Monday, May 31, 2010

Michael Solender - Not Your Average Reporter

Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S.A.

Michael Solender is nothing if not prolific.
While some of us dabble in blogging, posting the odd opinion here or an even odder story there, Michael can be counted on posting something interesting pretty much every day of the week. His blog, Not From Here Are You (popularized with the endearing little nickname The Not) is part Solender, part cheerleader, part reporter. Which means he’s either posting his own fiction, whether it be micro fiction, #fridayflash or poetry, or he’s telling us about other artists. 
Recently he introduced us to photographer Kristin Fouquet, to poet Bina Gupta and to one of my favourite flash ladies, Lou Freshwater.
Michael can always be counted on to pull a solid story from his #fridayflash hat. Last week’s effort was not only well written, it was also beautifully laid out in book format, complete with a natty typewriter font and funky accompanying photos.
Everything he does, he does with thought and style.
I was not unfamiliar with Michael’s work but I really sat up and took notice when he hosted Canadian Week (May 9, 2010). Since he was including one of my stories I figured I had better study up on some Solender. Let me just say he’s worth studying.
Just who is this Notty guy?
He has Harriet, first of all. He has photos of her on his blog and he calls her “Sweetie.” (Say it together now: "awwww...")
His blog actually says a lot about who he is. “'You’re not from here, are you?' Is a refrain I’ve often heard in various places in my life. A transplanted northerner [I’m from Minneapolis, MN] living south of the Mason Dixon Line for the past 15 years, I am not from here in many subtle and not so subtle ways. The belief that '...the nail that sticks out gets hammered down' challenges me to look closer and question more. Not being ‘from here’ is mostly a good thing. I don’t need the familiar to be comfortable. I seek out different experiences and enjoy different points of view and opinions.
“I am a corporate refugee,” he adds, “having spent 25 years grinding the faces of the peasants into the dirt as a human resources guy. Enough was enough and I retired two years ago to pursue my passion, which is writing.”
As well as blogging, Michael freelances and has “a few steady gigs” with publications like the Charlotte Observer and Charlotte ViewPoint. Mostly he writes nonfiction, although he admits, “I do love poetry and fiction so I keep my hands in that through my blog.”
In June he’ll be reading one of his stories at a theatrical event called a Live Magazine which will bring all the elements of a local magazine to life – a great idea for all artistic communities to emulate.
But it was Michael’s Canadian Week that inspired me to do an American Week. Which is why he is the official kick-off. (Thanks for yesterday’s introduction from one of my favourite Canadian writers, Alan W. Davidson - how much fun is he?)
As always, Michael put a lot of thought into his love letter-styled essay into what it means to be American.
“For all the ills that America has, it is still a splendiferous place to chase your dreams, live your life and enjoy so many fabulous things,” he says. “We are used to bitching and we need to stop and take notice of all the great things that we have at our fingertips.”
When it came time to work with Michael’s photo, I chose to combine his picture with a famous black and white photo of bluesman B.B. King because he mentioned a place in his essay called Kingston Mines, something I’d never heard of but was immediately transfixed by.
“Kingston Mines is a huge Blues bar,” he explains. “They feature national and international blues bands on two huge stages in separate rooms. During the week, when it is not too crowded, two different bands play in alternating rooms so you just move from one side to the next as they finish their sets. The people there are from all over the U.S. and the world, especially Germany, which seems to have many blues fans.
“What are the blues? As a white man I’m not sure I can adequately answer that but American blues are derived from a mix of gospel and old time Negro spirituals, and folk music from early African Americans. Called the Blues, as they represented the blue, or tough life these people led, the songs usually tell of hard times of one sort or another.
“Of course, this has all evolved over time to a unique art form that is today. Many parts of the country have ‘regional’ sounds and Chicago has, in my humble opinion, the best of it all.”
When he’s not hanging at Kingston Mines, you’ll likely find Michael listening to Latin jazz, opera and classical music. When asked what is artists are quintessentially American he cites John Cougar Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen. “Born in the USA is a classic,” he says.
And when it comes to American literature, Michael is quick to point out his favourite.
“I’ve said many times before An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser is my favourite book of all time. I re-read it every year,” he says. “It speaks to the hope of what can be and the tragedy of failure, greed and corruption in the pursuit of more than any one should have.”

Michael & Harriet, his "sweetie," 
play tourists in the Great American Smokies, 
Chattahoochee National Forest.

