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Before the wind stirs the bay water into waves, the air is only cold and still and wet. It smells like rain and salt from the sea. Moira Sound feeds the bay and its span stretches for miles in both directions, before blending into the Pacific. But I wonder about that water, where it goes when it drains and why it comes back with the tide; what it sees and what it brings back…

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Kittworth

One

Water

Before the wind stirs the bay water into waves, the air is only cold and still and wet. It smells like rain and salt from the sea. Moira Sound feeds the bay, and its span stretches for miles in both directions, before blending into the Pacific. But I wonder about that water, where it goes when it drains and why it comes back with the tide; what it sees and what it brings back.

A silent slaughter takes place beneath the surface as salmon gills hook in a fisherman’s trap. I can never tell who is in the boat. It could be Dad, but it’s probably Neil. Sometimes I think it’s my grandfather. Or at least what I imagine my grandfather looks like in real life.

Safe on the beach, I hold my shoes and stand in the water until my feet get too cold. Tiny ripples gurgle and pull at my ankles. That’s as far as I let it go. If the water rises any higher, I just wake up. Because I can always wake up.

Seabirds squeal over my head as dark clouds fold in, finally bringing a breeze—the hiss before the bite—and then the wind. It rushes through the valley. A flag licks the air, its rope rattles against a metal pole. Shed doors whistle open and bang shut. Waves crash against eroded wharves, rocking boats in the harbour.

The fisherman always leaves without me. My hand rises as if to wave when I stretch out my arm. Come back, I must have said a dozen times, I’m still here. But iron bells repeat like a siren. Leave or be forgotten. Cold rain wets my skin, ocean air fills my lungs; where do I go? There are mountains before me and there are mountains behind me. I can almost feel freedom. But then I hear boat horns split the air and plane propellers drone, and I know those means can only lead me back here.

 

Wescott

 

Olivia Wescott stands at the end of her driveway when I walk down the road. Her family’s gray husky, Leo, gallops to greet me and I push him away when he gets too friendly.

“Hi, Olivia,” I say.

“Hey, Amelia.”

Massive softwood trees dwarf telephone poles along the ditches beside me. I see a school bus braking at the top of the hill up the road. “Last exam?” I ask.

“Uh huh.”

“You got your braces off,” I say when I enter the driveway. “You look great. And no glasses too.”

Olivia laughs bashfully and the bus stops behind us.

“Good luck,” I say.

“Thanks. Neil’s still inside. You can go in if you want.”

“Yeah, okay. See you later.”

As the bus pulls away, I stare at her house, hoping she’s wrong. Hoping that her brother isn’t home, that he drove his dad’s car into the village, and his bulky old Chevy parked near their shed is just a misleading souvenir of his absence. But I can see Neil and his mom through the open windows of the log house. I imagine his white smile pushing dimples into his sun-tanned cheeks, his eyes narrowing brightly. His mother delighted by his self-assurance; his shoulders saying I can carry that for you, his legs promising I can run that far for you.

I lean against Neil’s ugly brown truck and my backpack scrapes the paint. Leo sits at my feet and pants. A crow caws somewhere in the woods. “What do you want?” I say to the dog.

The screen door on the porch opens and bounces shut after Neil jogs down the steps. He looks at his feet. His feet, his feet, then:

Surprise. It’s me.

“It’s open,” he says after the quick glance up.

I get inside the cab and Leo leaps in after me. “You’re going to get into trouble.”

Neil opens the driver’s door and snaps his fingers. “Leo, get down…Stupid dog.”

Leo jumps out and waits behind us, lonely.

Neil stoops to fit inside the door frame and I stare at him to see if he wants to stare back. He doesn’t have his hat on today. He must have gotten a haircut. Short all over and the same sun-streaked blond as his sisters. Instead of looking my way, he turns over the truck engine, fits a pair of dark aviator sunglasses over his eyes, and spins the truck onto the road.

 

Drive

 

Neil turns on the radio, and the rowdy country music, even though barely audible on the lowest volume notch, is a good sign of mood progression. I lean against my window, watching my breath fog up the glass and then dissipate.

“What’s wrong?”

Words.

I look over.

“Nothing’s wrong,” I say. “I didn’t say anything was wrong.”

“You’re frowning.”

“The sun’s in my eyes.”

“The sun is behind us.”

I jolt in my seat, swaying with the vehicle as it bounces over potholes in the road. “It’s nothing.”

Neil sighs dramatically.

“What?”

“You never used to be like this,” he says. “You used to smile. You were happy. Enthusiastic.”

“I was not.”

He reaches over to massage my forehead and says, “You just need to relax this part of your face.”

I swat his hand away. “Stop it.”

“You stop it. You’re ugly when you frown.”

“Um, thanks?”

“That’s not what I mean.”

I cross my arms bitterly. “Just let it go. Everyone gets this way when they grow up. Life is better when you’re young. When everything is still shiny and there’s still hope to leave places like this.”

“Leave?” He almost laughs. “You’re not trying very hard.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me, College Girl. Two semesters and you’re back.”

“For the summer.”

“Sure.”

“Shut up.” I sigh and watch bulky mountain peaks interrupt the horizon, fog making them muted giants in the distance.

“You love it here,” Neil says. “Why do you want everyone to think you hate it?”

“Because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You grow up in a small town then abandon your good morals, resent your rural upbringing, and discover the real world. You get a real job in a big city and lose your virtue and when you die you can say that you lived life to the fullest. And I’ve come to accept it. I’m not perky anymore because I finally see this place for what it really is. No one is safe here. This town leaves its mark on everybody. Even the most noble.”

“Thank you for that subtle jab.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean you…”

I can’t help but stare at Neil’s T-shirt. Kittworth Mission Airport. The navy logo on gray cotton is faded from countless washes. He wears long sleeves to cover his scars. It gets cold up in the sky, he says when people ask.

Outside my window, homes appear closer together and views of bay water widen as we enter the village. I shake my head. “I’m evolving,” I conclude. “Adapting. I’m a product of my environment. I’m ugly because this town is ugly.”

“You’re not ugly, Darwin. Everyone is ugly when they frown. And you scowling all the time is a result of how this town looks to you. Try smiling at it and it will smile back.”

I laugh out loud. “You’re one to talk.”

Neil leans forward both ways to check for traffic as we stop at the next intersection, and grins. His turn signal ticks annoyingly as he veers onto the main road of town.

KITTWORTH MISSION
POPULATION 1850

We turn into Mac Mews and I grip the door handle. “What are you doing?” I ask.

“I’m hungry.”

Patty’s Restaurant stares back at me as we park in front of the windows. “But I’m late,” I say.

“You can walk the rest of the way,” Neil says, free of chivalry.

“That would make me even later.”

Neil chucks his sunglasses onto the dashboard and stares at me.

“Come on, Neil, please.”

“I’ll just be a second.”

I fold my arms over my chest and look out my window. One of my old elementary school teachers is pumping gas outside the One-Stop. “Fine.”

“Aren’t you gonna come in with me?” Neil asks.

“No way.”

“I dare you.”

 

Keller

 

The bell on the glass door chimes when Neil and I enter the diner. A trio of girls blush when they see Neil, as if being in the same room with them is a compliment he’s paying directly to them. One of them giggles. As we cross the dining room, people drinking coffee discuss the weather, the price of fish, the traffic on Highway 16. A woman glares in my direction when she catches me staring.

“Hi, Neil.” Our old school librarian, Mrs. Gilchrist, stands behind the cash counter, ready to take orders. “I didn’t know you were home, Amelia,” she says.

“It wasn’t in the plan,” I say.

“Oh?”

“She got fired,” Neil says. I smack him in the side with my hand.

“Fired?” Mrs. Gilchrist says. “Now, you can’t leave me out of the loop.”

“Summer job at one of those fancy coffee shops,” Neil says, reaching in his back pant pocket for his wallet.

“I see,” Mrs. Gilchrist says, full of compassion and pity. “Not your forte?”

“I’m not good under pressure,” I say, and Neil has a hard time trying not to laugh.

“Happy to be home at least?” she asks.

“Of course.”

Neil orders breakfast to go, and another waitress rings him through the cash.

“You know, your mother forgot Lucy’s hat here when she was in earlier this week,” Mrs. Gilchrist says to me, waving toward the back of the store. She leads me to a counter where there are fat tubs of ice cream on display behind glass. I sit on a stool at the counter as she retrieves a tiny yellow bucket hat and hands it over.

“Thanks,” I say. “Mom is always forgetting something. Especially when Lucy’s with her.”

