xylem on the inside

keep off railings
Day began mood­ily. Three of us in the truck. Yawn­ing and untalk­a­tive. Yet to adjust to the dark­er­ness of autumn. Its pre­sen­ti­ment to wet­ness and slip­pery things. The rain an obsta­cle to thought. Slick hours to mud­dle through.

By lunch the rain had let up. Some blue sky. A lit­tle sun­shine. Our spir­its more ami­able. Arrive at our after­noon appoint­ment. On Point Drive, blocky con­crete man­sion over­look­ing ocean. A new client. Sched­uled for basic clean-up and con­sul­ta­tion for fur­ther maintenance.

Daz doesn’t like the look of it. Is less impressed that we have to buzz in at the gate.

Our con­tact is Bar­bara. Her voice perky and cheer­ful through the speaker. We’re told to go around back. Which takes longer than it should. A juk­ing path of stairs and gates, up and down and around the behe­moth house.

Bar­bara meets us by the gate. She’s sur­pris­ingly young—mid 30’s, say (expected 40’s or 50’s)—and dis­arm­ingly attrac­tive in mod­est attire of snug capris and for­est green hoodie, loose but sug­ges­tive. Her red hair’s in a pony­tail. She’s wear­ing plat­form san­dals. Her toe­nails are glossed but not col­ored. An ener­getic aura envelops her. She’s all smiles and can’t wait to get started.

We quickly tour the ‘yard’, a large space of mostly hard stuff: mas­sive deck (with bar and kitchen), jelly­bean pool, sunken hot tub, sit­ting areas, an arbor, two or three immac­u­late cedar ‘sheds’, a lav­ish set of foun­tains and planters, and paths galore. The lot of it set in slate and capped and trimmed with sand-colored con­crete. Arti­fi­cial grass snaking through­out. An assort­ment of fine trees—especially the paper­bark maple by the pool.

A pretty penny went into this place. It looks like a mag­a­zine. But the beds are a mess.

Amber and Daz get started while I take a more detailed walk with Bar­bara. Friendly and excitable, she touches me as she explains that she and her hus­band bought the place in spring but had been so busy trav­el­ing they hadn’t time to con­sider the state of their yard. She gid­dily rat­tled off the places they’d gone and led me down the stairs at the bot­tom of the prop­erty. A wide con­course with a prize view of the ocean.

To this point I haven’t said much. Just half-listening as I note details rel­e­vant to the job.

On the con­course we stand at the rail. Bar­bara asks what I think of the view. I say it’s amaz­ing. She says this is her favorite spot in the yard. “I love the breeze.”

She lets down her hair and shakes it out.

What about you?”

Her voice has soft­ened. She’s look­ing at me. I look back but am speechless.

Do you like an ocean breeze?”

I nod.

She smiles.

I look out at the ocean.

She unzips her hoodie.

I can’t bear to look.

That’s bet­ter,” she says.

On the rocky beach below a man, a tod­dler, and a dog.

Her arm touch­ing mine on the rail, then her hip.…

It’s like there’s no one else in the world out here.”

Then her other hand lay­ing softly on my wrist.

Except them,” I say.

She laughs, turns her wom­an­hood toward me.

Right there. On full dis­play. I tell myself this isn’t happening.

Which is about when the yelling starts and the action begins.

The yelling is drunken male and com­ing from the direc­tion of the house.

Oh, shit,” Bar­bara says. “That’s my husband.”

I’ve got enough sense to ensure Bar­bara has zip­pered her wares back in before we run up.

Sec­ond floor bal­cony. Man in white robe and blue box­ers, bran­dish­ing what looks like green bot­tle of wine. He’s yelling at Daz, who’s weed­ing around the paper­bark maple.

Bar­bara and I have missed the thrust of the ini­tial out­burst, but once the man sees us he’s at it again.

I want that fucken tree down.”

He’s a bald­ing, barrel-bodied sort with deeply tanned and hair­less chest.

Bar­bara tries to calm him. Has oppo­site effect.

This is my house. I pay the bills. What I say goes.”

He turns atten­tion to Daz again.

And I say the tree comes down.”

Daz looks at me.

Bar­bara pipes in. Says they should talk about it later.

Either they take the fucken tree down. Right now. Or I do it myself.”

Bar­bara says he’s drunk. As if scenes like this are normal.

His anger expands. He unleashes a great growl and launches the wine bot­tle. It smashes at the edge of the pool. Green shards and red wine bleed­ing in the water.

Bar­bara shakes her head.

Her hus­band dis­ap­pears inside.

Bar­bara comes over to where Daz, Amber and me are stand­ing. She’s apol­o­giz­ing and try­ing to get her hair tied back.

Hus­band comes out car­ry­ing chain­saw. He’s clearly smashed but on a mis­sion. This is look­ing dan­ger­ous. I say that now might not be the best time to use the chainsaw.

Don’t you fucken tell me what to do.”

He’s an angry ugly man.

The four of us watch as he wob­bily stalks toward the tree, his leather flip-flops snap­ping against his feet. He gets into the bed, pulls the cord. Doesn’t catch. Pulls cord again, looses his bal­ance. The chain­saw flies into the pool. He falls toward tree, hits shoul­der against lower bough, falls to ground (a mass of Cor­si­can mint and baby’s tears), and doesn’t get up.

Quite a fuck­ing afternoon.

And all Wendy and Liz wanted to know was if Barbara’s boobs were real.