Home is Where My Hat Is
By Michael J. Solender

Not all Americans are loud, boorish and ethnocentric.
A few states-dwellers have ventured far-afield from the good ole-U.S. of A. and found that faster, cheaper and bigger wasn’t necessarily better. Those who care to look beyond the amber waves of grain can find much to enjoy right here on the same continent and home soil of both America’s neighbors to the north and south of our very permeable border.
My passport says I’ve been to some thirty different sovereign nations in my fifty-two years on the planet.
The wonders of the Himalayas welcomed me as warmly as the people I visited in Bhutan. A more scenic drive than the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton does not exist. The epicurean delights that Paris, Madrid and Lisbon offered were heaven on a plate to be sure. What can possibly rival London Theater and experiencing the Tokyo Fish market is a joy like I have never known 
No matter these foreign wonders, for after I’ve been too long away from the states, I start to pine for America.
I miss the ever independent streak that is our birthright. I Jones for the uniquely American blues that I can hear only on stage at Kingston Mines in Chicago. I can’t go too long without walking across Delancey street in NYC and realizing my Granny and hers too once occupied tenement buildings that now house trendy retailers and shops.
I yearn for the spirited but polite political discourse that happens far from partisan TV talking heads and is best debated at softball fields with parents of opposing fields. I can’t go a year without Fourth of July and the pops concerts that play the Sousa marching band tunes that make me feel patriotic and all squishy about being an American.
I never forget my first peek over the south rim of the Grand Canyon and the realization that the American West is like no other place on the planet.
With all our warts and troubles, and believe me America has plenty of each; it still is a fine place to hang one’s hat. I travel overseas much more than the average bear and am quite sorry to admit that I often I get embarrassed at my American brethren and their lack of respect for other cultures.
Never do I feel that America and our culture or society is “better” than another I may visit. I do feel, however that in spite of its ills, there is no place I’d rather be.
Sweet land of liberty, land that I love.

Thanks, Michael. This one's for you:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

As American As Alan W. Davidson

For the next two weeks Life on the Muskoka River will be taking on a distinctive red, white and blue hue for the celebration of American Weeks. Come back to read thoughtful, well-told stories by some of the best American fiction writers you will see online. Show them some love in your comments and visit their blogs often. You won't be disappointed.

St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

Unfortunately, I have a little unfinished business before I can begin American Weeks in earnest. You see that guy? That's Alan Davidson of Newfoundland. He's been like salt cod in a festering wound since I first called for American stories. I keep telling him he's a Canadian, that this showcase is for American writers, but he keeps screeching about beer and guns and ample bosom fondling and I just can't deal with him anymore.
To show you how far he's taken this, I post this letter he e-mailed me a few days ago.
I do solemnly swear to bring you a real American writer tomorrow.
In the meantime, I do believe you will get a giggle or two from Uncle Alan who, I must say, looks dashing in red, white and blue.

Dear Ms. Olliffe:

This open letter is a rebuttal to your flagrant rejection of my essay I am Alan and I am American for the upcoming ‘All-American’ week at your blog. I took great offense to your e-mail “outing me” as a Canadian and labeling me a ‘spineless traitor’ and a ‘Newfie panty-waist.’

The fact that I was not born in the U.S.A. is no reason to trash a fairly well-crafted essay. I should remind you that I was not born in Canada either, yet my essay Canada and America: The Great Divide was published on Michael J. Solender’s blog during his recent ‘All-Canadian week’. 

I present you with my ten reasons proving I am truly American at heart:

1. Hemingway and Steinbeck are my favorite writers and my dog-eared copy of To Kill a Mockingbird is almost unreadable due to maple syrup fingerprints and donut filling stains. When I write, I eschew traditional British/Canadian spellings in favor of the more streamline American spellings. Words such as: favorite, donut, color, neighbor and nite are more sensible spelled as such.

2. I don’t like hockey or Molson’s products and prefer to watch baseball while drinking American brands of beer and eating TV dinners.

3. Being American will allow me to openly cheer for a country that will win more than two medals at the summer Olympics in London in 2012.

4. While standing during the playing of God Save the Queen at Canadian sporting events, I secretly hear the words to My Country, ‘Tis of Thee echoing in my head. Or perhaps the voices have again returned…

5. As with Scottish bagpipe music, I would tear up when listening to the late Kate Smith sing God Bless America prior to Philadelphia Flyer playoff games.

6. In Canada we don’t have the tradition of placing our right hand across our heart during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. This saddens me because the noble tradition shows tremendous respect and, at the same time, allows me to have a short and secret grope of my ample left breast.

7. I have traveled America from Saginaw, Michigan to Disneyland and from the Sea Lion Caves in Oregon to the Boston Gardens. I’ll have you know that I’ve even been to Graceland. Elvis had left the building. I have been to more U.S. locations than many Americans and feel that I should be afforded honorary status.

8. When I wrap myself up in the Canadian flag the solid red and white bars make my ass look big. I prefer the slimming effect of the red and white stripes...and the blue brings out the color of my eyes.

9. Many years ago, while touring a weapons factory in the Northwest frontier region of Pakistan, I was able to fire rounds from a Beretta 92 semi-automatic pistol and a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Once the smell of gunpowder reached my flared nostrils, and the feeling returned to my arm, I knew that I was hooked. Sadly, these are not hunting weapons and can not be purchased in Canada (however they are readily available in select locations around the US).