“They’re a handful at that age. Will you be needing anything this morning?”

“No, I don’t think…”

Suddenly, the air next to me moves. Donnie Keller sits down and my stomach churns. The bell on the front door rings consecutively and Mrs. Gilchrist moves to greet the customers. “I’ll give you some time to decide, Amelia,” she says. “Good morning, Donnie.”

“Good morning, Mrs. G,” he says.

I fiddle with the Velcro pocket on my baby sister’s hat. Don’t look up, don’t look up, don’t…

“Cute hat,” Donnie says.

His cheeks are wind-bitten, giving the illusion of a healthy complexion. Too many smoke breaks outside in the winter, I guess. His twenty-one year-old frame is still boyish. I always expect to be taller than him, but I never am. He seems to grow beside me as I wait in silence. Or maybe I’m shrinking. I look away.

“I don’t think you’ll get all that pretty hair under it though,” he says about the hat.

I crumple the hat into my fist and stand up. Donnie stops smiling and it takes a moment for me to realize that it’s not me making his cheerful mood sour, but Neil’s protective stance behind me.

“Hey Donnie,” Neil says, like the two of them are still friends.

My face flushes in embarrassment as Donnie scoffs, shakes his head and walks off.

“I got you a milkshake,” Neil says, handing me a Styrofoam cup with a lid and a straw.

“Thanks.”

 

Kittworth

 

Businesses managed from metal outbuildings and wooden home offices cramp the street. Locals attempt to entice sightseers with makeshift signs and overused flags, dull from wind and wear, before they get sucked into the harbour. Lines of customers outside farmers’ carts are distracted with binoculars and long-lensed cameras.

Neil is forced to slow down his truck as pedestrians cross the street without looking. “Tourists,” he scoffs.

“Visit Kittworth,” I say. “But you can’t stay here because God forbid anyone live here. But enjoy. No cellphone towers within fifty miles. Fresh seafood, real-live First Nations locals. Take a plane ride with the famous Neil Wescott in his famous airplane over the famous—”

“Why do you keep saying famous?”

“I’m doing a tourist campaign. I’m making us sound more exciting.”

“Us?”

“The bay. I mean they come here, take pictures, rough it for the day and then return to the comfort of their little resort towns.”

Neil flicks on his blinker and says, “That’s how we make money, honey.”

With his smile making me bashful, I roll my eyes as we cross under the main harbour gate to park. The blue and white sign’s large painted letters are peeling on wood.

BOYKO BAY HARBOUR AUTHORITY

Even with the hint of a sunny morning, the bay water is a dark mass slowly eating the cove, tide ebbing and then swelling. A processing plant takes up the end of the long and crowded shoreline. I imagine myself in the outdoor assembly line in chest-waders and rubber gloves, wheeling bins of graded fish to the plant all day, other workers sliding more results of butchery down to the next unlucky soul in line. I imagine Neil’s cousin, Demetra—my boss—tucked inside her office trying to prove people wrong. This place won’t become a museum any time soon.

Neil shuts off the truck’s ignition, interrupting commercials on the radio. “There’s your dad,” he says.

Dad appears at Neil’s open window. “She bugging you again?” he asks.

“Oh, you know, bragging about leaving this place to change the world.”

“Did she give you that product of her environment speech? I don’t know where Eden and I went wrong with her.”

I get out of the truck, grab my backpack, and slam the door. “Good thing you can have a do-over with Lucy, right, Dad?”

“Come here, Envy—oh, I mean Emmy.”

Dad meets me in front of Neil’s truck, and I whisper, “Thanks for waking me up this morning. You were supposed to take me with you so I didn’t have to ride with…” I jot my eyes over to Neil as he stares at me through the windshield.

Dad grins. “How was I supposed to know?”

I roll my eyes. “Why are you down here anyway?”

The wooden terminal down the road is where he is supposed to be. Dad is a partner at the private air station, owned by Neil’s dad and his uncle. They have several bush planes in hangars near a paved runway, and a small fleet of seaplanes, under cover in boathouses by the airport’s docks for delivering mail, taking up tourists and chauffeuring campers, hikers and anglers to remote destinations.

Dad holds up a take-out bag and a tray of coffees from Patty’s Restaurant in response to my question. Then, suddenly, he frowns and looks at his left hand. He flexes his palm, urgently wiggling his fingers.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

Dad cracks each of his knuckles with his thumb. The skin on the back of his hands is marked red with scars of frostbite and water damage, souvenirs of seasons spent fishing and making air deliveries in the winter.

“My arm’s asleep,” he says.

“That’s what you get for sitting still on the job,” Neil shouts out his window.

Dad begins to laugh and then deadpans. “Jokes this early in the morning? Em should ride with you more often. Don’t go anywhere—you’re giving me a lift back to the station.”

Dad shakes his hand in one last attempt to wake it up and then he opens his arms, expecting a hug. I let him kiss the top of my head. “Be a good kid today,” he says.

He ruffles my hair and I duck away.

“Hey, where’s my goodbye?” Neil says to me.

Dad whacks Neil’s shoulder after hopping into the passenger seat and says, “You’re treading in deep water today, buddy.”

I curb a laugh as Dad drinks the rest of my milkshake and Neil rubs the sore spot where Dad belted him. “You’re right, Neil,” I shout as I walk on to the plant. “Smiling does make everything better.”

 

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ReedsandWicks

Why This Book Changed My Life

Randy has trouble looking me in the eye. He asks if I’m okay, if I want him to pray.

He prays.

“Dear Father…”

Father, father, father. 

I can’t really listen, but I say amen.

***

I have waited a long time to share this book. Its lifespan is 7 years from conception to completion, and one thing is certain: this book changed my life.

Most of the time when someone says this, they mean that they have discovered a book, read it and it has transformed the way they look at the world or themselves or both. When I say that this book changed my life, I mean that I wrote this book and the process it took me on afterwards created a turning point—a fork in the road. A before and an after.

During the summer of the year I turned 20, I hadn’t written anything. But one day in the middle of August, I woke up and it was there—a new story.

I recently heard a musician describe his process of song-writing. He said it was like a door opens in his mind and then the words and rhythms spill out. He said you can sit down and write a song, or you can wait until the door opens and write a song.

This is how it feels with me.

“If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all”, John Keats wrote in a letter once. However, I always keep in mind that before that sentence appears, this one comes: “it is easier to think what poetry should be than to write it”.

That summer, I wrote a lot of words. A lot , a lot. But, none of it was really that good; I was never going to show it to anyone.

I finished it and shelved it and carried on through other doors whenever they opened. Probably a year later, the old book started to call to me; knocking and knocking. Eventually, I opened it and went through it again. I thought, well this isn’t that bad but it isn’t that great.

The story was set in Alaska and starred a young woman whose parents had been killed in bush plane accident. Firstly, I decided that I had to bring it closer to home if I was going to give this story its legs. I’m from Canada, so my first instinct was to bring the location down to British Columbia. Check. Then, while I was talking to my mother at the kitchen counter, I said, “I can’t kill her parents.”

Because, A. I don’t know what that’s like, and B. everyone always kills the parents; it’s too easy.

Suddenly:

“I could injury the parents—paralyze! I could make the dad paralyzed…But I don’t know anything about that either.”

My mum simply stared at me.

It was a light bulb moment.

In 2003, when I was 11 years old, my father suffered a spinal-cord stroke and was permanently paralyzed.

Some people probably assume that children who experience trauma use self-expression as a way to escape their hard reality. I don’t think that’s what I did. I began writing for fun before Dad’s stroke. Writing has always been very emotionally challenging to me. I did not begin to write or continue to write to escape; I write because I have to. Those doors, remember, they are not easily closed.

With renewed motive, I went back into my story and fleshed it out until it was a hefty 150,000 words. I mapped out a sequel and wrote 10,000 words of it (again, this isn’t normal; it was the first time I wrote like that and it hasn’t happened to me since). Then I was left with one question that always beckons at the end of every story: is it any good?

In December 2013, I was reading our local newspaper—something I do not do—and saw an article about our public library hosting a writer-in-residence. She was going to be leading workshops for 6 months starting in January. She was also receiving manuscript submissions—full, partial, anything a local writer needed feedback on. I gathered courage and sent an email with the first chapter of my book. A few weeks later, I received a reply saying she wanted to meet me.

