Fiction Friday – Dead on the Page

I wrote this last year to enter in the Alberta Retired Teachers Writing Contest. It wasn’t a winner, not even a runner up but I still like it. Rivalry can raise its nasty head without warning.

Dead on the Page

 

Ellen reads the group another long-winded piece. Beverley yawns behind a discrete hand at the story’s stream of unconsciousness and Carol thinks it’s no wonder that she couldn’t handle The Dubliners.

“What do you think?” asks Ellen. Carol tries to remember anything she can comment on. Wool-gathering, out-of-body experience, whatever she labels it, she missed the last third of the story.

“On page two…” Bruce, the token male and former high school English teacher, starts to address the errors in spelling, grammar and word usage.

“Give it a rest, Bruce.” Charlene’s grammar slips sometimes and she’s done with Bruce and his nit-picking. Half the time, he doesn’t even bring writing to the Seriously Scribes monthly meeting.

Beverley and Charlene make a few desultory comments. Carol pretends to review the story, turning a page here and there.

“This might be your best story, yet. You should submit it to Grain,” she lies.

Carol can’t wait for the others to be done. She has an announcement.

“Bruce, your turn,” says Ellen. He is on her left and once the first reader is established, they go round the table clockwise. Bruce reddens and reaches for his coffee.

“I was too busy to write anything new,” he says. “Next month, for sure.”

Charlene distributes copies of her new poetry to everyone.

Carol presses her lips against the looming yawn. Charlene’s poetry is as pedantic and fussy as the cats that appear in her nature odes. Carol imagines Wordsworth twitching in his grave.

“I like the internal rhyme in the second verse,” Bruce says. “Have you considered echoing it throughout?”

Charlene looks over the top of her reading glasses at him.

“No.”

Her voice is flat. She knows that her poems aren’t original but she writes them for herself and harbours no elaborate fantasies about becoming the next Margaret Atwood.

Carol says, “I like the imagery. That’s your forte and it comes through so well in the last verse.”

She likes Charlene and admires her work ethic. Carol knows that none of the poems come to Charlene easily; she recognizes her shortcomings but every time the Seriously Scribes meet, Charlene has new work. That, in itself, is admirable.

Carol looks at Beverley.

“How’s that fourth chapter coming?” she asks.

Beverley sighs.

“I’m not sure,” she says. “I changed the scene order and I dropped some dialogue.” She passes out copies of the chapter re-write.

Carol can’t recall how many times Beverley has re-written chapter four. If the group had any integrity, they’d tell Beverley to let it go. Some novels are dead on the page.

They suffer for twenty minutes of the new order and tightened dialogue but the chapter still doesn’t work.

Charlene says, “I like this new approach but don’t we have to know why Olivia hates Norman? Did you delete that part?”

Good for Charlene. She does pay attention and tries to help every member of the group.

Beverley’s eyes blur with unshed tears.

“You’re right,” she says. “I didn’t even notice. I tried so hard to get the wording right. I worked at this all month.” Her lower lip trembles.

“The rest is well written and moves the story along,” says Ellen.

Beverley just says, “I’ll work on it some more.”

Carol knows that the sad thing is, she will but the new version will have new problems.

Ellen turns to Carol.

“What have you got?” she asks.

Carol laughs and with a flourish pulls a sheet from her folder.

“They accepted it,” she cries.

Her triumphant announcement meets a confused silence. The coffee shop where they meet is small and just then the grinding of the latte machine precludes speaking. It goes on for several minutes while Carol sits, annoyed. She is not competing with a coffee maker when she has something so momentous to share.

When the noise quiets to the normal hum of voices, Carol begins.

Dear Carol,” she reads.

My staff has completed the review of “Dark Secrets.” I am pleased to inform you that we think your work would make a positive addition to our Donahue Publishing list of titles.

To begin the process of publishing your book with us, I have passed your file on to …

Carol continues to the end of the letter and waits for the accolades to begin. Nothing. Don’t they get it? Didn’t they hear? Donahue is going to publish her mystery.

Each Serious Scribe has a different expression; not one of them looks joyful.

“I will mention each of you by name on the acknowledgements page,” Carol continues. She considers that a great honour.

“You didn’t tell us you were writing a novel.” Beverley’s tone is accusatory. “I’ve been working so hard at mine and you didn’t even hint at a novel in the works?”

Ellen isn’t happy.

“I have worked on my short story collection for five years now,” she says. “And you’re being published?” She makes it seem shameful.

Bruce looks like a beached fish, his mouth working to say something but making no audible sound.