10. My dear friend of 35 years is an immigration lawyer in a major metropolitan center in America and has me one step away from Whistling Dixie…

In conclusion, Ms. Olliffe, I hope the points listed above have you reconsidering your narrow-minded, BIFFO opinions regarding my national status. In short, I ask you to please reconsider publishing my essay “I am Alan and I am American” as part of your ‘All-American” week.

Your Humble Servant,
Alan W. Davidson
Head Honcho at Conversations From Land’s Edge

Alan W. Davidson is not, and likely never will be, a pest. He is one of the true gentlemen of the blogging world, a favourite amongst other writers from all over the world. He is also an amazing writer. He doesn't write #fridayflash often but, when he does, you owe it to yourself to give him a read.
I hope to meet Alan and his family this summer when Dave and I honeymoon in Newfoundland.
Thanks for writing this intro, Alan.
You're a real pal.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

American Woman

Canada Day, 2006 - Halfway Lake Provincial Park, about an hour or so north of Sudbury.
If you're not from around here, that's not halfway to the middle of nowhere, it's the goddamned capital.
The joint is rocking.
There's a bunch of 30-somethings a few campsites over and they've got the tunes cranked. Lucky for me they're not a bunch of metalheads. It's like they've got Canada's greatest hits dialed up on their MP3 players and they're giving it for all they're worth. As the day heats up and wears down they sing louder, drunker, hoarser. For some reason they're not annoying the piss outta me.
Sunny Days by Lighthouse. Takin' Care of Business by Bachman Turner Overdrive. A little Chilliwack. A little Rush. And lots of The Guess Who.
When Burton Cummings starts in on American Woman the guys at the rowdy site really start wailing. They're singing for all they're worth and, I gotta admit it, I'm singing right along.
I can hear people all over the park singing and I get a great big stupid smile plastered all over my face because this is Canada Day, in Canada, listening to one of Canada's all time best rock and roll bands singing their biggest hit, and it's called American Woman, fer crissakes!
To me that pretty much sums up the Canadian personality. We strive to be our own people but we're so influenced by what goes on south of the border that we waste all our time saying, "We're not them. We're Different," instead of truly developing our own identity.
Do Americans spend half a year in history class studying "The Canadian Identity?" I doubt it. I get the impression Americans know exactly who we are. I can't imagine them muddling around trying to figure it out.
That's why when Michael Solender over at The Not asked for stories about Canada by Canadians a lot of us had a hard time figuring out what to write about.
I felt like I was in history class all over again, mulling over what is Canadian versus what isn't, blah, blah, blah.
How geezly pathetic is that.
Seriously, that's what a Canadian is. A muddler. A thinker.
Americans? They're doers.
They're confident. We're careful.
They're outspoken (read - loud). We're polite (read - meek).
Not that I know a lot of Americans. I don't, actually.
And I've only been there three times.
Once was to go to a wedding in Pennsylvania when I was six. My parents bought me a plastic Daffy Duck and a bunch of other stuff and gave me strict instructions not to say anything to the customs official. He asked if there was anything to claim. My dad said no. I piped up and said, "Look at my new duck!" and waved it in his face.
Once was to bypass Quebec to get to Nova Scotia - it's actually shorter and more interesting to drop down to the States to head east. Honest, I wasn't avoiding Quebec. I love Quebec. *hugs*
Once was to a Dallas Cowboys football game in Detroit. Football literally makes my skin crawl, by the way, but the guy had a Firebird and tickets. Hell, I'd go anywhere with a guy with a Firebird.
No, I don't actually know any Americans.
But I feel like I do, thanks to this blog, thanks to #fridayflash, thanks to one American I've never met but like so much I'm inviting her to my wedding. (I hope Oprah gets back to me soon.)
American Week is a way of showcasing work from some of the people who have changed my world. They have been supportive, encouraging and amazing in every single way.
Make sure you come back here on Monday, the launch of American Week here at the River. I will bring you some really cool stories written by some cool American authors, some of whom you may already know.
I'm also fleshing out the stories with stories about the writers themselves. And you won't want to miss what I've been up to with their photos and my Photoshop... muahahahahah...

Oh, by the way, I keep getting bizarre e-mails from Alan Davidson, the CANADIAN writer from Newfoundland, who keeps bugging me to include his story in American Week.
Alan, you're Canadian, for gawd's sake... no American in his right mind would be caught dead wearing a fez.
Now stop bugging me, ok? Listen to a few tunes and chill, fez-man...

And now, the song that started it all:

P.S. Anthony left a link in his comments so I went there and I did get goosebumps. I had forgotten how Great Elvis was. Oh man, no wonder they called him The King.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Conversation - #fridayflash

Photo credit: Gusgus2 @ trekearth

"Have I called at a bad time?" I ask.