January 25th 2014 was going to be the day and I was terrified. I do not remember being so nervous for anything. I didn’t know what to expect. No one had read my stories beside my family. This woman was a writing professor; an award-winning published author. But I had to know–was I good enough? I decided that this meeting was going to determine my next step: keep going or change paths. But on the Friday night before our scheduled appointment, my dad had to be rushed to the hospital at one AM.

We didn’t know what was wrong when we called 911. He looked as if he was having a another stroke. But the doctors discovered it was a pulmonary embolism; a blood clot in his lungs, and I remember thinking I thought he was going to die.

But he didn’t.

My mum told me the paramedics resuscitated him twice in the ambulance, while my brother and I prayed so fiercely and so confidently in our living room—this was not the end. At four o’clock in the morning in the empty waiting room outside the Intensive Care Unit, I emailed the writer-in-residence from my phone to say I couldn’t make it to our meeting. She replied late in the morning and said we could reschedule.

My family spent the next four days in the ICU family lounge, while Dad was intubated and doctors did more tests. My new meeting was schedule for February 1st and I couldn’t get myself to feel nervous if I tried. Life and death situations violently shove things into perspective. I laughed about it as my brother drove me downtown; Dad had survived. My family rallied. Faith remained.

I arrived 15 minutes early to my 11 AM Saturday morning meeting at the downtown branch of our local library. I told the librarian why I had come and she told me where to go. I climbed the stairs she directed me to and sat down on a small couch in a very bare hallway near an open office door.

Then I heard, “Emily?”

The woman was tall and had a nice voice. I rose from the couch and stood in the office doorway while she shook my hand and asked about my father. I told her the shortest version of the emergency and ended with the good news, “He’s going to be alright.”

With a genuine look of relief, she told me to have a seat.

I sat.

She resumed her seat behind a large writing desk and, while slipping off her glasses, she said, “Well. I hope someone’s told you you’re a writer.”

Smiling was natural and very hard to stop.

I said, “No, they haven’t, but thank you.”

The rest of our hour and a half meeting was an out-of-body experience. She used words like “once in a blue moon” and “never have I ever”. I couldn’t believe what was happening. She confirmed it for me. I hadn’t dreamed all my dreams for nothing.

Yet, even after she read through the entire novel, I put it away again. I wrote new books and new stories, fueled by remembering that I knew how to write a book. Because there are moments when your fingers are flying on the keyboard and those blank white, intimidating pages are surrendering to sentence after sentence, and you think: what in the world am I doing? Where are these stories coming from? And you battle with depressing thoughts of comparison and failure. What I have realized is that never trying to slay those empty pages would be the only failure.

In 2016, I went back through that old, familiar door that would become KITTWORTH, and carved out this book from what seemed like ancient marble, so dense and so rough. It’s just under 55, 000 words now. I published Meet Me Back Here, Alright in 2017 and then Reeds and Wicks in 2018, just babies compared to Kittworth.

To me, Kittworth is so old and so real to me. And I’m very glad to share it with you.

 

It's just a dot on (2)


Reeds andWicks (1)


MeetMeBackHereAlright

New Book

 

It's just a dot on (1)

Before the wind turns the bay water into waves, the air is only cold and still and wet. It smells like rain and salt from the sea. Moira Sound feeds the bay and its span stretches for miles in both directions before, blending into the Pacific. But I wonder about that water, where it goes when it drains and why it comes back with the tide; what it sees and what it brings back.

img_2280With the Pacific Ocean surging toward its shores and rugged mountain peaks guarding its boundaries, Kittworth is a town of adventure and tourism. Visitors travel from all over to explore its beautiful—and dangerous—landscape, coming and going whenever they please. Only Kittworth’s lifelong residents live with the constant threat of never moving beyond its borders—especially Amelia Garrison.

Her first year away at college was a much-anticipated escape from Kittworth and the bad blood ruling its backwoods. When she returns to work at the local fishery for the summer, she never expects her life to change again. The unplanned arrival of her baby sister, Lucy, two years ago was plenty of change. Now, all Amelia wants is to blend in, save money and dodge babysitting duty. But on the night of her parents’ wedding anniversary, Amelia’s father is paralyzed in a bush plane accident, and Amelia’s priorities are turned upside down.

While her parents recuperate in hospital two hours away, learning how to take care of Lucy and help pay the bills force Amelia to lean on the support of her neighbours, including her childhood crush, Neil. But in a town where generational animosity reigns, her neighbours may be causing more harm than good. As her desire to fight the status quo grows, Amelia soon realizes that every action—no matter how small—has a reaction, and the consequences might keep her trapped in Kittworth forever.

Coming Soon

Wayward Ep. 4

IV.     ROSIE

I didn’t want to sound too interested in her because I was afraid of my sister thinking I was desperate and of my brother thinking I was seriously considering his choice and otherwise allowing him to pat himself on the back one more time. So I organized my questions about her, distanced them through the dinner’s conversations to quench any suspicions.

I asked for her full name right off, to which Kimberly replied while setting down her drink, “I think her real name is Scarlett Rosamund.”

I winced as I turned to Lewis who sat across from me in the dimming light of the restaurant. “That’s rather harsh, don’t you think?” I asked.

“Or is it Rosamund Scarlett…” Kimberly continued, picking up her drink again and looking at the ceiling as if the answer was up there. She shook her head finally and said, “Either way, she’s a King-Fontaine.”

“Should I know that name?” I asked.

“Wouldn’t think so, they’re not from here.”

I could have asked where she did come from or about the size of her family, but I didn’t. I resigned to examining my sister’s outfit while Alice inquired of her latest adventure.

Kimberly was wearing slender black pants that were too short with small flat shoes and on top she had a white sweater with ruffles all down the front. “This is how the women in Paris dress,” she said while spinning 360 degrees before we sat down at our table. I admired the way she kept her hair free of frizz and tamed her natural waves. I wished that were the way Rosie King-Fontaine, if that was her real name, would have kept her hair and clothes.

It was getting dark outside and the yellow lights on the walls by the mantle sent everything in the room aglow. Kimberly was talking about Potter’s School for Girls when I tried to fit in my next question about Rosie. My sister sent the table into laughter when finishing her anecdote with, “That’s why all the boys in Mallory thought it was a finishing school.”

“Isn’t it?” I asked.

“Hardly. This is the twenty-first century, Marty.”

“They teach girls how to cook and sew and clean.”

Kimberly nodded, obviously offended by the comparison and said, “And Latin and French and German and how to decode Milton while solving quadratics and building from the periodic table.”

I began to wonder if I had judged Potter Girls, for that was what we all called them here, entirely wrong. Kimberly went to Potter’s School and she turned out fine, not cold and unapproachable like I had labeled the gaggle of girls that filed from the dorm every night.

“And you met Rosie there?” I asked, coughing after, hoping that if they didn’t hear me they’d just skip to another topic.

Kimberly nodded. “Yes, she was two years younger than me.”

“You were friends then?”

“We said hi and bye. She was quiet and I was quiet; never one for socializing until I was done with that school.”

Kimberly may have outgrown her shyness and severity but Rosie, for what I could tell, hadn’t yet.

“I don’t know where she was before she came to Windsor but I know why she did,” Kimberly added. “Her father had a stroke and the consequences on his health were grave. They had to buy a house to accommodate his needs and the big house on Coach Street is hers. That’s all the girls ever told me about her.”

“So she does go to Windsor?”

Lewis, Alice and Kimberly looked at me as if I should have been asking about something else that Kimberly had said and I looked, puzzled at each of them, until Kimberly said, “I don’t know. I don’t go to Windsor.”

Lewis cleared his throat on purpose and said, “Now that you’re back in town you should invite her out, Kim.”

“And let her know about your scheme,” I interjected immediately, disgusted by the idea. “Not a chance!”

“Kim wouldn’t say anything, would you, Kim?”

“Of course not! It’d be far too embarrassing anyway.”

“See what she’s like,” Lewis said. “You’d be a very positive influence. Alice should go too.”

I frowned as I surveyed them all making plans and although I despised the idea more than thoroughly, I couldn’t help being intrigued to find out more about Rosie’s life and Kimberly, if anybody, would be the best influence on her.

It seemed, after my sister told me her name, I saw Rosie King-Fontaine everywhere; I passed her on campus sidewalks, coming through doors and even waiting in hallways. I stared at her each and every time waiting to see if she would stare back. She never did. She never seemed to look up once. This wasn’t working; this waiting, in which I didn’t know what for, or the inaction I wasn’t taking, though I didn’t know how to act if I had the guts.

