Perchance to dream

Gnarled old men line the path. Grey heads nodding they dream the dreams of all men in twilight years.  Sleepy fingers, lost in memory, drop seeds that fall to lay rotting underfoot. Grass and weeds, brambles and burrs, rise with the passing of the seasons to shape burial mounds sickly sweet with ferment and time. In this still place, marked only by the track of deer and fox, mossy heads bow low and slumber on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eidolon

Pandora’s box is a black silhouette of trees that border the horizon. Flung wide open a fine spray escapes to stain the sky burnt topaz and rose. Tourmaline watercolour blossoms bleed up grenadine smears that flow into amber smoke and the open indigo beyond. Rose coloured lenses filter the atmosphere and paint the world in shades of strawberry blond. The carmine flood sings a requiem for the day in languid notes of gold and pomegranate tears. Twilight boats cast nets of shadow to gather the radiance, dragging it up to the char blackened lips of night so that she can devour the cherry flavoured light.

The Shade of Winter

     The pale green grass crunching underfoot is an oddity half way through winter. Frozen drops glitter like diamonds in a multiplied mimicry of the black jeweled sky above. The rising of the pale winter sun leaks wan rays that stir the air sending a haze up across the unnaturally naked fields. January should see the lean wolves of winter race across the land, their voices a howl of wind singing a discordant lullaby for the resting earth. Instead the vagaries of an ill defined term have left us marooned, abandoned on the plane of mud soaked dishabille that greets the dawn of each new day. The hoary dragon of winter, toothless and bewildered is lost somewhere along the path. A damp dementia has clouded the crystal mind leaving will and purpose limp and impotent, a pale shadow of the might that once bore the name.

     Divested of cold cover, exposed and abandoned, the sinew of the earth is laid bare and open to the sky. Shivering under an alien light the burnt umber of loam and soft wool of wood tendon border the ochre wisps of sodden gleanings. The hours melt and pool into one endless grey moment as the ground waits to warm or cool, victim to the whim of this sunken muddy season. Don’t look to spring; he’s a distant hero traveling beyond the horizon. We can no more move forward than back. The sails lay empty and slack waiting for the pace of the season to hurry us towards the vernal equinox. Becalmed, even the sharp suffering of purgatory’s expiation would be a welcome change from this milquetoast limbo.

The Growing Years

   Basements make excellent collectors. What you might think of as a temporary storage place can very easily become a jam packed museum of themed displays. If not kept under control these display will reproduce in an eerie mimicry of life itself.  Away from the light, in the moist warmth of the basement, random items are draw together. Like mold or fungus they multiply creating blooms of growth, objets d’art or mounds of junk … depending on your perspective. It’s necessary on occasion, if only in the name of order and self defense, to brave the dark and sweep out the cobwebs and whatever else is hiding in that midnight garden.

     Some piles are easy prey to the light but others dig their roots a little deeper. In my basement one such pile has been growing for a number of years and it is for the most part impervious to any large scale attempt to clean house. The pile as a collective has an ebb and flow as things are added and subtracted according to need, convenience and interest. Even in its state of flux the pile can be catalogued and categorized. I prefer "Snips and snails and puppy dog tails" or "Painted wings, giant rings, strings and sealing wax". There isn’t a wing, a snip or tail in sight but the titles are apt none the less.

     Scholastic paperbacks abound. Bunnicula, Captain Underpants and I Am The Cheese peak out from under a jumble of Brian Jacques’ Red Wall Abbey series and RL Stine’s Goosebumps. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find Robert Munsch "loving you forever" even if you do travel to "where the wild things are" with nothing more to protect you than Harold’s "purple crayon". Circumstances make strange bedfellows in the comic book world as Scrooge McDuck cozies up with Spiderman. A pirate’s ransom in Lego kits, once lovingly constructed, lie broken and abandoned, dust encrusted and forgotten. Awkward clay creations, snow walkers held together with glue and toothpicks, space ship shaped lumps, headless power rangers and fearsome Bionicals people the pile. A shrine to the muse of art exists laden with offerings of specially designed paper airplanes, dinosaur masks and a particularly painstakingly assembled paper Egyptian sarcophagus. Boxes of school work, toilet paper rolls, paper plates and egg cartons crafted into mysterious flights of fancy (held together with enough glue to buttress a steel girder) create a solid underpinning for the growing pile.

