The wind, the sea, the horses

It is a day of wild frolicking horses, droves of them crashing on the beach. There is nothing to be done but watch in awe as their hooves lift the sand in swirls that the sea greedily gulps. The wind is blowing hard. I am laying down flat in the dunes, sheltered in the high grasses, from which I watch the spectacle. The rain starts. It is pelting the sea’s surface angrily, prodding it, taunting it, but the giant pays it no mind. It is playing with the mighty wind and together they are creating horses. The rain’s contribution is to keep the voyeurs at bay while they unite and procreate. Yet I am here and see it all. When I leave, soaked through and through, the sand under me miraculously dry for a moment, grasses flattened under my weight, my heat evaporating from the ground as I get up, I can see that neither are spent and leave them to their night of passion.

The next day, the drove is still there but they are not as wild nor restless. The wind has died down, the horses no longer frenzied under its whip. I watch the sun rise under gray skies, the sea still moody, lashing idly to move the horses around. I am wearing a warmer sweater, dressed as I should have the day before, too warm for today. The horses are grazing, big liquidy eyes, fretful ears. Seagulls are calling from on up, seaweeds are littering the beach. Men arrive with boards. They are suited up in black. They lie on the boards and paddle to sea. They wait until a tamer horse comes close to see what strange beast lies in wait. They hop on the first tame horse they can catch, riding it safely to the beach and repeat with progressively bigger and riskier mounts.

The ballet goes on for hours, until the riders are exhausted and easily dismounted by an unexpected kick. Most head home. A solitary rider is still out there, one with the sun and the wind and the sea. He rests, lulled by their presence, then paddles and rides. Eventually, the horses want a rest and settle in for a nap, the sea cradling them and whispering sweet nothings. I want to ride the horses and I come day after day to watch. I get a cheap Styrofoam board, on which I approach the horses. I lay still on the sea, let them smell and taste me, until I am just seaweed they can safely ignore. I watch the young ones break and re-form under their mama’s watchful gaze. I am no threat. I lay for a long time, then sit, then stand. I ride my first colt and feel its skittishness under my feet. He lays me down gently on the beach.

I return again and again to my friends. On stormy days, mama opens her mouth wide, swallows me whole, tumbles me over and spits me out. I gasp for air, look for light, roll with the punches. They cannot rid themselves of me. I scour the beaches to discover new droves. Some like wilder, rockier terrains. Those are tricky and dangerous, exhilarating to master. Not that I strive to tame – that would be my downfall. I wish to feel the power, be a small part of it as the wind is, the sea, and the horses.

 

Don’t speak ill of the dead

Nobody liked my grandpa, but you’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, so nobody ever mentioned him. Even in my dreams, nobody would pronounce his name. He would sit at a long table, where everybody was talking and eating, and he would bend his head over his food, grateful to be admitted to the table, gulp down his meal then slink away. The first time, I asked who the man was beside Nana. My uncle’s kind eyes fled from his face and little soldiers took their place. “Your nana’s husband,” he spit behind gritted teeth. I was prevented from asking anything else by the mask that had descended on his face and the dread that had filled me. The room was deadly quiet as I considered my options. I was curious to know more but did not want to become a pariah. I sensed this was a pivotal moment. I had to choose my camp. Self-preservation kicked in and I averted my eyes from the old man’s gaze. Conversations resumed, and the moment passed.

It was years later that another dream lent itself to a rapprochement. I was a teenager by then and the dream was a fantastical one, full of adventures and twists. At one point I was falling down off a cliff and I thought, not that I would die if I touched the ground, but that I would die not knowing who my grandpa really was. Then and there my fall slowed down and, as I flapped my arms, I slowly rose and flew to an isolated island where the old man lived. I alighted and stood there watching him. He was tending pigeons with tender care. They were white, I thought they represented peace. My curiosity was intact and we were alone. I uttered his name and the pigeons skittered as though I had thrown gravel in their midst. The man looked at me but he had no mouth. I remember thinking he could not bite me.

I was not yet a man, still foolish and unaware of the ills of the world. I had the sense to approach him as you would a wounded animal. I looked away and made my way softly. There was no hurry in my stride and I did not crowd him. I stopped a few paces away and looked down at my feet. The soil was sandy with grasses bent down by the wind. I could feel the breeze on my cheek, and the sun. I waited. I was hoping he wanted to make my acquaintance. His shadow at my feet, his hand on my shoulder, a soft pressure then nothing. The shadow was gone, the hand, the pressure. I felt a mixture of sadness and hope, those complex emotions that come to you all at once when you’re growing up. I tried to unravel the strings of them, looking at each strand and naming them. Love, and fear, and hope, and curiosity, and impatience, and a sense of injustice.

I scoured the house for photos and pestered my mom with questions. “I burnt all the pictures. Your grandfather was evil.” I told her my dream. “You were lucky he had no mouth. Don’t let him talk to you. Don’t accept anything he gives you. Promise me.” Her tone was at once desperate and firm. I said nothing and turned to leave. Her voice was cold when she repeated, “Promise me.” I promised, seething, my cheeks burning in shame, angry at my cowardice. Of course, I continued thinking of him, but the need was not as urgent as before. We had made contact. I thought of him as my ally. I had been told I looked like him from members outside the family, with a certain reserve. They searched my eyes to probe my soul. They found nothing but solid rock. I disliked porosity and softness. A polished surface with no asperities, casting no shadows, was my ideal. My body was the same, sculpted with hard muscles and an uncompromising stare. Gone were my light boyhood days. I had the seriousness of an adult. I wanted to make weighty decisions and start grappling with the world.

The old man again showed up in a dream, as I was preparing to marry. The lass was a redhead, with shifty eyes and distrustful mouth. I knew in my bones it was a mistake, but she was pregnant and I believed the child was mine. I was ready to do the honourable thing, even if it meant being miserable for the rest of my days. He cast his shadow between us, and everywhere we went his shadow divided us. When I woke up, I walked over to her parent’s house. The sun was not yet up, but I could not wait. I had to share my decision with her. As I approached through the field, I saw a shadow climbing out of her window. It was a man my age, in her circle of friends, always milling about and laughing at her jokes. I caught up with him. He smelled of her and I knew at once the child was his. I went onto the road and blocked his path. “Recognize the child and marry her,” I intimated, “or you will live to regret it.” I could tell he was shocked. His head was still beside hers on her pillow and he could not reconcile the bulk of my formidable presence with her willowy body. He swallowed and shifted on his feet.

