Short Stories

Short Stories

I belong to the Uxbridge Writers' Circle (associated with Writers' Circle of Durham Region).

We meet at 1pm to 3pm on the first Tuesday of every month at the Uxbridge Arena, We are open to new members and all genres. Come and join us!


There is a word challenge each month.

I am sharing some of my short stories in which I incorporated the words selected by the Writers' Circle. I have put the required words in italics.

It's fun to listen to other members' stories!

See what you can create with the same words - better still, come and join us!

The Lighthouse

 Jerry sat in his sunroom with binoculars in one hand and a glass of whisky in the other. The predicted storm was building. Frothy waves rolled in and unleashed their fury onto the pebbles below. He put the binoculars down, resting his arm, but something red caught his attention. He picked up the binoculars and looked westward towards the lighthouse. With some perseverance he found a familiar red dinghy tied up at the lighthouse rock, being tossed about by the dark green swell.
Jerry knew that Duncan wouldn’t have a life jacket. Duncan believed he was invincible and had no fear of anything, it seemed. But as Jerry watched him playing the oboe in the school concert a couple of years earlier, Duncan’s knees visibly trembled as beads of sweat grew on his brow.
Jerry should have encouraged him to continue his lessons because the boy had natural musical talent. But Duncan hadn’t played since. 
Jerry put on his rain gear, and walked down the steep, slippery path, now running with water and mud, to the marina below his house.
The heaving and lurching of the dock under his feet was unnerving, and he nearly lost his balance more than once. Although the marina was in a bay, with the lighthouse on an island of rock at its mouth, the storm’s rage reached here too.
Boarding his boat went better than expected, but he could barely hear the fifty-horsepower engine over the roar of the sea and the howl of the gale. Ironically, the force of the wind took his breath away. It seemed to have increased a notch or two since he left home.   
It took longer than usual to reach the lighthouse and the spray made it hard to see the landing spots. He threw out a couple of fenders and grabbed a large ring only to have to let go. On his next attempt he got the rope through the ring and made fast.
Duncan had seen him and met him at the door. 
“You shouldn’t have come,” Duncan said as he climbed the metal stairs.
“What are you doing here?” Jerry tried his best to sound interested rather than combative.
“I’m living here.”
“No-one’s allowed to live here.”
“To hell with that. If I want to live here, that’s what I’m going to do.”
“Okay. This is better for you then?”
“Sure is. Anything would be better than the hell-hole I’ve been living in.”
Jerry stops on the stairs. His heart misses a beat. His palms sweat.
“I didn’t realize living with me was that bad.” No-one had stood up to him before.
“Sure is.”
“What will you do for money?”
“I’ll find a way. And I’m not going to end up a boring bookseller like you. How could you give up teaching music to do that?” There was scorn in Duncan’s voice which sent a shiver down Jerry’s spine.
“I’ve never suggested you should be a bookseller.”
“I don’t want to be controlled by you any more. I’m on the brink of a breakthrough in my life.”
“What makes you say that?” Jerry’s hands trembled.
“Because I can do what I want.”
“And you can’t when you live with me?”
“You got it.” Duncan looked down at him with a sneer.
“Okay,” Jerry said as he kept the lid on his fear and anger. “Just remember, you can come back home any time, no questions asked.”
The way Jerry remembered it, he turned around on the stairs and made the challenging return-trip home. He told them that he had another drink of whisky and sat exhausted, gazing at the lighthouse, and that’s when he saw something tumble onto the rocks below. He guessed what it must be, and it turned out that he was right. But he didn’t guess that his world would be shattered, that he’d be found guilty of manslaughter and locked up.
An old man now, Jerry looks at the lighthouse from his dilapidated sunroom as he drinks his last whisky. He blames the lighthouse for everything, including the impending class-action law suit. But he knows he shouldn’t have been a music teacher for boys. And he knows he shouldn’t have lured them to his home. And he knows he shouldn’t have nurtured his relationship with Duncan, a vulnerable and mixed-up teen, searching for a father-figure.
Jerry’s memories are muddled. He grew more anxious and haunted during his long stretch in prison. He sometimes thinks he must have pushed Duncan.
They say the oboe was found smashed on the rock near the boy’s body.
Duncan could have been a brilliant musician. 