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wendy says

strange love craft

Some­times you’re too close to the page to read your own sto­ries. So Wendy said yes­ter­day. On the hood of mom’s car in a thrift store park­ing lot by a set of train tracks.

Hav­ing dropped off some odds and ends from our two apart­ments, we’d walked to a fast food joint for take out and were on our way back to the car when I noticed the licence plate: 004. (How this had not pre­vi­ously reg­is­tered is beyond me.)

An admit­tedly minor event, but impact­ful enough for me to drop the bag of burg­ers and fries.

Wendy laughed.

As we started to eat a train of freight cars was rolling by. Wendy said the train reminded her of her grand­par­ents’ cot­tage. On the lake where Mar­cus learned to swim. Where her mother has been liv­ing for almost 5 years.

Dis­trac­tion. Liz pac­ing about the kitchen. Look­ing as if she’s try­ing to decide if she wants a smoke bad enough to go up to the roof.

I can tell she’s itch­ing to paint. Liz. Prob­a­bly dying to ask me to col­lect a few things from the house. Where she still hasn’t been since the stu­dio ordeal. Which we put a close to ear­lier this week. Paid the back rent ($600) and took every­thing to the trans­fer sta­tion. She wants no reminders. The aim is Howard Nel­son never existed. A ways to go yet. But she’s get­ting there.

More dis­trac­tion. Tris­tan singing in the hall.

I go to the door and look out. He’s hip­ping a box of PBR. Look­ing famous in a styl­ish brown wife-beater, bright green bas­ket­ball shorts, pink flip-flops, and star­burst sunglasses.

Brother G,” he yowls, rais­ing an open can in salute.

What’s the word,” I ask.

Eski­mos.”

(This, I take it, means he’s onto the third of Salinger’s Nine Sto­ries. Which he bor­rowed a few days back.)

He offers a beer. I decline.

Back inside Liz has changed into run­ning gear. Excellent.

Where was I?

Wendy, yes­ter­day, eat­ing burg­ers on the hood of mama’s car.

Where am I?

Myxlplyxed. Shoot­ing for story. Wendy’s. Hav­ing to do with her par­ents and, sub­se­quently, the mixed emo­tions she’s been expe­ri­enc­ing since return from vis­it­ing them.

Too close to read.

Let’s see. Regard­ing her folks, a sum­mary of the years fol­low­ing Mar­cus’ death:

  • Mom went into a shell. Hardly spoke a word. Rarely left the house. Dad let her be. The house creep­ily quiet.
  • Sev­eral months passed.
  • Mom altered her rou­tine. Didn’t eat with dad. Their paths didn’t cross. Slept in same bed. Only at dif­fer­ent times.
  • A year passed.
  • Mom went to cot­tage. Want­ing change of scenery. Dif­fer­ent air to breathe. Dad wel­comed her going. Maybe do her good.
  • Another year passed.
  • Mom hasn’t left cot­tage. Effigy of for­mer self. But at least talk­ing. Dad help­ing with repairs. Resigned to bit­part role.

Mean­time, Wendy at col­lege. On hol­i­day week­ends she vis­ited both the house and the cot­tage. A long jour­ney con­sist­ing of two legs. First, a 3-hour bus ride to the house, where she gen­er­ally spent the night; sec­ond, a 3-hour drive to the cot­tage, where she and her dad spent the after­noon before dri­ving back to the house.

After Wendy started work­ing the only alter­ation to the hol­i­day rou­tine was dad not join­ing her on the drive to and from the cot­tage. He no longer had it in him to play bit-part role—wanted his wife back, and if she wasn’t will­ing, well, he was going to do all he could to right his own ship.

Bring­ing us to Wendy mov­ing out here.

She kept in reg­u­lar con­tact with dad. He, in her words, “keeps on keep­ing on.” Mom, how­ever, never answered her phone and didn’t return Wendy’s messages.

When Wendy went back home she wasn’t sure if she’d be see­ing mom. On the anniver­sary of Mar­cus’ death, Wendy called and mom answered.

She sounded alive again,” is how Wendy put it. “A wholly dif­fer­ent person.”

They made plans for Wendy to visit. She rented a car and stayed three days. Mom showed off the gar­den she’s res­ur­rected, took Wendy to the com­mu­nity centre/fairgrounds where she ‘keeps the accounts’ and orga­nizes rum­mage sales. There were intro­duc­tions to the locals with whom she now con­sorts. Walks through farms and along trails around the lake. They stood on the pier and held a can­dle apiece for Mar­cus. She made cook­ies and cooked meals and drank wine and cider with her daugh­ter. It seemed to Wendy that, after a long absence, her mother had returned. Only she wasn’t quite the same.

None of them were, of course, but this sud­den change in her mother was more jar­ring. And less forgiving.

It seems,” Wendy said on the hood of mom’s car. “It seems she wants lit­tle to do with her old life.”

By this point the train had stopped. We stared at the graf­fiti on the car that sat before us. ‘STRANGE LOVE CRAFT’ it read.

I made a joke about uniden­ti­fied rolling objects.

She laughed.

I said some­thing about some­times not know­ing what’s right under your nose. In ref­er­ence to licence plate 004.

Which is when she came up with being too close to the page to read your own story.

And here again is Liz. Back from her run. Soaked and smiling.

Guess what,” she says.

What?”

It’s rain­ing.”

