uu38 – to marcus 1

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14 August 1016 – I’ve started this letter a dozen times or more. Each time hoping I’ll get far enough in to commit, or at least not feel the need to abandon ship before it’s even left shore. It’s like I’m waiting for the weather to clear when the real issue is that I don’t have a destination.

Maybe it has more to do with not knowing how to write to you. You’ve been gone a long time. There’s nothing current between us anymore. Nothing active. No present tense. I still see you now and again, of course. In memories. For this I am glad. But the memories, for lack of new ones, are beginning to fade and blur. You’re becoming a figure in a grainy old photograph. I have to squint to define you.

Sometimes I feel the same way about myself. My past self, that is. I don’t recognize the person I was when you were last here. Such a skittish girl. Always so afraid and lonely. It almost hurts to remember. But, you know, this may just be memory playing tricks. Because I was never that way with you. And never ever let on to mom or dad that I was having a hard go. I guess that’s part of what you do when you’re trying to find your way. Pretend.

Life goes on, as they say. Things change. People. Circumstances. Everything undergoes something. And for me, losing you was a big something. It gutted me. Turned me inside out. Seemed so random and unfair. Just couldn’t wrap my head around it. For a while there I went into hiding. Simply stopped trying. Time was adversarial. There was no end to it and I couldn’t muster the strength to do anything to make it go faster. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. Leaving my apartment was a trial. I fell behind in school. Self-loathing followed me around like it was somehow my fault you were gone. My shadow wanted nothing to do with me. I couldn’t see straight, and what I could see didn’t look right. The worst of it was that because you were my go-to person I didn’t have anyone to turn to. I was stuck with myself and had to let time do its thing.

Finally, I hit upon the notion of writing you a letter. Like this one I had a difficult time finding the right entry point. But once I did, and all the words started gushing out of me, a kind of personally-driven therapy began. I spent weeks on it. Writing, healing, finding closure. I fell back into a regular pattern of eating and sleeping, went for long contemplative walks, even managed to catch up on schoolwork. By the time I finished the letter I felt better about myself than I had in years (and this was the point—not so much to say goodbye to you but hello to me). The feeling stayed within me and grew by degrees as I slowly came to assume an identity approximate to the person I was with you. A better me. Without the apparent need to pretend.

Right now I can’t pretend to ignore the man prancing about the room behind me. He’s wearing naught but boxers, the phone in his hand blaring elevator music that’s occasionally interrupted by computer voice declaring all customer service representatives are busy etc. Looks like he’s mimicking a spastic emu. Or desperately needs to use the washroom. Knowing the man as I do, either could be true. This is Griffin. My soft maniac of a man (by which I mean he’s prone to being a dope, but only in closed company). A terrible dancer, but otherwise a good egg.

Here, my inclination is to put down something whimsical that captures the moment and subsequently affords me an opportunity to transition to another line of thought while making a clean break from the above—a penetrating one-liner, as Griffin would call it, articulated in a deeply nasal English accent. And since he left the room, about five minutes ago, I’ve been contemplating the very thing (FYI, I did come up with one line: Got netting anywhere). Something else has happened though. It’s just occurred to me that my problem getting this letter started relates to trying to write it as I would a notebook. Not any old notebook, mind you. The one on the desk before me. That I started about a year back (with the lines: “Car in shop. Had to take train in to work this morning. Early early. All those half asleep faces. Everyone avoiding eye contact.”) and finished almost two months ago (with the following words: “Might be time for another letter. To Marcus? Yes. Dear Marcus. About a year ago….”).

And you know what else? I’m beginning to fasten on to the idea that I’ve had the letter right here in front of me this whole time. As in, the notebook is the letter.

Whoa! Head spinning.

This rather changes things. For one thing, I won’t have to tell you everything all over again. It’s already written! No need to toil over pertinent details. (Now that I’m thinking about it this was probably my biggest obstacle—how to spin relevant events in such a way as to keep the proverbial ball from rolling into a quagmire of details requiring more and more detail.) I can’t tell you what a relief this is. Wow. Goosebumps!

(Though I didn’t have a destination at the outset it seems I’ve arrived somewhere. This is one of those intangibly thrilling moments that kept me coming back to the notebook. How good it feels when the pieces you’ve been making a puzzle out of suddenly fit together to form a readable whole. Funny what following words, and trusting your instinct about where they’re going, can do. It’s like Griffin says, “If you don’t at least try to write it down the magic won’t happen.”)

OK. Enough for now. Time to take a break. A good long run to let this all sink in. And who knows, maybe conjure up some fodder for where to go next. You ready?

Got netting anywhere?

