Archive for April, 2009

Out walking

April 29, 2009

The wind rushed by her ears creating a rumbling sound like thundering waterfalls. In the clouds above, an airplane droned as it headed towards the local airport.  The river flowing between the two dike banks appeared to be flowing backwards with the the surface ruffles moving southwards instead of north.

At the corner with the penned up chickens, they huddled together like penguins under the one shade tree, protecting themselves from the gusts of wind.

Though it was bright and sunny, few people were walking the gravel path but Kay had missed her walks for four days and needed to be out in the fresh air. She leaned into the wind, striding forward, urging herself on with the Nordic Poles.  Hair whipped about her face. She stopped and wrapped the shawl collar of  her cardigan closer about her neck.

“No use catching a cold,” she muttered as she  carried on.

All the trees were now sporting their new spring dresses, bright green, and where  old beaten grasses lay only two weeks ago, a new sturdy green has pushed up from below obliterating the pale ochre of winter.

A large blue heron came in for landing along the dike pathway then just before touching down, veered in towards the river and began an ascent with its massive grey wings.

“Curious,” she thought, “that in the distance, everything looked calm, but here, near at hand, everything was roiling with the wind.”

She turned at the two kilometer mark and went back home.

Boxed

April 24, 2009

Kay arrived home from morning coffee to find the mail sticking out of the black box affixed to the front entrance pillar.  The latest lottery offering was there and advertisements for a Central Vacuum System, a health club, a massaging bathtub, a tanning coupon, a Brinks home security system, and the local Animal Hospital. There was a subscription renewal for Folio Books and there were two solicitations for charity.  Gone were the days when people actually wrote to you in their cursive script.  Today’s gathering of the mail rated a two out of ten. Kay sighed.

It was time to get down to business. The studio tour was only two days away and there was still much to do.  She went to her kitchen counter where a motley collection of little notes  was gathered, each with a list of planning items.  She ripped up three that had successfully been completed and chucked them in the waste basket; then, just as she decided that bill paying might be the next good thing if she were to avoid penalties, the door bell rang.  A courier with her much anticipated parcel was shifting from foot to foot, impatiently wanting to be on to his next location.

She took the parcel from him and inspected the thin kraft envelope. Yes, it was from the accountant.  She ran her fingers down the flap seal twice before noticing that it was a peel and stick flap  and that it hadn’t particularly stuck.

Kay pinched the lifted corner and slowly tugged  until the flap opened entirely without a tear  and she extracted her tax return. Flipping to the summary page, she was relieved to see that she would have a small return this year. It was a blessing.

She assumed that the other papers in the envelope were a double – that she would sign and send one copy and keep the other.  She returned to the file and inspected it until she reassured herself that everything was just as she expected. Taxes were a necessary evil.

There was an instruction page and she read it carefully. There were papers to return to the accountant. There were forms to send forward to the taxation agency.  There were copies of some and not of others.  Kay set about scanning and printing the duplicates she needed.

The second batch of papers, it turned out, were the Estate taxes.  She verified those accounts with a greater attention, noting that, here, there were taxes to be paid.  She’d have to go to the bank and put sufficient funding in the chequing account from the interest bearing account.

Two hours later – more scanning, more printing, more preparing envelopes and finding postage for them – Kay embarked upon a trip to the bank. It was four o’clock. Her whole day had been hijacked, but what else could she do? The submissions had to be in within days and there was no use being late – the penalties were not pennies and dimes.

The sun shone brightly, so warm for an April day that it felt like summer, not spring.  When she inserted her key into the ignition and started the car, she sat thankfully absorbing the heat that had built up inside it.  It has been cold in the house, she realized.

Amongst her letters to mail was a letter for a local charity which she decided to drop off at their headquarters on her way home. The office closed at five.

I’ll drop by the thrift store on the way home,” she promised herself. It was a reward for having had to do office work. The tasks had not been unpleasant, just boring. She deserved a reward.

She met Rosanne, the investment officer at the bank,  and was finished her business there in minutes. She posted the mail just outside the bank door.  She stopped by the liquor store for a bottle of wine and a can of beer.  She never drank beer, never had. It was for her garden slugs.  The slugs were pesky things, destructively eating all the new foliage of tender vegetable seedlings.  A tub of beer set into the ground, holes for entry just below the lid, lured the beasties in and they died a happy drunken death instead of glutting themselves on the vegetables.

Kay cornered a clerk. “Can you buy just one can of beer?” she asked.

“You can only get imported beer in singles,” said the sales associate and she pointed to the far end of the store.  Kay mused that her slugs were getting mightily well spoiled by her purchase.  Amongst the  Danish, German, Austrian, Irish, Japanese and Chinese beers, Kay searched for the most economical can.  The slugs were not connoisseurs as far as she knew. Price would be the deciding factor.