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violins please

lakeside

Catch­ing myself won­der­ing what kinda life this would be if Liz had died. Though there were long peri­ods where we weren’t soundly in the same city, long peri­ods when we were out of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, long peri­ods dur­ing which the slight­est thought of her res­cued me from quiet despair, I’ve never once con­sid­ered her not being out there some­where. A touch­ing point, a lode­stone. My tal­is­woman. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have had some­one to look out for all these years. So I can only imag­ine what it’s been like for Wendy. To lose her younger brother. Mar­cus. With­out hope of ever see­ing his eyes sparkle again.

She’s inti­mated how try­ing it’s been. How long it took for her to stop going into his room with his name on her lips. Expect­ing to see him lying on his bed throw­ing a ten­nis ball at the stars on his ceil­ing. How she still has raw moments of want­ing to pinch her­self. Hop­ing sun­light might ban­ish the shad­ows in the cor­ners of what­ever room and reveal his hid­ing place. How she antic­i­pates he will inhabit her dreams for the rest of her life.

This morn­ing I woke to her laugh­ing in her sleep. The look on her face was pure delight. “You’re sposta fol­low your hands, goof­ball,” she chor­tled. “Not leap like a tiger.” She con­tin­ued to laugh. I watched her face lose its lines of laugh­ter. Soften into a lop­sided grin. Then seam­lessly assume the smooth con­tours of that placid mask she wears in deep sleep. She woke a few min­utes later. Squint­ing, stretch­ing, try­ing to clutch the warmth in the sheets.

Over cof­fee she told me she hasn’t gone swim­ming since before Mar­cus died. Just see­ing a pool reminds her of him. She cra­dled her cof­fee cup, eyes danc­ing after a cloud of mem­o­ries. Look­ing toward the win­dows she went on to explain that swim­ming was Mar­cus’ thing. He learned at the lake where her grand­par­ents had a cot­tage. An exam­ple of his deter­mined char­ac­ter. Any­thing he couldn’t do well he’d try to teach him­self to do bet­ter. And he wasn’t a very good swim­mer. Sloppy. All splashes. As a child he was scared of water. Didn’t even like tak­ing baths. Hys­ter­i­cal tantrums every night. Even­tu­ally the fear passed. Mom’s encour­age­ment, dad’s patience. Pools and lakes became his favorite places.

She smiled. I poured her another cof­fee. She brought her gaze in from the win­dow. “The lake was his play­ground. There was a board­walk pier. Where we tied up the boats. Mar­cus loved it out there. Espe­cially the jump­ing in. Could do it for hours on end. Can­non­balls, belly-flops, and any­thing feet first. But he was a ter­ri­ble diver. For the longest time he just couldn’t get the physics right. Instead of div­ing he’d leap off the ledge and let his body fall flat into the water. We teased him like mad, me and the other lake kids. But he paid us no mind. Just kept on flop­ping in. Long after the rest of us retired to towels.”

A boy jump­ing into water. The image has been with me all day. Along with mem­o­ries of Liz as a kid. The cos­tumes she got her­self into, the messes she left behind, the con­stant need to defeat any prospect of bore­dom, the protests she staged in the back­yard every time a new nanny was brought on board. Her dread of heights and being too far away from me, her unde­ni­able cute­ness, her warmth to strangers, her lim­it­less cre­ativ­ity, her obses­sion with using her hands to paint. The epit­ome of child. How she cried when dad went away on his trips, and clung to him for days when he returned; how she acted hap­pi­est when mom wasn’t around, and end­lessly sulked when she was. A fam­ily hastily defined. Not dys­func­tional. Just the way it functioned.

Retir­ing to towels.

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uniform tension

pine forest II

Pine For­est II — Gus­tav Klimt, 1901*

I’d had a fra­grant Sat­ur­day tak­ing down but­ter­fly bushes and was look­ing for­ward to a late after­noon of doing noth­ing. Which is nor­mally never really noth­ing. There’s books to read, plants to look up, music, the com­puter, etc. I can get lost in these activ­i­ties, how­ever pas­sively I par­tic­i­pate. As time mer­rily whiles. Not exactly what I’d wanted to achieve. No. What I wanted was a vol­un­tary detach­ment from every­thing I could imag­ine. To com­pletely dis­en­gage, with­out falling asleep. Not to get out from under the weight of the world or to avoid the inces­sant bar­rage of con­tem­po­rary oblig­a­tions. No. Just a wish to be tem­porar­ily with­out. To attain momen­tary sus­pen­sion from the uni­form ten­sion of now. I wasn’t in a bad mood. In fact I felt pretty good. The work was sat­is­fy­ing, phys­i­cal with­out being labo­ri­ous. There were no issues. The weather was balmy. Nobody got hurt. I had no lin­ger­ing con­cerns. Didn’t have to be any­where. Had no press­ing urge to spec­u­late, delve, artic­u­late, explore, inves­ti­gate, spe­lunker, med­i­tate, express. In a word, my state of mind was: peaceful.

A tree doesn’t have mus­cles. Yet it has the strength to stand in one place. For a long time.

While Wendy was away she texted me quotes from the book she was read­ing. To see if I could fig­ure out the book. A sim­ple method of deal­ing lightly with the dis­tance between us. There were, of course, other texts and nightly phone calls. But where the nature of our other means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion had deeper, more ten­der under­tones, the game of quotes had an uplift­ing effect. That I knew the book from the off (‘Don’t panic,’ was the first quote) didn’t mat­ter. The game did. I feigned igno­rance and let it play out. When I col­lected her from the air­port she waited til we got in the car to hand me a post­card. A Klimt reprint of a for­est. On the back in pink crayon a large 42.