Wherever you are?

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uu 37 – windows and mirrors

uu n-book

2705 – Came in here looking for youyou. See you’re as removed as me. Two weeks it’s been. Everything seems frozen still, moated by fog. Honestly it doesn’t compute. Nothing does. Except youyou.
3005 – Don’t know why she’s coming. Or why now. Of all times. She’s a pest at the best of times. I’m sorry in advance. Did I mention today that uu are the tower rising above my lazy midtown streets?
0206 – Already feel like a child again. Been, what, 3 hrs? She does that. Nitpick, bicker, nag. Drives me bonkers. Liz used to call her Ms Bossy Pants. Don’t take her personally. Take the hearts I proffer instead.
0506 – She promises to rent a car. Tomorrow. Hope that doesn’t mean she’ll be staying much longer. May mean I’ll have to keep coming in here. To steal precious moments and marvel at the view.
0806 – Don’t want to take up any more of the limited space that remains but have to ask if you are getting these. Not that it changes the impetus behind leaving them. Love climbing your stairs regardless.

11 June 2016 – No doubt about it. I have good stairs. And yes. Your mom’s a bossy one all right. Hard to take. Can only manage small doses before her constant agitation starts fraying the nerves. How she lords it over the house. Even when she’s not around. Her presence lurking. Like a privileged ghost. A fickle phantom with attitude. She pushes patience and tests tolerance. Don’t like saying so but there it is.

Away and along, let these plasticine thoughts begone.

Helps having Benson’s to escape to. He’s taken Liz and the girls cabin-camping. (“Forecast of lame,” Tammy is reputed to have said upon learning of the trip. Leaving everyone astonished til she crowned the moment with a superb, “Not.”) Asked me to pop my head in when convenient. They left on Wednesday. Been spending majority of non-sleeping home time here. Mostly on the couch. Reading Cities of the Plain. Just about done. Have only the epilogue to go, but waiting til I’ve finished savoring the first line of the last paragraph. Got it pretty much memorized:

“The Sabbath had passed and in the gray Monday dawn a procession of schoolchildren dressed in blue uniforms all alike were being led along the gritty walkway.”

(Seems a perfect sentence. Don’t know why. And even though it has nothing really to do with the main characters it somehow captures the thrust of the novel too.)

Otherwise I pace the kitchen to consider a set of sketches Liz left on the table. Earlier in the week we discussed a new project she’s planning. A tableau, she called it. Of windows and mirrors. Idea is to show a series of seven windows. Each window has a mirror (double-sided) set in it. The mirrors progress from whole (and centred) to shattered. In the sketches the windows are framed squares and the whole/partially whole mirrors are rectangles roughly a third the size of the windows. Liz talked about the piece as an open, if abstract, metaphor for change: things coming together or falling apart. Depending on how the viewer observes the piece.

Windows and Mirrors.

Love the idea. Early stages, but see it as a big step for her. Conceptually. Also, given Melville’s passing, can’t stop seeing of it as a reflection on the healing process.

Last page. We’ve had such clouds over us recently. A month now he’s been gone. Dot’s getting on ok. (Was staying with us til Ms. Bossy Pants arrived—even Dot has trouble getting on with her!) Misses him like mad of course. But it was an ordeal for her there toward the end. Not much left of him in his eyes. He didn’t know her from the nurses. Couldn’t place G or Liz either. But I guess he went without pain (so far as we know). In his prolonged last sleep (induced by aneurism). Just a body on a bed. Heart pumping, lungs breathing. Until a stroke called the dreams over. Death is just sad. All there is to it. Doesn’t matter if we knew it was right around the corner. Windows and Mirrors. How to say goodbye when the one leaving is already gone. Down to last lines here. This space is about to close. Can this really be the ending? Doesn’t feel complete just yet. No. Not just yet. It’s way too early. Too early by far. So much I haven’t gotten around to saying, that I haven’t finished, that I’m just beginning to fathom. And the rain out there isn’t forgiving. Forecast of lame exit. Seems approp to go back and read what I started. Think about what’s passed. Might be time for another letter. To Marcus? Yes. Dear Marcus. About a year ago….

