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LD'S STORIES
Friday, 9 September 2005
JEANNETTE
Topic: - jeannette
"I have to bring him in," Zoe shouted over the screaming.

"No you don't," Robyn yelled back.

"I'm bringing him in."

"You can't."

"I'm bringing him."

This was not at all how Robyn had pictured finally meeting the mother who had abandoned her when she was eight.

Robyn knew Zoe had to bring him in. It had taken years for Robyn to find her mother, track her down to this quaint rustic pale yellow cottage facing Lake Huron. She was finally here. This was the moment.
Zoe had insisted on coming along for moral support. Just for the drive.

But she had to bring her little boy Jake, who was one. She was bringing up Jake by herself. Her choice.
There was no arguing with Zoe. Her hair was blue today, and at the moment stood straight up in a ponytail on top of her head like an angry fountaintop.

Robyn and Zoe were housemates. Robyn loved Zoe as much as her own younger sisters, Daisy and Jenny. Perhaps even at times a bit more because she didn’t share the same twisted history.

The plan had been for Zoe to take Jake on a long walk along the beach when they arrived. But Jake, drenched in sweat from the sweltering August heat, woke up the minute the car stopped. Shrieking, scarlet and gripping his favourite purple toy pickup truck. She did have to bring him.

So here they now quietly stood, a merry greeting party of three, beside the dunes.

Robyn's mother Jeannette watched the strange little group approach from the front window. She tried to focus on the one who must be her daughter. But the blue hair was really distracting. And the florid baby.

For years Jeannette suffered from a terrible recurring dream about a baby. A small perfect face wrapped in a fluffy pink blanket. She tried hard not to think about it now.

Robyn and Zoe paused a second at the base of the steps to the covered veranda. "Don't say a word. Not one. Understand?" said Robyn.

Zoe flashed one of her innocent looks. Not promising. Robyn went ahead and yanked on the woodpecker doorknocker.

Then there she was. Holding the screen door open. Her mother.

They both just looked at each other. Her mother's face had way more lines, and her hair was much duller than Robyn remembered from 15 years ago.

To Jeannette, this young woman with the dark brown curls, amber eyes and dark tan was an attractive stranger.

Carbon copies, thought Zoe.

Neither mother nor daughter made a move to hug the other.

"Robyn." said Jeannette. "And your friends...?"

"Right. This is my best friend Zoe. And her little boy Jake."

"I thought maybe we could sit out here on the porch. There's a nice breeze from the lake." She pointed to a couple of padded wicker chairs by a small table with a pitcher of lemonade and some glasses. She pulled one more chair over from the far side of the porch.

The breeze did feel good. And the lake gave a nice dull roar that helped fill the strained silence.

"I've looked forward to seeing you ever since we spoke briefly on the phone," ventured Jeannette. Dream baby in the fluffy pink blanket.

"I've been looking for you for a long time," said Robyn.

"How did you find me?"

"She has obsessed over it for years. Oops." Zoe had just settled Jake, still clutching his favourite toy truck, with a snack and a drink. Robyn gave her an especially dirty look.

It felt like she'd been searching forever. And all this time her mother had been slightly more than an hour away from Hens & Chickens, two hours from Hungry Hollow. How could she?

"Well, how could you? Leave them?" demanded Zoe.

Jeannette took in the well-loved little boy with sand and soggy cracker blobs on his chin and between his chubby fingers, along with his mom and devoted foster mom. Under the blanket, she can't feel the dream baby's bones.

"I hope you will never have to face the same situation," was all Jeannette said. She holds the dream baby very tight, and all around the dogs are barking.

Robyn didn't seem able to speak so Zoe jumped in, blue fountaintop spouting angrily. "And what about the letter you left for Robyn in that Bible. She takes it everywhere. What was that all about?"
"And the Merchant of Venice for Daisy. And the blank notebook for Jenny?" blurted Robyn.

"Those were the only half-decent books in your grandfather's cottage," said Jeannette.

Robyn looked ill. She was sure the letter and the books had meant more.

Jeannette holds the dream baby close, very close.

"Your grandfather was a war baby," she went on. "He told a story about being five years old and seeing a man in a uniform, with a crutch at the door, and wondering, who is this strange man kissing my mother? It was his father, who had gone to war at age 17.

"John felt he was raised by his grandparents. He grew up with a very flexible idea of family. Too flexible for me. I couldn't breathe. I had to get out."

Zoe and Robyn stared at the older woman sitting with them who said all this with little emotion but freeflowing tears.

Jake stopped making tracks with his toy truck in the sand on the step. He pushed himself to standing, toddled over to Jeannette, and stumbled into her. The toy truck came crashing down on her one knee. He leaned his chin gently on her other knee and looked up at her.

Jeannette reached under his arms and picked him up. Zoe let her. Jake and Jeannette sat together quietly watching the waves on the blue-green lake. Jeannette held him to one side and eased loose the edge of her shirt to wipe her eyes. Zoe gently retrieved him. "Nice to meet you," said Zoe. With Jake on her hip, she went back down the front steps and crossed to the car.

Robyn went over to her mom, squeezed her hand and kissed her cheek. "Bye, Mom," she said.

A few moments later Robyn reached into the car and pulled out the small leather backpack she always carried. She hiked over the hot white dunes and tramped the long stretch of dark damp sand to the water. Then she heaved the pack into the lake.
She climbed back up the dunes and slipped behind the wheel of the car.

"Who feels like going for a nice big ice cream cone?" she asked.

Jake squealed and bounced up and down in his seat, arms waving wildly, still clutching his favourite toy truck.

? 2005, sutter or mckenzie at 7:29 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 9 September 2005 7:36 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 26 July 2005
JENNY
Topic: -jenny
Jenny leaned into her crouch off second base. One out. Runners on third and first. Play at two.

Crack — a hard hit between first and second. Jenny made the stop, bobbled the pickup. Throw a bit too high to Sandy, now at second.

Sandy jumped, caught it, touched down on base. Blistering, dead eye throw to home plate. Right on the money. Textbook double play.

That was top of the sixth. Jenny kept thinking back to that beautiful wordless play for the rest of the game.

