The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

22 March 2017

Black crows on the corner

At the halfway point between parking lot and work place is a street corner with cobbled pedestrian zone and the walking man light with helpful countdown timer.

A David Attenborough of the human animal would find this a very interesting location from which to observe their subject in its natural habitat. Among the interesting specimens: the dressed in black office worker.

One morning I noticed that all five of the women waiting at the corner for their turn to cross (of which I was one), as well as the two who were crossing the other way, were clothed in head-to-toe black. We resembled a tiny unkindness of ravens. Each of us, in black winter coat over black trousers ending in black boots, with black bag slung over shoulders, with only minor differences for taste and style, were birds of a feather.

At the changing of the light we performed our dance en masse: a glance left then right, a cautious step off the curb, followed by quick steps across the cobblestones, black boots tapping, black bags bobbing... after which we parted, some darting left, some striding right, chins tucked down into our black coats, each of us moving at our own tempo to our own destination.

These particular birds, the dressed in black office worker, can be spotted at various watering holes in urban environments, where they clutch caffeinated beverages, yeasty baked things, or green salads in clear plastic boxes. They stride along sidewalks, heads turned toward the windows they pass, watching either their own reflection or the pretty items on display behind the glass.

Once safe in their own environments, with black coats removed, the David Attenborough of the human animal will discover that the unkindness of ravens was actually a collection of sparrows and starlings, doves and robins, cardinals and chickadees undercover in black feathers.

20 March 2017

The enthusiastic convert and the desert island

I've recently discovered the world of the podcast, and like all new converts, I tend to be rather enthusiastic when the opportunity to talk about them presents itself, whether with friend, family, or perfect stranger. (Actually I haven't been a scary podcast apologist with outright strangers just yet, but definitely so with people who are barely acquaintances.)

One of the shows I'm thoroughly enjoying is Desert Island Discs, from the BBC (known as the Beeb, or was, until the other Beeb happened.)  I like it because it combines interviews of interesting people with interesting music. And, I must be honest here, because of the accents. DID has been going strong for 75 years now, and I may have heard an episode here and there while still living at home, but I'm very glad to have discovered it at last. Technology has its wonderfulness!

The premise is: the guest of the week is the 'castaway', awash on a desert island.  The host with the marvelous accent leads the castaway through the story of his/her life, and interspersed therein the castaway offers eight musical selections that have some personal significance. Offerings I've heard so far include allsorts from Beethoven and Rachmaninoff, to Metallica and The Supremes. Then, the castaway is allowed to choose one book (aside from the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare, which are helpfully on the island), and one luxury item. At the end, the host asks which of the eight musical selections the castaway would want to save, supposing all the others were being washed away by the waves. Cruel question, no?

It's a fun game to play, and one I'm sure we've all partaken of at one time or another.  I've given some thought to what my answers would be if I were ever interviewed on the show (it could happen, as I am a very interesting sort of person) (stop laughing).  Here is what I have concluded: Narrowing the musical scope of an entire life (thus far) to a mere eight pieces of music is way too difficult, and also, the list looks very different if the question is 'name eight pieces of music that encapsulate your life' or if it is 'name eight pieces of music you would want to listen to over and over again while stranded on a deserted island'.

Because of that difference, I have given myself some leeway, and expanded the list to ten, and even then I have a few 'either or' selections. They are thus:

1. Everything counts - Depeche Mode
It has been documented here at the Lighthouse that I am, and have been, a dedicated and devoted fan of DM. The journey began for me when I saw the concert documentary '101' on Much Music - in particular the scene of the band performing this song. Dave, the lead singer is silhouetted against the massive crowd at the Rose Bowl and the fans carry on singing the refrain long after the instruments fade away. I wanted to know more about them, and I began collecting every bit of their music I could get my hands on. I am as devoted today, and rare is the mood that cannot be supported by my beloved boys in leather and chains.

2. Adagio - Albinoni
The first piece of classical music I claimed as my own from among my parents' vast collection. The aching emotions it stirred up worked their way into scraps of writing and to this day it never fails to move me.

