Tag Archives: middle age

The Simplicity and Power of Innocence

[short story, by Sha’Tara]

“Come over here, look down in the garden. Listen.”

The older woman sitting in the rocking chair gets up slowly and holding on to her cup of tea, comes over and looks. In the garden a small child, a girl, is playing among rows of carrots and beets. She holds a doll in one arm and as she passes her free hand over the carrot tops, she addresses her doll,

“We can’t pull these up yet you know, they haven’t grown enough. Just like you, they are just too young. But it’s OK to caress their hair, they like that. When the sun goes down you and I will water them, just like my momma says.  I’m your momma now, so you have to do what I tell you, see?”

The two women at the open window can hear every word the child speaks to her doll. The woman who had been standing at the window watching the child has tears in her eyes.

“Did you hear, Ellie? She called me her momma. I have a child, finally.  She needs me and she trusts me. Isn’t that amazing?”

The older woman replies, “It is amazing in a way Viv, yet not. Where would the child be now if you hadn’t taken her off the streets when you did last year?  And how could you not? As you so graphically described it to me then, you found her sitting on the ground beside a garbage can, holding her dead mother’s hand and crying, begging her mother to wake up. Dear God Viv, who would not be moved by such a sight and such a need?”

“And yet Ellie, what I did, what I am doing, is illegal! All I know of her family is that her mother died of a drug overdose and there was no record of a child. The fringe dwellers, Ellie.  The homeless, the lost and forgotten. What a terrible, unconscionable mess we are making of everything.”

But out of that mess is that child, Viv.”

“I know. Yet for several days after I took the child in I was filled with blind hatred for her mother.  How could she?  How could a mother choose her own lusts over the needs of her child, if indeed it was her child? So I told myself the girl wasn’t hers but a waif she had been paid to look after. Who knows?

“Now I worry. What happens when I have to report her to the authorities if or when she needs medical attention? When she has to attend school? God, look at her.  Just look at that beautiful innocence. Will they let me keep her? Adopt her? I’m so scared Ellie. Even if I can comfortably support both of us on my income, I live alone and I am forty-five years old! How can I guarantee I can keep her?”

“You worry too much Viv. Not all bureaucrats are heartless creeps. We must, we will, find people familiar with this sort of situation who will be empathetic and able to help with the legal difficulties. I’m not without means either, Viv. I know people and when you are ready to go public, as I assured you a year ago, I will be there for you.

“If everything else fails, I have worked out a plausible scenario for us all.  If they won’t let you adopt her, Nicholas and I will. We’ve discussed it and he’s in full agreement. Then we will become one family and you will have her.  She will take your name, live with you and we will continue to be grandpa and grandma. You will always be her mom. Do you see a problem with that?”

Viv wipes her face, sighs and taking her eyes away from “her” child, turns to face her old friend. “No one could have a better friend than you, Ellie. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Yes, I have been, I am, I will be your good friend. But when we register her, what shall we call her?”

I’ve been calling her Nicole. She seems to have a particular attachment to that name. It could even be her real name.”

(This is one of those stories, mostly fiction but enough personal life included in to make it more than just fiction. It’s fairly long so I’m going to post it in three parts over the next few days)

[a short story by Sha’Tara]

I found out about him from some research I was doing, trying to piece together what happens to old people who end up living alone in rural areas, particularly in the central prairies-forgotten on homesteads of farms long ago fallen through the cracks of commercial viability.  He’d shown up on police records-a man looking for his wife in the city.  According to the records she had a daughter at the time.  His name is Peter Breckman.  Further inquiries revealed nothing else but that he’d returned to his farm in Saskatchewan, north of the Saskatchewan River, somewhere to the north-west of Prince Albert.

I was hooked.  I asked my editor for some long overdue vacation time.  There was no argument.  With several awards, including the Canadian Association of Journalists Award, and a possible Pulitzer for a book I’m writing based on my work in investigative reporting (including a stint in jail for not revealing a source) I was not to be argued with on that point.  The House wanted me happy and of course, working.