     An object may be added to pile, thought of as no longer significant in the larger scheme of things, only to be retrieved a week later for reuse by the original owner or perhaps to be passed on to a younger cousin. I am surprised when a death row inmate receives a pardon from the governor and returns from the subterranean dungeon to the light and freedom of the world above. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the decree and I’m often left hoping the object in question didn’t sprout legs and walk up three flights of stairs by itself. For the most part though the pile remains and grows at a constant rate determined by the passage of taste and time. Of all the heaps in the basement this pile stubbornly refuses to give up the ghost and die a decent death. Past experience and Murphy’s Law ensure that any item disposed of will be the one most required a day or two later. Nostalgia plays a part as well.

     This messy menagerie, regardless of how motley and moldy, contains the remnants of a lifetime of laughing, learning and love. There are the stories we shared while a sleepy head nodded. The hardened clay surfaces still show in sharp detail the impression of wee hands, the whorls of fingerprints a gentle wave in the awkward grey. Lego sea world and paper towel totem poles keep the record of time used and spent better than any clock ever could. That time, our time shared together, was never wasted time as aimless as it might have seemed then. 

     This pile definitely has roots. Minute by minute, second by second those roots dig deeper gaining purchase, while new life grows above. As dusty and broken as these old relics are they bloom with a light of their own, soft pastels and bittersweet scents redolent of innocence, effort and growth engendered and represented. To a stranger this assortment of oddities and well used items might seem like garage sale fodder. Perhaps someday long, long from now the entire collection may find its way out to the front lawn but chances are I won’t be the one putting it out. It can stay a little longer while I turn my efforts back to cobwebs and 20 year old editions of Sports Illustrated.

 

   

 

Storm Surge

Sound like ocean surf surrounds the house. The rising wind swallows it whole. Caught by the undertow, the unwieldy ship of home sinks to the bottom of the swell. Blind in the dark the house rides the surge straining and groaning in a current of sound.

Buffeting by tempest gusts the passing trees scramble for purchase, their skeletal fingers rake windows and eaves. The pale hands of wind drowned pirates shake the glass and drag gales of chains and rusty anchors across the roof.

Leaves and branches in streaming tidal flows frantically cyclone. Swirling down, the house and the swell, the ghosts and the trees, all fall out of the bottom of the sky.

Light cuts the dark as the night drains away leaving the house a beaten salvage on the landlocked shore of a brand new day.

 

January Thaw

 
 
 
 
 

The January thaw has brought unexpected rays of light to warm the thin winter air. The breeze rattles the rushes and heads out over the water. The beach mid season is a dangerous place. We walk along wary of the cliffs that are treacherous and soft melting along with the snow in the thaw. Bulging flows of clay seep through the cracks to pool in thick layers while run off steams in the warming air. A graceful gallery of driftwood, shaped smooth by waves, decorates the sandy path. Face down, one foot turned skyward, a bandit lays still having met its solitary end amongst the snow bleached fish heads and flotsam. The gulls are absent and the waves sing alone. Zebra mussels and mummified gobies crunch underfoot as the beach narrows and we skirt the icy waves. We turn our faces away from the breeze and the sun warms our backs as we head back up the beach.

 

 

 

 

It’s A Bug’s Life

      This odd January is full of grey and wet and wind. The unusual weather seems a misstep in the cycle of the year. Birds that should have traveled long before to warmer climes may find themselves in perilous and dire straits when the course of the season corrects itself with an icy rein. For now they fill their bellies with the leavings of a fall harvest that by all rights should be buried under a covering of wintry white. The creatures that live by the length of the days and the angle of the earth have been caught unawares by this suspicious lack of seasonal scenery and oddities abound.

     As the year cools through the autumn months we usually play host to a variety of uninvited guests. Members of the indigenous bug population find their way inside drawn by the comparative warmth and the availability of entrance due to the idiosyncrasies of an old house. The most common immigrants are Asian beetles, spiders and oddly enough mud dauber wasps. Unlike the beetles or spiders, the wasps are always found below ground in the basement.