The line-up at the liquor store was long.  A second clerk opened up a second till and Kay switched to that line-up, waiting impatiently while the clerk interrupted her service to open up another big box of Earth Day cloth shopping bags that the store was giving away with every purchase.

“Oh great!” groaned Kay. “It’s Earth Day and we are celebrating by producing a ton of new, non bio-degradable shopping bags to give to people whether they needed it or not.” It was illogical and inane. Kay’s thrift shop reward was ticking, slipping away down to nothing. It was more important to be at the Charity office before five.

I’m going to go with the flow,” Kay admonished herself to be patient. There was no use in getting annoyed and then getting unpleasant. The poor clerk was only doing her job. “Try humour“, Kay continued to counsel herself as she fretted over the delay. So, as she paid for her purchase she said cheekily, an impish look in her eye,  “The wine’s for me. The beer’s for the slugs in my garden.”

Kay, of course, had been focusing on the time ticking away, watching each slow movement of the clerk opening up the Earth Day bag box. She hadn’t noticed the tall, handsome lads in their mid-thirties, rippling muscles, arms decorated with tattooed dragons and warriors right down to their elbows.

“I’ll be your garden slug if you’ll buy me beer!” laughed the tallest one.

Kay blushed. He was thirty and handsome. She found no answer so she grinned and moved away, heading back to the car.

Kay unlocked the trunk and placed her purchase within then moved to the left to get into the car.

Impossible.

The white van on the left had parked over the white line. There was no room between the cars to even get to the door much less open it and get in.  She moved to the right side of the car.  A huge pick-up truck, shiny and silver, 4X4 marked in large letters on the side was equally parked so close to the line that the distance between the two vehicles was just short of  twelve inches. Now what to do?
“I’m not going to let anything spoil this beautiful sunny day,” Kay commanded herself, though she  realized that no matter what she did, there was no way she could get into the car until one of the two vehicles moved. It was beautifully warm and trees were blossoming and rigging out in their new-leaf finery. She decided to wait.  That is, the decision had been made for her. She had no choice.

She leaned against the car and watched as people approached. A family with a child in a pram came towards her but they stopped across the aisle of cars and got into a van.  Two women walked together proceeding in the right direction then went straight past the truck and beyond.  A man came carrying a formal business suit in his two outstretched arms as if he were bearing a religious offering. Fifteen minutes passed.

She decided to get a coffee to bring back to her vigil. Her proposed thrift reward had come and gone. It was not to be.

As Kay  stood in the coffee line-up, she continued her observations. A tiny woman full of bristling energy ordered a chai latte.  A curious woman with a porcelaine coloured skin waited patiently for her order.  She must have been at least fifty, maybe sixty, with brittle, damaged hair dyed too black, sporting a pony tail that cascaded from the top right side of her head like a misplaced fountain.  It was her palid skin that made her look so odd – so smooth on the cheeks but wrinkled finely about the eyes and the cosmetic rouge and the bright red lipstick were as if painted on a clown.

Outside again, Kay returned to the car, stumped by her problem. As she sipped her coffee, she tried to divine how long she might have to wait. She herself had been there a full hour by now. Both drivers had arrived after her. It was too early for dinner. They wouldn’t be in the restaurant. What if they were in one of the doctor’s offices?  She could be waiting a long time. Or if it were a woman, trying on clothes? That too could be long. A man approached carrying two Earth day bags full and heavy with liquor store purchase but he walked right on by to a car four spots away.

A woman detached herself from her outdoor cafe chair walked towards Kay then stopped a car two spots away.

As she was opening the driver side door, Kay called,” You wouldn’t know by any chance who owns the car beside you, would you? I’m boxed in.”

“Not the next one, but the white van – it’s the guy with the beard there at the cafe.”  and she pointed to a group of men sitting outside enjoying the sunshine and their conversation.

Why hadn’t she thought to ask before? Kay chastised herself. There they had been sitting, all this time.  She approached the group and asked. The man came immediately and moved the van.

She drove home. It was too late. The Charity office was closed and so was the thrift and now she was late and had work to do.

What DID I do today, anyway?

April 19, 2009

Hugh came and went. Leo and Evelyn came to visit. There were a few days in between for catching up.

Leo and Evelyn left Friday morning. The day went by where I just put things away and slept a long nap in the afternoon. Mrs. Stepford invited me for dinner so I didn’t even have to cook. There was an exhibition opening at the Fort Gallery and we went. It’s such a happening little gallery that we like to support them.

This afternoon, Saturday, I had a nagging feeling that I hadn’t accomplished anything. What had I done? I remember my older sister Heather bewailing her uselessness one day.

