Wednesday, March 31, 2010

To Angus On His 13th Birthday

THERE WAS A COMET the night before you were born.
I’ll never forget that.

It was dark and it was cool but the song of spring was riffling through the breeze, whispering, promising. It was the first day of April, just after Easter, just after midnight, and the stars and Comet Hale-Bopp lit up the country-dark sky with stars like exploding fireworks.

As we drove to the hospital I looked up into the night and burned the memory of that brilliant sky onto my organic hard drive, relentlessly wired in that moment to deliver my first child into a shower of white lights, black sweetness and straight fear.

How perfect was that night.

How exquisite is that child.

Now poised on the precipice of a new journey, I worry not because he is walking under a canopy of heaven, my son, with stardust at his anointed feet.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring Hills

The spring hills are calling.
Shades of green.
Fresh mint, evergreen dark, spiced olive spruce, crisp paper birch,
pale blue diamonds wink on the water,
cold as the ice that just went out in the lakes of Algonquin.
The north lives here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hugh, Come Back - I Love You

I'VE BEEN THINKING about Hugh Garner a lot lately.
Him and his sweater.
The Yellow Sweater, to be exact.
I read this iconic Canadian short story in Grade 13 at Markham District High School in 1979 when Can-Lit was being shoved down the unwilling throats of all but the most lit-loving teenagers.
I think I was willing.
I took two English courses in my last year at MDHS: advanced and enriched. The math? Not so much. I could spell good, that's all.
In one of those courses a slim collection of Canadian short stories was part of the curriculum. Sorry, can't recall the name of it. It was green, though, and had a collage of literary faces on it: Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and Hugh.
Hugh cuts a dashing figure, doesn't he?
All movie matinee idol and 1940s newspaperman rolled into one Brylcreem-slicked package.
Not only that, but my Hugh was a literary bad boy. A working class writer who lived (meagerly) off the earnings from his words, who badgered editors and producers for every nickel he could squeeze out of them. That's not the way things were done in Toronto the Good back in the day. Writers were genteel as a species, not squabbling over money because, generally speaking, they were university professors who looked at blue collars like Hugh with ill-disguised disdain.
Even to this day, people who write about Hugh Garner describe him as an oddity; worse, they slam his career as being spotty, uneven in its quality.
Go ahead, google him. You'll see. (Or start here, but not until you're done, because that would just be rude and I know you're not rude.) One graduate student actually did her thesis on Hugh, pontificating on the violence in his work and how that lessened him somehow.
I'm sure it must have hurt when she sat on that big kosher dill.
Whatever people have to say about him, he had a big impact on me.
His story The Yellow Sweater has stayed with me for 30 years – it was that good. Every time I write a story I think, vaguely, is it as good as The Yellow Sweater?
It never is, of course. But it is the bar to which I aspire.
I have a character rattling around in my head that resembles the salesman in Hugh's piece. He also reminds me of Hugh himself, with his cheap suit, shiny at the seat and the elbows, in a dark gray-green colour, his only suit, worn whenever it is needed. I don't know what this character wants. He hasn't told me yet. I'm thinking he will soon, though. His rattling is getting louder.
Maybe it's not a character.
Maybe it's Hugh, who died in 1979, the year I fell in love with The Yellow Sweater.
The year I fell for Hugh.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bullheaded versus the Hardheaded

SAM AND DAVE (wasn't that a rock and roll group?) got into it yesterday.
Sam, who is nine, carted his x-box all the way over to our house for the weekend only to discover it had the Dreaded Red Light of Death, which meant it was toast.
Sam was inconsolable.
Never have I seen a child cry so much.
Dave, who hates gaming and thinks the kids waste too much time on it when they could be learning real world skills like piling wood, actually felt sorry for the wee mite. So sorry that he snuck into Wal-mart yesterday morning and bought a brand new x-box game console.
Plus a second controller, wireless no less.
We're talking big bucks here, people.
Sam was ecstatic for about a minute and a half (that's approximately $300 per minute of child satisfaction) and wanted to hook up his old hard drive with his game in it, to the new console.
Dave, aka Bootcamp Dave, said, "Uh, uh."
He was concerned the screwed up hard drive would screw up the brand new hard drive.
Sam said it wouldn't.
Dave said he didn't want to take that chance.
Sam said he was willing to take the chance, but then again, it wasn't his money, as Dave pointed out.
Sam said something else.
Dave swore a lot.
The two started yelling at each other, the nine-year-old barely coming up to the 41-year-old's armpits.
Dave came out of the back room. His face was so red I thought his blood pressure was gonna pop his noodle like a ripe zit.
I'd never seen him so angry.
Sam laid on his bed and cried a lot, murmuring things like, "I wanna go home" and "I want my daddy" and other fun things.
The upshot is, Dave and Sam went back to the store and paid another $80 to buy the game that was buried in the dead hard drive.
Dave is broke.
Sam is happy.
He should have known better than to tangle with a nine-year-old.
(I'm wondering if I cry a lot if Dave and Dave's credit card will take me to IKEA....)

I Hurt, Doughnut

My neck hurts.
My back hurts.
My arms hurt.
My knees hurt.
I have spent almost the entire weekend splitting wood.
And now the weekend is over.
And I hurt.

