Friday, December 30, 2011

The House (part I)

The house seemed pretty new. In fact, none of them could remember it being there the day before. But as the four boys stood there, gazing up at it, they could only wonder in awe. Had you been standing there, you wouldn’t have said it was beautiful. But you wouldn’t have said it was ugly either. It was rather puzzling; this massive house standing on the exact spot where there had been nothing but a few trees and some grass the day before – that’s what the boys would have crossed-their-hearts and sworn to you, at least. And yet they stood there, and the more they stared up at that giant house, the more interesting they found it.

Why it was interesting, none of them could have told you. It just was. The wide, red cobblestone path that made its way from the pavement was guarded step-by-step, side-by-side by small hanging lanterns, until it reached the front porch. Supported by four colossal pillars, the entire house seemed to be hunching over the covered portal. Tall, arched windows grew several meters high on either side of the front door and porch, with long maroon curtains that fell from top to bottom; drawn shut to lock out light… and spying eyes. The house stood three stories tall, its shadow looming over the garden that stretched out to meet them – were it not for the gate. Before house, path, garden and all stood an enormous wrought-iron gate, adorned with gold-crested leaves and thorned, ivy vines that wound their way around the gate’s height. A strange gust of wind swept out from behind the boys, blowing the small lanterns on the path back and forth; their tiny lights flickering teasingly. It was almost as if the entire building were beckoning to them.
“I like it,” said the smallest of the four.
“Shut it Ronny, you like everything,” said James, not taking his eyes off the house. Ronny scowled, but turned back to stare at it again; mesmerized.
They were silent for another while, before the tallest turned to the other three and said “Alright lads, s’more than enough. Let’s head back in. Mum’ll have supper set out.” But the words had scarcely left his mouth, then a shrill cry could be heard echoing from the crescent’s key.
“Buggerin’ hell,” said Flynn “There she goes, didn’t I tell yeh? Now we’re gonna get it!”
The three elder boys quickly sprinted off towards the impatient cries, leaving Ronny still rooted to the spot and staring at the house until Flynn had run back and tugged him painfully by the ear.

When the four boys arrived, out-of-breath and red-faced at the front porch of number 27, they were greeted by a short, plump woman in what must have been at one point, a white apron. She was wielding a rather long, wooden spoon and was tapping her foot impatiently. She ushered the boys in quickly, rapping each of them sharply on the head as they passed through the door. A few bowls of beef stew and some dishwashing later, the four boys rushed outside to the old birch tree that stood solemnly in the corner of the garden. Climbing a fraying, brown rope ladder, they crawled into the small wooden house that sat nestled among the old tree’s strong arms.
“Keith, are yeh sure yer mum won’t mind yeh stayin’ here with us ‘fer a while?” asked Flynn.
“Nah, she’ll be just fine, dontcha worry,” said the young boy with the flaming red hair.
“Well, alright. What about you Ronny? Won’t yer mum be worried with you stayin’ out so late? I mean, yeh’re only 10 after all,” said Flynn, turning to the little golden-haired boy.
“10 ‘nd a half,” grumbled Ronny “I’m 10 ‘nd a half, and my mum can’t tell me what te do anyways! I’m old enough!”
Flynn looked to his younger brother James, who shrugged and laid back on the pillows and blankets that were strewn across the tree house floor.
The cool, July air that came in from the south breezed through the tiny town of Dover and the four boys could smell the faint sea-scent of the ocean, as they sat up in their little tree house, isolated in their safe-haven from the rest of the world. Swapping stories, jokes and laughs, they lay back on the cushioned floor of the tree house and by the time they looked out the windows, the sun had already sunk beneath the horizon, leaving the sky streaked with brilliant shades of orange, yellow and red. Soon enough, stories ran out, laughs grew thin and one by one the four boys nodded off to sleep.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Lovely Lie (part III)