We stood apart the length of 30 paces, as though for a duel. He was no match for me. We looked at each other square in the eye. My arms were crossed on my chest. I was blocking his way. Behind me the sun was rising, creating a red halo around my silhouette. Behind him the fields were ablaze in that first light. I had a vision of the fires of hell. He acquiesced. I said, in a threatening voice, “Promise.” He cleared his throat and in a voice he wanted assured said, “I promise.” They were married after the harvest. I never dreamt of my grandfather after that day, nor strove to speak his name again.

The Myth of Sisyphus revisited

It’s a little-known fact that Sisyphus was married. Condemned to roll a boulder to the top of a mountain and see it roll down the other face, and have to roll it up again day in, day out was his punishment for cheating the gods. He was ashamed at having been tricked into this eternal punishment and had not confided in his wife. He was always late for supper and she was sick and tired of his excuses.

One day, she followed him surreptitiously to find out what he was doing all day. She suspected he had a mistress since he came back in a funny mood and too exhausted to take care of his manly duties. He must roll a heavy boulder up a mountain for eternity… Having finally understood the issue, she took pity on him.

When he came home, he ate a simple but filling meal. She had prepared a hot bath with herbs for him to soak in and loosen up his muscles. He relaxed into it gratefully. He was so tired that he fell asleep, dreaming of the thunder of rolling boulders. While he was sleeping, she ran to the mountain to analyse the situation.

First, she had a good long look at the boulder. It was immense, and she could not budge it. She wondered again how he managed to find the strength to roll it up but, more importantly, how he had the willpower to start over every time. She loved the fool dearly and wanted to help. There was no one on the mountain and she started the steep ascent slowly, looking right and left for clues. She could see his habitual path, well worn and devoid of pebbles, all crushed into sand under the enormous weight of the rock. She shuddered and kept going, all senses on alert. He would need better sandals, for one. She made it to the top, after much effort. There was little room to rest. It was a peak – no wonder the boulder could not stay on top. She looked to see if there was any way to flatten it, so it would rest. That would be a big job.

She saw the sun set. She had very little daylight time left and hurried down carefully. There was no point in spraining an ankle. She would be of no use to him. She came back in the house. Sisyphus was snoring in the tub, and the bath water had cooled. She roused him and put him to bed where he slept the sleep of the dead.

The next morning, he was out the door, a little less stiff, grimly determined to do his duty lest the gods seek revenge on his family. His wife had prepared him lunch and given him coca leaves to munch during the day, to dull the pain. There was a good breeze at the top of the mountain and it cooled him off and dried the sweat off his body. Heading home, he was almost happy for a good day’s work. He was starting to feel pride in his work and was less tired than usual. Also, his wife had been uncommonly nice, and he felt a certain tenderness in his heart.

By the door was a new pair of sandals. He did not wish for visitors and was a little irritated. The table was set for two and his wife was in a great mood. Seeing he wasn’t, she inquired at his displeasure and was happy to understand he was jealous. She explained his sandals were worn out and she had decided to call in a favour from the sandalier. They were his. Ashamed at his thoughts and touched by her kindness, he explained what had happened to him and that he was condemned to roll a boulder up a mountain for eternity. They cried in each others arms, harbouring no thought of trying to deceive the gods again by planing the peak or wedging the boulder. The next day was better than the previous. Sisyphus had the strength of his wife’s love to add to his courage.

The gods were getting restless. They had thought to punish this human for his craftiness, but he was outsmarting them by submitting meekly to their folly and rage. To add insult to injury, the couple was growing fonder in adversity. Unbeknownst to Sisyphus, his wife had decided to petition the gods. She figured they needed a way to save face if they were to release him from punishment. She thought she would use reverse psychology, as the gods were not as smart as they thought they were. She managed an audience with Zeus. On her knees, she explained how deeply unhappy she was that her husband had turned into a workaholic. He took pride in rolling this stupid boulder up the steep mountain. He said he was getting a workout and the girls were admiring his new body. He was looking forward to work, and loved nothing better than admire the sunset at the end of each day. Zeus thought long and hard and came up with the worst punishment he could think of.

Sisyphus was called to Zeus and ordered to immediately retire. He was to spend the rest of his days idle, a life of leisure devoid of meaning. And thus modern society was born.

Cool Action Figures

I suddenly have all this disposable income. I never thought his game would take off. I dreamed of it, yes, but didn’t consider it as a real possibility. It’s getting rave reviews and the money keeps pouring in. I go on Amazon, and buy cool action figures. I keep them sealed, so they maintain their value and stack them purposefully. I’ve dedicated a whole room for them. Once a year, I dust each one, admire them. I realize I have duplicates but can’t bring myself to resell them. The coolest ones make their way to the living room, the dining room, the bedroom. I move them around, according to my mood, but mostly I shelf them.

I have lengthy imaginary conversations with them and I get them more and more friends. I’m lonely I suppose, despite the fame or because of it. Mom is always after me to get myself a girl and settle down. I go online and flirt. It never goes anywhere. I’m just not that interested. To tell the truth, I’m a little depressed. I’ve put on weight. I can afford to get my grocery delivered at the door. I still cook, go out to see mom, socialize online. Apart from the UPS guy, though, I don’t really have daily live contacts with anybody.

I decide to make an effort for Gaby’s stag party. I hit it off with Jolene. I’m feeling good, confident and funny. We head away from the noise, find a little café and chat. We’re getting edgy so I suggest a drink at my place. It’s pretty clean, I pick up after myself. We’re kissing frantically on the landing. I fumble for my keys. I open the door, and the current between us dies. I hear her say, “What is this?” in an odd voice. My confidence dies. I see the apartment through her eyes. Piled high with dusty boxes, wrapping intact, tens of action figures welcome you in. They are encased in their little plastic rooms, frozen in motion, as though dead and cryopreserved.

She remembers how late it is and requests a Uber ride. He calls within minutes to say he’s close by. We part with relief, the awkwardness thick between us like a wall of deceit. I am mortified. I can just imagine her texting her BBF “I almost did it with this weird guy – his apartment is overrun with kid’s toys.” I look at my collection differently. I walk through the rooms – thank God she only saw the entrance and living room. Right there and then, I grab large garbage bags and start stuffing the boxes in them. I don’t want to see them anymore. They mirror back a guy with dwindling money (my fans are clamouring for a sequel), no friends to speak of, and a year’s worth of action figures. I must have over 500 of them!

I sleep poorly. The action figures in the garbage bags complain that they’re suffocating. They start ripping their cardboard boxes. Once exposed to air, their colours fade, they are confused by the sudden freedom. I can see their value drop. Money is burning, spreadsheets are dissolving, my bank manager calls to say I am in the red. I am no longer allowed to buy action figures. But I always want one more, one more,… I wake up in a sweat, heart pounding. I remember last night’s humiliating scene and close my eyes again. I am hungover. I rarely drink, I overdid it.

