hospital.”

I felt my uncle and my aunt’s eyes upon me so I schluffed off the news with a brief sigh.  My aunt placed the heated plate of lasagna before me and with fork and knife I dove in without further remark.

My uncle wouldn’t let it go.  He said to Old Edgar “Him and the boy were once quite close. Teached him a great deal, I’d say. The way he was spouting off facts and names when he come back from his visits.  Said good things about the boy’s future, too.  Back then.”

“May he rest in peace,” my aunt warned diminutively.

Old Edgar rested his bristle-haired chin in his hand and stared at me.  I felt the provocation of his stare, and feigned disinterest.  He finished the bottle of beer and pulled a cigarette from the pack on the island counter.  He stuck it behind his ear and went out the back door leaving it open for the cold night air to rush in.  He spat somewhere in the dark over the railing and came back to the open door, breathing smoke into the kitchen.

“Ain’t right for kids to be hanging around men of that sort, I say,” he said, “even if they say now nothing actually happened.”

“What are you saying, Mr. Danders?” asked my aunt.

“What I meant was,” said old Edgar followed by a slight cough, “children shouldn’t be hanging out with the sick.  It’s this way, I think: there’s time enough for sickness.  Let the lads run free with other lads.  Boys should not be confined to . . . to  . . . would you agree, Arthur?”

“Wholeheartedly,” said my uncle.  “School a hard knocks, they called it in my day.  Proper health and outside air.  That’s what I tell our budding scholar here.  Mother wouldn’t let us in the house more than half a day.  Scooted us out by the bottom, that one.  To this day, a good walk keeps me heart pumping.  Book things is one thing, but too many of these kids don’t know a damn thing about the ways of the world . . . Mr. Danders might like some of that lasagna,” he added to my aunt who was just opening the fridge to replace the leftovers.

“I’m belly full,” said old Edgar with a grin.

My aunt closed the fridge and returned to the table. “I’m not sure I understand.  Why keep children away, Mr. Danders?” she reiterated.

“They’ve got no foundation yet,” said old Edgar, “because they have no experience.  They are susceptible to strange ideas as though they were truth.  This kind of exposure, you know, it has lasting impacts . . .”

Clearing the last mouthful, my utensils hit the plate too hard and I worried perhaps they would take it as anger.  God damn drunk, with his innuendo!  Can’t even finish a sentence! Who the hell was he to talk about truth!

Sleep didn’t come easy that night.  My frustration with old Edgar for alluding to some immoral conduct that he couldn’t even bring himself to utter gave way to a sense of mystery.  What lay in the silence of his ellipses?  There had been whispers before, when I first started visiting GE.  Gradually sleep overcame me and I dreamed (or at least I understood it was a dream when I woke in the night) GE’s leering face.  I drew a shade between us, tried to imagine Christine sitting suggestively beside me.  No luck.  Maybe something more innocent.  A candy cane from Santa.  The leer grew in stature until I felt it would leap out at me.  It hacked up half a lung of phlegm in an attempt to speak.  I didn’t want to hear what it said.  I didn’t want to know its secrets and mysteries.  Christine came back again, her hands fondling her large breasts as though unaware that she sat next to me. My own adolescent loins began to smolder, and there again the leer of GE’s mouth returned between us.  It spoke its secrets silently, spit clinging to the corners of his mouth.  But the leer, I recalled, had died, and I awoke in a sweat, a feeble smile on my lips as if the leer had been freed of the sins of its flesh.

Earlier than usual the next morning I walked over down to what had once been the waterfront, but what had, in recent years, been reduced to abandoned warehouses, a marine parts store and a pub.  The single floor shop bore the oblique name, Prints (the “t” and “s” graffitied over with a “c” and “e”), in the window.  There were a few self-serve copiers and samples of works printed from wedding invitations to newsletters.  On the sidewalk by the front door someone had left dried black flowers.  In place of the “Open” sign which hung on the front door, there was a sheet of paper taped to the glass.  It read:

August 11th, 2003
Dr. Peter Obenauch (former Pediatrician, General Practitioner and owner of Prints),
Aged fifty-three years.
R.I.P.

The notice confirmed what I already knew, that he was dead.  But it was reassuring nonetheless to move beyond the words of old Edgar. Sometimes, before GE got so he couldn’t travel, Christine brought him down to the shop.  A day like this, if he hadn’t been so sick, of course, I would have gone right in, said hello to Christine and found him in the back office on a swivel chair, head down in front of a solitaire screen on the computer.  I’d bring him a latte, take off the plastic lid so its aroma lifted him back to life.  He would roll his own cigarettes and the sprigs of tobacco would stick on his lips.  His hands shook and he spilled a good portion of the tobacco on the tile floor.  As he deteriorated I felt even more incongruous the distinction between the man who needed help to the car and the photo of him in the blue and yellow of his doctoral regalia that sat atop the dresser in his bedroom.