“Congratulations,” he croaks at last. He has expected to be the jubilant novelist at some point.

Carol can’t believe it. Why aren’t they happy for her?

She looks at Charlene, the Scribes member everyone depends on for encouragement and support.

Charlene is packing up her writing.

“What are you doing, Charlene?” Carol is shocked.

“Leaving.  Carol, this group is about trust. You destroyed that trust with your selfishness. I’m done,” she says.

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The others follow Charlene and walk with purpose to the exit. Carol drops her letter. As she sits alone, her coffee grows cold. Then she brightens. Her novel isn’t dead on the page.

 

 

A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay

In his latest thriller, Linwood Barclay, has fashioned a protagonist who, until he stops to help a friend from work, has been leading a blameless ordinary life. He’s a college professor, not at Yale or Harvard; but still a responsible and good position. Then one night  on his way home he stops his car to help a colleague and it all goes south. His fellow professor, a known lady killer, has actually killed two women by slitting their throats. Our protagonist Paul Davis catches him trying to dispose of their bodies.

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His friend has already murdered twice and comes for Paul with the shovel he has to bury the women. Eight months later, where the novel really begins, Paul Davis is alive but in recovery from the blow to the head. He has suffered a possible brain injury and is dealing with the aftermath of the vicious attack. Nightmares plague him and although his therapist Anna White, is helpful, he has not been able to return to work.

Then he starts to hear a typewriter at night when he and his wife and asleep. His colleague had made his female victims write apologies on a typewriter before he murder them. His wife has given him an old Underwood as a gift, something for his “think tank” aka den. Odd events keep turning up and Paul is driven to create bizarre theories to explain them. At last he doubts his own sanity.

More than this, would give away the plot which has plenty of twists, turns, and red herrings. After all, that’s what makes a thriller, well, thrilling. A Noise Downstairs provides the great entertainment, I’ve come to expect from Linwood Barclay, a New York Times bestselling Canadian author.

Fiction Friday – Not a Good Day

I wrote this flash fiction a while ago and it appeared in The Fieldstone Review which is the University of Saskatoon publication. 

Calvin Harrison turned down the dirt road and braked.  He listened to the throb of the big diesel and sighed.   He was going to miss his new truck. It made him feel like someone else—not the friendly neighbourhood pharmacist, not the hen-pecked husband and definitely not the doting father.  Someone you saw in commercials—a little taller and straighter.  Someone with flinty blue eyes, whose tight Wranglers bulged a little bigger.

He didn’t mind the doting father image.  He and Natalie had had one of those perfect relationships where they laughed at each other’s jokes and knew what the other was thinking.  He’d spoiled her and if he had it to do again, he’d spoil her worse.  No regrets.

Pale light fingered the horizon and touched the clouds that had gathered to greet the sun with pink gold.  Mim would have a name for the colour, something from the new palette of paints at Home Depot.  Pink Desire, Reef Rose, Peach Parfait, Pink Abalone.  Mim—so tied in to things that didn’t matter.  She’d be happy choosing the new colour for the walls and happy while she squabbled with the painters.  Almost before the paint dried, she’d start getting restless again.  It was the same with her hair.  Cal had loved her shiny blonde mane.  She could have modeled for l’Oreal or Clairol.  God knows she used enough of their products over the years.  He never knew what the tint of the week would be.  Wild Irish Red, Mahogany Fire, Ebony Ice.  Then there was the chunking and streaking.  Mim said no one had a natural hair colour any more.  When Cal tried to summon up the shade her hair had been when he met her, he couldn’t.  He was living with a stranger.  Sometimes he watched her when she wasn’t looking and by narrowing his eyes and squinting tried to conjure the image of the girl he had married.  Occasionally, he thought he caught a fleeting resemblance.

The horizon burned gold fire now where the sun began its shallow ascent into the fall sky.  The clouds radiated gilt light.  The air was still.

It was as good a day as any, Calvin thought.

He would have liked to take Mollie for a last walk but it wouldn’t have been fair to the little mongrel. He couldn’t leave her in the truck even though someone would find her…just like they were going to find him.

Light raced across the hilltops, casting the hollows into shadow and outlining the dark limbs of aspen trees with tinsel trim.  Time was getting short.  His father used to say, no time like the present.  Already the siren of lethargy threatened to mire him in inaction

He lifted the shotgun from the truck seat.  Its double barrel glinted in the early light and the handle felt cold.  The acrid scent of gun oil hung in the air and there was a sharp snap as Cal broke the gun to load it.  He slid two magnum shells into place and there was a quiet snick as he closed the breech.  Magnums…he would only need the first one but he didn’t want any mistakes.