“You’re going to drive all the way into central Saskatchewan in October?  You’ve never driven outside Ontario, all on paved highways, except those two trips we took to Chicago, and I did most of the driving.  Why don’t you fly to Regina, take a bus north, rent a real four by four when you get to Prince Albert and give yourself time to explore the country, you know, before you’re buried under the snow or die in a blizzard while listening to Leonard Cohen?  Come on, give yourself time to flush out your quarry, and regale us with another of your tear-jerking prize winning stories of people down on their luck who somehow manage to see themselves through it all.  Look, if it’s money you need, or an advance, we’ll be happy to give it to you, Reed.”

Even in heels I have to look up to see his round face.  I notice his hairline is receding more and more and there’s graying at the temples.  We, none of us are getting younger, hah!  “I know Edward.  But I don’t need money; I need time alone to think.”

“Suit yourself, I know when my arguments are wasted.  But stay in touch will you?  Call, or email once a day-promise?”

I took a very deep breath, studied the genuinely concerned look on his face.  “No promises Edward, not ever-remember?  That’s why as long as we were together you were always free to be with anyone else also.  I commit only to my work.  This time is for me – alone.  I’ll call if something warrants it.  If something happens, someone will call, I’ll make sure of that.  I’ll carry a note in a pocket so when they find my frozen body under a snow drift by a clump of waxberry bushes, they can contact you on your cell.”

He smirked and that was done.  We kissed goodbye as two people who had been married for many years would.  The romance, if there ever was any, and it was more House’s gossip than reality, was long gone between us.  We were business partners and that suited me fine.

The next morning I finished packing my CRV and I headed west from Toronto, hitting the number 1 highway until I was about a hundred klicks from the city and then switching to service roads and secondary highways.  I waited until the landscape became utterly unfamiliar to allow myself to relax.  The land began to flatten and the roads became margin lines on the edges of graph paper, or so I imagined it would look from the air.  Here and there, small rivers or dry ravines with denuded clumps of aspen, cottonwoods or willows, graciously offered a break in the scenery and let me pass, lost to their own concerns.  Eventually I got around to putting a Leonard Cohen CD in the drive and I turned the volume almost as high as it would go, rolling down the side window and letting my feelings have their way and flow on the breeze.  I literally flew as there didn’t seem to be any speed limits, or if there were, they weren’t posted.

Somehow it was all very fitting for as I listened to my all time favorite Canadian poet and singer my mind began to form the outline of the story I was going away to dig up and write.  Yeah, I guess you could say that I am an archaeologist of sorts, digging up stories of ghosts not yet dead and giving them one more moment of light before the final darkness drives them away for good.  Ok, so I’ve read too much gothic fiction, but I like it.

As I drove along and played with the words of the songs, mixing my own with them, I became convinced that whatever I found out there would not only change my life, but give me a greater awareness of myself.  Here, in this endless land called the Prairies I would lose the City that had formed the city girl and this Changing Woman.  Here I would find another me, one more real than this one.  That was what I was after.  The story was to be the frame around my new face,  and I didn’t care whether the world was ever going to see that face.

I eased off on the accelerator and stopped more often, choosing my overnight stops carefully, frequenting restaurants that catered to the locals, mostly farm people.  I did not hide myself and attracted quite a few hopefuls.  I asked questions and they told me their stories which I surreptitiously recorded for the main story.  I needed background material as I knew nothing of this land or its people.  Which is a good thing actually as I had no preconceived ideas about any of it, except for the questionable I had gathered from the CBC, McLean’s and the National Film Board.  I had done my desk research but now I was in it for the show-down, so to speak.
I took five days to reach Prince Albert.  This is what they have to say about this town of 35,000 people:  Prince Albert is the 3rd largest City in Saskatchewan. Located in the broad valley of the North Saskatchewan River near the geographical center of the province where the agricultural prairie of the south and the rich forest belt of the north meet.  Much of Prince Albert is built on the sloping south bank of the North Saskatchewan River while the north bank provides a spectacular view of mixed forest, typical of northern Saskatchewan.
I set up my ‘office’ in a hotel and began to inquire as to the whereabouts of Mr. Breckman.  The police were the most helpful.  They cross-checked their old files with up-dated information and found me an address.  I didn’t tell them who I was and they didn’t ask why I wanted to know.  These people still trust strangers here and I was somewhat surprised but said nothing.  Soon enough, I thought, soon enough when they will become suspicious and closed like those of us in the big cities.