I can hear he is distracted, barely listening.

"No," he says, "it's fine."

"Oh," I say. "Good."

There's a pause. He doesn't rush to fill it, so I do.

"We took Trixie to the dog spa today," I say, looking down at the ridiculously cute pom-chihuahua mix spinning at my feet. She always spins when she wants something. Spins, then sits pretty, all black fur and dark eyes. She looks like a fruit bat and weighs all of seven pounds. The vet says she needs to go on a diet. She has doubled her body weight since we had her fixed two years ago.

"She looks really cute, " I say, and am about to tell my 13-year-old son that the groomer put a paisley bandana around her neck when he interrupts to scream at his younger brother.

It hurts my ears.

It hurts my heart.

I wait until he's done. Then I wait to see if he'll say anything, or notice if I'm still there.

He says nothing.

I can hear him breathing. I can hear his fingers working the controls of his X-box.

Finally I say something, unable to bear the silence.

"Anything new and exciting?" I ask.

"Nope," he says.

"How's school?"

"Fine," he says.

"How's your brother?" I ask.

"He's fine."

"Good," I say.

Silence descends on the conversation.

My sons live with their father and I can't tell you how painful it is to only see them every other weekend. We lose touch. We become strangers. I don't know who they are anymore, or how to talk with them.

I force myself to call them, to let them know I haven't forgotten about them - how could I - but they never want to talk to me on the phone. They have nothing to tell me. They barely listen to things I tell them. There is no conversation, just stilted awkwardness.

I can talk with complete strangers more easily than I can talk to my own children.

As always, I feel sadness settling into the hollow void in my chest. I fight it off. I try to sound perky.

Since he won't tell me anything about himself, I try to tell him something about me. He never asks. I don't honestly thinks he cares. But I try. Trying is all I have.

"I found out one of my stories won a prize this week," I say.

"Oh yeah," he says.

He doesn't ask what story, what contest, what prize.

I hear his fingers, working the game.

Tears spill from my eyes and drip from my chin.

"I have to go now," I say.


"I love you," I say, barely able to speak the words but meaning them utterly.

"Love you, too," he says. Flatly. As if by rote.

He hangs up.

The dial tone buzzes in my ear.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Amazing Smoking Toddler

So here's the thing – this kid looks GOOD smoking.
He's got the style thing down pat. The sexy exhale. The pursed lips.
The steam-throw-blow-out that says, "Hey, I got something important to say, so listen up."
But he's TWO.
How much can he possibly say? 
"Yeah, I always wondered what Godot was waiting for... and now I know - it's a fresh set of Huggies."
Or, "Bring me another round of breastmilk, Big Mama, I got me a hankering for some fresh moo juice and ya know it's better for me than Enfalac ... not that I really care, I'm gonna have cancer by the time I'm in preschool ... hey, who's got a light?"
I want to see this kid when he's 20, all wrinkled up and diseased and sallow, coughing up a yard of phlegm, smelling like an old man's underpants.
Still, as an ex-smoker, I gotta admit, I get a bad case of the Jones just looking at this kid.
I wonder if he'd let me have a drag.
Just one.
I wouldn't get the filter all smarmy, I promise.
C'mon ... no one will know...
I'll slip ya a ten-spot ya dirty bugger.

P.S. - I had the video posted here but, as Alan sez, the "evil ones" took it down. The kid doesn't look quite as suave in this shot.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Radar Love

Summertime. The Celsius is up. The black flies are biting. My convertible is awake.
It has slunk, dusty, in the garage all winter long.
Stashed with life jackets and paddles, camp chairs and hummingbird feeders. 
Emptied of battery, empty of spark, empty of gasoline.
Dead, almost completely.
Even the mice in the glovebox found livelier accommodation.
Now it rumbles.
It bites anxiously at the pavement, ready to roll.
Bling shines.
Open roads beckon like sirens.
Curvaceous lines tremble with anticipation.
We are in lust again, he and I.
I am his lover.
He is my pet.
Together we will move as one.
On a sultry night in late spring.
When the Celsius is up.
We will ride.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pan Face

