Redemption

(a short story, by Sha’Tara – part 3 and last)

Morning came, and the noise of a truck backing out of the driveway woke me up.  It was clear and cold, I could tell.   I dressed as warm as I could in my sweats, my coat and wool hat and after wishing Pete a good morning as he busied himself with a couple of shopping bags dropped by the door, walked outside to stretch.  Everything was frozen, grey white, sparkling like fairy land.  The first thing I did was slip off the steps and land painfully on my butt.  But the beauty and freshness of the morning made me quickly forget my bruises.  My car was covered in ice but I realized the sun would soon melt it off – seeing it’s a dark blue and would attract the heat.  The dog was nowhere to be seen so I assumed (I know, bad idea) she was in the old van in some warm nest she’d made.  The food was all gone but something made me look closer at the ground and I saw small animal tracks.  So it had been taken by wild animals and I wondered what made such small tracks, and would not be afraid of the smell of a watch dog?  Did they have raccoons up here?

I walked around the cement foundations, now half covered in drifted silt and weeds.  How many years had it been since that dream had shattered?  I did something unusual then: I reckoned it from my own age.  I am thirty-two years old.  Those foundations must be thirty-three years old, maybe thirty-four.  According to the orphanage records I was born in 1975.  So these foundations were laid by Pete and Sally in 1973.  And that’s another thing that hit them: the Hippie era when young people suddenly left everything in search of something better than what they’d known, even if they had known the best life anyone had ever had on this world since history began.  They were an unhappy lot, and moved as such a lot, as cattle perhaps, or lemmings, following some path, some will o’ the wisp, with no real purpose to look forward to.  So they created a myth of peace and brotherhood, a mantra, a ‘mission statement’ and proceeded to screw it all up with drugs, irresponsibility and wanton lust.  Then they woke up one day, the lot of them except those too far gone to wake up, or those few who still believed, and went back to Big Daddy and his Big Machine.  Now they run the world and what a place they’ve made of it.

So Sally became a sort of Hippie.  Probably experimented with drugs, perhaps even when she was pregnant, drank too much, lost her sense of personal value, dumped her own kid and disappeared.  Was she still alive?  Physically, maybe, but spiritually, mentally?  Seems like whatever was done to her as a child had turned her into something a little less than human.  Some would call it karma.  I just call it sad, terribly sad.  If such a person ever wanted to, could she redeem herself?  How do you redeem yourself?  I can’t answer that.  Only if I get there and I have to make such a choice can I truthfully say, “I know.”

My shoes must be wrong for this world.  Not only do I find it almost impossible to stand, my feet are now freezing, although I have an extra pair of socks on.  I had to force my feet into these boots with those socks.  Why am I cold?  I’ve got more clothes on than I remember ever wearing at any one time.  I walk towards the sunrise and stand at the abrupt edge of a deep ravine, or as Pete calls them, a coulee.  I can’t hear any water running and it seems to me very strange that such deep clefts would not have rivers of water in them.   A pungent smell comes from some bushes I disturbed in passing as the sun is just beginning to melt the ice from their branches.  I see what I recognize as stinging nettles and foolishly avoid them thinking they would sting me.  Frozen, and through all these clothes?  Ah well, much to learn, and much that will never be learned due to more pressing matters.  I must conclude my interview with Pete today and start back.  I don’t like this weather and I’m suddenly afraid of this land and the strange dirt roads my car was never designed to drive on.  Edward was right.  I should have rented a real prairie dirt road vehicle in Prince Albert.  Stubborn.  But I like my car, it’s personal, private, an extension of me, especially when I’m far from my own home.

I smell cooking and I realize I’m past hungry.  I return to the house, being careful to stand relaxed on the icy steps.  My boots slip but I manage to stay upright, grab the door handle and walk in.  I hear eggs frying.  And bacon.  A steaming pot sits on the side of the stove and there’s a percolator chugging away on one of the burners, or covers or whatever.  A real percolator!  I lift the lid on the steaming pot and it’s porridge.  I’ve never eaten porridge.