After two days of Prince Albert, I checked out but indicated I could be back, and drove across the North Saskatchewan river and headed north, then west into what seemed to me terribly empty lands with modern machinery parked in the fields and huge ‘farmsteads’ of barns, storage sheds, silos and modest homes holding up the grey sky and keeping a vigil over thousands of flat, empty acres of cleared land.  I passed a church with its front door gaping open, its steeple fallen down and a couple of weathered sheets of plywood nailed over the hole caused by the fallen construct.  Well, I thought, at least now the door is open to all, at any time, even if there is only dank mildew and darkness inside.  Beats religion anyhow.  I know Leonard would have a poem and a song to write about this place.  His words would be gentler than mine, perhaps.

I hit the dirt roads and eventually serpented my way down into a deep ravine and snaked up the other side, thankful that the road was dry as I had heard tales of prairie gumbo and I did not relish the thought of being stuck at the bottom of this twisty, steep and not too well kept road.  As I crested and leveled upon the flats again I saw my destination.  A clump of blue spruce and some ramshackle buildings with a broken and falling picket fence that had once been painted white, along the road.  Slowly, I turned into the rutted driveway, sides and center of the drive overgrown with coarse horsehair grasses and dandelions, a few still blooming.  My car being narrower than the normal, if rare, traffic that had formed this road, I had to use my four-wheel drive and some skill to not be thrown sideways.  I was to learn later that the best thing to do when driving over a deeply rutted road is to straddle the ruts and create a new set in between.  I am a city girl.  There are things you have to grow up with; that cannot be learned overnight, or even by observation.  Sometimes you have to accept your own ignorance, knowing that if the foot was in the other shoe, you’d be the one explaining and demonstrating the rules of the game.

Reaching what seemed like the end of the driveway, I turned off the engine and peered around without getting out.  I had seen some sad places along the way here, but this was the saddest imaginable.  There was an old Dodge van parked in front of a grey, sway-backed shack with a peeling tar paper roof.  The van had once been white but now was a mixed shade of green algae or mold and accumulated wind-blown dirt.  A weed with small, shriveled purple flowers grew from the windshield gasket.  It had a jack supporting the front struts and the driver side front wheel was gone.  All the others were flat and the tires were sun-baked and weather cracked.  From a broken window of the side doors a dog of indistinct lineage, age or gender stared at me without making a sound.  It looked strange until I noticed it only had one eye.  It seemed to be trying to smell me and I judged its remaining eyesight was not too good.  Safe to get out of the CRV?  I thought it was, but I was careful to open the door wide first, then put one leg on the ground, then slide slowly from the seat to stand beside the car, ready to jump back in at a moment’s notice.  The dog left the window and disappeared.  I waited and I heard it jump out of the old vehicle, heard a whimpering then it limped around the front and came slowly towards me.  It wagged its tail slowly, as if putting too much speed on it would detach it.  It approached me and sniffed, then just stood there until I bent down gingerly and petted it lightly on the head and behind the ears.  I don’t like dogs or pets in general and this was wild country.  I didn’t know if Mr. Breckman was even home, but likely he would be.  Obviously his supplies were brought in by someone as there was nothing around that was drivable.

The dog whined a bit and I felt sorry for the old thing but didn’t know what to do.  I walked to the shack, up the two creaky steps of loose boards and knocked on the door.  There was a shuffling inside and some indistinct words that may have been ‘Wait, I’m comin’ and in a few moments the door creaked open.  I saw an old man, old beyond his physical years I could tell.  A man who knew anguish and much suffering.  I introduced myself as Reed, the reporter from the “House.”

“Did you get the message I sent you about a possible interview?”
“Yes, the message was given to me. Sorry I couldn’t get back to you but I don’t have a phone. I’m Pete” he answered.  “I’m sorry about the state of this place but I don’t get around to doing much anymore.  My back just won’t let me.  Please come in if you care to and we can sit at the table.  Then you can tell me why exactly you’re here.”