EVERY DAY Harold has a fried egg sandwich for breakfast.
This is not the biggest news, not by any means, but it is true.
Harold likes himself a greasy egg, over easy, fried in real butter. He puts butter on the toast, too, and covers it all with a Kraft single which, as the package clearly states, is not actual cheese, just a cheese product.
Harold cares not.
He drapes it over the egg, covers the pan with a lid for a few moments, long enough to rearrange the fruit in his Fruit of the Looms and pick his nose. He flicks the boogers into the nearby scrap bucket and doesn't wash his hands because, well, why would he?
When the blanket of cheese product melts like a teenager's resolve on prom night, Harold slides a spatula under the egg and fwaps it neatly on the toast. He squishes the toast down over the egg so the cheesy stuff and the egg yolk meld together and leak out seductively. Harold tosses the spatula back in the frying pan and carries his sandwich over to the coffee table where a big glass of homo and the TV clicker await him.
Harold's gut rumbles appreciatively as he shoves the sandwich in his gob with force, speed and accuracy. If fried egg sandwich eating was an Olympic sport, Harold would be a gold medalist, no steroidal adjustments necessary. He is a man among men, who doesn't let little things like cholesterol, heart attacks, obesity or his wife's nagging slow him down.
He does, however, wait to make his daily egg after Florine has left for work. He also buys his own eggs and does up his dishes so Florine is none the wiser.
(That's what he thinks. But Florine knows. A wife always knows.)
When he is done and Canada AM has gone to commercial, Harold belches and carries the plate to the sink. He runs some hot water and squirts in some Dawn, the kind that donates a dollar for oil-slicked ducks, and he goes to pick up the frying pan to wash it.
He lifts off the spatula and stops. Dead in his tracks.
There is a face in the pan.
A grease face.
He sees two button eyes, a long Roman nose and sweetheart pursed lips.
He fetches the camera off the buffet table and takes a picture of the face, just in case it turns out like Karen Schindler's famous alien or the face of Jesus on the wall of Tim Horton's down east.
He kinda grins a big loopy grin as he thinks of his picture in the Toronto Sun, right beside the Sunshine Girl.
"You look kinda like the man in the moon," he sez to the pan.
"You look like a fat pig," sez the pan.
"Really," sez Harold.
"Really, really," sez the pan.
Harold feels his blood pressure rising.
He is 53 years old and he is not going to take any flak from any damn frying pan.
"Huh," sez Harold, and he picks it up and tosses it in the hot soapy dish water and he swabs off all the grease and he whistles while he works.
He holds the frying pan up to the light coming through the kitchen window and sees it is clean.
"And what do you have to say now, frying pan?" Harold says, chuckling.
The frying pan is wordless, faceless.
 "I think you're a real arsehole," says the kitchen sink.


American Week deadline is fast approaching. To all you American writers, I say send me your stories, approximately 600 words, approximately wonderful, approximately by May 24, 2010. No other guidelines but that. Send them, along with a patriotic photo of yourself, to me at
Your story absolutely has to be better than this one. So don't be afraid, send them to moi and I'll spangle you with star, stripes and banners.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head

How can you not love this scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?
You can't help but smile.
I thought of this song this afternoon when Dave and I toodled up the river in our fishing boat, skunked for fish, but way above our limit with sunshine, pretty scenery and good company.
Some days I love my life.
Love every stinking thing about it.
Love it so much that I throw my arms up around it and kiss it soundly and slobbery, right on the lips.
By the time I get done with today, life will need to wipe its face off.

And since Butch Cassidy is an American movie I will segue into a convenient reminder to all my American friends to please send me your stories for American Week. 
Deadline: May 24. 
Word count: 600 or whatever. 
Genre: Fiction. Or non-fiction. 
Country: America, except for Alan. 
Get 'er done.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


All that remains of the schoolhouse in Kiosk is a cement slab foundation. 
You can see the pattern of the floor tiles that remain.

A silver locket waited in the old man’s pocket.

“Ayuh, right here’s good,” Gordon Kilbride said, leaning forward in the back seat of the Jeep, trying to get the attention of the driver, Jason Thomas, who was listening to somebody named Peas singing something about junk in the trunk. Gordon really didn’t understand what passed for music these days. When he was this age he listened to Hank Snow and Ernest Tubb. You could understand what they were saying and their words meant something. Nothing like this.

Jason and his fishing buddy passenger kept bobbing their heads in time with the Peas, so Gordon reached his gnarled by arthritis fingers over and tapped his shoulder.

“Here’s good,” he repeated.

Jason, a good-natured, fair-eyed hair-shorn buck with muscles on his muscles, said, “Here? Are ya sure, mate? We’re not quite there yet. The park office is on up ahead a kilometer or so.”

“This is just fine,” Gordon said.

“All righty, then mate, here it is.” Jason stopped the YJ, loaded down with camping and fishing gear, in the middle of the dusty dirt road. Gordon wrestled out of the cramped back seat. He shut the door, stood out of the way and said, “thanks for the ride. It was much appreciated.”

“Later,” Jason said with a grin, gunning the engine and disappearing in a cloud of dust.

Gordon watched them go.

“Junk in the trunk,” he said. “Heh.”

He was standing at what passed for an intersection in these parts. Two dirt roads, one of them well-used, one of them barely a road at all, just two narrow ruts with weeds growing up the middle.

He chose the road less travelled and started walking up it.

He barely recognized the place.