She hit a couple of solid doubles, snagged a fly ball, had the vague impression her team won the game. Legion park tonight, not far from Grampa John’s cottage. When Jenny’s games were at the Legion, sometimes Elizabeth would stop by and watch.

Elizabeth was Grampa John’s long time housekeeper. She lived around the bend from him on Shoreline Road. Jenny didn’t know if she knew, but it gave her such a lift when Elizabeth came to her games.

Sixteen year old Jenny had drifted into the habit of spending the summers at Grandad’s place in Hens & Chickens. Her dad took some holiday time up there with her and his dad, but mainly spent his summers back home in Hungry Hollow. Jenny’s biggest sister Robyn was now a backup girl singer with gigs all around Toronto. Her middle sister Daisy,18, could easily be a model, but seemed happy as a clam in that musty old bookstore where she worked. Their mother had left them when Jenny was four over the great dog incident, where Uncle Ray’s dogs had terrorized the young girls and neither John or their father could did anything to stop it.

Jenny grabbed her gear and crunched over the pebbly sand to where Elizabeth sat in the bleachers. Elizabeth. Just seeing her made Jenny happy. A stunningly beautiful woman in her early sixties. Soft greying walnut wisps escaped from her ball cap. She had long stretchy almond shaped eyes, browny green ones. Her crisp beautiful smile lit up the world. Even more, Elizabeth always knew the right thing to say. She hopped down from the bleachers to greet Jenny.

"You know what I’m thinking — that double play — that was sweet. You’ll be dreaming about that tonight, won’t you?" said Elizabeth. Jenny smiled and nodded.

They walked mainly in quiet toward the water, and mauve closed around them. At the highway, the cool damp shoreline breeze slapped them in the face. Elizabeth had one of those old brick houses with the barn-style roof and porthole upper window. Here she had raised her five children, mostly on her own after her husband died young from a sudden heart attack. The large yard was surrounded by purple lilac bushes, pink spreading peonies and thick patches of big blue morning glories, which had always tastefully hidden the chicken wire fence.

Elizabeth stopped at her path, checked that Jenny was still coming to the knitting guild meeting the next evening, and said goodnight. Jenny went on up the road and around the bend to Grampa John’s place.

Grampa John. That old rogue, monster and villain of family lore. The ogre their dad would not stand up to. Tyrant the entire family loved to hate. He still kept his dingy brown ramshackle shack at Sunset Point — it never looked any better, but never any worse either.

Jenny’s sisters were shocked at the idea of the baby of the family now spending her fourth summer with the old tyrant. How could she stand it — after all, wasn’t he the one who drove their mother away?

But Jenny didn’t find him so terrible when it was just the two of them. Maybe their dad brought out the worst in old John. Anyway, it was just how things had worked out. The summer she was 12, Elizabeth had needed hip replacement surgery and asked Jenny to stay with her. Paid her very well too for being 12 years old. When her dad said okay, she started out at Grampa John’s thinking she’d move in with Elizabeth if things went bad.

But they didn’t. In fact John expanded his diet of coffee, dry toast and bacon to include toasted tomato sandwiches. He really enjoyed the fresh tomatoes he grew in big pots no one knew about in a sunny patch out back. He was a radio man, and she came to appreciate his passion for wartime songs and oldtime bluegrass music.

She pushed through the opening in the high dark cedar hedge around John’s cottage. Up the steps, through the screen door to the porch where she dropped her bag of cleats, balls and gloves. John’s green half-ton was parked out front.

"Grampa, I’m back," she called, lighthearted but not really expecting an answer. "I’ll put the tea on."

"Okay, Jenny," came his voice from the front porch. She filled the kettle and put three bags of Earl Grey decaf in the squat brown pot. They both liked it strong with brown sugar and milk. After it steeped, she set their big warm mugs on the little table between the two twig chairs. This was one of her favourite moments— looking out over the dark water with a mug of hot tea warming her cold palms and fingertips.

"Win or lose?" John asked as usual.

"Not sure," Jenny answered as usual.

They shared a smile over this little ritual. It had the effect of a hug, and both were so pleased no more words were required. Lights flickered on the black water.

Tea cup down. Peck for John. "Night, Grampa," she said.

"Night, Jenny."

She climbed the narrow stairs to the loft and all her treasures — her guitar, her favourite CDs and the small round chair with the green and blue forget-me-not cover.

And her books. She preferred thick classics like Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice. Also of course on the shelf was ‘the notebook.’ Their mother had left the same farewell letter for each of the girls. Jenny’s had been left in the boring blank pages of an ordinary coil bound steno book. It was such a gesture of nothingness to her that Jenny had rarely even bothered to take it out and read it.

And her knitting basket. Jenny had tagged along to guild meetings since she was 12. The fact that she was the youngest person there by several decades didn’t matter. She felt such rapture being in a room full of so many mothers.

Head phones on. Few rows of knitting. Slip under the cozy old comforter from Elizabeth, then to sleep.

The next day passed pleasantly as all her summer days. She pedalled across town to work, doing odd jobs with a local eccentric named Brad Blackstock. Brad owned several rental properties around town and hired Jenny to touch up paint, cut grass, weed flower beds and pick up garbage. By evening she had had almost no time to think about the guild meeting before she heard Elizabeth call in at the door, "Ready, Jenny?"

"Almost," she called back. Jenny squeezed John’s shoulders goodbye. Horn blast and the ladies were off.

The guild met in Shirley’s sunroom, nestled in the lowlands south of town by the Batteau. Shirley had an L-shaped ranch house. Tucked away in the south-facing bow of the L was the sunroom, a very large space enclosed in glass. It had room for 10 or 12 big easy chairs. As they walked up to the sliding glass doors of the sunroom, all Jenny could see was green. The room throbbed with plant life — huge broad green ferns hung from the ceiling, ivy climbed up the sides, mock orange, flowering maple and Rose of Sharon stood in pots on the floor, Christmas cactus, pink cyclamen and African violets rested on plant stands and step ladders around the room. A big climate-controlled space, the sunroom easily absorbed all this. It was alive and green and bright like nowhere else Jenny had ever been, cradled in the arms of the blue hills rising to the west and south.