We sat at a dusty table, on two old wooden chairs that certainly pre-dated my time.  A naked light bulb dangled from two twisted black and white wires that came from a hole in a yellowed drywall ceiling.  I was facing the man as he sat squinting at me, holding his head in his hands.

“Mr. Breckman” I began, but he waved me to stop.

“Please miss, call me Pete, or Peter, but forget the mister.  I’m no mister, just an old man waiting for nothing to happen.”

An interesting ‘tournure’ of words, I thought.  But before I plunged into my spiel I found myself wondering if I could do something for this ‘old man’ before me, or for the dog.

“Your dog, Pete, seems to be in great pain, and I think it’s very hungry.”

“Who, Bean?  She’s a great hunter, she doesn’t go hungry.”

“Pete, I watched her.  She can hardly move anymore and she’s starving, for food and affection.  Something should be done for her.”

“Ah, yes, I forgot.  She’s old and she don’t complain any.  There’s some chow stuff in the cupboard under the sink, I think.  D’you think you could get some to her, and some water too?”

I nodded and complied.  It was simple and heartwarming.  The dog was grateful to me and that was a first.  And so was the man I’ll now call ‘Pete’ for clarity.  I had some supplies in my car so without asking I brought in some fresh food and made us sandwiches.  Pete stared at me as I worked at the counter, wiping it as best I could first.  I was surprised to find running water, though not hot, at the taps and found a dish cloth that looked reasonably clean to wipe a few items of cutlery.  Then I brought out a couple of cans of Canada Dry ginger ale and we ate in silence.  I watched him eat.  He was definitely enjoying his sandwich and I felt gratified.  My heart was not just going out to the old man, but racing to him.  I wondered why I was so taken and accounted it to the emptiness of the place, being tired from my traveling and a degree of nervousness I was working to overcome.  My watch said it was already after 14:00 hours and the nearest hotel I knew of was almost two hundred klicks back the way I came.  I’d be driving back through unfamiliar country dirt roads with no signs, re-crossing those horrid ravines and if it rained, or sleeted as it seemed wont to do, I’d be in serious trouble unless I overcame my natural reticence of asking for help and pulled into one of those modern farms.  Surely, I said to myself, I can’t sleep here.

He had finished his sandwich, mine being half-eaten and he turned on the light.  To my surprise I saw a set of battered blueprints which I’d earlier taken as some kind of tablecloth.  He sighed, leaned his head in his hands again and stared at the drawings.  I saw tears welling up in his eyes, reflected by the light.

“Ahhh!” he groaned.  Then he looked up at me again and apologized.  “So sorry miss, but you have no idea how much your presence is hurting me.  You look like her.”

“I’m sorry Pete.  So sorry.  You mean I remind you of your wife?”

“My wife, yes, my pretty little Sally.  My life.  Yes, you do remind me and I suppose I’m an old fool who never made the effort to get over his love for one woman.  I only knew Sally, no one else.  We grew up around here and kind of became attached to each other.  She had a bad home life and ran away to our place many times.  Finally at sixteen, and me eighteen I couldn’t stand it that she’d be abused at home, so I went over there, threatened her old man and took her away.  We married in the church and lived with my parents for a short while, then we moved here.  Kids didn’t stay with their parents in our day, you had to make your own way in life.  There’s a quarter section here, not something you can live on you know, but you add on and add on and eventually you have a real farm.  It’s tough, those first few years but that’s why you do it young, when you have plenty of stamina and you know everything and you know you’re going to get what you’re after.  If you have a good woman behind you, it’s even more of a sure thing.  Sally was a good woman miss.  A very good woman, make no mistake.  But I think deep down she wanted more than life had given her and it didn’t look like we were going to hit the good times soon.  Ours was going to be a life-long struggle which eventually would be for our kids.  We’d see the results of our hard work in them.  That’s what I saw at any rate.  And I think that’s what she saw too, and she wasn’t as accepting of it as I was.”

He stopped talking and looked at me again.  He took another deep breath and stared at the blueprints.  I could see stains, cracked folds and rips in them.  How long, I wondered, had it been since he brought them out of wherever and put them on the table to look into his past?  For I had no doubt they were linked to his life with Sally.  How to ask?

