Category Archives: Stories

Pale Yellow

IMG_5990She was an energetic child, running ahead of her parents everywhere they went. She was full of laughter and joy and her long golden hair flew behind her as she ran. She was a child of the sun.

They tried, one summer, to put her on one of those leashes for children. It was at Klondike Days in Edmonton. After the third passer-by asked what was wrong and could that child not walk (she had lain on the ground, flat on her back, and refused to move, in the middle of the fairway), her parents removed the leash, handed it back to the rental office, and asked for their money back. They made it clear to the child that she was not to run so far ahead that she could not see her parents’ eyes. So the child ran backwards through the fairway. After that, her father carried her. Her favourite was when he pushed her up onto his broad, strong shoulders so she rode above the surging crowd. She could reach the sun. She was the colour yellow.

Iris

She was the child who loved everything she found. There was never a middle ground for her. Once her heart had begun to open, it opened all the way. She loved the dandelions that littered the lawn, their little fuzzy heads tickling her lips. She loved the scratchiness of her grandfather’s unshaven jaw. She loved to hammer nails into boards in the driveway. She loved the kittens born to a stray in the garage. She loved the dead animal she found in the bushes, and the little white worms that wriggled inside it. She loved the snakes and the frogs in the garden, the cooing of pigeons, and the way gophers wagged their tails. She loved the endless peacock-blue sky, she loved the wind that took away her breath, she loved the stones that made ripples in puddles. She loved the people into whose arms she wriggled each night, and the stories they whispered in her ear before she was sent off to bed.

As for the things she didn’t love, she was very clear about that too. She hated when people were mean. She hated stones in her shoes. She hated that the old fart who lived across the alley told all the kids to call him “old Bonehead”, and she thought he was being mean to himself and so she decided she would never call him “old Bonehead”, and that made him angry and he threw onions at her. She hated weeds in the lake that brushed against her calves. She hated liver. She hated that so many people were too busy. She hated the colour pink. She was a child of hyperbole.

summer2web She was friendly. She was never shy to meet new people, even though sometimes she didn’t like being around a lot of them. She always preferred being just a little way away. She liked her distance, but wasn’t afraid to get close. She didn’t so much unfurl as explode, throwing her arms wide, as wide as her smile. She was full of just as many shadows as she was full of light, though, and sometimes was afraid of the dark, afraid of thunder.

It wasn’t the dark itself that frightened her, but the stillness it brought with it. The dampened sounds, the whispered voices. The movement she could only see out of the corner of her eye, there by the edge of the dresser. The ghostly images that swam, reflected in a looking-glass or a window, half-seen then lost on second glance. It was the loneliness that darkness brought that scared her the most. She didn’t so much mind being alone, but dreaded the feeling of being left behind, being left out, being forgotten. If the lights went out, would the world forget her?

IrisTongue4webShe comforted herself with words. Long after the lights had gone out, words tumbled from her tongue. Like soldiers marching across uneven terrain, they came one by one. Words she’d heard but didn’t know: chrysanthemum, pneumonia, adjunct, fallow, carburator. She tried these words out in tiny whispers while the house grew still around her.

Words enveloped her, comforted her. She dreamed if she ran fast enough and said the right word, she could jump and become airborne. When she rode in the bed of the truck on bumpy gravel roads, she could stand up and hold tight to the rear window of the cab. The wind that smashed against her face would steal her words, and that’s when she most liked to shout the words she was most curious about – when only the wind could take them. She was a logodaedalian.

glowweb

She was never afraid of death. It was all part of a cycle, and cycles made sense. Even when death came for her grandparents, she was not afraid. Sad, yes, but never afraid. Death was not a dark place. It was simply unknown. A blank page. Unnamed. Something unnamed was something to be explored. Something to be learned about. Something new.

The sadness death left in its wake, though, weighed heavily on her. She could not bear to see others’ tears and suffering; she felt her own heart breaking every time. Sometimes it was unbearable, and the heaviness of sadness would send her from the room. This was when the darkness became comfortable for her. Where the sun could not reach her, she could be perfectly blue.

20140523-100932-36572600.jpg

Flying along on a wing and a prayer

Let me tell you why this bleeding heart plant is my hero.

20140523-100533-36333269.jpgFive or six years ago, I planted this little beggar as a seedling. I watered him and fertilized him and he grew! He was GAAAHHHHJUSSS, as my friend’s daughter would say. Not quite big enough for blooms, but he was on the way!

Then the kids trampled him during a game of “yes you did no I didn’t”.

But he survived! He tried very very hard to reach his little arms up out of the mud. That year, though, he just couldn’t do it.

The next spring, I was happy to see his little leaves poking through the mulch. I watered him and fertiliZed him and showed the chitluns where he was so they wouldn’t trample him. They didn’t! But their toys did. In the chitluns’ defense, basketfootballbouncegolf does have a rather large and unpredictable play area.

He came back AGAIN the following spring! Cue the watering and fertilizing! Cue the putting a little cage over him!

That was the year His Nibs put roundup on our weed beds. I coulda cried. I thought my little plant was gone forever. But the next year, the year before last, it sprouted again! I watered and fertilized AND TALKED TO my little plant. Ever since I was a wee bairn at Granny’s house, I’ve loved bleeding heart plants with their delicate little blooms and their bushy leaves.

