Archive for January, 2008

Snow

January 29, 2008

Not a single sound.

Reaching intently for any sound,

I hear the hum of my own body.

Only my ears producing sound

There is snow.

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The Lower Mainland is covered five inches thick in white cleansing snow. Only locals would know that the Lower Mainland means Vancouver in British Columbia, all it’s bedroom communities, all the way up the Lower Fraser Valley. One big blanket of pure white snow.

Well, really, snow has covered the province, but in the Lower Mainland, we hardly are prepared for snow and the rest of the country laughs at us, simply waiting out the snow. Schools and Universities are closed. No one goes to work if they don’t have to. The roads don’t get cleared and the driving is dangerous, especially this time since there was a hard frost and black ice on the roads last night. There was a train derailment last night and it has disrupted all commuter train traffic for many of the Valley residents.

I love these days. The snow settles as tatted lace on every fine branch. Everything looks so pristinely clean. All sounds are muffled. There is no traffic and thus, no noise.

Now that I am at my computer, I can hear the gentle clack of computer keys, rustling like an icy brook as I type away. The computer is humming a steady electronic burrrr. Suddenly. in a loud burst, the furnace will come on, fanning delicious warmth into the house, then go silent again.

Outside the window, I can see that someone drove around my circular driveway during the night because there is a single car track paralleling the curve of it, if you can say parallel for something round. Equidistant maybe would be better. The track has been filled in with snow, this constant fine dry snow that is still falling, and the imprint is soft edged and clean. There are mysteries to be solved in the tracks of this silent blanket of snow. Perhaps it was the early morning newspaper delivery.

I’m not going to clear the walkway, so the postman most likely will not come.

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I’m cheating a little. This next picture is of my neighbour’s back yard from my upstairs window. I can spend a long time just looking at such beauty as this. Perhaps it’s because it will be gone in mere days – a visual treat that we rarely get needs to be savoured. It can lift the spirits and all cares are taken away, if only for a short while.

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Wherever you are, whatever you do, may you find beauty in the world that surrounds you.

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Twirling dirvishes at the wedding

January 28, 2008

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Mrs. Stepford’s son was married in August to his Glasgow sweetheart. His bridal princess wanted to be married in a castle, full regalia for the laddies, and so they did. Both father and son were got up in kilts, sporrans, white knee high socks and Ghillie brogues, those shoes that lace half way up the calf.

Mrs. Stepford missed out on the main event and so Mr. and Mrs. threw a party here in Canada for the bridal pair. It was a good gig with excellent food provided by the Stepfords but also from the parent’s friends who all wanted to excel over the Stepford’s other friends in bringing a specialty dish to feed the cast of thousands that were expected to come.

I had concocted a salad of macaroni, artichoke hearts, laced with finely chopped onions and celery to give it a bit of crunch, then topped with olives and parsley for decoration. I also had cooked a large pre-sliced ham since Mrs. S. didn’t have room in her oven for all three in hers.

I arrived at the reception on time, but barely. I’d had a migraine in the morning and nevertheless chopped a ton of red pepper, cilantro, parsley and green onions for her salads. Mid afternoon I took a nap and arose quite refreshed; but I was late. I had to hurry to get dressed, package up the things I was bringing and get myself out the door.

It was snowing again and I donned my boots for warmth and walking safety – better than just going in my slippery-bottomed leather shoes. Much to my dismay when I arrived, food parcels in hand, I had forgotten the shoes. The locale not being far from home, I returned home to pick up my shoes. This dithering is just an aftermath of migraine days so I don’t worry about it too much. I had realized that the setting up at the hall was well underway and they really didn’t need me for fifteen minutes.

I arrived back at the hall, dancing shoes in hand and proceeded to unwrap – snow encrusted umbrella, Sunday going-to meeting fur lined coat; warm, flat-heeled boots, only to discover to my mortification, that I had neglected to put stockings on. I was still wearing red leg warmers that peeked out with a frill at the bottom of my dress pants and below that bright pastel sky-blue fuzzy bed socks! God forbid that anyone should see this atrocious get up that I wear at home to keep myself warm. It was as if I had turned up in my pyjamas for this prestigious event!

Rapidly I removed the offending pastel blue socks and stuffed them in my coat pocket. I stuffed my now bare feet into my dancing shoes and looked around somewhat guiltily to see if anyone had noticed. It seemed not. Good grief! What was I going to come up with next!

Wedding feasts are wedding feasts; but wedding reception music differs widely and we were in for a treat. Both father and son belong to rock bands, father on bass guitar and son as lead singer. There are also a drummer, a lead guitarist who sings as well. As Stepford son belted out “I can’t get no satisfaction” I wasn’t particularly listening (my tastes run to Classical) and at the end of it and I breathed a sigh of relief that the loudness had diminished, I was quite surprised not to see Mick Jagger on stage, it was so well done. There were several other like tunes, recognizable, excellently played, excellently sung. For a home grown band, it was sounding mightily professional.