If Christine had been in the shop I might have gone in regardless of the notice, or maybe because of the notice.  But she wasn’t so I walked slowly back through town, glancing at posters for an upcoming bike race.  The brilliant green and yellow of the advertisements couple with the shop keepers who swept the sidewalks in front of their entrances held no trace of GE’s death.  It was as though he’s simply gone and the world went about its business, perhaps with some additional merriment.  What’s more is that I found that I was not particularly struck by his death so much as by the immanence of no longer seeing Christine in the cover of their home.  In this I felt a sense of disloyalty.  After all, he had sparked an intellectual curiosity that had idled in my aunt and uncle’s home. GE had studied medicine at the university and done some practicum work in the northern part of the province before returning to take up his own practice in the community until his wife died in a car accident.  I met him when he was already an invalid, when my aunt sent me to help Christine who had become his primary caregiver.  But he hadn’t yet lost his intellectual capacity, or his enthusiasm for the inner workings of the body.  In moments of lucidity, he explained to me the differences between the cardiovascular system and the lymphatic system and how the lymphatic system returns recycled blood to the cardiovascular system and carried antigens across the body to build up the immune system.  Sometimes in the midst of a complaint about Christine’s cooking, he would throw difficult questions at me, with a Cheshire Cat grin.  Questions like, what is the process called by which blood plasma is obtained from donors?  He introduced me to the complexity and meaning in the body.  In fact, it was a certain adherence to the system, to understanding the flow of the system and what that system required that served him as a template for a limited dietary consumption.  Structure is everything, he said.  And I marvelled that anyone would subject themselves to such restraint at the expense of pleasure.  But when he asked me to pull down this book or that book from his shelves, to show me the analysis, or diagrams which he carefully annotated, I grew bored.  Christine once showed me a scrapbook with all the letters she’d collected from newspapers where he tried to reproduce the finer points of medical thought in laymen’s terms. More often than not I could not answer his questions.  If I really didn’t know what he was talking about I left the room to get a glass of water and would chat with Christine in the kitchen.  The last time I was there, six months ago, I tried to kiss her and put my hand on her tight wool sweater, over her breast.  She pushed me away and told me I was too young.  Literature, too, was a great occupier of his mind, and sometimes he got me to write stuff down, like Yeats’ “Lake Isle of Innisfree.”  He had me read it over and over until I no longer needed the paper I’d written it on and could recite it by rote.  His eyes closed, a cigarette on his lips and tobacco and food crumbs in his lap, he nodded and smiled when I got it without stumbling over “wattles” or “linnet’s.”  He repeated the end line “I hear it in  the deep heart’s core” with me and unleashed his black teeth and gaps where others had been pulled so that a part of me didn’t want to please him at all. If I sat close enough he liked to rub his fingers down my lower arm, but as this made me uneasy I tried to stay far enough away unless he specifically called me close.

In the morning sun old Edgar’s intermittent words came back to me and I seemed to remember they had something to do with the dream I’d had.  I remembered only Christine emerging scantily clad from behind a purple velvet curtain.  And we were somewhere else, maybe Japan but I don’t know why. . . . But what happened to the secrets of the leering face at the end of the dream?

The funeral date was set for the weekend, but my aunt had already made plans with the ladies to go shopping in Seattle and so she took me to the wake which they decided to have out of the house because it had been one of GE’s most strident and unexplained requests.  It was past sunset when we arrived and the only cars in the driveway were Christine’s and her older sister Anita’s.  The gold-brown curtains were drawn but the light above the front door illuminated the porch which had been considerably tidied since my last visit.  Before she could knock, though, Anita, in sweats and looking much older than her thirty years, opened the door.  My aunt greeted her with a wide hug. 

“Everybody has gone,” she said as though we’d missed a party, “but you’re more than welcome to see him, if you like.” My aunt looked at me, but as I made no indication of my preference (I don’t know what I would have answered if pressed, for there was a part of me that wanted nothing to do with either the dead man, or his body), she nodded and we followed Anita to the dead man’s room down the hall of the rancher.  When she got to his room she stopped and indicated that she would follow us.  The door to the room had been removed from the hinges and I could see where they’d been because the paint was whiter than the surrounding frame.  From the hall I could see what I took to be his feet at the edge of the bed, tucked under a purple blanket.  From where I stood I could not see his face.  My aunt went in, and Anita, sensing hesitation on my part, took me gently by the wrist.