Right?

Any man­i­fes­ta­tion of sus­pen­sion or dis­en­gage­ment failed to mate­ri­al­ize when I got home and saw the Klimt post­card. Propped up against the fruit bowl on the kitchen table. I stared at the reduced pic­ture of the paint­ing. Wendy said she chose it for the for­est for the trees motif. “Obvi­ously,” I said. She laughed. “You just dropped an o-bomb.” She explained that her brother coined the expres­sion over din­ner one night. When he was maybe 10 or 11. Thus began a fam­ily tra­di­tion. Any time the word obvi­ously was said aloud some­one in the fam­ily auto­mat­i­cally released the 0-bomb. Hi-fives ensued. An image Wendy car­ries of her fam­ily func­tion­ing at its best.

Life is short. Pass the pie.

Shortly there­after I was rum­mag­ing through books. Copy­ing lines of inter­est into a note­book. Aim is to assem­ble a good list from which to com­pose a stolen story and send it to Wendy, line by line, via email. Just because. This late afternoon’s haul:

  • The won­ders of the world opened her eyes and she took off at random.’
  • Is desire, then, a sort of shadow around everything?’
  • Allelopa­thy is the gen­tle equiv­a­lent of the bat­tle of two male apes cov­et­ing the same female.…’
  • Your past mat­tered only if oth­ers sought to know it—it was they who demanded that one pos­sessed a history.’
  • He was con­sis­tent in dis­lik­ing absolutely everybody.’
  • Cul­ture, in its orig­i­nal sense means “to till the soil with a plow.“‘

I was pon­der­ing the till in that last line (e.g., why the short­en­ing of ‘until’ is so oft ren­dered with an extra L, how it is a cash reg­is­ter assumed its other com­mon name) when Liz made entrance and caught me in the blaz­ing offence of mut­ter­ing to myself.

What are you doing?“
“Noth­ing.“
“Stop look­ing so guilty about it then.”

Me stand­ing there for the next minute or so. Stock still. Like a tree with­out leaves. Par­a­lyzed. Unable/unwilling to move. Aware that I was now, as I had ear­lier hoped to, doing nothing.

* Image from: WikiArt.org

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triumphant ecstasy: two points and a line between

gazebo

Went to see dad today. A sur­prise visit. Got there early in the after­noon. He was still in his bed clothes. Grumpy. Mov­ing stiffly. His wits not quite up to their typ­i­cal snuff. I helped him into the kitchen. He set his cane against the table, com­plained about the chill. I got him his fusty cardi­gan. Put on the ket­tle, drew up the blinds, opened some windows.

There wasn’t a par­tic­u­lar rea­son for the visit. Just felt the need.

Such an emo­tion­ally demand­ing week. The drama sur­round­ing Liz — her stu­dio being bro­ken into, the van­ish­ment of Howard, her under­stand­able ret­i­cence to return to the house. Wendy pro­long­ing her trip home — how the anniver­sary of her brother’s death has wak­ened fam­ily ghosts. Plac­ing me in go-to role of shoulder-to-lean-on.

Explain­ing, I sup­pose, my need for dad.

I’d brought some Eng­lish muffins, cot­tage cheese and green onions, plums, nec­tarines. We sat with our tea and ate. He perked up and asked if I’d be around long enough to go for a walk. I said I was there to be with him. For how­ever long he wanted. He smiled and shuf­fled off to the bathroom.

Walks with dad are slow, pon­der­ous affairs. Espe­cially on the grounds of Wether­all Retire­ment Vil­lage. He’s been there a decade. Knows every­one and loves the cama­raderie of his fel­low vil­lagers. Get­ting out and about gives him the chance to be his saucy old socia­ble self. He’s a gen­uine charmer. A nat­ural at say­ing the right thing to lighten a pass­ing moment.

We ambled, strolled, saun­tered. At each bend stop­ping to chat about the mar­vel­lous weather this sum­mer, the state of the roses, how so-and-so is doing, who’s signed up for what activ­ity, how the golf game is com­ing along, etc. By late-afternoon we’d cov­ered a lot of ground. Dad looked happy but tired. I sug­gested we take a break. He said it was almost time for din­ner. So we wan­dered over to the pavil­ion, join­ing other vil­lagers on their weekly pil­grim­age for Sun­day buffet.

After eat­ing I let dad con­sort with his table-mates and headed out­side to take some air. I checked my phone. No calls, no texts. Grand. I thought about check­ing email but heard the tin­ker­ing of piano keys and duti­fully fol­lowed the sound.

Around one side of the pavil­ion is a gazebo set on a nar­row con­course enclosed by bright yew hedges over­hung with purple-leaved Japan­ese maples. Vil­lage staff were plac­ing fold­ing chairs in rows while a troop of for­mally dressed musi­cians unpacked their gear on a portable stage beside the gazebo. Tin­ker­ing at the key­board was a girl in a pink dress stand­ing on a chair.

I moved on.

Dad found me on the lit­tle bridge over the koi pond. I was lean­ing on the rail­ing, watch­ing golfers cart up a fair­way. He put his arm on my shoul­der. Said some­thing about two points and a line between. I gave him a ques­tion­ing look. Most of life, he said, is about get­ting from point to point as directly as pos­si­ble. He paused, took his arm off my shoul­der, leaned against the railing.

Some­times points can’t be con­nected. The line between is an obsta­cle. Like a bor­der delin­eat­ing adja­cent countries.’