That was the year #HisNibs mowed over the little seedling repeatedly, followed by the kids dropping stones on it in Quest For Ants. I would make a little cage out of stones to surround it and he would methodically put the stones in the stone pile, muttering about the kids leaving stones in the yard the whole time. Because the kids, of course, moved the stones you earth the ants’ colonies beneath. There may have been tears shed following the Great Mowing of 2012.

Last year, the plant once again made an appearance it was doing well! Healthy! Alive! Unmowed! It was early June and I was looking for some little buds, but none had emerged. That was THE YEAR, though! Nobody had commuted herbicide!

You may recall that last June, an enormous bough fell off one of our ancient cottonwood trees, just missing the boys, who had been playing in the yard when it happened. Thank Glob the bough missed the boys.

It landed directly on top of my bleeding heart plant.

I have my fingers crossed for buds this year. I won’t hold my breath because apparently this plant has the worst karma in the history of karma. But I hope.

Sacrifice?

See, the thing is, when I chose to become a parent, I did not think in terms of “sacrifice”. I did not think in terms of “giving things up”. It wasn’t about not being able to go out partying with my bee eff effs. It wasn’t about not eating hot food. It wasn’t about giving up my personal space and time.

It was about welcoming a brand new soul to a fucked-up, wonderful, terrifying, joy-filled world. It was about getting to help build a whole new person. It was about seeing everyone I had ever loved reflected in wide, questioning, innocent eyes.

My great grandmother as a girl, standing with her parents.
My great grandmother as a girl, standing with her parents.

It was a decision to learn from my mistakes, to know I would make many, many more. It was a decision to create something bigger than myself, someone more important than myself. It was about learning what true need was, and learning how to be comfortable filling that need with love and patience and absolute fear. It was about learning how to identify and to accept my myriad weaknesses and to begin to learn how to find strength.

I did not choose to become a parent because I wanted someone to fill all of those voids in my life left *by* my life. I didn’t think children would “fix my life” (rather; I knew they would bring different challenges). I certainly wasn’t doing what was expected of me.

Having children has been the scariest thing I have ever chosen to do. It is the grandest adventure, and on every adventure you encounter mishaps and hardships and insurmountable problems. Usually, I am the insurmountable problem. I had to be willing to accept that there was someone who would love me because of who I am, and who would, at the same time, resent me and sometimes hate me for those same things.

I resent the claim that parents do a thankless job ceaselessly for no pay. Parents are paid with laughter and with tears. With hugs and fights and birthdays and slamming doors and most of all with years. We are paid with time. Every moment you get to share with a child is a gift. Even if you don’t like kids (not every gift is the one we want).

The most important thing I learned when I chose to become a parent is how much I valued the people who had a hand in raising me, even though sometimes they messed up. I have learned and continue to learn so much about who I am and who I am meant to be. I have not had to sacrifice; rather I have had to earn every moment

Cherie from the vanity press called today

I received correspondence today from the vanity press that keeps contacting me. You remember this from such escapades as Nathan’s going to publish my manifesto and Suggestions for Nathan regarding my manifesto and A Mouthful of Marbles and Nathan’s gone missing.

A woman called “Cherie [REDACTED] a Publishing Consultant from [REDACTED]” contacted me today. Below is my reply to her request for information as to whether I am still interested the publishing services provided by the vanity press for which she works.

Image licensed for use from shutterstock.com
Image licensed for use from shutterstock.com

Dear Cherie a Publishing Consultant with [vanity press],

That sure is a long name.

I knew a girl in University called Cherie, except she spelled it Cherrie, which always made me want to pronounce her name “cherry”, and that’s pretty much a stripper name, don’t you think? Not that there’s anything wrong with strippers, although I do wonder sometimes if they actually use their real names or if they dance under some kind of nom de plume. I guess it wouldn’t be called a “pen name” if you’re a stripper. It’d be more like a nom du bâton, I guess. It just seems weird to say “pole name”, kind of like you’re making fun of Polish people. Then again, if you’re like me, every time you see the word “Polish”, you pronounce it “polish”, like shoe polish. My friend had this cruddy old car and he had a bumper sticker on it that said “Polish Mercedes”, and his family really is Polish, but I didn’t get the joke until he sold the car because I kept reading “polish”. It’s weird how words can look one way but then say something completely different.

Cherie, I’m going to choose to pronounce your name “Sherry” and not “Sha-REE”, like the Cajun woman on Bones says “cherie”, which is actually the right way to say it if you’re French, which I’m not, and since you didn’t send a pronunciation guide with your letter, I think I’ll just go with “sherry” like the drink. I’m not even going to try your whole name because that’s an awful lot of letters and I’m the sort of person who always errs on the side of brevity. If I’m doing that wrong, I guess that’ll just be my cross to bear. Which reminds me, Easter’s coming up so if you’re one of those people who does the live crucifixion things, let me be the first to wish you a good hang. And if you’re, like, Jewish or whatever, let me be the first to agree that Christians are wacked. And by ‘wacked’ here, I mean ‘crazy’, and not ‘the bomb’ or whatever. You know what I mean. With a hipster name like “Cherie”, you’re probably seven steps ahead of me already.