Pete is busy tending the eggs in a large cast iron frying pan.  He seems to have dropped twenty years from his face since yesterday.  ‘What’s the occasion, kind sir?’  I ask him, smiling my widest and most natural, unfeigned smile.

“You,” he replies, smiling in turn.  He has a beautiful smile, a perceptibly familiar smile.  Where have I seen that smile before?  Somebody I know, know real well, but whom?  Not Edward, not even close.  That priest who “advised” me when I left the orphanage and got me my first job as a copy editor and helped me find an apartment?  No, not him.  Ah well, never mind.  I’m starving.

“Can I help Pete?”

“We’ll need plates for the porridge and the bacon and eggs.  We’ll need to slice some bread and toast it.  There’s a couple of loaves in the fridge and a bread knife in the drawer to the right of the sink.”

I slice the bread and look for the toaster, feeling foolish.  Probably some too obvious contraption I should know about.  I see nothing, and no plugs above the counter either.  “Sorry, where’s the toaster?”

For the first time he breaks out laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

“Your question.   I’m currently using the toaster, but in a few seconds, as I move this frying pan over, you can have it.”

“The burners?  You want me to just lay the slices of bread on the top of the stove?”

“Sure.  I’ll tell you when to flip them.”

So we had a wonderful breakfast.  I began to think that maybe that’s what he ate at every meal, or that maybe he only ate breakfast.  No matter.  I felt great after, drinking the strangest tasting, but hot and strong coffee from the percolator.

“Where’d this food come from, Pete?”

“I should have told you, I have an old CB radio here.  I called Webster’s and they brought some supplies.  It’s been a very long time since I had company, Reed.  I spent the night wondering how I could express my gratitude for listening to my story, and for staying over last night, so as not to cause me worry.”

“Oh!”  I exclaimed, suddenly feeling very young, very childlike.  “Well, thank you.  I’m glad I stayed, I can’t imagine driving through this stuff.”

“The roads will be fine during the day except for the bottom of the coulees where the sun doesn’t shine in winter.  If you’re careful to drive from side to side of the road and not on the icy tracks, you wouldn’t have any problems.  Of course most people with those  modern 4×4’s don’t know how to use ’em properly and frequently end up in the ditch.  Too much power to the wheels at the wrong time, in the wrong places.  You have to feel the road, let it talk to you, tell you what you’re doing wrong.  And you have to feel your car or truck as well.  An empath should know that, hm?”  He winked at me and I laughed.  Then, in between mouthfuls and sips of scalding coffee, I began the questions again.

“So, you never ever thought to look up Sally’s child, not even out of curiosity?”

“Oh yes, many times.  But what stopped me after my initial bout of anger was that she’d remind me of Sally every day.  I’d be raising a part of her, but would never have her.  I looked at my life, what it had become and after a few years I convinced myself that the girl was much better off in the city, among people she knew, surrounded by opportunities completely unavailable here.  If I went to get her I’d just cause more harm and grief.”

“Don’t you think that maybe that was selfish thinking on your part?  That this girl needed a father of sorts in her life, especially knowing she had been abandoned by her own mother?  How do you think that affects a child?”

“I don’t know Reed.  I’m no psychologist.  I’m a farmer with a grade nine education.  I don’t know much about people.  And in the state I’ve been in, I couldn’t even help myself.”

“Well there’s another point.  This girl, maybe, being of Sally, she could have given you the love you never got from the mother.  This girl could have been the necessary filler your heart needed.  Don’t tell me you’ve never read of such things happening.”

“I don’t read much, but I have.  I just don’t believe it.  Just stories, Reed.  Feel good stuff.  Happy endings.  Not for us, just for writers and those who for a moment believe their inventive trash.”

“I’m a writer, Pete.  I’m going to write a story about our encounter and my trip here.  Will you read my ‘inventive trash’?”

“Oh, so sorry… so sorry Reed.  Please forgive me.  My bitterness is quite used to have me for itself anytime, anywhere.  I’ve never practiced the discipline of hiding my pain from others.  Probably why there are no ‘others’ in my life anymore.  I prefer to be alone so that I can give vent to my feelings without having to worry about the effect I’m having on others.”

