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Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Broken

Ange's heart was broken on the day that the world collapsed. While the survivors around her struggled to find food, clothing, and shelter, she lay oblivious to it all in bed and cried; for the man she loved, for the agony of rejection, and for the cruelty of fate.

Leonard had been so handsome, with delicate lines that creased at the edges of his eyes when a thought amused him. His touch had been so tender, as though any more force might tear through the world which, it turns out, had been made of the thinnest of parchment. Ange believed that he had loved her, for the words often drifted from his lips in the midst of their lovemaking. No man had ever enveloped her, wrapped her body in the luxury of his loins until she had lost herself in his woodsy musk.

Someone pounded on the door. "Angela! Are you in there?"

"Go away, Mother."

"Thank God. Oh sweetie I've been so worried. Let me in."

"Let yourself in."

"I don't have your key."

Ange sat up, curious how her mother could possibly be without a key. After all, the woman kept it next to her own car key on the ring, Ange had seen it a hundred times.

More banging. "Angela?"

"Damn." She threw the covers off and her body tensed from the cold of the room. The heat must have failed for she could see her breath in the air. She wrapped her arms tightly against her chest trying to stop the shivers and opened the door.

What stood in the hallway could not possibly have been her mother. The woman never wore anything but a power suit, complete with high heels and matching jewellery. And yet there she stood, in worn jeans and heavy winter boots, a flannel plaid collar poking above the Gortex jacket. And her hair, for the first time in her life the strands hung limp and lifeless, oily even, as though she'd lost her mind overnight and the hair drying along with it.

Monday, 18 December 2006

Tears

Tears in real life don't slowly drip down one side of a woman's face like they do in the movies. Sometimes they pour out in clumps, as if an old creek bed was suddenly flooded and raged along makeshift valleys. Minellia's tears were no exception.

For the last week, she cried each night until her body could no longer produce a sound or even shudder. Somehow the darkness was the hardest -- lying alone in the bed she had once shared with Rebbo. His death had shocked the community, and though her friends and neighbours comforted her, brought her warm meals that she couldn't keep down, and kept her hearth ablaze, they were unable to reduce the monstrous chasm ripping through her insides.

A second, not even two, of bad luck. A rock falling at just the wrong moment, a shoe lace undone. How could Rebbo's life be reduced by such involuntary timing?

A soft knock at the door.

Minellia rolled onto her back, wiped her face with sheets, and attempted to call out. But her throat would not cooperate.

She forced herself out of bed and staggered for the door.

"Yes?"

"Minellia? It's Hapu. May come in?"

"It's late, Hapu."

"Please?"

She opened the door enough to peer out at the young man. His clothes were dusty, as though he'd been riding all day.

Wednesday, 18 October 2006

Plan

Every time I plan something good, it falls flat. Okay, not every single time, but enough times for the whole concept to royally piss me off. But does it stop me from making plans anyway. Big, elaborate plans?

Not a chance.

This weekend was no different. I'd chose the food, the tasks, even the background music. The invitations went out to the usual suspects. I cleaned the toilet and put away the laundry. I was ready for the par-tay.

Nobody showed.

Well okay, that girl from work, the one I sometimes knit with at lunch, she showed. Brought her knitting bag, too. So we gossiped and looped yarn over needles like a couple of old maids. At least that's not a term that most people use these days. I believe the correct term is flop.

No. LOSER.

That's me. I do my best to get my ducks in a row, but sooner or later I have to face the fact that they're the rubber-duck variety, like kids use in the bathtub, and they've sprung leaks, and bathwater has been sitting inside them for too long so if you squeeze them a blackish crud-pool of bacterial disgust will ooze out of them.

But they're in a row.

Except for that last one.

But we won't talk about him.

Sunday, 15 October 2006

Wait

She hated to wait, more than brussel sprouts, squeaking Styrofoam, or spit. The worst was enduring a ticking clock on a day when she forgot to wear a watch.

She stood at the curb, doing her best to not appear as though she waited for someone to pick her up. Yet that was exactly her intention. Except for the part where she knew the man who would eventually arrive for her.