The ruffle of movement at our entrance was like a disruption to a closed spectacle of death.  A pale desk lamp shone off a dresser and there were book cases and a drafting desk with a white chair.  Anita lit the beeswax candles which had been extinguished prior to our arrival.  She told us how earlier in the day GE’s sisters had come by with their aides (they both lived in a nursing home down the road and were confined to wheelchairs) and had prayed at his bedside for upwards of a half-hour.  She shook her head as she recalled someone remark that he would need all the prayers he could get.  I noticed how she’d let her hair down, but hadn’t yet removed her eye-shadow and blush.  There was a hole in the toe of her stocking, and I stifled a laugh behind the backs of the women, thinking how this would probably please the dead man in his bed. 

But a quick glimpse of the corpse displaced the thought from my head.  He lay more alive looking than the last time I’d seen him, in a pressed suit, with hands clasped outside the purple covers.  His lips were solemnly closed and cared nothing for the people around him.  Though his eyes lost the sort of hunger they had retained even when he lay drooling asleep, his brows were trimmed and neat and I noticed that the wisps of black hair were gone from his waxen nose.   The overpowering honey smell in the room made me cough.

Anita crossed herself and my aunt did the same as we left the death room.  We walked down the hall back to the living room right off the front door and found Christine sprawled, in an exhaustion exacerbated by a small intake of alcohol, on a cushioned rocking chair.  She too had changed into a sweatshirt and jeans and her streaked blonde hair was loose around her shoulders.  I gravitated out of routine to the love seat that backed against the wall. Christine called for her sister bring out a bottle of wine and some glasses.  But Anita was a step ahead and had already found an open one amidst the paper plates and leftover sandwiches and cake on the kitchen table and before my aunt could refuse there was a glass in her hand and she was looking for a place to sit.  Anita suggested I have some cake because they wouldn’t be able to finish it (at which Christine scoffed) but I declined as cake was firmly entrenched with celebration in my mind and somehow it didn’t seem right celebrating the man’s life.  She seemed to take my declination as a personal rebuke and murmuring to herself she sat on an armchair by the vacant fireplace.  Not a word passed between us as we stared off into our own private spaces.

My aunt, coming over to sit next to me, said to Christine “I’m sorry, my dear.  Rest assured his troubles are at an end.”

Christine dropped her head so that her hair covered her face.

My aunt swished the wine around the glass and then raised it to her mouth.  “Was . . . was . . .peaceful?” she almost stammered.

“As far as they go, we couldn’t have asked for better,” said Anita.  “We were both there at the end and we said our goodbyes and then he shut his eyes and after a few long breaths, it just stopped.”

Christine perked awake and tapped my hand.  “Dad left something for you,” she said and stood up, bidding me follow her to another room and I did. 

“God was with him at the end,” I heard Anita say as we disappeared. 

In the other room Christine looked around in vain for the object with her back to me.  She tucked her loose hair behind her ears as she turned and I saw that her hands trembled.  She bit her bottom lip and there were tears welling in her eyes.  I went to her because I thought she might fall and though she weighed at least as much as me I thought I’d be able to sustain her long enough to regain her balance should anything go awry.  She grabbed my waist and pulled me into an embrace and I felt the heave of her body.  Our cheeks brushed and I felt her lips against them so I moved my mouth and her warm kisses covered my mouth so that I was devoured in the taste of her and returned the gesture, her tongue ranging into my open mouth.  My hand groped for her breast and upon hitting its mark she leaned into my open hand, her softness triggering an erection.  She let go of my waist and stepped back, alarmed.  She smoothed her sweatshirt along the sides and went back to the other room.

“Ah, poor father!” Anita said to my aunt as I made my way around the corner to the living room.  “We did everything we could and there being no one else.”

Sitting sideways in the chair with her hands clasped under her chin and her feet tucked beneath her buttocks she looked the portrait of submission.

“Poor all of us,” said Christine, resuming her seat, “Look at you, half dead yourself just to get through this.  Thank God that the Father down at the Catholic Church knew dad in the old days.  He helped us fix everything, not that there’s much of anything to distribute, but all the details, things you don’t think of because you don’t want to, but you’re sure glad someone did when the time actually comes.  Like getting the body prepared, arranging the funeral, getting these stupid sandwiches.  The Father was a God send for that.” 

At this the woman all laughed.  I stood apart lingering over the egg sandwiches at the table.

“Thankless me can’t even remember his name,” Christine continued.  “But he wrote an obituary for the paper, should come out next week I understand.”   

“There are saints left in the world?” said my aunt.

Christine bowed her head in assent.  “There is something about friends from the old days,” she said. “I have to say, I don’t know any of my old friends who’d do quite as much for me.”

“Darling, knock it off,” said my aunt.  “Well, you’ll have him looking down on you now.”