Stepford son had been hoping to get the entire invitational list up and dancing, but no one seemed ready to budge after having scarfed a wonderful dinner and several rounds of joy juice. That is, except three little girls who were high on coming to an adult party.

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By looks, I would imagine that the youngest was six or seven, the next one eight and the last one about ten. The only other “child” that was there was Stepford son’s cousin.

I said to this lovely shy girl, “What grade are you in now? Twelve?”

She looked a little frightened at my question and then a bit bit pleased, then enormously proud that I had taken her for an adult. She was only thirteen and in Grade Eight, she informed me. She comported herself so well that it was easy to make such a mistake.

The little girls seemed not to have any inhibitions about dancing. At first, I had only sensed that there was motion on the dance floor. Someone was up there but not worth paying much attention. Then a flash of red racing over the dance floor began to flicker regularly in my peripheral vision and I took my camera with me to see if I could capture the spellbinding dancing that was going on.

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Dance after dance, these little sprites were using up the floor space, sometimes running in circular motion, sometimes twirling; arabesques, pliés, petits jetés, pas de chats and pirouettes. They did not fatigue. There was boundless energy. The little red-skirted child twirled and twirled, then varied her choreography with some runs and graceful flailing of arms.

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The band eventually tired and the children continued to move about, dancing, wishing that music would recommence. Their parents gathered them around and began to say their goodbyes.

I came up and said both to parents, “That’s quite a dancer you’ve got there! Youthful energy! Don’t you wish we still had a fraction of that?”

And then to the little miss I said, ” Are you going to be a ballerina when you grow up?”

She drew her self up in the tallest reproval she could muster, indignant at my comment.

“I’m already am a ballerina!”

How true she was. She knew herself. Dancing, she was a human bundle of self confidence.

Not one of my pictures turned out. The digital camera simply could not focus on such a twirling dirvish. Nevertheless, there is a certain je ne sais pas quoi in these images of speed and innocent artistry.

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Writer’s cafe 3

January 28, 2008

Please read writer’s cafe and writer’s cafe 2, just previous posts, before reading this one.

Aimee held a pink sheaf of papers in one hand, a blue sheaf in the other. Tall, dark and willowy, she rose above us. Our group had reduced to eight.

“O.K” she stated loudly to capture our attention. “Tonight we are going to write for ten minutes and then share what we have written. It doesn’t matter what you write, but it has to contain these five words. Has everyone got a sheet like this?” and she held up her photocopied sheet with five lines for five words yet to be revealed.

“Here are the five words. By the way, does anyone need paper? A pen? I’ve got some here.” There were heads shaking from side to side. Everyone had come prepared for this event.

“O.K.” she resume. “Here they are. Cat. Hammer. Cell phone . Planet. And fork.”

She waited between each word to let each person write these words at the bottom of their pink photocopies. “You’ve got ten minutes, starting now and then we will read them out to each other.”

Here is what Kay wrote:

The cat was hammering a nail into her cat house (no – not that kind, I mean the kind a cat lives in).

She had decided upon a Victorian scroll over the front door. She was going to ask Mistress to paint it orange in hopes that some mice might think it was cheese and come sauntering by. But the phone rang.

“Damned cell phones!” grumbled the cat. “You can’t go anywhere without the blankety blank things catching up with you.”

“Planet Mouse Café calling,” said the voice squeaking at the other end of the line. “Is that Harriet the Cat?”
“Yes,” said Harriet the Cat, wondering how on earth the Planet Mouse Café had found her telephone number. Only land lines were listed on the Internet.

“You left your silver fork last time you were here. It’s got you name engraved on it.”

“I don’t own a fork!” Harriet the Cat retorted hotly. “Where did you get my telephone number?”

“It was on the washroom wall, Miss,” said the Planet Mouse Café owner.

“Well, it’s not mine. I don’t even eat with a fork. Is this some kind of trick>”

“Squeak, Squeak, Squeak” tittered the Maitre de mouse and hung up.

“Got her that time!” he exulted.

Damn Cat. Damn Cat house. He’d have to find another way to trap that cat!

More next time….

At the end of ten minutes, Aimee offered to start by reading her creation. It was wacky and wonderful. Then each read out their story. Each was kooky and inventive. It was marvelous to hear how each person had brought their own experiences to craft a tale in so short a time. There was experience in the gathering.

It was going to be a good group to join, Kay reflected, as she joined in the after-chat that ensued the telling of tales.

Writer’s cafe 2

January 28, 2008

Please read Writer’s Cafe, the previous post. This is a continuation

Slowly the writers arrived. There was Morris, an elderly man who had seen hard times. It was written on his lined, stubbly face and his gnarled hands. This man had stories to tell.

