Welcome To the Neighbourhood

Friday, June 03, 2005

Interview interruptus

Henry MacIntosh came back from his interview with a headache. The story should have been easy enough to write: yet another woman victimized in a sex attack in Stanley Park. There had been a string of reported sexual assaults in and around the park over the last few months. Several women had reported a man had groped them as they jogged past, and one woman was grabbed by the wrists by a man who attempted to pull her off a trail and into some bushes. All had fought their attackers and gotten away safe. But this time, it wasn't a youthful jogger and the victim wasn't so lucky.

Henry sighed deeply and took a giant gulp of the lukewarm coffee on his desk. The office brew was awful stuff, but it was either that or spend ten bucks a day on his five-cup habit. With the baby on the way, there were more pressing uses for that fifty bucks a week, or so Penny insisted. No one goes into journalism for the money, but if it wasn't for Penny's salary Henry'd be lucky if he could afford to eat every second day on the lean, and often late, cheques he picked up freelancing. He still wasn't sure how they'd afford the drop in income when she went on maternity leave. Henry was on a temp gig at City Scoop, a new free bi-weekly locally referred to as the Pooper Scoop for its shitty content. He was filling in for a reporter who was herself on mat leave. Penny was hoping the paper would keep him on permanently after the contract was up but Henry was secretly glad there was an end in sight to the daily grind.

Henry set his tape recorder on the borrowed desk. It was made out of laminated particleboard and aging poorly. The thin strips of wood finish were peeling at the corners. When Henry wore knit sweaters they sometimes got caught on the edges, not only catching the yarn and pulling holes in his sleeves but also further destroying the desk's cracking facade. Henry prudently rolled up his sleeves and began reviewing the notes for his story.

Jocasta Smith was found in Stanley Park two days ago, a week after she was reported missing and nearly a month since the date she was believed to have disappeared. The 65-year-old woman appeared to have been sexually assaulted. Witnesses called police when they spotted her emerging naked from the trees, visibly battered and bruised, in the middle of the day.

Henry supposed he could write it that way. But there was so much more to the story.

Police had a suspect in custody, a man she apparently had a date with the day she disappeared, a Mr. Leonardo Oliver. Oliver was in town trying to establish a B.C. arm of his Winnipeg landscaping business. How he and Jocasta met was still a mystery - Jocasta's daughter cut short the interview and herded him out the door as soon as Jocasta started talking about the bear ...

It wasn't that unusual for the timeline in this sort of thing to be a bit fuzzy, Henry supposed, especially when a person wasn't immediately reported missing. As far as he understood, it took three weeks for anyone to suspect something might have happened to the elderly woman. No, what was getting to Henry was Jocasta's tale itself. It was, well, just plain weird.

He plugged headphones into the tape recorder and pressed play.

"... not sure just what it was, just a big dark shadow ..." Jocasta's voice was a bit distorted by the tape, hushed and brittle. Henry stopped the tape, tossed the headphones back on the desk and rewound to the beginning of the interview. There was no way he was going to write in the story that she thought a fucking bear raped her. Henry wasn't about to speculate about a mystery rapist either. There had been no official response to the media on the issue. The police would only say they were investigating, and the doctors that examined Jocasta were, of course, forbidden to discuss what they found.

The blinking cursor in the blank Word document seemed to mock him. Clippy the Office assistant squirmed on the bottom right corner of his screen. Three hours to deadline. The figures in Henry's bobblehead collection stared at him from atop the computer monitor. He tapped each one on its nose, first the emaciated chihuaha, then the Christmas elf, the pig with the maple leaf eyes (Canadian bacon, eh) and finally his three prized Canucks players, Bertuzzi, Naslund and Jovanovski. Creepy little fuckers, he thought, looking at the grinning, nodding gallery.

The tape recorder clicked when it had finished rewinding. Henry donned the headphones. His voice always sounded tinnier and more nasal than he heard it in his head.

"Ms. Smith, I appreciate your being willing to talk with me ..."

"Remember, 10 minutes only," the daughter, Delta snapped. "She's very shaken up. Remember, momma, you don't have to tell him anything you don't want to. Are you sure you want to give this interview?"

Henry remembered thinking the pain in the daughter almost seemed more acute than in the mother. Jocasta, oddly calm, just nodded.

"Thank you Ms. Smith," Henry heard himself say. "So, let's get started. What happened?"

"Well, Leo came over to cook me dinner ..."

Related stories:

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Jill and Ronnie

Ronnie nearly dropped her canvas grocery bag as she struggled to turn her key in the main door deadbolt, narrowly avoiding the sight of a half dozen pink grapefruit rolling across the dusty green faux-marble tiles of her apartment building’s atrium. Keith, the building manager, had welcomed her to call him if her key continued to be stubborn, offering to gladly get her a replacement. But nonetheless, nearly six months since moving into the three storey building at 344 North Avenue, Ronnie quietly persevered against the inconvenience. She didn’t want to bother the man, especially since he had seemed so preoccupied the other day when Ronnie had passed him in the corridor. She also didn’t want to give Keith the wrong impression. Mitchell had warned her on countless occasions to never trust handymen and contractors. Technically she was a married woman, after all.