     These basement visitors are known as black and yellow mud daubers. They use mud to build small nests that can be found in sheltered places such as eaves or porches. Usually an inch or so in length they are impossibly slender at the waist (hence the term "wasp-waisted”) and black and gold in colour. When in flight the hind legs dangle down, equal in length to the body, seeming to increase the overall size to twice the height. The glossy wings are long and graceful. The head is well shaped, crowned with a tiara of ebony antennae and accented by black orbs full of age old wisdom and power. All-in-all the mud dauber is an impressive creature.

     It is somewhat of a mystery how something the size of a mud dauber could make its way inside. We’ve a variety of hypotheses for ingress that include entrance through the exhaust pipe of the gas furnace or through a room located off the very back of the basement. That particular room is not completely dug out and as a result carries the unknown element of an uncertain wall depth and a questionably sealed window. Whatever the way, they can be found hovering in the basement as the frost settles on the ground outside. Though the number is not great it is a startling sight to be greeted by a hovering and somewhat frazzled wasp as it searches for signs of familiarity in an unknown basement environment.

     These visits occur late in the season and the mud wasp is not a social or aggressive insect so it’s been my practice to leave them alone. It does take a bit of effort to remember to look where you put your feet and hands but it’s not too much of a bother. Often I will find the alien visitor drowned in the laundry sink before too many days have passed. It seems to hold a special attraction for those late season wanderers.

     Well before the ground has a chance to become snow covered the last of the wasps have gone to ground or left this world behind. This year though the unseasonable warm weather of January has created a revival in basement tourism. Unlike the wasps of late autumn these weary travelers don’t lumber through the air. As a matter of fact they can barely drag themselves across the old area carpet that covers the basement floor. A mud wasp in flight is an intimidating sight, to watch one drag itself across the floor is tragic. 

     Unintentionally awakened from a winter sleep, the humbled pilgrims traveling across the green wool are all potential mothers of a new line. Only the females last the winter to carry on the survival of the species. Mud daubers are not a volume reproducer. A single female will only lay approximately 15 eggs for her nest. A shame really as this type of wasp is especially beneficial in the garden, helping to keep the spider population in check. A wasp provides that control through the grizzly parasitical practice of using living prey as nutrition for her babies. Obviously we find this somewhat gruesome but for the wasp it ensures the survival of her line.

     These future mothers traveling across my floor are tired and confused. Instinct tells them that it should be spring and that there are nest to be built but like Rip van Winkle they awaken to a strange and new world. As I pass by, on whatever errand that brings me below ground, the wind from my passage brushes against the gold and black bodies. Wings stir, perhaps in warning, but I like to think they stir in memory or anticipation of the spring breeze. To put them outside would mean certain death. To leave them inside, awake and confused, no real food in sight and too weak to hunt, really means the same. The unsettling warmth of this unexpected thaw has tolled a death knell for these graceful builders. They are a step out of time and as a result they will be lost along the way. Still they force themselves across the floor seeking hope in the dark corners not knowing that it is too early for the new life they carry, too late for the old they lived and only a few more steps to oblivion.

     The cold will return and I will sweep up the remains of those stalwart travelers resting in those dark corners. Nothing will be left of  the potential lost under the grey rainy skies of unseasonable January weather, a step out of their time and just a husk and a memory in ours.     

    

Still Waters

     I was lucky to the get the job. At 17 I was on my own and needed to get enough cash together to support myself and pay tuition for the college I planned to attend in the next year. I wasn’t exactly the poster child for a conservative service industry. My red hair, short and spiky, Cleopatra eyeliner and safety pin accented black wardrobe worked against the traditional waitress image. The hair could be flattened out (though it clashed with the red polyester tunic of my uniform). The stovepipe black jeans and high top converse runners were allowable and so I became an employee of The House of Gene better known to all and sundry as Gene’s Chinese food restaurant.

