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

Pure Northernness

“Like a voice from far more distant regions, there came a moment when I idly turned the pages of the book and found the unrhymed translation of Tegner’s Drapa and read

I heard a voice that cried,

Balder the beautiful

Is dead, is dead–

I knew nothing about Balder; but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of the northern sky…cold, spacious, severe, pale, and remote…”

–C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

 

Take the day and walk your lot.

The hours aren’t enough,

Foot by foot,

To stake a claim on vacant creation

Whose master they’ve rejected.

 

Devil’s dust and cloud’s whitest white.

Restlessly simmering, hot waters are trapped;

To drain into cold seas would mean relief.

But the ground cracks,

Rivers of fire forge new ways.

Continental causeways and glacier bridges

Test time,

Looking on with grimaced surmise.

 

Who then,

When even Odin,

Abandoning his horse,

Chose to ride with raven’s wings

To prey on what was dead,

But

The men applaud

Let the chieftains sing.

***

I wrote this poem years ago when I was reading Song of the Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown, researching for a project I was working on. It was around Christmastime years before that when I began another project that I thought of immediately when I recently reread this poem.

I may be sharing that story this holiday season as part of a Story Series. However, unlike Letters to Elliot Hawthorne and Wayward, this story does not have an ending.

Yet.

I have written only so much. It would be shared in only two parts in December/ January, and although it is set on Christmas Eve, it’s not a very light-hearted story, kind of like this poem. I jump genres in it, so be warned; it is not like my other stories. However, I like it and I feel like sharing it. So, come back, it’s coming soon.

“What I had read was the words Siegfried and the Twlight of the Gods…Pure ‘Northernness’ engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer…I knew that I had met this before, long, long ago in Tegner’s Drapa…”

–C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy
It's just a dot on (1)

MeetMeBackHereAlright

Reeds andWicks (1)

Wayward Ep. 5 (end of Volume I)

V.

MRS. WAHLTON

Church was the next day and church always meant seeing my mother. Lewis always told me that Mum was a loveable enough person but her love was not easily given. This, of course, made me feel as if attaining my mother’s love and approval to be some weighty feat that even he had trouble with. As I grew older, I figured that her selectiveness was a good thing, proving her discernment and that’s where Lewis got his from.

I wore my new jacket from Donahue’s and Lewis even made a comment about it. It was almost a compliment but not quite. My parents, who were always in love, the one love I knew was certain in the world, sat at one end of the fourth pew from the back row and us children lined up, descending according to our birthdates. Alice was there too, sandwiched between Kimberly and Lewis.

I could never concentrate in church. I always got distracted too often to let the words of ministers linger and have meaning. I was stuck on how loudly and awfully the man in front of us was singing. I was caught up on examining what everyone else was wearing; counting the pieces of glass in the stained windows, how many hymnals were upside down and tucked inside the backs of wooden pews; the various sizes of choirs we have one Sunday and not the next. So, I sat not really listening at all, wondering what Mum was going to cook for lunch.

Lunch on Sundays was always at my parents’ house. It was in the countryside like Lewis and Alice’s house and it was a place that always brought up deep-rooted, unanswered questions.

Mum welcomed Lewis and Alice inside when they arrived as if it was the first time she had seen them all day, even though they had only been separated for the twelve-minute ride from the church.

I was watching it all quite bitterly from my chair in the kitchen. Dad was beside me. Dad only dressed up for church and holidays, something Mum detested thoroughly, and he always scoffed when his sons did otherwise. Kimberly could prance around in high heels and fancy hairdos with new sweet-smelling perfumes and no one would think any more of it.

Mum made soup and bread and salad and served us all at the dinner table, set with an autumny bunch of flowers in the center. Mum always dressed like she was more artistic than she really was; with layers of chunky jewelry and long, flowing sweaters. Dad, on the other hand, never dressed to his full potential; always in ill-fitting slacks with sweaters from his past. Lewis blamed it on retirement and country-living.

For the entirety of the meal, I sat with my head down, finishing as quickly as possible to keep the conversation short. I just kept praying, wishing, hoping that no one would bring up Lewis’ matchmaking attempts.

Then Kimberly looked at me and it was a look which didn’t quite have a name; it wasn’t sly or sheepish or cheeky, it was just Kimberly and the fact that she was going to start talking about you. It was almost a moment she was giving, politely, for you to start talking about something else before she began. But I didn’t catch on as swiftly as I ought.