Hello, Rock? Hello? It's Me Again, Margaret

THE COFFEE SAGA is continuing.
On Thursday morning I pulled too far past the drive-through window and had to reverse to meet up with the window-lady. Then I forgot to put the car into drive and thus backed up further instead of going forward, which made the window-lady sploosh my coffee lid because she was paying attention to me instead of it.
On Friday morning a young lad in a truck ahead of me dropped something out his window and walked back to get it. The window-lady, remembering the day before, asked me not to run him over.
Today I sat at the order rock for several minutes before realizing the coffee place closes at 1 p.m. on Sunday and it was 3:14 p.m. and it was just me, trying to order a large dark regular from a rock.
Apparently it's more than just blood you can't get from a stone.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

#friday flash - The Kind of People Who Fire People

This graffiti was spray-painted on a main commuter route in Brighton, England.

THE WOMAN LEFT Nelson LaVey’s office with tears streaming down her face and a cardboard box in her arms.

Nelson sat back in his leather executive chair and watched her being escorted through the door by a whey-faced security whelp who treated the departing secretarial clerk like she had just held up a federal bank with her staple remover, or stabbed somebody in the eye with her ballpoint pen.

Sandra Taylor, the head of the company’s human resources department, stood to one side of her boss’ desk, also watching the crying woman leave.

“I bet you’re glad that’s over with,” she said.

Nelson looked up at her, his features blank.

There was an uncomfortable split-second pause.

Then the expression came back into his face.

“Yes,” he said.

Sandra sighed. “She was a good employee, Nelse. Devoted. You can’t say she wasn’t devoted. It’s too bad we had to let her go.”

Nelson’s eyes narrowed.

Sandra didn’t notice.

“I know, the economy’s bad. I know. I just feel bad sometimes. Don’t you? I do. I hate this part of my job. You know what they call me behind my back? The Angel of Death. Can you believe it?”

“The Angel of Death,” Nelson mused. “You must like firing people.”

He offered Sandra a slow smile and she felt her rising bristles lie flat again.

“Good one.” she said awkwardly. “Seriously, though, everyone always feels sorry for the person being fired but I think it must be hardest on you, the decision-maker, the man who delivers the bad news.”

Nelson did his best to put on a suitably sad face.

“You are so right. No one understands how difficult it is.”

He stood up abruptly.

“Ready for lunch? I feel like steak, bloody and blue. Get your coat, I’m buying.”

Sandra watched his face change from sad to celebratory in the blink of an eye. But it was in that blink, that tiny grain of time, that she saw something else. A flicker of movement. A reflection. A ghastly insectile shimmer in his milk chocolate eyes.

Startled, Sandra let herself be steered toward the door.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bloggers in Chains

More pussywillows, because you can never have enough.

I'm surrounded by people who, at this particular moment, are full of angst about their blogs.
One is editing his blog like a terrier shakes a rat, taking out posts, taking out comments, making secret blogs, all to avoid hurting his children, who have been reading his work and making a big stink out of it.
One is completely ignoring her blog, which is sad because, aside from it being wonderful, I think it provides a good, safe, healthy outlet for her in somewhat turbulent times.
One wrote the most magnificent piece about a troubled relationship with a parent I have ever laid eyes on. Truly breathless, naked, heartfelt writing. He wondered if posting it was a mistake and then, later, took it down.
Still another is having problems with her ex. He has actually involved the police, accusing her of writing about him. She is, by the way, a writer of fiction, despite what his ego must be thinking.
It all just hurts my head, sometimes.
Be free, people.
Write what's in your heart and in your head.
Unshackle societal burdens and let the words flow.
You can do it.
I know you can.

Oh, and by the way? I think my commenting system is seriously flawed. Sometimes comments show up in my e-mail that never make it onto my blog. Sometimes I make comments on other people's blogs that just disappear. Even my facebook comments get skewed sometimes. If you've made a comment lately that hasn't appeared, my apologies, but I don't know what is going on...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How Cold is the Human Heart

Pussywillow beauty blossoms in our front yard.

ANGER HAS HAUNTED me these last few days.
And I am exhausted by its presence.
I am angry at how callous people are in the name of duty. How they can shut off the human decency part of their personality and become robots. How they can greet someone warmly and then substantially alter that person's life negatively in the breadth of one sentence. And then carry on smiling, pretending nothing ever happened.
Their reasons may be sound, but their reasons mean nothing to me.
I only understand that they have revealed two sides to their personality and the fact that one side can be so cold forces me to mistrust everything about them.
This is a fact of life, you say.
This is a how the world works.
Well, I am here to tell you, right now, this is not how the world should work.
The world needs to change.
And I need to stop being angry.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Why I Don't Eat Shrimp

Warning: pictures on this post may not be suitable for the squeamish. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Me and my best friend, the wood splitter. 
Since I have Crohn's Disease, I have hollowed out a log I can sit on  when I'm "having a bout." We call it the Splitter Shitter.

I have big muscles because I can hurl chunks of wood around with one arm, which gives whole new meaning to the phrase 'hurling chunks.'

Two years ago we had a load of logs delivered. Just today I finally finished splitting that load. Today. We still have enough wood for the better part of a winter season. Still, we have to keep ahead... wood, like soup, needs seasoning. So we had another load of logs delivered a while ago. There's Dave, chopping up the blocks with his new Stihl. See all those logs behind him? I'll still be splitting those babies two years from now. 
Bet you don't know what you'll be doing two years from now...