The whisky isn’t taking away the pain. He walks down the steep path to the marina and steals a boat. He can’t get the engine started so he rows, and rows, and rows, leaving the lighthouse behind him. 
Vicky Earle Copyright 2018


Awesome Natural Phenomenon

January 2018

            My ears are filled with the roar of thousands of gallons of water cascading down to the rumbling pool fifty feet below me. The powerful thundering of the waterfall is unnerving, as I stand, vulnerable, on the ledge. It swallows up all other sounds, rendering them insignificant, including the incessant, squeaky voice of my friend, Dan. I’d much rather have my dog, Cigar, as company than this self-obsessed, old man who, although fit and healthy, talks about nothing but his aches and pains, fears and doubts. And I have no way of escape from his side.
            I left Cigar at home in Canada. If someone were to ask me who my best friend is, there would be no need for contemplation. Cigar is trustworthy and faithful, standing by me through thick an thin. He was a stray but lucked-out and found himself in a foster home with a woman who knows how to train dogs. It was about this time that I thought I needed some special canine companionship, and I haven’t looked back. My relationship with him has literally changed my life.
By way of tugging on Dan’s sleeve and gesticulating, I tell him that I want to leave. He is reluctant, I can tell, although I can’t hear what he’s saying. We’ve only been here two minutes. I think he planned to take a lot of photographs which he would share with the world. I have no interest in photographs.
A sense of nostalgia waves over me as the smell of the damp rocks, which are hard and smooth below my feet, fills my nostrils. It reminds me of fuller days when I camped and canoed in Algonguin Park.
I focus on making my way back along the ledge. As soon as we’re out of the noise zone sufficiently for a conversation, Dan tells me I must be crackers. We’ve come all this way because I wanted to experience this wonder, this awesome natural phenomenon, but I want to go home after only two minutes. He demands to know why we talked and planned for hours, and why he has so many dog-eared maps and pamphlets for just two minutes. I sense anger and frustration. Now I really want out of here.
He tries to convince me to stay longer, to try another accessible trail which leads to the rapids further along the river, but all I want to do is to go home and be reunited with Cigar. Dan has no patience with this, but since I’m paying for everything and he’s here as my travelling companion, he has no choice.

The relief engulfs me as I touch the top of Cigar’s head, and he guides me with calm confidence to the parking garage. My brief trip away has made it crystal clear to me that he is my right-hand man, he’s the spark-plug in my engine. I can’t live without him and don’t want to.
Philippa, his foster mom, has brought him to the airport to greet me. Thanks to Philippa, he’s a fully qualified guide dog for the visually impaired, despite his naturally rambunctious nature. He takes his work seriously and Philippa and I are proud of him.
I won’t be going anywhere without Cigar ever again. He’s the only awesome natural phenomenon I need to experience in my life.  
Vicky Earle Copyright 2018