3.Colourful - The Vervepipe
This would definitely make it onto the soundtrack of my life. It probably would be worked into "Tess's Theme" in some way. It's a good song, to be sure, but lyrically, it makes sense to me. Somewhere out there, is a man who gets it.

4. The Boxer - Simon and Garfunkle
High school English. Studying the great Canadian author Hugh MacLennan's 'Each man's son'. I fell in love with his writing in that class, thanks largely to a wonderful teacher who played us this song to help bring the story alive.

5. Girlfriend is better / or Once in a lifetime - Talking Heads
After highschool, which musically had been fairly mainstream, a new neighbour, German by birth, introduced me to a whole new world: Joy Division  Kraftwerk, and Talking Heads. David Byrne and his big white suit shook me up and put me back together different. It was like discovering grownup poetry when you'd only had nursery rhymes 'till then.

6. That was yesterday - Foreigner
Much earlier in chronology, but in terms of impact, I think it belongs here. I still love listening to Foreigner and believe, wholeheartedly, that Lou Gramm has one of the best voices in rock. Ever. And I speak as a huge fan of Chris Cornell. Jukebox hero was probably the first song of theirs I knew... taping it off the radio so I could play it over and over again to memorize the lyrics, but That was yesterday is a song I still listen to over and over again. The emotion Gramm delivers is achingly palpable.

7. Ishmael and Maggie - The Trews / or Penny more by Skydiggers
The Trews are so perfectly Canadian and I love love love Ismael and Maggie... but The Skydiggers are a band I used to go with my other music-loving friends to see in a little hole-in-the-wall club whenever they came to Ottawa.

8. Brothers in arms - Dire Straights
I'm an army brat. I've gone to Remembrance Day ceremonies all my life and believe we need to keep the stories of war alive, with the hope that we will - eventually - learn the lessons we shouldn't have taken so long to learn.

9. Show must go on - Queen
There is no more powerful, emotional, gut-wrenching song of the modern era, I believe, than this powerhouse performance from Freddie Mercury. I'd dabbled in the Queen discography since I was a kid, but bought myself the Innuendo album as an adult (I loved I'm going slightly mad) and The Show must go on broke me apart the first time I heard it. It's almost too much to really pay attention to it when it's playing...  you almost have to ignore it and let it slide into your consciousness sideways. I would play it in my car while driving home in the dark, playing it so loud my ears nearly bled, tears falling every time for the pain Freddie must have been feeling when he recorded it.

10. 7th symphony, Allegretto - Beethoven.
This is a recent favourite. Mom has always loved and played Beethoven, so I know for sure I must have heard this piece at least a million times in my life, but only recently has it taken over a corner in my mind as its own. It's like poetry in that it speaks directly to my soul, bypassing the need to unpack words for meaning.

Those are my ten.  If I had to save only one... man. I think my answer would be different depending on the day and circumstances, but I'm tempted to say the Albinoni.

The book I would like to have with me would probably be Jane Eyre. Unless it was the complete works of John Donne. My luxury item would definitely, without question, be a supply of pen and paper. All is well if I can write.

Would you be able to answer these questions?  What would your necessities be, should you be able to plan a little for being castaway on a desert island?

07 March 2017

February short story

Second '12 short stories in 12 months' challenge. The prompt was 'Conversations with my spouse', target 1,200 words.
This is a return to the world of Madeline and her Lighthouse Keeper.
~*~


Excerpt of letter from Dorothy Saunders to Madeline Smith
...storms have been fierce this year. They say more ships have been lost this year than in any other. As you can imagine, it is keeping Peter quite busy. (I tell you this in case you’re wondering why you haven’t been hearing from him.) (ARE you hearing from him?) Nevertheless, he stopped by today, for no particular reason at all, or so he’d have me believe. But I could see he wanted to ask after you and was working hard to keep his words between his teeth.
You know your own mind, Madeline, and I love you dearly, but you are more stubborn than an ornery mule when you catch hold of an idea. I truly do hope you know what you’re about, this time.
Kate says to tell ‘Aunt’ Madeline she won Edward’s marbles. (Here I thought he’d lost them long ago.)
Your forever friend,
Dot