“That’s all right.  I’m a journalist, a reporter.  I’ve got tough skin.  I too was raised in difficult circumstances and I’m a survivor and over-comer.  I could tell you some stories about my own upbringing in an orphanage.  It was a priest who helped me get out of that life and find a job and a place to live.  I suppose, depending on how you look at it, I got lucky.  And have been ever since, if you discount the sleepless nights working on a computer and the loneliness.

“But lately I’ve been questioning that.  I want something better than that animalistic instinct to survive and beat my competitor to the prey.  I’ve been seriously thinking it’s time I became a different, a better, person.  It will definitely hurt my career, maybe end it, but what’s left of my life I want to dedicate to me.  To myself.  I have a dream, a vision, of what I want to become.  It frightens me, Pete.  It frightens me because I’d be so alone in doing this.  No one can really share in it.  I see a great similarity between us.  You changed after Sally left you.  You dedicated yourself to nurturing your grief, to never let it ease or heal.  You became your grief and it grew to control you and in turn, it became you.  In it you have been intensely and utterly alone.  You could not share that with anyone without hurting them.  So you detached from all of them and kept only the suffering you.  And wasted over thirty years of your life to date.

“I want the opposite, but just as intensely as you pursued your own dream of living in heart-mind agony and grief because you lost something that was never yours to start with.”

“Oh yeah?  Hmmm.”  Long pause.  His voice lowers a bit:  “You’ve thought about this a great deal I sense.  How will you accomplish this dream of becoming better than yourself, of becoming a better person in your own eyes, assuming you intend to be extremely tough on yourself in this?”

“Yes I’ve thought about it a great deal.  I’ve looked at the world from my journalist perspective.  We’re taught and encouraged to dig deep into the human psyche, to look for reasons, causes and to make value-judgments about everything.  We are supposed to be experts at uncovering what makes people do what they do.   So that’s the method I used to look at myself; at my motives for everything I think, say and do.  Who is the person behind it all?  And I’ve decided that perhaps that person needed to be what she was for a time, but no more.  She is past all that now.  She’s too young to give up the idea of positive change and too old to play the games people play, of seduction, money and popularity.  She’s at a crossroads that comes but a very few times in one lifetime.  Choice.  So she chooses change through self-empowerment.  That means the tough reporter bitch makes herself vulnerable, exposes her soft underbelly to those who would beat her.  She chooses the path of compassion.  And hopes she is strong enough to accept the inevitable.”

“Doesn’t that make you a sort of fatalist?  That doesn’t suit you, somehow.”

“I prefer to think of it as being pragmatic.  I’ve seen some of the world, perhaps using my life as a microcosm of the macrocosm.  I’m basically middle aged.  I have enough past to be able to surmise, or hypothesize my future at least.  I don’t want to live in the world I’ve come to know.  So if I can’t just leave it for greener pastures provided by someone else, then I’ve got to create change right here.  And there’s nothing else I can change but myself.  That’s what the people who chase after leaders do not realize: that nothing changes until they, themselves, become that change.  The change I propose to put myself through is going to cost me much.  I have no problem accepting the fact of those costs, but can I pay my debts?  Can I ‘take it’ to use the vernacular?”

He sighs deeply and stares straight into my eyes.  “You’re goading me, aren’t you.  You don’t mean any of this, you just want me to react, defend myself, or admit I’m a total failure and tell you I’m not sorry; that I choose to be where I am and I’m staying here, then to prove you are right, to ask you to leave and not write any story about me, but forget you were ever here.  You are pushing me into some kind of admission.”

I stand up and pace across the small kitchen, careful to avoid several empty cardboard boxes and a stack of firewood partially blocking one side of the table.  I’m feeling anger coming and I need to let it out carefully.  I don’t want to use that sort of energy in an interview.

