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.

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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. 4

[4]

In the spring of Gemma’s fourth year, Mrs. Lumley took it upon herself to attract a friend for her shy and timid daughter. The Welles family lived down the road from Reverend Lumley’s church house. Their youngest was a moody child whose attitudes regarding fire, hammers and destruction frightened Mrs. Lumley, so she was not the obvious choice. But the next year, Bridget was admitted into Gemma’s kindergarten class, and church picnic after school field trip after bus rides home with one another, the pair became inseparable.

Bridget’s father, Dale, blamed her daughter’s temperamental disposition on Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday because their soulful music was always playing in young Bridget’s room. He blames that on his wife’s sister giving Bridget a record player and a stack of vinyl for her sixth birthday. Bridget’s mother, Judy, blames Mr. Welles for letting her read On the Road at too young an age because ever since Bridget had been running around asking people if they’re one of the mad ones, ranting on about burning all the while. Gemma’s mother, Mrs. Lumley, thought that all too corrupting, and so Bridget was also a contributing factor for Gemma to be sentenced to an all-girl preparatory school some forty-five kilometres outside of St. David’s.

Gemma begged Mrs. Welles to enlist Bridget to Potter’s and she was delighted to give it a try. She said that it would be nice if Bridget had a class of well-mannered young women to look up to. But their plan did not succeed because when applying to Potter’s every girl must pass a psychology examination and as you may have guessed, Bridget did not pass.

RESULT OF EVALUATION:

Bridget Elizabeth Welles is a problem child. She is still very impulsive and under-socialized; and not able to harness the constant energy discharge observed in younger children. At the moment, she faces significant psychological problems because of her inability to see and accept boundaries. Her repressed and disrespectful attitudes toward all school learning will make academic progress very difficult. She needs to be seen in psychotherapy to address these developmental delays.

Mr. and Mrs. Welles were not happy about this. They said that Bridget should have tried harder. They said that if she were just herself, she would have liked Dr. Alma and Dr. Alma would have liked her. Bridget said in response: “I was being myself” and “I did like Dr. Alma; before she brought up, well, everything.”

Mr. Welles was put off by words like PSYCHOTHERAPY and DEVELOPMENTAL DELAYS and was moved to concern for his only daughter, suggesting to his wife they might better look into getting help for her after all. Yet reading further on down the report, his opinions of Dr. Alma shifted.

PURPOSE FOR EVALUATION:

This thirteen-year-old student BRIDGET E. WELLES from BOWER, ST. DAVID REGION of English descent was referred by her biological parents (DALE and JUDY WELLES) and MRS. GUTHRIE, DEAN OF STUDENTS POTTER’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, for assessment of her academic ability and mental status.

RESULTS OF THE MENTAL STATUS EXAMINATION:

The results of MSE revealed an alert, attentive individual who showed no evidence of excessive distractibility and tracked conversation well. The patient was casually dressed and groomed. Orientation was intact for person, time, and place. Eye contact was appropriate. There was no abnormality of gait or posture. Speech function was appropriate for rate, volume and fluency with no evidence of paraphrastic errors. Vocabulary and grammar skills were suggestive of intellectual functioning within the average range. However, when mentioning FAMILY LIFE, the patient’s disposition, demeanour, and overall attentive nature disappeared. She appeared aggravated, insulted, and unsure. She complained of her parents (DALE and JUDY WELLES) arguing when she was a child, which lead to their “unavoidable” divorce. They are surely to blame for Bridget’s unstable ideas which could lead to irrational actions, and in turn hurt herself or others.

It went on and Bridget soon had to defend herself to her outraged parents, saying: “I didn’t say that!” and “I didn’t do that!” Mr. Welles swiftly concluded that no child of his would ever set foot in an establishment that excused “ill-mannered head-shrinkers who know nothing of real people’s problems.” Later, adding, “She’s a crook! They just want our money! I’m not paying tuition to a school like that! I never in my life…”

Bridget was torn. To stay in Bower and attend the public high school across the road, which really only produced farmers and football players, was a fate she had always planned on, so it was of no deep disappointment, aside from losing her best friend that is.