I have a bit of a sensitive question for you, Cherie. Do you know Nathan? If you don’t, you should ask that bitch Jan about him. Nathan was working on my manifesto, and then all of a sudden he sent me this weird garbled message about some kind of super important information and then I never heard from him again. Then JAN called me. That’s a little strange, wouldn’t you say? I mean, if this were one of those crime dramas on television or whatever, you’d be getting ready to start accusing the butler or the little blonde kid down the street, wouldn’t you? Everyone always blames the little blonde kid down the street, although usually that’s because those little buggers are up to no good. I can say this with conviction because I was a little blonde kid down the street and although I never threw rocks through anyone’s window or anything, there were times when I peed on their lawns when they weren’t looking.

You’re probably thinking that’s impossible, but I assure you, Cherie, with enough root beer and determination, you can take over the world. Pop rocks help too, although don’t mix the pop rocks with the root beer because that’ll make your stomach explode. I didn’t see it happen but my friend’s cousin’s neighbour’s dog’s former owner had a kid who ate, like, a whole packet of pop rocks and then guzzled some cola and the next thing you know it was all Hellraiser all up in that kid’s kitchen. My friend’s cousin said they were cleaning bits of that kid out of the microwave hood for weeks. They should probably put warning labels on pop rocks so that kids stop exploding all over the place.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure JAN did something to Nathan, and I suspect the reason you’re contacting me now is that JAN skipped town with her Portuguese lap dancer who bears a striking resemblance to Tommy Smothers. I don’t know this for sure of course; it just seems like JAN is the sort of person who’d have a Portuguese lap dancer who looks like Tommy Smothers for a lover. Personally, I don’t care who JAN sleeps with as long as I get Nathan back. He was working really hard on my manifesto. We talked about editors and how to come up with a title and who he was going to get to play in the movie adaptation of my book. But that’s old news. Probably I’m just going to have to accept that Nathan’s never coming back. That he’s probably lying in the bottom of some dirt-strewn hole somewhere in JAN’s condo complex, trying to sustain himself by eating his own fingernails and singing the Little Engine that Could, you know, just to keep his spirits up.

I’m going to miss that guy. He was a really good publisher, Cherie. I was really excited when he first contacted me too. But I guess I’m going to have to start over at the beginning now that you’re my publisher. Which is actually okay because things have kind of changed focus since Nathan got in touch with me earlier this winter.

Originally I was going to do this, like, manifesto or whatever? Like a kind of how-to book for people looking to establish fascist dictatorships and take over the world? Kind of like Stephen Harper? Or, you know, Vladimir Poutine? I think that’s his name – the guy who wants to force everyone in Quebec to dress like Russians when they’re at church? I actually don’t pay any attention to politics because the last time I voted, there was this old lady in queue and I think she had bladder problems or something because she kind of smelled like wee, and that really just ruined the whole experience for me. Voting should be fun, like a big party or whatever, with free drinks and bandages for everyone, but if you’re just going to go around smelling like wee all the time, maybe you should just stay home. I was going to put that in my manifesto, Cherie. The bit about if you smell like wee you shouldn’t vote? But then my mom said that what if there are people in wheelchairs who can’t get to the loo and I said “you mean WEEchairs?”, which I thought was pretty funny but my mom said it was actually kind of mean so I guess I just won’t put anything about cripples or old people in my manifesto at all in order to make sure that nobody gets picked on.

It’s not like I was going to pick on cripples. I was just going to make a joke at their expense. Everyone does that so it’s not like I’m some kind of hater or anything. I mean, I love fags, even though you’re not supposed to call them fags anymore unless you live in Arizona or whatever, but that’s just a really fun word, don’t you think? My new book is going to be called “Dan the Fag” and it’s going to be about this guy who thinks he’s gay but he’s not sure even though he only ever has sex with other men. Oh, and Dan totally is gay, by the way, but it’s not going to be all schmaltzy and romancey; it’s going to be a serious book about how difficult it is to be gay in today’s world of fast-paced insider trading and left-wing fanatics trying to force everyone to like everyone else even though there are perfectly legitimate reasons to hate lots of people, like BO for instance. I don’t think there’s anything in the charter of rights and freedoms that says you can’t hate someone if they have really, really bad BO.

So anyway, yeah. The focus of my book has totally changed; I hope that’s not a problem for you. Your email says that you’ve published more than 45,000 titles, and I have a question about that actually. My question isn’t about your brazen use of a comma splice (although that was *very* brave), but more technical. When you say you’ve published more than 45,000 titles, do you mean just the titles, or do you mean the actual books too? Because I’m not sure how lucrative the title publishing business is. I don’t know much about this business at all, to be honest with you, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to a title store, so if you can just tell me how much I can expect to make off of selling my titles, that’ll be awesome. I mean, it’s way less work to just write a title than it is to write a book, and really who wants to sit in the basement up to their ankles in raw sewage for two weeks writing a novel if they don’t have to? Me, that’s who.

You also mentioned something about your marking services, and I’m just wondering if you actually use a red pen or if you do that really annoying thing where you write down all of the errors in like an email or whatever and then send me the email? I’d rather you use a red pen because I get lost sometimes when I read email. I admit, I’m a skimmer. I’m not as bad as Dorothy, though. You can send that woman an email and she won’t even read past the first line unless you throw a whole bunch of pictures of cats in there and then put the important thing you wanted to tell her right at the bottom below “share this if you want something good to happen to you within five days”.