uu 36 – olive these apologies

empty car

30 April 2016 – Think it safe now to assume Liz’s budding romance with the neighbor, Benson, is past the jinxing stage. Hope so. Been holding off mentioning it just in case. But there’s no getting around it here. We, Liz and I, spent the entire day with his girls, Tammy (8) and Tracy (6, soon 7). Firstly at an arts market, where Liz had a table for the morning. She sold over 30 pieces. By far her largest number of sales at one go. Couldn’t have hurt having the girls behind the table. They’re so cute together and were totally into playing their part. We took them for lunch after (ramen, their choice), then to Tammy’s baseball game way out on the edge of town. Liz’s very much into the team dynamic. Knows the coaches and players by name. Has built up a great rapport with the other moms. Joining the banter between plays. All of them attentive to the game. Ever at the ready to cheer or call out words of encouragement. At a minimum, each pitch and swing of the bat merited a round of clapping from both sides. Strikes and hits escalated the excitement. And even though Tammy’s team was being soundly outscored, nothing negative escaped anyone’s lips. Support was the name of the game. I had no idea what was going on half the time. But no one minded. Everyone super chill. An out-and-out family-friendly atmosphere. Conducive to everyone getting along. Quite the microcosm and not a bad way to spend a sunny afternoon. Back at Benson’s the four of us made chicken skewers with rice and salad for dinner. The girls were amazing. All day long. Excitable and boisterous, sure, but also courteous and considerate. Didn’t once ask about their dad (who’s off on a business trip til tomorrow night). And couldn’t wait for night two of their slumber party with Liz (blow-up mattress, sleeping bags, and mounds of teddy bears in front of the TV). When I took my leave Liz saw me out. She thanked me for joining them. Said she wasn’t sure how it’d go—this was the first time she’d had the girls by herself for a weekend. Couldn’t have gone any better. I refrained from called her Mama Liz. Too o-bomb. Still, she done well. And, without getting too carried away, it looks good on her.

01 May 2016 – Watching G pot up baby plants. He looks completely at peace. Can’t stop thinking of him in these moments with his own child(ren). Think I need to go for a run.

03 May 2016 – The eeriness of being the sole passenger aboard a subway car in the early afternoon. Finding strange enjoyment in skimming SciFi paperbacks (currently Richard S McEnroe’s The Shattered Stars—G brought home a small library from work last week). Imagining what it would be like to go everywhere with a stroller. Hormones.

04 May 2016 – Sonora. One of the new girls at work. Who has a wonderful way of swearing in public. She says, ‘Origami!’ Which makes her chuckle to herself. A girlish ‘tee-hee-hee’ kinda chuckle that seems to smooth rough edges—just thinking about it lifts my spirits. Beyond that she’s as disarmingly likeable as her name is beautiful. Spent the day being her shadow. Seems we have fair bit in common. She’s my age. Is from out East. Moved here on whim to take job as nurse’s aide. Had to return for family matters. Spent a year sorting herself out then came back thisaways for school. Just finished her third year of a degree in social work, and is now in throes of seeing what direction she’d like to pursue. On weekends she works at an assisted living facility. She volunteers at a youth shelter and is also involved in music and horticultural therapy projects that aim to aid in memory care while promoting enhanced quality of life. (Oh, and there’s a boyfriend in the mix somehow, though she didn’t elaborate beyond saying it’s complicated.) With all this on her plate I wondered why she’d take on another job. ‘The money’s good,’ she said. Plus, she wants to remind herself what normal people are up to. Actually, what she said was ‘supposubly quote unquote normal people’. I don’t know why but ‘supposubly’ made me laugh. She laughed too. Then asked if we were laughing about her saying quote unquote. ‘It’s a hang-up I have,’ she said. She’s so endearing I told her why I laughed. And then she said, ‘Origami!’

05 May 2016 – Made G print off and read some of his hard drive thought poems to me. He’s quite good at this. Once he gets in the headspace. And lets he free hand go wild. Here’s one of the shorter ones, called Sunshine:

‘Temporarily diverted by common denominators. Having it on good authority that my aim is not as true as I’d like it to be. The warm gun in my hand doesn’t remember how it got there. Convenient amnesia. Forget the favors you thought you deserved. Forgiveness owes no one any explanations. I own my own excuses. Make believe alibis. Of olive these apologies the best are beech and oak. Trees where once stood houses. We are not the climax we think. The tendency to butter our bargains with handshake promises that were never intended to be kept. Though they sounded good at the time. The mines of today’s false heroes, tomorrow’s imposing rebels. Frail remains in this conspicuous goldenage of immoral millionaires. That everyone ‘knows the deal is rotten’ and feels powerless to do anything about it. Sleighting hands. Ruthless attorneys and their expressionless clients—perhaps the guiltier the least expressive (who could know as the best defence is silence). Nails on blackboards. Only we could invent out and out denial because the blatantly obvious does’t suit our ideology. That what the commonfolk want is forever in the back seat (of the cars they can no longer afford to drive). There will always be those particular things you can’t seem to accurately describe. Particular things that bite beneath the skin. Leaving holes. Masticated shrapnel. And then there’s the gun again. A heavy silver-black thing. Still warm but doesn’t smell of release. Before I picked it up it was on the windowsill. Spending a pleasant afternoon in the summer sunshine.’