Put your breakfast down, Betty, here comes the yucky part. That there white thing hiding in the wood is a grub. Fat, white, gray and disgusting, I call these things wood shrimp. They hide in the groady logs waiting for me to split them open so they can fall freely onto the floor of the splitter, startling me and making me want to throw up. I invariably squeal like a girl whenever one of these plumb beauties falls in front of me.

This is why I don't eat shrimp. I wouldn't even kiss you if you recently had a shrimp in your mouth. Does this in any way look appetizing? 
Mmmmm, add some cocktail sauce and dip in. Puree it in a blender and add it to cream cheese. Steam a few and toss them into your pasta. 
Oh yeah, baby, now we're talking.

Do you like quinoa? How about rice? Or tapioca?  
This nest of sleepy ants and larvae/eggs/whatever fell out of the very last block of wood I split from two years ago. 
Gag me seriously blind.

All done for the day. Only another two years of splitting and our work here will be done. 
Now it's time for a back and neck massage, a shoulder massage, a hot bath and some mouthwash and a mind erase
 to get rid of the images of those hideous insects. 
To all you friday flashers who like to write horror I say split some wood with me and you'll know the true meaning of the word.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hershey's OK

We went visiting tonight, me 'n Dave.
Popped around at Hershey's house to see how the old girl was faring.
I was afraid, I must admit, to even ask how she was... I mean, three-and-a-half days in the frigid Muskoka River would be enough to fell the best of us.
But not 15-year-old Hershey, who is slowly recovering.
Her owner says the chocolate lab is having a hard time walking, but being a senior citizen, she was already having trouble putting one paw in front of the other.
Since being pulled from the water Sunday afternoon, Hershey has spent most of her time wrapped in blankets in front of the fire. Everyone is treating her with extra kindness and the old sweetie-pie is evidently lapping it up.
Meanwhile, Super Dave Webster continues to be the hero du jour. Today he was interviewed for The Weekender, Muskoka's Friday newspaper, by all-star reporter Karen Longwell. To check it out, visit here. It should be posted by Saturday.

P.S. I think Siobhan, Crystal and Casey rocked the American Idol house tonight. The rest? Meh.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hershey's Hero

Dave slams on the brakes and says, "Look!"
We crane our necks to see the reason for our whiplash.
"A raccoon!" he says. "Up in that tree!"
He pulls the Neon over a bit and we all pile out, Sam and Angus rushing and pummeling each other to determine who gets to see the critter first. The coon is plump and fluffy in the wind, clinging to a small tree beside the river. The water is high, higher than we've ever seen it, and it's cold: the ice just went out a few days ago.
And then Angus says, "Look! A dog!"
Over the four-foot riverbank is a chocolate lab standing belly deep in the water. Her head is buried in a hole in the riverbank and I am afraid she is eating another raccoon that has fallen over the edge.
Dave yells at the kids to get back in the car.
"Stop her!" I holler. "She's eating one! Oh GROSS! Dave, stop her!"
She hears me yelling and slowly pulls her head out of the relative warmth of the dirt and looks at us forlornedly. Then she lays down in the icy water.
"She's not eating anything. She's stuck down there," Dave says. "She probably treed that raccoon and then fell into the river. She's an old dog... look at the gray around her muzzle. She fell down and couldn't climb back up."
We are on our way to meet my ex and do the kid-exchange thing... if we don't hurry he will be waiting for us, wondering where we are. But we can't just leave the dog in the water. She is shivering. She probably has hypothermia. 
"We should see if the dog belongs to the people in that house," I say, pointing to a white bungalow with a "Go Leafs!" sign in the window.
Dave goes to a house across the road and down a bit. There are two vehicles in the driveway. Lights are on in the house and the garage. It looks like someone is home but no amount of knocking on either door produces a person.
Dave walks back.
"We can't leave her there," he says.
"She might bite you," I say.
He nods.
"I need some gloves. And some rubber boots. We'll go back home," he says.
We haven't come far. It only takes a a few minutes to get the stuff Dave needs. I grab my camera, too. After all, if there's going to be a hero, I want a photo.
We're back at the riverbank in short order. The dog is still shivering in the water; the raccoon is still in the tree. Dave climbs over the embankment and stands in the water, talking calmly to the freezing, frightened dog. He pets her for a few minutes, talking calmly and she stands wobbly in front of him until, clearly exhausted, she flops down again in the water.
"I have to get her out now," Dave says. "She's freezing to death."
I hold my breath as Dave gathers her into his arms. She's not a small dog by any means and it's a bit of an effort, scooping her up and pushing her up the embankment. But he does it without a problem. She wobbles a bit on unsteady legs and almost falls in. Dave hauls himself up the embankment and grabs hold of her collar.
"I'm going back to that house," I say.  "There has to be someone home."
I walk quickly to the house, Dave and the dog coming slowly behind. She is tired, shaky, and can only walk a few feet without laying down to rest.
I get to the front door and hammer on it.
"Hello?" I yell. "Hello?"
I hammer on it again.
I see movement through the front window and a red-haired woman comes to the door, looking at me suspiciously.
I get right to the point. 
"Do you have a brown dog?" I ask, and she nods, her eyes widening.
"Yes," she says. "She's been missing since Thursday."
Today is Sunday.
"Is that her?" I ask, turning to look at Dave and the brown dog at the end of the driveway.
"YES!" she squeals. "HERSHEY!"
Her hands fly up to her mouth and tears spring to her eyes.
She runs toward her shaking dog, tears running down her face.
"She was in the river," Dave says. "I think she treed a raccoon and then fell in."
"I'll get my husband," she says, getting up and running over to the garage, yelling for her husband the whole way.
He comes out of the shed, a confused look on his face. "It's Hershey!" his wife hollers. He sees the dog over by us and breaks into a run.
The reunion is an emotional one. I can barely hold back my own tears.
"Thanks," they both say, wholeheartedly.
We make fast small talk and excuse ourselves... we're now officially late meeting my ex.
As we go back to the car I look up at Dave admiringly.
"You're my hero," I say.
He grins and blushes a bit, all 'aw shucks, mam' and 'twern't nothin'."
But it is something. 
I don't know how many people may have driven by in those four days, but there were probably quite a few. Only one, however, stopped the car to admire the raccoon in the tree. 
And thanks to him, Hershey is alive to tell the tale to her grandpuppies.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

