The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

15 June 2017

Fifth of twelve: The Letter (word count: 500)

“Are you ready yet?” Tom asked the child.
“No, not yet,” the reply drifted back to him.
“Ok,” said Tom. “We can take our time.”

Tom sat on a thick lump of driftwood, hands stuffed deep into his pockets, his shoulders hunched against a wind that bit with sharp teeth through his thin jacket. Waves were being pushed onto the rocks by that wind, as it peeled the lake back layer by layer.

They were being peeled into layers, too, he and the girl. Life had become a stinging wind and blunt rocks, and they were caught in between, like the water, being battered by the two.

Ahead of him, at the point where rock melted into sand stood the small girl, Birdie. Tom’s heart wobbled looking at her. She was so little and alone there on the beach, her slightness emphasized by the vast horizon and unending stretch of water. Now and then she would kick a rock into the water with a drunken sounding ‘sploosh’ but mostly she was still, facing the unrelenting waves and the angry sky with all her solitary frailty.

Coming here, this spot, today, had been her idea. Birdie had spent many happy days at this beach, chasing seagulls, collecting shells, watching her mother paint the ever-changing mood of the sky over the lake. She could sit for hours with a pile of books, lost in a story or pouring over illustrations of shore life, eagerly sharing interesting tidbits.

It was a long drive for them to visit Tom, but they would come every summer. They made every visit worthwhile by filling their days with adventures and picnics, and plenty of day dreaming. Those days were touched by gold, Tom thought. Now they were in a time of somber grey.

“Birdie?” he called after some time had passed since he last asked, “are you ready now?”
“Not yet,” came the answer chased by the wind.

So Tom stood for a moment to stomp warmth back into his feet. They had been here, just like this, for hours it felt like. He was willing to wait longer, determined she would have all the time she needed. Each time he asked the question, her answer was the same: not yet.

And then she moved. He was at the point of thinking he would break and take her away before she was ready, but now she was standing in front of him, big eyes bruised with sadness.

“Is it true, Tom?” she asked, holding out the letter he had read aloud to her three times.

“Show me.” she’d said. “She me which words are Mama’s name.” and she’d traced her fingers over the loops and lines he had pointed to.

“Yes, little one. I’m so very sorry, it is true.”

At his answer she flung herself at him, not crying but holding on so very tight.

After a thousand heartbeats he gently pressed her back to look into her too-old eyes.


“Come on, Birdie Let’s go home.”

29 May 2017

12/12 the fourth

This is a painful one. I'm so tempted to pretend the fourth installment of the 12 short stories in 12 months never happened. However, in the interest of honesty and, hopefully, learning from it, I'm going to post my story here though it's very difficult for me to share it. It's very exposing and vulnerable-making to let you read it, for you will discover that not everything I write is fabulous (shocking, I know).  This is entirely my own doing as I didn't leave myself enough time to work this into shape, so the result is a very rough and raw draft, a suggestion of what I intended it to be.
Here it is:

A Little lie
2,500 words

Two men faced each other by the tracks just beyond the railway station. One made note of the green backpack slung over the shoulders of the man across from him, while the other recognized details of black jacket and hat.  Signals acknowledged, they nodded to each other, stepped over the tracks and walked toward a stand of trees in the distance. The man in the black jacket made up for his lesser height with quick, energetic steps, easily keeping up with the taller man carrying the green pack. Once safe from curious eyes under the trees, they faced each other once more. “Roger?” asked one. “Simpson,” answered the other. With this confirmation that he had met the right man, the pack carrier held out his hand. “James Redding,” he said, “You must be Jock Sullivan?”

“It’s Matthew.” This brief reply managed to convey the message that the use of “Jock” came with a high price.

“Sorry, old chap. Roger referred to you as Jock in his instructions.” This was met with silence.

“Right,” said James. “Roger didn’t give me specifics about our target location beyond where to meet you. You’re the navigations expert of the two of us. You know where we’re going?” He realized how inane the question was, but wanted to draw some sort of communication from the man. Weren’t the Irish supposed to have the gift of the gab? Kissed by the Blarney Stone and all that?

Again, silence. This time accompanied by a roll of the eyes. What James didn’t know was that Matthew Sullivan had many reasons to think the English were arrogant sods, and that he had to physically hold his tongue still between his teeth to keep from telling this Redding ass just what he could do with his old chap school tie bonhomie.