Part of a letter from Madeline to Mrs. Calember
...I’m sorry to hear the raccoon got at your pies again. Do you think you ought to leave them to cool out on the porch like that? I’ve often been tempted to swipe one myself so I find myself quite in sympathy with your masked bandit!
Thank you for telling me about Peter - I’m glad to know he’s getting his meals regular at Miss Stella’s. Things haven’t changed in town one bit, for I swear every time he sets foot in that restaurant someone is in a hurry to tell me he isn’t wasting away from hunger. I appreciate your wanting to help, but That Man will have to come to his senses in his own time.
Now, fill me in on what’s been happening with the Lady’s Auxiliary. Dot’s last letter was sadly lacking in gory details…


From a letter from Jane Sissons to Madeline
… grumpy as a goat. Jonathan says he’s worse than before you came to town, and I have to say, Maddy, I agree with him. You know it must be plain as day, for my husband doesn’t notice a thing he hasn’t pulled up in a fishing net.
Dorothy and I are keeping an eye on him between us. Last week we overheard him asking Jasper about flower beds and garden seeds. Could have knocked us over with a feather we were so amazed, for if Peter LaRoche knew or cared about the difference between a flower or a weed he’s never showed it before.
We’re all pleased as can be for your sister but couldn’t she hurry the baby along so you can come back to Rose Passage?


From Madeline to Jasper Kittering
I wouldn’t go so far afield as Tolstoy, Jasper. I’m delighted you’re willing to venture away from the Farmer’s Almanac, but you needn’t go all the way to Russia on your first foray into the World of Literature! Rose Passage Library has a respectable selection of the works of Mr Dickens. Ask Mrs Calember to show you where they are; she’ll know how to help you. I think you would enjoy Oliver Twist very much. It is my experience that men of a quiet nature do well with Dickens.


A letter from Jasper Kittering to Madeline
I had to put down on paper my thanks to you, Miss Madeline, for leading me to the fine writing of Mr Charles Dickens. He sure is able to make a terrible and tangled life something we can find humour in. I’ve been reading scraps of it out to the fellows in the store of a quiet morning and they sure are enjoying it. I notice your man hanging around in the back of the gang some mornings but he usually slides out quiet like before I can talk to him. I reckon he’s another quiet one you told about Mr Dickens, for I saw him smile when he overheard me tell Jonathan Sissons how I came to be reading such a book. Mrs Calember is going to help me decide on the next book, soon’s I’m done with poor Oliver Twist, but we truly do miss you behind the desk of our library.
Come to think of it, your Peter was buying a fair lot of lumber and nails. Might be he’s fixing to build that trellis you’ve been talking about, come Spring time.
Your friend,
Jasper L. Kittering

From Mrs. Calember to Madeline
Peter paid his usual visit to the library on Tuesday, and I tucked the book on rose horticulture into the stack he borrowed as you’d asked.  I noticed Great Expectations among the books he returned. I don’t think he meant anything by the Miss Havisham reference though, dear.


Excerpt of letter from Madeline to Dorothy
I meant to patch the elbow of his grey sweater before I left for the train that day, but I was so cross I just didn’t care if he went all over town with his elbows hanging out of his clothes. Is he wearing that new coat from Christmas? It’s been so cold of late. Oh, Dot, why are things never so simple as you imagine they will be when you imagine your grownup self as a child?


Do tell my borrowed niece and nephew that there isn’t as much snow here as at home, but we did get enough to construct a wonderful fort…


From a letter from Madeline to Jane
I marvel and you and Jonathan being married for so long and still civil to one another. Peter is a good man and I know it, but he lived alone in that lighthouse for a long time. I think it cleared any natural ability to share a home right out of him!


Excerpt of reply from Jane
Oh, dearest Madeline, men are never very good at understanding a woman’s heart at the beginning - we have to teach it to them. But my dear, the same can be said of a wife needing to learn her husband’s heart.
I saw Peter in the mercantile yesterday looking at a bolt of yellow cotton (with polka dots, my dear!) I teased him about new shirts made of yellow cotton, and he turned red, poor man, then he mumbled something about curtains and left without buying a thing. You wouldn’t know what that was about, would you? Could it be that he is wanting to pretty up that house for when you return?