“The trouble is,  it goes on day after day. I never seem to accomplish anything. My husband used to come home and ask me what I had done and I couldn’t tell him. It was all so ordinary and so I just felt stupid and hapless.

“When I was bringing up the kids, it seemed that I had no purpose, no value because I never got anything done. Then I read somewhere that it was a common feeling amongst stay-at-home mothers. They recommended that every time you did something, you write it down.”

“Now when my stalwart husband comes home and asks what I’ve done I just bring out the list. It’s amazing, really.”

Well, I have no kids. I’m not keeping house for a handful of people. I’ve just got me to take care of. Thank goodness! I’ve had my turn; I’ve done enough taking care of others. Now it’s time to take care of me! And yet, here was that nagging feeling. And Mrs. Stepford called at end of day to recount her day, ending with “And what did you do today?” I groped for an answer.

Now that I write it all done, I didn’t do too badly.

First of all there were beds to change as  visitors have left and new linens for the next visitor are de rigeur. I stripped the beds of their sheets. Then I went on a hunt for anything else that needed washing. The laundry was chugging away, sloshing back and forth by the time I had my first coffee.

First coffee was savoured over an inspection of e-mail. There was a missive from Marcia recounting how she had recovered from a broken ankle only to have fallen in a sports accident, breaking her wrist of her best hand. Zut! Life is not fair. Those recovering bones are just too miserable to bear. I spent a while writing a letter back to cheer up her day, then I went to the piano and practiced the latest Prelude of Bach’s that I’m working up plus two of Brahms Waltzes. The piano took up ten minutes.

I was collecting my second cup of coffee of the morning when Mrs. Stepford called.  I reminded her that she was going to give me her opinion on what to put up for the Art Studio Tour. It’s rapidly approaching – just five days away. She came for coffee and made suggestions.  I took down paintings and put others up. Some worked as expected, others  didn’t. We descended into the vaults and brought up a few more paintings.  We got something tolerably interesting and then she left.

I moved the cherry wood table, the one with the barley cane legs,  so that I could put small paintings out on it; covered it with a protective felt so that the paintings wouldn’t scratch the surface; then covered it with a table cloth in a nice cream colour.  It’s perfect for setting off the paintings.

By that time, the laundry had stopped sloshing and was spun mostly dry.  It being a warm spring day, I decided to use the clothes line instead of the dryer, in honour of Mother Earth. I haven’t used it since last October, so I had to wash off the clothes line, mucky dirty thing that it had become.

I actually washed it down three times. The first seemed to just loosen the winter’s accumulation of grime. The second removed most of it. The third cleaned it well enough to hang the clothes. Then I fetched the basket of damp linens and clothing and hung them out, organizing them as I went so that the things that dry easily could be brought in before the terry towels that seem to hold onto their moisture.  Two hours later, everything was bone dry.

I made some lunch and ate it, lounging in front of CBC business news. It’s what was on.  With hundreds of available channels, nothing else seemed interesting, mid day on a Saturday. I lingered over lunch and decided that I was still quite tired. Those visitors just wore me out! So I stretched out on the couch and snoozed a full hour.  It was now mid afternoon and I had plenty to do!

I’d been soaking both broad bean seeds and Golden yellow wax beans for the past three days.  They were shedding the outer skin and the first signs of life were sprouting out.  I fetched the potting soil and filled the twelve four-inch pots, planting them, then putting them in the sun room to let them establish themselves before digging them into the garden.

There were too many beans left over, even though I had planted them three to a pot,  so I took the remainder, some thirty beans, and planted them directly in the garden – the one at the back fence that I cleared up for some food production. Hah! Last year I produced one bean from eight plants that I put in. Some nasty hungry other beast (probably a slug) crunched all the leaves until there were none left and only one plant survived. “Better luck next year!” I could hear chanting in my ears. Next was really now. I was going to give it another go. If other people can garden, I should be able to as well.

While I was out there, I thought I might as well put the marigold seeds in because either they would develop or wouldn’t, but either way, they needed to be started or they would never grow. I couldn’t start them inside. There was no room.

It wasn’t so simple.  I had to get out the hoe to loosen up the soil and pick out the flourishing weeds. While I was at it, I continued to loosen up another area of the garden and move a primula out to the front where I have several others. I found a Lady’s Mantle baby coming up through the earth in the back yard. By one definition, a weed is a plant in the wrong place. There were several other Lady’s Mantle  plants in the front. I moved that one too.