“Listen, wee Jock,” Aha! A clenching of the hands. “We’ve got at least 3 days if not four there, and as many back again, with only the pair of us for company - and survival,’ he stressed, “so if you could answer, that would be marvelous. A simple yes or no answer will suffice.”

And so it began. Two men who had little to keep them together aside from instant and mutual dislike with a dash of distrust of the other’s nationality were bound to each other for the sake of friendship - theirs for Roger Simpson, and Roger’s for the Kovač  family.

~~~~

He shouldn’t have picked up the phone. That was his first mistake right there. He’d seen Roger’s number on the display and despite his trustworthy gut telling him to let it ring through to voicemail, he’d taken the call, and because of it now found himself in some I-could-tell-you-but-then-I’d-have-to-kill-you backwater and instead of relaxing in front of the telly watching Tottenham wallop Chelsea, he had a week or more of sullen Sullivan to look forward to. Not to mention the possibility they would likely be discovered and made the reluctant inhabitants of an unclean, uncomfortable prison under the beady eye of an unsavoury guard. He’d far rather watch Chelsea win than endure that. Again.

Roger had often convinced his buddy that the very thing he shouldn’t do, was exactly the thing he most wanted to do. In this case, it was that the backwater was exactly where he wanted to be. Of course that wasn’t exactly how he’d sold it.  “Jock Sullivan is as solid as they come, Jimmy. We did some work together back in the day and have stayed in touch. He’s one of us.” Meaning all three were once part of the unnamed, acronym-rich, specialized services on behalf of their respective governments. “He’s already agreed to help me out but he could use someone with your skill set.” Meaning languages, most likely. Unless… was Roger talking about explosives?

“I received an SOS from Beata Kovač yesterday,” Roger had explained. “It was through a conduit I haven’t used in fifteen years, but the protocol was correct and I know it was from her.” Roger’s voice was calm and controlled, but he was right to be concerned. The Kovač family were deeply involved in the resistance effort, and though outright civil unrest had eased years ago, the secret police of the current regime kept a close and steady eye on anyone unfortunate enough to be named on the “Danger to the State” list. Goran and Beata Kovač were not just surveilled, they were phone tapped and frequently invited to tea with the head of the local state police detachment.

“Goran is being denied medication,” Roger said. “It’s some twisted attempt at persuading him to turn. He has enough information about the rebels to dismantle the effort if the State got hold of it. They’ve hit on a remarkably cruel way to ensure his loyalty.” There was heavy sarcasm on ‘loyalty’. “Goran will die. It will not be gentle, and it will not be quick. He’ll be in a lot of pain, Beata will suffer, and while he’s a tough old bird, she’s likely to hand over anything they ask for, to spare him that suffering.”

James knew stability in the region was tenuous, and that the dictator du jour was no gentleman. But were things as bad as this?  He was years beyond intelligence briefings, but surely Doctors Without Borders should be granted entry to the country?

“No.” Roger’s voice was grim. “Crossing points have been locked down. Documents are scrutinized, unknowns are questioned. We’ve gone back in time, my friend.”

Roger went on to explain his plan. His old buddy Jock was familiar with the territory and knew a way in. He would meet James at the rendezvous point and guide him to the Kovač’s village. James was necessary for his medical knowledge, language skills, and knack for blowing things up. Roger himself couldn’t go because he was known by the locals. They couldn’t carry the amount of medicine Beata had asked for without drawing suspicion, so they would carry a discrete homing device. Roger would call in a favour from another friend with a pilot’s licence and access to a plane who would use the device as a guide and parachute the bundle of supplies - why drop only Goran’s medicine when this would be the perfect opportunity to provision the local resistance properly?

How could James say no to that?

~~~~

Matt Sullivan insisted his own knowledge of the region was more detailed and current than what their maps could provide. So up hill and down mountain they went, crossing fields and passing through forests. They had only the green pack containing the bare minimum of what they needed - not to ease their burden, but because a large assortment of fancy survival gear would draw attention and arouse suspicion. They needed to appear local, like day hikers.

Sullivan turned out to be more than a walking GPS. He could bivouac with the best of them, was handy with a fishing line, and had an uncanny ability to set James’ teeth on edge. Why did the little guy have to be such a… wanker? It hadn’t taken long for James to catch on to the fact that the Irishman was sensitive about his height - or rather lack of it. Naturally, then, he had to take every opportunity to needle him about it. Through it all, the man was sullen and mostly silent, which in turn teased James’ inner pest to liveliness. The enforced partnership was unpleasant for both men.