The glass door had barely closed behind her when she heard the commotion down the hall. Ronnie turned the corner to the hallway just in time to see Jill Hudson, clad in her leather motorcycle wear -- Jill called it armor, Ronnie recalled -- pounding mercilessly on the door to her apartment. The tumult echoed through the empty corridor as Jill kicked the door twice with her heavy boots then bashed it once with her knee before yelling, “Fuuuuuuuuuuuck!” Then Jill spun around, leaned her back against the door and slid downward until she finally sat on the stained carpet, crumpled and breathless, her helmet and knapsack dropped on the floor beside her, two clenched fists covering her face.

Ronnie hadn’t moved even an inch before Jill sensed her presence and snapped her head up, quickly wiping away the moisture from her eyes. Jill stared at Ronnie. "What?" The acid in her tone made the word sound like a growl.

Ronnie instinctively clutched her shopping bag to her chest, as if she suddenly wished she could hide behind it. “I-I was just…are you okay?”

“I’m just fucking peachy,” Jill said. “I’m even better now that I’ve locked myself out of my goddamn apartment.” Jill closed her eyes and slammed her head back into the door, sending another sharp thump resonating through the hallway.

Ronnie took a few tentative steps forward. “Um…perhaps you could ask Keith to let you in?"

“Yeah, THAT’S gonna go over real fuckin’ well.” Jill said with a chuckle. “He’s not in his office anyway. I already checked.”

Ronnie said nothing more. She stood silent for a moment, then tightened her fingers on the straps of her bag and strode forward past the heap of angry black leather that was her downstairs neighbour. She had gone only a few feet before Jill called out.

“Veronica, wait. I’m sorry.”

Ronnie turned around. Jill still sat on the floor, staring at an imaginary point on the carpet in front of her. “I didn’t mean to sound like such a bitch.”

“Please,” Ronnie replied. “Don’t worry about it. It sounds like you’re having a pretty bad day.”

Jill made a muffled acknowledgement before falling quiet again, still staring at the floor.

Ronnie felt compelled to break the awkward silence. “If you want, maybe you could come upstairs and wait in my apartment until Keith gets back.”

Jill looked up. “You sure?”

Hardly, Ronnie thought. She mustered only a small nod and a vague shrug of her shoulders in reply.

“That’d be great,” said Jill. “Thanks.” Her heavy leather creaked as Jill rose and swung her knapsack over her shoulder. She slipped her silver helmet under her arm. With her lumbering motorcycle boots, Jill stood nearly a foot taller than her neighbour.

Ronnie offered a wan smile before turning to lead Jill up the corridor. Neither woman spoke until Ronnie had flipped the lock to her small apartment and opened the door. “Make yourself at home,” Ronnie said. “I’m just going to put these groceries away.”

Jill removed her boots and walked into the small bachelor suite, which displayed more than it concealed about its solitary occupant. The apartment was cramped, but tidy and well-lit; natural light spilled easily into each corner of the room, despite the dullness of the overcast sky hovering outside the glass sliding patio door and the large window next to it. Aside from the worn grey carpet, the suite was decorated tastefully; soft linens of medium browns, taupes and terracottas complemented the sharper burgundies of the matching sofa and loveseat, which barely fit along the inside walls. All of the furnishings appeared thoughtfully coordinated, save for only a behemoth leather armchair which engulfed an entire corner of the room.

Aside from a compact stereo unit in a rectangular, chrome-bordered shelving unit, the living and dining areas were crammed with walnut bookshelves, each lined with double rows of both hard- and soft-cover titles that ranged in genre from historical romance to how-to manuals on subjects like cooking, Yoga and scrapbooking. Atop each bookshelf, tiny ceramic elephants and other assorted figurines competed for space against ornate pewter picture frames, most of which contained images of a heavy-set, dark-skinned man with a mustache. In none of the photographs was the man smiling.

“Nice place,” said Jill, casually scanning the titles of one of the rows of self-help books.

“Thanks,” said Ronnie, as she emerged from the small kitchen. “I hope to get a bigger place soon. I’ve got quite a bit of stuff.”

“I know what you mean. My place is overflowing with crap. I never seem to get rid of anything.”

Ronnie gestured toward a black cordless phone beside the sofa. “I’d better call Keith. I"ll leave a message to let him know you’re here and have him call when he gets in.”

Ronnie scanned through her meticulously scribed address book and made the phone call to the building manager. Focusing on the task allowed her to momentarily calm her racing pulse. Why does this woman make me so nervous?

Jill unzipped her leather jacket, revealing a plain white t-shirt underneath. “Thanks. This is really nice of you, letting me in.”

“Can I get you anything?” Ronnie asked.

As Jill dropped her jacket onto the floor, Ronnie noticed her younger neighbour was far more slender than her armor made her appear. Lithe and athletic, Jill was different from the heavier, slightly rounder Ronnie who, though only overweight by perhaps a dozen pounds, constantly felt as if she would never win in the ongoing battle with her 32-year-old metabolism.

Jill considered the question thoughtfully as she dropped heavily into the cushions of the sofa. “Got anything that would make me really, really drunk?”

Ronnie stammered. “Um, no. I don’t really…I mean…I don’t usually have alcohol in the house.”

“I was just kidding.” Jill grinned. “Relax, will ya? You’re not about to be murdered or anything. I don’t need nothing. If it weren’t for you I’d still be sitting on my ass in the hallway, remember?”

Ronnie smiled and sat upright in the adjoining loveseat, fidgeting with the wrinkles in her floral summer dress. “So what happened to your keys?”