“You’re wrong Pete.  Sure, I came here for a story, that’s what I do, write stories, do documentaries and spout off on talk shows.  But primarily I am using this trip to find myself.  You can help me.  I see many similarities between us, our lives.  We had it tough, both of us.  But here’s the interesting difference.  I chose to overcome my problems and rise above them.  You chose to use yours as an excuse to cop out of life.  Now, I don’t know.  You show me courtesy and treat me as your guest.  You order special groceries and cook for me.  You let me sleep in your shrine, knowing that no matter how careful I am, my presence in it will forever desecrate a part of it and it will never be the same to you.  You are taking chances with me, exposing vulnerable parts of yourself to me.  Showing me the Pete who wished he could have a chance at life again.  Why?”

“Good question Reed.  I don’t know.  You’re making me think back over things I’d stopped thinking about long ago.  You’re making me look at my miserable life… and maybe, just maybe, to question my place in it.  You’re making me think that maybe I can make the pain stop and I can change.  You’re a witch, Reed.  A very powerful witch.  I’ve always been scared of witches, you know.  They are unpredictable.  Sally was a witch, that’s why she attracted men who abused her and grew bored with me because I let her be, happy to just love her, or as near to love as I knew how to give.  I think witches have a death wish but have so much of life’s power they get stuck in places they grow to think of as prisons.  A witch must have her broom, Reed, always ready to fly off to some place where no man can go to.

“Tell me about your priest.”

I have a sudden vision of my own mother riding on a big black broom, holding me in her arms until she finds a suitable place and dropping me to fall through black clouds, then down towards a city and into my own prison.  I imagine she just wanted me to find my broom, learn to fly on my own, and leave my prison as she had done.  Which I did, to a point.  His question startles me.  “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“Your priest who helped you leave the orphanage life and found you a job.  What was in it for him?”

“Pete, that was the Nineties already!  We were lovers!  We met in the confessional.  I’d been baptized Catholic and had to follow through on the rituals, or else.  I had so much anger and hate then, I can’t believe it myself now.  So I confessed stories I made up of erotic and terrible sins.  I think my confessions turned him on.”

“So this priest seduced a young virgin from an orphanage, is that it?”

“You’d sooner find a virgin in a whorehouse than in that orphanage!  Shit man, we were regularly ‘farmed out’ to certain people for ‘domestic labour training’ if you get my drift.  But that came after the in-house fondling and other stuff.  Women and men used us: we were nobody’s property, so we may as well be theirs.  Father Logan, Bertrand Logan, was my out from that life.  If it hadn’t been for him, I’m pretty sure I would have been sold to some pimp, oh, excuse me, an employer who had a very legitimate job for me.  I’ve met some of my former mates on the streets, even did stories about them, but I never saw the point of taking it to the law, that’s not my thing.  Probably some day, when it’s too late to do anybody any good-as if this sort of thing ever does-someone will spill the beans and a battery of lawyers will make a killing, as will the Media sharks and the courts.  The orphanage will have to shell out some insurance money, maybe close down and re-open somewhere else as a new and improved institution.  Some old man or woman who worked there will be dragged out of obscure retirement, put on display for the public to vent its outrage upon and die in jail.  That’s it.  Nothing will change for the victims of these systems, not until the systems themselves are destroyed.

I could see the white knuckles as he clenched his fists tightly.  Was he upset because of what happened to me, or was he thinking that maybe the same thing had happened to Sally’s daughter and he could have prevented it?

“But you asked about Bertrand?  We met in my apartment on a regular basis for a while.  Then he had second thoughts.  He chose his vows over me.  I’m no fool and I wasn’t surprised-angry, oh yes, but not surprised.  He may have been a Catholic priest but he’s a man.  There’d be other, younger girls to choose from if he kept his profession.  Sure wish I’d a known I was a ‘powerful witch’ at the time.  I’d have revved up that broom to the max and rammed it up his ass.  I certainly was angry and very confused then.  What was I, Pete?  What purpose did I serve?  Everybody else seemed to have it so together, from my point of view.  I thought I couldn’t do anything right.  But then I found out, through my job as a copy editor, that I could write, and I could listen to people and remember, maybe selectively, but remember, what they said.  The rest, as they say, is history.  My history.”

“I’m sorry, Reed.”

“Why?”  Now I knew I was deliberately goading him.