I had to wait to find out if Kimberly had spoken with her because Kimberly didn’t show up to lunch at the Den. Alice didn’t either and when I asked of her whereabouts, Lewis told me she was with our sister.

“Kimberly did want to see you though. Something of some grave importance I’m sure,” Lewis mentioned, forgetting to veil his sarcasm as we sat at a small table outside on the terrace where men were smoking expensive cigars in expensive suits.

I began to worry that Kimberly was with Rosie that very minute and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else Lewis said. I was imagining the worst; Kimberly in close proximity with Rosie and discussing Lewis’ plan and roaring in laughter over how stupid it was.

“If I call Alice at the house—they could still be at the house—where should I tell Kim to meet you?” Lewis asked.

I was staring into Lewis’ chest and studying his upper half as the bistro set concealed his lower half. He was wearing a suit, though it wasn’t as heathery as most of his others were; it was charcoal, and underneath was a black shirt—the whole ensemble was from his favorite store on Queen Street. “Marty,” he said, trying to get my attention.

I looked down at my wool cardigan and white Henley, saying, “Donahue’s.”

Donahue’s sounded like some Irish pub but the only good pub around that Windsor kids went to was the Iron Duke. Donahue’s was a men’s boutique with dark furnishings and a vast selection of tailor-made options. It was all Italy-imported goods, from their leather to their cashmere and everyone who worked there was white-haired and eighty. My father took Lewis there for the first time for his elementary school graduation suit. Kent waited on us and Kent had ever since, of course favoring us more whenever Kimberly was present like everyone does. “Such expensive taste,” Kent always said of her.

I met Kimberly there and she greeted me like any sister would and neglected to mention where she was or who she was with, so I figured anything she was about to tell me during our shopping excursion wasn’t going to be so gravely important as Lewis had figured.

“Buongiorno,” she happily saluted Salvatore who always manned the cash counter. He nodded toward her, smiling graciously and welcoming us in.

Kent walked in next, good and wholesome Scottish Kent who was always impeccably dressed. “Miss Wahlton,” he said. “Welcome, welcome. Ah, Mr. Wahlton, looking for something new?” I nodded casually as I scanned the shelved and hug garments on mannequins and in display windows. “Something new for church perhaps?”

“Yes,” Kimberly answered for me. “Maybe,” she corrected. “We’ll look first and ask for you when he’s decided.” Kent bowed his head slightly and smiled politely, leaving us alone as we were the only ones inside the store.

Kimberly examined folds of English tartans, fondled merino wools and clung to Italian leathers as we circled about the wall displays and table tops. “So. Guess who Alice and I ran into during lunch?” she began.

I stopped in my turning, suddenly terrified of her sentence’s end. “Please say Mum,” I begged.

She smiled. “Rosie from Potter’s; the girl Lewis is so set on me befriending.”

She didn’t need to be so specific. I knew exactly who she was talking about. Rosamund Scarlett King-Fontaine was the only name I had been fixated on for the last week when I should have been studying names like Locke, Hume or Descrates.

“Oh?” I said, concealing my eagerness to unlock every detail down to the way she wore her hair.

“Yes, it was completely on accident too, because I had planned to come up with some sort of way to meet with her.”

“How did you see her?”

“Alice and I were eating at the Tea Shoppe and she was purchasing something to go. I just shouted out her name and we got to talking. She remembered me rather well too and all that good stuff. I told her of my going to Europe and I asked about her naturally. Oh, Marty, you have to get this tie,” she exclaimed, pointing to a navy and maroon striped one inside the table’s glass top.

“What does she do?” I asked swiftly, not distracted by Kimberly’s subject change or impressed with her finding.

“She studies history at Windsor.

“History? What’s one to do with that?”

Kimberly turned and gave me a look. “Well, what is one to do with a philosophy major?” I blinked and stared into space, thinking on her question, but I decided to overlook it for now, seeing as the topic was Rosie King-Fontaine and not me. “I told her that I had to see her again and it wasn’t one of those invitations that I usually to say to other girls I haven’t seen in months because I don’t really intend to see them at all—it was real.”

“What did she say? Did she like you enough?”

“I think so since she agreed to watch the rugby game tomorrow.”

“Rugby? On campus?”

“Mm hmm, Alice is coming too.”

“Did she like Alice?”

Kimberly frowned at my anxious tone. “They barely spoke.”

“But everyone likes Alice.”

My sister laughed. “I’m sure she did like Alice just fine.” Kimberly moved to a rack of jackets and pulled one out. “Now, try this.” She handed me something of grey herringbone and shoved me toward the fitting room. When I came out, Kent was there holding the tie Kimberly had spotted earlier.

I looked down at the jacket on my body and tugged at it a bit, stretching and flexing my arms, feeling the fit of it. “You look great!” Kimberly said.

I spun to face the mirror. “It’s part of the fall collection, just imported,” Kent informed me, standing behind me with a measuring tape draped around his neck.

I looked down at the three-digit price on the tag and then at my reflection again. “Also, the new messenger bag you saw in the catalogue is in,” Kent continued. “It comes in the burnt brown like Kimberly suggested.”

I nodded and turned to face them both. “I’ll take it.”

“And the satchel as well?” Kent asked.

I looked at the mirror again and nodded slowly. “And the tie.”

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Wayward Ep. 3

III.         KIMBERLY

Lewis and I walked the university roads, passing lecture halls and collected clubs, with the setting sun behind us, making everyone silhouettes. “You want me to stalk her?” I asked him.

“I want you to get to know her,” he corrected.

“Without talking to her?”

“Learn about her, is what I’m saying.”

I frowned; I didn’t know this girl’s name, how old she was. I didn’t know what classes she took, if she was even a student.

“Find out what her schedule’s like,” Lewis suggested as we walked back to the Den’s terrace.

“How am I supposed to do that?”

Lewis stopped at his parked car, turned and grinned. I shook my head as he drove away, leaving me with no further advice.

I tried to imagine her, the one, again. I couldn’t remember how tall she was, how slender, the exact color of her hair—nothing. Then I remembered what Lewis told me; it all depends on how you look at it.

But I was late for work.

It was near suppertime and just when students and families were sitting down at long dining tables or around countertops, relieved to meet the end of another day, I was headed for five hours behind a desk; reading Husserl and answering telephones.

Doyle and Doyle Barristers and Solicitors was downtown on the waterfront. Leaving the Windsor campus was like leaving another town in which all things picturesque were born and sustained, the perfect Edith Wharton American living was left behind and real life began.

The city was smoggy near the lakefront with sailboat masts breaking the horizon and ferries bridging the gap between the harbour and the island across the way. The lawyers’ office where I worked was newly refinished, but the only square footage I ever really saw of it was the space between the door and the front desk.

It was a large, dark wooden writing desk with a green lamp that was always on; it was the only light on in there after hours because the ceiling lights were on timers, which I, apparently, wasn’t considered in. The telephone rang about seven times an hour and I answered, saying, “Doyle and Doyle Barristers and Solicitors, can I connect you?” In which the other end usual replied, “Yes, please, Mr. Doyle.”

In between rings I ate poorly homemade sandwiches, nothing like the ones Mum used to pack in my school lunch, opened my textbooks, wrote papers, jotted notes and read passages. The night cleaners came and went, mopping the tile floors and emptying garbage cans. I always smiled, extra friendly, because it seemed—these lawyers—the more you paid them the messier they were.

It was near eleven when I got home to my housing. I made zero progress in my studies that night. I was thinking about the magazine girl—the one or whatever I was supposed to call her. Lewis lived a life I envied. I wanted it. I’ll admit it. So, I was going to follow through with his plan.

I spent the following week trying to locate the magazine girl, without much luck. I tried to see if she was in any of my classes—none. A dozen circumstances ran through my head; what if she was ill that day? What if she slept in? What if there was some life-altering scenario which kept her?

I went back to the café. I thought the monthly delivery of the new magazine issues would have enticed her—nothing. What if she got her subscription delivered now? What if she went to some other book shop on campus?

I stayed late after classes to see if she would come in for the next seminar; I hung around the dormitories in case she lived in residence—nothing—not one trace of her existence. I figured she transferred or she never attended Windsor to begin with.

I didn’t know if it was the introduction of the magazine girl in my life that was causing my grades to drop or my lack of knowledge on the subjects. I walked around with my heavy books and decided I should pick up more recommended reading at the library.

The library was a squatty thing, long and never-ending with shelves after shelves, aisle after aisle. I went directly to the librarian for help. I liked her because she was a retired English professor with a very charming disposition; she wore fashionable eyeglasses and her gray hair styled and never disheveled. But when I arrived at the front desk, after passing whispering students hidden behind books and booths, the old lady wasn’t there.