You Must Be Mistaken: The Phone Call

Uh. I found this note. 
On my windshield? 
You asked me to call? 
Because your Jeep door is, uh, scratched? 
Uh, you must be mistaken. 
There was lots of room between our vehicles. 
And, uh, I didn't do it. 
It must have happened somewhere else. 
And, uh, you just noticed it. 
Uh, OK then, you can call me back if you want. 
But I didn't scratch your, uh, Jeep. 
Well, good-bye.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

#fridayflash Death in a Small Town

As the whole world knows by now, there was a horrible tragedy involving two men who grew up in the same small village in northern Ontario.

Up until last summer, I lived there. 

Until something like this happens in a small town, you have no idea what kind of impact this kind of thing can have on people.

In a small town, everyone knows everyone.

And when a tragedy of this proportion happens, you wonder how the community will ever survive it.

I’ve struggled with the idea of this story, wanting to write it, not wanting to write it, not wanting to hurt anyone who is already hurting so badly. But I can’t think of anything else I want to write about. I am as shocked as everyone else and it preys on my mind. 

How, I wonder, is the community going to deal with this? Can it survive? 

Right now there is a media circus going on in that village. I feel for everyone who deals with this mess, day in and day out. More than that, I feel for the families of the two men, one a hero, one an alleged killer. Both with roots in the same place, a good place, full of good people and a proud history.

I hope that somehow it manages to survive. To overcome.

Although parts of this story may hit too close to home, it is almost entirely fiction. There was a train derailment there in 1981 and the photograph above is of that fiery night.

IT WAS HARD to deal with, the killings.

Matthiasville tried.

But it was awful hard, this thing was. Harder than most. And the little village clinging to the north shore of Trout Lake knew plenty about hard.

A fire in 1882 destroyed the main street and killed the Johnson family’s sleeping children, all nine of them. The parents had been at the hotel in the next town up, celebrating a nephew’s wedding. The community grabbed hold of the grieving parents, snugged them to its tender bosom, and held them upright through their righteous grief.

In 1953 two drifters broke into Al Franklin’s place out on the Boundary Road in broad daylight, taking what little money the old pensioner had in his wallet, slitting his throat and stealing his pick-up truck. Four of  Al’s buddies were having coffee at the Green Roof Diner and saw the murderous thieves driving by in Al’s truck, so they dropped their cinnamon buns and their coffee and followed in hot pursuit. It was hunting season and the driver had a shotgun that came in right handy when they slammed into the back of Al’s truck, causing the two drifters to pop out like brown bread in a toaster. The old boys wanted to blow some daylight into those two drifters right then and there but reason prevailed. When they were brought into the local constabulary by the scruffs of their red necks, the community hailed the four men as conquering heroes. 

In 1981 the night sky lit up like fireworks on the May Two-Four weekend when a passing freight train loaded with flammable liquids derailed right in the heart of the village. Volunteer firefighters from neighbouring villages came by to help the local boys put out the inferno. Even men who weren’t on the fire department helped where they could. The women of the village made bucketloads of coffee and station wagons full of sandwiches. The IGA opened up in the middle of the night to supply the women with more bread. Luckily nobody was seriously hurt, only Joe Haggerty, who tripped on a fire hose and busted his arm in three places. When the fire was put out, folks in the community helped the railway clean up the mess and put their broken town back together again.

It’s the way it always was.

No matter what the trouble was, Matthiasville stuck through it. It was a good place to live because the people in it were good people.

All that was before used car salesman Sam Pefferlaw’s wife left him, claiming irreconcilable differences. After 41 years of marriage Agnes packed her bags and went to live with her sister 450 miles away, down in the tobacco belt. It wasn’t until she was gone that Sam found out she had cleaned out his bank account. Worse, he discovered she had been cheating on him for the last 20 years and everybody knew it except for him. He was broke and he was the laughing stock of the town and he was right royally pissed off.

He phoned Agnes at her sister’s to give the old bitch a piece of his mind but Agnes wasn’t home, a male voice said, would he like to leave a message, he said.

“Who is this?” Sam demanded.

“Roy Garnell,” the voice replied. “Who wants to know?

“Agnes’ husband, you sonoffabitch,” Sam screamed. “You better get your fucking hands off my wife or you’re gonna regret it something fierce.”

Roy laughed. 