Contributing further to their discomfort was the weather. It had taken to a steady, chilly drizzle that slowly turned open ground to mud, while in the woods, fallen leaves became slippery and uncertain underfoot. The sun rarely made an appearance, and the morose grey of each day was beginning to seep into their spirits. Random patrols seemed to be increasing in frequency on the roads they could see in the distance, meaning they relied on Sullivan’s skills at building shelter in the open rather than overnighting in a barn. More than once Wee Jock’s superior hearing saved them from stepping out of the safety of cover into what would have been an interesting situation with one of those patrols.

For his part, James kept up a sporadic - but satisfyingly annoying - one-way conversation for the pleasure of seeing the deepening imprint of stoicism on the Irishman’s face. Then on the second night he had the pleasure of being proved useful. A roving trio of patrollers found a fishing line Sullivan had strung from a tree, next to the beginnings of a fire pit. The two were setting about making camp for the night when they heard the unwelcome voices. Without a word, James and Matthew set a plan of evasion in motion: Matthew by dismantling the shelter into its component bits and pieces of nature, and James by circling around the by now excited patrol to their vehicle in order to install a cunning mix of explosive and stabilizer disguised as a stick of gum up under the body of the truck. When the engine came to life, the gum would receive the fuel it need to blow, creating the merest pop of sound, leaving no evidence, but managing to immobilize the vehicle most gratifyingly.

There had been a short game of cat and mouse by the dying light of nightfall, but once the patrol decided to give wheeled chase, the game was called when anger and confusion took precedence over pursuit when the truck wouldn’t start.

On the evening of the third day they reached their destination: the outskirts of a small town within bullying distance of the capital. Roger had described the location of the Kovač cottage as being at the end of a quiet lane with a large meadow just beyond. Its near-isolation meant their approach shouldn’t be noticed, but it also could make their presence glaringly obvious to any who happened by.

At their knock, Beata cautiously guarded against light spilling over the entry as she peered out at them. James quickly gave Roger’s name and the credentials that would assure her they were friendly. With a quickly smothered cry she gestured them into her home, closing the door and locking the night out behind them.

Excitement and gratitude were tempered with caution as their stories were told. Sullivan was only partially able to participate as his command of the language was rudimentary, but he followed as best he could, and James filled in the gaps in both directions. It didn’t take long for the two men to understand why Mrs. Kovač was dear to Roger: she scolded them, forced food and drink on them, insisted they wanted baths and clean clothes, and basically bossed them around like a long-experienced mother hen.