“Fat lot of good it’ll do me” scoffed Christine, “even if he does get there.”

“Come now Chris,” said Anita, “the last six months he’s been quiet as a mouse, not much of a bother.”

“I know, I feel like he’s only sleeping in his room.  And I’ll get up in the night get him some water.”

“You’ll miss him when everybody starts leaving you alone,” said my aunt.

“I know,” said Christine.  “His life had become so much a part of mine these last years, like we were in sync somehow and that being in sync somehow warded off death.  It didn’t make him better, it just kept it at bay, gave us some time.  Or maybe I should say it gave me time with him.”

She stopped, as if struck by a recollection, and then remarked, “Not that I didn’t notice he was changing.  The times when he was with it just got spaced further and further apart until we started wondering when it was that he never come back.”

She drank from her wineglass and wiped her lips with the back of her hand.  She laughed and said, “You know he was still, up until last week, going on about taking me and Anita out to the house where we were born. But he insisted only he could drive and he wouldn’t allow us to take him.  And so he would say things like, ‘In two days time I shall be able to drive again.’”

“Eccentric to the end!” said my aunt.

“The worst of it was,” Anita added, “the house was torn down years ago, in the early nineties, I think.  And we’d offered to take him to the site, but he wouldn’t believe us and insisted only he could drive.”   

Christine took some tissue from a box on the table and blew her nose.  She gazed at the used tissue before replacing it on the table.

“Damn stubborn, that one,” she huffed.  “When mom died the world lost its magic. He never really recovered. And children, you might say, didn’t help.”

“It certainly snowballed,” said my aunt.  “He did look good when you were children.  Saw him running all the time, and he did help the children. Regardless of what they say, he was magical with them.”

In the ensuing silence I sipped my wine and shivered.

Christine gazed upon the floor and seemed to have forgotten us.  No one ventured to speak, and after a while she said hesitantly, “It was the lunch he forgot to pack us. . . . That’s when it started.  It was no big deal, really, it was a hot lunch day.  And so he didn’t need to pack one anyway.  But still. . . . .  He was so serious, so personal, God only knows how little things affected him.”

“But . . . surely . . . not with you?” my aunt asked tentatively.  “Some people. . . .”

Christine shook her head and my aunt appeared relieved.

“He felt like a failure to the children that his wife left behind,” she said.  “And so he did the only thing he could think of.  He loved us.  And then he thought we weren’t enough so he started helping other children out of love.  Somewhere along the line he got confused.  Mrs. Moss was bringing us home from skating, this was when we were fifteen or so and we all three of us went in the side door instead of the front door like we usually did.   Anita flicked the light switch. . . . And what do you think but there was dad rubbing himself off to a man and a boy on the tv screen?  He hadn’t even heard us come in.”

She stopped suddenly as if she feared he might come down the corridor.  I listened through the whirr of the furnace for the sound of life, but I knew that the old man lay immobile in his bed, portentous and inhuman, idling his time.

Christine resumed: “He couldn’t speak when Mrs. Moss entered the room . . . So then, of course, they sent the doctor to the doctor. . . .”

*

Scott Drake lives in Ladner, B.C.  His work has previously appeared in West Coast Line and The Prairie Journal. 

Fiction #47: Ashley Coe

Wave

When Anna Maria came to see me in Wolfville in the fall, I did not know the visit would be our last.  I was in Nova Scotia writing my Master’s thesis, and she was back in Montréal.  It was the final ebbing of the friendship, which had begun in Europe in 1995 when we were still children, really, with too much energy to have so much freedom.  It was a pan-Canadian relationship with an Italian connection.  We were both from Toronto, but we met in London in front of Uccello’s Battle of San Romano.  She had given a presentation on Bronzino’s Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time earlier that morning.  Her enthusiasm cut through the jetlag and sharpened my experience of that high school survey course: Italian Renaissance Art with Studio Component.

We were eighteen: the age when full disclosure and unashamed details are compulsory in the conversations of adolescent girls.  We were roommates that summer in Siena, and we travelled together among the other sixteen girls to Florence, San Gimignano, Rome and first to London.  She was happy and guileless and alive back then.  We roamed medieval Siena at night, returning in the early morning to the little hotel in the Contrada of the Wave – la Contrada dell’Onda as we loved to say rolling the ‘r’s of our fake Italian accents.  We talked to everyone and ate everything and we drank and we drank, and during the day we painted and talked about important ideas and also the Italian boys who whistled at every North American girl they saw.