     Gene’s was the po’ boy cousin of the swanky Lee’s restaurant blocks situated around the corner and up the block in the CBD of the artistically blessed Stratford, Ontario. Located back to front across the street from an adult club and nestled between retail establishments Gene’s could always be counted on for a  hot plate of steaming rice and Moo-shu pork from 12 in the afternoon until 1 am most weekdays, or 3 am on Friday and Saturday nights.

     The restaurant itself was a long room, narrower at the front than the back, with the largest visual distinction being a set of swinging doors at the end that led to the kitchen. There was no real foyer. As you entered the restaurant there was a desk and a till where receipts and take out orders were processed. The small counter that followed housed glasses, ashtrays and cutlery. The front wall was completed by a refrigerated display case complete with see-through sliding doors so that you could pick the beer or dessert of your choice. Tables lined each side of the room.

     White clad kitchen staff would gather at the back during the slow hours to smoke and eat family style. Melodic laughter would drift up mixed with soft and mysterious Asian syllables. Dinner for the kitchen staff was not listed on the regular menu. It wasn’t smothered in the MSG found in big wooden barrels in the basement storage room. The coarse crystals of chemical were ladled into buckets with laundry detergents scoops for transport to the kitchen upstairs to season the Canadian Chinese food. Steaming vegetables and bowls of meat and broth, "real" Chinese food, disappeared and reappeared as chopsticks dipped in and out drawing the contents into smaller individual bowls. The smell of whitefish would waft forward from the back of the restaurant mixing with the aroma of ginger and soy.

     The waitresses would convene at the first table on the right hand side of the restaurant just behind the dessert cabinet that was filled with tapioca puddings and cubed Jell-O in parfait glasses. The Lee family who owned the restaurant were good employers and didn’t see the sense of "busy work". If the tables were clean and empty, the fridge and ketchup bottles were full we were left to our own devices which, given the company, was usually smoking and gossip.

     I suppose we were an odd looking group but it never occurred to me. Attending high school full time and working until 1 am or 3 am pretty much every night didn’t leave me much time for reflection. I couldn’t have told you any of my co-workers last names though I spent hours in their company. There were 4 of us who waited tables. At 17 I was the youngest. Next in line was Tracy, red headed, Rubenesque and in her early twenties. Tracy would gain the dubious distinction of briefly dating my brother after they met on one of his rare visits to town. It was a relationship that went nowhere with the added bonus of me being left to try to clean up the mess he left behind (it wouldn’t be the last time).Tracy and I usually worked the bulk of the late and weekend shifts.

     The oldest of the group was painfully gaunt and ever bitter Marg. Marg was always unhappy about something. Pale,slight and grey she would have been in her sixties at the time. Marked by heavy unplucked eyebrows, her face wore a perpetual frown having settled into that expression after so many years of irritation and dissatisfaction. The bane of Marg’s existence while at work, as far as I could tell, was Cynthia. Cynthia was the final member of our quartet.

     Marg swore Cynthia wasn’t her real name. She said that her name was really Donna but Donna liked “Cynthia” better. It seemed to eat away at Marg and she’d always refer to Cynthia as Donna when she gossiped about her even occasionally throwing it in Donna’s face, accusing her of putting on airs with her fancy name.

     Cynthia must have been in her late 30’s or early forties but it was hard to tell. She was full figured. Her round face was pancake makeup made up all in pinks and corals and her full lips were often chapped and peeling. She wore cat’s eye glasses that shaded unexpectedly beautiful blue-grey eyes. The whole look was topped off with a variety of mail order wigs from the Eva Gabor collection. Marg swore that Donna/Cynthia’s hair was hip long under those wigs but for some reason she preferred to wear the wigs. Marg also claimed that Donna/Cynthia’s wigs gained their somewhat frizzy look by being washed and dried with her clothes in the home washing machine and dryer. It never occurred to me to wonder how Marg could possible know any of this.

     They certainly weren’t friends. They would sit and smoke at the front table and Marg would pester and pick at Cynthia. Cynthia was for the most part placid and would do her best to ignore the carping. When Cynthia wasn’t around Marg would trot out tales of Donna’s shortcomings and sins which included frequent inebriation, gambling and prostitution. I didn’t set much store by it as I couldn’t imagine quiet, placid Cynthia doing any of those things and if she had or still was what business was it of mine? I liked her and she was easy to work with.