Doubt

December 2017

            George had one arm lying across the dark, wooden bar as he leant to one side to watch the game on the big-screen. The bottle was cold, the pale ale like a cool, refreshing stream revitalizing every inch of his body. The stress of the past few days had been almost too much for him and, although he was still troubled by what had happened, the relief  he felt was as if his body was being released from a tightly-wrapped bandage, no longer taut, tense and tight – the investigation was over.  
            Six days ago he’d been sent to a murder scene. It was the worst he’d ever observed. The body was in a slaughter house for a start, and he couldn’t bear the acrid, putrid smells, the death, the coldness. But, even more disturbing was the sight of the girl curled up in a pool of blood, it appearing as if she’d been pole-axed like a beef-cow. Curiously, the murderer had placed a freshly-picked daisy on her closed fist, making it appear as if she was holding it. 
            The brutality of her murder haunted George and drove his team to an almost supernatural level of determination to find out who the person was who had committed this inhumane act against an innocent, young girl, and to bring him to justice.
            Despite the obvious cause of death, an autopsy was required by protocol. That’s when things got interesting. The results revealed to George that the girl had atrophied limbs, unusual facial features, scars from numerous operations, a feeding tube and other indicators pointing towards a diagnosis of severe brain damage. It was a simple matter to determine the identity of the girl. Her name was Daisy Millingford.
            Daisy’s father was a butcher at the slaughter house, and he confessed to her murder almost before George had walked up the long ramp to his front door. Bert Millingford sobbed into his hands as he stood in the doorway, but said he had no remorse - he did what was right for his daughter and killed her the only way he knew how. He couldn’t see her suffer any more.
            George found the interrogation of Bert disturbing. What he learned, along with the evidence collected from the numerous and various health care providers, created a picture that challenged George’s view of the world. As he developed a movie of Daisy’s life in his mind, he grew more and more agitated. She had been diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy soon after birth. At the time of her death, she was twelve years old and couldn’t speak (and they’d not been able to develop any alternative means of communication), couldn’t sit without support, had serious pain, and had many complications - some of which arose from surgeries which had attempted to straighten her back and release locked limbs. And there were other, what appeared to George to be, extraordinary efforts to improve her quality of life, according to her father and everyone else his team interviewed.
            George had enjoyed the rigidity of his unwavering beliefs. They gave him comfort and a sense of security, and some would say they gave him an air of self-righteousness. One fundamental belief was that life must be preserved at all costs. But Daisy challenged him to think differently - perhaps Bert did do the humane thing for his daughter.
            He watched two temperamental hockey players punching each other, and shifted his body as a sense of unease spoiled the taste of his beer. George wanted reassurance from his beliefs, but it wouldn’t come. He wanted to feel angry at the murderer, to celebrate his confession and to move on. But his mind kept returning to the possibility that Bert Shillingford had indeed made the ultimate sacrifice in order to end his daughter’s suffering. He must have known that his own life was lost as he gazed down at his daughter’s body.         
George felt queezy. Another beer would settle him down.
It didn’t.

But if you ask George’s wife, she’ll say that this is the time when George became possible to live with. She thinks that doubt is a good thing. 
Vicky Earle Copyright 2017

Sling-shot

November 2017

            The heavy, stale warmth of the air hits me as I walk into the room, increasing my resentment at being summoned here. I wonder why I made the trip, and perhaps I’m too late in any case. The old man is unmoving, his pale grey face shrouded in a tartan wool scarf, his body enveloped in a large quilt. The nurse steps aside, muttering that she’ll be in the next room if I need her. I can tell by the monotone of her voice and her narrowed eyes that she has a low opinion of me. I can only guess at some of the adjectives that might have been bandied about. Conniving could be one. Disingenuous likely another. But then, these judges, my critics, haven’t heard my side of the story – to be trite.
            The room is in semi-darkness; the soft glow of the setting sun is shut out nearly entirely by heavy, dark-red floor-to-ceiling velvet drapes. The bleaching of the material in pale pink streaks along the edges give away their age. My father invested, but perhaps that’s not the right word, in the restoration of this mansion five decades ago. It was an attempt at an escape, perhaps, from the sudden and unexpected death of his wife. He left Canada, bought this ridiculous mansion near his home-town in Scotland and buried himself in managing its revitalization.
            But no-one but he wanted to live here. Not with him.
            Despite the heat of the room, a shiver crawls down my spine; my body shudders – my habitual response to being in his presence. For a moment, I think I see the sling-shot on the table beside him, but my mind is playing tricks with the shadows. I still have the scars from his attacks, his furies, his uncontrollable rage, and not just the physical ones. He never let me forget that he was my stepfather and that I should be, oh, so grateful that I wasn’t sent away to boarding school, or worse, when he married my mother. I wasn’t – grateful, that is. There were days when I considered a life on the streets, but I was too feeble to try it.
            I made some unsuccessful attempts, years ago, to get revenge. I suppose I knew none of them would work, but it was cathartic to invent the scams and to try them out. His uptight Scottish staff didn’t take to these well. They knew it was me behind them, but didn’t know what I’d suffered as a child in Canada.
            The man stirs. He looks at me. I freeze. He picks up an envelope and grunts, thrusting it towards me with unexpected energy. My curiosity gets the better of me and I find the courage to take it from him. As I back away, he makes impatient gestures with his gnarled hands which I take to mean I should open it.
            I’m convinced that I won’t like what I’m about to read, but I’m wrong. It’s a letter of apology, with his shaky, but discernible, signature, witnessed by a lawyer as if it is a legal document. The last sentence states that I am to receive eighty percent of his fortune, rather than the zero percent I was explicitly informed of when I left him.
            He holds out another envelope, brown and bulky, shaking it with impatience. I take the lumpy package from him and open it, finding the infamous sling-shot inside along with a note. The writing is spidery but I can make out the words. It says that he would understand if I want revenge and that, if I get a good shot I might do both of us a favour by expediting the end.