The next year I studied at McGill and she went to the University of King’s College in Halifax.  I eventually failed out but stayed in Montréal for another year for a boyfriend.  She dropped out of King’s to go to NSCAD and then from NSCAD to go to Concordia.  Our lives intersected periodically as we revolved through the wobbly orbits of our early twenties, using universities to justify our lifestyles, never getting anything out of them we didn’t already know except where the good parties were and how to score.

That evening in Nova Scotia she was dynamic.  It was November, and the snow was heavy and wet, pulling down trees and power lines.  We drank Guinness in the Library Pub on Main Street until it closed.  Just down Elm Avenue were the dykes the Acadians built to keep out the huge tides of that great Bay of Fundy that lay in the darkness just beyond us, churning.

We talked with the wisdom of years, we thought, having recently exceeded that age beyond which we’d never imagined ourselves being.  Our topics were now more concrete than they had been in Italy: how do you manage to write a respectable thesis in only one year?  Maybe a law degree is not such bad a idea.  What can you do when you’re in love with your professor, and you could swear by the trace of a glint in his eye that he also loves you?  What about going to India to find God?  We uneasily avoided dwelling too long on how much our paths had diverged.  I was settling down in a way that she found unsettling, and her restless roving made me weary.  That night she talked about a professor she had been seeing in Montréal.  She was a great entertainer, and her oratory was absorbing.

“So over drinks he suddenly says, ‘You’d like to draw me naked, wouldn’t you?’  So I ask myself the question, and the answer is unexpected.  You’re a fucking lunatic, I think. ‘But I’m a photographer’ I say.”  She leaned forward to urge me into the story.  “His name is Marc, and I was taking his critical theory class over the summer.  I handed in a series of photographs in place of a written paper without discussing it first – a risky move I know - but we knew each other a little bit, and I wanted to get his attention.  He says the fact I need to explain myself demonstrates that I have failed to achieve my objective.  I think I should be able to get away with it, so I invite him out to persuade him.”  She always told a good story this way, as if it was happening right that very moment.

“His gaze keeps drifting down to my breasts.  My nipples are thick and hard because there is a cool draft in the room, and I am wearing a very thin shirt.  Around that time I started to wear this very sheer, pale blue shirt after I had my nipple pierced.  You could see where the ring entered and exited my flesh and the stainless steel spike on it.  First I just wore the shirt upstairs to watch a  movie with my neighbours.  One said he thought it looked painted on.  I thought that was an interesting idea: to get away with being naked in a sense.”  She paused to check my reaction.  “I know you don’t believe me, but this is what third-wave feminism means to me.”  She sometimes called me The Suffragette because she said I thought feminism was still about representation and the right to vote.  I took a deep sip of beer to suck back my response; it stung my throat.  She continued.

This is intriguing, I think” her eyebrow flicked up slyly.  “I look at the dark, shiny patch of course hair under his wet, pink lips.  They glisten with moisture and foam from his beer.  ‘Do you mean right now?’ I ask to see if he squirms.  I wondered if he was serious or just being obscurely analytical.”  I wondered what she meant by that, and my attention drifted to the bartender.  He caught my eye across the empty room.  I held up two fingers and nodded yes to him.

“So, I wasn’t totally sure what to do about Marc here.  He’s not physically attractive, you know?  It’s his attitude.  He said, ‘Well, I don’t live far from here.  Maybe you’d like to come back to my apartment for coffee?’

“‘I can have coffee here.’ I said coyly.  He has an English accent.

“‘Well, for ice cream then.’  He always sounds bitchy and exasperated.  The look in his eyes though, and the way they slide down my body, draws me in.

“I spar with him a little bit, ‘Do you think it’s appropriate for me to come to your house, especially when I still have a grade pending?’”  Her eyes flashed with scandal.  “Irritated, he says ‘I have something else pending that’s a bit more urgent.’”  She rolled her eyes and nodded to me, “I know.”  I sucked air, about to speak, but she went on.  “But then he gave me this piercing look and licked his lips, and I was in.  I said,  ‘Don’t you think you’re a little too old for me?’

“‘Listen darling,’ he said, ‘you wouldn’t be the first.’  I found him so appealing.”  The bartender put the round down on coasters in front of us.  I watched the bubbling foam cascade through the black beer.  I sipped deeply and let the bitter quench fill my mouth.

“In the bathroom stall I fantasize about the possibilities.  I could invite him to come and sit next to me on the banquet and guide his hand under my skirt.  I could pull him into an alley on the way home.  I could stay in here long enough for him to understand that it’s an invitation.  I put my underwear in my pocket and stopped at the bar on my way back to the table.  I bend over a barstool just enough to inch my skirt higher.  I imagine that Marc, who is right behind me, can see that I’m not wearing underwear.  I am really interested in situations of furtive sexuality.  I like the idea of the private unfolding in public, still private for the most part but sort of not.  I might write my thesis on it. 