There was no one there.

I waited, growing annoyed by the second, and searched for someone to help. When I turned back around, I froze.

There was someone behind the counter now, appearing like a flash and I blinked, thinking it was my imagination. The look on my face must have been priceless.

It was the magazine girl.

She just stood there, staring back at me like any real person would.

“Can I help you?”

Ah, her voice! She was real. She was alive and…speaking to me.

She appeared unimpressed, so I tilted my head, trying to as nonchalant as my nerves would let me be, and dropped my books onto the counter, clearing my throat.

“Returning these?” she asked.

I did have the ability to speak and she was interrupting me—I wanted to prove to her, if this was really going to be our first interaction, that I was capable of at least that.

“Yes,” I squeaked.

I cleared my throat again.

“I need to take out An Introduction to Husserlian Phenomenology,” I said, trying to sound smart about it.

The magazine girl stared at me like I was speaking a different language and to someone who’s never studied what I have studied, it might. She blinked, removed the books from the counter and carried them to the opposite counter behind her.

She did some typing on a computer and waited, tapping her finger on the space button for something to do. I looked away so I wouldn’t ogle her. Then:

“We don’t have that one available, it’s wait-listed.”

I swallowed. “For how long?”

“Next year.”

My expression dropped and now I wasn’t thinking about how to impress her, I was thinking about my grades.

“I have Introduction to Phenomenology,” she said, reading the screen in front of her. “And The Phenomenological Mind. It’s recommended for students who have a special interest in cognitive science.”

I stared at her until she looked my way.

“Do you like cognitive science?” was her question.

“I’ll take the first one,” I said, touching my shirt collar as if it was choking me.

She wrote down the author and the duodecimal number on a scrap piece of paper for me. “Is that all?” she asked, handing it over.

Was this it? Was this all she was going to ask me?

“I need…”

I thought for a little while.

TheStructure of Scientific Revolutions…”

She turned back to her computer and typed more. I thought that for sure would impress her, but, apparently, it did not.

When she found the book online, she wrote its details on the same piece of paper and then finally smiled at me. But I couldn’t smile back, all I said was, “The Nature of Mind.”

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s by David Armstrong.”

“Oh.”

She turned, typed, found and then scribbled the new information on the paper. She slid it across the counter one last time. Her smile had shrunk.

“Thank you,” I said before turning toward the first aisle of books.

As I walked away, I wondered if she was watching me, if my reaction to her and her reaction to me was…normal. I was let down, for starters. She didn’t have a name tag; she didn’t ask me how I was—she didn’t do any of the things I expected her to do. Smile, laugh, send me on my way with well wishes. And yet her inattention intrigued me more.

I walked swiftly down the library aisles, ready to find my books. I tried to keep an eye on her to make sure she didn’t leave. I finally found her; I couldn’t lose her now. The duodecimal numbers grew larger and longer and I couldn’t spot the front desk from where I was. I thumbed the spines of the books quickly, reading the numbers out loud. I snatched the three books as fast as I could and raced back to the front desk.

I wanted to curse when the stylish old lady was back and the magazine girl was gone. I waited with the pile of books in my arms, searching for her.

“Can I sign those out for you?” the usual librarian asked me.

It was no use; the magazine girl was gone.

I sighed and gave over the books, leaving with only my grade’s improvement to look forward to.

The bell on St. Mary’s cathedral rang twelve times, the gongs echoing around me as I walked from the library to the Den. It was time was for lunch with Alice and Lewis. But this time it was different; Kimberly had been invited, too.

I raced across campus and found myself at a loss without a tie or jacket, just my sweater and shirt collar showing. I knew they were all going to show up in their best but I didn’t have time to change.

Kimberly was my older sister. She was the middle child and that didn’t even begin to sum her up. She was favored by everyone, including me, because she was beautiful and knew what to say at exactly the right time. She spent a lot of her time and money in Europe, sending us capital souvenirs upon request. She dressed us brothers when we were young and our style as men was a result of her taste and our grandfather’s closet.

The Den was relatively full when I arrived, with my new library books tucked under my arms. I instantly spotted Alice and Lewis alone at a table. A waiter walked me over to them sitting under tall French windows and I sat down, defeated, before either of them could greet me properly.

“Martin,” boomed Lewis cheerily. “How’s it going?”

I sulked, slouching lower in my seat as he leaned over the tabletop to read the title page of one of my books.

“Are you so behind that you have to bring your reading to dinner?” he said, laughing.

“I was at the library,” I said, glaring as I remembered his remark about my studies. “I didn’t want to be late. Where’s our sister?”

“She’ll be here.”

Kimberly was always late and, like I said before, everyone loved her, even despite that unruly fact.

Lewis was wearing a black jacket this time with a white shirt, making me look severely underdressed. Alice, to match him in elegance, was in a dress, a pretty frilly thing and lots of jewelry which she wore, I’m sure, to impress our extra guest.

They talked a while and I wasn’t listening, even while declining to order until Kimberly showed up. I scanned the faces of the room, the waiters, the alumni, the professors and investors. Then I looked out the window overlooking the green lawns and stony paths where students walked, bundled in scarves in the chilling autumn weather.

“Marty,” Lewis said, obviously annoyed by my lack of concentration. “Marty!”

I frowned, my focus out the window still. I squinted to better my view of…

The magazine girl.

Standing without thinking, I smiled at Lewis and said, “I found her.”

I dashed outdoors and Lewis and Alice followed. I stood on the terrace, calming down when I saw her sitting stationary on a bench in the distance. The three of us stood watching her for some time and then my sudden satisfaction thinned.

“That’s her then?” Alice asked. “What’s her name?”

“We don’t know,” Lewis said.

“Don’t you think she’s plain?” I asked, tilting my and leaning back, trying to get a new perspective.

“No, she’s adorable!” Alice said.

The magazine girl was reading a book and her hair was down now, different from when I saw her only minutes ago. It was longer than I imagined. I didn’t know what it was about her that didn’t excite me; she wore jeans and an unflattering coat…and boots which looked more or less like slippers.

I scrunched up my nose like there was a bad smell and Lewis said, “Don’t you like her?”

“I think she’s a Potter girl, don’t you?” I thought out loud. Then:

“What are you all doing out here?”

We all turned simultaneously to see who had addressed us. It was Kimberly, of course. Alice embraced her excitedly and they shared equally enthused greetings. Lewis and I waited our turns to give hugs and kisses and ask how she was doing.

Looking at the magazine girl, Kimberly frowned. “What are you doing?”

“I’ve found a girl for Marty,” Lewis announced.

“A girl!” my sister screeched, clapping her hands excitedly.

“Shh,” I snapped. “She’ll hear you.”

“Who?” she asked, looking in the direction we all were looking.

“There,” Lewis said. “On the bench.”

Kimberly squinted to see better and then smiled. “Oh,” she said, “that’s Rosie.”

Rosie!?

I whipped my head toward her, my hands still in my pockets. “Rosie? Is that a real name?”

“You know her?” Lewis asked.

“From when I was at Potter’s.”

I looked at Lewis with a told-you-so expression. “I knew it.”

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Wayward Ep. 2

II.         THE ONE

I took five courses in my first semester of my third year at Windsor and I had brought my attention, my focus and my best to every class. But not that week. I blamed it on Lewis, of course, and his silly unmentioned provisions for happiness. I sat in the hollow halls in the middle row or whatever seat was empty and within hearing distance to the professor, scanning the faces of the girls, eligible or not. I came to the conclusion after History of Great Thinkers on Wednesday that philosophy majors were as unattractive as the professors. I had two other classes to attend that week so I kept my eyes ready.

Lewis invited me to lunch alone on Thursday and we met at the mantle in the Den and I asked how his classes were going, to which he replied: “Painstakingly boring. I want to fall asleep more than the students do. I feel bad for you.”

“Why? I’m not becoming a lawyer.”

He was wearing his usual gray suit, but this time with a blue and white checked shirt and no tie. I looked at his watch for the majority of our meeting, its pearl face glowing amidst the sparkle of the band.

Lewis managed a laugh in spite of my comment and asked me how my “progress” was going. “Why do I have to confine myself to the campus?” I asked.

Lewis winced while thinking on it. “You don’t,” he said finally. “It’s just the easiest.”

Easy things were more appealing, I thought, agreeing with him enough to listen to his theory.