            I can’t do it. And I can’t thank him for the promise of inheritance, nor for the written apology. After all, he murdered my mother and he knows that I saw what happened. I turn and leave, longing for fresh air and desperate to return to Canada. 
Vicky Earle Copyright 2017

Avarice

October 2017

            The man lay motionless in the hospital bed, the muted beams of light reflecting off the myriad of tubes which entered various parts of his body. Jeannie stood over her father, looking down on his immobile form with its expressionless, but distorted, face. It was a shock to see this powerful, imposing figure of a man lying as if dead.
            Jeannie’s hands grabbed the bedrails, turning her knuckles white, and clenched her teeth, making her jaw ache. She was aware that the medical staff were concerned that there could be brain damage from the beating. The puffy swelling around Max’s eyes and the large lump on his temple, as well as the cuts and abrasions which were at the center of each bruise, told the story of the brutality of the attack.
            Jeannie understood the concern about brain damage, but couldn’t quell an overwhelming conviction that her father’s brain was fine. What she was truly anxious and concerned about was what her husband, Mick, would do next. And this realization brought an emotional wave of regret and fear, which washed over Jeannie, almost paralyzing her. She worked hard to try to ignore the feelings, tried to argue that they were irrational. But she couldn’t.
            Max was a successful stockbroker and savvy investor. He had accumulated millions and was known to be a wealthy, as well as influential, man. But he didn’t believe in giving hand-outs to his children. He wanted them to build careers of their own, and to learn to stand on their own two feet, as he put it.
            Jeannie’s passion was art, specifically watercolours. She had an eye for perspective and could draw well, but her talents lay in the mixing of the vibrant colours of nature and in the capture of the contrasting shades of natural light. Her pictures were popular, but she lived modestly. Mick ran an art gallery in town and exhibited some of her paintings, which is how they met.
            It was soon after their first meeting that Mick asked about her father. She remembered, as she stood in the monochromatic hospital room, how Mick had taken a particular interest in her after that. Max’s success was no secret of course, and Jeannie had made it a practice to be cautious about relationships because she was acutely aware of the powerful allure of money. But she allowed her infatuation with Mick to grow, and she became besotted. Max had not been happy with the news that they were getting married and, as he and Jeannie discussed it, she realized that there was a seed of doubt inside her. But she quashed it. She now knew what a terrible mistake that had been.

            After the beating, for which there appeared to be no motive, Max had been left for dead by the attacker. The police believed that he had been beaten ruthlessly with a baseball bat. But Max was a tough, fighting man - there was evidence that he used his fists and feet to fight back. And, although he had been found unconscious, there were no broken bones.

            Jeannie had known that Mick’s desperate greed for money had been fuelled by the feeling that wealth was almost within reach, and had been exacerbated by Max’s decision to give the newly weds “hand-me-down” crystal, as Mick put it, rather than a couple of million dollars. Jeannie had been aware that this growing avarice threatened to erupt.

            As best she could, she satisfied herself that her father was being well cared for and looked comfortable. She unfurled her hands from the bedside rails. She gave her father a light kiss on the largest lump on his forehead, and them picked up the sports bag. She no longer felt as emotional as she had in the morning because she’d made her decision as to how she was going to act. As she entered the hospital corridor, she nodded to the security guard she’d hired, and then walked to the police station.
            She gave them Mick’s billy club, the clothes he’d worn the night before, and a complete statement, including details about the physical and emotional abuse she’d suffered. She had prepared most of her statement in writing, using her journal as a reference, and did not stray from her purpose. They said Mick would be brought in for questioning.
            Jeannie returned to the hospital again. She knew Max had been heavily sedated, so would not likely be awake, but had hoped to say goodbye in person. She left a card standing on the bedside table which simply said “I love you” and returned to her car. She retrieved her suitcase and walked to the bus station. She has not been seen since.  