“I ask for a glass of water.  ‘Can I have extra lemon?’  I come back to the table and start explaining my pictures to him, sucking the sour fruit.

“‘I don’t suppose there’s also an earing in that mouth that I haven’t noticed before?’  He asks, interrupting me.  I stick out my tongue and flash him the small stainless steel sphere hooked into my tongue. 

“’Maybe I’ll also show you my tattoo.’  He gestures for the cheque.  At this point I know he’s serious and that he’s probably going to take my pictures in place of the paper.  As we get up to leave, our waiter nods to Marc in that conspiratorial way that men always seem to have that I never understand.  He puts his hand low on my waist.  It is commanding and possessive, and I like that.  He reaches under my skirt as we cross to the door.  As we walk awkwardly along Ste. Catherine Street, his hand travels more deeply underneath.  An exploratory finger is burrowing into the slippery folds between my legs.  It rubs me and tries to push inside.”      Part of me wanted her to stop because I was worried the bartender was listening, but I was completely absorbed in her story.  “For a moment I was distracted because I could hear people behind us.  I heard a woman laugh, and I was afraid that his arm was pulling my skirt up too high and that she was laughing at me.  ‘Hold on a sec.’  I tried to push his hand away.

“‘I don’t think so, darling.’  He says almost whispering.  It was really hot.  So I pulled him between two buildings where we were hidden by a recycling bin.

“All I could think about was the fact that I was seducing my professor.  And he’s not just a professor, you know.  He writes for the Globe and Mail.

“‘This is so sleazy of you Marc.’  I whisper in his ear, but he doesn’t answer me.  He’s pushed up against me, against the wall.  While I’m undoing his pants, I feel his hand on the back of my neck, trying to push my head down.  I resist, and he pushes down harder, so I pull his hips toward me and he is inside me with a rough jab.  I was not going to give him a blowjob in an alley beside a dumpster.  Obviously.  Anyway, by the third or fourth thrust he has given up on getting any oral, and he’s started to make that sound, you know?  So then we just fuck in the alley.”

I didn’t say anything.  “What?”  She looked at me defiantly.  Years ago I responded enthusiastically to her wild stories because I didn’t want her to think I was a prude and because I envied her experience and her freedom.  Now I was uncomfortable with the way she regaled me with such raw details.
“Did I tell you that I started stripping?”  Her face was still smiling, but her eyes were not.  “I like being on stage and being watched.” She recited.  “Mostly I like that it’s such easy money – not that I really need money – because these stupid men just give it away.  I love that I can take whatever I want from them if I just flash my ass and cock an eyebrow.”

I knew she was hurt by my silence, but I was annoyed because she always set me up this way: she would try to shock me, dare me to judge her and then sulk when I didn’t congratulate her behaviour.  I was angry that she misunderstood my concern for her safety as moral disapproval.  I told myself I did not judge her. 

She had the face of an Italian Madonna, like the ones painted by Duccio and Simone Martini in the style of the Sienese School: the early ones with long noses and deep, dark, almond shaped eyes; their bodies set against gold leaf, their circumstances always somewhat mystical.  I remember we laughed about the idea of a virgin sky in Siena and how our teacher hated it when we called it that.  At twilight, the deep blue sky makes the rusty brown of the ancient city look intensely orange, and that orange makes the sky intensely blue like lapis lazuli: the colour of the robes of the Virgin Mary.

The year we were in Siena, the horse from our contrada won the Palio.  It was the first time in a long time that a horse was not killed on the San Martino bend. Anna Maria and I were there in the square, penned in and carried on the wave of the vigorous, angry crowd as the horses flew around the Piazza del Campo.  The race ended suddenly, the gates of the square opened, and the pressure of the bodies holding us off our feet in the air released and we splashed into the streets.  I folded over in relief of panic that gripped me for the first time in my life, but Anna Maria was exultant, brought to life by the passion of the crowd and the extreme emotion with which the Sienese attend this ancient race.

That night we attended the parties that filled our part of the city.  Her pleasure from the win was as earnest and joyfully celebrated as by the revelers who’d watched the race for their whole lives.  She danced with old men and kissed children and eyed teenaged boys lecherously.  She spoke more and more Italian as the night wore on.  She sang their songs, and we drank until morning.

*

Ashley Coe is a multidisciplinary writer and erstwhile medievalist who has studied English literature at the University of Waterloo, Acadia University and the University of Western Ontario.  She left academia to focus on writing fiction.  Her work has also recently been published in Existere.  She lives in Kitchener, ON. Her blog -
http://dereksdinner.tumblr.com/

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fiction #46

New fiction! Issue #46

Submissions now open for #47.