We watched golf carts. I asked if he wanted to attend the con­cert. He said he was too tired for bor­ing music.

I took him back to his apart­ment. We watched some TV. He fell asleep in his lounger. I woke him and led him to his bed.

On my way out I went by the gazebo, lit up against encroach­ing dark­ness. The con­cert was over. One of the musi­cians was pac­ing along the hedge, smok­ing and talk­ing on his phone. I sat on a dis­tant chair. With­out think­ing I checked my phone. Text from Wendy [’long day. call when you can. if not too late ;)’], text from Liz [’where r u’]. I sent quick replies [’with dad’] and with­out think­ing checked my email.

Among a dozen or so new mes­sages, one from mom. I opened it reluc­tantly. Was shocked to see its length. I read it a few times with­out really read­ing it. Stop­ping each time at the words ‘tri­umphant ecstasy’. Words I never thought mom would ever use, either singly or combined.

I went home. At my door I could hear Liz was still awake. Opted to come across hall to Wendy’s. Thought about call­ing her. Looked at the time — past mid­night where she’s at. Chose not to. I opened her lap­top. Put on Spir­i­tu­al­ized (Sweet Heart Sweet Light) and read mom’s email again.

She was relieved to be back at Manse Joy. Such a busy sum­mer. Time to con­cen­trate on the book. She described the thrill of see­ing the hol­ly­hocks before they fall all over them­selves. ‘Tri­umphant ecstasy’ was in ref­er­ence to beds full of helenium.

I had to laugh. Some­thing has indeed come over mom. She hates daisy-like flowers!

The laugh did me loads of good. I decided to cut mom some slack. What’s wrong with her pur­su­ing happiness.

And now I’ve decided to call Wendy. To hell with the hour.

Two points and a line between.

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scarcely being able

orchid

Liz called from the stu­dio. Freaked, to put it mildly. Calmed her enough to hear that the place had been ran­sacked. Asked if she felt safe there. She could scarcely breathe. Said I’d be over soon as could. Hopped on bike and met her shortly there­after at a deli not far from stu­dio. She was out front on her haunches smok­ing. Her phone in her hands between her knees. I put bike against build­ing, knelt down beside her. She snif­fled. Said she didn’t know what was going on.

I left her with the bike and went up to the stu­dio. The door had been pried open at the knob. And yes indeed the room was well turned over. Noth­ing looked untouched. Her can­vases were slashed. Mate­ri­als and sup­plies strew every­where. Shelves top­pled. The couch put on its side and gashed. A right mess.

Back on the street Liz was shak­ing her head and nib­bling at her fin­ger­nails. She couldn’t stop cry­ing. I thought the best thing was to get her out of there. So loaded bike into her car and drove to my apartment.

It took awhile to get pieces of the story out of her. Seems the stu­dio is but the lat­est in a strange run of events involv­ing Howard.

Far as I can gather the strange­ness began a cou­ple weeks back. Howard had become notably less respon­sive. He didn’t answer his phone and texts went unan­swered for hours, where pre­vi­ously he picked up on first or sec­ond ring and replied promptly to texts. When he did respond it was with agi­ta­tion and short, unpunc­tu­ated statements.

One day he was asleep on the couch in the stu­dio. She asked if any­thing was wrong. He said that he’d had a late night at the office and didn’t have the strength to go home. Liz didn’t ques­tion him fur­ther. But over the next few days found evi­dence of his hav­ing slept there again. So she asked what was up. He said that his kitchen was being redone. She said he could stay at the house if he needed. He said that wouldn’t be necessary.

The next day he showed up at the house. Itself not unusual. Prior to the onset of his strange behav­iour he reg­u­larly dropped by. This time how­ever he had a suit­case and was dri­ving a rental Honda Civic, say­ing it was a loaner from the body shop.

He slept on the couch. Things seemed to have returned to a sem­blance of nor­mal. He was pleas­ant and charm­ing. Made din­ner and made her laugh. Even brought her an orchid to show his grat­i­tude. (Appar­ently, he’s into orchids!) Only, she couldn’t help notic­ing he paid less and less atten­tion to his dress and man­ner of con­duct­ing him­self. He didn’t shave and let his hair go un-styled; he dressed in wrin­kled cloth­ing, didn’t tuck in his shirts, etc.

Liz began to won­der if he ever left the house. After 4 or 5 days she asked him if things were okay. He took it as con­fronta­tion. Imme­di­ately became defen­sive and testy. She tried to rec­on­cile. He got crazed and stormed out. An hour or so later he texted to apol­o­gize, say­ing that things at work had become stress­ful. She texted that he was wel­come to come back. He didn’t reply.

This was 3 days ago.

Two days ago his phone num­ber was no longer in service.

I asked if she tried his work. She said she never needed to, and besides, she didn’t even know what he did, let alone where or for what com­pany. I dug out his busi­ness card. There was no num­ber on it. A quick inter­net search brought no hits.

We tried his name. No one bear­ing the least resem­blance to who we knew as Howard Nelson.

I asked if she thought Howard had trashed the stu­dio. She said she didn’t think so.

But this did remind her that a note was under the door yes­ter­day. From the land­lord. Say­ing rent was now 3 months overdue.

I asked how long she’d had the studio.

Three months.

Her face in astonishment.

How could I be so stu­pid,’ she said. And fell to sob­bing in my arms.

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regards to reality

greenscreen

Side sto­ries. Ten­ta­cles, threads, streams. Roads. How they inter­sect, over­lap, diverge. With, upon, from the paths of others.