He didn't own a watch. He "gave them up" in a fit of retro-hippie popularity-inducing absurdity. He claimed that people had natural internal clocks and that anything important would naturally work out.

As if.

She crossed her arms over her chest, hiding her bare arm and mentally forcing herself to NOT grind her teeth. He'll be here soon. He wants to see you. He's only stuck in traffic. The mantra did little to reassure her fears that he simply wouldn't remember their date.

What did that say about her? Was she unmemorable? Had he tired of her? Should she return to the office and bury herself in work? Was he worth it?

Yes. Her only sure thought was that he was most definitely worth it. More than anyone she'd ever had the misfortune of dating. More than the sweet taste of honey on Melba Toast. More than sunshine after a long rain.

Friday, 13 October 2006

One

It is possible to enjoy a meal at a table for one. I shouldn't need to have a book or a companion for the food to taste good. The cuisine should stand up on its own merit. Sushi can. Believe me. I've counted on it before.

The Japanese have mastered food presentation -- the small plates, ergonomic cups and bowls -- its art more than sustenance. The tapered chopsticks are akin to sexy legs as they stretch on forever into kissable points.

I close my eyes and allow the tuna to melt on the tip of my tongue. I squeeze the wooden tips together and grip a slice of ginger so thin it must have been carved with a razor blade. With a gentle stir, the settling miso realigns into a soup once more and I drink it like a soothing cup of cocoa.

It's heaven.

Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Cold

The tea was cold, having sat untouched for hours while I typed. One word after another. One sentence followed the previous. Until I'd delete it all and start again.

I sipped the tea, then spit it back into my cup. I'd steep another pot, maybe after I hit a thousand words. Maybe eight hundred. Five would barely be work. God damn, they just wouldn't come.

I saved my unchanged file for the seventeenth time -- gotta love prime numbers -- and paced around the house. The curtains weren't closed properly so I straightened them. The washing machine had finished so I transferred the clothes to the dryer. The phone showed two recent calls so I scrolled through the call log until the blinky-green light turned off.

My watch must have been wrong. Had to have been less than an hour since I typed a meaningful sentence of text. Had to.

The phone rang. I should've let the machine take the call, but I could afford another ten minutes. My father. He wanted me to bring him chips. I told him no, his blood pressure was too high. We argued. I ultimately agreed to bring him popcorn.

Thirty minutes less in my time slot. I had to make at least three hundred words or I couldn't even count it as writing.

With the kettle filled and plugged in, I rinsed out the tea pot and dropped in another bag. I watched it fall to the bottom. What little water remained as residue at the bottom of the empty pot seeped into the bag and coloured itself pink. Cranberry tea. It was my last line of defence on a wordless day.

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Judgement

Her judgement faltered, in herself, in her relationships, in every task she ever performed. Though she tried to make good choices and she held onto the belief that she maintained a sense of right and wrong, she sabotaged her life, one mistake at a time.

In her sessions with her therapist, she dodged the issue. Always bringing up more pressing concerns like the promotion at work that didn't pan out or the chemo therapy her father endured. The mechanics of her mess, the truths behind why she fell for emotionally unavailable men or why she loved her cat more than herself, these she kept buried, locked, and isolated.

Love hurt. Men didn't like her, they used her. Sustainable relationships were a myth. The mantra of despair to live by.

She cycled through destructive behaviours. One week, she would eat and snack until she made herself sick. The next she would visit the gym every day, doing two maybe even three aerobics classes to distract herself from sadness. The worst, though, was when she would visit her mother's grave and sob, after work each night, sharing her grief with the only person who had seemed to understand her. The net result bought her more unhappiness and a bigger sense of loss for the life she wished she had.

If only she could dig herself out of the dungeon she'd built. If only she could secure happiness without tying it to a man she'd never truly understand. If only life would cut her some slack.

Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Steam

She painted shadows with steam. Each one a fleeting work of art embossed on acrylic, porcelain, and chrome. Though they captured her mood, they could not hold it for more than a few moments once her body moved away.