“Because of Sally’s daughter; that girl who should have been ours, to be raised in a loving environment by us.  Because I realize now I was so wrong not to go and get her and get us a new life.”

Suddenly he was old again and his head dropped in his hands.  And just as suddenly I went to stand behind him and I hugged him.  And when I bent my face down to rub against his, noting he had shaved and smelled better, I felt that electric shock go through me again.  And I knew, without a doubt, as if I was seeing it happening in a docu-drama; as if someone else was explaining it to me.  I knew because my name is Redemption.  But more than that: I knew because I recognized the connection.  This was not just some man who had been married to my mother.  This was my father.  She was dumped by the surveyor when he found out she had been pregnant by her husband before she left with him… and she had known it.

“I’m your daughter, dad.  I’ve seen some of the records and it all fits.  My real name is Redemption.  I’ve come home.  Let me in, please?”

20 thoughts on “Redemption

  1. PrettyKoolDame

    Wow! Great story. Halfway through this part I thought, “we learn so much about ourselves trying to learn about others”. I smiled as I read on. I love the ending. 😊

    Reply
  2. rawgod

    Nice story, S’T, but you lost me at the part about hippies. Might be your opinion, but you don’t present it that way. It sounds like fact, but it’s pure bullshit, and absolutely unnecessary to the story. Cannot imagine why you felt compelled to add it, almost 50 years after the end of the hippie era. That era changed the conscience of the world, and the consciousness. We wouldn’t be where we are today (not counting Trump and his minions) without the Hippie Era. I would not be who I am today without it.
    But you are right, for many people it ended the way you described, but not for all. For some, such as myself, it has never ended, because I am still a hippie deep inside, and proud of it. I am not the only one.
    Sorry to vent on you like this, but I felt I had to say something. Those who were not there, who weren’t born yet, might take your words (thrown in so non-chalantly) as fact, and I could not let that happen. Peace, sister.

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Jerry. I’ll briefly respond to your concerns about my assessment of the Hippies and their very short lived “era.”

      Those I consider Hippies were a slightly younger crowd than mine and although I like a lot of their ideas, and certainly their protest songs, I remained aloof to the “movement” if one can call it that. I saw what the “free style” living, including pot and beer, did to my own younger siblings, five of them, three now recovered addicts, two continuing the beaten and dead beat path going nowhere. While Hippies are given credit for accomplishing certain things, such as ending the Vietnam war, that is rather farfetched. Anybody with half a brain was opposed to the war and it had become a political quagmire that had to end. Apart from that, what have Hippies accomplished? Whatever they did, it’s all done and gone long ago. Their lack of commitment to real change, which I personally observed when it came to direct involvement, guaranteed that anything they did would be reversed, and that with a vengeance. In my personal struggles involving the 1972 CIA-Pinochet coup, then the revolutions of Central America, then the cowardly US military attack of Grenada, they were not the grain, they were the straw, and straw burns up very fast. The real legacy of the Hippie movement? The drug-anti-drug culture and the engendering of the NSA.

      The way I see it, it’s like any other (if much shorter lived) movement that had potential at the beginning and went the way of the System and the dodo. Christianity, communism, socialism, democracy: great ideas, surely, but the numbties upon which these ideas were dumped couldn’t make heads nor tails of them so the System took them up and added them to its list of oppressors. The Hippie “movement” is barely a blip in there.

      Sorry but that’s personal observation and experience. If I said otherwise, I’d have to be lying.

      Reply
      1. rawgod

        Like I said, that is your opinion, and I am not about to argue it. But you didn’t see it from the inside, as I did. Not all adherents were true hippies, and not all true hippies werein Haight-Ashbury. What you saw was the media circus, and the what we called “weekend hoppies” for lack of a better term. It is unfortunate that you never walked a mile in our unshod feet, feeling the grass and pavement without a barrier between the two, the you that you are today would have fit right in. Now you can never know…

      2. Sha'Tara Post author

        I suppose there might have been another side to it. For me in retrospect it was an “Arab Spring” or the current “Anti Gun Lobby” protests flash in the pan sort of thing. Glad you have good memories of walking barefoot in the grass: never enough of those. I gave myself some of that yesterday as I was doing some of my landscape work on Chilliwack Mountain. Yes, it is a good feeling.