“Beats me. Had ’em this morning. Got back, fucking things weren’t in my pocket. That Wes guy from the first floor let me into the building, but I can’t get in my apartment unless I kick the door down, which I really felt like doing. Until you came along, that is. I think your timing saved Keith a shitload of work and me a great big carpentry bill.”

Ronnie smiled and looked downward. Her eyes fell on Jill’s jacket resting on the floor.

“Nice, eh?” said Jill.

Ronnie nodded. “I didn’t realize it was so thick.”

“It’s supposed to keep me from turning into a road pizza if I hit the pavement when I’m riding. Some people don’t wear ’em, but I’m not stupid. You ever seen what a guy looks like after sliding along the street for half a block? Trust me, it ain’t pretty.”

Ronnie said nothing.

“Want to try it on?” said Jill.

“Oh no, I couldn’t.”

“Hell, yeah. Try it on.”

“No, Jill. Thank you, but…”

Jill stood up and held the jacket open as if she were a valet. “Stand up.”

“Jill, please…”

“Veronica, I said, ‘Stand. Up.’”

Ronnie rose slowly and turned around, allowing Jill to gingerly slide the coat up over her back and arms. Ronnie was surprised to see her reflection across the room in the glass door of the stereo cabinet. She stood still while Jill adjusted the jacket’s fit, manipulating the various zippers and laces. Finally, Jill stepped back and surveyed the result.

“It’s definitely you,” she said.

The jacket felt like nothing Ronnie had ever worn before. She marveled at its weight, running her hands over each of the sleeves and absorbing the scent of the smooth black tanned cowhide. She could feel the thick padding hug her shoulders, elbows and kidneys. The jacket’s soft, inside mesh caressed her bare arms and the stiff racing collar tickled the underside of her chin. This was not just a jacket, Ronnie thought. This was strength; this was power. And she liked it.

Jill slowly reached forward, casually brushing some imaginary dust off the shoulder of the jacket. Jill then allowed her finger to slowly trace the path of the silver zipper down the front. “You know,” she began quietly, “maybe if you’re not busy this weekend, the two of us could…”

A sharp knock at the door interrupted Jill’s sentence. Ronnie blinked her eyes as if snapping from a trance and quickly slid off the jacket, thrusting the garment toward Jill as Ronnie backed away.

An instant later, she had opened the door to see Keith’s burly frame standing in the hallway. “I got your message,” he said flatly, then turned and headed down the corridor. Ronnie stood silently, holding the door open.

Clutching her jacket, Jill slipped on her boots and stepped into the hallway before turning to face Ronnie.

“Thanks, Veronica. I appreciate the help.”

“No problem,” said Ronnie quietly. “And you can call me Ronnie if you like.”

Jill studied the face of the woman in the doorway. “Nah. I like Veronica,” she said, and then strode off down the corridor toward the stairs.

She found Keith waiting outside her apartment, leaning against the wall beside the door.

“Now,” he said. “About your rent.”

-----

Previous posts in series:

Ronnie

Prosser Meets the Policy

Lee's Roommate

Jill Hudson

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Alice



Darkened city streets linger with the ghosts of the day, night has fallen and the pitter patter of rain fills my ears. Its 3 am and i am alone as i glide down the alleyways. They are absent except for a few stray cats, homeless and others like me wandering the night content in the emptyness. I pause occasionally to look in dumpsters and find treasures that others have tossed away. Some of the things i find i dont understand why they are unwanted, like the green corona shirt slung to the side of the wet dumpster with nothing wrong with it. Perhaps some drunk decided to get naked and run down the alleyways, or some one was ridding themselves of an old lovers clothes, who really knows either way if its useful to me i will stowe it into my bag and move on.

The rain is lightening so i pull down my hood and enjoy the light sprinkle; almost refreshing. Everything smells better after the rain comes. I stop an lean against the entrance to the alleyway, pull out my pack of cinnamon dentyne and place the remaining piece in my mouth. I adjust my bag that is growing heavy and change the tunes on my walkman. A trip to the store would be in order. As the sounds of Damaged Goods- Gang of Four hit my ears i hit the pavement and cruise towards my destination. Alone with the thoughts inside my head.

With the music cranked, flying down the alleys i dont hear the approaching car untill it is too late. To avoid the collision i jump off and roll across the ground, nearly missing being run over. Wheels screech and a tall balding man, dressed in a suit jumps out yelling at me, calling me all sorts of names, shaking with anger that i may of scratched his fancy new car with my board and no care as to weither or not i am ok.

"Fucken Kids!" he exclaimes as he gets back in then drives off.
I pull myself to the curb and sit looking at the new rips in my thights. I sigh and pull out the duct tape and repair them grumbling to myself about the human race.