As Elizabeth slid the door open, Shirley bellowed, "Elizabeth! Jenny! Good to see you!" Their host dropped her yarnwork, rushed over and hugged them all in one swift move.

"Are you playing ball yet, Jenny dear?"

"Yep, just started."

"Good. And how about a summer job?"

"Umm hmm. Odd jobs with Brad Blackstock."

"Well, that sounds challenging. Dad and the girls are okay?"

"Yep. As far as I know. We talk on Fridays."

"Now what about Grandad? Is he behaving himself?"

"Yes, Shirley. He’s fine. I think he’s mellowing."

"If you say so. Look, dear, take the green chair over there. Now Elizabeth, what’s this I hear about your Frank down at the distillery...?"

Jenny settled into the green chair. She pulled out her project. "What are you working on, pet?" Eighty three year old Agnes, small as a bird, leaned over the neighbouring chair.

"Kind of a mess, isn’t it?" said Jenny, holding up the small patch of cream coloured yarn tangled with crisscrossing cables. "I’m trying a Celtic plait. Guess I haven’t been concentrating."

"It’s coming, I can see that."

"Gee, thanks." Jenny looked around the room. There was a big grey blue Fair Isle sweater in the round, grey and pink work socks, a foamy black mohair shawl, the click and tick of steel and wooden needles, the soft murmur of various private conversations.

The guild had met in the sunroom for the past 15 years. Jenny had always been welcomed wholeheartedly. Guild meetings never really had a topic. Mainly the group, which had a strong core from Elizabeth’s church, just knitted and traded advice on craftsmanship and life. Someone, usually Marjorie, could be counted on to spark discussion.

"Now what do you make of all this hoof and mouth disease in Britain?" began Marjorie as predicted when Shirley and Elizabeth found their seats.

"It certainly is upsetting to see all those burnt up animal bodies in the news," said Marilyn. "And all because eating the meat will make humans go crazy."

"Oh Marilyn, don’t be dense," snapped Helen. "You’re thinking of mad cow disease. This is hoof and mouth. Humans can’t catch it."

"Then why are all the animals being killed?" asked Marilyn.

"Because the animals catch it from one another, then the farmers can’t sell their livestock. It’s pure economics."

"Well, I think it’s such a shame, all those lovely little lambs getting burned up," Marilyn continued.

"Makes you realize how much we take for granted," said Marjorie. "Look at the trouble with the water in Walkerton. Such a tragedy. There but for the grace of God…. Did we not have bugs in the water right here in Hens & Chickens?"

"We certainly have the same good old boys running the town," said Helen.

"Throw in the melting polar ice cap and the thinning ozone layer. Something's definitely going to get you," said Shirley.

"The rider on the pale horse," said Dorothy.

"What’s that?" Jenny whispered to Elizabeth.

"One of the four horsemen of the apocalypse," Elizabeth whispered back. Jenny looked puzzled.

" ‘Its rider was named Death and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth,’ " Dorothy continued.

"Oh, lighten up, Dorothy. Why do you have to scare the child?" said Maime.

"The book of Revelation, dear. In the Bible," Dorothy explained.

"Sisters," Elizabeth murmured to Jenny.

"Why do you have to go on like that?" said Maime quite irritated. "I am so sick of your Bible quotations. It’s all so oppressive to women."

" ‘For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ "

Jenny started to tear up and Maime lost it, bouncing her knitting needles off the floor.

"Oh. You make me so mad. Why are you doing this? Because there’s a youngster in the room?"

Elizabeth stepped in firmly. "Ladies. Maime. Dorothy. Time to take a breath." Maime picked up her needles.

Just the sound of clicking now. Elderly Agnes quietly spoke up. "There is beautiful poetry in Revelation. Those verses about tears can be very powerful."

"I agree, Agnes," said Elizabeth.

"In the city of light, everyone wears a wedding gown. Men and women," said Agnes. "And the temple, which is nowhere and everywhere, is the groom."

"I’m sorry, Agnes," said Maime, "but I have come to think heaven is a dangerous illusion."

"Only if you can’t catch the glints of it around you," said Agnes.

More quiet. Just clicking and breathing. And the sky turning purple between the green leaves.

"I could use a cup of tea," Shirley announced. "Anyone else?" Several people nodded, said yes, stood up and stretched.

Elizabeth, Jenny and Agnes remained sitting. Elizabeth asked the older woman, "How do keep so steady, Agnes? You’ve seen so much."

"That’s exactly why, dear. There has always been something— hoof and mouth, trench foot, Spanish influenza. The only sure thing is that people always say things they don’t mean and never say the things they really mean. "

"You lost your mom to the great flu, didn’t you, Agnes? Did you know her at all?" Elizabeth asked.

"No. I was a babe in arms when she died. My grandmother raised me. We moved in with Uncle Henry when Granny became older."

"Not having a mother — did you always feel something was missing?" Jenny asked.

"Not really, dear. Those were the times. As I grew up, I learned every family had lost someone. The war years took so many young men abroad. But then the flu swept into Canada at the war’s end. And in a matter of weeks, here at home almost as many young mothers and fathers were taken by that terrible epidemic. We all became family to each other."

Jenny knitted. As Agnes and Elizabeth talked on, she studied this curious old creature. Her eyes were aqua. And the old hands wrapped around the needles were small and delicate and knotted with veins. But strong. That was the main feeling she gave Jenny. Strength. It made her compelling to look at and listen to. Jenny had so many questions for her.

Jenny told Elizabeth she had a headache, so they soon went home. The minute she was dropped off, Jenny sprinted upstairs and flicked on the light in the loft. She took down the blank notebook with her mother’s letter. She had always hated that notebook. Robyn’s letter had been left in a little Bible, Daisy’s in a small collection of Shakespeare plays. At least they’d been able to dream up some further personal hidden message their mother had left them or make believe it showed she knew some utterly rare thing about them only a mother could know. All Jenny the youngest had was the blank book. Perhaps, though, her mother had known something about her four year old baby daughter after all.

Jenny took the letter out and stuck it in the nearest book, Wuthering Heights. She raced down to the kitchen and tossed through John’s junk drawer until she found what she was looking for.