Vicky Earle Copyright 2017

That Morning

September 2017

            Terry felt omnipotent as he sat in his large, over-stuffed wing-backed armchair. He was a self-made man and proud of it. He ran his businesses with a tight fist, demanding loyalty, dedication and hard work from every single one of his employees. He expected them to pay attention to the details since he had no time to niggle over petty trifles. After all, he had an empire to run and was the big-picture guy. 
            He was a success in his own eyes in everything he did, not just his business ventures. He’d married Marjorie three years earlier and she was a good catch. She was the epitome of the perfect housewife. It didn’t take much to train her to make his coffee how he liked it, to iron his shirts with the creases in the right places, to polish his shoes so they gleamed, and to do the myriad of other duties he expected. And the house was clean, at least as far as he could tell, and the garden looked cared for.
            He wasn’t interested in having children. He thought it was considerate of him to think of the impact that children would have on Marjorie’s life. After all, she would be compelled to continue with her current duties since he couldn’t be inconvenienced or his schedule disrupted in any way. There wouldn’t be time for children. To make absolutely certain this didn’t happen, he had taken a mistress called Melody. She’d approached him when he was at his favourite pub for a drink one afternoon about a year ago. It was indeed fortuitous. She knew how to satisfy him and the arrangement worked very well. Marjorie could get chores done while he was out.
            So, when Terry looked at himself in the mirror that morning, he was pretty pleased with his life and was content, yes, content was the right word.

            Marjorie kept a journal. It was well hidden. Her cousin had told her that it could be therapeutic to write regularly about one’s daily life. She had to do something to help calm her seething rage and burning resentment. She was nothing but a slave to this uncaring, ugly and self-satisfied man. But she didn’t have the courage to leave. In those days, to her knowledge, there weren’t any women’s shelters. In any case, he was rarely physically abusive – only if she made mistakes, like when she was late with his coffee, and when his supper wasn’t hot enough. And she certainly wasn’t about to crash at her cousin’s place – for one thing, her cousin ran her business out of her home. So, she had nowhere to go.
            But, that morning, she saw him looking in the mirror with a conceited smirk on his face which incited her hatred. The loathing bubbled and effervesced inside her. She was not going to take this any longer. She would do what she and her cousin had schemed a little more than a year ago. At the time, Marjorie played along but all the while believed that she would never to be able to follow through. She lacked the courage, which was compounded by the fact that she’d been a dependent her whole life. It was just too scary.
            But that morning was the turning point. And there was no going back in Marjorie’s mind.  
            She put on her white cotton gloves, the large head scarf she detested, and her sunglasses. She walked down the street, along an alleyway and climbed some stone steps. She retrieved the key from under the mat, let herself in and went upstairs. She found what she wanted in her cousin Melody’s top dresser drawer.
            Back at home she poured the whisky just how Terry liked it, having the ice on hand to add just as he walked through the door. She handed him the cut-glass tumbler and, as usual, he didn’t acknowledge her as he sank into his armchair. He took a couple of gulps and swallowed, and then let out a sigh of contentment.
            She reached under the sofa cushion, pulled out the derringer and pointed it at him. She had only one shot, so she had to do it right. She aimed for his cold heart and pulled the trigger before he had time to register that something wasn’t right, and killed him.
            Marjorie dropped the gun onto the floor, picked up her bag and walked to the bus station. With one month’s worth of housekeeping money she had enough to make it to Mexico. No-one would miss him until the morning. And, perhaps, no-one would miss him at all.  