While Matthew took his turn using up the hot water supply, James slipped out back door and into the field beyond the house.  He set up the homing device on a short tripod, arranging a rock and other bric-a-brac to subtly distract any eyes that might glance in this direction. Now there was only waiting.
~~~~

It happened two nights later.  Matthew was never more pleased to hear a sound that could very possibly send trouble in his direction: a plane was heard faintly overhead. Fetching James from where he sat reading to Goran at the kitchen table, he led the way out the back door, just in time to see the dark silhouette of a box and parachute drift to the ground.  They worked silently, but quickly and efficiently as only two men who’d had similar training could do, to separate the box from the parachute straps, securely hide the chute, and carry the box into the cottage.

It felt like Christmas to the four people watching the lid be prised off the wooden crate. There were murmurs of surprise and delight from the Kovač couple as they discovered the requested medication for Goran as well as other medicines sure to be useful in the village, simple communications equipment, and - here Roger’s sense of humour was evident - chocolate bars, Levi’s jeans, oranges, and cartons of cigarettes. “As though we were behind the Iron Curtain!” scoffed Goran, but with a twinkle of delight in his eyes.

They had quite forgotten their need for caution in their exploration of the bounty when there was a terse knock at the door. All sense of gaiety was sucked out of the room as panic threatened to take over. There was no time to do more than repack the box and deposit it behind the sofa with a blanket hastily draped over it. Goran arranged himself in his armchair looking as weak as possible, while Beata took up some knitting.  James and Matthew sat on the sofa with a game of chess arranged in front of them. They tried to give the impression they were not, in fact, an English and an Irishman, but were indeed local and perfectly belonged exactly where they were.

A second knock accompanied by raised and angry voices were quickly followed by a beefy shoulder to the door, allowing five bodies to fill the room. Beata sprang to her feet, protesting their sudden presence in her home and their muddy shoes on her carpet. The man in charge looked momentarily abashed before he remembered his very important role as head of the local detachment of state police. The others with him were volunteers, and that, perhaps, made them even more enthusiastic about their duty.

Questions were tossed and accusations were flung in a confused volley of voices. After hearing denial after denial that any of them knew anything about a flying box, the lead accuser demanded to know who the two strange men were. For all their training and despite all their experience, Matthew and James had never discussed how they should explain their presence in the cottage, trusting instead that their short tenure and plain good luck would make such a tale unnecessary.

Beata, without a pause, claimed them for her sons. She looked each official boldly in the eye, daring them to deny her maternity. “My boys went off to fight years ago,” she said. “You know this to be true, Nema.” this was directed at one of the men, the only one who actually lived in the village. “They stayed in the city to work, and have come home to visit their mother after too long away.” By some unlikely alignment of providence, the blustering men took Beata at her word. They trooped out of the cottage in order to disturb the peace of some other family, leaving the Kovač couple and their guests to laugh in giddy disbelief at their good fortune.

Three days later, the two men faced each other over the tracks once more, one in black jacket and black hat, the other with a small green sack slung over his shoulders.
“Best of luck to you, Matthew,” said James, gripping the other man’s hand firmly.
“Call me Jock,” replied Sullivan, with a smile on his face. 

23 May 2017

Of loss and the uncertainty of knowing

I lost someone last week.


‘Lost.’We use such euphemisms in an attempt to sanitize the reality of death, and as a buffer from the pain of absence.


But ‘lost’ is a good word to use when a person dies because it happens to be true. The loved ones, the survivors, the ones left behind feel lost in the wake of death. The emptiness that remains feels like loss, an absence, like phantom limb pain. I still feel the gap where my dad belongs in my life, and missing him is definitely loss.


There is also the loss of all that a person was, in life: their creativity, their being, their giving, their presence in other people’s lives, how they impact the world around them in simple ways or profound. If any of you think you are insignificant and inconsequential, just think about how many lives you touch just by being. I promise you, the loss of you would be felt.


The person I lost wasn’t a family member, a friend, or a work colleague, and yet I am left grappling with what his death means to me. He has been in my life for over twenty years, part of the soundtrack of my days since college, a frequent companion during road trips, the beautiful voice piped through speakers and headphones. He wrote lyrics that spoke of pain, anger, searching, love, redemption, and plain old fun. Poets have a way of taking up a place in the heart, speaking your truth in a way you couldn’t with your own words. Poetry set to rock music is no less powerful, or personal.


I didn’t know him beyond what he shared with us through his music. I’m not devastated as at the death of a friend. What I am is very very sad at the loss of creative talent. I am aware of a new gap where he used to be, a definite absence of something, someone, I liked very much. There will be no new songs, no anticipated albums, no surprising new collaborations, no happy discoveries of concert clips, no further interview discussions of life and music. I am so very sad for his children, his wife, bandmates, and friends. I am sorry for the loss they will now carry through the rest of their lives.