Then she fell into her chair, turned back the cover of the notebook and started to scribble. No ink came out and the dry pen tip tore through the clean new paper. She turned to the back cover and circled and circled to start the ink running. Then it flowed out in a thin dark blue stream and she began,

"Granny’s eyes blurred with tears. Her daughter lay dying on the bed in front of her. Her granddaughter wriggled in the blankets in her arms. What was she going to do now?"
-end-


? 2005, sutter or mckenzie at 7:27 AM EDT
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Saturday, 25 June 2005
DAISY
Topic: - daisy
The blue hills crackled with color — they were on fire. That’s how it looked to Daisy anyway. Under a pewter sky blazed violent stands of blistering sunshine yellow and shocking coral red, now far away against the darkening hills, now close to the roadside. The intense, brilliant shifting perspective made her dizzy. Daisy and her sister Robyn had just rounded the bend below the sign to Horning’s Mills.

"Isn’t it neat," Daisy said to Robyn who was driving, "how we think of green as their natural color? But these aren’t their dressup clothes. These are their everyday clothes."

"Umm hmm," said Robyn trying to sound like she was listening, casting a quick look out the side window in hopes of catching a glimpse of color and attempting to stay on the road. The white noise of the tiny engine formed the only accompaniment. Quiet, rather than radio or a tape, seemed to suit the moment best.

They tooled along in Robyn’s little red Taurus. She had bought it used from a friend. Although red wasn’t her first choice, she did buy it with her own money. Who’d have thought a singer could actually make enough money to buy anything.

Robyn really enjoyed doing backup vocals. She loved the feeling of swooping under a song and giving just enough gas for lift.

So unlike Daisy, who never seemed quite to have both feet on the ground. Yet her flighty Daisy was universally and unconditionally adored. Redickville.

Robyn stole a glance at her little sister. There she was, staring at the passing landscape as if this was the first, most vibrant showing of autumn colors she had ever seen in her entire life.

Daisy, the "pretty" sister, just happened to be one of those rare creatures wrought of pure delight in form and beauty. Robyn and their youngest sister Jenny were very pretty young women with lively eyes, glossy hair and strong young bodies. Daisy was stunning.

Her perfectly clear skin positively glowed. The color of her hair apparently depended on the beholder — some said it was honey colored, some coffee, some taffy. She had arresting green eyes, a straight elegant nose and full, finely etched lips. In profile all the angles of her face lined up in perfect symmetry. She was the kind of person you could just look at for a long time.

"I hope Jenny appreciates this," Robyn declared firmly, getting her mind back on the road. Jenny had organized the party in Hens & Chickens. It was Grampa John’s seventy-fifth. There were all kinds of suckups and hangers-on in the old man’s life, so festivities would probably spread from John’s shack at Sunset Point across the road and over to the beach, or rather the stones and shale on this stretch of Georgian Bay shoreline.

"I hope John appreciates it," Robyn added. She had always hated the old man for driving their mother away when the girls were the tender ages of eight, six and four. But Jenny had stayed with him for the past several summers, and some strange bond had developed between them. Jenny never really said much about it. However there was a genuine compelling loyalty or something in her voice when she spoke of him. It almost made Robyn jealous of their relationship.

It had changed Jenny somehow too. These days she filled box after box with scribbled in notebooks. Robyn had no idea what Jenny was so driven to write about.

"I’m sure they do," said Daisy.

"Why are we even going to this thing, tell me that," Robyn demanded with irritation. "I mean, really, I absolutely detest that old man. Don’t you?"

Daisy didn’t answer right away. "No," she said. "Not the way you do."

"Why not?"

"Maybe it’s because you’re the oldest. You’re the big sister. You have a clearer picture of what happened way back then." Maple Valley.

"Don’t you ever think about our mother?" Robyn asked. "Don’t you ever wonder what our lives might have been like with her around?" Robyn caught herself sounding shrill.

"I mean Dad was always there for us. But that’s about it. He was just there, like a scarecrow or a stone or a bump on a log."

"No, I don’t think much about her," said Daisy, in her own way starting and ending the conversation.

The girls’ mother, Jeannette, had left silently in the night after the great dog incident. She had left a sappy, insipid letter, the same one for each of the girls. Robyn’s had been stuck into the pages of a little Bible, which Robyn carried around with her everywhere like a sacred relic. Jenny’s had been left between the pages of an empty steno book.

Daisy had found hers in a collection of Shakespeare plays — The Merchant of Venice to be exact. While Daisy had never been very impressed with the letter, she was quite fond of Merchant of Venice. She thought a lot about Portia, trapped in her father’s treasure box. And how she was most free to be her purest clever self when disguised as a lawyer and a man. Portia would definitely approve of Daisy’s plan to run her own bookstore someday.

"How’s Daniel?" asked Robyn. Daniel was Daisy’s latest beau. No one in the family had foreseen how Daisy’s otherworldly good looks would cause her to attract the most psychotic suitors. There had been the besmitten Paul, who left love letters in clear plastic sandwich bags taped to her bicycle handlebars outside the small independent bookshop where she worked in Hungry Hollow. Then there was Luigi, the besotted toad-like pseudo-intellectual frequenter of the shop, who stalked her sister and left his own scary trail of billets doux.

Robyn herself would have had trouble believing it was for real if she had not lived through it with Daisy. She had learned to appreciate thoroughly the merits of not being shockingly beautiful.

"Daniel is fine, thanks. He’s taking me to a concert next week. Dett Chorale in Orangeville." Daisy was smiling. Right turn at Singhampton.

During the Luigi episode Daisy had become alarmingly thin and not prone to smiling, until she’d managed to arrange police protection. But these days she could be seen actually consuming food now and again.

"Are you in love?" Robyn gently prodded, knowing the answer. Daisy’s smile did not change. Daniel, an earnest young philosophy student, clearly was good to her — he was far and away more stable than any of her other guys. That was a good start.