Last time Gordon set foot on this road, it was an actual road, with a road sign and houses on either side. The Carmichaels’ white bungalow with the teal shutters and the ornate picket fence was on the left. Mrs. Carmichael always had a garden full of daffodils this time of year, and you would often see her pulling weeds and brushing blackflies out of her hair. Mr. Carmichael would most likely be in the garage, emptying the gas out of his chainsaw and putting it away after a month of getting the following winter’s wood cut and split. Either that or he would be getting his shiny almost-new roto-tiller out, ready to clear a patch for the bush beans the missus loved so.

Across the road was the Robertson’s place, brown wood frame, not as well kept as the Carmichaels’ but then again this house was a busier one, full of four growing Robertson children, two plump golden labs and a skinny yellow cat with a crooked tail. Russ Robertson was a foreman at the Kiosk planing mill, where almost 300 people had held down full time jobs. His wife, Mitzy, volunteered three days a week at the public school, a modern schoolhouse where 181 children spent long days studying phonics and arithmetic.

There was nothing left of either house. No clue that there was ever two homes at the corner.

Gordon stuck his left hand in his pants pocket and fingered the locket with its fine silver chain.

“Things sure are different, Cora,” he said, looking around.

Gordon had been born in Kiosk in 1942, just a few years after lumber baron S.J. Staniforth built a mill at the mouth of the Amable du Fond on the shore of Lake Kioshkokwi. By 1960 there were nearly 600 people living in Kiosk, with 80 homes,a school, a ball diamond, a store and a Catholic church. Gordon was working in the mill alongside his father, planning his wedding to the sweet but homely Cora Pratt, a gangly woman, all teeth and elbows and crooked smiles. He loved that Cora like the good Lord loves a sinner on Sundays, had loved her since he dunked her braids in the inkwells in grade school. Had promised to love her till the day he died.

Gordon knew how to keep a promise.

Only it wasn’t him that went and died first. It was Cora. One month short of 50 years of marriage. Three children, 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren later. One day she was putting up jars of chili sauce, talking about the anniversary party the kids were planning for them, yakking his ears off as usual, covered up to her bony elbows in tomatoes and vinegar. One minute she was talking while he was trying to read the paper and then she never said another goddamned thing. Well, just one thing.

He had looked up from the paper when he noticed she was quiet, and she was leaning against the kitchen counter, face as red as the gills of a pickerel, eyes scared. Gordon stood up and pushed at the chair to get it out of his way, and rushed over to Cora’s side.

She fell into his arms and he tried to get her to lay down but she snugged into his side so he held her there, held her close and whispered sweet words and smoothed her gray hair.

And she murmured, “Meet me in Kiosk,” and she died in his arms.

They had been living in an apartment in nearby North Bay when she died. They had lived and worked in Kiosk for most of their adult lives, raising their children, making lifelong friends, doing all the things people do when they love a place and make a nest there. But the good Lord and the Ontario government had other plans and in the early 1970s a grand master plan was announced for Algonquin Park, a plan that would eliminate northern communities like Kiosk, Achray and Brent.

The people of Kiosk fought to keep their homes but on Friday, July 13, 1973 the Staniforth mill burned to the ground. No amount of talk could get the mill rebuilt. People began to leave, seeking work elsewhere. Every time a house was vacated, it was bulldozed by the government. By 1996, every house was gone, every family was gone.

The park was returned to a natural state, for all people to enjoy.

But the people of Kiosk left their homes, left their friends, left their lives behind.

It was the hardest thing Gordon and Cora had ever done. They rented an apartment in “the Bay” and settled into their retirement, trying to like it, trying to feel at home. Trying not to think about Kiosk.

Funny thing, is, after Cora died, Kiosk was all Gordon could think of.

He wondered what she meant. Puzzled over it. Thought about it with increasing regularity. Until one day he decided he had to find out.

He went to his dresser drawer and pulled out the locket he had meant to give her for their 50th anniversary. There were two pictures inside. One of him, all young and scared looking, one of her, crooked smile, bright eyes and happy. Both taken on their wedding day. He had the jeweller inscribe a message on the back: My lady of the lake; my love.

Gordon put the trinket in his pants pocket and started his journey back to Kiosk. He started with a taxi, followed by a city bus, followed by some hitchhiking and finishing with that ride with the Peas boys. There wasn’t any public transportation out that far into the bush. Never was. Never would be.

Gordon clutched the locket and walked up the road to the place where his home once stood. Where Cora had a vegetable garden, where the kids played tag in the twilight, where he and his bony wife kissed in front of the lilac bush on fragrant May evenings when the air was thick and sultry and they were younger and the mosquitoes and flies didn’t bother them half as much as their unending itchy passion for each other.

The lilac bush was in bloom but it had grown out of control, higher than the house once was, wild and spindly and out of place amidst the natural north Ontario forest that was reclaiming this land.

In amidst the tall grass, the young white pines, the balsam, the poplar and the birch, in among all these wild things, were two perfect daffodils, yellow as a summer day. Bold as proverbial brass. Alive amidst the deadfall of early spring.