Part of a letter from Dorothy to Madeline
I did as you asked, Maddy, and bought the whole bolt of yellow cloth from Jasper. You should have seen Peter’s face as he watched me pull it up the walk in Edward’s little wagon, and then told him it was from you. (I thought you might be having a laugh at me - payback for that time I let you go the whole day with your sweater on inside out.) (I promise you nobody else noticed!) However foolish I felt delivering that heap of fabric, I don’t think a man has ever been so happy to be given yellow polka dots as he was.
Madeline to Dorothy
Bless you, my friend!

Telegram from Peter LaRoche to Madeline
Please come home.





13 February 2017

The List

This is my response to the first prompt in the Writer's Write 12 short stories in 12 months challenge. I was to write a short story (1,400 words) inspired by "The List". I'm not sure if I'm allowed to share the story outside of the challenge, but here it is anyway.

Revised from the version I first posted on Feb. 13.



At the end of a hallway in an old wooden house, there was a grey-painted room with wide-planked creaky floors. The room was inhabited by a long crowded table, overflowing bookshelves, and the scent of creative endeavour. In it, a woman squinched her eyes at a drawing propped in front of her. She was muttering under her breath about uncooperative rabbits and stubborn trees, but as she was a polite sort of person, brought up to be careful of her words, nothing she said would have been unprintable in the children’s story the drawing was meant to become.

Deep in thought, Carol patted the loose papers on her desk. A solid lump under one brought a look of interest to her face, but when she uncovered the box of matches she admonished it, “You belong in the kitchen, you do. How did you end up here?” The fog of absentmindedness cleared only slightly, overwritten by the scene so vivid in her mind of woodland creatures at a birthday party nestled in the nook of a large tree. Unmindful of the ink-laden brush in her hand, she scrunched her pockets only to be disappointed in their emptiness. “Glasses… glasses…” she muttered again, as if speaking their name would cause them to appear. Still grumbling to herself Carol peered in desk drawers, stood on tiptoe to see the upper reaches of the bookcase, and swept pots of ink and jars of brushes from one end of a shelf to the other.

From the doorway, Rachel watched the frazzled woman move around the room, tails of the overlarge shirt drifting behind her in time with the grey-sprinkled braid hanging down her back. She recognized this ritual.

“Mama,” she called out softly.  “Your glasses are on your head.”

Carol whirled around, startled at the sound of the voice so suddenly intruding on the birthday party, one hand going to the top of her head where, indeed, were perched the missing spectacles. Unfortunately that hand was the one also holding the wet brush.

“Blast!” Carol said with irritation, feeling a drop of ink seeping into an eyebrow. Rachel laughed, waiting for the words she knew would come next: “How did they end up there?”

“Don’t worry Mama… it’s just Old Timer’s.”

“Oh ha ha, smarty pants.  You’re not too old for me to ground you, you know.”

“I know.  I’m sorry, mom.”  Kiss to the cheek. “Go back to your work.  I’m heading out to meet the girls for a movie, so there’s nobody home until late tonight, ok?” This was to let her mother know there would be no demands for maternal attention from any of her three children and she could happily get lost in the world she had created for her latest children’s book.

Rachel waited in the doorway a moment longer, but Carol was already contemplating her landscape, glasses now properly perched on her nose.  About to turn back down the creaky hallway, Rachel noticed the glint of a ring of keys amid a bundle of pussy willows. Smiling affectionately, she carefully hung the keys from a hook beside the front door on her way out.

~~*~~

Many hours later Carol stood at the kitchen sink scraping ink and charcoal from under her fingernails. It had been a satisfactory session, all in all. The story had been plotted out long ago but the illustrations had taken longer this time. It seemed more difficult of late to concentrate, so tonight had been a breakthrough, actually, and she had industriously completed two full spreads and roughed out a third. Something was niggling, though, tugging at the very edges of her brain.  What was it?  It was something Rachel had said to her.