He tried not to think about Jim Craddock who botched the job and actually needed the second shell.  He must have lost his nerve at the last minute and only his jaw had been blown away. He’d staggered around his game room splattering blood and howling in outrage.   Then he finished what he had started.

Cal killed the truck’s engine.  He wasn’t about to destroy the interior.  Maybe Mim would get a decent price for it after…even with its unfortunate history.  He climbed out and closed the door quietly.  No need to slam it; the truck wasn’t yet a year old.  A breeze sprang up and carried the spicy fall air up the hill to Cal.  When he looked out across the valley, he saw a doe standing next to a stand of willows.  She had seen him and was testing the air cautiously but it was another month until hunting season opened and she was more curious than scared. He watched her for a minute.  A yearling stepped into the clearing and Cal could see it was sleek and healthy.

When he started down the slope the white-tails turned to step delicately into the bushes.  Cal headed west.  There was a small lake…the locals called it Schubert’s after an early settler—and at this time of the morning, the bright yellow leaves of the poplars would reflect perfectly from its cobalt depths.  Those same poplars protected it from errant puffs of air and it made a picture perfect enough for a calendar.

Cal stood for a couple of minutes.  Maybe if things were different between him and his wife…… but they weren’t.  Maybe if Tallie…but he couldn’t think of her; he just couldn’t.

Minutes later the shot gun blast sent the doe and yearling deeper into the bush, their white flags flashing once as they disappeared.  On the hilltop, Cal’s Dodge waited in splendor, silhouetted against a cerulean sky that promised early snow.

The silence was absolute.  Then the breeze brushed dried grass blades against each other.  Aspen leaves like gold foil coins rattled in the bushes.  A crow flew up and landed at the top of a tree, cawing raucously.

Cal emerged from the western woods.  He was a dark shadow against their colour and it was him the crow was scolding.  He held the shotgun gingerly and broke it to remove the remaining shell.

“Damn it, shut up,” he muttered.  The crow cocked its head as though listening.  “It’s just not a good day to die.”

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Fiction Friday- As Good Day A Day

Calvin Harrison turned down the dirt road and braked.  He listened to the throb of the big diesel and sighed.   He was going to miss his new truck. It made him feel like someone else—not the friendly neighbourhood pharmacist, not the hen-pecked husband and definitely not the doting father.  Someone you saw in commercials—a little taller and straighter.  Someone with flinty blue eyes, whose tight Wranglers bulged a little bigger.

     He didn’t mind the doting father image.  He and Natalie had had one of those perfect relationships where they laughed at each other’s jokes and knew what the other was thinking.  He’d spoiled her and if he had it to do again, he’d spoil her worse.  No regrets.     

     Pale light fingered the horizon and touched the clouds that had gathered to greet the sun with pink gold.  Mim would have a name for the colour,something from the new palette of paints at Home Depot.  Pink Desire, Reef Rose, Peach Parfait, Pink Abalone.  Mim—so tied in to things that didn’t matter.  She’d be happy choosing the new colour for the walls and happy while she squabbled with the painters.  Almost before the paint dried,she’d start getting restless again.  It was the same with her hair.  Cal had loved her shiny blonde mane.  She could have modeled for l’Oreal or Clairol.  God knows she used enough o their products over the years.  He never knew what the tint of the week would be. Wild Irish Red, Mahogany Fire, Ebony Ice.  Then there was the chunking and streaking.  Mim said no one had a natural hair colour any more.  When Cal tried to summon up the shade her hair had been when he met her, he couldn’t.  He was living with a stranger.  Sometimes he watched her when she wasn’t looking and by narrowing his eyes and squinting tried to conjure the image of the girl he had married.  Occasionally,he thought he caught a fleeting resemblance.

     The horizon burned gold fire now where the sun began its shallow ascent into the fall sky. The clouds radiated gilt light. The air was still. 

     It was as good a day as any, Calvin thought.

     He would have liked to take Mollie for a last walk but it wouldn’t have been fair to the little mongrel. He couldn’t leave her in the truck even though someone would find her…just like they were going to find him.   

     Light raced across the hilltops, casting the hollows into shadow and outlining the dark limbs of aspen trees with tinsel trim.  Time was getting short.  His father used to say, no time like the present.  Already the siren of lethargy threatened to mire him in inaction

     He lifted the shotgun from the truck seat.  Its double barrel glinted in the early light and the handle felt cold. The acrid scent of gun oil hung in the air and there was a sharp snap as Cal broke the gun to load it.  He slid two magnum shells into place and there was a second snap as he closed the breech.  Magnums…he would only need the first one but he didn’t want any mistakes.