The rain started to fall slowly, lightly. More lightning lit up her face beneath her hood, and I noticed that those eyes no longer held their usual lustre. Something was wrong. The rain fell harder. I went to throw my arms around her, but she backed away. I was at a loss. I wasn’t sure what to do; my thoughts were streets behind my emotions. I reached my hand into my pocket, but she just shook her head at me. I couldn’t make out what she said, her voice drowned out by the thundering skies, and the rain was falling so hard I could barely keep my eyes open. She seemed so calm in her long black coat as she spun on her heel and walked away, leaving me standing there cold, alone, bewildered and soaked to the skin. I was lost. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know what to think. So I slumped down underneath one of the street lights, and sat there with the rain pounding down upon my bare head, lost in the empty expanses of my mind. Until daybreak, when the sun’s sweet rays shone through the depleted clouds, I sat underneath that street light. No ideas, no thoughts and no ideas came to me.

I finally picked myself up, ran my hand through my hair, sweeping it out of my eyes, and walked back to my car. I revved the engine and wheeled out onto Main Street, onto the highway, towards the beach and the present moment where I find myself now.


I sit here in the sand with my back against my trusty Ford, looking out onto the waves. The deep blue sea stretches out its frothing arms towards me, beckoning to me again. I realize that I was living in a dream. I was a prisoner of my own design, incarcerated in an illusion of my own making. In creating such a flawless image of Love, I had doomed myself. I had built a wall of lies to shield myself from the hideous truth: this was not Love. I was my own worst enemy. I can't even remember the web of thought I had disentangled last night - I don't care, either. 

Did I even know her?
The sky gently lifts the sun from her bed beneath the horizon as the morning sky welcomes her arrival with warm tones of red and yellow.

Why did I love her?
The gulls squawk as they flap into formation, heading south for warmer seas, for new adventures and new lives.

Was it real?
The milkman’s truck races down the highway behind me, his rusty beloved Chevy late for its old, familiar routine.

What was the point of it all?
The sweet smell of the morning dew wafts down from the meadows and the fields of Old Man Pidget’s farm, mixing with the spray of the incoming tide.

What is Love?
I look down; I’m unconsciously fiddling with the little box. I had forgotten all about it. I flick it upon and closed, its contents wink at me through its velvet pillow. I get up and the Ford groans under the support I’ve asked of it. I have to lean against it for a few seconds until my balance returns to me, before I start towards the beach again. I kick off my shoes and wade out into the water in my jeans. I flick the box upon one last time, sigh and grin. The box clicks shut as I wind up and whirl it out to sea. I don’t hear its trivial splash among the deafening crashes of the tide against the rocky shore.

I walk into Mike’s a few minutes later, my jeans still dripping and smelling of sea salt. He knows better than to ask. He nods at me and smiles: “Don’t worry ‘bout it”. He knows. In all likelihood, the entire town knows. It’s not a big place. It was probably Ronnie’s fault; he can’t keep his bloody mouth shut. “One root beer float, comin’ up…” yanks me back to the present. I lean over towards the tiny Italian and grin: “Mike. I’m twenty-three for Christ’s sake; make it a shot of Bourbon.”


Monday, December 26, 2011

A Lovely Lie (part II)

Every odd day, every stray night, every bottomless hour I spent thinking of her. She consumed my every thought. Every song I wrote, every note I played, every word that left my lips was for her and only her. We’d meet in the dead of night, and we’d drive as fast and as far as we could. I had lost all logic, all rationality, and all sense. It was for those brief hours with her that I now lived. My life had new meaning, and I embraced it with all my heart’s ardour, never once looking back. We spent the night in my car, overlooking the ocean, the city or the forests, awaiting the dawn’s early gaze as the sun peeked her head above the horizon, giving new life to our love. Our kisses would last hours, and we would never grow tired of each other’s company. I would pack a picnic basket and we’d drive down to the beach, steal a yacht from the marina for the afternoon, and I would serenade her with my guitar’s gentle chords as the beckoning waves swept us out towards the horizon. I never felt so at peace as when she lay sleeping in my arms, the only sounds that pulled us back to reality being the gentle lapping of the waves against the yacht’s hull, the squawking gulls overhead and the firm, steady beating of her heart beneath her chest. The first time we made love, the night never knew such passion. The soft, smooth, warm touch of her skin brought out the rough, coarse and calloused skin of my hands as they held her tight. I hated my hands, though she would never cease to tell me she loved them. Every little detail of myself I despised, she seemed to rejoice and take comfort in, leaving me with a sense of fulfillment. I felt invincible, as if no evil, no sin and no wickedness could touch me. As our getaways grew more and more frequent, I began to think past them. My mind’s eye turned to the future and to the wonders it too would hold for me and her, together. I asked her about her family, but she would quickly change the subject and I, being too weak to push the matter further, let her. I would bring it up from time to time, but she’d toss it aside, finally asking me to just leave it alone. I did.