(Getting close to the end here. Must conserve space.)

08 May 2016 – It’s been a long and terrible two days. Sadly, and not unexpectedly, Melville went into palliative care today. We are deeply inside ourselves.

uu 35 – delilah sighs

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Delilah and Johnny in a roadside diner. She’s absently looking out the window, chin nestled in palm. He’s close to his plate, nibbling at the last of his fries, gaze locked on the map spread over the table to his right.

The waitress comes around, asks if they want anything else. Delilah says no, asks Johnny. He shakes his head no. Delilah asks for the bill. The waitress pulls receipt book from waist apron, rips out page and places it on the table, takes Delilah’s plate.

After the waitress is gone Delilah draws herself square to Johnny, asks if he’s got everything straight.

I think so, he says, still nibbling fries.

Delilah brings the outside of her wrist to her forehead and rubs a few times. Okay, she says. So. I just wanted to say that, you know, before we go, that, well, I’ve been meaning to…

Her hands are together on the table now. Fingers wrestling. Knuckles white. Fingernails scratching. The muscles in her forearms bobbing.

I don’t know how to put it but I just wanted to say that there are reasons I haven’t, you know, been around for awhile—

Johnny says something quietly to her hands.

Sorry?

Johnny sits back and, still looking at her hands, says, Three years.

Delilah’s fingers freeze.

Since you last came to the house.

Delilah looks out the window. Pinches earlobe between fingers.

I’m very sorry about that. How long it’s been, I mean. But—and I’m not making excuses, specially with gran getting sick and all—but I wasn’t in a good place—

It’s okay, Johnny says softly. I think I understand. Not everything or nothin. Just that grampa said you were trying get yourself better.

Delilah sighs.

Three years was way too long a time. He went and grew up and she missed it.

uu 34 – rules governing ocelots

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18 April 2016 – Without alarm a fire truck pulled up to the curb across from the museum. Three burly men in night blue uniforms hopped out and languidly conferred on the sidewalk. A woman with a phone to her ear rushed toward them, flailing her free hand. The firemen huddled around her. She animated to whoever was on the phone that she had to go. The woman’s hands were everywhere. A fidgety small thing in the company of huge men. Yet, after a short briefing, she got them hustling into the donair shop a couple doors down. The woman approached the door but hesitated, as if she couldn’t bare to go in. She turned away. Brought hands to head and clutched hair. I had a clear view of her face but couldn’t see her eyes (big sunglasses). Still, for those few seconds she looked the picture of helplessness. Then an ambulance blared onto the scene. A small crowd had begun to form, phones at the ready. Even around me, across the street, a number of passersby stopped in their tracks. I lost sight of woman when my bus arrived.

Before coming home I stopped for a coffee. At the table beside me a featureless man was taking photographs of Philip Roth paperbacks. He made arrangements of the books (stacked, fanned out, fallen domino, side by each, etc) and from various angles took photos with his phone. I was engrossed. Not in what he was doing but by the books. That I’d never read Philip Roth. At one point the man placed the books on the seat of the chair nearest me and asked if I wouldn’t mind that my feet were in the shot.

While at the cafe I wrote in my phone:

That the oddities of others are their normal. Just as your own normal may be odd to others. That perhaps we should feel grateful for being able to choose our oddities. And that, in general, we can do so without a license. However passively or actively we incorporate them.

On the way to catch the train I passed a billboard. Head-on upperbody shot of waif-ish girl, strap of top off one shoulder having fallen to expose upper arc of areole. The ad was for a bigname in fashion but I couldn’t see beyond the sickly thin girl. Who could’ve been 12 or 25. She had the haggard look of reckless substance abuse and, on a passing glance, no breasts to speak of.

Aboard the train I listened to PJ Harvey’s ‘Community of Hope’ on repeat and tapped into my phone:

Life as spectator sport.
Crawling all cars.
Sweet disregard.
Rules governing ocelots.
Diplomacy: that little word bigwigs like to drop when they either want or don’t want to give up something.
Tact: another little word many bigwigs don’t seem to have.
An open bar with no one in it, not even a bartender.

In the park, on my last leg home, something in a tree caught my eye. A blue pinwheel. Hanging upside down from a branch. Spinning wildly, though I felt no wind.

Such was the stuff of my day. None of it quite as significant to me now as the discovery that my favorite towel is going to bare threads.