I enter the 7-11 with the whirr of the automatic doors, not looking up as i know Mike is there watching me as usual. He knows what im about to do but never says anything just stares at me like a wounded puppy. He thinks i dont know about his affections for me but in fact i do, the matter is that i dont care. Though i know his wife does. I have seen them arguing a few of the times i have stopped in here and overheard enough though i pretend i dont know anything. It is easier that way. I head to the coffee, pour myself a cup of the dark roast, fashion on the lid and catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the window. Red dreads in a chaotic mess with bits of leaves stuck in it from the fall amoungst the metal bits i have carefully intwinded amoung them. A smudge of dirt across my cheeck and smeared eyeliner making me look like a raccoon about to become roadkill. I make faces at myself in the reflection, how charming i think before i walk past mike and out the door without paying. Sure you'd think hed stop me or care that i was stealing coffee, but it has been our routine. The first time he stopped me and got mad at me, making me give him the 80 cents or whatever it was. Now he just realizes its easier to just not bother me. I sit outside on my board sipping the coffee, as i lean forward to dig something out of my bag any passerby can see reflected in the windows mirrored mylar the words stuck in duct tape on the back of my jacket " wake up". Depending on my mood that can mean several things, something about socitey and the blindness they live in, or just literally wake the fuck up. Make whatever of it that you can, i often change the message as i see fit. I cant find what im looking for so i give up and lean back against the wall, brush my hair out of my face and take a deep breath.


I remember when things were different, when mom was still around and dad didnt drink so much. We used to be happy, we used to be a family, now it is just him and i. I wouls rather spend my days alone wandering the city then sitting in our house listen to him crying about her. Sometimes i think about getting out of this city and trying to find her, though im still unsure what she would say to me when i did find her. The thoughts linger there in the back of my mind. All the what if's, the how come's and the why's. One day i woke up and she was just gone, though i dont remember what set it off, it seemed like a dream. Its been 4 years now and ive grown used to it i guess, solitude and having to figure out things on my own. In many ways i dont mind but at the same time i feel there is something missing, alot of questions floating around with no answers.


I am startled from my thoughts by an old lady standing in front of me. White hair in a tangled mess under her oversized sun hat. Smears of blue and pink makeup, done half hazardly almost like a clown though i know that is not the intent. She is dressed in a pink ballgown and has no shoes on, she moves slowly pushing her cart with a duck in it out of the way. There is a sign on the cart saying "dont pet the duck, he might not bite, but i do!" Its clare, she bends down, taps me on the shoulder and tells me that "they are here", who they are i dont know but each time she has a message seemingly for me. Everyone i talk to tells me shes crazy, im not sure she is though. The things she says seem to ring true when i think about them. Its like she is more connected to the collective conciousness them most people. Often her messages tell me something that has not come to pass and sometimes she tells me things i have not said out loud to anyone. I thank her and she moves on down the street. I watch her wander further and further away as i sip at my coffee. I shrug my shoulders as she passes out of sight and get up to move on. It has gotten much later and twilight morning hours are apon us. I decide to skate to the skytrain station at main and go sit and watch the sunrise as there is a good view from there.


When i arrive at the station it is just opening up and the skytrain officer eyes me up as i purchase a ticket and climb the escalator. The station is empty except for a few groggy eyed people heading to their workplace, i assume and the hungover heading back to the burbs after a weekend of partying. I take a seat on one of the benches and sit and watch people wander past. They pace and grumble while waiting for the train to come, always in a hurry. I turn up my walkman and wait for the sun to rise. Below on the street i can see the traffic starting to build up as mondays early morning rush beggings, squiggie punks trying to make a few bucks off the cars, and homeless sleeping in the park covered with wet cardboard boxes and liter from the night before. The rain has fully stopped and the sky is becoming bright. As the sky changes from a mellow light to the bright light of day i realize i have been sitting there for way to long. I stand up board in hand and head back down the escalator. Time to head home, its not far and my neighboorhood streets are still fairly empty. I skate, relaxed and content as i know sleep will come soon. As i look at my shadow i see my hair sticking out of my hood, it looks like the intennae of some strange cockroach as i glide down the street blowing in the wind.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A girl named Sparrow

I sat nervously at the table, nursing a latté and admiring her honey-coloured hair. Her eyes sparkled tentatively, hesitant freckles dotting the bridge of her nose.

It was an hour before I realised, she spoke without pause, seeming not even to draw breath. Those eyes, that nose – they were the only shy things about her.

“Everyone keeps talking about this ‘SkyTrain.’ I was like, ‘I haven’t seen it, and I drive,’ you know, like, ‘where is it? I see the sky, sure, like, but y’know, where’s this train you speak of, dude?’”

It was like those Tibetan throat singers who chant continually, using mystical, alternative breath control to keep a constant, droning tone for 30 minutes.

“I turned off the stove, you know, like totally turned it off, and everything, and went to watch this completely hilarious show on TV, that I like never miss, and by the time the show was like, half-finished, the fire alarm went off, and I was like, ‘what is that?’ You know, totally ‘Am I hearing something?’ because we’ve like never had like a practice drill or anything, so I went downstairs, totally to the street corner and everything and I was utterly freezing for like an hour before the fire department decided it was time they came and like wouldn’t let us back in until around like four a.m. or something like that and they like asked to speak to me, like, oh my god, I was like, ‘Like I’d date a fireman,’ y’know, and my roommate was like, ‘Like a fireman would date you,’ and she’s such a bitch sometimes, and like it was hilarious, you know, cos the cookies kept cooking even though the oven was totally off, you know?”

Constant, droning tone.

Like bagpipes.

“Spooky, don’tcha think?”

It had been so long since I’d been invited to take part in the conversation, I’d forgotten how to speak altogether. My larynx had devolved into a vestigial organ, without use or purpose. Teams of scientists had formed committees, written papers and wasted millions in government grants trying to establish the biological function of what remained of my voice box. The sternocleidomastoid muscles – the ones that wrap forward from the base of the jaw to the front of the sternum – had atrophied so dramatically that moving my head from side to side took both hands and nearly all of my effort.