The two young women didn’t talk during the next part of the trip — the downhill glide along the escarpment toward the harbour at Hens & Chickens. The colors down the mountainside were glorious. Bright sunlight sliced through the thick cloud cover in strange short bursts. As they snaked past Devil’s Glen, the dark moments seemed almost more electric than the brilliant ones. Around the bend at Glen Huron, the late light washed all points of land in front of them a deep dark blue — from the hills on the west, east through the valley and along the curve of the shoreline, past Wasaga Beach and up around toward Midland. Both thought they could even see Christian Island.

The view here, as always, was breathtaking. Although the girls had not grown up in Hens & Chickens, the descent into Duntroon had the same effect on them as on everyone else with blood ties to the area. Home. They were coming home.

Due north, by the paler blue of the harbor, they easily picked out the distinct white columns of the grain terminal elevators, clear as day. John’s cottage was not far from there, to the east. The girls felt, in this moment sailing over the lowlands of the Batteaux, that they were ready for anything.



? 2005, sutter or mckenzie at 5:19 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 14 June 2005
ROBYN
Topic: - robyn
Robyn exploded from her grandfather’s cottage. The Muskoka door crashed behind her. She gave a slight glance up and down the road for traffic, then crossed to the shore.

The crunch and grind of the shoreline rocks felt good underfoot. She pounded a straight line down to the water’s edge and just stood there. The sky was the fantastic pinky orange colour Sunset Point had earned its name for. But that old trick of nature wouldn’t work on her tonight. What she needed was the water. The gentle shupp shupp and clatter of the tiny waves tugging, urging the little stones at the water’s edge to come back with them. Shhhhhhh.

It always worked for her. The water sound lapped into her ears and head and drove out all other thought. It carried her hot prickly anger away. She took a few steps to the right and picked out a big rock to sit on. She wedged herself into the east corner of this tiny bit of beach, feeling safe with the tall berm of huge jumbled rocks at her back. Shupp shupp, shhhhh.

Sky darkening to grey with orange streaks. Shhhhhhh.

Now navy blue with wisps of orange. Shhhhhhh.

Slowly she eased her mind toward the problem. Her grandfather. John Wilson.

It was Labour Day. Command appearance at Grampa John’s cottage in Hens & Chickens. She didn’t know why her father always had to run and jump for that horrible old man. She liked their home in Hungry Hollow. It was lovely this time of year — they could take walks along the river, where the pods on the sumachs were just turning harvest red. Or they could pick apples just like here. Or they could drive up into the hills. It felt so good just driving around.

But no. Another holiday weekend up in Hens & Chickens. Under the dark looming shadow of old John. John Wilson was a big man in town, a permanent fixture on council. Robyn knew he had lots of money. "Oh, millions probably," her father had said once like it didn’t matter. John owned many buildings in town. He had built several subdivisions. Yet this tumbledown damp drafty dingy brown waterfront shack was what he called home.

He was a strange old man with rugged elegance. Tall, with very short silver grey hair. His face was slightly pockmarked and he had quick pale grey eyes. His voice, usually soft and woolly, took on a distinct scary edge when he turned mean, which was often.

About town, he behaved like a true gentleman, courteous, ready with a kind word for the many people who stopped and spoke to him. Always dressed simply but cleanly, often in a crisp pressed shirt and trousers or uncreased T-shirt. He had a housekeeper, Elizabeth, who took care of these things. No one in the family could figure out how she had managed to stay so long with the old tyrant. Elizabeth must be responsible for the few gardening touches that civilized the property. There were trimmed but overgrown white lilac bushes at the break in the high cedar hedging, and a few thick patches of white and yellow daisies. Must be Elizabeth.

John’s behaviour at home was just plain rude. He would insist on these family events, and her father would always just go along with it, like some kind of dim puppy. Once they were trapped at the cottage, John would make everyone miserable.

There was never any food. The old man survived on dry toast, coffee and bacon. He didn’t drink, but was so miserable maybe he should. Robyn’s dad would have to do a big shopping trip as soon as they arrived. Often the place was locked when they showed up — that meant waiting on the porch with bags of groceries in the gloom of the high cedars, summer or winter, until John decided to make his appearance.

He had no concern for suitable sleeping arrangements either. There were no beds except John’s. Dad always slept on the pullout couch in the sitting room. The girls laid out their sleeping bags in the loft. That way at least there was some distance between them and John.

If they were really lucky, Uncle Ray wouldn’t show up again. Too bad today hadn’t been one of those days. Uncle Ray was her dad’s younger brother. He thought he was such a rebel. He thought he was so cool, with his balding head and long dirty hair in a ponytail, his shapeless bulk squeezed into his stupid little purple truck with ridiculous gigantic wheels. He was always trying to impress John with tales of shady business deals or casual cruelty. Sometimes John gave a small appreciative chuckle. Her dad sat through them silently.

A cold nose stuck itself between her hand and her knee. She scratched its head in greeting. "Hey, Muffin," she crooned. Muffin belonged to Bob a couple of doors down. A black lab mutt, she was only visible because of the bleached summer stones she stood on. Robyn stroked the white blaze down Muffin’s nose. She had never seen Bob walking the poor thing. Since she was fat and her coat glistened, she most certainly thrived on the good will of neighbours. "Watch yourself, Muff. You’re just an old dog," Robyn warned her. A double flash of headlights split the darkness. Muffin loped toward the shiny objects. Robyn’s stomach tightened.

Ray got himself some dogs. John had told everyone how Ray had his two babies now — his granddogs he called them. Omar and Hogan were Rottweiler and Mastiff pups under a year old. Thanksgiving again. Mother had begged John to promise Ray wouldn’t bring the dogs. The girls were only eight, six and four. Ray couldn’t be trusted to restrain the dogs, she told John. They would terrify and trample the girls. John promised.

The then-new purple truck with black cap pulled up. Ray jumped out and flipped down the tailgate. The dogs bounded out and like heat-seeking missiles went right for the girls. They chased them around the back yard. They had the girls pressed into three separate corners of the cedar hedge shrieking in terror. The dogs raced between them and leaped up puppy-like with their great black bodies high over the heads of the children.

Mother screamed, tears streaming, and ran to each corner one at a time to pick up each child one at a time and carry them up to the screened porch. She was screaming, "Dale, get Jenny. Dale, get Daisy. Go get Robyn." But Dad could not move from his spot, like a deer frozen in the headlights.