Hap­pen­ing upon a pair of young teens smok­ing a hash­pipe in the woods out back of a client’s prop­erty. The scurry of them try­ing to hide the pipe. How they almost cow­ered in antic­i­pa­tion of what I might say. The exas­per­ated dis­be­lief they shared upon hear­ing me only ask how it’s going. It tak­ing the braver of the red-faced two a few sec­onds to reply that they were just hang­ing out.

Scene from a dream dreamed last night. I am on a school bus with a group. We are on a mis­sion of some kind. At the front of the bus some­one is giv­ing us instruc­tions. I don’t hear what is said. The bus comes to a stop. As we dis­em­bark we are each given a garbage bag, a length of PVC pipe, a paper picker, a short pen­cil, and a clip­board with a check­list in its clip. We fan out. Into a des­o­late land­scape. A fog blan­kets the ground. Walk­ing is tricky. In the dis­tance a band of for­est, dark between the foggy ground and grey sky. I aim for the for­est but get no closer the far­ther I roam. After a while I real­ize I haven’t seen any of the group for an uncom­fort­able period of time. I head back to the bus. Only to see it dri­ving away, kick­ing up a fuss of dust.

Frayed rem­nants of what we’ve done and where we’ve been. Each of us choos­ing what to include in the per­sonal nar­ra­tives we share.

Daz and Amber becom­ing some­thing like best pals. Him no longer rais­ing heavy sub­jects in the cab. Her bring­ing into our mix a lot of ‘live a lit­tle’. Him rarely using the words ‘poet’ or ‘poetry’ any more. Her always ask­ing if I’d like to join them after work. For a beer, a bike ride, or, like this after­noon, a jaunt to the beach.

Another scene from the dream. A group of us (per­haps the same group from the bus) at sea­side, lean­ing on white guardrails. There’s a scare in the air. Some­thing bad is about to hap­pen. Then the sea surges. Gath­ers us all in its salty arms. We are swept out to a lulling val­ley of water. I can feel the force of water pulling towards the mount­ing of a mon­ster wave. Before it breaks I dive into the wet wall. Dis­cover that I am able to breathe.

Life some­times appear­ing staged. Like per­form­ing with your back to a green screen.

On way home after work walked past a house where a trio was play­ing an unplugged jazzy num­ber to a small crowd seated on lawn and front stairs. The trio con­sisted of vio­lin, stand-up bass, conga drum. I could barely hear them over the sound of an elec­tric gui­tar com­ing from some­where in the apart­ment build­ing next door. Loosely jan­gled blues played raw and ragged. Loud enough to echo. Yet the small crowd sat with their atten­tion focused on the trio. I heard them clap as I walked passed the apart­ment, and turned to see the vio­lin­ist bow. And the blues gui­tar played right on through.

(Mind­ful now of gui­tar solo in The Black Keys’ ‘Weight of Love’.)

The last scene from the dream. I walk into a dimly lit room. See a woman lying on a raised plinth. Her eyes are closed. She is naked. Her skin is oiled. Two men enter. They are mus­cu­lar, hair­less, naked but for loin­cloths. Each car­ries a tray of pre­ciously glint­ing gems and jew­elry. The men are seem­ingly in a trance. They set the trays on the plinth and begin to run their hands over the woman. I wish to stop them but am unable to move closer. The woman’s body responds to the touch­ing. Accept­ing it. Want­ing it. Heav­ing writhe of desire. I am beside myself with ter­ror. The woman raises her head, turns it toward me. She opens her eyes. They are wet with a lust to destroy me.

Wendy wasn’t beside me when I woke sweat­ing and pan­icked from the dream.

She’s back home. With her dad. Pay­ing respects to her younger brother. Who died 5 years ago today. Hav­ing hit the back of his head try­ing to remove camp­ing gear from a friend’s minivan.

Humbly reminded how frag­ile life can be. Where­withal to remem­ber how full of miracles.

Spend­ing the rest of my night with Maria McKee and those fine 90’s records You Gotta Sin to Get Saved and Life is Sweet.

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questing

balloons

Hav­ing fin­ished trim­ming a long hedge this morn­ing I wan­dered around the block to a small city park for a break. I saw an unfa­mil­iar plant and was lean­ing into the bed to inspect it when hailed by a passerby. He asked if I ‘might know where there might be some tun­nels’. At quick first glance the guy looked dodgy. Disheveled, unkempt, edgy, miss­ing an upper front tooth, car­ry­ing his life in two dirty back­packs. Given that we were down­town I assumed he was after an out of the way place to do whatever.

I men­tioned a cou­ple bridges.

Nope. He wanted to know about tun­nels. Said he’d heard of the old ware­house dis­trict sup­ply lines. But he was pri­mar­ily inter­ested in mil­i­tary tun­nels. On Google he’d learned about a defen­sive net­work con­nect­ing bar­racks to a num­ber of look­outs along the bluffs lin­ing the south­ern side of the bay. The tun­nels, he explained, were built dur­ing WWII. At a local Legion yes­ter­day he’d met a vet­eran who described a decom­mis­sioned tun­nel that had been flooded to ward off vagrant-types from camp­ing therein.

News to me. I had noth­ing to sug­gest. But by this point the exchange had gone beyond direc­tions. As I lis­tened to him tell tun­nel sto­ries I had time to actu­ally look at him. My first impres­sion was way off the mark. His clothes were rel­a­tively new and clean. Expen­sive hik­ing boots. And as he talked tun­nels his eyes zeroed in and his voice thrilled.