Rachel.  The thought of her youngest daughter reminded Carol of the movie theatre, and thinking of the movie theatre made her think of the shopping mall. It was last week sometime, wasn’t it? Wednesday, maybe. She couldn’t find the car. It had been a lovely morning of window shopping and a nice cup of tea with a new magazine. Then she left the mall, walked down the row where she had parked, and couldn’t find her car. She didn’t panic right away; after all, this happens, right? Doesn’t everyone have at least one story about that hilarious incident of wandering the rows of a parking lot trying to find their particular minivan among hundreds just like it? But after twenty-five minutes of wandering and increasing frustration, she went back inside to ask for help from mall security.

It was as two of the men were traversing the rows of the second lot with an eye out for a black vehicle with her registration number that Carol’s phone rang. “Hey, mom, I’m running a few minutes late ‘cause I forgot to get gas earlier.  I’ll be at the door in about 10, ok?” It was her youngest boy calling from the car he’d borrowed for the morning in exchange for which he dropped his mom at the mall. The same car two perfect strangers were at this moment helping her find.

The security team assured her it happened to enough other people that she had no reason to be embarrassed, but she just knew they would be sharing this story with the rest of their crew and that she would never be stepping foot in that mall ever again. And that night her family teased her yet again about Old Timer’s creeping up on her.

Hadn’t she always been forgetful though, a little less hemmed in by organization and schedules than most people? Carol used to pride herself on being free spirited -  interestingly artistic was how one friend described her. Her concept of time had never been tied to an actual clock, and her grasp on the details of plans or events were invariably fuzzy. But what if, instead of being creatively carefree she was actually losing her connection to the world around her? Maybe the fact that she kept calling the dog Ben when his name was Felix was a warning light of incipient large scale memory malfunction.

Caught between the dread of knowing and fear of the unknown, Carol began a discreet campaign of reading articles about dementia and early onset Alzheimer’s. She hated that word, couldn’t bring herself to say it out loud, but she’d read enough to convince herself the word now belonged to her. It was an unspeakable word to be carrying around in her mouth, nearly falling out during conversations about summer plans. It was like an explosive device. She imagined that if she poked at the word too aggressively it would go off, flinging loss and forgetfulness into every corner of her mind.

Not yet. She wasn’t ready to own it yet. She couldn’t bring herself to see a doctor let alone talk about these fears with her family. Saying the word out loud to another person would make it real. Would turn benign forgetfulness into a ravening creature feasting on her memories.

She tried to imagine disappearing from her life. Slipping away from her babies. Sure, they were grown now - the oldest was out of the house - but things were starting to get good with them now that she didn’t have to ‘mom’ them anymore. She was looking forward to watching what they would become. She wanted to see their own families grow, hold grandbabies, travel to Peru with her husband like they’d always talked about.  How could she experience the joy of watching Rachel walk down the aisle if she couldn’t remember who Rachel was?

Months ago, when the dreadful thoughts first took hold, she feverishly wrote down all the things she wanted her people to know. “I love you.” How to say it in such a way that the truth of it stuck? Was it possible to wrap a hug in words on a page? Line after line of a notebook quickly filled with all the deeply heartfelt messages from mother to child, from wife to husband, to friends so close they were her heart’s family.

Once the emotional lightening bolts had been recorded, she took to adding random thoughts and words of wisdom as they wandered into her mind.
Keep spare keys by the front door.
Look after your teeth.
If you find the perfect jeans, buy a second pair.
Celebrate each other’s birthdays.
Have chocolate. Always.
Uncle Martin gets farty with potatoes, so stick to squash at Thanksgiving.
Remember how Mrs Garber stepped off her porch and broke her left leg and hip. They had to cut off her trousers and she was mortified. Always wear good underwear.
Rachel is to have the original woodland sketches.
Pay attention, even to the little things.

Back in her room at the end of the creaky hallway, Carol stood in dimness, head bowed and hands folded over her notebook as if in prayer. After a few quiet moments she tucked it safely into a drawer, then closed the door as she left the room.




04 January 2017

The invitation of raindrops.

Little elves I cannot see are playing double dutch outside my window. Their footprints dance in the puddles as it rains.

~~

In the hotel across the square from me a little light burns. It warms a solitary room as all the others are dark or curtained against this grey and misty day. The keeper of that light is a kindred spirit, for it is days like today that I like to watch, too. Rain or snow, mist or fog, draw me to sit in the window to think of deep thoughts or of nothing at all.