I could hear Mr. Stepford cutting branches in the yard next door. Matthew was cutting the lawn and there was a strong possibility that he would be around to cut mine for the first time of the season. I had to rake up or pick up all the winter debris before he came. I changed tack and got out the red rake – the metal one with the tines spread wide so as not to damage the plants while still being able to bring twigs and branches out of the flower beds. I raked up cedar fronds left by the Western Scissorbill; I raked up cones donated like an unneeded door prize by the cedar and the fir trees during the winter to my back garden. The raking took an hour. The yard is that big. There was that much debris.

I put away the hoe and the rake after piling this rubbish into two piles, ready for bagging to take to the yard waste depot. I still had fennel to plant, but no time to do it.  It would have to wait for another day.  It was time for tea.

The afternoon had disappeared. It was almost five and the Antiques Road show was coming on. I usually miss it but today I didn’t have to. I had just enough time to heat up a beverage and get a snack to stave off hunger for dinner. I poured out a dish full of Kashi cereal. It’s like candy since it’s sweetened, but its good for you. Now there’s a combination!

During the commercials, I prepared a light dinner. There was a ready roasted chicken waiting for me in the fridge. I just had to heat it and do a vegetable.  I watched a poor but fortunate Englishman bring in a little wine taster from Perth, the Antiques man informed him.

Thinking he had something worth about two hundred pounds, he was told that the simple little silver cup was really worth twenty thousand pounds since it was so rare and from the Sixteenth century. He’d been keeping it in the glass curio case along with modern porcelaine bibelots.  I ask you, how does that poor bloke go home with his treasure and live with it. He would have to pay an enormous amount of insurance for it. Everybody knows he’s got it since it’s been shown on TV. What a target for theft he would be, all of a sudden.  I’d be worried about getting home safe and sound. Even if it had been in the family for a thousand years, I think I would pack it off to a museum with a good security system and go visit it when the spirit moved! And pay off the mortgage.

I ate my dinner listening to and watching CBC news. The flooded banks of the Red River occupied half the news time. The pictures were awesome! The town of Morris was still hanging in there like a medieval village with a gigantic moat.  Some farms outside the dikes were swallowed up by water, a tiny tip of a silo sticking up to mark it’s place. Others were like floating model farms – a breached dike, a ring of golden winter grasses still cresting it, the water encroaching on the buildings on higher ground – a barn for animals and one for the major machinery,  mostly sunken fences around pastures and the yard, a house and three elm trees for shade.  All around, grey  water rushed by carrying uprooted debris and massive blocks of broken ice.

“Well that’s dinner,” I said to myself. That gave me an hour and a half to do something until eight o’clock when my favourite program of the week was coming on. So I started to clean up the kitchen, wash the dishes, empty the dishwasher and put them in the china cupboard. I put away the million and one things that were sitting on the counter. Those done, I rang up Lizbet and then Dorothy. Neither of them were home.

I checked my e-mail and had responses back from the latest art post.  There was editing to do; titles to put on the pictures; credits to insert. The insidious Freecell got in my way and I had to play a dozen games before it would go away.

I set out two toppling piles of desk papers to sort through during the eight o’clock program. I never got to sorting them. Hugh beckoned – we Skyped for an hour as he brought me up to date on his brother’s and mother’s news which was disquieting. We chewed upon it, trying to think how best to help in a difficult situation. Hugh was down with a nasty flu bug and needed some mothering. (Is there such a word as auntying?)  When I signed off on the call, the program announced that we had talked for thirty-seven minutes and twenty-three seconds.

When the television program was finished, the mess in the studio room that just has to be away before Friday called rather peremptorily. I dutifully packed up the acrylic paints that I wasn’t going to use before Friday. I put away the watercolour brushes. I took the construction paintings and tried to hang them on the existing nails in the studio.  With that series of paintings up, I had to take down the others. They weren’t a good aesthetic match.  There’s a pile of paintings to go down to the basement before Friday, but that can wait until tomorrow.  I was no longer interested in doing stairs at this late hour.

It was eleven o’clock when Mrs Stepford called.

She recounted her dinner out at the Boathouse in New Westminster and what she had ordered. She commented on conversations and caricatured the personalities of people she had sat beside, all of them Mr. Stepford’s friends and colleagues from work. Then she said,

“And what did you do today?”

“Oh, not much. You know. I put away some stuff. Did household chores. Moved around some paintings. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

Thunder and wisdom

April 17, 2009

There was a crack of thunder that trembled the whole house. Just one.

Outside the window, the trees began to churn and swirl as if the branches had been added to a front load washing machine. Within seconds, there was a sharp and rapid stacatto of hail pounding down so thick that the backyard fence, not thirty feet away was as hazy as if the yard was filled with fog.  The rain hail mix dashed violently against the windows on all sides of the house. It pounded into the  grass and the gardens for three minutes and then everything became relatively quiet. In fifteen, the rain had stopped and the sun came out briefly, touching the rhododendron bloom brilliantly, transforming the water drops into prisms.