He told me about an aban­doned mine he’d vis­ited ear­lier this year. Off in the north some­where. Along a route built by the army to con­nect suit­able areas for land­ing strips. They came across a ghost town that no one knew existed. The town was but a short run of sim­ple wood shacks long since col­lapsed and grown over with debris. Among the arte­facts left behind were two painted signs, faded but still leg­i­ble: Quest­ing, Est. 1888 and Sil­ver Mine.

Fas­ci­nat­ing, to be sure. But the thing about Quest­ing, what piqued the tun­nel man’s curios­ity, was a rumour that when the army passed through they blew up the mine. Prob­lem was there were still peo­ple liv­ing in it.

Which is how the tun­nel talk wound round to ‘the spir­i­tual residue of lives mali­ciously taken’.

My sto­ry­teller chose this point to inform me that he was a para­nor­mal inves­ti­ga­tor. He hes­i­tated. Looked around war­ily. Then went on to say that his trek to Quest­ing had gar­nered his blog a mas­sive spike of hits and com­men­tary. He rat­tled off stats and said the reg­u­lar traf­fic was insane.

And then the bal­loons came. Two of them. Glid­ing clear of trees and into the great blue open.

The plant: Rici­nus com­mu­nis, near as I can tell.

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pickled by the light of guttering wicks

dome circle

Ours being a cul­ture of never quite arriving.

Maple water (next big thing in water beverages?).

Cig­a­rette butts as fod­der for high per­for­mance superconductors.

Wendy­ism: terrifficult.

My find­ing it strange that Wendy is babysit­ting on a Sat­ur­day night.

How ter­ri­bly warm it is this evening.

Pat­terns and irregularities.

The can­dles I’ve lit. To counter the dawn­ing darkness.

Aber­ra­tions.

The post­card mom sent. From a place called Lan­deck. In Aus­tria. Where she’s hav­ing a splen­did time with ducks. There isn’t a salu­ta­tion. Nor is it addressed to either Liz or me. She signed off with her ini­tials. As a post­script she added, “Won’t be com­ing home. Will send details in email.”

Dad, at din­ner on Fri­day, ask­ing, “How’s your mother?” Liz and I look­ing at one another like guilty kids.

How do we know the sky won’t swal­low us whole?

Bar­ren Area. Said quickly, sounds like a med­ical condition/procedure.

At the house on Fri­day a book of Neruda poems open pages down on the kitchen table. Flip the book over. A line of red marker beside the fol­low­ing: Tomor­row, today, in your steps / a silence, an aston­ish­ment of hopes / like a major air: a light, a moon, / a worn-out moon, a moon from hand to hand, / from bell to bell!

A ran­dom glimpse into Liz’s inner world.

On the out­side it appears she’s accepted mom won’t be sneak­ing home unan­nounced any­time soon. The place looks like life reg­u­larly passes through. Less a mess than bear­ing evi­dence of occu­pancy. Cloth­ing draped hap­haz­ardly. Dishes and other things left here and there. Tem­porar­ily resting.

I haven’t seen Liz for weeks. Wendy being the main rea­son. But also. Liz has been paint­ing. In a stu­dio. That Howard rented for her.

How lit­tle things can make for big changes.

Think­ing about a self being at the cen­tre of a cir­cle. One’s expe­ri­ences thus radi­at­ing out­wards. Rou­tine expe­ri­ences as hard­wired con­duits to the cir­cum­fer­ence of one’s exis­tence. Spokes in a bicy­cle wheel.

By the by, the book of Neruda poems is mine. Won­der­ing why it both­ered me when Liz told me that Howard is the one read­ing it — such would not have been the case had Liz done the markering.

I sat there read­ing the Neruda for many min­utes. Til it seemed too many had passed. That I had missed too much time.

Where is your place in the rose?
Where is your starry eyelid?

That I responded by head­ing out­side and giv­ing the plants a thor­ough water­ing. For about an hour. And prob­a­bly would have con­tin­ued to water had not Liz drove up in a panic say­ing how sorry she was to be so late.

Look­ing for (and not find­ing) Lorca on my shelves ear­lier this evening.

How up in the air things can seem to be.

Last Sun­day. Get call from Laura. Who informs me Leddy’s done a num­ber on his back. Pretty bad appar­ently. Might be out of com­mis­sion for months. She wants to know if I’d be up for stand­ing in for him while he recov­ers. I asks how this affects the job pro­posal. She says she was get­ting around to that.

Turns out the John­son gig’s been put on hold. Indef­i­nitely. Which I think is great. (Was set to decline the offer.) So we’re back to the mat­ter at hand. I say sure.

And because I said yes before ask­ing about money, she not only gave me the expected raise but bumped me to the next level.

How time gets away.

Decod­ing the mys­ter­ies of every­day things.

Dad, after us telling him about mom’s post­card, inform­ing us that legally the house is still in his name. Liz and I look­ing at each other as if the world no longer con­tained oys­ters in its seas. As if water no longer com­prised the oceans.

What hap­pens when the cir­cum­fer­ence of one’s exis­tence starts rolling?

Will maple water be nicer to drink that coconut water?

The fact that I have now drunk 8 Elsi­nore beers and haven’t heard from Wendy.

It is 10:29.

That Liz felt it nec­es­sary to main­tain that her and Howard are only friends.

It occur­ring to me that I haven’t had music on all evening.

That dad turned to me at one point dur­ing din­ner and shared with me: It always does to have a good knife on your person.