Oh, my bad. You said ‘marketing’, not marking. That’s a little embarrassing. I don’t even know what marketing is. I mean, you hear about it all the time on CBC, and they have that dude on that show about the dragons, and he’s also on CBC talking about markets and that kind of stuff, but all I can think about when I see him is how much he looks like the blue Muppet who always goes in to Grover’s diner and then Grover mixes up his order and he starts yelling. Those were some of my favourite skits on Sesame Street. That blue dude was so uptight, and Grover was just trying to be helpful, and it always ended up backwards somehow.

I’m guessing that marketing makes you really uptight because I just can’t get over how that business and marketing dude from the dragon show is always really uptight. He talks about himself a lot too, so I guess when you do marketing you kind of have to be really full of yourself. I’m not really comfortable talking about myself, as you can tell, so I’m glad that you are going to do all the marketing for me. I’m not sure if the book signings are part of that or not, or if I should bring this up in another email, but since Nathan never got back to me about my Australian book tour, I kind of had to cancel it and now it’s autumn over there because everything that happens in Australia is either poisonous or upside-down and I don’t want to leave here in winter to go there in winter.

Actually, I can never remember the difference between poisonous and venomous, just like I can never remember whether lay is transitive or intransitive and really who makes up these stupid rules anyway? I’m sure when you get Neil Gaiman to be my editor, he’ll help you figure those things out. I don’t think he’s Australian or anything but his wife doesn’t shave her armpits and she tours in Australia all the time so I suspect between the two of them they know a lot about that sort of thing. It’s going to be exciting to have someone who doesn’t shave their armpits editing my manuscript.

I’ve decided I’m going to start calling it a manuscript because that whole manifesto thing was more of a thing I had with Nathan, and now that we’re moving on to a more professional relationship, it just makes sense that we’d use more professional language like “manuscript” instead of manifesto and “stool” instead of poop. Did you ever wonder why “manuscript” and “manscaping” are such similar words? I think I’ll include a chapter about that in my new book “Dan the Fag”.

Does it matter if you’re not gay if you want to write a book about gay people? I’m pretty sure I’m more than capable of doing it because I have a gay friend and he tells me shit all the time like how he actually DOESN’T want to have sex with every guy he meets. Can you imagine? We’ve been wrong about that all this time. Anyway, my book isn’t going to be about BEING gay. It’s going to be about how difficult it IS to be gay. There’s a subtle difference there, Cherie, but I know you caught on right away.

I can’t wait to hear what you think of my new book idea. I guess since JAN murdered Nathan or whatever, you probably haven’t processed my advance, so let’s talk about that okay? Nathan said you were going to give me $500,000, and I totally need that right away because Uncle Danny’s second last two fingers are starting to give him some real trouble and I still need that operation on my foot. Although I banged it against the couch leg the other day and that seems to have really helped, so I don’t know; maybe I can get away with $300,000 for now.

Thanks, Cherie! I look forward to hearing from you!

Sincerely,

cenobyte

When I say that something

nailsThe club was hot, smoky. Bass reverberated off of everyone’s sternum. The lineup for the ladies’ was around the corner and the gents just sprinted upstairs to piss in the alley.

She sat at a sticky table. She wore a red satin dress. She wanted to leave.

Then you sat down across from her. You took her hand in yours. You leaned across the table, not caring that you’d rested your elbows in spilled drinks and cigarette ashes. You hollered, “let me help.”

She shook her head and tried to pull her hand away, but you grabbed her wrist and tugged her off-balance toward you.

“Trust me,” you shouted.

Like that would be the most natural thing to do, like grabbing someone’s hand uninvited wasn’t bad enough. She didn’t trust you. She wouldn’t trust you. She shouldn’t trust you. You knew that. You knew what you thought of when you thought of her. You knew it wasn’t innocent.

You pressed your mouth against her ear. “There are pressure points in your palm and fingers,” you said, loud enough that she could hear you over the music. “If you rub them just right, you’ll feel better.” You stood, still holding her wrist, stepped around the table to stand beside her and tucked her arm up under yours, holding it close against your ribcage.

She shook her head again and raised her other hand to push you away, but she was still off-balance. You began to massage the palm of her hand. You pressed your thumb up across her life line along her fate. You held her hand, palm up, between both of your own. Mount of Venus, Mount of Mars, Jupiter – you pushed the tension up through the phalanges and out the tip of her index finger. You felt her relax. Just a little.

Enough.

For the next half hour, she was yours. First her left hand then her right. When you placed her right hand palm-down on her lap, she looked up at you and smiled.

When a Body

David Henry, Reg, Norm, and Percival, 1909
David Henry, Reg, Norm, and Percival

My granddad is in this photo. He’s the kid perched on the plough. It’s his father driving the car. David Henry. My granddad ended up looking just like him. Uncle Reg is beside David Henry, and their neighbours are standing beside the vehicle. This photo was taken in their hometown of Napinka.

This has been a difficult winter, and I don’t know why, exactly, except that there are so many ghosts around. The ghosts won’t leave me be. They won’t let me focus on the people I can still hear, and see, and touch. They hang around the periphery of my conscious mind and say nothing; they’re just there. Taking up space. Making me remember, and remember, and remember.