I get up and pull out the boxes from the garbage bags. They are no longer pristine. I was in a rage when I stuffed them in. They’ve lost their value. I survey the scene. I only tackled the lobby and living room. I can perhaps create dioramas and place them in natural positions. It’s just a hobby. It doesn’t have to be creepy. I just need to create sceneries, buy a few backgrounds. I had been mulling this over for a while. Now is a good time to start. I still have some credit on Amazon.

The Grave Robber

 

His father had had great plans for him. Tomás showed promise, as he was bright and friendly. The father was keen on showing his son the world. He brought him along on his business trips, as he expanded his trade across the neighbouring town. The boy was able with horses. They pulled their wares in a wagon, father and son walking alongside Suerte when climbing hills to lessen the load. They took such road trips as frequently as possible, enjoying each other’s company, the boy growing into a fine fellow. His father had hopes that he would become a doctor, marry, and that he would welcome his parents into his home where they could live out the rest of their lives surrounded by grandchildren. They often talked about this dream, adding details as they went along. The father had put aside money for Tomás to study abroad. Tomás had been accepted in a good school, and his parents had thrown a party to celebrate his new life. Family and friends were there. A mustachioed Tomás was beset by slender girls with jet-black hair. He was rumoured to be on the cusp of greatness.

 

His father was in his study, on the second floor of the house, overlooking the party. The coroner determined that a person or persons unknown had pushed him into the window and he had fallen to his death, drink in hand. Tomás felt responsible for his father’s demise. After the funeral, his mother was adamant that he carry out his father’s wishes. He was exiled to medical school, but his heart lay back home. Better for him to have stayed home and taken over his father’s business. But that was not his destiny. Alone on foreign soul, he was laughed at for his proud mustache and mascada, which he wore without fail. Tomás got into fights and was knocked out cold after he had had one too many. When he came to, he found he had developed a stutter. He retired into muteness. Though a diligent student, he found his mind wandering back to that fateful evening where his pre-ordained life had dissolved into chaos.

 

Tomás was close to his pathology professor. He stared at the cadavers without emotion, and did not flinch when called upon to move them. He was a sturdy no-nonsense lad. To make a little money on the side, he started helping the man who wheeled the corpses in, right down to the man who procured them. As his fellow students were cramming for exams or out partying all night, Tomás had other reasons to be bleary-eyed in the morning. His side gig was taking over his life. His grades were falling, and no one was surprised when he dropped out of school. The “Mexican” never fitted in; he was moody and reserved. Esmeralda was the only one whose eyes still looked out for the dashing silhouette of his countryman, who cut a fine figure with his mustache and soft eyes. She knew of his speech affliction and subsequent muteness but was still surprised when he failed to appear at school.

 

Though she never saw him, she did not give up on him. There were rumours that he had become a desperado, but she dismissed them as she had dismissed the other unflattering stories about him. The stories became larger than life. He was said to be mounting wild bucking stallions and turning them into docile creatures. More troubling were the ones about him riding a large white horse in the cemetery, their ghostly silhouettes blended into one, a real-life don Quixote peopling her dreams. Esmeralda took to strolling the cemetery grounds in the hope of catching a glimpse of him. She did not admit as much to herself, choosing to believe the quiet surroundings were a welcome break from her busy life. One evening, she found herself far from the gate as night was falling. She had wandered off in a section she did not know well and had lost her bearings. Seeing a freshly dug grave and movement around it, she decided to ask for direction. It was dusk and getting spooky. As she approached, she did not hear the sound of voices, just a soft, methodical swishing. Earth being moved or removed. She hid behind a large headstone, crowned with the larger-than-life statue of an angel. The angel comforted her as the man left in the dark, his job done. She could not muster up the courage to run after him, but decided to follow him from afar.

 

Before she got out of her hiding place, she heard a soft neighing behind her. Looming in the dark, a white horseman with a magnificent mustache was surveying the scene. She stood transfixed as Tomás walked past the headstone and towards the freshly dug earth. He dismounted and tied his mount to a tree. He changed into dirty coveralls, covered his mouth with his mascada, then disappeared in the hole. The man before had indeed removed the earth. She heard scraping noises, then a heaving. She could not see but dared not move. A sickeningly sweet smell filled her nostrils. She heard a soft thud, a muttering like a prayer. A dark silhouette was now filling the hole with practiced strokes. Once filled, he placed a single rose on the dirt, signed himself and picked up a bag. He got out of his dirty clothes and headed for the horse. She sneezed. He froze and slowly turned towards the headstone. “W-w-w-who goes the-the-the-there?” Foolishly, she answered “Knock-knock.”

 

He finished securing the bag. The coverall was gone, he was all in white again. He mounted the horse and headed her way. She stayed under the protection of the marble angel. He looked at her, and she melted under the kindness of his eyes. He extended a hand and she gave her his. He kissed it and dismounted. “Señorita,” he said then looked at the mare. She accepted his offer and saddled the horse. She was light. He walked beside the horse down a narrow path through dense woods. She was not afraid until they came to a stop in the darkest part of the woods. “Espérame,” he commanded. She waited, the warmth of the docile mare seeping through her clothes. She heard him talking, stuttering in English, his voice tense and unhappy. She heard rustling and a disagreement. She realized she’d been praying under her breath, something she hadn’t done in years. He came back, and took the reins again. The bag was gone from the saddle.

 

She tried “Toc toc…” “¿Quién es?” “Juan…” “¿Juan quién? ” ”Juan, two, three…” He grimaced a smile, tried again and laughed. They had come to a low wall. She climbed off the mare and onto the wall. He nimbly jumped up the wall and down the other side, holding out his arms. She descended onto his body and they briefly embraced. She was on the sidewalk. Further down were streetlamps. She oriented herself and turned back. “¿Hasta luego?” He bowed deeply and nodded. He disappeared into the darkness of the cemetery as she headed towards town, praying an altogether different prayer.

