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.”

Keep Reading

 

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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Meet Me Back Here, Alright?

Before

Part One

The doctors have told me that my grandmother isn’t dead yet. They have also assured me that she’s not floating around in heaven or walking the hospital halls like a zombie. They have to say that because they’re doctors and because of science. Sophy has asked them about ghosts and spirits and emotions and stuff, but they don’t answer her. They just tell us that Grandma is unconscious and she probably will be for a very long time. Still, sometimes I imagine she’s sitting right next to me or wandering around the psych ward, flirting with some of the cute doctors or something funny like that. Opposed to what she really is—sinking in ICU bed number five, comatose.

I heard that people in comas can understand things going on around them, so I wonder if Grandma knows that Aunt Bernice gives me her money every time I come to see her. Because after I go to the hospital, I go to Aunt Bernice’s house for dinner and she gives me more of Grandma’s money to put in the bank. I go because Daddy would take the money for his pain-killers and Mom would refuse the charity. Visits aren’t so much about support as they are survival. So I hope Grandma isn’t mad at them for not coming to see her or Aunt Bernice.

After I leave Grandma’s hospital room and after I eat dinner with Aunt Bernice, Sophy and I ride the bus home. Every time we get back to the village Sophy asks me if we can get milkshakes at Stott’s Diner and I always say no. I don’t like going to the diner because I know a kid who works there. His parents own the place so I know he will be there, waiting to recognize me.

Stott’s (not to be confused with Scott’s, the hardware store across the street) is directly beside the bus stop. I can jump off the bus and see right through the restaurant’s windows. And Sophy always asks for a milkshake and I always say no. But today I say yes. I feel bad for telling her to shut up on the ride home. Her voice is small, just like she is, and you can only take so much of it.

We go inside Stott’s Diner and a bell announces our presence. There’s really no one inside so I creep through the door like I’m planning to rob the place. I can’t stop Sophy from charging the counter, but she needs help getting on top of a stool.

A woman appears in front of us and I try not to stare at the kid I know standing behind her. I’m thankful his back is toward us so it’s easier to avoid eye contact, but he’s just so tall that I can’t help from staring at the back of his head. I ask for two chocolate milkshakes, and the woman smiles and rings us through the cash.

I think I’ve escaped an awkward Hi, how’s it going but the Stott kid turns, looks at me and then looks again. He stares at me for a while so I look at the top of Sophy’s head and say hi. He says hi back and “How’s it going?” spills out of his mouth. His voice is deep and it throws me off because I guess I thought he was going to sound differently.

The woman slides two Styrofoam cups with lids and straws toward Sophy. I say thanks and the guy from school says, “See you later.” I have to make sure I smile at him before pushing Sophy out the door.

On the sidewalk Sophy sucks her straw so fast she forgets to breathe, and I think of how the Stott kid’s first name is Miller. Two last names but no real first name. He’s in the newspaper all the time because he’s some wannabe Olympian. His uncle was the first swimmer to qualify from Woolf Island in, like, forever, so they built a pool at the school for him back in the day, and now I’m pretty sure Miller Stott is the only person who still uses it.

***

Beckie climbed out of our bedroom window at nine o’clock last night and didn’t climb back in until after midnight, so I have a hard time waking her up this morning. It’s almost eight o’clock and she’s still belly down on her bed, scared of the light. I’m about to throw my brush at her again when Sophy barges into the room, kneels near my bed and bows her head.

“I’m ready,” she says.

“Not today, Soph.”

Her red ringlets are still damp from bath water and she’s chosen to wear green socks with pink tights and a sweater that used to be mine then Beckie’s now hers. Sophy looks at me with her pudgy cheeks and turned-up nose and knows she’s cute, so I kneel beside her; my body an exact replica of hers, only bigger.

“Put your hands together like this,” I say. “Now you can go ahead—say it out loud.”

“ ‘Our Father which art in heaven…’ ”

I recite the next line in my head, waiting for Sophy’s kindergarten voice to fill the room.

When she pauses, I open one eye. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m praying to a wall,” she says.