“I noticed a set of footings to the side of this house out there.  Are these the plans for what was to be a new farm house?”

“You are sharp, miss.”  It was my turn to wave him to stop.

“Please call me Reed.  That’s what everyone calls me.”

“Oh yeah, Reed, that’s what you said.  What’s your full name?”

“My name is Jones, Reed Jones.”

“OK Reed Jones.”  He pronounced it heavily and deliberately, each syllable as if he was driving them with a sledge hammer.  “I should thank you for the fresh sandwich.  That was good food.  You’re much taller than Sally was, an’ your hair is longer and darker than hers was, and o’ course you’re much older than she’d been, but seeing you at the counter there, preparing the food, well, no woman’s done that here since she left.  I’m sorry.”

“That’s OK.  I won’t patronize you by saying I understand, but I can feel some of it.  I’m an empath-makes me stay one step ahead of the competition in my field, and the competition is fierce.   But I’m determined to be the best at what I do, whatever it takes to get there.  Look, if you’re tired or you want to stop, I can come back tomorrow and we can go on, or finish then.”

“Actually, if you don’t mind, I’d like to continue.  I feel much better when I talk to you about that time.  It’s like something clears up and I can see through it for the first time.”

“Well, I was thinking about the drive back to my hotel.  It’ll take me over two hours if I don’t run into rain, or sleet or whatever you call it here.”

“You looked at the sky when you went out, didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“What do you make of it?”

“Well, it’s uniformly grey and the clouds seem a bit low.  But there’s no storm that I can see, or sense.”

“Well, let me tell you.  In about an hour it’s going to start to rain.  Then the rain will begin to freeze.  The first coulee you hit, you’re dead stuck at the bottom, no way out until you’re towed with a tractor.  Gets pretty cold out there, even for us who’ve lived here all our lives.  I don’t think you want to get out on that road this evening.  Besides, it’s October.  It’ll be pitch black in half an hour and I’d bet you’re more used to driving with street lights.”

“Yeah, driving in the dark with only headlights to go by is weird.”   I hesitated.   “I brought a sleeping bag and a comforter.  I could sleep here, maybe, somewhere.”  And I looked around hoping for that suitable ‘somewhere’ to manifest.

(end part 1 of 3)

Intercourse and Aftermath

[a short story by ~burning woman~ ]

Intercourse, he said. He said it in such a way as to make the whole process quite disgusting. It wasn’t what he said caught my young girl’s attention, it was simply the fact that he, was a he. Men don’t downplay intercourse, simply not done. It’s the highlight of a date, a casual encounter, even of a late evening with “the wife” after watching a steamy movie.

Intercourse, if you think about it, is tolerable only to those who are so madly in love they are actually mad. It’s hot and sweaty; messy; painful even, certainly makes anyone who is anyone, vulnerable to another and who needs that? It’s chock full of expectations and more often than not, it’s a damn trap. She gets pregnant and then the guilt trip starts until a few months later you’re getting married, hitched, hooked and that’s it: your life’s essentially over.

That’s how he described it to me. We’d gone off in his car and we were parked on the top of Knobhill. I know, every mid western town has a knob hill and so did ours. Who was he? He was the guy, you know. He was Pete. Peter Nelson. Basketball, football, baseball, top marks in chemistry, and he owned his own car. Some of us would have publicly confessed to using hair extensions just for a chance at a date with Mr. Everything.

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to make him out to be this guy who can get any girl he wants just because he’s a hunk. He is a hunk, but there’s more to him than that. There’s a side to him I could boast of being the only girl at Simpson High who knows about. He’s intellectual. He likes to discuss issues, ideas, concepts. Even on a date when there’s only him and me, or whomever the lucky girl is. He likes to sample us. We don’t mind because we know that sooner or later his wheel will stop and land on one of us. Just let it be me, that’s all.