Just a Poem

I know all the words
It’s the meaning that escapes me
Like a theorem just outside my grasp
Or the mystery of electricity

I like how it flows
I can feel the undercurrents of emotions
The brilliant images make me smile in wonderment
Without rhyme or reason

Perhaps it is meant to make me feel good
Perhaps it is about the journey
Sometimes a poem is just a poem
A sunrise just a sunrise

The meaning contained in the feeling
The process a reward in itself
A clank of the bell
On a clear crisp night

Mr. Klein

I stand by my father’s bed. We never had much to say to each other and this is no exception.
– You want water?
– Sure.
I pour a glass. He takes a sip. I figure I should stay at least 15 minutes, then I should be able to leave. I told Marion I was going, hoping she would drop by. Instead, my sister was relieved and said, lightly, “Three’s a crowd.” That’s always been my line, and I could see now how she would have resented all my years of copping out. It was a shock to find our dad sprawled on the floor, in pain, his hip fractured though he’s not that old.
We look grimly at each other. I am eyeing the clock. It’s only been five minutes.
– Are you still in pain?
– Nah, painkillers.
– How’s the neighborhood?
I point at the curtain between the two beds. Dad has insisted on a semi-private room “for company.” He hates people, so I can only assume he’s been frightened out of his wits and fears another fall, another long wait. Dad frowns and pulls me close.
– I think he’s dying, he says in a low voice.
So much for company.
– Why do you say that? I reply in the same hushed tone.
– He’s hardly ever conscious. He moans and groans. The doctor comes and only talks to the nurse. He hasn’t gotten up at all.

Now I’m curious.
– Any visitors?
– Nope.
I suddenly feel righteous. At least Dad has me. Five more minutes.
-They should install the tv tomorrow. Do you want anything in the meantime?
He’s dozing off. I kiss his forehead lightly, as you would a child. His hair has thinned.

I stop by the nurses’ station and enquire about my dad’s roommate. He’s in the last stages of cancer. No family has claimed him. I hear myself say, “When’s the best time to visit? I mean, do you think it would be okay if I visited? Is he sometimes conscious?” The nurse’s features soften. “If you come around 7 pm, we can postpone his morphine until after you leave. Company will do him a lot of good. Thank you.” “His name?” “Mr. Klein.”

I visit Dad the next day. He’s back to his old self.
-The tv’s not working.
I try the remote.
– You have to press here.
– Give me that.
He finds the news channel and starts watching the news. I watch a little with him, then I head over next door.

– Hello, I’m Rick. I’m your neighbour’s son. He wants to watch the news. May I sit with you, Mr. Klein?
He looks at me, non-committal. I stay put. He ushers me in with his chin. We sit in silence. He has pleasant features, though etched in pain.
– May I sketch you?
He looks intrigued, motions at the pillows. I straighten the pillows. He runs the hand without the IV through his hair. I take out my sketchbook. He stays motionless, with a purpose. I draw him in broad strokes, the elongated forehead, the diminutive chin, the fine lips, the fiery eyes and bushy eyebrows.

I show him. He chuckles.
– “It’s good. Rick.” He nods. “It’s good,” he repeats.
– Thank you. It’s for you to keep. What shall we call it?
– The last hurrah.
I write ‘The last hurrah’ and hand it to him.
He points to the bedside table. I place it there, near a picture. I don’t ask. He’s looking at me, but his gaze is faltering.
– Time for your morphine?
He nods. I press for the nurse, who arrives promptly.
– Shall I come back tomorrow?
– Yes, Rick.
I go see Dad. He’s still riveted by the tv and mumbles his comments. I can tell he’s feeling better by the venom he projects.
– I’m off, Dad. Do you need anything?
He waves me away. He’s got his tv.

The next day, I make it earlier to the hospital and slip in to see Mr. Klein.
– Do you need help eating?
He looks up and smiles.
– You could eat my share. I’m just pushing the food around.
I am starving.
– At least eat the soup.
He complies and watches me down the pasta and bread. I look at him guiltily.
– I should have kept the bread for you.
– Eat, eat.
There’s applesauce and Arrowroot biscuits. I push it towards him. He says, “Take the cookies, they’re too dry.” His appetite is better. I tell him about desserts I liked as a kid. He says he could have applesauce everyday. I put the tray on the floor and push the table out of the way. I can hear the tv sounds from Dad’s side.
– Does the sound bother you?
He answers, “He’s got it running all day, all night.”
It’s loud. I suspect they took out his hearing aids.

– Hi, Dad.
– Rick, you’re early. Aren’t you working?
– I wanted to see how you were doing. The tv’s pretty loud. Let’s get you set up with the earphones and see if we can get the volume down.
I fiddle with it until he’s comfortable. He’s eaten all his food, so I get rid of his tray as well. He’s absorbed by the tv. I leave him to it.

Mr. Klein doesn’t ask me about Dad.
– Better? I ask.
– Yes, thank you.
He’s pretty lively for a dying man.
– How’s the lighting? Are you managing to sleep?
– I would do better with my cap, but I can’t get to it.
I rummage and come back with it. He puts on the cap. He looks dapper.
– Do you want to pose with the cap?
His eyes are softer. They are no longer fighting the harsh light. I push the cap a bit to the side. This time, I draw the boy in him. He gasps when I show him.
– What shall we call it?
– Springtime.
I title it, date and sign. I notice the first one is gone. It’s been a long visit. I bring it to a close. We shake hands.
– See you tomorrow, Mr. Klein.
– Goodbye, Son.

Dad doesn’t hear me leave. He’s got the baseball going.
I come the next day with flowers. Mr. Klein is heavily sedated. A forbidding woman is sitting by his side, her back very straight. I introduce myself and hand her the flowers. She seems to need them. I go and see Dad.
– The tv’s too small. I could hardly see the ball yesterday. I’m ready to leave. They say I have to do physio. I’ve been getting up and exercising but I’m supposed to always wait for help. They’re afraid I’ll break something
– Did Marion come by?
– Marion? Yes, she says hi. She missed you yesterday. She says to wait for her today.
I start sketching him.
– When are you going to get a real job? None of that doodling.
I put my pad away. We stare at each other.

I hear the woman getting up next door. She stops at the foot of my father’s bed. “You have a good son.” She leaves with the bouquet. I catch up with her in the hall.
– You drew those pictures, yes? You have made him so happy. He is dying, you know. But now, he is lighter. Your visits make him happy.
– He’s in pain today?
– Yes, they had to increase his dose.
– I will sit with him until my sister comes.
– Thank you, I must leave now. For work.
I take out my pad and sketch his dreams. He is playing the fiddle in a field. People are dancing. Dogs are trying to get a bite from a table full of food. I leave the drawing on his bedside.
Marion has arrived, and Dad and she are arguing. She wants him to turn off the tv so they can talk. I intervene.
– Dad, you’ve got a better tv at home. Maybe we can discuss ways to get you there sooner.
I’ve got his attention. We agree on a plan that Marion will discuss with his medical team tomorrow. If they agree, we can take him back home. We leave Dad to his tv.