I am the keeper of many stories in my family. I am the last who will remember them, after my father and my aunt and uncle. My children never knew these people’s laughter, the light in their eyes. They never knew the huge Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter dinners around the tables in that tiny kitchen with the south and east facing windows. My cousin only saw two.

1929
1929

My grandfather and his four brothers, in the halcyon days after the first world war, before the Great Depression, and before the second world war. All four would survive. They had a sixth brother who died as a toddler. Their mother (Aggie May) was a teacher, and she was a musician. Their father (David Henry), who was born in North Dakota to Irish immigrants, was a farmer and a mechanic. Robert, Maxwell, Reginald, Percival, Gilman, and Clare. Those were the six boys.

In WWI, Uncle Bob was overseas when he heard that Uncle Max had lied about his age to enlist. Bob told his CO, who got this information back to Max’s CO, who sent Max home. Max was, at 16, understandably livid. He wanted to fight. He wanted to serve his country. Two weeks after Max was sent home, most of his entire company was mowed down by enemy fire. None of the soldiers Max would have been with survived.

Who will tell these stories when I’m gone? Will they be important to anyone? I have forgotten so many stories – my uncle Gil was the story keeper of those boys, and there were many days I sat at his knee and listened. It was just him and me, his booming voice, his upside-down smile and percolating laugh. I didn’t know any of the people he talked about; only knew them as names and as faces peeking from faded photographs. I would meet some of them eventually; they were old men by then, but their wits were sharp and their eyes bright and they never shied away from a sniff of whiskey and a story.

I asked where Grandpa had been born, and without missing a beat, Uncle Gil said, “oh, out in the yard, you know. He was the fourth, so mother just kind of squatted down and out he came, and it was so damned dry he tried to get right back in, like one of those rolling window shades, you know, but mother scooped him up out of the dust and let the cat wash him off.” So maybe some of the stories aren’t exactly true the way they may have actually happened, but you know me – there’s a good chance that they did happen that way.

WebbKitchen My grandmother was in labour for over 40 hours with my mother. Grandpa had to drive her 100 miles to the next biggest city because the hospital in Swift Current couldn’t deal with whatever was happening with my grandmother’s uterus. My grandmother was just a wee thing, not even five feet tall. She was a nurse, and had worked as a private nurse for a wealthy American woman in Detroit during the war. Grampa wanted to marry her before he left, but he refused to leave a war bride, so she waited for him.

When my grandmother was pregnant with my aunt, my mother went to live with her aunt and uncle – there were complications with the pregnancy and my grandmother was supposed to be on bed rest. My aunt refused to wear shoes for most of her childhood. She would bury them in the gravel pile out behind the house when it was time for church. She was in to everything and was always dirty. She had imaginary friends who I wanted to adopt. Kanina and the Waaa-man, in particular. She once broke a huge bottle of bleach and blamed it on a giant grasshopper. She used to bite faces out of pieces of bread and then leave the bread faces in secret places, to be found, dried out and gaping, by my grandmother.

I did the same thing when I was little, which is how I learned my aunt had done it first. My grandmother screeched at my aunt for leaving bread faces, and Jesus Murphy, wasn’t she too old for that sort of thing? And my aunt said it wasn’t her and I said, I did that, Nama. I made a face out of my bread! Only I forgot where I put it. (It was under the chesterfield.) They both stared at me, then at each other, and then my grandmother asked why I’d done it and I said, I like to make little bread balls and then eat them and when I’d made two, it looked like eyes…and then my aunt interrupted and said, so you ate a mouth into the bread and made it a face. I said, yes, that’s what I did. Then they laughed so hard they cried because I was only four and no one had ever mentioned bread faces; in fact they’d forgotten about bread faces until Nama found one under the couch. So I ask you, how did I know about bread faces?

PercKateEthelRayIn with a bunch of things at my mum’s house this Christmas, I found a box labelled to her from my great uncle. There are photo albums inside. My uncle worked for the CPR, and in his retirement years, rebuilt steam engines, old vehicles, and tractors. If you go to the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon, you’ll see some of sorts of machines he worked on. In his younger years, he played in a band. He played saxophone and toured the country during WWII playing concerts all over Canada and the northern US. He played baseball and rumour has it is mentioned in the provincial baseball hall of fame. He was a writer, and could turn a phrase better than most of us turn a corner. He had in one of the albums a ticket for passage on a boat that ended up being sunk by a German U-Boat. I don’t know why he wasn’t on the boat, nor do I know how he came by the ticket. I don’t know enough of his stories.

My uncle’s photo album is partly a collection of the pictures of the people in his family and the things he loved to do, and it’s partly a collection of obituaries and notes about when all of his friends and family died and left him behind. He was the last of the story-collectors and keepers of his generation. There are videos he made of himself telling some of his stories. Many of them have damaged audio tracks, and I don’t know how to fix them. In them, he sits in front of his camera, with bright southern Saskatchewan sunlight streaming in to his little bachelor pad, and he talks. He knows I am his audience. It is still just him and me, and I still listen raptly to the one about the time he and his buddy hit a rifle shell with a hammer in the shed out back and ended up shooting their neighbour – which is a story they promised never to tell anyone as long as they lived but since everyone else was long dead, it was probably okay.