The towel once belonged to Marcus and is among the few items I still have of his.

Remembering writing him a letter some weeks after he died. To tell him why he was no longer with us, how it happened etc. Framed as a letter it let me get the ordeal out of my head. Stumbling upon this method of communicating with him was huge for me. We were always texting each other and writing emails (for the longer material). That was one of the most difficult things to get used to—no more off-the-cuff remarks about whatever, no simple words exchanged, no emails, no phone calls, no knowing.

No knowing.

uu 33 – surviving pieces

worded over

07 April 2016 – ‘O, that our stars might collide…’. So begins a unfinished thought poem G started composing, he figures, over a decade ago. An artifact of his early days letting words work their magic. The piece, entitled great gravities, has but one additional line, enclosed in parentheses, ‘(what we simplings call heaven…)’. It rests with scores of other pieces on an external hard drive that came out of hiding last week.

We were at a craft brewery enjoying jars of beer when G recognized a classmate from his university days. Tony was his name. He came over and, though late for an engagement, made time for a quick catch-up. All very light and cheerful. Then, as he was about to leave, he asked if G was still writing. G responded with a shrug of his shoulders. It seemed a harmless enough exchange but after Tony left G’s manner underwent an abrupt shift. He scratched his head and scrunched up the left side of his face. His mouth froze in an open grimace. He leaned forward, propped elbow on table and held up his angled head with thumb on cheekbone, fingers spread across the upper ridge of his left eye socket. Eyes closed tight, clearly grappling with something.

The beginning of another piece from the hard drive. This one untitled:

‘We were living in bliss. Not that happiness was our guise or guide. I mean bliss in relative terms. We had a house, a small parcel of land, a truck, and a dog. The house wasn’t much to look at. But it served us well enough. Kept the rain out and the few possessions we had in. It also had a fine portico that ran around the west side. We sat out there almost every evening, whether we had guests or not.’

In the car, away from the noisy ambience of the brewery, G quickly recovered his composure. He no longer bore the look of torment. Little by little, he loosened his cognitive knots and explained that, for whatever reason, Tony’s query about his writing had the disquieting effect of reminding him of two things he’d done his utmost to leave in the past. Firstly, how important writing was to him at the time: his beacon, his respite, his purpose. Secondly, that in a prolonged moment of derangement he had destroyed the majority of his work—a comprehensive purge that entailed deleting files, tearing apart notebooks, going on a shredding spree, and just to make sure, taking a lighter to anything combustible.

Although we had talked about this period of his life on many occasions, touching on key events (him finishing university, feeling torn about how to proceed, his relationship with Beth, her cheating on him, his decision to wipe it all clean, sever ties and set off in a new direction), how pivotal a role writing played was news to me. In fact, I don’t remember writing ever coming up. I just accepted it as something he’d always done. Something he could take or leave. A private habit.

Opening paragraph to how light it’s supposed to be, how dark it is:

‘Dad told Bailey loudly to go to her room. She stomped down the hall, her face burning in the effort to stop from crying but as she mounted the stairs the first tear broke. By the time she made her room her hands and cheeks were sodden.’

I’m not sure what more to add. Back at home we had a good long talk. We got into some pretty weighty stuff. But it wasn’t difficult. Nor was it all about G. We drank a bottle of wine and laughed at our former selves. Liz came home and joined the fun. We drank another bottle of wine and mused on the many faces memory wears. How selective it can be. Sometimes overlooking, sometimes embellishing—and ever and always editing to suit the present.

At some point during the night I asked G if he regretted not having the writing he destroyed.

“To a degree,” he said. “But not really. I did what I felt I needed to. And besides. It’s not like it’s all gone. I still have some it kicking around somewhere.”

Which is how we got to digging out the hard drive.

Since then I’ve done little more in my spare time than delve into G’s surviving pieces. To cap things off, at least for now, here’s the ending to one called laces:

‘You liked to call the poetry you wrote a series of instant pieces. Because you were after moments that don’t last very long. The poems you wrote for me are among my favorite. I can’t recite them. Nor is it likely I shall read them again any time soon. But I still cherish them. For sentimental reasons. I need only think of them, the pieces of folded paper they were written or typed on, and you return, smiling, ducking head to hand the better to brush a fang of hair aside as you bite your lip, those little white teeth of yours holding the light wetly until the lively shine in your eyes takes over, glancing here, looking there, drifting off to attend some sound or movement, your nose and chin following as you look over your shoulder, one hand reaching over to the other arm, uncolored and nibbled fingernails clasping, digging, scratching, waiting for whatever it was to make itself conspicuous, waiting for the moment to bloom, which it won’t, not just yet, because when it does it’s over and you don’t want it to end, not just yet, so you continue to stand there, looking at something of the world, looking as you did at me, with the outside of one untied sneaker resting on the other.’