During the night, I get a phone call from the nurse. “Mr. Klein is asking for you. I think it may be time. Will you come?” I hurry to the hospital. They’ve moved Mr. Klein to a private room. His breathing is laboured. He relaxes a bit as I take a seat by him. I take his hand. It is cold but firm.
– How did you know about the dream?
I look at his blue eyes, the child, the dream, the old man.
– My hand knew.
– Draw again, please.
I look into his eyes and see death. I draw a beautiful woman with a peaceful smile. She has long curly dark hair and tiny feet. I feel music around her. I change the curls to notes. I am immersed in my vision, drawing quickly. I show Mr. Klein the drawing. His eyes are focused and clear. He seems to recognize the woman. “Ah,” he sighs. He takes a deep breath. After a pause, another breath. I have stopped breathing and I am holding his hand. His grip relaxes, his breathing stops. We sit in silence, the drawing on his silent chest.

Dad went home today too.

Rock Art

I read of the white plaques on the brains of people suffering from Alzheimer’s. I look at mom, picturing the landscape under her skull – splotches of white paint on ancient fissured walls devoid of sense with the passing of time. Were those prints ever meant to convey anything? I was here, here in your olfactory cortex. You used to smell the roses, balk at cigarette smoke, enthuse over wine. I was here, in your visual cortex, see the rugged wall under my print? It speaks of faraway countries, and distant lands of the imagination.

Now you see ghosts, reinterpret the shapes into abstract concepts that confuse me. I strain to grasp the meaning of your words as they mercifully still pour out of you. I tentatively offer my version. You look at me sternly, “Never mind, you don’t understand.” I feel I am failing you. You point to paintings, your own or your son’s. You discuss weight, colour, light and shadows with large gestures. You glow.

I know you are not beyond meaning. You sit contented, try and engage me. Your temporal lobe is still vigorous; it remembers sound. Your body sways to the music, any music; you know the words to every song. To every music, you create your own lyrics, the words conveying your feelings.

I introduce myself, recite the names of your children, point mine out. “See, I am the girl, your daughter,” I say proudly. I smile. You smile back.

Green

That time of year when you catch a cold because you are sick of winter and you go outside without proper clothing because you believe in the power of Mind Over Matter and dammit if you can’t do what you please… You are no longer a child and no one but yourself will control you and who wants control anyway? Who needs it? Politicians will pull wool over your eyes like that toque you did not want to wear it gives you hat head is that what it’s called? Cat hair? I hate when my mind plays games. How can I have Mind Over Matter when my mind plays games? Last night I heard the sound of a metal pipe clanking on a cement floor, the sound reverberating in my head but there are no cement floors in here and no one said a thing and I could tell it was all in my head from the way the sound waves were travelling out instead of in. So. I am lucky today to have no earworms though I must admit I miss the incessant chatter and music that typically fills my head must be those new pills that dull my Mind Over Matter. I will have to start faking taking them – meek, and I will inherit the Earth but what will I do with it? Cover it with greenery and shrubs and maybe little green men will come and visit. Yeah, that would be nice.

Luna

The bed beside him is cold. He waits.

Silhouetted against the doorway, eyes wild, seaweed hair heavily roped on her shoulders, white fish feet. “Little mother, come to bed,” he says softly. She lies down beside him, at a distance. She sighs a heavy sigh. He coaxes her gently, “And?”

Her eyes are moist. At long last, she intones, “The great sea has receded. She is showing her underbelly. The sand is smooth save for little breathing holes.” A beat. “It can’t all be crab down there! I saw the most hideous creature coming out of one of them, covered in warts, gelatinous. A large bird was waiting patiently for it to climb out. It didn’t blink. Someone will be eating.” She spits out, after a moment, “There’s loads of rubbish too.”

He can tell she relishes the sound of the word “rubbish.” It rolls off her tongue and crashes in his ears. “I wish the sea would stay on top, the waves hiding it all, waning and waxing.” Her hands going to and fro above her, in the air. He knows better than to speak. He must respect her rhythm.

“You know you can walk for miles out to sea? You won’t realize when it stops creeping back, and then rushes in, and traps you, and gobbles you up. Quite the monster really. A fake tame beast.” Her voice is flat as salty drops wet her cheeks.

They will not sleep. They never do under a full moon.

Pasha

He was full-on counter-culture. In a dog-eat-dog society, he was a big fat lazy cat. Imagine a white, long-haired cat lazily whiling the afternoons away. That was Willy to a T. As a child, he asked for pillows on his birthday. Always more pillows. His bed looked like a puffy white cloud. His mom asked, “You like being on clouds? You want to be a pilot, like Uncle Jack?” He had looked up from Aladdin and the wonderful lamp, a puzzled look on his face. “An astronaut, then?” she countered, her smile faltering. He said, indulgently, “I want to be a pasha and spend my days reclining on cushions while slaves fan me.” He saw the look of alarm on her features and hurriedly added, “Oh mama, I will treat them well.”  She resolved to toughen him up. One by one, his precious pillows disappeared.

He grew despondent, would not leave his room. If he did, he hid the pillows or brought them with him. To no avail. He was reduced to a paltry number as they found their way on high shelves in closets. If anything, his dream of a cushy life grew stronger with the opposition. His father had a talk with him, wanting to understand the boy. The father was a hard-working 9-to-5 man. He loved his dear boy though he did not understand him. They asked the paediatrician for help, who advised them not to worry. But if it were a phase, it would have stopped by now. The pillows gave way to embroidered cushions. He started wearing robes. For Halloween, he got a black turban with an emerald brooch. His friends built a chair with brocade and two long poles. He wore his robes and turban and they brought him back sweets. Everybody wanted in on it, and soon there was a procession following the chair and its occupant. He was a hit!

In all other respects, he was perfectly ordinary. He hated cauliflowers, played videogames and had a ton of friends. A lot of them were girls. He ended up trading Woody and Buzz for gauze curtains and a handheld fan. He invited his friends over to play pasha, complete with slaves and courtesans. There was lots of laughter. He was a genuine nice guy, and his peers loved to spend time with him. Apart from school, he didn’t go out much. His skin was pale and doughy, which he loved. He hardly had any muscle mass. He just wanted to lounge around and he did that to his parents’ mounting dismay.

When puberty hit, incense was burning non-stop in his room, trying to mask the sickening smell of hashish. He had a glass pipe, and a treasure chest of flimsy scarves for the girls. They doubled as veils. He was so popular that people brought him sweets in exchange for stories. He had read all of Arabian Nights and was keen on sharing his knowledge with others. He was also well-versed in poems from Rumi and Hafez. He recited them as girls swooned. He was adept at deflecting insults, being gentle and loving. He did not retaliate in kind, but was never apologetic for who he was. He had reached his ideal and was absolutely content.