“You’re supposed to close your eyes. Close your eyes and see the face of God.”

“What does he look like?”

While I take time to think about it, Sophy gets up and puts her finger under Beckie’s nose to make sure she is still breathing. I look at the alarm clock on Beckie’s bedside table and the red, digital colon blinks. Tick, tick, tick.

“Get back into position,” I say, pulling Sophy’s chubby torso over so we’re kneeling respectfully again. “You know the nativity scene Mrs. Wilson puts on her lawn at Christmastime?”

Sophy nods, her eyes shut tight and her short fingers intertwined at her chest.

“The little baby is Jesus,” I say. “Think of that.”

“A baby?”

“Just do it. And start over.”

I copy her, eyes shut and hands together, and we both try our hardest to see the face of God.

“Our Father in heaven, hollowed be your name…”

“It’s not hollowed it’s hallowed.”

“What does that mean?”

“Ugh. Sophy, come on.”

“It means kept special,” Beckie says, rolling over in her bed and stretching. “Important, holy.”

I glare at Beckie, half-annoyed, half-grateful. “There, Sophy, okay? Now finish.”

Sophy nods again, more determined. “Our Father in heaven, haloed be your name…”

“So-pheee!”

Beckie and Sophy giggle, and in their fit of laughter I almost don’t hear Mom calling for us from downstairs.

When I go down Mom is in the kitchen, wearing her red Foodland apron, and making Sophy’s lunch for school. She puts the brightly coloured lunch pail into the brightly coloured backpack and then puts the backpack over Sophy’s brightly coloured outfit. I stand beside her with my non-existent lunch occupying my black backpack hanging over my very dull outfit. I say goodbye to Mom, and she kisses us and shoos us out the door.

Daddy is sitting in the lawn chair on the porch again, staring at the driveway and the barns and the road in the distance. His cane leans against the orange armrest.

“See you later, Daddy,” I say, walking down the porch steps which squeak like they might snap under any more weight. He doesn’t look at me for long and I wonder if it’s because I remind him of Bristol. Out of the four Podolski sisters, Bristol and I look the most alike.
Sophy stretches onto her tiptoes to kiss Daddy on the cheek and he leans down to accept her. They both laugh when Sophy squirms because of his prickly gray and brown beard.

“Be good,” he says, coughing immediately after.

Sophy holds my hand and I wave to Daddy and try not to think about how much pain he must be in.

We don’t make it very far down the driveway before Mom runs after us. She holds out a tinfoil-covered pie plate and catches her breath. “Take this, will you, down to Gloria with me?” she asks.

I stare at her name tag clipped onto her apron, and the sparkly Little Mermaid stickers

Sophy used to decorate it. “Mom, we’re gonna be late,” I say.

Mom’s expression, not more words, tells me that she’s begging. Because she doesn’t actually speak after that on account of not wanting to upset Daddy. But from the look on his face he’s not even in the same world as us, let alone listening.

***

The Wilsons buy our hay and rent our fields ever since the accident, so Mom likes to keep herself in their good graces whenever she can. When we get there Mrs. Wilson, a beautiful Korean woman with ageless skin and perfect hair, sweeps Mom away into the kitchen and leaves me inside the living room with her son and only tiny Sophy to defend me.

“I thought you would have brought one of your pretty sisters,” Ben Wilson says to Sophy when seeing me.

Sophy’s blond eyebrows make a knot between her eyes and she says, “Alex is pretty.”

Ben laughs.

The fabric of my windbreaker makes a swooshing kind of noise when I tuck a loose strand of hair behind my ear, self-conscious in the silence. I say nothing and hold onto Sophy’s hand until Ben’s ogling stare causes me to take action.

“We’re leaving,” I say and then drag Sophy out the door. She whines about how we’re leaving without Mom, but I assure her Mom can find her way back home without us.