At one point, what had once been my vocal cords had become little more than nerve ganglia – they inflamed and threatened to burst; a top ear, nose and throat surgeon had to be flown in from Bavaria to perform the tricky operation, cleverly transposed from a text book appendectomy. Through weeks of intense physiotherapy, however, I’d learned to communicate using a complex system of hand gestures, clicking noises and knuckle cracking; while I’d waited several lifetimes for her question, she didn’t have to wait long for a response.

Click crick wave, snappity crack clap.

“That’s so sweet!”

Shake click.

“That reminds me of this vacuum cleaner I had a while back, like, so worthless, you know...”

And that, Sparrow, is how I met your mother.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Scion

He looked out north over Burrard inlet and tried to remember why he preferred his Yonge St. office in Toronto. It was a wet, uninspiring Vancouver day as the rain lazily fell from the sky on the inlet and the city and Stanley Park in the distance on his left. The clouds merged into the North Shore mountains like a blanket of raw unbleached grey wool. He put his hands in the pockets of his navy blue suit pants and stared across the water to the rotating capital letter ‘Q’ that signified the Lonsdale Quay public market. It was a grey day but the inlet wasn’t sufficiently broad to obscure this popular landmark from view as the dutiful citizens of metro Vancouver chugged across the void on the equally long-suffering pair of SeaBuses that linked the expanse for the benefit of the commuting public.

The Cordova Street office was big and open but the concrete honeycomb nature of the design made the whole floor seem cold, damp and enclosed. He raised his hand and rested it against the floor-to-ceiling window and sighed wearily.

“I almost wish I could bring the whole operation here, Lowell,” he said with his back turned to the other man. Lowell sat on the corner of the desk with his suit jacket off, his wine-coloured tie loose and his shirtsleeves rolled up in wide bands. The thin red stripes in the fabric jogged off at an angle incongruous with the rest of the cleanly pressed shirt.

“Almost? Say what you mean Ted,” he responded.

“No. You’re right. I wish I could just bring it all here. Since Brenda and I …. Since the divorce, it has all seemed so pointless. At the office in T.O. I am just going through the motions and that is no way to run a business, Lowell. Sure I’m just the senior partner. They don’t really need me to do the day-to-day, but I need to be at headquarters and that is Toronto.” He looked back towards to middle of the room, to Lowell and the tastefully appointed executive office. “Still, even when it’s dark here, it seems light, you know?”

“You will always have an office here Ted,” Lowell reassured, “even if it is just for your visits. Besides, I prefer you far away. It gives me a job. Not much need for an executive regional manager if the Chief de Chief is across the hall, eh!”

“Regional manager.”

“Huh?”

“It’s regional manager, Lowell. Don’t give yourself pretensions. I’ll decide what I haven’t got much need for and what I do, and right now you are my regional manager.”

“Uh, right, Ted. I just meant that…”

“That’s fine Lowell. Go home, will you. You don’t have to baby-sit me. I’ll be fine.”

Lowell left and closed the lightly varnished oak door behind him, wondering how he could repair what he had thought was an increasingly personal relationship with Mr. Theodore M. Oliver of Oliver, Beauchamp and Cohen: Barristers and Solicitors specializing in patent and copyright law.

Ted didn’t know why he did that. He didn’t know why he reached out and pushed away simultaneously. He didn’t feel bad for Lowell. He was what he was and part of him just had to ingratiate himself. He felt bad for himself. He had almost no one now. Just work, Just the work and…the others.

Ted turned again and looked back across the water to North Vancouver. It always seemed to him like he was coming home. Even after all those years since law school and articling in Toronto and his career. When he had his chance to go out on his own and start his own firm, that was in Toronto too, but his home was here somehow. He had insisted on starting a branch in Vancouver and it was he alone who oversaw its operations.

Theodore Oliver grew up in Vancouver in unique circumstances. His father was a carpenter and had enlisted in the Westminster Regiment during the war. He was killed at Monte Casino, fighting the Germans up the spine of Italy. Ted and his infant brother had been sent to live with his father’s employers when his father was shipped out. His mother had died during the birth of the younger son. It was a singular arrangement. Don Carlos and Isabelle Castel-Franco had fled Spain for exile in Vancouver during the Spanish Civil war and had lived in a sprawling Victorian mansion, renovated by the talent and skill of Ted’s father.

Ted and his brother Leo had lived there with their father and lived there still after his death. Playing among the heavily religious and grotesquely divine paintings, sculptures and icons, he and Leo had and austere and cloistered upbringing. Whether it was in deference to his father’s Protestantism or the Castel-Franco’s indifference, they were not subjected to what Ted first thought of as their guardians’ Catholicism. The Castel-Francos were patrons more than parents, funding the best schools, the best tutors, piano lessons, membership in the Locarno Sailing club, a bachelor’s degree at the University of British Columbia. And then the law and Toronto. The only truly human part of their interaction had been the food. The Castel-Francos spent almost all of their free time and social energy on food and entertaining. On her death, Isabelle had even written out the family recipe for Spaghetti Castel-Franco (Cadiz Seafood Pasta). He remembers it written out in her immaculate hand.