Ian whom Kay had seen at the Library Speaker’s series the evening before, arrived shortly afterwards. He sported a navy blue sailor’s cap with a blue visor. His eyes were bracketed with crow’s feet that doubled as laugh lines. He seemed a merry sort with a serious side to him.

Portly Mrs. Stepford was settling in with her coffee. Then Beth arrived dressed differently than the previous evening at the Library Speaker’s program. Kay had sat beside her by chance,  introduced herself and by miracle had remembered her name when she appeared today within the chair circle. Beth was with her friend Moira whom she introduced.

“It’s not fair changing your clothes and your hair style the day after I meet you,” challenged Kay in a joking way. “How am I supposed to remember you if you do? I’ve a bad enough memory as it is.”

“Oh, we all do now,” replied Beth. But almost everyone was new for Kay and she was working hard to keep people straight.

“I’m Sarah, from last time,” said a voice behind Kay and Kay swivelled to see her. Her mind went blank. Was she supposed to know this person?

“You know, from the Philosopher’s cafe,” Sarah continued. “I’m the manager of the cafe. ” A light bulb turned on in Kay’s mind as she re-registered this outgoing young woman. “Brunette, five foot two, always dressed in black. Sarah,” Kay noted silently, trying to force some memory to stick up in that sieve-like brain of hers.

Janice arrived and sat beside Mrs. Stepford. Janice had known Kay many years before in the Kootenays when both were teaching in a small country school. The hiatus between then and now had been over thirty years but the warmth in their reunion had been as if they had seen each other just last week.

Everyone was sitting, waiting for Aimee the dynamic leader and initiator of the group. Aimee was charged with endless energy. She was now sorting file folders full of papers on one of the tables, extracting piles of photocopied materials that were, in a way, coded by the colour of the paper they were printed on. The participants began to distribute the pink ones to their neighbours. Aimee announced loudly, “If this is it,  let’s move our chairs in closer so we can hear each other.”

There was a general shuffling and scraping of chairs and tables as they were positioned towards the centre. Coffee spilled. Papers were stained. People resettled, getting ready to begin.

Just as Aimee requested that we each introduce ourselves and mention what we had already written, a mother and daughter arrived. More shuffling and repositioning of tables and chairs occurred.

Ian started introductions. He was a cartoonist and illustrator. Next to him, the elderly man was Manuel. He had been an orphan very early and lived in various families before his teen years. He hadn’t much education, he said, but he wanted to tell his story. From his insistence, it seemed he wanted to select someone from the group to edit it and type it too. He was a man with a purpose. Mrs. Stepford suggested that he get a student on work assignment to help him type it. There was general agreement that this was a genial idea, though Manuel was disappointed that he hadn’t resolved his dilemma on the spot.

Mrs. Stepford reminded everyone that she was blind and writing was the only thing left for her to do. She was writing for her son and her granddaughter. She wanted them to know what her life was like where she had grown up in Hungary before the revolution. She wanted them to know about her ancestors, the qualities of her life and her escape from Hungary with her parents.Janice challenged her with, ” Excuse me, but how can you write if you are blind?” It was a good question and everyone leaned forward a little to hear the response.

“Well, I’ve had an operation on my left eye and I can’t see anything with it. The other one is not very good, but I write with very big print and then reduce it afterwards. I can’t paint anymore so writing has filled a creative need.” Mrs. Stepford continued on about her draft novel and her poetry.

She ended her personal blurb with “…and that’s about all,” then looked at Janice, signaling that the baton was passed.

Janice mentioned that writing was a pain for her, an effort. She had started writing on the school newspaper then had worked with Ma Murray writing for the Lillouet News. In her career, she had become an activist in the Union and had written extensively for the worker’s newspaper. With a waggish grin, she turned her head to the left. It was Kay’s turn to confess.

Kay rambled on about retiring, her mother who had passed away, how she had moved to the community only six months ago; how she was writing about hers and her mother’s relationship through life, about dying and death. It was hard to keep Kay from going on and on, as if to introduce herself she had to explain her whole life.

Abruptly she ended, turned her head to the left and the mother and daughter duo took up the task.

The mother had written for the newspaper; now she wanted to write for herself. Her daughter had just finished University. Now she wanted to turn her writing skills to a novel, but she didn’t know what yet.

Kay mused that this slip of a girl had hardly had enough experience in life to be writing a novel but you never knew. Some wonderful writers had published early. It wasn’t up to Kay to judge. For that matter, there was no judging to be done. This was just a sharing experience, not a contest.

Fay arrived in the midst of this – small brown skinned individual with a genteel British accent that was hard to define. There was a quiet moment amongst the others as she settled herself and then was invited to share her name and her writing experience.

“As a scientist, all my writing has been documentation,” she said. “Now I want to write stories.” It was that simple. She declined to add more details.