I stop at the end of the driveway when I notice Ben at the window. His T-shirt is so tight it might as well be painted on, making it easy to imagine what he’d look like without it. But I don’t have to imagine. When he cuts our grass in the summertime, he’s always shirtless, wearing his hat backwards, shielding his neck instead of his face, and turning himself brownish pink by June. Beckie stares from the kitchen window every time, ready to reward him with a sweating glass of lemonade.

When we’re on the road Sophy pokes my arm for attention and asks if we can walk up the hillside on our way to her bus stop. I tell her no and she asks if we can at least sing the song. “Only if you start,” I say. But we never really sing the song.

***

Today at school there’s a pep rally and we have to sit on the gym floor because our school isn’t one of those fancy catholic schools with auditoriums and cushy chairs like the school Cece goes to. Kids from the fancy catholic schools call us hicks because we don’t have lines on our main roads and because we only produce farmers and football players. We only get to sit on chairs when it’s something important like Remembrance Day or because someone has died. So during the assembly today we have to sit cross-legged on the dusty gym floor, cramped inside the dark with only random spotlights shining on the student council rep and the cheerleaders as they bounce around in front of the stage.

The football team grunts and shouts whenever anybody says our school name, so the principal has to start his speech over multiple times. The track and field team is the only team bigger than the football team, but they’re a lot quieter and skinnier. All the sports teams are called up to the stage one by one, even the chess and badminton teams, as music blares from every corner of the gym.

They put the cross-country team and the swim team on the stage at the same time and I don’t really know why. But I stare at Miller Stott standing in the back row. He makes all the little runners look even smaller than they really are. For a second I think he’s staring back at me, but it’s too dark to tell. So I look away and I sit there while my brain starts to melt and my feet fall asleep, wishing that this stint of my life was already over.

My schedule for this semester is still being sorted out because it’s only the fifth day back and everyone, including teachers, is still living in summer time. I signed up to see the guidance counsellor the first day back to drop Advanced English and just take Regular English, and I want to switch Philosophy for Social Science. But I have yet to have my name called over the PA system. So I walk around the school halls during the empty slots like the potheads do when they’re not in class.

I thought I’d get special privileges because of my impending graduation, that the teachers would want to get rid of us in the kindest, quickest way possible. But, less than a week in, I get the feeling this is going to be the longest year yet.

When I come home from school I find Daddy in the exact same spot I left him in, sitting in that lawn chair, drinking a can of pop and staring at the road. He says hi and I say hi. He asks me how my day went and I say fine. Mom is hanging laundry on the clothesline in the side yard, and after a few moments of staring at my parents on opposite sides of the property, I go inside to change.

Every other afternoon I bike to the ferry and cross a skinny part of the St. Lawrence River to get to the harbour on the mainland in time for the dinner shift at the boat club. I work in the members-only clubhouse, serving preppy old people from the city in my navy polo, khaki shorts and white Keds. Sometimes I roam the boardwalk to make sure everyone who is checking out the sailboats is supposed to be checking out the sailboats or tell people about the night’s specials and invite them into the dining room. Rich people’s children come and jump off the docks into the water at sunset and the crew team from St. David’s comes to practice. The Kayak and Canoe Club teaches kids how to wear life-jackets properly and it’s all an extremely lively place until October comes and everyone goes away and I don’t have a job anymore.

I come home just after the sun has set and I hear my parents before I’m even inside the house. My head feels ready to explode whenever they fight. It’s like I’m caught in the air, floating aimlessly, wanting to intervene and run away at the same time. I thought Bristol getting married and moving out of the house would help. Because it was always Bristol against Mom, and Mom against Daddy, and Daddy against the world.

They’re in the kitchen this time, drinking coffee and watching the news on the small TV on the counter. I slam the front door shut so they know I’m home, and hang my jacket on the banister in the front hall. For a split second I think they may have stopped talking altogether. But as soon as Mom mentions Bristol’s new husband, Daddy starts at her, loud slamming door or not.

Sophy is on her knees in my room, trying to talk to heaven again. I shut the door behind me as I drop my backpack onto the floor. Mom and Daddy’s voices are distant and if I try hard enough it sounds like they’re having a normal conversation, laughing even.