It’s more than just keeping the stories. I have pieces of them with me. Pieces of these icons, the larger-than-life characters on whose shoulders my tiny family was built. The paragons of the prairies in the early 20s; the men and women who had nothing but who gave everything. It seems like their memory is not enough somehow, that they can’t be *gone*. They can’t just be gone just because they’ve died. A hundred years is nothing. My grandfather and my uncle lived nearly 100 years, but it wasn’t enough. Not nearly long enough.

My mother lived almost half of that; her mother nearly 70 years. And it wasn’t enough. We always tell people, “but they will live on in your memory forever”, and that, my friend, is simply untrue. They will not live on. Because memory and stories last only as long as the story-keepers. Every one of us has stories to tell. Every one of us is important because we are here, sharing the same place and the same experiences as everyone else. What we need to do is tell those stories. And never, *never* pass up the opportunity to tell someone you love them.

Because 100 years is just too goddamned short.

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

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We have come to my childhood home for ExMass. I haven’t been “home” for Christmas since the year before Mum died. Ive been back to the house many times with the boys, but not in winter. not at Christmas. This was always her holiday.

We arrived after supper and decorated the tree. I went from room to room thinking how much emptier the house is, even with all of us here. The last time we did this, she was here. Right over there, in her favourite chair – a ratty old armchair with arse divots worn in it. The Captain fell asleep in the big red sleigh my Da made for him, and Mum sat and watched him sleep.

She knew she was dying. I knew that would be her last Christmas. I was prepared. I thought I was prepared for the rest of my life without her. I had managed to muddle through things (with some difficulty) without my Nama and without my Gramps.

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I watched my boys tumble through the heavily blanketed yard of the house in which I grew up. Through the yard I’d tumbled through to the front door I’d banged open and slammed shut every day. I saw all too keenly the absence if my mother’s face at the picture window. I saw an empty place where she should be.

In that instant, the passage of time stretched away from me. It unfurled like the tongue of an emaciated, insatiable beast. I stood on the walk and stared at my home and willed that beast away; I tried to exorcise it, but I am nothing before time. I took a deep breath, blamed the tears on the driving snow, and went home.

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But it’s only half-home now. It’s the house Da lives in when he’s in this town. I kept expecting Mum to come home too. That’s what made this my home. Without her, it’s just the house I grew up in.

There are still secrets here, and many memories yet to come. It’s still somewhere I can let go. But I wish the first Christmas dinner I cook in my old home would have been at Mum’s side.

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Still and all, we’re together, and we remember her together, and while it’ll never stop hurting, it’s good to be here.

I am never forget the time…

The Long-Suffering Sarah and I decided to make the best of a class in high school with which neither of us was particularly enamoured. It wasn’t even so much that we didn’t like French class. It was that we didn’t really appreciate the exercises we had to do. Our teacher one year insisted on having the students create les diologues using the vocabulary and declensions we were learning at the time. This, educationally, is a brilliant strategy. But it was boring.

I mean, there we were, two students who did fairly well academically, having to fill out (at times) preformatted paragraphs with sentence endings left blank. Things like: Je n’ai pas fait mes devoirs parce que… (we finished that one with “mes mains ont été agrafés au plafond”, and Je n’aime pas faire la vaisselle parce que… “je suis hydrophobe”. Granted, we learned a LOT more French this way, and our escapades usually resulted in our teacher trying desperately not to bust a gut while the rest of the class screamed for a translation.

So one of our “diologues” was to make a presentation to the class for Christmas. The Long-Suffering Sarah and I decided we would do a cooking show. We baked cupcakes and cookies the night before our “show”, and then made sure we had an inflatable santa with forks taped to its head (because we were making “les petits gâteaux aux reindeer”. And we couldn’t find an inflatable reindeer so we had to dress Santa up.

The inflatable part is important because étape 1 is the étape in which we murdered the reindeer. Can’t make les petits gâteaux aux reindeer without tuer les rennes. Right? Right. So we had this inflatable Santa-cum-reindeer all inflated at the front of the class, and, in very meticulous French, we listed all of the ingredients you’d need (beurre, sucre, farine, les oeufs, un renne), and then we began to outline the process.

We stabbed the ever-loving shite out of that reindeer, then jumped about on its corpse and shoved the whole thing into le four for a set amount of time. Whence we had previously stashed the cupcakes and cookies.

That was the second-best French presentation we ever made. (The first was the one in which I played an American tourist in a restaurant in Portugal. I was ordering in broken French, and the Long-Suffering Sarah was answering in Portugese. We got good marks in spite of not using very much French, because we’d demonstrated we could conjugage the verbs properly in three languages.)

[My Favourite L7 Song Here]

There is a photograph making the rounds on social media.

I’m not going to post it because a) it’s an artist’s property, and reproducing it without permission is copyright violation; b) I don’t want to; c) I don’t want to name the artist because I think the artist’s work is really quite stunning, and it’s actually the nature of the image that upsets me, and that might have been the client’s choice and not the artist’s choice; and d) I’m pretty good with word-pictures.

The image shows a man standing with a long gun in front of some bales. A young man stands near him holding a sign that says something like “if you want to get at my sister, you have to go through me”. Between the young man and the man with a gun are two (apparently male) children, each with a sign that says “and me!” On the other side of the man with a gun is a smiling girl.