Her hand touched the cold faucet, leaving a curve reminiscent of the worn slopes of ancient mountains long eroded by time's passage. When she submerged her hand in the tub once more, she watched the mountain evaporate, reducing to a thin line and then gone.

Pressing her heels against the far side of the tub, she left mid-air footprints in white sand. One after another, her toe prints left a trail of mystery. Where did she travel? What had she seen? Whose lives had she touched.

Many lives.

And like the friends who fade when circumstances change, the prints scattered, leaving her alone.

So dreadfully alone.

Sunday, 1 October 2006

Hike

The hike through the woods always brought a sense of peace. The oxygen, the tall boughs, and the whispering of leaf against leaf in the wind.

She stepped carefully, keeping her feet low to the ground and her eyes ahead on the trail. A squirrel darted across her path and scurried up a tree.

"Good day to you sir. Or are you a madam?"

The creature did not respond.

Further along, the trees grew closer to the path and roots stuck up, tripping her more often than not. She searched for each step, cautious of brown bumps. But they hid themselves well, eager to bring her to their level.

They succeeded.

Her pants torn, and her knee scraped, she struggled back to her feet. "I won't let you win. I'm smarter than you give me credit for."

After a steep climb, she dodged a pair of beech trees growing around each other and rounded a corner. Beyond the path, a brook beckoned. She eased down to a rock in the middle and dipped her fingers in the cool water.

Unsure of its cleanliness, she hesitated before cleansing her scrapes. The coolness won out and she dabbled relief on her aches.

"Thank you, brook, for your kindness."

"Do you expect it to answer?"

She spun around to find a man, handsome and strong, standing within arm's reach.

Friday, 29 September 2006

Dizzy

The dizzy spell lingered, like bad food past midnight.

She wanted to rest, to put her head down and sleep for hours on end. But single mothers can't afford that kind of luxury. The gods don't allow it.

So she pushed herself on, one slow step at a time. To stop her fingers from numbing up, she cranked the heat. The bill wouldn't be due for another two weeks. To keep her energy level up, she drank tea. Cup after cup of it, until she lived in the washroom. To maintain her sanity, she mediated. But her thoughts wouldn't focus, they drifted to the edges where romance reigns king.

The kids played, fighting with swords one minute and action figures the next. Extras arrived, increasing the fun level but adding to the responsibility factor. She kept them in snacks and videos, watching the clock and praying for bedtime to race closer.

The phone rang. She hoped against hope that the person on the other end would rescue her. Drawn into the depths of the drama triangle, she longed for release from her dizzy prison.

Would she like her carpets cleaned? The price had never been lower.

She didn't have any carpets.

The room spun and she closed her eyes to the turmoil once more. She would find inner calm, even if she had to wait until midnight, or later. One slow breath at a time.

Monday, 10 July 2006

Granola

I hate granola bars. They have to be the closest thing to cardboard while still being considered a food. My mother used to pack them in my lunch every single day for the twelve years I was in school. I will never eat another one for the rest of my life.

Until today.

I ate my lunch on the steps of my office building. Along came the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. Rather than ignoring me completely, she plunked down beside me and said, "I love your tie."

I shrugged. "Got it at Sears."

"Cool," she said. "Wanna swap lunches?"

How could I say no? A beautiful woman couldn't possibly have a bad lunch, or so I thought. Then she opened her bag and pulled out three different kinds of granola bars.

So I'm chewing one, and holding a smile. I wonder if she thinks its a fake smile? I'm betting that my salmon sandwich buys me a phone number. If only I could swallow this cardboard and grin.

Sunday, 9 July 2006

Elephant

I grabbed the elephant's tail and pulled. It was a stupid thing to do, I know, but I was only six years old at the time.

He kicked me straight in the chest, knocking me a good twelve feet into the side of a concrete shed. My back snapped in two.

That's the short version of how I ended up in this wheelchair. I'm used to it now, believe me, after twenty one years, eleven months and twelve days in it. Give or take. But every night I dream that I can walk.

I miss it so much.