Special thanks to all who have been submitting. Enjoy.

Fiction #46: Lynda Curnoe

Into the Spaceship             

Carol and Ed McGrath had been invited to a party to which they didn’t want to go, but felt an obligation. Jules and Sonia Beecham, who had invited them to this pre-Christmas party, were friends from way back, a couple they had known years ago in Montreal during the EXPO years. Ed and Jules had worked together in the same chemical plant and both couples, being English speaking and newcomers to the province in those turbulent early separatist years, had become friends. Not great friends, but friends whose backgrounds brought them together. They would visit back and forth and arrange play dates for their children. When the one couple organized dinner the other would bring their children along to play for a little while and then sleep in the other children’s rooms.

Although they knew each other well materially, knew what kinds of furniture and interests each couple had, neither could say they liked the other couple all that much. It was one of those friendships that seemed to hang around forever without going anywhere.

Ed and Jules would talk about work and Carol and Sonia would talk about kids and managing households in Quebec, each of them missing their family connections. The Beecham’s relatives were all overseas in England and the McGrath’s in the farmland of Southwestern Ontario. Together the foursome felt like emigrants to a strange land.

The reason they had all ended up in Montreal was EXPO 67 which then was being talked about all over the world. But Expo itself, while being exciting, was a limited part of their experience there. The stronger, if disturbing force, was Quebec separatist activity which, although perhaps minor in terms of terrorism in other parts of the world, still made life in Montreal fearful. Once, in fact, while Carol was grocery shopping at Safeway, the store had to be evacuated because of a bomb threat. They read about bombs in mailboxes and of innocent people being killed. The last straw was the kidnapping and murder of Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte in October 1970. Shortly after that, both couples moved away from the province.

They kept up their acquaintance over the years through correspondence and Christmas cards and had actually ended up in the same city, London, Ontario. No longer neighbours, they learned that London is a relatively small city, at least in the central core, making it easy to get from one neighbourhood to another. The Beechams lived in North London and the McGrath’s in Old South, both built neighbourhoods where each couple quickly established a family nest formed of neighbours, school and work. By this time both wives were working and the children were in university or headed there.

Although their interests had diverged, the foursome kept up their, now infrequent, dinner rounds. The McGraths had gotten involved in cultural events in the city while the Beechams were more into sporting activities. Carol and Ed were members of Museum London, attending art show openings and lectures and were subscribers of the London Symphony Orchestra. Carol was in the choir of London Pro Musica a choral society and Ed had gotten involved in amateur theatre. The Beechams went skiing in winter and had invested in a summer cottage on Lake Huron near Grand Bend where they spent their holidays and most weekends during good weather.

The McGrath’s decided to walk to the party, along Wortley Road, over the Thames River bridge and through the back streets of downtown London to Waterloo Street where the Beecham’s lived. Dundas, the old main street of London, was not safe anymore. There were stabbings, shootings and gang activity around the old main intersections. Londoners were more attracted by suburban shopping malls and Dundas was now inhabited by more unsavory characters, especially at night. For years locals had been waiting and hoping for urban renewal downtown.

The Beecham’s two storey yellow brick house, although smaller than the McGraths, was worth more money, being in the more expensive North  area of the city. Its’ standard layout featured a living room off the front hall which also included a stairway to the second floor, and a dining room followed by a large kitchen. Upstairs were four bedrooms. Jules who often worked from home had a small office, formerly a sun room, on the ground floor off the dining room. Furniture was new but traditional in style, that is a blend of Victorian and French provincial with the odd modern lamp thrown in.

The McGrath’s South London home featured a centre hall with a wide elegant staircase in the middle. Rooms on both floors radiated from the centre. Their furnishings were old, sometimes even garage sale, and therefore somewhat shabby, the couple seeming not to worry too much about appearances, preferring a more bohemian style.

Neither did the two couples share the same kinds of friends anymore. The Beecham’s friends showed up at all the same parties, the fit skiing and boating crowd who the McGrath’s had met many times before, but with whom they had never established any kind of continuing friendship. The women wore tights with loose sweaters or short mini-dresses and the men sporty-looking outfits. The McGrath’s wore their culture on their backs nowadays, Carol wearing brightly coloured natural fabrics and Ed casual chino pants and a hand knit sweater.

But at this party there were a few other people they had never met before, including a very handsome, stylishly dressed couple with Italian accents, The Melchiorres were dressed to the nines in expensive glamorous clothing. Gina was a dyed redhead who wore black, very high heels with black stockings and a glittering dress trimmed with red. Paulo, her husband wore a European style, dark close-fitting suit with patent leather shoes. His dark hair was slicked back. They stood out because of the care put into their grooming.