I see the humour in this. I really do. I get it.

But I don’t like it. It makes me angry.

First, because your eye is drawn immediately to the signs, you end up kind of losing the girl. I mean, I’m no photographer, but I almost missed the fact that there actually is a girl in the photo.

Second, because on the social “needia”, as I have coined it, the photograph is accompanied by something like “repost if you have girls”.

You may want to sit down.

Girls and women do not need boys and men to protect them. We really, really don’t. Girls and women are perfectly capable of protecting themselves. We really are. We don’t need male protection any more than men need female protection. Girls and women and boys and men need respect, kindness, education, shelter, sustenance, love, and nurture. Not necessarily in that order. Girls and women and boys and men need safety, security, and equitable treatment.

Girls and women are not vulnerable because they are female. Girls and women are preyed upon because we are TOLD/TAUGHT they are vulnerable because they are weak because they are female. Boys and men are not stronger because they are male. Boys and men are perceived to be stronger because we are TOLD/TAUGHT that they are stronger because they are male. Yes, these are tautological arguments (and therefore are fallacies).

When we perpetuate these crackpot myths (that women need protection and that men are their natural/must be their protectors), we’re playing a part in keeping alive gender-based roles and stereotypes that ultimately do more harm than good.

Let’s break it down for a moment: Do you feel the need to protect your daughters but not your sons? Are you comfortable teaching your daughters about sexual harassment and rape, but don’t feel the need to teach your sons about the same things? Why are you treating your sons and daughters differently?

This photograph represents a systematic cycle of socially-acceptable violence that does no good. It does no good. It is a systematic cycle of gender-based segregation and inequality.

Pretend you are a girl. Pretend you have been told your whole life (or that you have heard your whole life) things like “they’ll have to get through me first.” On the surface, it might seem reassuring. You’re protected. You’re safe. But what does that really say? It says on some level “I don’t think you can handle adversity.” It says, on some level “you cannot fight your own battles”. It says, on some level “I will do this for you.”

Now pretend someone is speaking on your behalf. And pretend that someone is acting on your behalf. You haven’t asked them to. You don’t particularly want them to. They’re doing it because you wear shirts with no buttons, and everyone knows that people who wear shirts with no buttons are not capable of taking care of themselves in their interpersonal relationships. They are weak. Fearful. Timid. Unable. Do you, as a shirts-with-no-buttons person, feel particularly confident? Capable? ABLE? Strong?

I know I’m over-reacting to this image. I know I’m probably over thinking it. And it’s not about chivalry or misandry or telling boys and men they’re wrong. It’s about questioning the roles and stereotypes we place on one another simply because of what we have between our legs. It’s pervasive. It’s ubiquitous. It’s extremely difficult to ignore. And it does no good.

Late last night or the night before…

Last night I was fortunate enough to be able to play in my first ever tabletop Werewolf game, hosted by AJ. It’s all done by magic now, you see, with (so far) four players in three different cities playing via videoconferencing. Let me tell you, I’m liking this.

So after the game was over, we chatted for a while and then I jammed out because I was feeling sleepy, and this past year, whenever I feel sleepy is when I go to bed. It’s a novel concept, I realise. At any rate, on my way in to the house, I heard some folks talking out in the street and it sounded like they were going to or coming from a party. I smiled and made my way indoors. As I performed my evening ablutions, I heard these voices out in the street rising. It’s not uncommon for silly teenagers or partiers to shriek and goof around on our street, and our neighbours’ kids have frequent parties, so this wasn’t anything new.

But the voices really started rising, and it was clear they were yelling at each other, and I shut off the bathroom light and went to the window to look out, just to see what was going on. A girl and a boy were parked across the street, and the girl was screaming. “It’s always all about you, isn’t it? Well you’re not the most ******* important person in the ******* world! Other people have ****** lives too, you *******!”

The boy, who was half-out of the car, was saying “just let me call somebody, okay? This is ******* stupid.”

The girl screamed louder, calling him every name in the book. He kept saying “I just want to go home” or “I don’t want to go home”…then I heard the unmistakeable sound of a car door being kicked or punched. I turned the light back on, went downstairs, and turned on the outdoor porch light. I went outside onto the porch. I thought maybe if I was there, these kids would settle down. As I came around the corner, I heard a loud ‘crunch’, and the car door slammed and the girl squealed off in the car, leaving the boy standing on the side of the road, his face illuminated by the pale blue glow of the screen of his phone.

"Lantaarn" by Mark Uwland: http://www.mimia.nl/indexeng.htm
“Lantaarn” by Mark Uwland: http://www.mimia.nl/indexeng.htm

I watched him walk to the corner, where he stopped under a streetlamp. “Are you okay?” I called to him.

“No,” he said. There was a hitch in his voice. “I’ve had a really shitty day.”

“I can tell,” I said.

He crossed the street toward me. He was crying. I figured he couldn’t be more than 16, so I asked if he was 17, and he said he was 18 going on 19. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“Oh, you didn’t wake me up,” I said. “Is there somewhere I can take you? Do your folks live in town?”

“No, I’m staying with my grandparents on their farm,” he said.

“May I drive you home?” I asked.

“No, they’re super mad at me and they kicked me out. They were my last chance. I moved out of the city to live with them and now I fucked that up too.”