“How’s it going?” I ask Sophy.

“I get to ‘And forgive us…’ and then I don’t remember.”

I get down beside her to help. “ ‘And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.’ ”

“What’s that?”

“Things we do that aren’t right and people who hurt us.”

She nods and closes her eyes.

“ ‘And do not lead us into temptation’,” I say, obviously jogging her memory because she joins in afterwards.

“ ‘But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.’ ”

We sit on the floor and I stare at the empty chair by the desk in the corner where Beckie should be doing her homework. Then: “Alex, why do we say that?”

“That’s how we talk to God.”

“Do we always have to talk to God?”

“It never hurts.”

***

Today at school I’m finally called down to Student Services to get my schedule fixed. On my way from the library I notice Miller Stott walking, solo, down the math hall so I have to turn around and take the long way to the front foyer. He’s been everywhere ever since I saw him at the diner and I don’t know if our schedules are suddenly colliding or I’m just noticing him for the first time.

Before I get to Student Services I see Colton Glasby shoving Grant Danson into a locker. I stop, stunned, as a surge of angst jolts me. I’ve never seen someone actually trying to put someone else inside a locker before. The skinny boy is kind of squealing and the bully isn’t saying anything. He just gives one big shove and his friends shut the door, slamming the lock into place. They laugh and high-five each other before walking away and disappearing up the stairs.

I walk into Student Services and wait until Mr. Tollers calls me into his office. I change Advanced English for Regular English, but I don’t get to switch Philosophy for Social Science. My new pink schedule is still warm from the printer. Before I leave I tell Mr. Tollers that I think there’s a kid stuck in a locker in the hallway. And I think about how if I’d taken the math hall I probably wouldn’t have seen Grant get wedged into the wall and he might have been trapped in there all day. Then I go back to the library to kill my spare like none of it ever really happened.

***

I’m late for the bus when I need a ride to the hospital. I argued with Sophy for ten minutes too long about whether or not she was going to come with me. She stayed home from school because of an upset stomach and was apparently not faking it because she still wouldn’t come with me, even when I offered to get milkshakes after.

I run to the bus stop in the village and wait for what feels like five minutes, but in reality is probably only one. I know I’ve missed the bus, but I want to confirm it so I look inside Stott’s Diner (like I’m going to rob the place again) and eventually open the door. The bell rings and I’m half-inside the nearly dead restaurant. I don’t care who the first person I see is, I blurt out, “Hey, did I miss the bus?” in the general direction of the counter.

Miller Stott appears behind the counter, wearing an apron. “What?” he says.

“The bus, did I miss it?”

“Oh. Yeah, it looks like it. That’s the last one too.”

“I know. Thanks.”

I turn to leave, but then: “Do you need a ride?”

Everything in me feels like it has stopped working so all I can do is frown and stare across the restaurant. I want to say Of course I need a ride, that’s why I’m taking the bus.

But Miller says, “I can give you a ride.”

I step all the way inside to weigh out my options.

1. Go home.

2. Drive into town with Miller Stott.

“You’re working, though,” I say.

Miller takes off his apron and tells me that he’s off in five minutes. “Where are you going?” he asks.

I say, “The hospital,” and he looks a little confused, so I say, “I’m going to visit my grandmother.”

He insists after that and is ready to go before his five minutes are up. He puts on a jacket and I hear keys jingle, making this very real.  “Let’s go,” he says, opening the door (ding-ding).

I stare at a man finishing a hamburger at a table in the corner.

“You know who I am, right?” Miller asks, not in a proud way but in an I-hope-this-isn’t-weird-for-you sort of way. “We go to the same school.”

I walk by him and his out-of-place height is more real when being so close, and I get a good look at his face. I kind of like it all of the sudden so I laugh, a silly little giggle. Apparently I’m nervous. “Yeah, I know who you are,” I say. “Do you know who I am?”

The door shuts behind us, and I follow him toward the line of parked cars on the street.