Aimee took back the reins of the meeting and provided her own view as a writer of poems only. One more latecomer arrived. It was Spring, a Chinese translator. By way of introduction, she scrambled in her carry all back and with shy triumph, she held up a blue book with white writing. It was all marked in Chinese with the exception of the title.

“Just published!” she said. “It was why I was late. I had to finish my work and then, the day was so stressful, I had to take a little rest before I could come.” Her accent was  pronouncedly Chinese.

Everyone clapped in appreciation of her feat. To be published! Kay wondered how she could write in English when she seemed not to have mastered the English  language.

And so it went until the round had been done. Everyone had brought a unique experience to share. Each had a passion for writing, whatever the form might be.

Moira stood and excused herself; she had children at home waiting for her. Manuel said he had to go, stood and left, disappointed that he had not been able to settle the matter of having a typist, and editor and a writer wrapped up into one.

Aimee stood and announced a time for coffee break. Dara stood and proposed that we move into the cafe. It was virtually deserted. The group was getting smaller. There would be room. Everyone rose and gathered their belongings. The evening’s written exercise was about to begin.

(to be continued)

Writer’s cafe 1

January 25, 2008

Out in the lobby of the office building, brushed aluminum chairs were arranged in a circular forum with matching tables, looking lonely and cold, waiting for the arrival of the small group of writers. Kay stepped out into the lobby while Mrs. Stepford lined up two cups of coffee.

“Save us a good seat”, she directed from her position in line.

“I’ll get the same ones as last time,” Kay called back as she advanced into the meeting space. One boy was seated at the far end of the circle; a second one deposited a Hostess Swiss Roll with an obvious bite out of it on the table directly opposite the seated boy. It was the farthest table from him. When he saw Kay he darted back to his friend and sat down looking innocent as an angel. His eyes darted back to the chocolate bait minus a bite and then quickly back to his friend. There was some semi-whispering that Kay could not hear. Both boys were dressed in black with baseball caps worn backwards. One wore a hoodie in camouflage pattern that was grey, white and black. They lounged on the chairs in adolescent nonchalance at the same time as they bristled with youthful energy.

Kay’s eyes too had darted from the half-roll to the boy and back. There was some gentle mischief going on and she smiled.

“Are you joining the writer’s group? she asked the perpetrator of the practical joke.

“Writer’s group?”

“Yes, the writer’s group is meeting is gathering here at seven o’clock. You are quite welcome to join us.” It was already five past and no one else had chosen a chair to sit in.It was Kay’s own brand of mischief. She was pretty certain that the boys had not been aware that their chosen spot was intended for anyone else but themselves.

“Oh no!” the boy said, both alarmed and a bit embarrassed. Just then, a third boy arrived, discovered his Swiss Roll sitting out on the table missing a crucial bite.

“Oh no you don’t,” he exclaimed as he dashed over to his companions, forcefully grabbed the box of treats from his friend’s hands and extracted a whole new one for himself. They giggled and wrestled, pushing and shoving, but once the chocolate permeated his mouth, the lad withdrew and concentrated on chewing and swallowing. They settled into a quiet conversation of kibutzing and teasing.

Mrs. Stepford arrived with her coffee; Kay went to fix it with milk and sweetener. By the time she came back, the boys were gone.

Kay goes to the gym – day 2

January 18, 2008

It was the second day. Kay was once again in the municipal leisure centre in the gym.

There were thirteen women and two men being exhorted to pedal faster and faster on their stationary bikes.

“You get more sweat out of me than when I take a three hour Saturday bike ride,” challenged one of the the men.

“That’s good,” shot back the woman who was beating them into a pedalling fury.

All the treadmills were occupied as were the elliptical trainers.

Kay looked at the various machines and chose one for arm exercises, set the weights to 5 pounds and started a set of twenty repetitions, pulling the overhead bar down to her chest. She was waiting for a machine that required the exerciser to pull two bars from one’s sides towards center front. Just as the machine came free, two muscular young men approached the machine and one sat upon it to demonstrate. The other fellow watched and listened to the how-to explanation.

“Mind if I watch?” said Kay. The last thing she wanted was for one of these bicep-tual men to get angry with her staring at him. Their arms looked altogether too muscular.

“Not at all,” he replied. “I’m a personal trainer. I’m glad to have people watch and learn.”

The other young man took his place and did his exercises. The trainer looked at Kay without a hint of surprise at a grandmotherly stout woman storming the precincts of the mostly male exercise generation.

To the young man, the trainer explained the machine’s operation and the muscles that were being worked, then he turned again to Kay.

“I can help you out with this, if you want. I like to show people how to use the machines. I only started exercising a short time ago and now I’m addicted. It the endorphins. When you exercise, the body produces them and you get happy. If you keep it up, you’ll feel wonderful. I guarantee it. You’ll feel addicted to it too.” He had such youthful assurance.