Kay thought about Frank. Frank had been so much more aware of the earth and its rhythms. But then, he had grown up in a small village. His parents had a large kitchen garden and every year they raised their own pig and they had chickens.

He had taught her a lot about things she had never been in tune with before.
“Did you notice?” he said, “how milk goes sour after a thunder and lightening storm?”  Or, ” See how fast the plants grow after an electrical storm?’

Kay looked out the window and surveyed the damages. It wasn’t bad, really, though there were lots more small branches scattered about on the lawn. The plants looked alright.  The grass, she noticed, had gone up an inch and a half from yesterday’s level. She would have to cut it as soon as it dried out or the neighbours would think it had “gone hippie”.

She remembered his observation about cats.

“See?” he said, pointing at Echo the tabby as she all of a sudden became obsessive about cleaning behind her ears. Echo put her softly, grey-striped paw up to her raspy tongue and proceeded to lick long strokes through the short fur then she raised the paw behind her ears and work at some imaginary dirt that would not go away. This motion was repeated and repeated, far more often than usual.

“It’s going to rain tomorrow, ” stated Frank, daring Kay to say the contrary. Invariably it would rain tomorrow.  The cat and her obsessive cleaning-behind-the-ear behaviour always seemed to precede the rain.

Logically, you might think that if hair was used in barometers because of it’s sensitivity to moisture then the cat could easily be sensitized to react to changes in humidity and it might tickle their ear hairs.  Maybe there was something logical to explain these old-wives tales.

Kay was reminded of the gardening tasks awaiting her. She had been soaking yellow was and broad bean seeds now for three days, waiting for the seeds to swell and produce the first signs of development; she had a new chrysanthemum plant from Leo and Evelyn who had just been to visit. It needed to be dug in. She had new packages of seeds – radishes, fennel and nastursiums waiting to be planted.  They would grow well in this season of heavy rains, fierce spring sun bursts and warming temperatures.

It was funny, she reflected, that you could leave someone or they could leave you, but they never left your heart.  You could agree or disagree, but the thirty years of living together never erased itself.  The anger and pains were much like a thunderstorm. The squall that arose was quickly gone. The bitterness faded and memories softened.

Kay rather enjoyed remembering Frank’s  aphorisms. She could think of him rather benignly now without any of the irritants.

Bemused, she went about her day.

Chicken feed

April 8, 2009

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This clever farmer doesn’t have to feed his chickens AND he gets paid for it!

This hen run is on a farm that abuts the Alouette dike which is often my walking path.

I’ve been amazed by this curious activity of the hens to create a depression in the dirt and wallow in it, all the while scratching away at the sides of their self-made “burrows”.  When corn candy is offered, the burrowing hen abandons the nest and comes to vie for grains of corn, just like all the others, so it’s not a sick hen. Anybody know why they do it?
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Poor Jim!

April 8, 2009

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Sheers         Photo copyright KK

Nephew Hugh has been in town, on spring break from his Political Science School back in Eastern Canada. He came for some sunshine and spiritual renewal. Kay actually thought he might have been feeling a bit adrift, homesick, although, with this dysfunctional family, she wondered why a soul might be longing for more dysfunction.

Kay drove into town on Sunday; met friend Suzi at the Art Gallery to see the landscape show and have lunch in the Gallery Cafe; drove to her friend Dorothy’s place for dinner and an overnight stay. All of this was a prelude to picking up Hugh early on Monday morning to bring him back to  her home in Richmeadows.

On Monday, their plans were to meet at seven thirty at Beans and Company, have breakfast togther, all three of them,  and then Dorothy would go on her way to her horrifically early dental appointment. Hugh and Kay would begin their two days of visit. Dorothy was the only habitual early riser amongst the three and she didn’t understand late-rising humans.

Kay and Dorothy were to leave the house at seven fifteen so Dorothy was up at six preparing herself for her appointment and then her work but she called Kay at seven leaving her only minutes to wash, dress, make up the bed she had so kindly lent Kay for the night and to pack her few belongings. Kay scrambled.

By the time she put her shoes on and got out to the car she was miraculously clothed but was not awake.  Kay ran her hand over the back of her head. She was not sure that she had combed her hair nor brushed her teeth. Haste is not something a late-riser does well.

It was good that Dorothy was driving, though Kay began to suspect her apparent alertness. Dorothy had passed the rendez-vous spot and had been obliged to back track. She claimed there was no parking space on the south side of the street but Kay couldn’t be sure. Kay was still ridding her eyes of sleepy-dust.

Eventually Dorothy found a spot on the north side of the street smack dab in front of Beans and Company.  Though they were five minutes late,  Hugh was not there.  Kay searched from front to back and couldn’t find him; then continued to  turn in circles and pace the length of the shop, occasionally popping her head out the front door to scan the street, looking for his face. She still was not really awake.