“What you gonna do, Sam? You’re a fucking idiot, not knowing what’s been going on all this time. You’re just as stupid as you are ugly and by the jesus you’re as ugly as they come. What you gonna do, Sam, you stupid prick?”

Sam threw the phone in the corner, unlocked his gun cabinet and put his deer rifle and a box of shells in his truck, then drove all the way to tobacco country, getting angrier with every mile.

When Agnes had got back to her sister’s house after doing some shopping, Roy told her what had gone on. 

“You stupid asshole,” Agnes shrieked. “He’s gonna come over here and fill us full of holes.”

She tried to reach Sam on the phone but she knew before she even punched in her old number that the phone would be ringing in an empty house.

“Call the cops, Roy. Call the cops, I tell ‘ya. He’s gonna kill us.”

Roy called 9-1-1 and gave a description of the rusty old Ford that might be headed their way. The operator said she’d send out a cruiser just to check things out, but cautioned Roy not to panic, it was probably nothing.

Meanwhile, Sam was only a few miles from Agnes’ sister’s house when a police cruiser came out of nowhere, squeezing up tight to his rear bumper and flicking on the emergency lights.

Sam was in no mood for this.

“Jesus FUCK,’ he screamed, and jumped on the brakes. The truck came squealing to a stop and the cruiser crashed into the tailgate. Sam grabbed his gun and lit out of that truck like the hounds of hell were following him which, in his own fevered mind, they were. 

Sam’s stint in the army and years of hunting prepared him for this moment. He rolled into the ditch, pointed his gun at the cruiser and started firing. 

Seconds later, a much lauded police officer lay dying on the side of the road. Sam staggered over to him, took the man’s service revolver from his hands, and shot himself in the head. It was over as quick as it had begun.

What Sam didn’t know, what he could never know, was the police officer he had shot was someone he knew, practically a blood relative, a young man who had grown up in Matthiasville and left to seek his fortune upholding the law. 

Daniel Pascal had grown up the next block over from the Pefferlaw house. He was the son of one of Sam’s distant cousins, and he used to come over to the Pefferlaw house to play with Sam’s kids. Danny was always a good kid. Good in school, nice, real polite, honest, hardworking. He was an Ontario Scholar three years running and could have gone to any university anywhere but he had fire in his blood to be an officer of the law. And in his four years on the force he was twice decorated, a real shining star, a hero and a true man of honour. His dream had been to work in his own community but he was serving his time with the provincial police force, waiting until he had enough seniority to move back home.

Six months ago he had married his childhood sweetheart and April had just found out she was pregnant. 

Life couldn’t have been any sweeter for Daniel Pascal.

Until Sam Pefferlaw shot him down in cold blood.

Nobody in Matthiasville could comprehend the horrifying coincidence that allowed this to happen. Both men had come from big, well-known families. Both men, in their own way, were loved by many people. When this happened, people automatically sided with the Pascals, taking part in one of the biggest police funerals ever held. The Pefferlaw family decided not to have a funeral. They weren’t sure if anyone would even show up. They had him cremated and buried his ashes in his backyard, alongside a couple of dead hounds.

Reporters from TV stations and newspapers and radios all over the province and even some from the United States swarmed the village streets. Folks stayed in their homes, their curtains drawn, hiding from the glare of media scrutiny. They began to feel like criminals themselves, hiding in darkened living rooms. The TV news anchors kept harping about how this could happen and the people of Matthiasville felt dirty in a way that no amount of soap could wash away.

Eventually the reporters went home and the people of Matthiasville tried to reclaim their lives.

It was hard, though. At first the Pefferlaws hung their heads whenever they went out, showing they felt bad about what had happened to the Pascals. Then they started to feel angry because they hadn’t done anything to be ashamed of. 

On the other hand, the Pascals tried not to show any hard feelings to the Pefferlaws, because it wasn’t their fault Sam turned out crazy. But, deep down, they were so full of anger and grief that they did blame the Pefferlaws. With Sam dead, it was the only blame they could lay.

Seeing as how they were both good families, well-brought up and church-goers, they kept their sorrows to themselves, avoiding each other as much as possible, passing each other in the grocery store like frightened ghosts.

There was no amount of coffee, not enough sandwiches or cinnamon buns in the world to heal the burgeoning rift that was tearing apart the village.

Someone would have to go.

It was the only way.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I Had A Dream

Lingering ice floes drift casually down the Muskoka River, soaking up spring sunshine, enjoying their last ride.

LAST NIGHT I had a dream.
I dreamt that the world discovered my blog and thousands of people were hitting it, one after another.
The ticker tape machine attached to my computer was pumping out a steady stream of names and comments from people who stopped by and said wonderful things about my incredible writing talent.
In the subway was a billboard with a picture of me as a 20-year-old on it proclaiming my blog BEST BLOG OF THE YEAR, with little stars all around the words.
When I woke up, I felt like it was Christmas morning. 
I had a smile on my face.
I made coffee and then turned on the computer.
I whistled a bit.
I clicked on this space, expecting something glorious, only to see there was nothing new.
In fact, only one of my regular blogging friends had bothered to stop by and leave a comment.
My smile faded.
It was as if Santa had left a lump of coal in my stocking.
Do you know what it's like to have a dream so real that you wake up with a smile? Or a scream? Or desperate, desolate tear-drenched grief?
I know you know.
There is a fine line between wakefulness and the deep slumber of the twisted, inner soul.
And all I can say is this: thank god for Folger's.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

