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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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.

Educated by Tara Westover

Educated is Tara Westover`s memoir of family control and ignorance and an awakening as she seeks answers and knowledge. This was a book recommended to me by a friend and neither the title or the recommendation suggested the kind of horror and abuse that Tara Westover and her family suffered.

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The Westovers are a Mormon family whose fanatic father has re-tooled the religion into his private cult. He selects snippets from the Bible or the Book of Mormon and dictates to his family how they will act and what contact with the outside world they can make. His twisted beliefs come from feelings of deep paranoia. He is sure that the government, educational institutions, and health care are in a conspiracy to harm him and his family.

In her memoir, Tara Westover, tries to patch together a childhood of fear and abuse and fierce love. Her memories are confused and like all of us, some recollections might have planted themselves as memories because other family members have recounted them so often. Nonetheless, her life story is compelling and appalling.

The rules her father makes have no logic. Dairy products are taboo, a year`s supply of food they preserve themselves, must be stockpiled so when some government Armageddon descends, they can hide in the Idaho hills and survive until the crisis passes. To this end, Tara`s father insists his wife become a midwife and healer. It makes them more self-reliant. Tara is her mother`s assistant when she isn`t helping with the family scrap business. Her father and brothers work at this except when they are trucking. The work is dangerous, hard, and performed without concern for even minimal safety standards.

Horrific injuries have to be endured and her mother struggles to provide healing. Burns, brain injuries, deep wounds seldom receive medical attention and if they do, the patient is taken home long before a proper recovery is realized.

From this chaotic, illogical environment, Tara Westover, a young woman with no formal schooling, no birth certificate, and a strange mixture of fears and beliefs, studies for and gets the marks on the ACT exam which assesses students on high school curriculum and their readiness for college. Tara is admitted to Brigham Young University of the strength of her results; she has never heard of the Holocaust, of the American Civil Rights Movement, yet somehow her hard work and quick brain make up for these omissions. She is invited to Harvard and to Cambridge in England.

Tara Westover`s story makes compelling reading. You are drawn along with the kind of urgency that a thriller or horror novel might demand. The best part of this memoir, is that there is a resolution of sorts and that against all odds, Tara has prevailed.

Canadian Thanksgiving

Indigenous People always observed the coming of fall with feasts to celebrate the harvest. Sir Martin Frobisher with his crew marked their safe arrival in Newfoundland with a Thanksgiving in 1587. On the menu? Salt Beef, biscuits, and mushy peas. That’s a long way from the traditional turkey.

In 1606, Samuel de Champlain initiated a series of rotating feasts in an attempt to stave off scurvy. The first such feast was November 14 in Port Royal and is a Thanksgiving as well. This is 17 years prior to the American version with the Pilgrims. Canada led the way.

1957 was the year that Canadian Thanksgiving was made an annual observance on the second Monday of each October.

With Thanksgiving coming up in a week, I reflected on all I have to be grateful for. It would take way more than a little blog post like this but first and always on my list is family, and friends. This year my son is making the celebratory meal for the family. He is divorced but stresses family to his kids; the meal will be great and I’m going to bring dessert. That isn’t really what it’s about. It’s to get together and have a family event. We’ll play a password game that was my husband’s mother’s favourite. We’ll play some card games and we’ll visit. There will be three dogs as well as the humans and they’ll get their share of the special day.

Before that I’m stopping to think about friends as  well. There is nothing like the shared laughter, the shoulder to cry on, the sympathetic response to a rant. A common interest leads to friends. I met very good friends through a local writing group and now we are much more than that interest in writing. Friends enjoy your quirky humour and put up with your flaws. Thank you, friends.

On a much wider scale, I am so grateful to live in Canada. With all its faults, I enjoy freedoms, self-expression, religious choice, and opportunities afforded by no other country. I live, by Canadian standards, a modest life. By world standards, I am rich beyond compare. My son and daughter have university educations. My grandchildren will have that chance, too, if that is what they want.

I have so much to be thankful for and I am.

 

We Are Not Ourselves – Matthew Thomas

From this end of my life (thank you, Stephen King), We Are Not Ourselves, resonated. Everyone, immigrant, young wife, new husband, three generations has high hopes and works hard, and yet fate intervenes.

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Eileen Tumulty looks after her drinking Irish parents, who are not just sampling the odd cocktail. They are full-on alcoholic and as dysfunctional as that implies. At last, Eileen meets Ed Leary, a research scientist. He seems like her dream man and the one who can provide her with a cosmopolitan existence she craves. Eileen wants better for herself, socially, economically, intellectually. Ed Leary could make it happen, yet once they are married he is obstinate in his refusal to seek higher-profile, better paid jobs. No matter how hard she tries, encouraging or demanding, Ed stands firm and continues in his research position, although he could be promoted or could seek a place at a more prestigious college.

Eileen takes matters into her own hands and searches out the house that might take them where she wants to be; out of her immigrant neighbourhood and into a more socially prominent area. Ed is still unhappy about a move, and Connell, their son, who has his own issues at school, agrees to move to keep his mother happy. It’s really more than they can afford. The move seems doomed.

Ed refuses to let professionals renovate and repair their new house for it is, indeed, a fixer-upper, needing a lot of attention. The new neighbours aren’t running to knock on the door and make their acquaintance. Eileen is a nurse and successful in her own career but she always wonders if she’d make a better lawyer or maybe a politician. Ed gets more stubborn and more eccentric.

The new house doesn’t give Eileen what she’s always wanted – a better life. More and darker problems arise and the novel examines how unfulfilled dreams and love intersect. How fate laughs at our expectations and plans, throwing them into disarray just for the fun of it.

Eileen has scant fun, Ed has less, and their son Connell struggles with adolescence and a family falling apart. Although, this is a bleak story in some ways, it was well worth the read and kept me totally engaged. The only disappointment was the ending but no spoilers, I’ll let you decide for yourself.