I asked him to come sit down with me on the porch so we could think of something to do. I would gladly give him a couch to sleep on if he really was destitute, but I wanted to get him calmed down first. He apologised again for being drunk and loud. We sat and talked for a while, and then the girl came screeching back past the house. This upset him again and he asked if I thought it was a good idea to call her dad. I said it was. He tried, but there was no answer. We talked for a while again, then the girl pulled up and stopped in front of the house. “Are you going to be okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I’m going to leave my bag here, if that’s okay,” he said. “I’m not going with her.”

He went over to the car and leaned in but didn’t get in. She seemed to have calmed down, and he sat beside her. She said everyone left her, and she didn’t know what to do and she felt worthless. He said, “Look at me. I’m still here. I’m *right here*. But you’re making bad choices right now. I’ll always have your back, but this is ******* stupid. Let’s just go home.”

Then she started screaming again and punching the steering wheel. I began walking toward the car, and she took off just as the boy jumped out of the passenger seat. He came back to his stuff. “Should she be driving?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if she was super emotional or piss drunk.

The boy shook his head and looked at me earnestly. “I don’t know what to do. She’s going to come around again, I bet, or cause an accident or whatever. I need to call my cousin.”

He called his cousin and asked her to come pick him up. He gave her my phone number, then tried to text her to tell her to get in touch with his grandparents, but his phone died. I told him I thought it would be best if we phoned the RCMP, because his friend was endangering herself and others. He said he didn’t want her to get in trouble, and I said, “Remember five minutes ago when you told me you’ve left most of your friends because they were making bad decisions and you didn’t want to go down that road?”

He nodded.

“This is the same thing. You have made your decisions, and you’re learning to live with them. In order for your friend to learn from her mistakes, she has to experience the consequences of making them – the consequences of the decisions she’s made. The consequence of this decision is that she’s going to be in trouble. You tried to stop her, and she nearly ran you over. She’s in trouble now, and it’s our job to make sure she doesn’t cause something horrible to happen. Maybe this would be the wakeup call she needs.”

“But she’s only 17. They’ll take away her license.”

“Do you think she has earned the privilege of having a driver’s license, based on her decisions tonight?” I asked.

He lowered his chin and said “no” very quietly.

We saw a set of headlamps in the street, and went out to see if it was his cousin. It was another car, and the young man’s friend shot out of the cross-street and nearly caused an accident on my corner. I took out my phone to call the police. “Please don’t,” the young man said. “She’s going to get in so much trouble.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But this is the right thing to do.”

Just then the RCMP pulled up outside my house. The young man said, “Oh shit, what do I tell them?”

I said, “Go over there to their car, be polite, and tell them the truth.”

He did that. As he was talking to them, his friend came speeding up the street behind the RCMP car. The officers got out of their cruiser and stopped her. The young man came back to stand with me. “I hate cops,” he said. “They’re so rude.”

“They’re only rude if you’re belligerent,” I said. “How do you think you would deal with it if your job required you to deal with rude drunks all night, every night. And people who are trying to kill each other?”

“That’s a good point,” the kid said.

The RCMP administered a breath test to the young lady who then proceeded to scream and kick the windows of the cruiser. The kid with me kept wanting to go over to her while the officers were talking to her, and I kept telling him to just chill out and let them do their jobs. One officer came over to us and tried to get the kid’s story, but he was nervous and drunk and not making a whole lot of sense.

“Where are you staying?” The officer asked the young man.

“I don’t have anywhere to stay,” the kid said.

“We have places you can stay,” the officer said. “Don’t worry about that.”

“You do?!” The kid asked.

“Yeah. Cells.”

“Oh. I don’t want to stay in a cell,” the kid said.

I snorted.

The officer turned to me. “So who are you in all this?”

“She, officer, is a Very Nice Person,” the kid said.

I told him who I am. That I’d heard them fighting and had come outside to make sure they were okay. That I’d just been sitting with this kid and didn’t actually know him.

“So, you and your friend weren’t at this house tonight?” The officer asked.

The kid shook his head.

“And you’re….what…some kind of ‘responsible adult’?” The officer asked. I even heard the air quotes.

I burst out laughing. “Well,” I said. “I’m not allowed to go to hardware shops without a grownup.”

The officer grinned. “But do you know this kid?”

“Nope. I just came out to see if everyone was okay.”

They got the girl squared away and locked her car up. The officers asked me if I was good to look after the kid until his family came to get him. I gave the kid my phone and he called his cousin again to come and get him, which she agreed to do, so I told the officer that the kid was welcome to sit on my porch and that I’d wait with him until his cousin showed up.

So we chatted until his cousin arrived. I told him, “keep making good decisions, and things will get better. I promise. This is probably the worst time of your life, but it does get better.”

“People keep saying that,” he said.

Sunrise
Sunrise

“That’s because it’s true,” I said. “Chin up. Be well.”

He started crying again as he left, and he hugged me and wouldn’t stop saying thank you. I appreciated that, but really, just wanted him and his friend to be okay. And I don’t mention all of this to toot my own horn, which unfortunately is what it sounds like. I mention all of this because I thought it was a beautiful thing that happened, in the end. And because it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen every day. And because I really think that kid will do well, if he makes better decisions. And is able to stop thinking that life should be fair.

So that was my evening. How was yours?