“You’re Alex Podolski,” he says. “Your older sister Bristol married Jasper Lauzon’s brother Rob. You have another sister named Beckie and a little one too, but I don’t know what her name is.”

Miller stops by a little dorky German car and unlocks the passenger door. I say, “Sophy,” and I get inside the car.

Miller shuts the door on me and slams it so hard, using the side of his leg to ensure it shuts properly, that it sounds like the window could shatter, and he says, “Sorry. It sticks sometimes.”

My mouth melts into a smile because I do like his face and then I’m alone for a few seconds, taking it all in until I realize my backpack is still on. I take it off and hold onto it like it’s a flotation device.

Miller gets in the car and has some trouble turning over the engine. The radio comes on and the Beatles start singing. They play all the way to the hospital and all the way back. I’m freaking out inside because this is so random and Miller doesn’t talk to me until we’re on the parkway and he asks, “So is your grandma sick?”

“She’s in a coma.”

“For real?”

“Uh huh.”

“How long has she been in a coma?”

“Three months.”

“No way. That’s crazy. I read about this one guy who was in a coma for, like, thirty years.”

“Yeah…”

That’s pretty much all that goes on until farmland disappears behind us. We pass signs which say WIND FARM and BRIDGE TO USA, and storefronts that say Woolf Island Convenience and Woolf Island Grocer, Woolf Island this and Woolf Island that. I count tall wind turbines staggered in yellow fields, looking like skinny metal dinosaurs because they’re that out of place, until I lose track or get bored.

The city emerges in the form of housing developments and shopping malls. We pass Lowe’s, Home Depot and Canadian Tire all in a row, and then I see City Hall and the Holiday Inn and then we’re facing the hospital.

Miller parks outside the patient pick-up area and I tell him I won’t be long. I run inside and the volunteer sitting at the information desk reminds me to squirt my hands with hand sanitizer, and the rubbing alcohol burns a cut on my thumb.

I take the elevator to the fourth floor and walk into the ICU family lounge. I tell Dennis the Security Guard that I’m here to see May Podolski because I’m her granddaughter, and he flashes an ID badge, making the ward doors open with a buzz.

I find Grandma in the same place I find her every week. Intensive Care Unit, bed five, a different nurse outside her room every twelve hours. Today it’s Stephanie with the long blond ponytail.

I stand beside Grandma as she breathes with a ventilator and has all these IVs sticking out of her neck and arms. Her skin is still wrinkly and her hair is still white, and all I can think about is Miller Stott parked downstairs in his dorky German car. It’s blue. Navy blue.

I wait for a while and sit with Grandma, contemplating what I’m going to tell Aunt Bernice when I phone her and say that I can’t make it to dinner. I can’t go to dinner. I’d have to bring Miller, and Aunt Bernice would think he’s my boyfriend. She’d give him a hard time like he is my boyfriend, and he’d think I’m a nut case and never want to see me again. Not that I want him to want to see me again.

After ten minutes I call Aunt Bernice from the pay phone because I forgot my cell phone and I tell her that Sophy’s sick and we couldn’t make it to see Grandma either. She tells me that it’s okay and that she’ll see me next time. Then I’m off and racing for Miller’s car.

He asks me how it went and I tell him it was fine, so he drives me back to the countryside, “Here Comes the Sun” playing in the background all the while. When we get closer to the village, he volunteers to drive me to my house, and I say, “No, that’s okay. I can walk.”

“From the bus stop?”

“I do it all the time.”

“It’s dark out.”

I don’t disagree on account of it actually being dark out. Then Miller stops the car at the intersection near the center of town and asks, “Where do you live?”

I point to the right and say, “Down there.” I point straight ahead and say, “And you live down there.”

“How do you know where I live?”

“I’m just assuming.”

Miller flicks on his blinker and turns right.

“Hey,” I say.

“It’s not a problem. I can drop you at your driveway, I can drive you to your front door. I can drive you to Toronto if you want, but I’d have to stop for gas…”

Smiling is hard to control. “My driveway is fine.”

So Miller stops at the end of my driveway and I walk inside my house. No one any the wiser.

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