“Let’s take a tour,” he said, setting down his drink on the nearest table and then waving his arm toward the restaurant door.

Windsor College was ancient. It produced more working lawyers, doctors and teachers than any other school in the county. Its performing arts academy, something the “real” students despised being associated with, was even revered. Its campus wound and stopped and began again throughout the public conservation area and had its own community in which if you did not attend you did not enter. Potter’s School for girls was established before the legacy of Windsor began and hence, Lewis took me there first.

We looked up at the dormitory, a colonial house with a large porch, and it stared back at us. “They only accept the best in the province,” Lewis said.

“The best?” I asked. “What does that mean exactly?”

Lewis frowned. “I don’t know.”

The best looking? The best dressed? I didn’t know but as girls rushed out of the white front door, I knew it meant both. They filed out like a military brigade, proper and refined, looking too fierce to approach and passing us both without a second glance. I looked at my own clothes, wondering if they were the cause for the shunning response. I was wearing jeans, dark-washed and just the right length. I had a button front shirt; white with two breast pockets, rolled up on the sleeves because they were too short anyway.

“Too cold?” I said about the girls.

“I was going to say too young,” Lewis said. “But that sounds about right too.”

He took me to the theatre next, saying, “Actresses, they have to be nice to look at.”

We sat in the back row of the dark auditorium watching auditions for The Importance of Being Earnest. We slumped in the cushioned seats, unimpressed, watching one girl after the other. They recited their lines from the center of the wooden stage, shouting at us; their voices cracking with every enthusiastic note. I frowned and concluded: “Too loud.”

Lewis and I took to the grass outside to watch field hockey practice. We stood, arms folded, squinting under the sun, as we watched the girls team; a bunch of brawny-looking girls running the length of the field in red plaid skirts, forcefully pushing one another out of the way. Before I could react, Lewis shook his head and pushed me aside, saying, “No. No, no.”

Defeated, we walked outside the main dormitories, new complexes built to blend in with the old Victorian cityscape. “We have to go where you’re not used to going,” Lewis said as he looked around us. Then: “Library,” he concluded as he snapped his fingers with his moment of epiphany.

“Are you making a jab at me?” I asked.

“At you?”

“At me not being a scholar.”

“If you were one you’d be studying law or medicine.”

“My major isn’t a result of my ability but more about my interests,” I defended. Lewis continued to stare at me blankly. “I go to the library a lot,” I confirmed.

He inhaled, frustrated. “Where to then?”

I didn’t want to go anywhere with him after that so I waited until he came up with another suggestion or until I had to say, “I have to go to work.”

“Café,” he said, suddenly smiling. He was already half way down the street where a small coffee and paper shop sat. I reluctantly picked up my feet to join him, hoping he’d see that the venture was a waste of time and I, for once, would be the right one.

The location was, yes, a place I rarely entered. It was full of loud, bubbly girls high with caffeine dressed in the latest fashions, and smart-looking boys, too smart for their own good, alone in solitude and dressed in black and tight scarves with dark-framed glasses.

“I don’t think so,” I said after we stepped inside.

Lewis smiled and patted me on the back. “Let’s get a drink.”

“I don’t like coffee.”

He looked disapprovingly at me and glided into the line-up in front of the cash counter. We stood by the newsstand and there was a girl there, scoping out fashion magazines, who I nearly bumped into. Unbalanced as I was, with my hands in my pant pockets, she scooted behind me in the crowded space to get a better look at the autumn/ winter issues. She excused herself so I did too, which really didn’t sound like actual English words at all.

Lewis watched her and I didn’t want to because I knew from the look on his face, he was ready to pick her. The quizzical frown he had when examining her was so obvious, I hit him in the arm. He relaxed his brow and asked, quietly: “Do you know her?”

“No.”

He shook his head casually and shrugged. “Seemed like you knew one another.”

My eyebrows sunk down into a frown. “How?”

The queue was shrinking in front of us; the magazine girl took a spot behind us with her choice from the paper shop, staring absently into space. I turned to see her quickly, to get some kind of impression of her, before darting my eyes away.

“What do you want to drink?” Lewis asked me.

“I don’t want to drink anything,” I told him, annoyed he didn’t understand me the first time.

“Hurry up, I need to meet Alice.”

“Then what are we doing here for? Let’s go.”

Lewis smiled at the magazine girl, gently moved me aside and said, “You can go ahead.”

She smiled politely. It was all of her expression I saw because I looked away again with only the tiny curve of my lips.

Lewis stood with me. “We’re leaving?” I asked, hopeful.

He held up his finger, telling me to wait, as he watched the girl pay for her magazines. I finally looked at her; she had a smart jacket on which floated around her middle, showing no sign of her shape. Her jeans were the only thing tight and maybe her flat shoes, revealing the top of her foot, looking too white against the black leather. She had dark hair, I wasn’t sure how long it was because it was pulled back. She had a brown leather tote and I couldn’t see inside it. She walked past us, bringing a breeze so fast I couldn’t see her face.

Lewis’s eyes followed her, watching through the large storefront window pane, eager to follow her so much so he suggested it.

“What?” I exclaimed. He was already half way out the door. “You can’t be serious.”

He smiled and went outside. Rolling my eyes, I followed him. He scanned the faces and the backs of students’ heads before catching a glimpse of the magazine girl at the intersection. “There,” he said, walking too swiftly to be inconspicuous.

“This is stupid,” I declared when he stopped to pick her out from the crowd again.

He huffed. “I lost her.”

“What does Alice think of you chasing girls?”

“I’m not chasing her for me. I’m chasing her for you.”

“How do you know I’m even interested?”

“Marty,” he said firmly. “I know.”

I never quite understood what he meant when he said that and he said that often. I frowned on the sidewalk. I could see the magazine girl quite clearly, but I wasn’t about to point her out. She looked both ways before crossing the avenue in front of the dorms, the setting sun catching the plains of her face.

I sighed loudly.

If my brother said she was the one, then…she was the one.

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New Story Series Begins Today

WAYWARD

or

ALL HE ATE BEFORE GRACE

“Vanities of vanities,” says the preacher, “all is Vanity.”

I.     Lewis and Alice

My brother always told me that it all depends on how you look at it. His advice, he told me later, applied to everything; an over-priced leather jacket, an expensive meal, a back-up television, life—girls. It all depends on how you look at it. Or her in this instance. This instance being this story.

My brother, whose name is Lewis and who is a minor four years my senior, prided himself not in his work or wisdom—his work being law and his wisdom being the fear of the Lord—but in his possessions, undoubtedly thinking too highly of his taste and opinion.

That being said, his house and all his earthly assets were fine. His house was a country dwelling built some hundred years before he bought it and its furnishings just the way I would have them if I were to have a home and a family to occupy it; large wooden things, dark and traditional with fancy linens and fine china. He owned a car that was black, sleek and shiny which he drove to the office wearing one of his various suits; usually of grey twill that he paired with a shirt sometimes of small plaid, and a skinny coloured tie with matching gingham pocket square.

Even his appearance, to match his clothing, was fine. He was a tall man built like my father with a good jaw and a healthy hairline; a crown of light brown hair kept short and parted to one side. But it was not his hair or suit or house he ranked the highest, but a wife named Alice.

Alice was a farmer’s daughter who seemed to mysteriously have everything of an aristocratic upbringing. To me, she was ideal; a honey-haired, brown-eyed woman; a pretty thing so much so her height and weight were of no consequence in the matter. She was agreeable and caring; never weak, never over-bearing. She was coated in grace and she liked me a lot. She often made Lewis look better than he really did and when asked on the subject my brother always replied that her attraction to him was a result of exactly that reason.

Lewis was a bachelor through most of his years at Windsor College where our father and our father’s father studied architecture. He was in his last year of studying law, mind you in the middle of his class (something he manages to leave out when telling the story) when an English major crossed his path and she, innocently thinking nothing of their eyes meeting, never engaged in a pursuit, not realizing he already was. He followed her around campus in the fall, waited outside her classes in the spring, learning a great many things about her. Upon graduating and starting low in the ranks at Doyle and Doyle, Lewis never forgot about his college girl and that’s when he finally employed her in his life. They weren’t inseparable as almost are romantic couples are; they dated only three years, engaged for one and wed the next. My brother, nearing thirty and his wife, four years younger, had been married two and a half years when he entered the gates of Windsor again.

It was determined before either one of us were born that we’d attend Windsor, Mum’s hopes for us becoming just like our father, and we agreed that our time behind desks and in the lecture seats were going to be ours alone. And my years were—until my brother Lewis became guest lecturer Lewis Wahlton in the law department.