“And you couldn’t live without it now, I suppose?” I said, somewhat amused.

“No, I couldn’t. I come every day.” He answered seriously.

He was of East Indian background. He was tall and had good, solidly developed, muscles. His trainee was Caucasian and the same height, but he was definitely lacking the muscular structure of his companion. Kay reflected that Canadian society and its multicultural policies had done some good. It was pleasant to see these two lads interacting without any hint of racial tension.

“Well, really, I’m not a personal trainer yet, but everybody says I should be. I like people and I love to do these exercises,” the young man said, correcting himself.

Kay smiled. It was curious how his dishonesty had been rapidly corrected by an ethical elbowing of his conscience. She recognized, too, that he wanted to look after her. Perhaps he had a grandmother of his own and would have been proud of her had she wanted to join him in an activity that he loved. Moreover, it was delightful to find a young man who seemed to have no idea of age barriers. He must have wonderful parents to have brought him up so.

“My name’s Ravinder,” he offered.

“I’m Kay,” said Kay. It was the second time someone had welcomed her into this foreign land of exercise in two days. She would be back.

Kay goes to the gym

January 18, 2008

Kay stood at the doorway looking into the huge room filled with exercising machine. There was a sixty foot long wall glazed on the pool side so that tread-millers and elliptical machine users could gaze down on the public swimming. There were upside of sixteen machines. all but one in use at varying speeds. Mostly everybody was jogging, some were flat out running.

In between the machines and the doorway where Kay stood, there was a forest of chrome and steel exercising machines. She didn’t have a name for any one of them and yet each had a mysterious purpose that she was going to have to learn.

The franchised weight loss company she had been frequenting was simply not working for her. There, the machines were made for women, had large seats for their target audience. Everything was painted white. Here the seats were small and thin and the metal parts were painted black. She assessed them with a critical eye. They would be uncomfortable, she decided, and the predominance of black was foreboding.

Kay moved into the room slowly, alertly assessing her surroundings. There were about thirty people, mostly men aged twenty to forty, muscular and fit. She counted three women and one of those appeared to be attending a small reception desk with a sign tacked behind it on the wall, “Ask for the wobble board.”

As she progressed, still alert, a small ball came hurtling at her, only to bounce off the glass before it could impact. One of two men in a glassed in chamber picked up the ball and threw it towards the opposite wall. This must be racket ball, she thought, and she stayed to watch the graceful chase and swing of the two men. The opposite wall was surprisingly white and unmarked but the side walls had streaks of grey where the ball had hit time and time again. It made an interesting pattern.

“Excuse me, ” stated a young man’s voice, startling Kay back to her assessment of the room. She shifted over two feet to let him pass. She had been blocking access to the open cube storage unit where people left their jackets, outdoor shoes and miscellaneous belongings.

A bit dazed and undecided, she located a free cube and place her boots, jacket and swim equipment in it, then took her cotton exercise slippers from her bag and put them on her feet.

She turned back to the reception desk. A svelte woman of thirty was sitting, working at her lap top computer.

“May I have the wobble board?” Kay asked.

“Do you know how to use it?” the woman asked sharply. Her eyes swept up and down Kay’s stout frame.

“I think it may be the only thing I know how to use,” she replied. “I’ve been working out at another gym where I used to live, but nothing here looks the same.” Kay fought a compulsion to validate herself; to explain why she was here.

The woman groped under the counter for the equipment, looked quizzically as if the board had disappeared, then twisted and bent to look under the counter. She bobbed back up and declared “Here you are!”

I have the same right as anyone else,” Kay silently assured herself as she held out her hand to accept the circular board. She then walked away, wobble board in hand, towards the stretching area. There was no bar to stabilize on. There really was no place to work on it. She turned and went back to the woman.

“I need somewhere to hold on to. Where does one usually do that?” Kay asked.

A fleeting expression of understanding then of perplexity crossed the woman’s face. She paused, closed her lap top, and came out from behind the desk. With a nod of her head, she signaled Kay to follow. “You can hold on here,” she said. It was one of the tall chrome and black steel machines with four sets of weights and pulleys, one in each corner; three of them were occupied by men with muscular biceps and triceps. Why aren’t these men out at work,” thought Kay. It was two o’clock in the afternoon. She tried not to look at their tattoos. Each man looked as if he could rip a telephone book in half with his bare hands. Were they gang members keeping in shape for brawling? Or policemen trying to keep in better shape to catch gangs?

Kay wobbled on the board, less familiar with it’s operation than she had hoped. It was meant to strengthen her ankles and improve her balance; but the one she had previously used while recovering from her fall only wobbled from side to side, or, if turned in the other direction, rocked backwards and forwards. This round one wobbled all over. It took a higher level of skill. Kay grasped the steel upright with two hands and held on tightly as she teetered erratically from side to side. She wished ferverently that this was the only exercise she had to do and then she could go, but she knew it was not true. Too bad her prescribed time for it was only three minutes. She looked briefly at the three other users of the equipment unit. They were absorbed in their own activities. They had no interest in an old girth-girl dressed in an orange sweater and baggy knit trousers.