I wanted to stop him and give my two bits’ worth about intercourse but I thought my experiences, that being a grand total of none, simply would never match up to his. It seemed to me that the only way to convince him that intercourse wasn’t such a bad deal was to offer it to him. Make myself his guinea pig. I had some attributes too, it wasn’t like a was a charity case. I had my own list of social successes to look upon. Honour roll four months in a row. Chosen snow queen. Had played Juliet in the Player’s Guild Easter presentation and received a standing ovation. My dad had his own jewelry store and my mother was choir director at St. Jude’s Presbyterian. In short, we were ‘somebody’ and that had to mean something.

So here we are. It’s dark and the stars are sparkling and twinkling in a late Spring night. We’re kind of sprawled out on the front seat of his two-door, two-tone hard top 56 Meteor. The windows are partially rolled down to prevent fogging and so we can smell the freshness of Spring seducing Lewisburg. Below Knobhill on the east side are remains of a marsh and the frogs are in the midst of a very serious symphony down there.

Pete’s got the radio on and the local station is playing late night favourites for lovers. Elvis, “You saw me crying in the chapel” is playing as I reach up to Pete’s mouth and place mine on it. It feels really nice and I’m a bit surprised at being so forward. What’s with you, I think of myself. Well, I can’t help it. That wheel of fortune has to stop sometimes, and on someone’s number, may as well be mine.

He gets more interested in me, less in his deep philosophical ponderings. This is good for me. I offer more and more and his body seems to want to take more and more of what’s being offered. I take his shirt off and start caressing his back at first, then I move my hands to his chest and push my fingers through his chest hairs. It makes me tingle all over. I kiss him more ardently and to my surprise, he responds equally ardently. I’m actually in the process of seducing Peter Nelson, me, Anne Foley.

He fumbles around a bit and manages to unbutton my blouse and pull it off me. Now my heart is beating really fast. Next, he finds my skirt’s zipper and undoes it. I feel something new and strange happening to me. I let him pull my skirt off then reach for his belt. I undo him, then unzip his fly. My turn to push his pants off. As I slide down to undo his runners he unsnaps my bra and slowly pulls it off and lays it on the dash. I have his shoes and pants off. There we are, me in my panties, him in his briefs. Who goes next? I wait while he runs his hands and arms all over me, then fondles my breasts. By then I’m a goner. I impulsively pull down his briefs and grab his erection. I don’t know what to do with it, I just want the feeling of holding it.

And what a feeling it is! It’s totally nuts. I hear music. I hear thunder. It’s my heart sending waves of blood thundering in my ears. I have tears in my eyes when he lowers his face to my left breast and begins to suckle. I hold his head in my arms and the world turns. He slips my panties off me and I push and squirm until I’m lying on the seat and he’s on top of me. The world turns again… and again… and again and in my head I hear a voice that sounds like mine saying ‘I want you, want you, so want you, forever.’

Peter and I have been married for thirty years. Today is our anniversary. It hasn’t all been romance and flower bouquets. Our roses had thorns. Our first child, our little Rose who was engendered that wonderful night on Knob hill in Lewisburg died of crib death at three years old. Our second, our son John made some bad choices. Fancying himself a drug king, he had a brief career as a rich drug dealer and is currently doing life for murder. His Panamanian wife with her two children has returned to her homeland and we never see our grandchildren. Our youngest is now our family. A successful lawyer married to a girl I absolutely adore and they have one daughter who is allowed to spend so much time with Peter and I that sometimes I confuse her with my own first born and I call her Rose.

Ours isn’t meant to be a sad story because it is rather a common one. But I can assure you that after that first night Peter and I discovered each other and made love happen, he never again downplayed the pleasure of intercourse. After I teased him about his youthful philosophy he would say, “I found out what showers are for and let’s never stop taking them together.”

 

The Gift of a Life Changed

                                        [a short story, by Sha’Tara]

Oh, he knew her so well.  He remembered how she came and hovered over his crib when he was a tiny baby; how she fretted over him, and kept his rattle or soother at hand.  She was his “other” mom, and the older sister he never had.

Over the years she had come to him at different junctures of his life.  He remembered the glow of her presence at his first communion and later, his confirmation.  She encouraged him, and gently taught him to notice how other people, especially his elders, teachers and parents, lived their lives.  Don’t judge them too harshly, she’d whisper, but notice the hypocrisy, always notice that.  Don’t confront them, just note and remember.  Especially remember. 