Dorothy made soothing noises to calm Kay to no avail, then cried, “There he  is!” and there he was, indeed. A tall giant of a man, a lumbering man, youth still predominant on his face, both confident and shy. In no time, Kay and Hugh were hugging right there in the middle of the cafe. Despite all their family ups and downs, Hugh and Kay were the best of friends.

Over two-egged breakfasts, hash browns and toast, an hour went by in the space of ten minutes, it seemed. Dorothy had to leave. Hugh and Kay packed up and left too then walked back to Kay’s car just a few blocks away.

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Their first stop was Kitsilano Beach. Joggers were jogging. Dog owners were running their canine friends. Others were simply out for a stroll. The sky was cloudless. The sun drenched the beach in a warmish spring light. The enormous willow trees were running brilliant yellow sap in the weeping branches but there were neither buds nor leaves just yet.  The ancient cherry trees were burgeoning but not flowering.

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Kitsilano Beach is a manicured beach. The logs are distributed every year in logical progression for sunbathers to lean against. The sand is raked and cleaned. Drift wood is piled up and burnt. One could not possibly find a free-booting crab or a clam shell here like is possible at Jericho Beach and Spanish Banks, even though these latter two beaches are also managed by the City Parks.

They walked the asphalt path around to Vanier Park and returned, talking all the while. When they got back to their starting point, they sat on a park bench and watched the world go by.   When their two hours of parking meter were up, they reluctantly headed back to the car and left, destination Richmeadows.

Talking all the while of family and friends, they ate up the highway, the hour long trip zipped by, again in a fast ten minutes.  They stopped at Best Buy and picked up microphone and head set for Skype that he would set up for her. The only thing that registered the time they had spent was their requirement for another cup of brew which they sipped like tourists at a sidewalk cafe, Hidabucks.

The whole day went like that. Conversation, more conversation, and the time sliding by like lightning. When finally they got back home mid-afternoon,  Kay chopped celery and onion and sliced cheddar cheese for a tuna melt and he made up the mix, salted, seasoned  and toasted them. Hugh brushed off the East Lake lawn chairs and  they sat in the sun to eat their lunch in the back yard. It was beautiful and the temperature had risen to twenty degrees! It felt like summer.

He’d had a late night; Kay had had an early morning uprising. A nap was in order. Hugh had the living room couch with two afghans for warmth and Kay crawled under the duvet upstairs, glad for forty winks.

At seven, she locked the front door,  Hugh still sleeping on the couch, and left for a short meeting of the Art Studio Tour group. She was back by eight.

Hugh was in the kitchen preparing dinner.  He’d trained as a cook in an upscale restaurant during his undergrad years. One could  always depend on Hugh to cook a fine meal wherever he was.

They ate perfect steaks with perfectly fried, whole button mushrooms cooked in the steak brownings and dashed with a bit of fine wine. They had garlic and parsley butter to liven the steamed bok choy.  Every mouthful was a treat. It couldn’t have been better at a five star restaurant.

And then they resumed the conversation, comfortably sharing stories that can’t be shared in just the same way by telephone. Mrs. Stepford came to visit for a little while and regaled them with her first bodice-ripping  story and explained the synopsis of her new murder mystery that was ready for editing.

When she left, Hugh and Kay talked till twelve, when she finally begged off, announcing it was time to retire; but it was one o’clock before they climbed the stairs and turned in.

Kay was up at eight the next morning, ruminating that Hugh had been burning the candle at both ends, with his studies and his socializing. Kay  followed her normal routine – checking and answering e-mail, sipping on a hot cup of coffee and playing a few games of Freecell. And she waited.  She would have company for breakfast, this morning.

About ten-thirty, Hugh descended, fully rested.

Now,  Hugh was travelling very lightly. In his back pack, he had only a change of clothes for his dinner date with Ron and his parents. Ron’s the next person in Vancouver who is to be graced with Hugh’s visit. So Hugh descended the staircase, sans housecoat,  clad only in his undies, knowing Kay would be typing away on the computer, absorbed,  and would not be paying attention. He was on his way to take his shower on the main floor bathroom, his clothes for the day clutched in his left hand.

As he passed the front door, he saw a very tall man peering through the sheer-curtained glass side window. Hugh hesitated an instant just in front of the door, curiosity over-coming his strong sense of modesty, and then he continued on. Before saying even “good morning” he said loudly for me to hear, “There’s a gentleman at the door”. As if in confirmation, there was a rapid knocking at the door.

Hugh was caught between a desire to protect Kay from an unknown male soliciting at the door and a desire to protect Kay from the sight of his masses of flesh. He hastened behind the bathroom door to shower and get dressed.

