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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October Arrives

Today is the first day of October. It is the month often associated with fall but this year, fall arrived in September. We’ve already had snow and hard frosts.IMG_3748 (2).jpg

I took this picture of the Battle River Valley when I thought the leaves were at their most colourful. Now there are stands of aspen which have lost their leaves. When you drive through the countryside, the colours are there but they are not as spectacular as they were.

This morning on my dog walk, the geese filled the air. They were flying south east from where they had fed earlier. Their honking and calling reverberated. It is eerie to hear and humbling to think how they cooperate in the flight and how they are getting ready for their migration south.

In our yard, all kinds of birds have come to gorge at the feeder. They are battling the colder temperatures and getting ready for winter. There have been chick-a-dees, sparrows, two kinds of native sparrows, nuthatches, warblers, juncos, and a small downy woodpecker. The blue jays are the bold birds that screech at my husband to bring out the peanuts.

We’re still on daylight saving time and sunrise is getting later and later. The twilight lingers but not for long. The shadows are somehow thinner and more slanted. The wind bears traces of ice.

October days can be bright and crisp. The water in ponds has a cobalt blue not seen in other months. The clouds no longer gather and expand at the horizon but instead move in carrying the promise of precipitation. The land settles in, getting ready for the coming winter.

Welcome, October. I hope for sunny autumn days that carry a hint of the summer gone by.

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A Therapeutic Walk in the Snow

I can’t lie. When the snow fell and then accumulated yesterday, I was bummed. After all, the calendar said that yesterday was the last day of summer. Since August 25th, it’s mostly been cool and dreary. I did feel sorry for myself…

And then, came the news out of Ottawa and Gatineau. Not one but two tornadoes, the first an EF-2 strength, with winds to 220 km/h, and then a second an EF-3, with winds to 265 km/h struck. Pictures and video are terrifying and show mass devastation- houses, buildings, trees, cars, reduced to sticks and twisted metal. Some areas are unrecognizable. If there is one silver lining to this storm cloud, no one died, as far as can be determined.

Here, on the prairies, the snow is a lot more than an inconvenience and something for me to whine about. As farmers look across fields with crops, swaths, and a year’s work, they wonder if anything can be salvaged. Grades of the grain decrease as each snowy, wet day passes and the second danger is that crops in swaths will begin to sprout. Even with perfect, unseasonably, warm weather, it is going to take weeks for grain to dry enough to harvest. A slower kind of devastation.

Dogs don’t really understand weather and so this morning, snow was no excuse, we headed out on our normal route.

The snow on the trees is pretty and after a while, I felt better about the weather. It was chilly but tomorrow is supposed to warm up. As we walked along, little sparrows darted among the branches, twittering to one another. My Scruffy, who has no teeth and weighs 10 pounds, charged a timid, Border Collie-cross, and chased her. Tazzie, the Jack Russell, made several new friends, humans, of course.

When we were close to home, a young fellow, ten or eleven years old met us.

“Can I pet your dogs?”

Of course, Taz was delighted to be introduced to a new friend and then the boy said, “How do you like your weekend off from school?”

Ha! I must have acted as a supply teacher for his class one day. I replied that I wasn’t happy with the snow.

“I know. Yesterday we went to Lloyd,” he said. “And Mom bought me these mitts and toque at Walmart.”

Then he said, “Enjoy your weekend.”

Perspective is everything. A simple walk through the trees, a meeting with a young boy, and an adventure with a Border Collie. The air is fresh, I wasn’t cold and I’m pretty sure breathing it, stimulates the release of endorphins. I’m not bummed now. And I can appreciate it’s just another phase of Alberta weather.

I do hope there is a stretch of mild temperatures so crops can be harvested.

IMG_2585 Do you think my begonias are going to survive? 😀

 

The Aga Khan Garden (UofA Botanical Gardens)

Alberta is experiencing late fall weather early with snow, rain, and overcast skies. We could have changed our plan to visit the new addition to the University of Alberta Botanical Gardens, the Aga Khan Garden, but despite the 2 degree Celcius temperature, we didn’t. Two native Albertans and a transplanted Vancouverite are not that easily deterred.

The chill gave us the advantage of being three among very few other visitors. There was a bus of school kids and then it was like we had a private viewing. The Aga Khan Garden is a spectacular 4.8 hectares developed for Edmonton’s region and climate, inspired by Mughal traditions, and made possible by the Aga Khan’s $25 million dollar gift. The Garden has been 10 years in creation and is now open to the public. It is meant as a meeting place; a place to connect with nature, and other humans; it is a symbol of hope, peace and unity.

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This gives you an idea of the size of the Garden, the people to the right were removing dahlias that were mildewing in the damp of the recent rain and snow. Tulips are being planted in the bed for spring.

We thought that the main feature would be the Aga Khan Garden but were surprised at the other elements. First we walked by the Wedding Pavilion, and toward the Patrick Seymour Alpine Garden. At this time of the year, it was a stroll through the woods with squirrels, blue jays and robins. Ponds held huge Canada geese who were quite unperturbed by us going by.

Farther along, we entered the Indigenous Garden which is the only one of its kind in Canada. It features the plants that Indigenous people used for medicine, domestic purposes, and of course, ornamentation. It was too bad that most of the plants were heading to dormancy.

The Kurimoto Japanese Garden is groomed, formal (to me), and designed in the kaiyou (walking style.) There are ornaments, pagodas, and water features. The Garden is named after Dr. Yuichi Kurimoto, the first Japanese national to graduate from the University of Alberta Faculty of Arts in 1930.

After walking through the Japanese Garden, we were excited to come to the Indoor Show Rooms. We chose the Tropical and Bufferfly Room first because we needed to warm up. There were beautiful blooms and as the name says, several types of butterflies fluttering about.

The other two rooms were interesting but not as eye catching. The Arid room held, of course, cacti of many varieties. The Temperate Room had plants we were more familiar with and fewer blooms.

We wanted to have a cup of coffee, and we could have, but hardy as we Albertans are, we said, no, to a cuppa on the patio of the Outdoor Cafe. The heater was on in the car on the drive back.

The day and weather weren’t ideal, but good company, proper jackets, and footwear made it fun. I’m a little embarrassed that although I live so close, I haven’t been to these gardens before. I’ll be back when my “hardiness” is a non-factor and the gardens are in their full glory.