He Was A Quiet Man

"He was a quiet man."
That's what neighbours always say when the guy next door turns out to be a killer.
And that's basically what Dave has to say about 70-year-old Fred Preston who is known for a lot of things up Sundridge way, but who will be remembered for only one thing: the man who allegedly shot and killed OPP Officer Vu Pham.
Preston lived in the house across the road from where Dave grew up. He knew him as well as anybody in the small town in northern Ontario, where the population is maybe 1,000 on a good day. Preston was the Reeve of Joly Township for several years and Dave actually served on council with him (yeah, my baby is more than just a pretty face). 
Dave never would have guessed that Preston would turn out the way he did. "But who knows what a man is like when no one is around to see him? Who knows what he was like around his wife."
One thing's for sure, though. Fred Preston looked good on paper.
He was a local fixture. A politician. A logger. A chainsaw artist. And, according to local gossip, a man whose wife cheated on him regularly over many, many years.
Perhaps that had something to do with Preston's act of rage.
According to reports, he took his gun and went looking ... maybe he was looking for revenge against the woman who had finally left him ... maybe he wanted to kill her ... maybe he just wanted to scare her. Maybe nobody will ever know.
The tragedy of this story isn't Fred, though, who is in critical condition in hospital as I write this. It's the man he allegedly killed. It's the 37-year-old policeman who died in hospital yesterday with his wife and three young children by his side.
What is most bizarre about this whole story, at least to me, is the inexplicable connection Vu Pham had with Preston: they both had roots in Sundridge. 
The adopted son of a church minister, Vu Pham lived there for several years. He still has family in the area. I haven't heard whether they knew each other. But it's possible. In a town the size of Sundridge, it's hard not to know pretty much everybody.
Maybe he and Preston bumped elbows at the grocery store or attended the same special event. 
But even if they never met in Sundridge, they certainly met yesterday.
Officer Pham was working in the Seaforth area and was called to a domestic disturbance. 
Details are sketchy here, but reports say Pham never made it to the house because he encountered the suspect's white pick-up truck enroute.
Something happened when the truck was stopped.
Something went tragically wrong.
Shots were fired. Many shots. And two men lay on the ground with critical injuries.
One a police officer with connections to Sundridge.
One a well-known Sundridge resident.
Both hundreds of miles away on a lonely back road in southwestern Ontario.

I send my most heartfelt and sorrowful prayers to Officer Pham's family. I understand that he was a remarkable and loving man who cared deeply for his family and his community. I am so very sorry for their loss.

Monday, March 8, 2010

What's In A Name?

Say you're adopting an old dog from the pound.
The dog's name is Pollywog.
She's black. She's fat in the front end and skinny in the butt end and she only has a couple of legs.
You want to call her Trixie but she's been called Pollywog for half of her dog life which, in dog years, is still half her life.
If your brain is as intact as the dog's life, meaning you have half a one, then you will start calling your wife Trixie and just leave the darned mutt alone.
You can't, after all, teach an old Wog new Trix.

So today I caught myself doing something I haven't done since high school: I practiced writing Mrs. Cathy Webster.
I can't believe I just admitted that!
What am I, 12? HA!
Seriously, though, I am going to need some practice. Like ol leg-challenged Wog, I am an old dog. I don't have too many new trix in me. It's going to be challenging to learn a new name; nay, another new name.
Name number three. Robb. Olliffe. And, in September, Webster. 
I see a trend towards the tail end of the alphabet here. I wonder what that means.
It's a good thing I'm not terribly attached to my names. Seems I'm trading them like hockey cards.
I've thought a bit about the whole name-thing. It is quite fashionable, these days, to keep the name you were born with, or to hyphenate it, or to pick something new altogether. 
I don't want to go back to Robb, although I'm proud of the name and my family ... it's been so long, that's all, that it seems almost to belong to someone else.
And I certainly don't want to stick with Olliffe, my ex's name, although I have grown fond of signing Cathy O. It has a Jackie O flavour to it that I quite enjoy. 
I thought having a different name than the boys might be an issue but they know who they are and they know who I am and I don't think they'll confuse their mother just because she has a new name.
If they do, I'll wear a name tag.
And perhaps hire them a tutor.

Perhaps if I have any questions about my new name I can ask Dave's ex, who, coincidentally, is also Mrs. Cathy Webster.
That's all I need to say about that.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Bootcamp Dave