“Mum,” she said, sitting a little straighter and interrupting Lewis and Dad’s conversation about some boat one of them was thinking about purchasing in the summertime. Mum looked up, delighted like everyone does when Kimberly addresses them. “You remember Rosie from Potter’s, don’t you?” Kimberly asked, and as the name slipped from her mouth, I dropped my fork with a loud clang. Mum wasn’t impressed.

“She’s got a hyphenated name, doesn’t she?” Mum asked, after slightly glaring at me because of the fork. “What was it?”

“King-Fontaine.”

“Are her parents divorced?” asked Mum.

“No, no,” continued Kimberly. “I ran into her the other day and we got to talking.”

Mum looked at Kimberly for more information as if the rarity of her daughter talking about someone for so short a length of time too abnormal.

Kimberly inhaled one large gulp of air and then: “Lewis thought that she and Marty would make a good match.” Then she sucked in her lips; whether she was trying not to laugh was something I didn’t know.

“Really!” Mum screeched, looking at me and smiling. “Marty, that’s wonderful–what’s she like?”

“She’s adorable,” Kimberly said. “She’s sweet and good-looking. I think she’d fit in nicely with us, don’t you, Alice?”

“Of course,” said Alice, grinning in my direction.

My expression dropped as I stared into space. Alice and Kimberly were as much a couple as Lewis and Alice and I never imagined them initiating any other girl into their clique.

“What do you think of her, Marty?” Dad asked, poking his white head of hair out from behind Kimberly, who I was sitting beside.

I stuttered a little and tried to get something out, anything really, but Mum came back with, while pointing her fork at me, “Why haven’t you asked her out yet?”

“I don’t know her, Mum,” I argued gently. “I’ve never even spoken to her.”

“Your father didn’t know me when he came up to me. Lewis didn’t know Alice, either, did you, Lewis?”

Lewis tried to agree but Dad interrupted.

“Do you like her or not?” he asked, leaning over to see me. He looked at Mum and they both pointed their forks at one another from opposite heads of the table. “I don’t think he likes her.”

Mum nodded, agreeing. “Is she pretty?”

“She’s very pretty,” shouted Kimberly, obviously offended that I hadn’t said so in the first place.

“Why are you so upset?” I asked her.

“I just can’t believe you don’t think she’s pretty.”

“I didn’t say I didn’t think she was pretty. When did I say that?”

“You don’t think she’s pretty?” Lewis chimed in too, equally offended as our sister.

“Lewis thinks she’s pretty.”

I picked her out,” Lewis said.

Alice hid her laugh behind her napkin and I shook my head, shocked.

“We’re going to the rugby game tomorrow, meeting her there in fact,” Kimberly stated matter-of-factly.

“Oh,” Mum said, rather pleased and getting back to her meal. “That settles it then.”

“What settles what?” I asked.

“You can see for yourself. Now,” she said, sighing and finishing off the subject. “Marty, how’s our cousin doing?”

My mother always had a way of stirring up trouble and then taming it down with simple statements and lingering looks. After that, I was fine with the rest of the conversation. There was laughter and jokes and stories told, mainly by Lewis and his charm.

After the meal, I stood near the bay window overlooking the tree-covered lawn, and wondered about what we had become. I could see the three of us children running around the trees, dashing through fall leaves and splashing through rain puddles.

Kimberly was inside her room, folding and hanging her clothes in her closet when I knocked on the open door. I walked in and landed on her bed, apparently doing something I shouldn’t have because she told me to get up instantly. Sitting up, I surveyed her things. The room claimed she was still a little girl with the same patchwork quilts on the bed, knit pillowcases at the head and old blanket at the foot; the same pop music records stacked on her bookshelves in between the hard-covered children’s books. But there were the hints of her adulthood scattered throughout the sentimental childhood memories like souvenirs from her travels; the glassy perfumes set atop the vanity and her old textbooks from Potter’s lined up with her well-worn travel guides.

She finally stopped from organizing and turned to stare at me. “Marty?” she said because I was daydreaming.

I looked over and said, “What do you wear to a rugby game?”

This is the end of Volume I, but Wayward will return

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MeetMeBackHereAlright

Reeds andWicks (1)

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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