      3. rawgod

        Yup. Puts you in direct contact with nature. One of the best feelings in the world…

      4. Sha'Tara Post author

        Thanks Jerry. If you read the comments you’ll see that Frank agrees with you, so expressing your own thoughts and experiences of the Hippie era wasn’t a waste. 😉

  3. George F.

    Holy Christ (who may or may not have existed) a wonderfully poignant, moving story. Glad I returned every evening to finish the tale. Great writing! Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Yikes George, now that’s a compliment… I’m flabberblasted! Thanks George. Now I need a few billionth of a billionth of a second to stand with Paul at the edge of the universe. You and I seem to weirdly travel in similar spaces. You mention the “no thing” and I must comment: the Teachers claimed (yes, past tense) they came from “the Nexus” which is a non-place between universes. The world I’m aiming for, shouldn’t be too long now, is located in the Nexus. Rules of space/time do not apply there, of course. I’ll comment on your post at https://randomwalkthroughintelligentuniverse.wordpress.com/2018/04/20/staring-at-the-edge-of-the-universe/

      Reply
      1. Sha'Tara Post author

        Yes indeed, that seems to be the case. I am enjoying your story, particularly the “Paul” side of things because of the references to “stuff” I am intuitively aware of.

  4. Woebegone but Hopeful

    Beautiful ending Sha’ Tara.
    I tuned into the ending about three-quarters the way through part 2, but still wanted to enjoy the journey in reaching the end.
    I was not disappointed!

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Roger. Yes, the “foreshadowing” was somewhat thick but the idea wasn’t to fool the reader into a trick ending at all. The point I was writing for? To bring the reader into the minds of the two protagonists, particularly into the courage it would take for them to meet at the level of the obvious. He’d become comfortable with his musty old despair and she’d made it without the help of either parent. Wouldn’t it have been easier for Reed to keep her thoughts to herself, conclude her interview and leave? Why get involved in what could only result in a messy relationship? She’s no dummy, but did she let her emotions get the better of her in the end? She didn’t owe Pete anything, certainly, and now what? In the real world, she’s taking on the role of rehabilitating a mental invalid. Makes me wonder, what would I do given such a choice? Would I have such courage? I’ve already seen through the protracted death of a father for whom I had ambiguous feelings, so I know something of that, and I was approximately Reed’s age when it all began. As I said, there was true life history mixed into this blend, never mind my familiarity with the type of country setting described!

      Reply
  5. franklparker

    Like Woebegone, I guessed the ending – I think I commented something about fore shadowing? It was still worth reading to the end though. And I agree with rawgod about the Hippies. A lot of the changes for good that have happened, especially recognition of human rights for minorities and what the right calls ‘Political Correctness’ would not have happened without them.

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Frank. If I may offer, instead of repeating myself, read the reply I directed at Roger (Woebegone) and also note my other comment to Jerry (rawgod) regarding you own view of the accomplishments of the Hippies in their time.

      Reply
  6. stolzyblog

    Nice story to read… especially your approaches to dialogue give me lessons to mull over in connection with my own story/novella ideas. I have yet another view about “hippies”, or more generally, Baby-Boomers, than has been expressed but wont besmirch the discussion of the story. Interesting that this point stood out for so many.

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks for commenting, and reading. Re: baby boomers, methinks there may be much residual guilt in the minds of those who once upon a time awakened to the realities of “the System” or the horrors unleashed upon the poor and helpless by the military-industrial-banking complex and so easily slunk off from the front lines leaving the few to carry on what had been started with such fanfare and even self sacrifice at times. Guilt and denial, so now at an age where little can be done there is a soothing effect of remembering the “good old days” and even adding the odd bit of heroism or inventing “effected change” that really was no change at all. The point was to remain in the front lines, not to create them then wander off to enjoy the fruits of the carnage wrought by the Empire. Yes, it’s funny how that comment in the story struck such a negative chord – it really wasn’t the point of the encounter between Reed and her dad.

      Reply

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