Guests helped themselves to trays of cheeses and appetizers and, after the usual introductions and the serving of drinks, conversations began. Unfortunately, Sonia had arranged seating around the outer edges of the living room and a dreaded social circle had formed. There were not enough people to crowd around and circulate. Only a couple of men remained standing at the front near the window. Private conversations were heard by everyone and when someone with a loud enough voice began to talk all eyes turned in that direction

Gina Melchiorre who was sitting near the opening into the dining room, began talking about an incident that had happened to her and Paulo on a country road in the fall, a couple of months earlier. They were driving to visit friends who lived near Lake Simcoe in a wooded part of the country, isolated but not too far from Highway 400, when a bright white light appeared on the road in front of them forcing Paulo to put on the brakes quite suddenly as he was not sure if the road was blocked. As she told the story Paulo nodded his assent here and there.

At first they thought there had been an accident and that the light was the headlights of a car that had stopped or gone off the road.

“Paulo said, ‘We’d better look.’”

“‘Don’t,’ I said.”

“But someone might be hurt.”

“Let’s just call 911  before we get out.”

“But if no one is hurt that would be an unnecessary call. I’m getting out.”

“I said, ‘I’m staying here in the car.’”

Paulo disappeared into the light and after a few minutes of extreme anxiety wondering what had happened to him Gina decided to get out of the car as well.

The light was so blinding she could see only blurred edges of what she assumed was some kind of structure, but still she walked towards it as it grew even brighter in intensity. All around was darkness.

A kind of opening appeared in front of her. She could see the outline of 3 or 4 steps going up and a slight variation in the tone of the light beyond.

“‘Paulo, are you there?’ I shouted. ‘Is anyone here?’”

Nothing

“I was so frightened,” she said, as she wiped tears from her eyes and looked up and around the company before them. She had become very excited. Her voice had taken on a higher pitch as she continued with the story. Her skin was rosy and glistening with perspiration. Paulo was nodding as if to say ‘yes, yes, go on.’ The dreadful circle was silent as all eyes were fixed on Gina. It was like the Beecham’s guests were kids being told a ghost story around a fire at a summer camp. At least a ghost story would be acceptable, knowing it was just a ghost story. Not serious like this. All around the room everyone was thinking, ‘Who are these people? Why have they been invited here?’

“I felt compelled to go up those steps and into the opening,” Gina continued. “When I got inside I could see Paulo standing there. It was like he was in a trance, lit up and surrounded by light. He didn’t even turn to look at me. ‘Paulo,’ I whispered because it didn’t seem right to talk out loud. Then he saw me standing there.”

“Look at this. It’s so light in here but there is no structure, no walls, or ceiling and it’s so warm.”

“I walked around stretching out my arms and couldn’t feel anything solid and couldn’t see where the floor was although I seem to be walking on something. I felt very hot in my coat. It was late fall, you know, and cold outside. We stood in amazement for a few minutes until I said ‘Let’s go, please Paulo. I’m afraid.’”

“We retraced out steps and got back into the car, locked the doors, watched out the window and waited. After about 10 minutes whatever it was seemed to lift up and float away, but quickly. There was no sound. We continued to watch as the thing disappeared into the sky and its’ light faded away. When we looked at our watches we saw that we had been parked there for over two hours. How could this have happened?

Paulo and I were dumfounded, literally. We were absolutely shaken but for some reason more fascinated than afraid. We have never experienced such a thing in our lives. To this day we do not know what it was. Paulo has been looking up flying saucers and UFO’s on the web and even contacted some people to see if what we saw was seen by other people that night. But we’ve found no one to verify our experience. Nothing!”

Conversation at the party had come to a complete standstill. No one knew what to say. Jules asked if anyone would like another drink. But everyone stayed where they were, bewildered, still sitting in the circle of chairs as before.  After a little while, likely earlier than she would have liked, Sonia disappeared into the kitchen and began bringing out food that had been previously prepared or perhaps purchased, and was waiting in the fridge covered with plastic wrap. There was some cold sliced turkey, salads, bakery rolls, a couple of fruit pies and a cake. The guests gravitated towards the table, murmuring in conversation, with the occasional burst of laughter. No one talked about the story they had just heard. Later, Paulo and Gina sat off by themselves eating bits and pieces from plates on their laps. They were not exactly being ignored but people were giving them a wide berth.

After everyone had retrieved their coats and said goodbye, guests seemed to fan out in front of the Beecham’s home. A light snow had fallen and under the arc of the streetlamp their footprints formed a half circle pattern of spokes as couples made their way home on the sidewalks to the left or right or to their cars parked across the road.

*

Lynda Curnoe enjoys writing short stories and poetry and anything else that appeals to her. She lives in Toronto.