As Kay arose from her computer desk,  she saw his tall naked figure flash by – the thin black covering of his undershorts between waist and hip caught her eye.

At the front door, there stood the former owner of the house, coming to pick up some mail that had been misdirected by a company that refused to actually acknowledge his change of address.

Jim, the former owner, is renowned for his curiosity about other people’s lives.  He is apt to recount all his speculations to whomever will listen. Not two weeks earlier, having heard about the vacant house next door,  he had stopped by Kay’s house and promised to loan his Great Dane to Kay should anybody bother her.

“I keep an eye on this place still, ” he boasted. “I watch what you are doing with the garden and the renovations on the house. I pass by every night while I’m walking Tiny” he continued as he gestured towards his giant dog who was panting and salivating right beside him.

Kay had felt as if she were being stalked; she wondered if she should be more worried about Jim than any potential stalker.  She thanked him warmly for his offer and promised to take him up on it, knowing full well that she never would. Besides, she thought, what amount of ruin would a Great Dane wreak on her antique china collection if ever he were permitted into the house?

“I’d invite you in for coffee,” she hesitated, “but we’re just getting up”
“Oh, that’s okay, ” he replied off-handedly, a touch of grin at the corner of his mouth, “I’ve got a lot of things to do.”

Kay reached out to the mailbox that was affixed to the porch pillar and fished  out Jim’s mail and handed it to him.

It was hours later when Hugh had gone and Kay was recounting her two days of gossip to Mrs. Stepford that the light bulb went on. Kay and Mrs. Stepford burst into a fit of laughter. Jim would be analyzing every centimeter of bare flesh he had devined behind the lacy curtain.

When her laughter was finally under control, Mrs. Stepford shouted,”COUGAR!”  He’s going to think you’ve found a young lover!”

More laughter.

“I never explained anything, ” grinned Kay. “He has nothing to go on, and he’s going to construct a whole story. He’s going to walk by the place night after night with that Great Dane and wonder if I’m living with someone now.”

“He’s going to be looking for muscly improvements to the place – major diggings in the garden; trees being shaped and pared; hedges being trimmed. A constant newcomer mowing the lawn. The car being washed by a virile young thing, torse -nu,  dressed only in shorts, woolen socks and and hiking boots.”

“What will the neighbours think!” shouted out Mrs. Stepford in glee.

“I’m over sixty, for Pete’s sake! Think what they will!” rejoined Kay followed by another fit of laughter.

Great intentions

April 2, 2009

I had great intentions of  writing things on Sunday. It was a perfect day with the sun out in full blazes warming up the crocus, casting shadows on the shoots of phlox pushing through.
Down on the Alouette Dikes in the mud shallows, green river grasses were sprouting,  just enough so that the sandbar had a faint new green tinge on it. Of course that was Sunday, and I’d hate to see it now. It snowed an inch today and was grey and miserable. I actually had to shovel off the very slippery steps before I could go out to hang a painting at the Civic Library this morning.

Sunday, though, promised spring and everyone and their dog was out there. I had the fortune to have a walking companion, Rose, a relatively new friend who also hails from Vancouver area, and I’ve found another soul who doesn’t need to have it explained when I throw out one of my many “Look-at” exclamations as I sight another photographic or paintable moment. She’s an artist too, and joined in with an equivalent number of “Look-at”s.

We saw a lone blue heron plodding ponderously through a muddy shallow, dipping occasionally for a meal. We saw a man with red shirt and bright blue trousers fishing for rainbow trout.  Canes of some wetland shrub were turning scarlet with new sap.  Though we had sunshine and warm temperatures at sea level,  on the not-so-distant mountains there was a fresh cap of white snow.

Afterward, we indulged in a very wicked Danish pastry from the European Bakery and a cup of tea and I”m glad I did. The memory of that crispy bottomed patisserie tinged with a hint of lemon and of  marzipan flavor kept me sane over the next few days as I grappled with the latest tummy virus that has been doing rounds.

I’ve had three lazy days as a result, sleeping extra hours and cranking up the heat in the living room fireplace.  I cancelled my tutoring and my art teaching gigs and took a break by necessity.

But I began this with a tale of Sunday and an idyllic walk along the dikes, stopping at the farm with the chicken pen that abuts the pathway. Anyone can buy twenty-five cents of good corn kernels from the farmer’s  clever gum-ball machine to feed the blighters and many a parent obliges a delighted child. The hens all come gathering around in a crowd as densely shouldering out their neighbours  as demonstrators in a London protest. We were lucky to pass by when no such bustling was in progress.