As she loosened up on the board, so she loosened up in her mind. She was, after all, a mature woman. Who cared what she looked like? If nothing else, Kay had learned some self-acceptance. She was who she was. She was thankful for the opportunity to use the equipment; thankful that her new municipality provided such good exercising equipment at such an economical cost to its citizens. And besides, how was she to get control of her weight if she didn’t exercise.

Kay returned the board to the desk then strode over to the treadmills. It was always best to warm up before working out, she knew.

While four joggers jogged and six runners ran, Kay, feeling crippled by her latest fall, gingerly walked at a largo pace, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer;” she muttered to herself, “exercise equipment wasn’t really what Thoreau had in mind when he wrote it,” she added, then chuckled.

She timed herself for five minutes then slowed the machine and stopped it. Back she went to the attendant.

“Could you please show me how the machines work?” she asked.

“Does your doctor know you are doing this?” the woman replied.

“Yes, the doctor wants me to do this,” Kay replied.

“If you don’t know the machines, you really should book an appointment with a personal trainer,” said the woman.

But Kay was not going to be dismissed.

“I know what I’m supposed to work on. It’s just that the machines aren’t the same brand. I’ve done months of physio for my falls. Now I have to keep it up. I just don’t recognize the machines. I need a refresher and then I can do it. I’ve already got a plan. I just need to work out. I was going to another gym but they don’t have the equipment I need for my rotator cuff (Kay pointed to her shoulder) and my iliotibial band (Kay pointed to her right thigh).”

Those were magic words. If Kay knew those technical names for body parts, she couldn’t be quite so nyophyte as she looked. The woman led Kay to the same machine that had served as a support for the wobbling exercise. She attached a ring, demonstrated an arm exercises, then handed the ring to Kay; then another; then another.

Kay executed the moves smoothly, evenly.

“Good form,” the attendant said. There was a tinge of reserved respect in the voice.

Half an hour later, Kay departed, warm jacket and boots replacing the exercise slippers.

“What’s your name?” the attendant asked.

“Kay,” Kay said simply. “What’s yours?

“Brenda. I’m here Tuesdays and Wednesdays for half days. I’ll help you again next time. If I’m not here, don’t push it. Go slowly if you are only getting back into it. We want you back again. If you get sore, you won’t come back. We want to make you a regular.”

Kay waved a final good bye. She smiled. She’d made a friend of sorts; had softened up the attendant. She’d be back tomorrow and after tomorrow, looking like an orange pumpkin amongst the muscular boys. This could be fun!

Zounds!

January 15, 2008

“Dorothy? Can I stay overnight at your place? I have to go to the dentist relatively early in the morning on Monday. I don’t want to have to drive in at 5″30 in the morning to get there. Besides, we could go out and have dinner. I haven’t seen you for a month. ”

And so it was that Kay stayed for the first time ever at Dorothy’s on Sunday night.

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Kay pulled her leg warmers down over her feet, lowered them to the carpet and tiptoed to the bedroom door, down the hall to the guest bathroom, entered, closed the door, turned the handle carefully and slowly so that there was no sound and then turned on the light.

Her hostess Dorothy was sleeping in the next room, door open wide.

Just before retiring, Dorothy had remarked, “I leave the door open ever since this apartment was broken into. I don’t know what I’d do if someone came in, but it makes me feel better if I can hear what is going on in the apartment. I listen for noises. Just after the break-in, I listened all night. Now I sleep better, but I still think I’m alert now, even in my sleep.”

Kay wasn’t about to waken Dorothy with unaccustomed light nor noises. They’d had a rather fun evening exploring the Paint program in amongst the Accessories, creating an imaginary character with wool-like hair, spectacles and a goatee. Kay was handling the laptop “mouse pad” mechanism for the first time in the Paint program, resulting in hilarious errors as the “mouse” leapt across the drawing in a straight line, or erased a critical nose part, only to be restored by a simple “undo” action.

Returning to her warm bed, Kay reversed the sequence, always mindful of the bullet sharp sounds that every movement seemed to make. She crawled back in under the covers, pulled them up under her chin and then, far too awake, assessed the niggling sensation behind her eyes. “Oh, not another migraine,” she bewailed silently. She was expected at the dentist at eleven. There was no way she could allow the darned migraine to invade and take over. Dental appointments were too hard to get and she was already in town to get it. Living in the outskirts had its disadvantages – the long trip into town was a major one.