He relished immobility. His parents were at their wits’ end, “What do you want to do?” “I don’t want to DO anything. I am, and that is enough.” They cut his allowance, but that did not make a difference. His father complained, “We called him Will but he has none!” His wife saw things differently and thought that Will must be strong-willed to go against society’s mores and adopt such a stance. Reluctantly, the father agreed. He felt he had failed the boy. He thought he was being a strong role model, but Will had chosen a different path, opposing his deepest values. Years of watching his son grow fat and content, living on his dime, had him wondering who the fool was. He felt others thought him weak and his son feeble-minded.

His son looked like a fat, jolly buddha. If only he had had the decency to be miserable! No amount of health lectures could convince him to cut the sweets. His friends were fascinated by his quiet determination to live entirely off his parents, with no prospect of doing otherwise.  His father finally blew up. He challenged Will, What if he did the same, if nobody made money to buy… to buy…  he realized how empty his words were, his life was. He was hitting mid-life and what did he have to show for it? He took to his bed. He could not sleep, self-doubt eating at his soul. He missed work the next day, the first time in years. His wife left the house, ostensibly on some errands. When she returned, her husband was sitting on cushions, at the foot of Will’s bed, smoking a pipe of hashish. She had not seen such comradery since Will had been a boy. She closed the door silently and started looking at job ads.

No Words

I scream but my cries are lost in the general mayhem. I listen and wait. I remember nightmares when I was a child. My screams would wake me up, but no one would come. I would scream again, with less conviction, and listen some more. Nobody stirred. Uneasily, I would fall back to sleep. I was a poor sleeper, in my early years. The family moved around the country, my father unable to settle down, and I would sleepwalk, fall out of bed, and generally have sleeping issues. Nevertheless, I was always full of whim and vigour when morning came, the night terrors forgotten, eager to face a new day.

These days, the dislocation is internal. I am not so much moved as unmoored from my familiar signposts. I scream to express my desire to be heard. If I don’t scream, how will they know I am alive? I remember getting Sparky from the kennel, his vocal cords all used up from the incessant barking. We never left him there after that traumatic experience. Will someone rescue me too? Will I have to stay in this hellhole? The noise is deafening, but it’s also a blessing. I am not alone in my fight. We are tied to the bed, not enough helpers for our lot.

I am wet. Wet and hungry. I can no longer talk, but I can still remember when my Marjorie was in hospital to get her tonsils out. She was so agitated that they had tied her down. I was shocked and had them untie my child. She cried in my arms as I fed her Jell-O. I hope I get green Jell-O. It’s my favourite. The nurses’ aid is changing my nappy. I don’t really care who sees my bottom. I only care to be dry. She tells me we will be fed soon and wipes the drool off my chin. What a mess.

The effort to eat is enough to tire me out. I fall asleep only to be woken up by screams. It is night, but you wouldn’t know it. The lights in the corridor are not even dimmed. They hurt my eyes. I close them again and will away the sound. When I was a young mother, I took meditation classes. We were shown how to integrate the ambient noise into our meditation. I have always found this approach the best one for me. If you can’t beat them, join them. The bars of the bed are raised, in effect preventing me from getting up and going to the bathroom. I press the red button for help but soil myself before the overworked aid arrives. He smiles to say he’s sorry, dries me gently and moves me around. I am getting bedsores.

It is morning. I hear distant cries. The person seems to be in pain. I feel okay this morning. My head is clear; I slept well without a sleeping aid. My nurse stops by, all smiles. I want to ask her about her new sweetheart. I smile what I hope is a conspirational smile. She only needs that nudge to spill out the beans. She shoves a ringed finger under my nose. “He proposed!” I beam at her. She beams back. “You’re the first one I’ve told. Here. I mean, outside of my family.” I love that she is so precise, so eager to be truthful. I touch my chest to show I am moved. She hugs me and tends to my needs. I hear whimpering. She stops in alarm. “Did I hurt you? Those bedsores are nasty. I will put a note on your chart, so you will be moved more often. Would you like to be wheeled to the common room?” I nod. She calls an aid and gives her order. “Move her to the common room an hour before lunch and wheel her by the window, will you? With a blanket because of the drafts. And feed her there if she is not too tired.” She winks at me and heads to her next charge. The aid grumbles but complies.

The mobile ones come to the common room, but the neglected ones stay in bed. The aid actually brushes my hair and changes my gown after bathing me. I feel alive. I watch the birds, their cries distant and joyous. I don’t feel like screaming today. I will give my vocal cords a rest. There is so much life out there, beyond the window. Cars, and clouds, and birds. People hurrying and people sitting. Someone speaking on the phone, another eating a sandwich. I eat too. They wheel me to a table with three other residents. We don’t look at each other. We are intent on not spilling the grub and getting it down our throats without choking. It’s a task that takes focus and determination. I am spent. I am wheeled back to my room for the afternoon. Marjorie comes while I am sleeping. The nurse says I’ve had a good day. I smile in my sleep and she leaves. Later, I see a bouquet of lilies of the valley, my favourites. I hope she comes back.

Lightning Strike

The lightning flash briefly lights up the room and shows me curled into a ball on the bed. There follows a thunderous noise, o so close. I am whimpering, holding a pillow up against my belly. Suddenly, I remember to invoke Charlie, my dear long-lost child, braver than most and gone too soon. As soon as I do, I feel the pillow’s weight dissolve my fears and his soothing presence fill the room. My insides feel warm.

Another lightning crash – the sky splinters, the winds lash the trees, then the mighty thunder roars. As for me, I laugh in the warmth of my bed. Nothing can touch me under my child’s protection. He is the ultimate lightning rod. When he was alive, he protected me from his father’s wrath, deflecting the blows, redirecting them or changing the mood. A careless fever took him away, all of us powerless to stop it, and the world was never again the same. The other children got half a mother. They accepted their half-crazed mother, doing the best she could. The lasting absence never let me forget.

I got better after I saw the psychic. I became calmer, more able to look around me and appreciate the other children. They recovered part of their mother, a little love, a little warmth, a little twinkle in her eyes. When their father died, I was suddenly free. Shackles dropped. They were older by then, the others. Years had gone by, without me noticing. Some were away at school, others were working or pregnant or married. It had been a blur. I came out of the fog to find a vibrant world, full of colour and life. I did not know my place in it. I had been groping in the dark, unable to see ahead more than an arm’s length, which is where I kept everything.