On days like today, fairy tales are born.

14 December 2016

Of clumsy birds and line dancing pigeons.

There is a line of pigeons dancing in the square.  Line dancing birds! They step quickly, left and right, shrugging shoulders to fluff their feathers. They slalom between clumps of snow that punctuate the cobblestones before breaking formation, scattering to dance their own choreography.

The next time I see them, they are in a line once more, this time on a roof ledge looking down on us. I watch one turn in circles, tapping his beak at something that must be food. Two others strut away, heads rocking forward and back with each step. They trade places and I wonder, was it planned? Did I miss the signal? It's fun to watch them lean into a fall over the ledge, then catch a current to sail down to the ground.

Are there clumsy birds? Is there one in the flock that fumbles for the branch as he attempts a landing or misjudges the distance to a wire? (Does he get teased for being the goof of the group?) Do they ever clip the wings of another bird in flight, or misunderstand directions only to wait alone in the park by the beach while the rest of the gang is feasting in the parking lot of the Beach Street Mall?

I would feel better about myself when I manage to catch the pocket of my sweater on a door knob (for the second time this morning) if I knew there were clumsy birds.

05 November 2016

Of Madeline and the lighthouse keeper




Peter LaRoche was a cranky, crabby man. He rarely said a word to anyone, which was probably a good thing because his words would likely not have been kind. 
He manned the light on a slender spit of land where harbour met the sea, and he took that work very seriously. He was meticulous in the completion of his duties. He never squandered time or money. He was methodical and precise in all things. And he was lonely. 
People in town assumed Peter was alone by choice, and cranky by nature. They never thought to listen to his story to find out where he was from or if his heart was whole. Instead, when he entered the store to carefully select his meagre rations, the women doing their own shopping would fall silent around him. The same scene would play out in the hardware store when he’d stock up on nails and kerosene. This would happen week after week. He would row away from the solitude of his lighthouse to endure the silence of aloof townsfolk. 
Until Madeline came. She was hired to take over the public library after old Mr. Robson retired. 
Madeline Smith, librarian, was going to change Rose Passage, but no one would ever expect it from the look of her.  She seemed perfectly librarian-like: quiet, organized, mostly plain, and helpful. If you looked closely, though, you would note a mischievous dimple in her cheek and a glint of red in her hair – and most tellingly of all, she wore purple-framed glasses. 
Miss Smith and Mr LaRoche first crossed paths at Stella’s – a home-style restaurant with rooms to let overhead. Peter was sitting alone for his one-meal-out-a-month that was all he allowed himself. Madeline helped herself to the seat opposite him, and with chin in hand, she twinkled at him, and proceeded to talk his ear off. (She was quiet, yet, but knew how to tell a story.) Other diners fully expected Mr LaRoche to scowl or even stomp out, but to their surprise he merely watched her and ate his meal. He didn’t say a word to her but that didn’t stop Madeline from continuing to talk to him whenever she met him at the grocer’s, or passed him in the street. 
The news was quickly shared from neighbour to neighbour the day Mr LaRoche was seen to actually speak to Miss Madeline. They were eating ices under a tree in the square, Madeline idly kicking her legs, watching the clouds while the man talked. What anyone would have given to know what was said!
Gradually, one brave soul after another would extend the lightkeeper a greeting, or offer some remark about the weather, to which Mr LaRoche would respond with a nod and a smile. More and more people registered for library cards with the desire to discover what powers Miss Smith may have, to make the mute speak and the cranky smile. Instead of magic, they discovered Madeline’s natural friendliness and kindness. Somehow they found themselves joining garden clubs and bridge parties with people they never would have spared a thought for before Madeline set them in each other’s path.
Many librarians have a gift for matching a reader to a book, but Madeline’s particular knack was for putting people together. Rose Passage became a town of friendship where not one soul was overlooked or forgotten, for Madeline saw how the quirks and corners in each person would work with those in another.
As for Mr LaRoche? Well, Madeline showed him how his quirks and corners were perfectly suited to hers. Not three months after that day under the tree he asked for her hand in marriage. She twinkled at him, and said yes, of course.