1 lb minced large scallops
2 heads fresh parsley, minced
10 large cloves garlic minced
1 TBLS dried oregano
1 cup fresh sweet basil, minced
2 TBLS good extra virgin olive oil
2 pats butter
1 lb Golden Grain Vermicelli
4 heaping TBLS grated parmesan or reggiano cheese plus more for passing at the table

At the time he had read the cooking instructions that followed with tears in his eyes. This was as personal as he could imagine Isabelle to be at the time. It was only later that he would read more in her cursive, careful hand.

Where Theodore was diligent and dutiful, Leo was impulsive, moody and rebellious. From an early age he seemed disconnected from the Castel-Francos. He mocked their nobility and chaffed under the school uniforms and choreographed success that they bought for him. Ted never understood it but guessed it was the working man ‘proletariat’ gene in his father that made the teenaged Leo break out and head east. Ted had always kept in touch and treated Don Carlos and Isabelle with gratitude and tenderness but Leo had never looked back. Ted hadn’t heard from him in thirty years, not since he told Leo that Isabelle had died and Don Carlos the year before. Leo didn’t care. He barely cared about the $800,000 they had left him as a legacy. Leo had paid for his rebellion though. He hadn’t got them. He missed out on the others and the book.

Ted watched the rain streak down the window and he turned to the desk and called down for the car to pick him up. He threw his blue wool overcoat over his shoulders, cleaned his glasses. Out of his desk he withdrew an old leather folder with his initials embossed in gold on the bottom corner and an image of a rose embossed in the centre. It had been given to him by the Castel-Francos’ lawyer after Isobel had died. Still, in it was the now-yellowed letter and the cold chain with the rose pendant. He cherished the letter but he would need the chain tonight.

Jocasta awakes

I woke up naked, shivering on a mass of sodden leaves, a giant yellow slug oozing over the ground right next to my face. I lay on my side, knees tucked up to my chest, hands folded over my heart. My nipples were stiff with cold, my skin covered in goosebumps. My limbs felt like hard plastic, like the dolls I played with as a child whose arms and legs would crack if you tried to force them to bend. I ached all over.

The slug oozed closer to my face. Disgust urged me to sit up, and I heaved my stiff old body up onto my knees. I immediately wished I had heaved more gently. The dizziness nearly made me fall back down, but I put a clumsy hand out just in time, nearly squishing the banana slug. Suddenly I had a vivid picture in my head of slug guts squishing out from under my palm. I vomited on the slug.

My head was pounding, but I forced myself to stand up. I saw beetles and wood bugs crawl among the leaves where I had slept. I combed my tangled hair with icy fingers, shaking loose ants and bits of plants. I wondered when I let down my hair.

I looked down at my body, streaked with dirt, plant stains and blood from dozens of shallow cuts. I wondered what happened to my clothes.

My brain felt as though it was moving at the pace of that slug.

Blackberry bushes ringed the glade. From the looks of some of the cuts, I guessed I must have blundered through sometime the night before.

I tried to remember how I came to be there, but my scattered memories were pearls from a broken necklace. I despaired of ever stringing them back together.

Sizzling scallops in a pan; Leo seared them before adding them to the seafood fettucine. An old family recipe, he said. He cooked me dinner, even did the dishes before pouring us each a second glass of red wine. We talked about feeling lonely, about missing family that's far away.

Leo's eyes, dark mirrors gleaming in the candlelight. I half-expected to catch my reflection in his gaze. For no reason I can say, he reminded me of my ex-husband just then, though Leo's shoulders are narrow and Richard's are broad, though Leo is short for a man and Richard so tall he had to double over to kiss me.

I didn't want to leave without washing the wine glasses. We'll do them later, he told me.

Outside, a balmy night, too warm for early spring. I looked up at the full moon. It seemed to dominate the sky. I thought then, as I always do, that the sky looks strange with so few stars. I pleaded with Leo to take me someplace where the sky wouldn't seem so empty.

We wandered through the shadowed city. Hungry eyes stared at us from nests of salvaged blankets in alleys and under awnings. One feral man staggered past Leo and me on the sidewalk, muttering curses. Leo put his arm around me. I felt safe.

Walking past Lost Lagoon. A skunk watched us from the edge of the pond as we entered the woods. Inside it was black. I stumbled over every root and rock, but Leo was surefooted. He held me steady and led me through the path.

Deep among the trees I was blind, but Leo's warm, thick fingers were a comforting pressure on my arm. He kissed me among the pines. It had been a long time for me, but my body listed towards his just as it did for Richard when we were young.

Suddenly I was alone. I called out for Leo but he didn't answer. I heard twigs snap underfoot, somewhere to my left. I tried to follow the sound, but I tripped over the uneven ground and my ears played tricks on me. I started to sob. A big black shadow appeared before me.

"Leo?" I whimpered. "Is that you?"

I heard a low growl and I ran.



Related stories:

A Family Emerges: Mark, Gurpreet and Rajah Ashworth

Lee mentioned he was going back at the end of his schooling when they first moved in together. He liked Canada, but after being a student for the 6 years before and with another 2 remaining, he missed his parents and older brother. It wasn’t as though Mark had no notice when he packed his boxes. And there certainly wasn’t a custody battle to be won.

Mark had saved up nicely by having a roommate while working full time as a roofer. As one of six children in his family, he wasn’t interested in ever living on his own. The silences of the first few nights in which Lee had class or volunteered drove him to wander the streets until Lee was scheduled for return. Mark was certain that Lee’s sudden desire to get a golden lab puppy was not a selfish act. Mark only needed to be convinced as to why Lee’s dislike of dogs vanished so quickly.