NO ONE WORKS harder than Bootcamp Dave.
I know, because I'm the lazy so-and-so who gets tired trying to keep up with him.
Well, maybe "trying" is too vague a term here.
I used to try, when I was younger and still trying to impress him.
Now I only look like I'm trying.
And sometimes I don't even do that.
Like this weekend, for example.
Weekend... pffttt.. that's another relative term. We worked our asses off this weekend. I can hardly wait to go to work so I can sit on mine and recover.
Spent both days this weekend moving final bits of crap from our house in Sundridge to here. We actually, finally, unbelievably, blessedly sold the g.d. Sundridge house (honestly, I was beginning to think the words "you have an offer" would never come out of our agent's mouth), but sold it we did and it closes in two weeks.
We moved most of our crap last fall but left the three sheds full, and the bookcases full, and the bathroom medicine cabinet.. and, well, you know.. all the crap we didn't feel like taking back then kinda got left there.
In the offer the buyers said, "Please remove all personal items." It was a nice way of saying, "TAKE YOUR CRAP."
So, fine. We rented a trailer and went up there on Saturday. Luckily Dave's buddy Richie Ricardo Montabalm and Dave's brother Max Webster were there to help haul stuff. My plate was full entertaining Mackie's wife, Mizz Bonita, breeder of fine pooches. Since I was busy entertaining, I didn't feel obligated to haul stuff.
Unfortunately, I had to help unload.
Today, me and Bootcamp were on our own. I dug Muskoka chairs out of the snowbank and hauled them to the trailer. I made numerous trips from shed to trailer carrying crap. And finally, I had had enough.
Bootcamp gave no indication of being tired.
And I was tired of trying to impress him.
So I said, "Dave, I'm going to go dig that chair out of the snow on the front deck, OK?"
"Yup," he said, making another trek down to the shed.
Me and Misty-dog took a shovel to the front deck, dug a few shovel-fulls -- enough to clear a space on the chair -- and then sat down.
The sun was pouring down, Misty warmed my lap, I closed my eyes and sighed a guilty, blissful sigh.
I almost fell asleep.
A while later, I got up, puffed a bit of metaphorical flour in my face, then trudged around the house to see how Bootcamp was doing. 
"Wow," I said, "You're almost done."
What a happy coincidence!
We drove the hour home, spent another hour unloading crap, then made some Kraft Dinner and weinies for dinner. Nectar of the cholesterol gods.
Dave sat down on the couch and turned on "Terminator," the new one that I got him for Christmas.
A few short minutes later, Bootcamp Dave was out like a light.
His Pink Floyd jammie bottoms are kinda slung down like plumber's pants and his bare toes are sticking over the end of the couch. 
I'd go over there and tickle them if I didn't think he'd wake up and make me go carry something.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Torn Between Two Lovers

ON ONE HAND I have people saying to me, "Is everything OK? You haven't been blogging lately. Miss you! Hugs."
On the other hand I have Dave not saying that I'm spending too much time on the computer.
He would never say anything outright because he's sweet and adorable and he knows this blogging-thing makes me deliriously happy. But I know he's a trifle pouted because he spends a lot of time by himself with his bottom lip pooched out.
Tonight, even though I wanted desperately to read some flash because I was away from the computer all day, I snuggled up to my beloved on the couch for some quality Saturday night TV time. 
Even though the movie was lame (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past), I persevered, occasionally thinking I'd rather be blogging but, hey, if Dave could watch it, I could watch it. So I did. And he did. And all was fine.
Until he snored.
"Are you actually asleep?" I asked.
"Huh?" said Dave sleepily. 
"Asleep. Were you?"
"I was. I think," Dave said.
I rolled my eyes. "Go to bed," I said. "Go."
And there he went.
And here I am.

P.S. Spring is springing on the Muskoka River. I took this photo yesterday, thrilled to see the ice is breaking up. On a lake, the ice almost always lingers when the snow on the ground is long gone. On a river, the ice is gone when the snowbanks are high and result is just as pretty as the picture you see before you. Today I got a little sunburn on my cheeks, that's how beautiful the weather was. If you want to be jealous of my beautiful corner of the world, click on the photo to make it larger (the photo, not the world).

P.S.S. I am happy for my friends tonight. Paula Boon is performing in a musical. Mark has overcome self-doubt to post another great story for fridayflash. Lynda is excited about her new camera. Bonnie's two dogs are both expecting. Tammy looks unbelievable in the dress she will wear to my wedding. CJ is girlishly giggly because her good friend is visiting from out of town. Vic is recovering from her dental surgery and has very good drugs. Leah is happy because she is always happy. Dave is snoring gently in the next room. I send them all my love and good wishes and count myself lucky to be their friends.

Friday, March 5, 2010

#fridayflash A Matter of Perspective

This is what was going on in the kid’s head:

It’s Sunday and there’s nothing to do because my friend Heather Adams is at church and there’s nothing on TV and I’m bored out of my stinking mind.

I’m sitting at the kitchen table, thinking how bored I am and my mom is running around like an idjit cleaning up the whole house and making a big roast beef dinner because her stupid friends are coming over. Stupid, boring friends who don’t even have kids, and how boring and stupid is that. So we have to behave just because they’re coming over. Big whoop.

I slump over the table and stare at the wallpaper, squinting and unsquinting to see how the wallpaper violets look squinted and unsquinted. It’s like an experiment. Out of the corner of my eye my mother zooms into sight, then out again, a small, unfocused black figure moving at ninety miles an hour. She’s ruining the experiment. And I think all this stupid work she is doing is ridiculous.

“I don’t see what all the fuss is about,” I say.

My mother stops what she is doing and starts yelling at me.

“Lynda-Leah Raney, get your head off that table, right now. Sit up straight and quit your whining or so help me I’ll call your father in here and he’ll give you something to whine about.”

“OK! You don’t have to scream,” I say, morally offended.

“That’s IT!” She’s really peaking now. “I’ve had ENOUGH of your crap today. Get outside NOW.”

I slide out of the chair and put on my boots and jacket while she stands in the middle of the kitchen, hands on hips, watching me. She’s mad, I can tell by the look in her eye that says I’m dead meat if I even open my mouth.

I open the back door and, as I’m going out, I say, “Fine. You’re just boring and stupid anyway.” 