Luckily enough for me I wasn’t in law. I was enlisted at Windsor to study Philosophy and had been for three years, passing my twenty-first birthday six months before my sophomore year. I got along quietly, rooming in a red brick Victorian townhouse with my cousin, and managing to pay tuition with the money earned working as a nightly secretary for Loney and Wills, undoubtedly because of word sent by my brother in the law world. It was October when my satisfyingly dry life at Windsor ended.

I had just barely past my mid-term examination in Topics in Contemporary European Philosophy and I was sitting in that very class, listening to Professor Mayseck discuss phenomenology and its approach to classical philosophy problems (Today: the distinction between “knowledge by acquaintance” and “knowledge by description”) when I realized I should have read the recommended texts.

I chewed the end of my pen as I stared at the clock on the wall, high above the teacher’s bald head. I was torn between counting down the minutes and wanting them to drag on and on and on. I knew at precisely 12:46 pm Prof. Mayseck, who was never late and never early, was going to dismiss us, some one hundred students, and I was going to have to run across campus to my housing, drop off my books and run all the way back without working up a sweat.

Alice had invited me to lunch.

The clock struck the time mentioned and I was off. My shoes skidded along sidewalks and I stopped cars at crosswalks, a few of my unconfined papers blowing away in the wind. I climbed steps to the townhouse, fumbled with my keys, my pen still between my lips, and I stomped up the winding staircase inside to my apartment. I tossed my textbooks and my book bag, ignoring my cousin on the sofa, and grabbed my tie from the back of one of the kitchen chairs. I was back on the sidewalk, crossing avenues and slow students on the way, all while pulling the black tie over my neck, watching my fingers fiddle with the silky fabric.

The Den was a dining hall at the college, one I liked because of a sentimental photograph of my father as a student standing by the mantle with his mates and raising a glass.

I raced over the terrace and stopped.

I took in a deep breath, clearing my head and straightening my tie.

Through the French doors, I could see them, sitting at a table on the other side of the hall. I cracked my neck and the doors opened for me as if by magic.

I sat, staring at the mantle in the Den; six feet wide with a mirror overhead, reaching the excessive height of the ceiling. The fire in the hearth was flickering. My brother and my sister-in-law sat across from me in the wide room barely busy with the autumn sunlight catching the crystal on the empty tables. Lewis was reciting a story about when we were boys, one he forgot to tell at Thanksgiving the week before, as he finished his meal when I realized that this reoccurring lunch was going to happen daily for whatever time Lewis was given as lecturer.

“Are you working often?” Lewis picked up his drink and showed off the cuff of his shirt sleeve; navy and red check which he paired with Dad’s skinny black tie and navy pocket square.

I inhaled deeply as I looked from the mantle to his face and let out my breath slowly. “Not enough.”

“Spending your time getting to know any new friends?” Alice asked, hoping; her delicate hand sweeping away her blond hair which had fallen into her eyes. The rest of her hair was pulled back, revealing her earrings, the ones with the grey stones she had imported from Barcelona.

“No,” I admitted. “Studying too much.”

“And how is Dan?” Lewis asked next, leaning back in his seat. “You should invite him to eat with us next time.”

Next time, I knew it. Dan was our cousin and my roommate. He was a good-looking lad with dark hair and a giant smile all the girls swooned over. He wasn’t involved in any extracurricular activities like me so our time together was frequent.

“Is he setting you up on any dates with any of the girls from Mallory?” Lewis teased.

I laughed out loud. “Of course not. All those girls are too young, taken or if they aren’t, there has to be a reason why.”

“Marty,” Alice said, disappointed.

Marty. It only sounded sophisticated when she said it. Martin Theodore Wahlton was the only way my name could sound important.

“There are tons of pretty girls here,” Alice said. “You can’t tell me that you’re not fond of one of them.”

Pretty girls. Sure, there were pretty girls here. There were plenty of pretty girls everywhere. Pretty wasn’t what I was aiming for. I smiled at her politely, avoiding an answer.

“We’ll just have to find you one,” Lewis chimed in, looking around the room as if to pick one right there and then.

“There may have been a lot of beautiful girls here when you were in college and you picked the best of them,” I said, watching Alice grin bashfully at the compliment I paid her, and smiling too. “But it’s like all the girls here are too disinterested in me and I don’t really mind.”

“Well, have you shown any of them encouragement?”

By this time my brother and I were both sitting exactly the same way, something our mother always laughed over. We leaned with one elbow bent on the back of our chairs and the other arm resting on the edge of the tabletop, looking far too unimpressed with one another.

“No, why would I?” I asked. “I don’t know any of them.”

“That’s not the point, Marty. Listen,” Lewis got excited about it, leaning over the table with both arms, destroying the symmetrical image. “Girls like it when boys show up first.”

I truly had no idea what he meant and I sat out of sorts for the rest of the meal until the conversation unfortunately continued outside on the terrace.

It was warmer outside than it should have been, nevertheless leaves on the trees lining the paved walks and gravel footpaths amidst the parks and tennis court were changing and giving the dull limestone buildings a perk.

Alice was back in her cardigan, her heels clicking in between my brother’s long strides. I walked along with them, my hands in my pant pockets like they usually were—something my mother told me was a terrible, terrible habit. I was wearing a pair of chinos, rolled up a bit to reveal the high top of my sneakers, and a blue chambray shirt with my tie looking too much like Lewis’s.

“You can’t tell me you’ve spent three years here and not one of these girls has caught your eye,” Lewis said.

I frowned, watching my feet as I thought about it a while before answering. “Not really,” and I shrugged.

I didn’t know if it was my looks or my personality that didn’t cause a frenzy of girls to giggle or surround me when I was in the presence of any. I didn’t feel that it could be either. I wasn’t as good looking as Lewis or as smart but I was…good enough. I didn’t look like my father, Lewis did. I looked like Mum who had tanned skin and blue eyes. Her hair was darker than mine but it framed our faces similarly, and to my regret I still looked too boyish. Mum said I would always look like a boy and never a man. Sadly, Lewis agreed, probably basking in his manliness entirely.

“I’m going to find you one,” Lewis said as we walked closer to his parked car, that beautiful smart-looking car that I envisioned speeding down the highway in my shiny aviators and loving life finally.

I sighed longingly as Alice laughed at her husband’s declaration. I opened her door for her and she patted me on my shoulder, thanking me for coming. After shutting her up inside the car, her flowing skirt sliding on the leather, I looked to Lewis on the other side of the car. He leaned over the top with his key in his hand.

“Trust me,” he said. “I’ll have you head over heels for some lucky girl by the end of the week.”

“Why are you so intent on it?” I asked, smiling at his ridiculous bet.

He shrugged and opened his door: “I want you to be happy.”

His words struck me kind of funny and I frowned, watching him hop into the driver’s seat, saying, “Tell Danny I said hello,” before shutting the door.

If anyone could find me a girlfriend it would be Lewis, and because I respected him with a little too much esteem, I had no problem letting him.

Returns next Tuesday

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Letters to Elliot Hawthorne Ep. 8 (end of Volume I)

[3]

Elliot Hawthorne’s letters outnumbered his birthdays. They outnumbered Grandpa Samuel’s too. Elliot had written ninety-two letters to his father and ninety-two letters to his mother, each set with the same words exactly. He kept those letters (having no address to send them) under his bed until the day he ventured out onto the parkway with only his guitar and a week’s worth of clothes.

The first letter he had ever written was on his sixth birthday. In his letter, he explained what he and Grandpa Samuel did to celebrate that year, in fact it was what they did every time the two had a birthday to celebrate.

It went like this:

Dear Mom and Dad. I turned six today. Grandpa took me on the ferry to see the windmills up close. It was raining and cold. P.S. I think I would like to meet you someday. Love, E. H. Hawthorne.”

Elliot sat on the bench on the edge of the highway. In view, across the lake, were those windmills, staggered along the horizon of his treasure island. In his hand was that letter. He leaned over his knees, his guitar case leaning against the old wooden bench, and he watched the ferry part from the dock and drift to the middle of the lake.

After that first letter, Elliot decided to write one every birthday, every month or just when he felt like it. One went like this:

Dear Mom and Dad. Do you believe in God? Do you believe in him like Grandpa and I do? I suppose you do. I imagine if we don’t find each other here on earth maybe we could find each other in heaven. What do you think? Love, E. H. Hawthorne.”