When the young pup arrived, they had settled on the name Stalin until Mark’s then-girlfriend insisted that the puppy was far too affectionate and loved for such a violent name. Instead, she began calling him Rajah and the name stuck. Not only did Rajah create excuses for Mark when he was tired of being alone, but also ensured that there was no “alone”.

Mark spent the months after Lee’s announcement that he was graduating at the end of spring looking for another person to move into the ground floor of the house he lived in, only minutes from the school. After repeated failed attempts to get someone to move in at the beginning of the summer, he realized that the only person he wanted to live with was his girlfriend. She wouldn’t be available in the month and a half’s notice he was ready to offer her.

Her family would want marriage before she moved out; and ideally not with Mark. Mark had some rough spots when he and Gurpreet were first dating. He went out of his way to please her parents, but it wasn’t ever enough. She and her parents came to a deal in which she could see Mark, but not talk about him to her sisters unless it was about “just a friend”. It was an arrangement that she appreciated, but Mark protested. Gurpreet won out in the end and Mark was restricted from affection with her in her house.

The proposal was brief and over a coffee on Sunday morning. There would be an elopement with a Marriage Commissioner when he had a spot available in the week. Lee and Jill were to be present as witnesses. She still wanted the full wedding in a year’s time and that only her family was to know of the technical marriage.

With her parents unable to undo what was done, the fact that it was done to appease them and the excitement of the eldest daughter getting married, the blazing anger only lasted the weeks in which Gurpreet prepared for moving out.

To her confused sisters, it looked as if she eloped to a good friend.

Admin note

A few people have expressed concerns about keeping track of who's doing what in terms of story threads. I've made a post (now linked from the sidebar, along with Troy's character chart and plot convergence) where we can leave a comment "claiming" a character or plot thread we're working on right now.

This method okay with everyone? If it's not working after a bit we can try something else, but I want to try and keep the main blog page story-focused as much as possible.

The other thing I was thinking about is that maybe when we write a story that draws from previous stories we can include permalinks back to the originals at the end of each piece. That way it's easier for people to follow the story threads backwards. What do you think?

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Ronnie

Ronnie had never liked the nickname her husband had given her. All her life she'd gone by Veronica, but within a week of dating he'd started calling her "Ronnie" and she was too infatuated with him to say anything. Now, six years since their wedding and eleven months into their trial separation, she still uses the name as a reminder of him. As if it'll bring him back.

She'd moved into the neighbourhood five months ago, as a necessity. Her husband had left her with both the house and the mortgage, and she had been unable to continue payments with her single salary. The bank had forclosed on the mortgage, and she had had to move into a bachelor suite with as much of the furniture as could fit inside. She had gotten rid of the dining set and many of her books, but had kept his leather rocking chair because its smell reminded her of him. Because she could still picture him sitting in it and reading his newspaper, as he had done every evening.

Ronnie felt that his leaving really was only a trial, a trial for her to become a better person. She realized that she hadn't been as good a wife as she could've. So now that she had this free time she busied herself with self-improvement. She took classes on cooking, on sewing, on many of the things she'd seen her mom do as she was growing up. She practiced yoga every day in her apartment, pushing aside the furniture to make room for her mat. She wasn't losing the weight she had wanted to, though, so she started cutting back on food, and the pounds had dropped. She was tired a lot, but she thought it was worth it for when her husband came back to her.

Having lived in her apartment nearly half a year, she still had yet to know her neighbours. The building manager Keith liked her because she paid her rent on time, but because of this he'd never had any reason to call on her and so their conversations were reduced to greetings in the hallway. She smiled at everyone she passed on the street (she had read somewhere that men preferred their wives to be cheerful at all times) but she didn't want to bother them with talk. Mitchell had liked her best when she stayed at home with him, so she'd lost the art of making friends. All of her friends had been his first, and she hadn't heard from them just as she hadn't from him.

The only other person she knew by name in the building was Jill, who had introduced herself when Ronnie first moved in. Ronnie had been polite in return, but she otherwise declined the younger woman's invitation for Irish coffee. Not that Jill didn't seem like a nice person, but Ronnie couldn't understand her. What sort of woman doesn't want a husband? What sort of woman would have muscular arms, and ride around on a motorbike, as if she were a man? Ronnie was well aware of homosexuals, and Jill had declared herself one when they had first met, but still her presence had a negative effect on Ronnie's emotions.

Ronnie refused to admit to herself that it was envy she felt.

Character Concordance

Here's the Character Concordance (last update: 5:26 pm May 30, 2005)

Here is the Plot Convergence (last update: 5:26 May 30, 2005)

Cheers,
Troy

The Book

Oak Island, Nova Scotia. April, 1901

The Oak Island Money pit. It lies on one of two islands at the mouth of the Gold and Gapreau rivers, the only place in Nova Scotia where oak trees grow. Some say pirate treasure is buried here; others, the secrets of the Knights Templar and the myth of the Holy Grail, the legendary chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper from which the nectar of everlasting life flows. On April 1, 1397, a Scottish Lord named Henry St. Clair, or Sinclair, of Rosslyn, landed his boat near this place, beating Christopher Columbus to North America by almost 100 years. The Miq’Maq Indians have his legend incorporated into their history; he is known as Glooscap.