Crack. Crack. Two gunshots. John stood on the back step with his hunting rifle smoking in his hand. "Ray," he roared. "Get rid of those damn dogs."

Ray was never seen to waddle so fast. He grabbed the dogs by the collars, threw them roughly into the back of the truck and slammed the tailgate. He glowered at Mother and John, squeezed back into his purple truck, spun gravel and sped off.

Robyn went over her blurry eight year old memories of the incident — the black shapes, the screaming, the sharp sound and smell of the rifle, her heart throbbing painfully in her chest behind the tiny wires of the porch screen. And the deep wide pit of emptiness. The next morning her mother was gone.

This time it was a parrot. A tough old bird with ratty red and green feathers. Mr. Clint, Ray called it. ‘Make my day,’ was one of the bird’s more civilized lines.

The quiet of the afternoon was peppered with, ‘Go f--- yourself.’

‘Make my day.’

‘F--- off.’

It was unsettling to say the least. At dinner Mr. Clint sat perched on Ray’s shoulder and added tasteful conversation to the meal.

"Uncle Ray, please pass the butter?" Daisy asked.

‘Go f--- yourself,’ to which Ray sat smiling. Daisy shrank.

"Ray, can you do something about the bird?" her dad asked.

‘Shut up, you f------ whore.’

Earlier in the day John had snorted quietly at the bird’s antics. But it now had become boring even for him. "Ray, get rid of the bird," John said meaning business.

‘Up yours, motherf------.’

"Please, Uncle Ray. Can’t you stop him?" Robyn had asked. At that, Mr. Clint lifted off Ray’s shoulder, dived bombed her head and began beating brutally on her scalp with his beak. "Dad! Help! Help me!" she screamed, trying to swat the nasty creature from her head.

John stood sharply, knocking his chair down and said, "Ray. Get rid of that damn bird now."

Ray whistled the bird back to his shoulder, smiled smuggly, stood and left.

Robyn was shaking with fear and rage. She had grabbed her sweater and the small pack she always carried, and crashed through the cottage. Now here on this rock she could hear a voice calling from the darkness across the road.

"Robyn? You okay?"

"I’m okay, Dad," she said loudly still facing the harbour.

"You coming in soon?" asked the voice.

"Yes Dad, soon."

The double flash again from the parking lot by the concession stand down the shore. Her boyfriend, Rod. That was the signal. Tonight they were going to do it. Run away together. Say good riddance to all this. She was just 16, but she couldn’t take it anymore.

Rod often bugged her about it. He was bossy and pushy, but some part of her liked him for that. So different from her father. Rod was 23 and he liked to play the old fashioned gentleman, opening the passenger door of his truck for her, sounding like he knew something when he talked about his plans for them. He managed a donut shop by an on-ramp to the 401 outside Hungry Hollow. He had big plans to buy his own franchise. She didn’t mind the talk. She really liked his truck, a slightly beat up turquoise older model Ford half ton. It felt pretty good to be sitting up high with him in the truck just driving.

Of course the whole sex thing crackled over the relationship like a thundercloud. She told him she wasn’t into sex before marriage. She really didn’t know why it mattered to her. Maybe it was because she didn’t have her mother around. Her dad would be no help on this. She had given in to kissing and cuddling and nuzzling naked body parts, but the whole thing left her cold. Maybe it was the company. She knew Rod was pushing the elopement idea because the pressure was building for him. Lately there were tiny flickers of resentment in the way he talked to her. She clung to the knowledge she could break out of this fantasy world any time she wanted to. But right now, it was so tempting. Lighthouse beam. Shhhhhh.

She felt ready now to re-read the letter. She opened the small leather pack she always carried and pulled out a pocket size Bible. She took from between the pages a triple folded, much handled paper. It was now as soft as well worn cotton from so much unfolding and reading and refolding.

My beloved Robyn,
Please remember first above all how much I love you. And Daisy and Jenny. I have written a letter like this for them too. It’s because I love you girls so much that I have gone. I feel if I stay in this situation with your dad and your grandfather, I will be providing you with a terrible role model. The damage would be great and your futures would be bleak. Your dad loves you and will take good care of our girls — of that I am as certain as the sun rising in the morning. I know this will not make much sense, but I honestly believe it’s best for you. You will always be in my thoughts and I can only hope to leave you with a strong independent spirit. With love as boundless as the stars, xoxoxoxo Mom.

Robyn had read this letter so many times, she didn’t cry anymore. A big shapeless spirit was about all she had left of her mother. Robyn had been eight when she left, and remembered her voice and her eyeglasses. Of course she was beautiful. Didn’t all kids think their mothers were beautiful?

Jeannette — vibrant, clever, high spirited. That’s how friends of her mother described her. Robyn knew her father adored her mother. But what good was she? Robyn wished she had stayed for her.

Jeannette’s letter had been stuck in the book of Ruth in this little Bible that Robyn barely remembered, left by her pillow in the night. She had woken up to find her mother gone forever and this little book. Robyn had always stuck the letter back in the same spot. She wasn’t sure if her mother placed it there on purpose. Her mother had never been a particularly religious person, her dad only went to church if someone led him, and John dragged the family out at Christmas and Easter, probably for show.

But Robyn had become very attached to Ruth. So much loyalty to stick by her mother-in-law after all the men had gone. Slipping under Boaz's blanket just because Naomi told her to, yet losing no dignity. Was Robyn’s mother trying to tell her, let Ruth be your mother instead of me? Or be more like Ruth than me? Or she herself wasn’t strong enough to be as loyal as Ruth? Robyn had read the book of Ruth many many times. Always the same line stuck in her ears — "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay."

Rod and his stupid lights again. She really shouldn’t be so irritated by him. She had gone along with the dream too. She looked back at John’s cottage. A little light shone in the loft window. Likely Daisy had turned it on for her.

Rod would have to wait, she decided. She knew she was a cute enough kid with the dark unruly curls of her mother, people said. There would be other blankets to share the corners of, maybe with a man who would make her skin tingle and her belly burn a little more.