Then he grew up and he didn’t see her during his time of rebellion, anger, chaos and confusion.  He saw girls instead and he lusted after them.  He did stupid things, boastful, ignorant, hurtful; things that endangered the lives of others.  It was as if he was possessed to do evil.  The girl he dated became pregnant.  He still had a sense of the old chivalry he’d learned from his childhood fairy tales and fantasies.  He asked her to marry him and she accepted.  Not the best start, but on their wedding day, she was there again.  He saw the glow and suddenly his heart opened and guilt filled his mind to overflowing. 

The moment passed.  Life was tough enough.  Wife, kids, a mortgage, car payments, responsibilities he was trained to handle, but nevertheless, stress.  There were other things to impede the good life: a growing awareness that the world was not a great place to be.  There was “the war” that needed protesting – he’d become a conscientious objector and tried to live by some personal code of non-violence.  There were draft dodgers from across the border to help find shelter and jobs.  Then environmental issues took priority and his life grew very complex and a darkness grew in his heart. 

The marriage failed.  He found himself, thanks to his losses, freed of a commitment he felt was complete.  But the darkness held him down.  He re-discovered religion and attended church.  It provided little.  He saw more of the old hypocrisy.  He saw how the claims failed to match the lifestyle.  Disappointed and discouraged he struck out alone looking for something, not finding. 

Lost in mid-life, he was walking along the river shore one cloudy day and sat on a fallen log on the bank.  Staring at the shining waters flowing past him, he formulated a prayer, or rather a request.  He addressed her and said, “You know, I’ve made a complete mess of things.  I wanted to do right, and did wrong.  I wanted to change the world and couldn’t even change myself.  The things I’ve done are horrible to me.  I’m sorry for my ignorance and stupidity, but most of all, I’m sorry for my pride. 

I need you to help me now, though I don’t deserve it.  I’m going to ask your for the greatest gift of all, knowing full well that it cannot be bestowed on anyone, that it can only be earned through experience.  I am asking you to grant me the gift of humility.  Only with that can I re-learn to live with myself.  I don’t expect to suddenly become humble, but I need you to guide my heart into this new and alien territory I intend to walk across until I reach the other side.  I’m going to proceed knowing that you are here, guiding me, and reminding me.  Thank you.

And so it was that he gradually changed.  He did not feel any more humble, rather the opposite, but others noticed.  Always he’d be shocked when they said something, or praised him for his kindness or gentleness.  That can’t be me, he thought.  Then he’d know she was there, calming his heart, softening his hands, making him choose his words with care, showing him how to proceed in all situations.  Over time he understood what it meant to be blessed.  He thought, I find it so amazing that the less I possess and the more I give away, the more I have; the more filled I feel.  And he learned to laugh. 

He lived long past his chosen time.  Those who knew him believed he’d discovered the secret of immortality but that was only their hope he’d always be around.  One day he left.  He walked away with only a small overnight pack on his back.  She walk silently beside him, then she touched him.  He was never seen again.  

A friend of his, having understood, said, we held on to him much too long.  We made him feel guilty about leaving but finally he allowed himself to hurt us a bit so he could claim his own freedom.  He’ll never be completely gone for he lives in each of us.  What he showed us, the wisdom he taught and the changes he wrought: those are the pieces of his heart we hold within ourselves.  He’s still here, giving us of himself when we emulate his burning joy.

Quote: Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to was never there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place… Nothing outside you can give you any place… In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got.” ― Flannery O’Connor

 

 

 

The Incompatible, Impossible Couple

A short story, by Sha’Tara

Introduction:  I was watching “Last Love” that amazing movie with Michael Caine and Clémence Poésy for the third time tonight.  I had my netbook on my lap to record passages in the movie when the following story simply jumped at me.  I don’t see that is has much to do with the movie, except perhaps the ages of the couple, and the fact that “Mr. Morgan” was a college professor, but anyway, here goes. 

“Hello, Matthew, I’m glad you decided to meet after all.”

“Hi, Giselle, what made you think I wasn’t going to show up?”

“Oh, maybe your way of showing a complete lack of interest in my doings?”