We watched as two hens scratched out a hollow for themselves then continued to scratch the depression wider and deeper as they lolled on their sides in a fetal position, all curled up and on their sides. I had a flock of chickens once in my early days, and I don’t remember them doing that. We couldn’t figure it out and eventually just walked on.

After our afternoon tea at Rose’s place, I went back home and changed for dinner. The Market association to which I belong was having a dinner and two guest speakers. I had no idea how to dress for this occasion so opted for a casual but dressy costume and hied upstairs to prepare myself.

At the top of the stairs, I looked out the side window to the north and saw a power truck – one of those souped up pick-up trucks with excessive tires and a broad truck-bed that makes the unit look very muscly. (Oh boy! Does that word ever look misspelled, but I’ve looked it up. Honest.)

The four scruffy individudals in heavy work boots, hoodies, torn jeans and logger shirts kibbutzing aroung the truck didn’t have much much to recommend them with regards to confidence. It unsettled me because the house had been vacant for more than a month.

Don’t get me wrong. This is very nice neighbourhood. But I think the former tenants did a bunk. Left maybe without paying. It was almost the end of the month, the twenty-ninth, but I couldn’t see furniture going in or out. I didn’t think these were new neighbours, but there was a slight chance. I cursed the developer who had purchased the property and then left the house next to me in ambiguous limbo.

Then I phoned the family just over the fence to the south. They’d been watching too and expressed uneasiness at the likelihood of shiftless neighbours.

As I dressed in my good slacks and fished out a dressy blouse, collected my honey-comb patterned black sweater for my evening sortie, I ruminated over the possibilities.  I would not forgive myself if a financial conflagration were about to take place or the copper pipes were once again being lifted out of the house. That had happened in March last year while I was away in Fiji. The malefactors had left the water running and the place was flooded before the developers discovered it.

Despite it being close to my departure time for this special dinner, I called nine-eleven.  After five minutes of waiting for an operator,  I explained my concern.

“Is anyone being murdered or injured”

“No,” I answered, much less sure of my decision to tell.

“Is property being destroyed?”

“Not that I can see. You understand that I don’t want them to see that I’m looking at them and phoning and then the police turn up. My house would be the next one to be vandalized.”

The operator understood but referred me to the non-urgent line. I hadn’t passed the emergency test.

After a hesitation and another eyeball on the situation, I called the non-emergency line. Another wait of five minutes. A woman constable identified herself and I gave my particulars and then my story.

“Can you see the license plate number?”
“No. The car is backed up against a tree. I can’t see the plate.”

“Are they still there? What are they doing?”

At this point the truck took off towards the back of the property tearing up the lawn with its mega tires and three fellows all moved on foot towards the back. Just about as promptly, the truck roared back, spun around, backed up against the tree again and the motor was killed.

I explained this to the constable.

“Keep telling me what they are doing. Stay on the line,” she commanded. “What can you see?”

“One of them is lifting an ax out of the flatbed box.” I said. Then another picked up a gasoline container and I couldn’t tell whether or not he took it out or put it back. Getting particulars was difficult when looking through a slit in the window, I was at such an angle so not to be seen.

“We’ll send someone out right away,” she promised. I advised her that I had to go out and was expected somewhere at five. It was already five. She said it was of no importance, not to worry about it.

Within minutes, before I had gotten my keys, before I had set the house alarm, the phone rang. It was Constable Smith, a good looking man, from the sound of his voice.

“We’re just outside your house behind the hedge,” he explained. “It is the house to the north of you, isn’t it?” It was.

“We’re not going in until we have back-up. They have weapons, ” he stated.

“I’m going out.” I said, and he accepted that without protest nor a warning for me.

I locked up the house and got into my car quickly. I drove off, noting that there were already two police cars in front of my house. I reflected that they were probably taking my word for it that they had a hatchet and a gasoline supply and that was what they were considering weapons.

As I drove off, I began to have regrets. What if they were just paid help moving the new tenants’ goods. What if they were the new tenants? A fine start that would be to have the neighbour sic the police on them on moving day. I weighed the two possibilities in my mind all through dinner and finally forgave myself for my doubts. If something catastrophic had happened and I had said nothing, I would not have forgiven myself.

It was a lovely dinner. It was a boring lecture. I’d had a full day and I was glad to get home.

When I got there, there was nothing to indicate that anything had occurred except the large swath of tire tracks in the otherwise green lawn.

Monday while battling the trials of the flu, I saw a lovely young woman come in, park a nice clean blue car of recent date. I thought “Oops! Maybe it was people moving in after all.”

Tuesday, I forgave myself again. I don’t really know what happened there, but there is a tell-tale pile of refuse sitting in the front yard waiting for pick-up. There are at least twenty black garbage bags piled one on another. Five of them have rolls of carpeting stuffed in them.

Something happened.