"Glooscap was the first,
First and greatest,
To come to our land -
Into Nova Scotia...
When the Master left Ukakumkuk,
Called by the English Newfoundland,
He went to Pictook or Pictou,
Which means the rising of bubbles,
Because at that place the water is
Ever strangely moving,
There he found an Indian Village
A town of a hundred wigwams."


- Frederick Pohl, Prince Henry Sinclair

The men sat in their sweat lodge underneath the Oak trees this evening, pounding on drums and wailing to the Great Spirit in search of a sign. Their Chief, who had taken ill, lay near the heated rocks to the left of the small shelter, which now sheltered the stout Chief and six of the tribal leaders for this evening’s rituals. The moon, full, was obscured by clouds and a dense, chilled fog. Although the sweat lodge contained seven of them, they felt a sudden blast of cold move up and down their bodies as a black bear walked through the door of the makeshift hut. As the bear entered the wigwam, none of the elders felt the remotest sense of alarm. The bear was tremendous; as the light of the fire was glimmerring off of his black coat, the Chief heard these words:

“The child”.

The bear sniffed the dirt below its feet and snorted loudly. Its eyes welled up with rage. Then, without warning, the bear took on a human form.

North Vancouver, that same evening:

The bloodline. Few people, save for the Inner Sanctum of the Brotherhood knew about it, and the spring festival of Walpurgisnacht, which fell on April 30 was fast approaching. This night, far away from the events in Oak Island, they gathered in the grotto, a small clearing amongst the old-growth cedars, just a few hundred yards from what is now known as Lynn Canyon. The site was ancient; the trees harnessed the energy of the wind and sea currents and flung it upwards to the stars. A fire roared amongst the stones in the middle of the grotto and thirteen hooded figures surrounded it, each clutching a cedar bough as they hummed in unison. One hooded figure read from a heavy book and then broke into a chant. The rest followed.

Regina, caeli, laetare, alleluia:
Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia,
Resurrexit sicut dixit, alleluia.
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, alleluia,
Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.


When they had finished, they had a moment of silence.


The hooded figure who read from the book began to read; this time in English.

“Let us pray.

O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; grant, we beseech Thee, that through His Mother, the Virgin Mary, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.”


Regina Caeli. The song was Gregorian, but to the Inner Sanctum it had a dual meaning; that of the Great Queen of the Sky, Isis. The monks were there to dedicate an altar unto the Queen mother and celebrate the birth of their resurrected Savior, the child.

“The woman travails” spoke the figure with the book. “Bring her”.

Two thuggish-looking men who did not care about their anonymity enough to wear their hoods dragged the young girl, sixteen perhaps, towards a stone slab on the North side of the grotto. She would have birthed hours earlier, but the two men had bound her thighs together with leather straps and she groaned in agony, concerned more for the survival of the child than her own life. The men had failed to remember that, during the Inquisition, the binding of a birthing female’s legs together was seen as an excellent form of torture by their order's enemy; the Jesuits.

Back in France, she was of the nobility, and had come to Canada to escape persecution by the Church. She married a man from Montreal in a marriage arranged by her father. The man’s name was Pascal Falcon, who was himself French. Their persecutors had caught up with them in Montreal two years ago and he had moved her to Vancouver to safety.

After they untied the leather lashes binding her legs together the birth was swift; the fact that the child did not cry after being born meant only one thing. After burying the child in the Church graveyard, the Brotherhood disbanded; the book passed hands several times amongst would-be Bretheren who could never understand its secrets and for almost one hundred years lay in a wooden crate somewhere in the back of an elderly woman's attic, mistaken for a hymn book.

Until she found it, two years ago to this day.

Day 122

May 27, 2005
Sunny with light showers in the afternoon

I've finished the puzzle tonight. I also finished the last of the pizza. I'm going to run down to the hobby shop on 6th tomorrow and get another puzzle. I would have a garage sale to get rid of the growing number of puzzles if I could do it elsewhere. Anywhere but here.

I wanted to find home again. This is not it. Mom's not here. I'm not here.

I've been thinking about Lee since running into Mark. He went home after school. I went to Cardigan. Sure, Sandy was good to my mother and I. The Noonans were probably the kindest people I'll ever meet without judging their sincerity. "Uncle" Bradley, while not my uncle, was like the father I was supposed to have. It was a "swell" community. It's hard not to talk as if it weren't 1924 about the people of Cardigan. The place was locked in the past. Everyone knew you.

Coming back west was some sort of attempt to find something that wasn't in Cardigan. Anonymity? I don't have that here either, even though I've tried. Mark is bound to tell everyone that he saw me. I always got the news from Lee, via him, before. I miss the lot, but I'm not ready to talk to anyone. What do I tell them? That my mother killed herself while I was out getting vegetables from the market? That she was a very ill woman, but told no one, not even me? Everyone knew my mom.

I wanted to get my line unlisted, but I'm not sure how much I have to do. I checked superpages and I'm listed. Address, phone, everything. And "E. Brennan" was just another thing we had in common. I couldn't find a way to get it removed from there. And then there is the business with the phone books... if anyone still uses those. I don't even know if I'm in any of them. Why couldn't I have thought of any of this when I was learning how to even get a phone line?

I guess I'm going to go down to 6th tomorrow and get another puzzle.