Patience has never been my forte, and so one afternoon I popped in to see my pal Ronnie. Ronnie’s family owned a small jeweller’s shop at the corner of Hall and Oates, and we’d been friends since primary school. But this time I wasn’t there to chat: I was in and out in less than twenty minutes. I gently slid the small box in my right jacket pocket and stopped by Mr. Johnston’s garage to fill up my car with what little money I had left. A few hours later I was standing in front of our customary rendezvous, the car still running, waiting for her. I drummed my fingers on the dashboard, tapping my foot in anticipation. Why was she so late? It had taken four hours in line, an hour of bartering, arguing and thirty dollars to bribe Mickey at the movie house for two tickets to that new Humphrey Bogart picture with Ingrid Bergman. Maybe she was waiting there for me, so I kicked in the clutch and the Ford roared to life. I pulled into the Jackson Theatre parking lot a few minutes later and decided to wait at the front door. The sky darkened, clouds rushed onto the scene, blotting out the moon, the stars and the night sky. I saw lightning light up the heavens before it bellowed through the streets, shaking the street lights and causing them to flicker like candles in the wind. It must have been so loud that I didn’t hear the footsteps behind me, so when I felt a hand tap my shoulder I whirled around, my heart in my throat.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

I Want To Give

For Shalina. Merry Christmas, baby.

A few days ago, my girl and I drove downtown to donate some non-perishables. We loaded two cardboard boxes heaped with cans of beans, soups, corn, fruit and peas into the back of the car, and headed out. Traffic was terrible and the icy roads didn't help, as we watched cars helplessly slip n' slide through intersections and in-and-out of their lanes - their winter tire investments coming up short. But the weather was beautiful. The morning sun shone effortlessly through the sparse clouds that littered the bright blue sky, bathing our little city in an ironic December warmth. The drive was lovely and it set the mood for what was to come.

We pulled into the closed school's parking lot a little while after, but it was almost full. I squeezed the car into a spot near the back, lodged between two giant Chevy Suburbans, and hopped out. Popping the trunk, we took the first box and began the long trek towards the school's doors, but before we could make it even halfway the doors swung wide open. A young man (couldn't have been much older than me) burst from the opening and tried to keep his balance on the icy pavement as he sprinted out towards us.

"Hold on!" he yelled out "Lemme help you guys with that!"

We were a little taken aback, so we froze.

He didn't stop to catch his breath in the brisk morning air as he skidded to a halt in front of us: "Let me take that from you! I'm Bobby, by the way." Before I could say another word, he gently took the box from my arms, smiled and nodded his head in the direction of the school. "Follow me!" he grinned and, have first made sure that we were in fact following him, began walking back.

"This looks great!" he said over his shoulder, "Thanks so much! I just know the family this is going to will be absolutely thrilled!"

I could see the smile spreading on my baby's face as she gripped my hand tighter in hers. There was even a noticeable skip in her step. It made me smile too. She piped up:

"We've got another box in the car, actually."

Bobby spun around suddenly. "Another box?!"

She nodded.

He looked down at the heaping contents. "Well, that's just… amazing! Thanks!" Shifting the heavy load in his arms, "As you can see, we're rather busy, but I'll go put this inside, if you wouldn't mind grabbing the other one?"

I shook my head and smiled. "No, that's entirely out of the question. I've never heard such insanity."

Bobby looked taken aback, but my girl lifted her arms and cut in. "Oh, don't mind him. He's got a weird sense of humour. We'll be right back!" She grabbed my arm, spun on her heel and tugged me back towards the car. Bobby smiled, shrugged and continued walking on.