One of them took over the mansion. I was grateful to keep my bedroom and let someone else run the show. Now new kids peek in. They call me granny and play with Charlie’s ghost. He’s glad for the company.  The wild winds and thunderstorms are things of the past. I keep to my bed, my refuge. This is where Charlie comes to me. I must never leave that room. I am content in the semi-darkness. The light chases him away. His soft white translucent body dissolves in the harsh light of day. I long for the day where I will join him, both of us light and airy, free as angels. I stop eating and drinking. It makes no difference. It upsets my helpers, but I am happy I finally found a gentle way out. I am looking forward to an out-of-body life.

I die smiling. The world I am now in is as beautiful as I imagined it would be. Little Charlie is by my side. I have the vague feeling he is free of me too. I realize I was hindering his progress, but he understands and says there’s nothing to forgive. I am content, I don’t look back. Life on Earth was not for me.

The Walkers

The walkers come in all shapes and sizes
From all over the world
With their colonial accent
They gawk at our sheep, at our hills
Deem everything magnificent and oh so British!

The walkers cross the road like children
Check for cars to the right
To the left, again and again
Before launching themselves
With high cries and panicky eyes

They accuse us of letting dogs and children drive
They look at the passenger side all the while
With utter disbelief in their eyes
We laugh at their antics
But never to their face

The walkers come in droves
The adventurous and the organized
The planners and the ones looking for meaning in their lives
They take selfies, they take over our pubs
Their money flows like water

The walkers sport their dirty boots like badges
Trading routes and comments with fellow walkers
They share a common sentimentalism
About the English countryside
Romanticism made dirt

They trudge up and down hills
Through dung-filled pastures
With bleating sheep
Annoyed at the intruders and vigilant
Lest they steal one in the herd

They can go for days under the rain
When at home they would hop in a car
They relish the fresh air and the Facebook posts
And the boasts that come with their feat
A hundred km in ten days

The walkers are quaint and part of the scenery
We humour them but don’t join in
We’d rather walk our dogs or ride our horses
Than follow the fools in all weather
And visit sham villages – the old made new

Land

It’s a tiny piece of land, a peninsula of grass between two roads – mine a crescent, the other a straight road joining others like tributaries feeding a main road. In winter, that’s where they dump the snow, until most of my view is blocked by this white giant. We’re in the countryside so it stays mostly white. It becomes an ephemeral feature of the land. It sets me dreaming about Antarctica and the great explorers.

The land stands there undeveloped across my house. The neighbour mows it, though it’s not his. I reckon he wants to keep the value of his house up. He drives his lawn tractor up and down, a drink in the drink holder though he never takes a sip. I think he likes the idea of a drink more than the actual drinking. Sometimes, a cat tries to chase something, but the grass is not tall enough to hide so he ends up licking his paw and grooming himself. There is not much life on that patch. No trees for birds, no vegetable patch. Someone tried to grow a few flowers once, but the neighbour paid it no heed, mowed the whole thing down.

He’s got family. They’ve got kids. The kids sometimes play tag quietly on the tongue of land. As soon as a parent sees them, they shriek in alarm. There are roads! We told you not to play there.

There are roads, but no cars. The kids know it, the parents know it. I wonder if the whole charade is for my benefit or for the detriment of the children or the glory of the parents. I don’t say anything, but I watch by the window all day. The children resent me because they can’t hate their parents. They are too young. They have not yet learned it is allowed, a natural progression through independence and adulthood, via the necessary years of analysis.

I used to worry someone would buy it and dump an unsightly car there. Or that a dwarf would build a tiny house for his family on it. I used to appreciate the barrenness of that strip of land, its stark austerity. I used to boast about the view, the quiet, the privacy.

I have grown older. I was old to begin with, and it hasn’t gotten any better with time. Now I wish I had bought that strip of land and built something outlandish on it, maybe a sculpture, maybe planted trees. Even a few fruit trees would have been nice. I would have been busy chasing away the birds, putting nets over the fruits, hoping for honeybees, chasing the kids away with brooms. I would have made compote, marvelled at the blooms in Spring, worried about hail pockmarking them. The cats and squirrels would have frolicked in their branches, maybe even built nests. The cat would have had something to chase. But I might have fallen down a ladder, have had to tend to it, had too much to eat and not enough people to give the food to. It would have gone to waste. Better to have this barren piece of land peopled by dreams…

 

Scratch

She redacted the whole book, turning it from a profoundly racist book into a book singing the praises of the oppressed. The only thing she did not do was change the title and author that were her source material. Her used bookstore was called “Scratch Bookstore” and you bought at your own risk. Hers was a labour of love. She refused no book, redacted as she read along. The books were sealed, and you decided how much you put in the tin. She wasn’t in it for the money, she enjoyed creating new pieces of work.

Some authors were harder to redact. There was an awe around their works. As the fame of her art grew, more people would drop in books and she had a hard time keeping up. Her specialties were with biographies, but she did well with horror stories which she turned into fairy tales or romance novels. She was a Scratcher before scratch music was in vogue. She created music from words on paper.

She was made famous with obscure books that, once redacted, were sought after. She did not redact the same book twice and was scrupulous at keeping a tally of those she had done. She did not want comparisons. She did it all in one go, as the inspiration struck, and signed and dated them. She had quite a cult following, with collectors fighting over her works of art. They were not all great, but then that is true of all art, and she did not worry about it.

She had started as a child. Her parents read her bedtime stories that she would listen to sternly, sometimes uttering a tut tut sound. As soon as she was able to read, she started scribbling in books, to the consternation of the adults. They did not try to see what she was creating. They just scolded her for defacing books. But she persevered with an obstinacy verging on obsession. She would then present to them the fruits of her labour. All they could see was another book destroyed. She did not learn her lesson. She had a truth to tell and she would tell it. Eventually, she found fertile ground with her grandma.

She presented her Little Red Riding Hood to read. Grandma opened the book and saw the scribbles. She had heard that her granddaughter was defacing books and should not be encouraged. The girl was practically mute by then, and grandma thought she might be trying to communicate by other means. She smiled at the child. Her smile was tender and welcoming. She said, “Would you like me to read you this story?” The child beamed back and settled comfortably against her. Grandma cleared her throat “Once upon a time…” there followed a beautiful story that read like a poem. Grandma was choked with emotion. “The end,” she whispered as she held the child against her. “Thank you, Mabel, may I keep this book? I will treasure it.” Mabel replied, in a normal voice, “I love you, Grandma.” She hadn’t spoken in months. They both looked at each other deeply, with joy at seeing the best in each other.