They swayed together, lightly touching, beautiful and perfect.

Gordon stared at them. Mesmerized.

And then he heard his name.

Cora stood amongst the lilacs, smiling her crooked smile at him, hugging herself with bony arms. She came forward, holding out those long, skinny arms, and she folded him into her embrace, and he wept, wept like a fool, like a child, like a man who has finally made it home to his wife, his love, his heart, his home.

Gordon held out the silver locket and put it around her thin, lovely neck and he gazed into her bright, homely eyes and the two of them faded from sight in a gentle swirl of silvery dust.

These two lonely daffodils still grow at the foundation of the abandoned schoolhouse in the ghost town of Kiosk. 
Dave and I visit this beautiful part of Algonquin Park at least once a year.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Calling All Americans

You always wonder what bloggers look like, don't you?
Well, I do. (Especially the mysterious ones - what are they hiding???)
But it's kinda nice to keep your true identity a secret. Sometimes you can unfairly judge the content of a post when you have a picture of the author in your head.
That's why I was a little miffed when Michael Solender dug up this photo of me (taken this spring on the banks of the Muskoka River) and stuck it up on his blog, Not From Here Are You. Not that it's a bad photo, although I do think the maple leaf makes my patriotic arse look overly round. I'm just afraid my faithful readers will now consider me an erudite airhead with nothing but a sleek, tanned and luscious booty and amazing fashion sense.
The toque is such a good colour for me, though.
Oh well, I can't blame Michael. When you look as gorgeous as me you get used to people wanting to show you off.
Besides, Michael is one of my favourite people right now. He has one of my stories up at the Not for Canadian Week. Not just me, either. He also has some of my best writing buddies. When you're finished checking my picture out, check out the Not.
(You're still looking at that picture, aren't you? It's the maple leaf - it draws you in, like a target.)
To thank Michael, and to pay homage to his Canadian Week idea, I want to host my own American Week.
So many of my blogging buds are Yanks - I vastly admire their skills and would like them to write their own American-slanted stories. They don't have to be patriotic - they should just convey some sort of American styling, whatever that styling happens to be. Make it fiction, make it short (600 words or less but I'm not counting), make it wonderful. Send it to me at by May 24, 2010 - in Canada, that's the May 2-4 weekend, the first long weekend of summertime and a big, beery reason to celebrate.
Also, send me a photo of yourself. I know, there's no way you're gonna be as good-looking as me but I won't hold it against you.
Unless you want me to.
With an arse like that, I'm betting you will...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Days of Interruption

I am but one ant
in a hill of ants.
I am a droplet of mist
on a foggy day.
I am a willow
bending to your caste.
I struggle for voice
with mute tongue.
These are the days of interruption.
Of disappearance.
I will dance for you now
but not forever.
So don't get used to it.
I'm not as far gone as I look.

Parfait of Mist by David Webster taken at Kiosk, Algonquin Provincial Park, May 2010.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Jesus Bandages

My friend CJ got 30 or more facebook comments because she said something about Jesus bandages.
I thought to myself: why even bother writing anything?
Why not just post a picture of Jesus bandages and see how many comments I get?
It's gotta be easier than #fridayflash.
Three weird coincidences:
1. Switch CJ's intitials and they're J.C.
2. CJ keeps telling me she's a goddess, or is it Queen of the Universe? I always get those two mixed up.
3. My friend's initials are J.C. and his parents are named, GET THIS, Mary and Joseph!!!!
I know!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

#friday flash - For Bella

Forget-me-nots in our front yard

“I killed ’em, honey,” Martin said.