Once again she rose, pulled her leg warmers over her feet. Tile floors were just too cold to bear. She turned on the light which was overpowering, given the shift from almost black night to an overhead hundred-watt bulb. and she started to empty her travelling tote, piece by piece. It hadn’t been emptied since her Ottawa Christmas trip. Here were black ink drawing pens closed up in Ziplock plastic bags (to ensure they didn’t explode with pressure in high altitude) and business cards, also enclosed in Ziplock, to keep them clean and to protect the corners ), the toothbrush and tooth paste bag, the diary in case she decided to write, her sketch book, the Ramabai Espinet novel, her wallet, her red belt, and finally the bag with medications for travel sickness, for migraine and daily vitamins.

Kay extracted a single migraine remedy then returned all the unneeded items to the large black tote Now she needed water to take it with and a bit of food. The little warning messages on the pill bottle were not there for nothing.

This meant another silent foray out into the hallway and down to the kitchen to get the water. Kay carefully doused the light, opened the door, tiptoed down the hallway in the dark. The low light coming from the outside street light was sufficient for navigation.

In the dark and sombre kitchenette, she extracted a used cup from the sink. She had no idea whose cup was whose, but at this point, it mattered little. She couldn’t go poking in cupboards nor was she about to run more water than she needed to wash the darned thing.

Kay set the cup under the tap and opened the valve slowly hoping the trickle of water would be less noisy than a full rush of water. Then she shifted over to the microwave and carefully opened the door, controlling the opening mechanism slowly so that it would not make a sound. With the light from the open microwave door, she selected and set her buttons, One minute, then Start, and placed the cup inside. Carefully, she controlled the opening mechanism as she now shut the door.

CLUNK! The door closed and began to whir in a loud fan roar.

All the caution in the world had not helped attenuate the sound. For one full minute, the fan growled as the microwave platter spun. Kay’s ears perked like a cat’s on mouse patrol. Nothing else stirred. Perhaps Dorothy would sleep through this. Heaven’s knew, we’d headed to bed late, and Dorothy had to leave for work at seven-thirty. There was only a half hour before the alarm would go off.

Back in the guest room, Kay extracted a snack pack of Hawkins Cheesies from her tote. The plastic wrapper crackled and rustled as she opened it. Bon Dieu! Would nothing stay silent! Kay grumbled to herself. One never knew when such a medical emergency kit as Cheesies might be needed. She swallowed the pill, drank down the warm quaff of water and munched a few of the cheddar treats.

Moments later, she turned off the light and she was back under the covers, awake, alert, waiting for the medicine to take effect. It was the one dubious pleasure of the migraines or the near migraines. The pills activated a light show that rivaled the Benson and Hedges fireworks displays. Behind her closed eyelids, a lime coloured blob would slowly form and swim upwards being replaced by a luminous purple shape, equally fluid in form. The purple would swim leisurely upwards, replaced by a red blob, following. The lime would reappear, push the other shapes up and out of view only for them to reappear underneath chasing the red. Tucked in the interstices of the moving colour show were rich dark colours made up of tiny pixels in red, green and black.

Kay drifted into the colours, warm and pleased that the trace of migraine was completely disappearing. If only she could have an hour of uninterrupted sleep, she would be just fine for the dentist at eleven. It had been 5:30 when she had doused the guest room overhead light.

“Are you moving?”

It was Dorothy’s wake up call, bright and brittle. Kay looked at her watch. Seven o’clock. Funny how the three weeks past the Winter Solstice had brought back an earlier morning light with it.

She had to be away by seven thirty, on the road for other appointments before the dentist. She rose and dressed, packed her belongings ready to go. There was no need to be silent now. There was no time to waste. The world was stirring and Dorothy was making a noisy clatter in the kitchen drawing the frying pan from the cupboard, the cupboard doors and the fridge doors opening and closing.

As we finished eating an omelet, Kay asked, “Did you hear me get up in the night? Did you hear me in the kitchen?”

“I heard you move around. I went right back to sleep. I didn’t hear you in the kitchen.”

As Kay drove off in my car a few minutes later, she reflected on the nature of sound – how a simple sound is lost in a normal context; how it amplifies in the silence of the night like an explosion or a gunshot; how it can comfort, like the whir of the furnace automatically turning on; or disturb, like the newspaper hitting the screen door at midnight in a quiet house; or puzzle, when a steady drip cannot be found; but a sound that never seems to tone into it’s surroundings is the CLUNK of the microwave door.

Silence

January 7, 2008

Kay pulled the duvet closer to her chin, turned restlessly onto her side and kept her eyes shut. It was warm, comfortable and dark but it was no good. She turned on her left side, her right leg drawn up towards her chin. She adjusted the pillow to support her head, pulled the duvet back up under the chin and thought of Mother. She could see the photo of her on the mantle above the gas chimney with that Mona Lisa expression that you could not decipher. Perhaps it was a smile, but just as easily it was a tight, forbearing grimace of someone not willing to accept what just might be about to occur; or a very polite boredom.