Then she did a thing she had never done before. She cast a tiny tender prayer out over the plush black star speckled water — "Dear God in heaven, please let my mother know somehow I’m thinking of her tonight."

She listened through two more surges then stood up. The sun bleached stones and crayfish bones glowed in the darkness. They rolled and crunched underfoot as she climbed back toward the cottage, gingerly touching the parrot pecks on her head.

? 2005, sutter or mckenzie at 8:52 AM EDT
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Monday, 30 May 2005
OSPREY HEIGHTS
Topic: - osprey heights
A great green wall of big bushy mock orange flecked with its delicate white crown-like flowers confronted Ferne as she stepped from the car. The heavy heat of the day had loosened clouds of its faint fragance.

Still in the driver’s seat, Myrt wiped her forehead and dabbed her neck with a tissue from her spacious handbag. Then she and Ferne passed through the gap in the hedging. The sight took their breath away. They had walked into a mysterious green maze, like the storybook secret garden -- only real.

The two women were sisters-in-law. Myrt’s husband, who was Ferne’s brother, had passed away many years before. Ferne had some time ago retired as a school principal. Myrt and Ferne were frequent travelling companions, whether on trips to Portugal or Greece, or just puttering around the Beaver Valley dropping in on their numerous relatives. Ferne’s husband Bart was a successful apple farmer who was happy to stick closer to home. Never in their travels had they seen anything quite like this.

The first few yards of the path featured an herb border of thyme, dill, borage, chives, mint, catnip and tall straggly hens and chickens. Opposite the border, an island of spreading pale pink rose bushes.

Beyond the island, a hanging garden surrounded a stone pond stocked with goldfish and leopard frogs. Pink and purple clematis as well as blue and rainbow morning glories discreetly draped the attendant concrete angels. Also in the little recessed roofless green room stood taller plants that would bloom later, like coneflowers and hollyhocks and brown-eyed Susans.

This was Osprey Heights. The enormous scope of its beauty made Ferne feel silly. Myrt had bugged her for some time to visit it. Ferne had dragged her feet.

Osprey Heights was a property neighbouring the old Murdoch family farm in Osprey Township on Blue Mountain. Formerly the site of an abandonned Methodist church, Osprey Heights had been purchased several years ago by two men. They had cleaned up the old church, replaced the broken windows and refitted it as their home.

Then they had worked their magic on the grounds. The garden had become so notable that the owners opened it to the public one afternoon a week from May to September. But Ferne dreaded the thought of going. She couldn't even explain to herself why.

Here was the old church, almost hidden now behind vines and ivy. Low, flat woolly thyme crept across the front steps almost completely obscuring them in green. When she was young, Ferne used to escape down the road with her books to this church, already abandoned, for peace and quiet away from her 11 brothers and sisters. Once her dad had strolled down here to find her and as he stood in the shadowy doorway, a small barn swallow had darted past them and up into the rafters. She must have a nest up there, Dad had said, then added, "Animals and children always know a safe place." The swallows would still feel at home here, hidden behind the thyme and ivy, Ferne thought.

She and Myrt continued to wind their way slowly through thick patches of lavendar, red and yellow potentilla, silvery blue sea holly and galaxies of shasta daisies.

Then Ferne just stopped. The maze had opened out on the vegetable garden. It was planted in diagonal rows to the lines of the paths. The tomatoes and peppers seemed to rise up from a hot frothy sea of orange and yellow poppies.

They sailed through the poppies past walls of scarlet runners, anchored by big beautiful pink and white peonies. Then they came to the rose garden.

It was almost at the eye of the maze, walled off from the rest of the garden by hedge roses in various stages of bud and bloom. Myrt, who to Ferne's surprise seemed to know quite a bit about roses, took it upon herself to give a running commentary: "Queen Victoria. Pink fairy. Cabbage roses. Yellow Lady Banks. Wild roses. Over the arbour, those pink and white ones are New Dawn, lovely fragrance. And this bright red one — Blaze, I think."

For Ferne the names went in one ear and out the other. She was stunned by all the colors — yellow, cream, dark pink, light pink, apricot, coral and cherry red. She found the scents overwhelming. In fact she was suddenly overcome by the feeling that she might throw up. She hunched over and turned white.

Myrt noticed, and helped her over to the bench under the New Dawn roses. "Are you all right?" asked a small man hurrying up to them. He was slender, 50-something and wore dark sunglasses. Another man who looked a lot like the first joined them and held a tall glass of water for Ferne.

"I think so," Myrt answered. "It must be this dreadful heat. Maybe she just needs to sit for a spell."

But the humid July heat rolled the scent of the roses down over her head like a cloth sack. Ferne felt her stomach and throat tighten again. She broke out in a full sweat.

"Let’s get her out back," said the first man. "Lloyd, mind the gate," he instructed. With force that surprised her from a small man, he led Ferne behind the church to a stone patio overlooking the blue hills.

Their host helped Ferne sit down in an ironwork chair. Myrt wheezing soon joined them. She collapsed into the chair beside Ferne. A glass of water was found for her as well.

Osprey Heights sat on the same side of the road as the Murdoch farm. Ferne felt like she'd been here many times before. A stand of ragged tree tops separated the hills from the cloudless sky. Above them Ferne could see a dark soaring bird. Probably just an old crow. She had seen lots of soaring birds up here, but had never known if they were ospreys. It’s not like they ever swooped down right in front of her holding a fish.

"Welcome to Osprey Heights," said their host, bringing her back to earth. "I’m Robert. That's Lloyd. We’re the owners."

"I’m Myrtle Murdoch ," said Myrt taking the extended hand, "and this is my sister-in-law, Ferne Palmer."

"Flower names," noted Robert.

"Murdoch? " he added. "The same Murdoch from up the road?"

"Yes. My husband Harold and Ferne here were brother and sister. They grew up on that farm. It belonged to their mom and dad, Maud and Jim Murdoch. Now her brother Charles Murdoch runs it."

"Let me ask you something," said Robert, leaning forward. "After we bought this place, my father told us an interesting story. His uncle was a circuit minister who probably covered this area. One particular story stood out in his mind. There was a funeral for a boy named Smith, but the family, a large one, was all named Murdoch. Dad thought it might have been this church. Does that sound familiar?"