     He tried not to think about Jim Craddock who botched the job and actually needed the second shell.  He must have lost his nerve at the last minute and only his jaw had been blown away. He’d staggered around his game room splattering blood and howling in outrage.   Then he finished what he had started.

     Cal killed the truck’s engine.  He wasn’t about to destroy the interior.  Maybe Mim would get a decent price for it after…even with its unfortunate history.  He climbed out and closed the door quietly.  No need to slam it; the truck wasn’t yet a year old.  A breeze sprang up and carried the spicy fall air up the hill to Cal.  When he looked out across the valley, he saw a doe standing next to a stand of willows. She had seen him and was testing the air cautiously but it was another month until hunting season opened and she was more curious than scared. He watched her for a minute.  A yearling stepped into the clearing and Cal could see it was sleek and healthy.

     When he started down the slope the white-tails turned to step delicately into the bushes.  Cal headed west.  There was a small lake…the locals called it Schubert’s after an early settler—and at this time of the morning, the bright yellow leaves of the poplars would reflect perfectly from its cobalt depths.  Those same poplars protected it from errant puffs of air and it made a picture perfect enough fora calendar.

     Minutes later the shot gun blast sent the doe and yearling deeper into the bush, their white flags flashing once as they disappeared.  On the hilltop, Cal’s Dodge waited in splendor,silhouetted against a cerulean sky that promised early snow.

     Cal stood for a couple of minutes.  Maybe if  things were different between him and his wife…… but they weren’t.  Maybe if Tallie…but he couldn’t think of her; he just couldn’t. 

     The silence was absolute.  Then the breeze brushed dried grass blades against each other.  Aspen leaves like gold foil coins rattled in the bushes.  A crow flew up and landed at the top of a tree, cawing raucously.

     “Damn it, shut up,” he muttered.  The crow cocked its head as though listening.  “It’s just not a good day to die.”

   

What Are They Thinking?

Sexting is something that people, young and old, rich  and poor, celebrity or not, do. I don’t understand why.

Selfies, they’re everywhere. At my advanced age, I’ve even taken a couple holding my dog. They show every wrinkle, every line, and blotch on my old face. Maybe that’s why I don’t do it often.

That being said, I can’t imagine why someone, say a man with a public position, power, and a wife and family, would be motivated to take out his phone and snap a couple of genital candids. Newsflash, genitals are designed for function not fetching form. Perhaps said man has trouble seeing his little member.

Then he texts the picture of his personal genitalia to a woman (maybe) that he doesn’t even know. He hasn’t met her and when the sexting goes bad and the “woman” threatens to expose him (I thought he’d already done it, himself), he confesses to the media, the whole country because of threatened blackmail. 

Total humiliation for him and there’s no way to make it right. Tony Clement should know better. How did he think the exchange was going to end. I make things up sometimes, attempt to write stories, and I can’t imagine this ending well.

Mister Clement isn’t the first public figure or even member of a government to get caught up in this kind of thing. The unfortunately named  Congressman Wiener of the US comes to mind. The question remains. What would make someone want to send pictures of their genitals to anyone? Kids are told to call their bits privates. There’s a reason; they’re supposed to be private.

This is an old gal trying to understand the motivation for sexting. It just seems pointless and shows a total lack of judgement. Once  an image is in cyberspace, it’s there to share. Still trying to understand.

Fiction Friday – Some Time Soon

This is a piece I wrote sometime ago. It was published by Transition Magazine. 

Sometime Soon

Coma: the patient is in a state of prolonged deep unconsciousness

Jennifer listens intently to the doctor.  One thing stands out in her mind.  David is awake.

She thinks, “He’s not in a coma.  That’s good news.”  She looks at him on the hospital bed and her husband is suddenly diminished; his strength lost.  His eyes are open and the doctors say he doesn’t see her.  She knows he does, maybe not really clearly or maybe not totally understanding what he sees but he does see her.

Vegetative State: the patient is awake but is not aware.

“It’s me, David.  I’ve brought you some flowers.”  She thinks she sees awareness in his smile.  More than she has seen before.  A feeling of great hope floods her being. Jennifer calls the nurse but by the time the nurse arrives, he is blinking and nodding at something in the farthest corner of the room.  The nurse is irritated.

“I have patients with real needs,” she says.  When she sees the look on Jennifer’s face her own expression softens.

Jennifer hates the discreet pity of the professional caregiver.  David was almost lucid.