uu 32 – ostensible soldiers

backmost window

10 March 2016 – Mother came out of her cupboard this morning. To paraphrase dad, “I was on the phone in my office. Legs up on the window sill. Admiring the sunshine. When I felt a presence behind me. Turned around and there she was. Standing at the door. I wondered if I was seeing things. She held up an envelop, widened her eyes. I reeled in my legs, swivelled my chair, got off the phone, and sat upright. She put the envelop on my desk. ‘Divorce papers,’ she said. I didn’t know what to say so busied my fingers at the upper edge of the envelop. She stepped to the window and drew a deep breath. Like she was outside. The moment froze. Her standing, me sitting. For I don’t know how long. Then I felt her hand on my shoulder. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘It’s signed.’”

He said that she said she was leaving. “As in, you know, the bigger sense of leaving.” He said that she didn’t say where she was going. And that he didn’t think to ask. He also told me that he still didn’t know if he said anything while she was there.

I thought of calling her. Then thought otherwise.

12 March 2016 – Poignant afternoon making muffins with Dot. I was a little inwardly scatterbrained when I got there (another morning writing and scrapping Delilah scenes). Dot noticed straight away, of course, but left it alone until our batter was in the trays. While we waited for the oven to heat up she asked what was on my mind. Actually, what she said was, “Honey, what’s with the hairshirt?” I didn’t know what a hairshirt was. She described it as bearing the weight of the world on your shoulders.

That cleared the air some and got us to our more customary mode of talkativeness. I mentioned that I had been contacted about interviewing for a job I wasn’t sure I wanted. She asked why. I said it was the same job I’d had before I went back to look after dad. She nodded and said she understood. I told her about mom. She asked how I felt. I said I didn’t know what to make of it but that, if anything, it brought a kind of comical closure to things. Dot looked me up and down, as if to verify that my body language was in agreement with what I had said. There were question marks in her eyes but they quickly brightened to butterflies when the oven alerted us that it was ready.

We put the muffins in to bake and headed outside for a walk. I asked about the trip. She said Melville and California got on famously. Like he’d forgotten his dementia on the bedside table here at home. It warmed her heart to see how much life he still had in him. I asked how he was doing since their return. She said he had his ups and downs. There was a pause there. Like she wanted to say more. Instead of pressing for details I put my arm around her. She leaned into me and everso quietly said, “Ostensible soldiers.”

Not certain I’d heard her correctly I repeated the words to her as a question. She smiled. “Don’t imagine you’d have heard that before.” She explained that it was one of Melville’s expressions. Used as an alternative to ‘stiff upper lip’.

That out of the way, the rest of our afternoon went to script. We finished our walk. Had tea with fresh muffins and gossiped til the boys got back from their movie.

On the way home I asked G if he’d ever heard his dad say ostensible soldiers. He smiled but said no.

16 March 2016 – Interviewed for my old job.

18 March 2016 – Job is mine if I want it. Have until Monday to decide.

20 March 2016 – While I made us a late lunch G wrote this about our day:

15 x 15

Above along below the ground. So much track, so many wheels.
What we saw speeding through the drab curves of downtown corridors.
With our covered elbows crowded there at the backmost window.

Disembarking, both of us taking the stairs two at a time.
Even spits of rain could do nothing to dampen our spirits.
Twas as if, holding hands, no one else knew where we were going.
And neither did we, bold pedestrians, until we got there.

A short bridge with cherry-red rails over a small round pond.
Sharing the barest thoughts like that she liked her navels fuzzy.
Or that the pine tree had a large number of middle fingers.
That we play god every time we turn on or off a light.

Hungry koi gathered and called dibs on whatever we might throw.
But all we had to give was the special nourishment of words.

Is there anything more inspiring than a moment in bloom?
The thunder in our hearts tells us our knees are wet for bending.

Kills me how simple it seems to be for him. Took him all of half an hour. Fucker.

uu 31 – other things less consuming

stairs

 

03 March 2016 – Late this morning running errands downtown. Up out of the underground and onto the street. The incessant noise and bustle, the diversity of people, the chill wind, the facelifted buildings, the unrelenting traffic, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary yet, for a little while there, the assault of it all together seemed totally unreal. A sudden vertigo hit me. Like a bad dream where the sky is falling. Didn’t know what to think and couldn’t move. Not straight away. Had to stand aside and catch my breath. Which is about when I wondered if this was what an ending felt like.