Ferne was still pale and very quiet. Myrt looked at her friend then said, "Yes, that would have been Burton Smith, Ferne’s half brother. Ferne dear, do you want me to go on with the story?"

Ferne nodded.

"All right. Ferne and Harold’s mother and father both had first marriages. Burton Smith was Gramma’s only child from her first marriage. Grampa had six children from his first. Then came the great flu epidemic of 1918, and their first husband and wife died. Gramma and Grampa married, then had six more children together. Burton was killed when he was run over by a horse drawn land roller."

"A what?"

"One of those big, heavy old-fashioned rollers that was drawn by horses. These outfits were very heavy for flattening the lumpy ground around here. It was an awful tragedy. Burton’s head was crushed."

She patted Ferne’s hand. "How am I doing?"

Ferne managed a faint smile.

"Now I'm only repeating of course what I was told later. But I understand Gramma felt terrible guilt over the whole thing. Burton was thirteen and he had wanted to help out at a neighbour’s place. It was heavy, dangerous work for a youngster. You might allow a teenager to do that kind of thing under family supervision, but not really for a neighbour. Grampa said no. Gramma said she thought it would be all right. After Burton’s death, she became very religious, am I right Ferne?"

"Yes."

"She was very private about her views. She was generous about babysitting whenever her children wanted to go out to a dance or something like that. But she was very strict about her own practices. Whenever she minded the children she had a habit of telling them Bible stories. My own son Everett, who often stayed at the farm, was very influenced by her."

"My father said it would have been a time of year like this -- a very hot summer day," added Robert. "What stood out most about the funeral in his uncle’s mind were the roses. Bright red, deep pink, hazy white. Bushes and climbers. Vases and wreathes full of roses. The air was heavy with the cloying scent of roses."

Ferne heaved visibly. "Are you okay, Ferne?" Robert asked with fresh concern.

She wiped the corners of her mouth with her fingers and said in a low quiet voice, "I was five years old when my brother died. I have never been able to stand the smell of roses."

"Oh, Ferne," was all Myrt could say.

But Ferne seemed lost in thought. She scanned the blue horizon wondering if that osprey would come back again.

? 2005, sutter or mckenzie at 8:32 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 22 February 2005
BLACKIE & THE CAT WITH THE ZIPPER
Topic: - blackie

The morning after the new baby arrived, so did Blackie.

Mother tried to push open the side door of the new house, but the door was stuck. She went out front and around the side to see what was blocking things up.

There curled up in the sun in the shelter of the door frame was a tiny black puppy. As it lay in her hand, its warm tummy rising and falling against her palm, Mother knew she would keep him.

Mother's two babies grew together, learning to walk and play in the shade of the big silver maple tree in the tiny back yard.

Blackie looked a bit like a Scottie dog. But he didn't act much like a Scottie dog. Or any other dog.

Blackie didn't chase cats or chew bones or bark at other dogs. Blackie liked to sit in the sun and lick his fur clean. He liked to play ball, but wouldn't bring it back. His favourite treat was a dish of milk and bowl of kibble with tuna.

In time Mother and Father brought home two more babies. The little girls grew up with their brother and Blackie in the shade of the silver maple tree in Hungry Hollow. Until Mother and Father decided the little house was just too small for the six of them any more.

One day a big moving truck with a picture of a piano on the side arrived. The movers picked up all their toys and furniture and books and Blackie's doghouse and loaded them on the truck. They all drove to a bigger house in Hungry Hollow and took everything out of the truck again.

The new house was fun. There were train tracks running right through the yard. The children had a wonderful time running up the little hill out back and waving to the train engineers until they waved back.

Blackie's house took up a corner of the yard near the whirlygig, where the big wooden fence slightly muted the sound of the 20 trains a day.

Not long after the move, the children went out in the morning to feed Blackie his kibble and tuna and milk and wave at trains. But they couldn't find Blackie anywhere. Instead a big ginger cat seemed to have moved into the doghouse.

It was an unusual cat because it had a zipper down its tummy. No, not just a zigzag marking. A real zipper with a silver pull and silver teeth. But it didn't unzip. All the children could do was talk about it and show it off to their friends.

Although they were sad that Blackie never did return, they were very happy with their new family member. They called her Zipper.

It turned out Zipper was not at all like other cats. She loved to play fetch and return with a small ball. She loved to run and give a cat-like yip at passing trains.

She loved brisk walks and, outfitted with a leash, she was a fine companion for Mother on her evening walks. Zip's above average size, and the fact she was a cat with a bright flashing zipper, caused people to keep their distance on dark winter nights.

As well Zip turned up her nose at kibble and tuna, preferring to work on a small meaty bone in the doorway of her house.

Stories grew and multiplied. Suddenly the youngest, Mother and Father's baby, was ready for an apartment of her own. Moving day morning, she burst into Mother and Father's room and jumped up on the bed.

"I had the strangest dream," she gushed. "I dreamed Zipper came out of her house in the night. She pulled down the zipper on her tummy, and stepped out of her ginger coat. Underneath was Blackie. He hung the ginger coat on the whirlygig, lay down in the doorway of the doghouse, licked his paws and went to sleep. Then the sun rose, and Blackie took down the ginger coat, zipped it back on and ran after a passing train. It scared me a bit. What do you think it means?"

Father thought about it carefully. He said, "I think it means Blackie wanted to try on a ginger coat."

"Oh, I see," said the youngest.

The day after Mother and Father returned to their very quiet home after the youngest moved away, they couldn't find Zipper anywhere. Several days later they admitted, with great sadness, that Zipper had probably pushed on. She had giving the family many fine years. What more could they expect?

However a fat blue jay seemed to have moved in to a tree up by the tracks. The enormous bird was almost tame with Mother and Father, hopping up on the deck rail for stale ends of hot dog buns. They called him Big Blue, and treated him as one of the family.

Except they didn't like the way he looked at those tiny wild canaries.

? 2005, sutter or mckenzie at 9:48 AM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 22 February 2005 1:25 PM EST
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