     Persistent Vegetative State:  the patient has been awake but unaware for a month.

Jennifer comes every day at the same time. She always says, “It’s me, David.”  And then she tells him about her day and about the kids.  She is careful to explain how busy they are and why they can’t come to see him as often as she does.  David, Jr. is on the hockey all-star team and Kelly is going to a gymnastics tournament.  They both miss him, really, really miss him.

She never cries.  That is, she never cries when she is visiting him.  She refuses to give up and she is sure that David can feel her determination.  As long as she believes there is hope.  She has strong faith in positive energy.

     Permanent Vegetative State: the patient has been awake but unaware for a full year.

Jennifer is very upset with David’s doctors.  They want her to let them remove his feeding tube.  “But, he’ll starve,” she protests.

“He has no quality of life.”

David Jr. and Kelly stand looking on.  David, Jr. shifts uncomfortably and then he says, “The doctor is right, Mom.  Dad wouldn’t want to live like this.  You’re not being fair to him.”

Even Kelly agrees.  “This isn’t Dad.”  She cries silently, tears streaking her cheeks.

Jennifer looks at David, Jr. and she wipes her tears away angrily.  She does not cry when she is with David.  The doctor leaves.  David, Jr. and Kelly leave.

She wants to scream.  She wants to shout that it isn’t fair.  She wants to punish her disloyal children.  She wants David to wake up and come home.

David is smiling and he is drooling.  His eyes are blinking but he does not see.  His hands make spastic grasping motions at the edge of his blankets.

“Oh, David,” she says.  “What should I do?”

“Hmmmmph, huhhhh,” says David.  His right hand paws at the air.

“It’s beautiful outside today,” she says.  “The birds are singing and the sun is melting the snow.  Spring is here at last.”  She sits with David a long time, longer than usual.  She holds his hand and strokes it.  When she kisses him good-bye, she looks deep into his faded blue eyes.  She looks for David and can not find him.

‘It is a beautiful day,” she thinks. She knows she will have to give the doctors’ permission soon but not today.  Sometime soon.

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Remembrance Day 2018

 the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.”

We will remember them.

Remembrance Day 2018 marks the 100th Anniversary of the Great War, the war to end all wars. and yet in 1939, Germany invaded Poland, plunging the world back into conflict. By this time, my grandfather had immigrated to Canada, a choice in family legend that meant living under the British flag.

When war broke out my Dad was working on a Dairy Farm near Edmonton. I like to imagine him as a strapping, handsome Canadian farm boy. I think he had ridden the rails near the end of the Great Depression but his experiences would have been limited. I imagine that these are considerations he had when he joined the Army. The picture accompanying this blog shows him in uniform with his family before he shipped out. This is the kind of remembrance, families all over Canada have tucked away in albums or maybe proudly displayed and framed.

Dad was one of the lucky ones; he came home six years later. That is not to say he came out of the experience unscathed. I know that it changed him and he could be morose and quiet. At times he drank a lot. I think it was a self-medication to dull the horrors he had seen and experienced.

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The handkerchief depicting Dad’s Unit.

Dad gave the handkerchief in the picture to his cousin, Nancy Trefiak, who is the second young woman from the left in the top photo. They were close and could use the same biting sarcasm in their humour. When Dad died, Boxing Day, 1976, she gave the handkerchief to me; she had kept it all those years.

I did not hear war stories from my father. He wouldn’t talk about what had happened. When my (then young husband asked), all he would do was recommend a book detailing the Battle of Monte Cassino.

“If you want to know what it was like, read this,” was the most he would say, other than a couple of memories that demonstrated his luck at surviving.

One of them he told, described how he had wandered across a field (perhaps in Italy) after a hard night of drinking. When he woke, the next day, a team of engineers was clearing the field of mines. His staggering steps had woven through them without incident. One other thing he related was a shell dropping right beside him as he slept in a haystack. It didn’t detonate.

Dad was through North Africa, into Italy, Belgium. On his leaves to Britain, he met my mother, the sister of a friend back home. My mother was a British war bride.

After the war, my father became a farmer. I don’t think he had any desire to travel or seek new adventures. He’d had more than a lifetime’s worth packed into six years overseas. What he focused on was keeping his family safe. In the fifties, he earned a private pilot’s license and although he loved flying, one of his motivations was to provide an avenue of escape if war ever threatened close to home.

The Second World War was a part of me growing up safe on the farm in Eastern Alberta. Mom remembered the Battle of Britain and hiding under a make-shift table-like protection when the bombs fell.

The war was never far away for my parents and now on November 11th, I do remember.