Grandma waited with trepidation for Mabel’s visits and new books. She started buying her second-hand books for her art. Her daughter was displeased but had to recognize Mabel was doing better and started talking again. Grandma praised the child when Mabel was not in the room and encouraged her daughter to read the books with an open mind. When she finally did, she was an instant convert. Of course, the child still had to curb her actions, as the parents could not afford to replace library and school books. As everybody, Mabel redacted what she heard as well. Unlike others, she was well aware of the filters she was applying and could regurgitate the official line “Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492” instead of her own version where Columbus covered America. She had her own opinions about life, and freely expressed them. She was deemed an activist by age 4, a rebel by 5, a revolutionary by 6. Her parents did not know what to expect in her teenage years. She was expelled from high school which was later seen as proof of her genius.

Her assassination at age 35 rocked the artistic community. She had done so much in so little time, and touched so many lives, that her funeral drew hundreds and was covered by the media. Mourners left redacted works at the spot of her murder where they stood vigil. The murderer’s name had been redacted, never to be uttered, banished from memory.

Tornado

Like a fever announcing an infection, the weather warning was displayed: TORNADO. Like an annoying symptom, it was summarily dismissed. If I were to worry about all the little viruses floating around, I would be in a constant state of panic. I carry on, like the Queen had urged us to in dark times. I am serving a customer, remarking on the sudden darkness. He adds something about strong gusts of wind. I can hear the shop windows rattling and my witty remark dies on my lips. The noise in the store is suddenly deafening, windows exploding amidst incomprehension, I instinctively duck as I raise my arms to protect my face. My customer leaps on the counter, or rather is pulled up by his bootstraps and thrown in the air, his face contorted in pain.

Rain is pouring in, roof gone, foodstuff on the floor. The cashier? The staff? Everybody stunned amidst the rubble. The roof is collapsed, is anybody under? The noise continues, trees creaking, snapping, and falling. No screaming, there is no point. I taste of metal, I am all wet. A pinkish red liquid is streaming down my face. I wipe it away with my sleeve, but it keeps coming. The sickness has manifested itself, violent and sudden. Pay attention! It’s vomiting debris of what were once houses and playthings left in the yard. I see a barrel heading our way, a wheelbarrow too, nothing tied down. We didn’t know to batter down the windows or hide in a cellar. How do you react to convulsions the first time they happen?

Help arrives like helpful white cells, mopping and carrying and straightening. We are put on stretchers, the attacked and the maimed, to be restored, ready to fight the next battle. Flashing strobe lights, helicopters, news stations send their camera crews. I hear there were 6 tornadoes, due to unusual weather conditions. Tell me now that climate change is not real, that this is normal. I am in the hospital emergency. I hear there are casualties but no fatalities. People were still at work. Residential areas were hit, so homes are lost, lives only shattered.

I try and go back to the scene of the crime. But can you ever go back? In my mind, I am there always, trying to make sense of this event. My neighbours who were not affected develop psychosomatic reactions. The shock is widespread as the disease takes hold and infects neighbouring cells. It’s been two weeks. Two weeks of phoning insurance companies and trying to restore order. I want things to go back to how they were. I want to rebuild. What are the odds of the same conditions repeating, of the same disaster to occur? My premiums shoot up. The insurers seem to think the odds are not in my favour.

It’s week three. I still have nightmares, still worry when the skies are gray. My scar tingles. It’s not a Harry Potter scar. It will be very realistic for Halloween. Thanksgiving is coming up first. We’re having it at my brother’s, next town over. It’s usually at my place, but I can’t cook, I can’t think straight. Others are taking over, bringing me food. The town is in septic shock, inhabitants walking like zombies, still uncomprehending, numb. What do I have to be thankful for? People tell me I am alive, that only the store was lost. They are discounting my peace of mind, my mental health.

The town is slowly healing, thanks to the injection of volunteers, white cells in all colours and religions. We are given warm hugs in the form of shelter, shoulders to cry on, building assessments. The phone lines have been repaired, electricity restored. The scars are everywhere. Trees have been cut down, uprooted, splintered and quartered. We live in a lunar landscape, rarefied air and meteorites. The Earth is far and blue. I am floating above, untethered and lost.

Canvassing

The door-to-door approach suited him well. He enjoyed parrying with his constituents, showing off his political acumen. The elderly lady let him in, unsmiling. He tried a genuine smile, but it hurt. Those muscles were seldom used, and his skin felt like cracked leather. He whipped out the fake one, supple as an old shoe. The old lady brightened up. “I recognize you, now. I voted for you last time.” “Thank you, thank you.” He sat down to tea and stale cookies, no doubt bought on sale and served to unsuspecting visitors, not worthy of anything homemade. He looked around for a dog. No such luck.

In his mind, he went over the senior list: overpriced lodgings, access to health services, transportation. He had something ready and practiced for all. “What will you do about Sleepy?” He frowned. The question did not appear in any category. “I am not aware of the issue with Sleepy. Could you fill me in?” He was faking interest now. That was one of his good faces, with the smiling-in-awe-at-baby one. Both made beautiful, intense pictures.

“She’s been pooing in my flower bed again. I told those no-good neighbours of mine I would shoot her if I caught her at it. But she comes at night, she does. Her kind always does their business at night, like thieves.” She shook a fist in the general direction of the neighbour’s house. He expected her to spit on the flower-patterned rug. She refrained. Now, she was looking intently at him, waiting for a response that would match her outrage. He could not muster it. “How is your health?” he inquired, after a moment.

She looked at him, disgusted. “Politicians,” she muttered under her breath, as she snatched the cookie plate from the table. She turned to go. He offered, “Did you try calling the city to ask an inspector to come? They could fine the owners.” She grunted, “Phone’s disconnected.” He didn’t want to get involved and risk losing the neighbours’ votes. He put on a concerned look, “Why is your phone disconnected, may I ask?” “May you ask,” she scoffed and sat in sullen silence.

“My party supports full access to municipal counsellors. We have blogs, a website, even a chatline. And of course you can call…” She gave him a stern look. “…or drop by…” he trailed off, miserably. She was still staring, unsmiling. “You’re too young,” she declared. “Four years older than when you last voted for me,” he countered, jubilant. Mistake. Do not contradict the voter. “I was a fool back then, obviously. No doubt seduced by your youthful countenance. Well, off you go. I have a cat to attend to. He terrorizes my birds too. I’ll get her some day.” She shooed him away, with her hands, as you would an unruly child.

He got up, trying to put on a brave face. “Remember my name. Jack Dolan-Brown.” She was waiting for him by the door, surprisingly nimble. “I don’t doubt you will catch Sleepy in the act. Have you tried an infrared camera?” A slow smile crept on her face, distorting her features. “Well, Jack Dolan-Brown, have a great day. And good luck to you.”