Chris Cornell might be a name you know now because you’ve heard the news of his death and all the speculation as to the cause. It was probably suicide. That is a jarring, shocking word, isn’t it? It may have been suicide resulting from the horrifying side effects of an anti-anxiety medication. That is jarring and shocking, too.


I’ve been thinking a lot about this in the days since the news came out: to what extent is a person responsible for their actions when there are extenuating circumstances such as faulty brain chemistry or misfiring medication? Do we believe that a person always, no matter what, is able to make a free choice? Do we think that is true even if a person is in the grip of deep depression, severe anxiety, delusion, or paranoia? Is our understanding of the brain and all its complexity comprehensive enough to know that with certainty?


If it is true, if Chris took his own life because in a lucid moment he truly believed death was his only option - perhaps even planning it over a period of time - it is tragic. It is tragic because if he had been able to wait until the morning, spoken with his kids, had an uplifting interaction with a random stranger in the hotel elevator, or written the beginnings of a promising new song, he might have decided to carry on for one more day, then one more after that. And if it is true that the workings of his brain in that moment made it impossible for him to think clearly about the consequences of what he was about to do, how utterly horrifying to think of a life extinguished like that.


I don’t know which scenario is true. I do know that I’m at a loss as to how to think of this beyond “It’s so sad.  I am so sad.”

I lost someone, and I’m so sad.

18 April 2017

Pushy reversals

On the highway this morning was a very large, very long transport truck. On the rear panel, in a font large enough I could read it from 15 cars back, was this: DO NOT PUSH
I should have a sign like that following me around like a cartoon thought bubble.

In the parking lot, I watched the maneuverings of a woman parking her SUV. She was reversing into her chosen space, carefully inching backwards, correcting left and right until she had her vehicle tucked in just so.  The funny thing is, it was a drive-through parking spot.

People are endlessly entertaining.

12 April 2017

12 short stories, the third

Title: New Life
Genre: Speculative fiction
Word count: 1000

She hurt. She hurt all over. Even her eyelashes felt bruised. She braced herself, preparing for the deep pain sure to come and opened her eyes.

With a grimace, eyes wide, she gingerly turned her head and saw what appeared to be a tunnel. It was dark green in colour, nearly absent of light. It looked to stretch on to nowhere and - with a careful turn of her head - came from no real where either.

It was a struggle, but she managed to sit up. Her head was clearer and she could see that the dark green was actually foliage, dense to the point of resembling a woven fabric. She did not recognize this place. She did not know where she was or how she came to be there, but she did know she didn’t belong there. She knew she wanted out of there.

Taking stock, she determined that, despite the all-encompassing ache, she should be able to get to her feet and move. That’s when she noticed her appearance. It looked like she had been through a battle: dirt coated her clothes, palms raw with scrapes, mud clinging to her boots, and most frighteningly, a vine curled snugly around one ankle. She tugged at it, then tugged harder, with little effect aside from rising panic. She managed to clamber upright and took a step forward with the other foot thinking to forcefully pull the trapped one free of the vine. To her surprise, the heavy rope of vegetation dropped away. She took quick, anxious steps forward to get away from the thing, then stopped with the realization she didn’t know where to go: there was no clear path to follow, there were no landmarks to guide her, and she could see no horizon from which to get her bearings.

She would just have to move forward, then; forward being the direction she began with. But she was immediately pulled up short by, she saw with horror, yet another vine twined around her ankle. Panic mounted higher, exacerbated by the heavy thickness of the air she had to struggle to take in. Her mind began a refrain: “Get me out; get me out; get me out…” How was this happening to her?

Again, it was the simple act of walking forward that loosened her from the snare of the vine. And so it went for what felt like hours. As long as she kept in motion, maintaining forward momentum, she was able to forge a way through the dark tunnel, but as soon as she stopped she would become entangled once more.

Reaching a state of exhaustion to the point of struggling to move her limbs or keep her eyes open, she realized she couldn’t go on any further without taking some rest. Giving the matter some thought, she began searching out rocks and stout branches with which to construct a sort of barricade behind which to refuge for a few hours at least. As she found suitable specimens she filled her pockets, then used the bottom of her shirt as a basket of sorts, clutching the ends of fabric until the weight became too much.What she had at that point would just have to be enough.

Without being too clever about construction methods, she arranged her building material in a rough oval shape, just large enough for her to curl up inside of. She took care that every part of her body and clothing was within the perimeter, then, despite how rough and uncomfortable the ground, she fell swiftly to sleep.

Untold hours slipped through the dense forest tunnel as she slept without dreaming. There was no rising sun to awaken her, or early birdsong to disturb her slumber. When she opened her eyes it was to a world that looked much as it had when she’d closed them. Struggling to bring her protesting body upright, she was relieved to see that her barricade had done its job: she was free of clinging greenery. With equal relief she noticed that on the larger leaves in arm’s reach of her fortress were drops of heavy dew, and that by bringing the tip of a leaf to her mouth she could drink of the water.