As of this after­noon, not receiv­ing an email from mom regard­ing her stay­ing abroad.

The door­bell ringing.

Keys in the lock.

The door opening.

My can­dles guttering.

Wendy step­ping in cau­tiously quiet. (As if I was asleep.)

It tak­ing her a moment to real­ize that I am sit­ting here.

Her ask­ing in a whis­per what I’m doing.

My wav­ing a hand over my table of empties.

On her way over to me she stops at fridge for a beer.

She asks if I’ve seen the moon.

I say that I can’t say that I have.

She uncaps her Elsi­nore. After a good gulp she says, “I’ll be happy for the rest of my days if I never have to play Minecraft again.”

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oars for drifting lifeboats

upside downing

The lit­tle daily bril­liances we are in some way wit­ness to or cog­nizant of.

Of Mon­tréal — Lousy with Syl­vian­briar.
JJ Cale — Nat­u­rally.
V/A — Fly­ing Funk.

The dubs. What Leddy calls weed­ing, water­ing, mow­ing. (Have I made note of this already?)

Over­hear­ing some­one explain that many of the world’s bio­mes should now be con­sid­ered anthromes. That same some­one then sug­gest­ing that we also hap­pen to be in the midst of a mass inva­sion event. Which was chal­lenged by the lis­tener, who said, ‘Worked for us, didn’t it.’ (We were in line for grilled donairs.)

Leddy snap­ping this after­noon thusly: If I see another fuck­ing Porsche sedan today I’m gonna throt­tle some­one, and that’s a lead­pipe lock!

Daz tak­ing issue with a licence plate that read ‘MOI AUSSI’.

Amber say­ing: Nice bum, where you from.

Gore­fo­ing. A Wendyism.

Lead­pipe lock = guarantee.

Either the alien planet that is a shop­ping mall/complex. Or proof that aliens live among us—a lot of them. (The mall being where I got my don­air for lunch.)

The large and inex­plic­a­ble hole in the earth near the end of nowhere, Siberia.

Pan­golins. On fast­track to endan­ger­ment. All 8 species. Because of their palatability.

That stairs allow for angu­lar ver­ti­cal move­ment. Rais­ing the fact that Daz insists on call­ing lad­ders elevators.

Mir­rors show­ing you exactly as you are, only your sides are reversed. Left is right and vice versa. And this doesn’t con­fuse us in the slightest.

The mas­ter­ful job lakes do of, from a dis­tance, upside-downing their shores. Cre­at­ing very bal­anced scenes.

Auto­nauts. What an old-timer bot­tle col­lec­tor said after wit­ness­ing a near acci­dent involv­ing a baby stroller and a BMW SUV. Both being piloted by women on their smartphones.

How scrump­tious that don­air was.

What a delight it was to do a job by a small urban lake to end the day.

Even bet­ter was being close enough to home to walk.

Hav­ing an hour to get caught up in new tunes on Rdio. In the com­fort of Wendy’s apartment.

Telling her this morn­ing that she has a charm­ing way of silk­ing into a room. Com­ment made upon her com­ing out of bath­room to hug me good­bye. Her being so sleepy she prac­ti­cally found dreams on my shoulder.

Men­ti­cally exhausted. Another Wendy­ism. For ‘men­tally and phys­i­cally exhausted’. Which she was when she came silk­ing into her apart­ment this evening — a full 13 hours after I’d last seen her.

She col­lapsed onto the couch beside me. Her bag still over her shoul­der. The bag wasn’t zipped up. A big sil­ver mass mar­ket fell onto the floor at our feet. I picked it up. One of the Steig Lars­son tomes. ‘Fluff for the bus,’ Wendy said. Almost apolo­get­i­cally. The book itself was of no inter­est to me. What caught my eye was the bold red ’65 Mil­lion’ on the back cover. Refer­ring to num­ber of copies sold.

I got up to get Wendy a drink. Telling her that just yes­ter­day I was gaz­ing at the Salinger books on my shelf. Won­der­ing how many copies I’ve had over the years. Con­sid­ered, for a moment, a recent fig­ure for the sales of Catcher. Tens of mil­lions. (And report­edly still sell­ing strong. Hun­dreds of thou­sands a year.) The num­ber seemed small to me. Then I won­dered how many untold mil­lions sold used or were bor­rowed. She was asleep sit­ting up when I got back to the couch.

Bril­liant and beautiful.

While I was guid­ing her into a more nat­ural sleep­ing posi­tion a scene popped into my head.

A young woman in a cheap motel. So fatigued from a gru­elling day she can only sit on the bed. Can’t muster the energy to even lie down.

Since then I’ve cob­bled this together:

The young woman is Jude. A week or so before the scene above she gets a call from her grand­fa­ther. ‘It’s time,’ he says. She doesn’t hear from him that often. But she knows that he means.

Jude’s grand­mother died just over a year prior. She (Jude) attended the funeral. At some point she asked her grand­fa­ther if he had any­thing in mind for her grandmother’s ashes. He said that he hadn’t thought about it. Jude del­i­cately made him promise to con­tact her should he need any assistance.

The thing about Jude’s grand­fa­ther is that his mobil­ity is challenged.

Another thing about Jude’s grand­fa­ther is that he met his beloved on a moun­tain top.

One final set of things about Jude’s grand­fa­ther. He was with his beloved for 52 years. His period of observed mourn­ing was 52 weeks. After which he thought the best place to let his love go was where they met.

On top of a mountain.

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