“I’m sorry,  my face is a complete traitor, plus I’m essentially an asocial person, I thought you knew, understood and accepted that about me?”

“I forgot, Matthew.  Should we order?”  I tried to make my voice hard and cold but I was trembling with fear inside, to the point of feeling sick.

“Yes, certainly.  Garçon?”  I moved to sit next to him; the meal was beyond excellent.  He talked then, and I listened.  Had there been company I would have had to do all the talking.  

That’s how it was with us.  Matthew and his French girl, the incompatible, impossible couple, they called us.  His friends from the college where he teaches English and Philosophy all speak English.  When they see my name written down, they call me Giselle with a hard “g” as in guide.  They make it sound like gazelle.  It’s their little joke, they know how to say my name.  I like the feeling the name gazelle gives me, it suits me somehow.  

We make a strange pair, there’s no denying that.  He’s a twice-divorced college professor who’s also over twice my age.  I’m a tall, somewhat skinny brunette who’s a landscape artist and arborist.  I spend most of my time outdoors, he spends his days teaching and interacting with people and he’s the one who’s asocial.  I love people as much as I love plants. 

We met on the bus a couple of months ago when I was having my truck serviced and forced to take the day off.  I was on my way to my Yoga class and he dropped a couple of books at my feet.  Before he could retrieve them I’d picked them up and as I handed them back to him our eyes met.  He has piercing blue eyes and very expressive hands. Call me a slut, but suddenly I wanted those hands on my skin.  And I wanted his lips on mine.  Just like that.  I was taken. 

“How would you like to come to Yoga class with me?”  I asked him.  Why?  Some things just have no explanation.  I wanted, no, needed, him near me.

“You don’t even know my name, I don’t know yours… did you say Yoga class?  I’ve never done Yoga; don’t know much about it except what I’ve read.  I don’t see the point of it, actually.”  He had a pleasant bass voice that filled my heart with instant and deep longing.  I wanted to swim in it, naked. 

“I’m Giselle.  You?”

“Matthew,  Matthew Hislop.   What’s your last name?”

“Oh, it’s Laliberté.  That’s my maiden name, never married.”  Then it struck me, why did I volunteer that information?  I know, I wanted him, and my woman’s intuition told me to make myself vulnerable, the best way to attract him in case my physical attributes weren’t enough.  Did I ask myself if he was married?  No.  It’s as if I knew he was free, available and could be mine. 

It worked.  I came to my stop, got off and he followed me. 

“Yoga class, Matthew?”

“Yes.  Why not?  I’m intrigued now.” 

We did Yoga together.  Two days and I was in his apartment making love with him. I was a twenty two year old virgin.  It was as wonderful as it was frightening.  I felt so terribly alone and vulnerable and sure of only one thing: I was lost in his maleness.  My lust turned to love and in his own way, he began to love me.  How could any woman leave such a man?

I learned how.  He did not engage.  It was as if he was always in two worlds, one that included me, an exciting convenience, a fun thing, a trophy girl, and another that no one would ever be allowed in.  I would have left him after that first week but my body would not let me.  I could not imagine ever encountering him when he wasn’t mine.  I was addicted to him, to his body, to his hands, to his voice and breath.  He exuded a kind of brutal magic I was powerless to break. 

Which brings me back to our dinner date at Michael’s where I had intended to confront his coldness.  It wasn’t going to happen, I already knew before I got there.  I was still taken, and I would remain taken unless his coldness became misogynistic.  I would never tolerate that, not ever.  Somehow, again that intuition, I knew he would never turn on me.

I would live my life with him and take care of him as he got older. 

I can imagine cutting his graying hair, trimming his eyebrows and ear hairs.  I can imagine even more personal caring.  Though he is a much better cook than I, I can also imagine the time when I’ll have to do it for him.  By then of course I will have learned to make his favourite dishes.  I can imagine my love for him growing in his cold soil.  I am that kind of seed that does best in a winter soil.  And I have a heart that needs to give.  He would fulfill that need for me.  With him I can imagine the unimaginable and thrill at the thoughts.  

I got lucky, there is no denying that, but perhaps he got even luckier.