He was drunk, slumped over the farmhouse kitchen table with an empty upturned whiskey bottle and a loaded shotgun laying in front of him.
Esther felt the blood leave her body. She steadied herself against a chair.
“What have you done, Martin?” she asked in a rush. “What are you saying to me?”
He raised his head slightly, looking at his pregnant wife through blurry eyes. 
“I told you. I killed ’em. The children. All of ’em.” He buried his head in his hairy muscled arms and sobbed. “You have to shoot me now, Esther,” he roared, the words muffled from underneath his shaggy head. “I can’t live another moment with what I done.”
Esther stared at him for a moment, uncomprehending.
Then she stepped forward and hit him as hard as she could with, both fists flailing down on him, screaming, “Where are the children, you bastard? You tell me where they are, right now. Now!”
“They’re out back,” he sobbed. “By the rain barrel. Oh Esther, you have to shoot me.” He struggled to his feet, reaching for his wife’s hands.
She slapped his hands away, picked up her long skirts and started moving fast towards the back door. It wasn’t quite a run, not when the baby was just a month away, but almost. Through the dark, narrow hallway she went, skirts swishing, eyes dark, mouth set in a hard line. She arrived at the door and hesitated. She didn’t want to open it.
She glanced back into the kitchen. 
Martin was moaning her name. “Esther, I’m sorry, Esther, Esther...”
She looked up the staircase towards the bedrooms. “Thomas?” she called. There was no answer, just Martin’s blubbering from the kitchen. “Mary Margaret? Rose? Patrick?”
She looked down at the floor. Tears started to blur her own vision.
“Ellen?” she whispered. “Michael? Sean?”
There was no answer.
She screamed at her husband. “What have you done?”
“Oh Esther,” he bawled, staggering down the hallway towards her. 
“No!” she said, grabbing the doorknob and pulling the door open with all her might.
The afternoon light filtered into the dark house, where Esther was silhouetted in the doorway, her eyes wild with tears.
She could see the rain barrel from where she stood. An old barrel with gray weathered oak, held together with rusted metal bands. Next to the summer kitchen, where it could collect rain from the downspout for Esther’s herb garden. 
She shaded her eyes against the sun and she saw the bodies of her seven children lined up in the grass.
“Oh sweet Jesus,” she said and walked towards them, her feet barely touching the ground, as if in a dream.
They were laid there by their father, as neat as cutlery in the kitchen drawer, from tallest to shortest, oldest to youngest.
Sixteen-year-old Thomas was first. His eyes were open, angry, staring off into nowhere, a ragged cut across his forehead, his nose flattened and twisted at a strange angle.
“I had to punish him,” Martin said quietly, at Esther’s side. “He wouldn’t go into town after you, like I asked him. He backtalked me, said you needed to be away from me for a while. Called me a lousy drunk, his own da, a lousy drunk.”
“So you hit him,” Esther’s voice was flat as she gazed at the body of her eldest, her most cherished son.
“He made me mad. And when I hit him, he tried to hit me back. We was fighting here, Esther, and I wasn’t thinking, I was just mad, and I pushed his face into the rain barrel, yelling at him to apologize. And he drowned.
“It was an accident,” he said.
Esther looked at her six other children. “What about the rest, Martin, what about the 
rest? Were they an accident, too?”
Fourteen-year-old Mary Margaret, almost a woman, lay on her side, staring at her brother with empty eyes. Her dress had blood on it.
“Well,” Martin began, “yes and no. Mary Margaret must have heard what was going on and came outside, and she must have seen me pushing Tommy’s head into the rain barrel because she tried to stop me. I pushed her out of the way, she was screaming, Esther, screaming, and when I got done with Tommy I grabbed her and put my hands over her mouth to shut her up, but she was kicking and fighting, so I drowned her in the rain barrel, too.”
Esther knelt down beside her children, crying wordless tears.
Martin continued his terrible confession.
“And then I don’t know what came over me, Esther. I had to finish it. That’s all I can think of how to describe it. I went into the house and called all the other big kids into the kitchen. The twins, they were napping upstairs. Rose and Patrick and Ellen stood there and I talked real calm to them. I told them we were going to play a game and they just had to close their eyes and I would lead them outside, one at a time, for a different kind of hide and seek. I think they knew something was wrong. They looked scared, but they did as they were told. Just closed their eyes. They were so good, Esther, so good. 
“I took them outside, one at a time, Rosie first, then Pat, then Ellen. And they kept their eyes closed. They struggled a bit when they went underwater, but only for a bit.”
Thirteen-year-old Rose’s eyes were shut, like she was sleeping.
Ten-year-old Pat looked up at the sky.
Seven-year-old Ellen had a sweet smile on her face.
Beside her lay the twins, only three years old, Michael and Sean, laying side by side, just as alike in death as they had been in life.
“Then I went up to our room and fetched Michael first, then Sean. They really didn’t even wake up, maybe stirred a little when I picked them up, but that’s it. They barely noticed.”
Esther stroked their small faces.
“Esther,” Martin said. “You have to shoot me now. I don’t think I can do it myself. I need your help.”
She looked up at him, saw him swaying under the weight of too much whiskey, too much cowardice and too much guilt.
She hated him. That much was clear. The rest was murky and hard to understand. In a way she felt as though she was drowning, too. She was tempted to take the shotgun from her husband’s hands and turn it on herself but she had one more baby to birth and she was not going to let this one die.
She stood up, awkwardly, pushing Martin out of the way when he tried to help.
“I blame myself, Martin,” she said coldly. “I should never have gone for a walk and left the children alone with you in a drunken state. It was just selfish and this is how God chooses to punish me. I’ll never forgive myself, Martin, and I’ll not be shooting you.”
She started walking away from her pathetic, murderous husband and her seven dead children. She put her hands around her thick belly, cradling baby number eight, and she walked down the laneway towards town.
She heard Martin crying and mewling until she got too far away and she couldn’t hear him anymore. Just the sounds of the southern Ontario countryside, cows lowing, spring peepers singing, red-winged blackbirds calling and the harsh chatter of crows.
Esther was about half a mile away when she heard the shot.

For Bella.