G figures I was experiencing sensory overload—from having spent too much time in my head.

 

05 March 2016 – You make deals with yourself. Tell yourself you won’t do this til that’s done. Motivation by increment. A tidy technique. So long as you don’t get in your own way. Then funny things can start to happen. Time passes. Pressure mounts. Excuses pile up. A minor obstacle soon becomes a major blockade. Signal the eye of a storm on a raven black night. Summon the sirens, cue the riot police, hear an invisible bullhorn demand an end to this insufferable impasse.

The deal I made was I wouldn’t come back in here til I’d hammered out a couple of Delilah’s scenes. Went all kinds of sideways with the night before scene. Just couldn’t seem to get it right. Then, out of the blue, it came together. Yesterday. The day after I broke my deal.

What a difference a day makes!

How good the pen feels in my hand today. Light and free. It wants to explore. Things less demanding than me or Delilah.

Like the feeble gargle of young eagles spanning their wings.

Like that first r in turmeric.

Like Dot and Melville returning from California. All tanned and hale.

Like going for pho with G. The picture on the wall over our table. A strangely beautiful geography of vertical islets. Lush vegetation spilling the cliffs. On the turquoise water boats with orange sails and a village of floating homes. Another world, another world. Exotic, mysterious, spellbinding. I don’t know why but it surprised me that G, man of many surprise, knew the place was Ha Long Bay, North Vietnam.

Like a set of stairs that goes somewhere you’ve never been.

Like a girl who sits on a pipe fence one night with a boy. She wants to talk about her friends and enemies and shoes. He wants to talk about sex and songs and skateboards. They start off talking about drugs and alcohol and celebrities. Just the thing. They don’t know yet that they’re going to be together for a time to come. A time that passes in years and sees them grow together and then apart and eventually sees them part ways in a flurry of words neither wants to say but can’t seem to prevent. A few years down the road they will see each other once more. When they have other partners, and maybe children. A future that becomes the present. The setting: a large home improvement store. From different directions they and their families converge on a display of panelled prefab fencing. They see one another but pretend they don’t. Neither family buys a fence that day but both the girl who is now a woman and the boy who is now a man submit to the memory of that long distant night on a pipe fence and then, without a word, let it disappear.

Like an author writing a preface to a collection of stories called ‘Nights I Can’t Sleep’. Something along the lines of:

‘I’ve always been a dreamer. Even when not asleep.

‘When I was young I stayed up in bed waiting for dreams to come so that I could be awake when they did. One of two things happened. I either fell asleep or found myself following my wandering mind. A kind of active dreaming that was no less an adventure for being awake.

‘At some point I picked up a pen, or a crayon, and started writing down my adventures. As I was supposed to be asleep, and my father seemed ever on the lookout for light under my door, I used a flashlight and wrote with the blankets over my head.

‘I didn’t think too hard about what I wrote. Nor was I overly concerned about whether or not it made sense. I just wrote and when I was done, and only when I was done, I’d turn off the flashlight and go to sleep.

‘All these many years later not much has changed. I still write in bed. And the stories of mine I like best, the ones in this collection, had their inception on nights I couldn’t sleep.’

And a slew of other things less consuming.

uu 30 – the night before

the night before

It was getting dark by the time Delilah pulled to the curb out front of Bill’s apartment. A shoddy ground floor on a side street tenement that had seen better days.

As ever his door was wide open. Leaking an apron of light onto the uneven pavement. On either side of the door a square window, both broken and barred and dark. Between door and window on the right a folding chair and a coffee tin ashtray. The wall a muddy sea of layers of paint doing little to hide the blurred trace of past taggings.

Delilah closed her eyes in visible relief. She had arrived. A long tense day was behind her.

She drew a sharp breath and shook her arms. Turned on the interior light. Looked at herself in the rearview. Pulled straggled hair from forehead, rolled lips together, nodded.

On the passenger seat her purse, a bag of groceries, and bottle of cheap whisky. She bagged the bottle. Sashed her purse. Turned out the light.

Darkness carried her to the door.

Bill was in the back corner of the room, hunched over his desk, fastidiously scribbling away. He wore a night blue bathrobe and a grey knit skullcap, loose above big ears with foam earplugs in them.