Now what did that mean?, thought Kay. It was no time of night to let one’s mind go wandering. It was too hot under the duvet and she tossed it off, felt about for her glasses on the headboard. She hooked the side wings on her ears and peered at the large red letters of the digital alarm clock that she had bought for her mother. It had a built in night light that glowed just enough to define the objects in the room – the single bed, the simple dresser topped with a Japanese vase, the little screen behind it, the lamp which would be too bright to turn on in this otherwise pitch black. The clock flickered and the numbers changed to 5:00.

Kay rose and went to the bathroom guided by the night lights and returned. Maybe that would settle her. It was far too early to be getting up. She put her night sweater around her shoulders, carefully repositioned herself on her side, drew up the duvet and readjusted the pillow. She closed her eyes firmly against the night light which now seemed too bright. Try and get another hour or two of sleep, she counselled herself. God knows, you need it.

As she pulled the edge of the duvet cover under her chin, Franc came to visit her thoughts. He must be in Cambodia by now. His flight would have taken him twenty four hours, and then there was his travel out of the city by bus up to the beach resort. What would he do there? How lonely was he? Would the newness of the travelling occupy him for a while? Make him happy?

He had looked altogether too thin at the airport; the conversation was altogether too brittle.

He had leapt out of the car, extracted his brand new backpack on wheels, and returned to give Kay a peck on the cheek.

“I’m getting out for a hug,” she said and didn’t allow him to complete his gesture. She came around and held him, her hand on his waist, and she looked up searchingly into his rigid eyes. There was silence for a dreadful moment, then, “Well, have a good trip. Take good care of yourself.” It sounded hollow.

He was stiff and brittle, hardly daring to feel. Perhaps he didn’t know what he was going off towards either. “Iis there anything else to be said?” he asked. He was waiting for a word that did not come.

Kay was still caught in that dreadful silence with Franc that had overcome her since July. She didn’t dare speak. What could she say? Nothing had been resolved; nor would it be, perhaps. Something had broken badly and perhaps it couldn’t be fixed. Worst of all, she couldn’t say what she felt to him. It was too dangerous.

“No. I don’t think so, ” she said. She could not tell him she still loved him, despite everything. It was fraught with emotional danger for them both.

“Well, then,” he replied, bent so slightly forward to touch Kay’s lips with a dry, perfunctory kiss. He shook out the handle on his pack and wheeled it into the terminal.

What was it, Kay thought, that made her care so much? Why had she cared about so much about Mother, lonely and huddled in her big house with four other people, family, passing like tankers in a commercial shipping lane, tooting a horn, waving, never communicating. Kay remembered her sunk into the large floral arm chair. looking smaller and smaller, waiting. Waiting for Kay to come home. Waiting for someone to make her a cup of tea. Worried about the light bill going up. Not willing to put on the lights for a few cents of electricity while she waited. Not just for the tea, but for someone to ask her what her day was like. Someone to ask about the outside world where one worked, played, shopped; anything but this sitting and waiting.

What was it that made her care so much? For the baby robin that had fallen from it’s nest, which she had found at the bottom of the garden when she was six or so.

Why was she worrying about Franc? Franc, who in his fury in July, had left her without a word for five months until his cat died, and then he called, frantically grieving, not just for his cat but for the loss of their relationship. Franc, who was now heading off into a world that she did not know. Would he be safe? Who would he call if he ran into difficulty? Those countries could be volatile, harsh, unforgiving. Tourists were not always welcome.

Kay restlessly turned onto her back and readjusted the pillows . She was wide awake now. She listened Where there had been dead silence, now there was the swishing of a car approaching from a distance, clarifying into a rumble then moving back off into the other distance. A crescendo and diminuendo of car noise on asphalt. It seemed precise and specific then it disappeared into nothingness. Silence.

Kay listened intently. It was a few moments before another car went by. It was funny, she reflected, that at midnight when she went to bed, this house could have been out in the wilderness. There was not a sound to be heard. It was that delicious, safe dark silence that you could sink into and sleep well with. Another car went by. Kay, still listening and alert, could hear a truck approach, pass and go away. Different vehicles had different sounds. It was mostly cars, but there were vans, motorcycles, light trucks and heavier ones. There was a different sound when two cars went by one after the other. People were heading off to work. There were fewer and fewer silences between them, like the exposition and development of a fugue, the same tunes built up and combined together, each with it’s distinct melody, reaching a pitch of cacophony.

Kay turned on her right side, felt for her glasses, put them on. It was only 5:33.

This is pointless, she thought. I’m not sleeping. I’m not fixing anything by all this. Might as well get up, get a coffee and spend the time writing.

And she did.

Wintery pictures

January 6, 2008

Today, I’d just like to refer you to a site with some wintery pictures:

http://www.artiseternal.wordpress.com