Thirst slaked, she stood inside the protective circle and took stock of her situation. She could see no food so she would have to remain hungry for now.  With no clearer idea of direction or destination she would carry on as yesterday, one foot in front of the other in a steady march.

Accustomed to walking through the green darkness, she was able to pay attention to her thoughts, which, she realized, were actually quite busy. She had vague impressions of herself before waking up here. There had been light, certainly, and laughter, but also noise and fear and emptiness. Was she trying to get back to that, or had an attempt to escape it brought her here? She had to get out of this place, but felt her connection to anything from before first waking here was fading.

Now knowing the trick to escaping the green snares, she regularly took time to rest. As time passed she realized she had made a sort of peace with her circumstances and acceptance resulted in relative calm. One step then another was all she could do, so that is what she would do. When hunger became unbearable, she would figure out what she could eat. When she became too tired to continue, she would again construct a barricade and sleep until she woke once more.

Finally, her mind took notice of what her feet had been telling her for some time: the lush vegetation had become considerably thinner. There was more light and the air was no longer heavy. Each step was easier than the one before. Moving more quickly, she soon found herself standing under the last tree at the edge of a vast meadow. A gentle rain fell, and the bright sun kissed her face.

06 April 2017

This is dedicated to the one I love

There are perks of being a cataloguer. Best of all is being able to see the new books and things as they are unpacked.  It need not be said - and yet I shall write it anyway - that my wish list resulting from all this seeing of new books is several pages long, and on my work desk is a perilous stack of books I think of bringing home if only there, the shelf, two chairs, night table, and floor space I have given over to books I intend to read in the next few days weren't already filled to capacity.

One of my favourite things to do is read the author dedications. Some are sweet, some are clever, some are silly, and some obscure. Some are about libraries and librarians - always a winner. All of them are fodder for imaginative suppositions of who the dedicatee may be, and I always wonder if the author told the recipient of the honour thus bestowed upon them, or if they merely hoped that special person would one day come across it and recognize the message was meant for them.

I don't write all of them down, of course, but what follows is a brief assortment of some I have collected in my notebook over the past few months:

~For Tess. Mi vuoi sposare?  (A most original and perfect proposal!)

~Thanks, Mom and Dad, for raising a reader.

~This book is dedicated to all librarians everywhere - for they are the true keepers of the secret flame and not to be trifled with.

~For Mum. Thank you for everything, especially the library books.

~For every girl who wants to write her own story.

~Dedicated to the Mount Vernon City library, where I first found the ladder.

~For Catharine, first and favourite raisin girl.

~For my husband, kidlet, and family. (This is seemingly ordinary and unremarkable until I tell you it was the dedication of a book of dom/sub erotica)

~Dad, I wrote a book.

~For Paula Pea.

~This book is for Olive who gave me a new life.

~Quite simply this book is for my readers.

~For Nap, with gratitude for a life of love + laughter.

~To Sadie, beloved niece since 22:22, 02/02/02 - Sadie Sue, this one's for you. (Very sweet until you realize the book is a story about a teen murder victim)

~If you, dear reader, have not this very day observed at least three instances of the magical, the mysterious, or the miraculous, do set this book down right away. Find a story more to your disposition. Perhaps something about chalk.



Writing a book requires a great deal of work and imagination. Could you go one step more and come up with a really good dedication?

03 April 2017

Playing by the numbers

Today is opening day of baseball season. On the drive in to work this morning, Canada's Broadcaster interviewed a woman who wrote a book about baseball. I know! I was totally surprised, too, but apparently there is enough to say about baseball to fill a book. Anyway. She said that one of the wonderful things about the game is that it can take a long time to end. I mean, a loooonnng time. 27 innings constitutes a substantial portion of the day (insert tongue-sticking-out-emoji)

Alright, alright, so 27 innings would be unusual but honest to Pete, the game does evolve slowly, does it not? And after all of that three up-and-three downing, you are not guaranteed high scoring results.

Then it occurred to me... hang on a minute!  These are complaints often leveled against the Beautiful Game of football (soccer, if you must). North American men claim a sport needs non-stop action and astronomic scores in order to be entertaining. This doesn't explain televised golf or fishing shows. Or bowling. The theory disregards the endless, unendurable time outs, consultations, and team changes of the National Football League. It ignores the fact that in both oval-ball football and basketball, the final score is inflated by 'seven points for this' and 'three points for that' rather than reflecting one point earned for each successful attempt at a goal or basket.

To end a post that had far too many numbers in it, I have only this to say: There's no accounting for taste.

A question

If no one is looking at you, are you invisible?  Are you present in the world only when you are seen?
Do we seek out relationship with others in order to have someone bear witness to our life?

I send this question into the void, imagining it drifting through vast and dark spaces, buffeted by lonely winds, seeking an answer on which to settle.

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.