     The boss was willing to spring for one complimentary meal a shift and it was usually the only thing I’d have to eat in a day. For the better part of a year and a bit I existed on the number 5 special, one egg roll, sweet and sour chicken, chicken chow mien and chicken fried rice…all the food groups as far as I was concerned. If business was good and the big boss was around once in a while he’d treat the staff to a beer after hours.

     The restaurant would be clean. The tables would be ready for the next day, set with clean ashtrays and full condiment bowls. As we sat around after the bustle of work was through we’d chat a bit and wind down before going home. I didn’t much like beer but I was polite and would drink one when offered. I don’t think I ever actually finished a whole bottle. Usually it was OV (short for Old Vienna) which wasn’t really very popular but you had to stock a variety just in case.

     Thursday night was one of those nights. On this particular occasion Marg had been prevailed to work an unusual late shift and we were busy right up to closing time. It was good to just sit around afterwards, sipping the tart beer and resting my feet before the walk home. It was well past two when we locked up and headed out.

     It was the start of the new week before I knew there’d been any trouble. My regular Monday shift started right after school. Cynthia came up to tell me that someone had reported Mr. Lee for serving beer to a minor (obviously that minor was me). Mr. Lee had only been given a warning but still he was very upset. Cynthia was positive that the anonymous report had come from someone in the restaurant. As Marg and I were the only fluent English speaking employees working at the time and I wasn’t about to report myself she’d concluded the "rat" was Marg. I didn’t really know what to say. I felt bad for Mr. Lee especially since he was just trying to be so nice and I only drank the beer to be polite.

     Cynthia was incensed. How could Marg do such a thing to Mr. Lee when he had treated her so well? He put up with all her complaining, gave her a job when no one else would. That was the first time I’d ever heard Cynthia say anything like that. I asked how she knew for sure, maybe someone was just passing by and had looked in and seen us. She just sighed and asked me who else would do something like that. The afternoon school crowd came in and we were kept busy serving fries, cokes and egg rolls (all the cheapest items on the menu). We were steady at it until after dinner.

     Cynthia and I were bussing tables after the rush. I’d already ordered my number 5 special. Marg passed by and without even turning her head she delivered some biting comment to Cynthia. I don’t remember what was said but it was most likely nothing new, probably something about Cynthia’s appearance or history. Whatever it was, this time it hit a nerve. It was the only time I ever saw Cynthia take on Marg.

     She stood up straight and raised her usually quiet voice. It was thick and gravelly as if out of practice and un-used to such an intense volume. She told Marg to shut up and mind her own business. There was something in her tone, contempt, knowledge…I couldn’t say what but I do know that it was hard and cold, like steel. Marg turned on her heel and headed back to the kitchen suddenly busy with a glass that she said had come out of the washer still dirty. Her grizzled hair was a grey halo around her head. Her neck seemed too slight for the weight of her head which was perched at a delicate angle as she walked away. Her shoulders were hunched like she was waiting for a blow from behind.

     Speechless and with my mouth more than just a little open I’m sure I looked somewhat comical as I stood, dirty table rag in hand. I looked at Cynthia and she turned to me and with absolute venom dripping from each word she said, "I hate her. She should just shut up and mind her own business." 

     Marg stayed in the kitchen for as long as she could. When she came out Cynthia and I were sitting at the waitress table. Cynthia smoked while I ate my dinner. The white cigarette filter kept sticking to the peeled chapped skin of her lower lip. Marg sat down beside me and lit her own smoke and the three of us waited for the drinkers to come in for a bite to eat before they headed out to the bars.

 

An Inauspicious Beginning

Soul eater is the name of the January Rain grey skies.

The Milky clouded eyes of the dead year gaze sightlessly skyward filtering the day to perpetual twilight. Icy entrails steam as the warm rain falls in acid runnels eviscerating the gentle swells of wind driven snow. Charcoal grey stick bare fingers rend the thick air as the trees grasp for purchase sinking deeper into the weeping flesh of an earth so unexpectedly awakened.