The day I first saw the blonde at the mall, she stared past me, like everyone else. Her eyes glanced down once, then flicked away, embarrassed, ashamed. That's the worst part about being a cripple. People are afraid to notice me, as if their mothers will smack them upside the head and complain that they're staring. I wouldn't mind a good stare. It's better than being ignored.

The second time I followed the blonde from stall to stall. She pretended not to notice me trailing her, but she knew. I listened to her haggle over the price of mangos and complain when the guy at the corn stall tried to stuff two bad cobs into her dozen. She was strong, intelligent, and self-confident. I needed to know her name.

Saturday, 20 May 2006

Alone

A woman can't live on bread alone. Nor can she survive without a lava lamp, a Japanese teapot, and Billy Holiday on CD.

Yet on a daily basis, Chloe didn't make time for these frivolities. She listened to books on tape to save time, took fast showers so she'd get to work early, and her aroma beads grew stale on the top shelf of the medicine cabinet.

Dreams are free, drifted through her mind on the drive to Huntsville Elementary. Dreams didn't require Hep A shots, or fat wallets, or condoms for that matter. Dreams kept her alive. Without them, her soul would surely wither and die.

Teachers don't meet many men above the age of twelve. The ones who show up for parent-teacher conferences are married. And male coworkers either had significant others attached at the hip or were too young to consider.

Her best years had bypassed her entirely. They skipped town on a Greyhound and never sent postcards. They were probably shacked up with the daydreams of the wealthy and carefree.

She passed a coffee shop and longed to stop. Every day she tasted a Chai tea in her mind. But her wallet stayed fused. Money paid for three things: the mortgage, the car, and the bills. Extra was a hard to come by as a good man.

Tuesday, 9 May 2006

Destroying

She spent the days building the world and the nights destroying herself.

Food provided all that she required: nourishment, comfort, and the tool with which to kill herself, one bad calorie at a time.

Every day she awoke, dreaming of a healthy lifestyle. Today would be the day she would eat only salads and soups and curl up with a good book as a pat on the back for her achievement.

She started with breakfast, a couple of slices of toast, no margarine, and a hint of jam. A small victory.

All morning she worked. A phone call here, a spreadsheet there, one solid task after another.

For lunch, she ate a salad. Sure, she added a slice of lean turkey breast and indulged in salad dressing, but a metered portion, and the light variety. After, she slogged back two glasses of water to convince her stomach to move on. It worked.

The three o'clock snack cravings arrived but she resisted. Wait until dinner, and the rewards will pile up. She compromised by making dinner early, but a healthy one, with meatless chilli topped with yogurt not sour cream.

After dinner, she ran errands, staying well clear of the house and temptation. But upon her return, she crashed. First a nap snuck up on her. Then she awoke and realized she hadn't finished the dishes. They stood on the counter in the kitchen. Right beside the pantry where a bag of Doritos lived. They whispered in her ear. "We're here. We're yummy. Just eat a few."

Soon, the dishes forgotten, she inhaled the bag, munching harder and faster on the chips until she almost bit a finger. Another good day wasted, another disappointment.

Next trip to the grocery store, she would skip the chip aisle.

Friday, 28 April 2006

Clumsy

Alma moaned from the pain of being clumsy. Another bruise -- a giant green and purple kaleidoscope of misdirected blood.

She always had one somewhere. Not because her man beat her and not because she had a lack of coordination. Frustration makes for physical discomfort. Plain and simple.

Most days, she held back the urge to cry. An extra heavy sigh here, a shiver then, the hurt boiling within a breath of the surface. But the tears, they rarely escaped. Only sissies cry.

Wealth was a strange mistress. She crept up on Alma when she least expected, whispering in her ear, scratching at her palm. She seeps in the nooks and crannies, til she's established like an ant farm or roaches. Monthly spraying and mist-bombs won't have much effect.

Some people, maybe they're smarter, or maybe not, they play wealth's games, indulging in her tastes and smells til the well runs dry. They have two choices then -- work harder or walk away forever.

Alma, she didn't choose either. She fought wealth, with second-hand clothes and self-control. No weakness would ever get the best of her. Not ever.