The girls had to settle for conversation through post. They sent letters when the days without one another became too long to suffer. They mailed postcards on special holidays; making doily-covered cards on Valentine’s Day and green-glittered shamrocks at St. Patrick’s Day. Gemma sent magazine advertisements of glamourous models, scribbling over the beauty’s flawless face: “THIS IS WHAT I LOOK LIKE NOW”. Bridget created mix-tapes of favourite songs on her stereo, speaking into the microphone before every new track, things like: “This one goes out to a very special friend all the way in Windsor,” and then “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers would play.

At the beginning of every new semester, Gemma sent a school photo of the entire class to Bridget. She would label each girl, not always according to their birth names. “CHARLENE CHEAPSTAKE” and “JESSICA CHUBSTER” some would say. Others would have a marker moustache or devil horns, especially the librarian Mrs. Wisner. In return, Bridget sent a month’s supply of chewing gum because Gemma was not allowed to chew gum at Potter’s, as well as a sample of the newest shade of lipstick her mother had thrown out.

They were reunited in the summer months and they spent the hot, breathless days wading the water at the Worthing Shore Boat Ramp and sleeping weekends at Bridget’s grandmother’s cottage on the far side of the Lake. But when September came with turning leaves, yellow school buses and a chill in the air, the innocent bonding of the two young women was put on hold. While Potter’s School for Girls was like something of her grandmother’s finishing school, Bridget was stuck in a white-walled, speckled-tiled, red-lockered ordinary secondary school; forced to attend spotlighted pep rallies in a stuffy gymnasium, eat cafeteria chilli fries, shun pastel-streamered dances, and listen to a very tired principal over a very scratchy PA system every morning before Mr. Horner played the national anthem on the trumpet.

It took her the entire four years, eight semesters and twenty-four compulsory credits, to ease into adulthood without the resentment she held toward her small-town narrow-minded classmates. She learned to let go of the snickering remarks made by the student council rep about her choice in sweaters or the drama department’s crude attitude about the way her hair looked in the summer time. (Bridget had such curly hair in the summertime when the air is humid; straightening with a flatiron was no use anymore, until she bought a new iron from the beauty store. Her hair has been straight ever since, but it did not come without strenuous hours before school after it had dried; clamping her long chestnut-coloured locks between the burning flat panels over and over to ensure security from waves all day through.) She even gave her teachers a break, but it wasn’t before getting detention for calling her music teacher the devil because she insistently refused not to know who Emmylou Harris was. It went like this:

Mrs. Horner: “Musical influences, anyone? Anyone?”

Bridget: “Emmylou Harris.”

Mrs. Horner: “I’m sorry?”

Bridget: “Emmylou Harris. She’s a singer.”

Mrs. Horner: “I’ve never heard of her before.”

Bridget: “You’ve never heard of Emmylou Harris? You’re a music teacher.”

Mrs. Horner: “I’ve never heard of her.”

Bridget: “You’re the devil.”

Bridget hated that music class until she noticed Philip Cespi began playing the drums. She devoted her time to loving him from afar, staring at him as he stared at the ceiling, bored mostly. Her crush on him only truly began after he mentioned liking her sweater one day when she was standing by her locker. The same sweater Evil Student Council Rep told her (well, it was to her back) that it was “the ugliest piece of fabric” she had ever seen.

Bridget figured Philip Cespi was the only person in the world who understood her or who respected that she wore what she wore; and she wore what she wore because those oversized men’s sweaters were knitted with love by her grandmother for her brother Jack when he and Mr. Welles went hunting in November. She didn’t stop loving him until suddenly Philip Cespi appeared to Bridget like a boy rather than a young man because he let his girlfriends (he had many) treat him badly and Bridget thought he should say something about it or stop making her fall in love with him.

During their final year, Bridget and Gemma made a pact to strive their hardest to receive a position at St. David’s College so they could be united together for the next four years, at least making up for high school spent apart. And when the mail was delivered that spring week in March, one large envelope sent to Potter’s School for Girls Dormitory and one large envelope sent to The Welles Residence on Coach Street, the girls’ celebration could be heard simultaneously from Bower to Windsor. They were off to spend their next educational experience together, dressed in St. David’s navy blue and emerald green. Now, the only reason Mr. and Mrs. Lumley let Gemma attend St. David’s (assuming Bridget would follow) was because Gemma’s second cousin, Tom Doyle, was accepted into St. David’s on account of his musical genius.