Then I run like the wind because I know she’ll take the side off my head if she can catch me. But she can’t. Because I’m young and she’s old and I can run faster than her.

When I get to the sidewalk and figure I’ve gotten away scot-free I look back and see her in the kitchen window. She still looks mad and I think she’s crying again. She’s always crying. I don’t get it. And I don’t feel sorry for her, either. Let her cry all she wants. See if I care.

I sit on the drainage pipe at the end of our driveway and look around, looking for something to do. Our street is boring, though, and nothing’s going on. It’s just gray and boring and stupid, like everything else. 

The only thing moving is an old lady coming up the sidewalk towards me. She’s moving so slow that even a snail could pass her.

She’s ugly-looking.

Hunched and fat and wrinkled, like a toad.

She’s wearing old-people’s clothes. Some stupid hat with netting on it and old lady shoes. 

She’s looking at me. I feel like saying “take a picture, it’ll last longer.”

Then it occurs to me: she’s probably looking at me and remembering what it was like to be young. That makes me feel sad, thinking about that old lady wishing she was me. I feel sorry for her. 

I kinda smile at her as she gets closer, trying to show her that I’m nice to old ladies and that it’s OK to be jealous of me because I’m younger and have my whole life in front of me and she’s practically dead.

I feel it’s the least I can do.

This is what was going on in the old lady’s head:

Look at that little shithead sitting in the ditch, grinning at me. Must be the village idiot.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Some Shuggah

CJ and her great love, Anthony Quinn.

Last November Dave farted in bed and, needing to escape the fumage, I started a blog.
A couple weeks later, Dec. 18, I was mindlessly hitting Next Blog and came across Mostly Other Things, a blog written by a Duluth, Minnesota writer/artist named CJ Hodges MacFarlane. This is the story I came across: #fridayflash "Family Ties."
I was mesmerized by this story. Amazed. As someone who has battled her own demons with depression, I saw myself in this beautifully written story. 
I commented on the story, bookmarked it, and returned to the site every day, hoping this CJ person might have written something else. 
But weeks went by and nothing was added.
I wondered what was wrong, why this person would have written something so heartwrenching about depression, then disappeared.
I wondered if this writer had passed on.
I had to know.
So on January 6, I wrote another comment: "Loved your story. I check every day to see if you've written more. No pressure, though!"
I guess CJ wondered who her new stalker was because she popped over to my blog to see who the weirdo was. That very day she had been out hiking and taking photos of ice. Posted on my blog was a photo of the frozen Muskoka River.
"Huh," she must have thought to herself, and posted this comment on my blog: "Beautiful photo! I just spent a day on Lake Superior taking ice photos so it's interesting I should come here and find these. (Hiya, by the way. You had left some lovely comments on my blog about my writing and I didn't even see them until today - always remiss, that's me.)"
If you check the links, you will see her photos are way better than mine, and you will also see a photo of CJ herself.
She impressed me right away as a person of substance.
And, damn, she is a fine writer.
Next thing you knew, we were stalking each other.
She even dedicated *ahem* a post to me. (awwww......)
We began chatting regularly and I found myself drawn to her quirky, forthright sense of humour, honesty and fairplay. Plus, she's just cool, plain and simple.
One day I asked her what this #fridayflash business was all about. She told me and I thought to myself, nice, but I'm not a fiction writer.
Then, one day, I didn't have anything to write about so I made something up. I told CJ and she got all excited, like a mother who found out her daughter was just engaged to a rich oil sheik. She set me up with facebook and twitter and Mad Utopia and egged people to come over and see my blog and she was wonderful.
Suddenly, people were reading my story from all around the world.
It just blew me away.
I was also amazed that I had storytelling in me. I was surprised how easily it flowed. Maybe it's not perfect, maybe it needs polishing, but darn, it's addictive FUN.
And, on top of all of this, I was suddenly exposed to other writers from all over the world, people who dig writing and reading as much as I do. Really talented writers, like Marisa Birns.
I don't know Marisa like I have come to know and love CJ, but she reminds me of my new friend because she writes like no tomorrow, no holds barred, honest writing about controversial topics. There are no punches pulled, it's all gut-wrenching emotion told with restraint and power and it's really, really good.
When Marisa passed the Sugar Doll award to me, I was blown away because she even knew I existed.
A few months ago, I didn't even know what flash was, didn't think I could write fiction and had never heard of CJ or Marisa or the host of fridayflashers who have made my life so interesting.
So, I thank Marisa for the honour and I pass the award on to CJ, who deserves it unreservedly, and had better post it soon or I will not be happy. (Not like me, who let this slide for a couple of weeks – sorry, Marisa, I've been busier than a one-armed paper-hanger.)
Part of the deal is telling 10 truths about oneself.
I am very boring, but I will try to make this as painless as possible.
1. I am engaged to The Perfect Male.
2. I have two really honestly wonderful sons who I love beyond reason.
3. I am proud to be Canadian.
4. I love my mother and my family.
5. I miss my late father.
7. I am emotional and have a strong sense of right and wrong.
8. I have work that I am good at and that I enjoy.
9. I am loved.
10. And right at this moment, you could say I am as happy as I have ever been and probably ever will be.
And yet, there are times when the tears spring to my eyes, moments like these.
While that makes little sense, it is what it is.
My truth.
And I own it.