"Don't be silly." She smiled, "Not everyone knows you're an idiot."

I swung her hand back and forth like a child. "Can't help it. It's in my blood." Grinning, "Besides, I do it SO well."

She laughed and playfully nudged me with one shoulder. We got the second box out of the car and started walking back towards the school once again. I hadn't been entirely delighted about getting up early, but seeing the smile on her face, I would do it a thousand times over. And a thousand times again. The warmth in her face, the light in her eyes, the bounce in her step and the song in her voice. I mean, she's already one of the happiest, optimistic people I know - but this kind of joy and cheer was special. I'd be a damned liar if I said it hadn't already rubbed off on me.


We finally reached the school doors, but we weren't alone. Shuffling from cold foot to foot, stood an old woman. Her withered face hid under an old grey hat, but the piercing blue eyes studied everything around her from its shelter. Confident? No. Uncomfortable? Possibly. Shy? Definitely. In an old knit-green sweater that hung like a drape on her short form, she tried to avert her eyes from the couple that now approached her. She eyed the box we carried, but wouldn't dare look us in the eye. It was as if she'd been here before, no stranger to the school's shelter, but felt an outsider all the same.

"Merry Christmas." we said in unison.

She kept shuffling uncomfortably, but we managed to make out a small "Merry Christmas" from underneath the hat and through the tattered scarf that wound its way around her neck. The awkward silence was shattered as the doors banged open and Bobby walked out.

"You weren't kidding!" He said gladly, looking at our cargo. The old lady caught his eye and he turned his head towards her. "Oh, hi there! I'll be right with you!"

But, being the person she is, my girl spoke up again. "That's alright! We've got time." And we stepped back to give the lady some room.

She finally looked at us, locking eyes with the pretty girl at my side. She didn't say thanks, but her eyes did the talking. Even my blithering mind could see it. She turned to face Bobby and in a frail voice, started to speak.

"Well, I don't really have a call-number you see… because I haven't the money to buy for a whole family." She shifted in that old, sickly-green sweater and shoved her black gloved hands into the ratty canvas bag slung over her shoulder. Pulling out two lone cans of soup, she went on. "This soup's all I have to give, and I was just wondering if you could add it to the other carts?"

Bobby broke out into that contagious smile and laughed. "Sure, of course! Thanks so much!"

She nodded quickly and gently placed the two cans in his outstretched hands. The shy look on her face never dwindled and she kept her eyes near the ground. She almost bowed a small 'thank you' and, turning around slowly, she began walking away.

We were all taken aback, our jaws on the ground. She looked so hungry herself, and was probably one of the people that came here each year to collect some food for the holidays. Yet, here she stood giving what she could simply for the spirit of giving. Eventually, Bobby called out to the old lady as she reached the edge of the parking lot: "A very Merry Christmas to you!"

The rest is pretty standard. We left the second box in the school, wished the volunteers a Merry Christmas and began the drive back home. But I could feel the true spirit of Christmas that day. It wasn't how much you gave, but how you gave it. It's true, we had donated two whole boxes rather than two cans - but there was so much more we could have given. We weren't lacking in food. We hadn't known true hunger (except for when my girlfriend actually cooks). We had never been forced to swallow our pride and ask for help when it came to our basic needs. I couldn't even begin to imagine what that would be like, neither of us could. Giving is not a number, it's a feeling. It's not a means, it's an end. It's not consumerism, it's love. Love of the truest, most basic and fundamental kind: love for another human being. Not someone you know, relate to or even like - but love for someone who you know needs it.

To watch that old lady give a day worth of meals away, her hunger eating away at her body and mind, drove me. It was that tiny tinge of being outdone, watching someone give so little, yet give so MUCH. But with that sense of competition and loss, came a surge of power: to know that whoever received those cans would be more grateful than I had imagined. To me, two boxes of food was pocket change. To someone in need, it was new life. It was hope. I felt a hunger to feed hunger. A need to quench need. Desperate to quell desperation.

We sat in the car driving back, as Peggy Lee drifted out of our radio and filled the car: "It's that time of year, when the world falls in love…".