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Letters to Elliot Hawthorne Ep. 3

[3]

Gemma Lumley, unlike Elliot Hawthorne, knew the year; she knew which day of the week it was and if you were to ask her at any given point during that day she’d tell you the exact time too. She, unlike Elliot Hawthorne, came from extraordinarily conventional people. You and I both know that for this is the same Gemma Lumley named after her grandmother who grew up in the Worthing and called her great-grandfather “Captain” and the trees in the yard “The Fort”, raised by Reverend Charles Lumley and his stylish wife, Katie Müller.

When Gemma Lumley heard the story of her grandparents’ first meeting, she expected, upon growing up, that her love story would have the same degree of whimsy. However, she did not take into account the times in which she now lived, a time seemingly plagued with everything opposed to simplicity. But she worked at the Worthing hoping she, too, would fall in love with the farmhand from down the road. Much to her luck, or lack of, every new farmhand since the resignation of Gareth Walsh, had been taken, aged or ugly; indicating no initial attraction and eliminating the likelihood of a long, romantic account to tell her grandchildren. And because this haunted her at a young age, her heart set on marriage as the end-all and be-all of growing up and becoming a woman, she set her sights on boys. She liked them. In preschool she teased them, hugged them, and tried to kiss them until one day she really did. She was eight and it was right on the lips; a boy whose mother was determined to leave the church after that. This hurt her in certain ways. So much so it called Reverend Lumley and his stylish wife Katie Müller to take action. Katie enrolled junior-sized Gemma into Potter’s School for Girls.

The revival Georgian house on campus was as historic as the college itself; an icon to the school and the name it carried. The Doll House, as it was so lovingly doted by the class of ’54, was new and vintage simultaneously. Its regal allure had attracted girls from every corner of the county ever since. The city girls found it charming and the country girls thought it sensationally dapper. But Potter’s charisma began and ended with its architecture. Gemma’s first years were plagued with hazing and bullying because Girls from Windsor considered Girls from Bower (who “should really go to public school”) the unofficial students of Potter’s. But even after four years with them, Gemma was still the “outcast of outcasts”. She would wear her snow boots inside the classrooms, chew on the end of her pen during Mr. Sherman’s geography lessons and wear her hair in two braids even at the age of seventeen. So, she outgrew her talkative nature (because she took after her name sake) and tapped into her mother’s gentle demeanour when growing into her looks; subscribing to Vogue and cutting out photographs of Dior and Chanel, hoping to blend in at last.

Through her adolescence she had a habit of making her own clothes and thought a life in the fashion industry might make her happy. But it was always replaced by the want to get dirty and to wear khaki and dig up bones in Egypt; which was replaced by the want to be studious and attend seminary like her father, hoping to become like C.S. Lewis; which was replaced by the attractiveness of the three-month course be become a stewardess (she thought she would look nice in the uniforms, but her father, as you can imagine, forbade it). It came down to art and music; Kathe Kollwitz her obsession and Michelangelo her genius, but without a role model, maybe only her mother, Gemma took to singing because it was the simplest. (To quote Colin Clark on Marilyn Monroe; “She is really happiest when she sings. Perhaps it is because it is a nice uncomplicated thing to do, something she often does when she is alone or frightened.”)

The one thing Gemma did accomplish during her years at Potter’s, much to her parents’ approval, was lose her infatuation with boys in some nature. Surrounded by hoards of pesky young girls for hours on end, she was able to put her mind someplace else, devote whatever spare time she had between classes into whatever her hobby was at the time. So, Potter’s did, in fact, do some good; she was educated, well-mannered and prepared to work, live and contribute to society; and with that in mind, Potter’s School for Girls was a happy memory for Gemma Lumley and to this day she is still known to put on her navy sweater, the white school crest stamped over her heart, just as ill-fitting and unflattering. The only true trouble, the only colossal problem in Gemma’s eyes about going to Potter’s was dealing with the sudden absence of her friend, Bridget Welles.

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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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