She shoved at life so hard that it fell down and skinned its knee. No self-sacrifice was too grand. With her head down, and her nerves ablaze, she pressed on, cleaning, running, counting, whatever the moment demanded. But when you don't look where you're going, you're bound to walk into a wall.

It hurts.

And it doesn't stop. It's only replaced by a fresh wound. But the tears, they never come.

If only she could raise her chin and dodge. Find a strong hand to grab onto. Fight through to happiness.

But misery's always easier to unearth.

Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Roses

The Roses fell at her feet. Not the beautiful long-stemmed kind that lovers buy each other in the height of courtship. Not red or white or yellow or pink.

The dead ones. Black, naturally.

Herdalisha tried to kick them off the platform, but for each one she knocked away three more hurled down from the crowd. She wasn't a witch, and she sure as hell didn't deserve to be burned alive.

Then again, there was that incident with the butcher's wife. And the slaughtered dogs, but that one wasn't entirely her fault. The Gredgelys were hungry and the girls needed to eat or they'd never achieve their fourth level as seogglers.

Breqlando, a slimy unkempt slob and demon worshipper to boot, spit at her as the platform rolled past. Some thanks for the parts-of-a-woman lesson she'd given him for free at the age of nine. Memories in the town of Yvmozekk lapsed swifter than the currents of the Splux River.

"Die, you whore witch!" Arypnavia kicked at the platform.

"After you," said Herdalisha. She couldn't stand the skinny little pleaser. Arypnavia would sweet talk the shit right out of the dumphouse if she thought it would bring her praise or good fortune. If anyone in Yvmozekk mixed secret potions or cast spells on the unbelieving, it had to be Missy Ary.

When the platform slowed to a halt in front of the pyre, Herdalisha caught the gaze of the one person she'd hoped not to see her die. Locbil's reddish-brown hair glinted in the sunlight. His green eyes filled with tears at the sight of her. Then his lips formed the words she couldn't bear to see. The ones she'd longed for him to whisper in her ear after their lovemaking, but had never come.

"No!" Herdalisha found the core of her power. Deep within her chest, between her heart and her ribs, in the pocket of fluid where potent chemicals mixed, she called forth the lightning mélange.

The crowd covered their eyes in the blinding flash of force. The ropes binding Herdalisha's arms evaporated. The platform below her smashed into kindling. And the pyre scattered beyond the outskirts of Yvmozekk.

"Don't mess with a seoggler," she said. Grabbing Locbil's hand, she dashed from the dazed audience before anyone found the courage to stop them.

Monday, 23 January 2006

Slacker

For those of you who were about to kill me for taking so long to post again, I give you an appropriate word. :)
*
Serena had been a slacker for months, saying yes to every request for help and never getting ahead on the pile of work at home. Sure this made her popular among the sorry and downtrodden members of society, but she was on the verge of procrastinating herself into the poorhouse.

Right.

This particular Monday morning, she decided to sleep in, hoping the extra rest would set her on the path to productivity. The shakes were back, worse than the day before. With two months still to go in winter, she figured she'd better stay on the higher dose of meds. Then again, if the shakes got any worse she would certainly jump right out of her skin.

The first job she hauled out of the pile was a photo job. McCrank from the docks wanted her to catch his wife soliciting the neighbour. She grabbed her camera and car keys.

The old Ford hadn't been driven in over a month. It turned over, but only after some kind words and some serious cranking. The plume of smoke would have choked a crowd to death. Luckily the garage door had been stuck in the open position for years.

Right after she turned onto Forsyth, the railroad crossing bars dropped and a freight train crept along the tracks. The guy in the car in front of her pulled a U-turn and drove the wrong way down Forsyth to Second Avenue. Serena considered following his lead; there was hardly any traffic on the one-way street and everyone was stopped for the train. However, her mother's voice of doom and criticism echoed in her head. Don't do it! It's not worth your life. How long can the train possibly take?

But the old bag hadn't been thinking of freight trains near the docks that moved endlessly back and forth as they dropped off and picked up cars.

Seconds turned to minutes. The blue car with the white graffiti moved past Serena's car for the fifteenth time.