My girl gripped my hand as I kept my eyes on the road: "Baby?" she said.

"Mhmm?" I replied.

"I want to give to the world."

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Lovely Lie (part I)

I gripped the steering wheel tighter and adjusted my mirrors. It was just so unnerving; I tried to focus on the road. I looked out the window at the sun as it finally dipped its head beneath the horizon, shedding its orange hues across the incoming tide. The waves lapped at the beach sand, coming in and going out, beckoning to me… the way she beckoned to me. Damn, I thought, it’s not working. I shuddered and turned on the radio, as Frankie’s words floated out on the cool night air: “Strangers in the night… lovers at first sight…” I cursed loudly, as I flicked off the box; nothing was working. I took the next exit and parked the Ford off on the beach. It was getting darker, and the stars had started to blink their eyes open, twinkling in the celestial darkness, awaiting the moon’s arrival. I stepped out of the car, slammed the door shut and shoved my fists into my pockets. I walked out towards the shoreline, kicking stray pebbles, trying to focus on anything, anything but her. I felt around in my pocket and pulled out my velvet kerchief. Opening it up, the number and name that had been scrawled on it so many weeks ago at that diner were barely visible; “Lily” and then an outline of red lipstick. That had been so long ago, before the doubt set in. I muttered to myself, turned and began to stroll down alongside the lapping waves. I could remember it as clearly as if it had been only been a few hours ago, rather than a few months.
The couples walking hand in hand, laughing and smiling as they walked down the streets, sharing kisses and sunsets together, nights in each others’ arms, left me only able to hope for such bliss. A novice in such matters, almost a mere babe though I’m already 23 years old, I knew next to nothing about Love and its fickle whims. I walked into Mike’s on Amorous Street, took an empty booth all to myself and pulled a tattered book out my pocket. It’s binding weary with age, its pages far from crisp, scarred with hours upon hours of constant flicking and handling: The Great Gatsby. The light from the window was suddenly dimmed as she stood next to my table. I looked up and tried to squint through the bright sunlight that outlined her frame. I couldn’t see her clearly, so I gave up trying and just ordered my regular; a root beer float with extra ice cream. It was childish, I know, but it must’ve appealed to her because she sat down across from me when she brought it to my table. I finally got a good look at her; the window bathing her in the sun’s warmth, her hair done up in a ponytail. She stared at me, a boyish grin spreading across her face as she reached back and pulled her hair out, letting it cascade down in rich golden curls to her upper back. I had only been peering up from the book now and then until that point, until I finally decided to look up altogether. Her eyes struck me first. Dark blue sapphires gazed back at me, their centres fading into a comforting grey, like the sea after a storm. I felt like I should be more subtle, or at least more polite, but it seemed almost an insult not to stare. I must have looked so pathetic, trying to avert my eyes, but staring all the same. They weren’t just mesmerizing, they were imprisoning, and it scared me for a moment that such power could exist in so simple a thing. Yet I leapt into it willingly, without a second thought.

Things only went downhill from there. She asked me for my handkerchief, to wipe the oil from her hands, and I obeyed like a small pup; already putty in her hands. She took it, turning it over and stroked it, feeling the velvet embroidery of my initials between her thumb and forefinger. I shivered and shuddered with every gentle stroke of her fingers, every smooth caress, as if she’d captured my soul within that small fabric. She looked up at me, smiling all the while, and began to fold it neatly. Her eyes still on me, she lifted it to her lips; those lush, soft-as-petal lips, and gently kissed it. I took in a sharp breath, as she placed it on the table and slid it over towards me. She took a small sip of my float, flashed her devilishly seductive smile, that boyish grin that captured me so, got up from her seat and walked away. I let loose my breath, feeling reborn; as though every shade and every tint of colour in the world had been amplified a dozen times over. The orange walls bloomed like a pond of tiger lilies, the red ford parked outside blossomed like a bouquet of roses and the yellow doors down the street sprung to life like a row of daffodils. I sighed and looked down at her parting gift. Handwritten in a dark blue fountain pen were 7 digits. They might as well have been letters spelling my “despair”.