Delilah didn’t announce her arrival. Instead she put the bag of groceries on the bed and stood there in the doorway. Looking at the oddity of the space. Like she wanted to etch it into her memory. How the bed, right at her feet, took up the majority of the room and was neatly made. To her right his prized wall of books. Hundreds upon hundreds. Shelf after shelf. An organized chaos. From floor to ceiling. The dodgy narrows between books and bed. Bill at his desk. A lonely figure scratching the remnants of his sanity onto unlined pieces of loose paper, piles of which threatened to overwhelm his corner sanctuary. Straight ahead the cluttered hallway to the hallway of a kitchen. The recliner on the other side of the bed. Within arm’s reach of small bedside table holding a pullchain lamp and dozens of empty bottles. And finally the wall to her left. Papered in a mesmerizing pattern of vaguely diamond-shaped velvety flourishes.

She might’ve stayed lost in those velvet diamonds had Bill not rustled from his scribbling. He used the desk now to help him to his feet.

Once standing, he patted at the pockets of his robe. His small hands feverishly darting and noticeably quivering. Until they suddenly stopped. He shifted his stooped stance. His head slowly came around. Then stopped. His hands flustered among the papers on his desk. Came up with a pair of glasses he put on with both hands. Finally he removed his earplugs and turned to face her.

Ah. My dulcet delight. Too rare a treat. Too rare.

Delilah smiled.

He was not a pleasant man to look at—short and pudgy, soft, grizzled, ungainly. Beneath his robe a stained undershirt and oversized sweatpants.

I trust you didn’t come to quiet the urges.

No. Those are well past. Well and truly. Thanks to you.

He smiled and looked down thoughtfully. Then over to the bag of groceries.

What you got there?

Fixins for dinner. And—

She pulled the bottle of whisky from the bag.

I do indeed like your visits.

Bill pocketed his glasses and shuffled outside for smoke.

Delilah made them dinner. They ate in the kitchen, standing. There was little conversation, though she did mention that she didn’t want to be leaving without seeing him.

Beyond that there was nothing to say. They had a tacit understanding that she would spend the night. He would wait until she was asleep before opening his bottle. She would wake early, alone in the big bed. The door would be closed. Light would be coming from the kitchen. Bill would be passed out on his recliner, wrapped in a thin blanket, clutching what was left of the whisky. Her clothes would be folded at the foot of the bed. On her clothes would be an envelop. She would think twice about taking it.

But this time she wouldn’t need his money. The long part of yesterday had taken care of that.

So it was that at first light Delilah started out for Bridge Farm. Tomorrow had come. Clean and fresh.

 

uu 29 – hitting the road

Hitting the road.jpg

Delilah and Johnny in van on highway. A gulf between them. So much to say it’s hard to find appropriate words. Johnny gets to them first.

Grandpa says we’re going on a roadtrip.

That’s right. Up and over the mountains and out to the coast. I have a friend we can stay with. It’s a long drive. But it’ll give us a chance to, you know, catch up. You up for that?

Sure.

They go silent again. Johnny looking out his window. A sullen face. Doesn’t know what to make of this. Out of his element. Maybe worrying. Or homesick already. The world as he knows it exploding. Doesn’t know where his feet will land. What it’ll look like there. Delilah wants to tell him that everything will be okay. Wants to tell him everything. Instead she reaches over and pats his wrist.

You’re gonna be sixteen in a few weeks, right?

Yeah.

Means you’ll be getting your driving license soon?

Hoping to.

You been out driving with Grandpa?

A little.

He taught me too. In one of his old trucks. Ripping around the farm. I’ll bet he made you start with the tractor though, hey?

Yeah.

Did he tell you it learns you patience?

Johnny laughs a little.

Yeah. He’s funny with how he says stuff. We were out a couple days ago. Just on the gravels. Told me to ease the hands and not to look so hard.

Delilah laughs.

Did he say you’ll get there soon enough?

Exactly.

They laugh together. Delilah pats his wrist again.

You know, I was thinking, maybe I can let you drive a bit too. Like when we’re off the highway.

Cool.

The gulf between them has narrowed. She tells him they’ll stop for food by the next town. He asks if she has a map. She says there should be one in the glovebox. He looks. There isn’t. She says they’ll get one when they stop for gas.

You hungry?

Getting there.

Okay. We’ll hit a diner when we can.

He nods.

You like maps?

Yeah. Just looking at them makes it seem like I’m going somewhere.

That’s good, she says. Might just need you to navigate too. Been a long while since I come out thisaways. Haven’t seen the mountains in…I don’t know how long.

We went up into the mountains a couple times. When Grandma wasn’t so sick. But never got down the other side.

Ain’t no up without coming back down.

Grandpa?

You got it.

She pats his hand and asks him to find something on the radio. All around them the land is flat and the sky is blue and the sun is high and the traffic is free-flowing. On the shoulder a wide sign enumerates distances: 26, 114, 243. Where they’re headed isn’t listed.