As he got older, his letters grew in words and wisdom, one went like this:

Dear Mom and Dad. Today is my eleventh birthday. Grandpa took me out on the ferry again so we could see the windmills up close. I’ve seen a lot of that island across the lake, it seems better over there. I like to call it my Treasure Island. It’s silly I guess. Have you given any thought to our plan to meet yet? I hope I see you soon. Love, E. H. Hawthorne.”

Another went like this:

Dear Mom and Dad. How are you? Although it has been a while since I last wrote there is nothing new to tell you really. It’s summer now. Dad—Grandpa has been telling me stories about Mom when she was a kid. I find it interesting to hear things about her because I am forever wondering if I am more like you or more like Mom (most people tell me I’m a mirror image of Grandpa Sam at my age). But Grandpa can’t tell me much about you. I don’t say it’s because he doesn’t want to, but I like to imagine you would give me much advice about girls and other things that are on my mind. Grandpa tells me you used to play the piano. I tried the other day and well, I guess it wasn’t in me like it was you. So I bought a guitar and guess what? I’m pretty good. I took music class this year in school. Mr. Horner told me to try out for the band. They put me on percussion. I can play the violin too, just like Grandpa people tell me. Anyways, I will be fourteen in a few months, maybe then you and Mom can come to the house for an hour or two. Love, E. H. Hawthorne.”

And another:

Dear Mom and Dad. I wonder if you two like music as much as I do. I hadn’t really noticed how much I did until Grandpa’s Hi-Fi broke last week. So I’ve decided to take up reading. Grandpa tells me it’s a rather valuable hobby to have. Do you have a favorite book? I’d sure read it if you did. I’ve read through all Grandpa’s books (I do like that Frankenstein and I can’t say that Dickens and I get along very well, but Keats and MacDonald are my favorite.) and most of Grandma’s (Except for those Jane Austen’s. I tried, I really did but I just couldn’t justify it.) I haven’t taken too much interest in contemporary authors (“Not too much imagination”, Grandpa says of New York Times Bestsellers). I’m beginning to think that this growing up thing is going to be a lot harder than I had imagined. I sure would have liked it if you two were here for it. I hope I am making you proud. Love, E. H. Hawthorne.”

A more recent one went this way:

Dear Mom and Dad. They’re making us apply to colleges this month at school. I don’t know what I want. I don’t have any real goals. I don’t think I want to make jam for the rest of my life but I don’t know what else I could do (maybe play my guitar). What do you think I should do? Grandpa’s friend Art took us out on his sailboat last weekend. Art told me I sailed better than his own son. He said I could have his sailboat if I ever needed it. I thought that nice of him, wouldn’t you say? Maybe when you come to visit, I’ll take you out on the lake. Love, E. H. Hawthorne.

The letters seemed to go on forever, but the last letter he wrote went like this:

To Mom and Dad. Today I am eighteen. I am sorry to say that I have given up trying to meet you. I know that hurts me a lot more than it will hurt you. I can guarantee that. Grandpa is getting sicker and I know that I will be on my own soon. But I know this won’t upset you because that was your original intention, wasn’t it? I might stop writing you soon; I haven’t quite made up my mind. But I don’t think you will mind either way. Good luck. E. H. Hawthorne.”

Elliot folded up the wrinkled letter and put it in his jacket pocket before standing up. He tore his eyes away from his Treasure Island, mounted his garage-sale yellow bicycle again and steered it back onto the road. And to his much needed delight, around the crook of the road, his new beginning awaited.

This concludes Volume I of LETTERS TO ELLIOT HAWTHORNE.

But never fear, he will return. He always does.

New Story Series begins next week

WAYWARD (1)

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Letters to Elliot Hawthorne Ep. 6

Chapter 2

THE POSITIONS

(in regards to the plot)

[1]

Elliot Hawthorne was thinking about windmills. He was thinking about jam jars too, but the jam jars just made him mad. At least the windmills were helping somewhat. Of course, the jars were still in plain sight, all recently washed and dried, sitting in a crate on the kitchen counter in Grandpa Samuel’s one-man cabin. When Elliot finally had enough of their prying nostalgia, he got up from the breakfast table, picked up the wooden crate and carried it out the back door. Then he was alone with comforting memories of tall, sleek wind turbines and their blades slicing through humid August air. But still, he was leaving anyway. No memory, no matter how comforting, could make him stay.

Out on one side of the backyard, knee-high grass looked yellow in the sunlight and on the other side blackberry bushes made short walls of leafy knots and dirt pathways. Birds seemed louder than normal, and Elliot considered scaring away a robin who was stealing newborn berries not ripe enough to pick. He stared and squinted—it was very sunny—and clapped once. The bird stopped, twitched, and carried on.

Inside the cabin, Elliot’s luggage guarded the front door. He packed light. A week’s worth of clothes. Jeans, T-shirts, button-fronts, khakis. When it came to which instrument he was going to take he would have preferred the banjo, but he chose his guitar because he figured people were less likely to judge a guitar like they would a banjo. He stared at the gray flannel duffle bag made by his grandmother and Elliot frowned, even though it was not sunny inside, and he felt for a moment he might not be able to breathe ever again.

It was the birds, I think, that inspired him because a few more tweets from outside forced Elliot to blink and pick up his bag. He wore the strap over his shoulder so the body rested on his back. Then with the neck of his guitar firmly gripped, he opened the screen door and it bounced shut behind him. He made it to the end of the dirt driveway, looked up and down the lineless asphalt road, and then walked back to the porch. The guitar was useless, he thought, and he was afraid people might expect more from him than he was really able to offer. He truly wasn’t outgoing. He locked the instrument inside the cabin and the screen door bounced again when he walked outside. And yet:

He jogged back, grabbed the guitar and never looked back, believing in his heart he was never coming back.

The country road was dead. Only birds playing in the treetops and bugs buzzing in the bush could be seen or heard. Neighbours, alone for miles in both directions, didn’t appear until the sun was high in the midday sky. And as Elliot’s sweat mounted and his feet burned inside his sneakers, his regrets piled high in his mind, somewhere in front of Grandpa Samuel’s lingering words of wisdom. Until he saw a looming mirage on the foreground.

A couple sat listlessly on lawn chairs, guarding vintage, sentimental garage sale gifts. There were tacky velvet paintings, cross-stitch in a frame and a few lamp shades made entirely of stained-glass. A sign, taped to an old typewriter, declared it all for sale, and the only thing Elliot stared at was a yellow bicycle leaning against a cardboard box.

He approached the couple as they protected their precious giveaways; he said Hello and they said Hello, questioning him with their glaring eyes, thinking he was some sort of drifter or gypsy, and in all likelihood wanted to snatch their shotgun from inside the garage before it was too late.

Elliot knelt down beside the bike and thumbed the metal spokes. “How much for the bike?” he asked.

With the husband ready to make a beeline to the garage, the wife said, “A tenner would do it.”

Elliot straightened, smiling with one corner of his mouth as he strapped his guitar strap over his chest. He bounced the bike on its skinny tires and sampled the cushioned seat. His smile grew wide as he finally straddled the yellow frame. Elliot handed the man a ten dollar bill and said Thank you and the couple said nothing.

Elliot pedalled a ways away, wiggling and worming, trying to get the hang of riding a bicycle again. And once he did get the hang of riding a bicycle again, Elliot Hawthorne was pretty pleased with himself. He and his garage-sale yellow bicycle were fast friends, venturing down stretches of highway, zooming across bridge-covered brooks and winding around bended lanes. He was smiling still, pedalling fast and hard, forgetting about the jam jars entirely and narrowing in on those wonderful memories of windmills.

Now, it was known that Elliot Hawthorne was naturally an outcast. Soon it was by choice, though he did everything in his power to conform. He spent his days keeping his mouth closed unless spoken to; something he wasn’t taught to do but became accustomed to at a very young age. He avoided crowds and public places as best he could without being a hermit (something Grandpa Samuel told him wasn’t very becoming). So, of course, Elliot would have avoided the Town he was now currently disrupting with his bicycle-riding if it weren’t for the fact that the parkway, which was leading him out of this place, was the only way out.

Leaving the stares and gasps of mothers and their children, the teenagers and young adults he had known so little about, standing on the sidewalks of the village, near the convenient stores and the coffee shops, Elliot pedalled out, down the bridge, over the brook and onto the next long, paved stretch of highway. It was about this time, that three university students, Gemma Lumley, Tom Doyle and Bridget Welles were found inside St. David’s conservatory, singing and playing in the college choir something about the love of an orchestra.

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