   
Vicky Earle Copyright 2017         

Bianca

August 2017

            James stood in front of the swirls of colour, randomly intertwining, threatening to jump off the canvas. So, this is psychedelic art, he muttered as he slapped the catalogue against his thigh. He let out a sigh and turned away, unable to appreciate either the vibrancy or the creativity mentioned in the catalogue.
            “I heard that sigh. I’m Mandy Burrows, gallery owner.”
            “James Fender.”
            “Allow me to show you a piece that might capture your interest.”
            “Thank you.” James would have much preferred to be at home, sipping a single malt in solitary peace and quiet. But his benevolent donation of five million dollars to the children’s hospital had triggered compelling pleas from hundreds of charities. It was difficult to turn them down. So, he was at an art sale after a long day, to support a family counselling charity he’d only just heard of.
            Mandy beckoned him into a smaller room off to the side. A large piece dominated the wall immediately ahead. James gazed at the portrait of a young woman whose face appeared translucent. Her sad, green eyes were captivating and seemed to reflect the shimmering green dress which surrounded her in soft folds.
            “You might think this more traditional than the former painting, but the artist has used innovative techniques to capture light and texture. I think the effect is haunting,” Mandy said.
            “Who’s the artist? Is he here?” James couldn’t pull his eyes away from the piece.
            “She. She signs her paintings with a characteristic ‘B’. Her name is Bianca. I’ll see if I can find her.”
            James absent-mindedly took a glass of cool, effervescing champagne from a tray as it appeared in front of him, but his eyes remained fixed on the painting. He reminded himself that he had no appreciation of art, preferring a calm, bland environment in which to unwind after a long, hard business-day.
            Bianca’s soft, warm hand appeared and he turned to acknowledge her and let out a faint gasp. He hadn’t anticipated that he’d be staring at the same face as depicted in the picture.
            “It’s a self-portrait.” Bianca laughed, tossing her soft brown curls behind her shoulders. “You look shocked.”
            “Surprised, perhaps.” James felt a strange heat in his cheeks.
            Bianca was much more social and talkative than James had imagined an artist would be. They moved to one of the high tables, grabbing a couple of glasses of champagne on the way. Despite his natural reserve, he opened up and told her about how his father had made millions mostly by being a rogue and a swindler, and how he, James, had used the money to create a fortune, stressing that he followed ethical business practices. His mission was to give back to the community, perhaps to make amends for his father’s behaviour.
            Bianca shared that, when she was young, her father lost everything in a get-rich-quick diamond-mining project someone convinced him to put all his money into, but which turned out to be a scam. Her mother became deeply depressed and eventually committed suicide. Bianca found solace in writing and drawing, and then painting in oils. The self-portrait was requested by her father, who died the previous year. Bianca donated the picture to this event since she saw more of herself than she cared to every day in the mirror. Her melodious laugh echoed softly around the large, nearly empty gallery.
            “I want to give back to the family counselling charity which helped my father through the death of his wife and the loss of his wealth.”
            James’ insides were churning enough to make him feel nauseous. He could guess who Bianca’s father was. But he wouldn’t let his face or body language give him away.  
            “Are you looking for patrons or sponsors for your art?” James asked, as he finished his third glass of champagne with a steady hand.
            “Of course. I don’t know an artist who isn’t.” Her laugh sparkled like the champagne. James looked into her green eyes and turned away as his cheeks flushed again. He was taken aback by the relief and excitement he felt, now that he knew how to make amends for some of his father’s malevolence.  
            “I’d like to visit your studio and talk. Here’s my card. Give me a call to set something up. I have to find Mandy. I’ve a painting to buy.”


Vicky Earle Copyright 2017            


Illegitimate

July 2017

            The stink of the seaweed washed-up and left to rot on the pebbled beach overpowers all other aromas as I walk along the slippery cliff path. But the noise of the waves crashing on the red rocks below is quieter, now that the inclement weather has passed and the tide has receded. I have walked this path since I was a young child, often with my Grandfather striding by my side with a store of legends to be told. My late mother forbade him to tell me these tales, so he chose the private time of our walks together to share them.
            His favourite story was about Oscar, a Viking from Scandinavia who was a brilliant seafarer and avid trader. After a terrible voyage through unprecedented high seas which capsized his longship off-shore, Oscar was dumped like a piece of driftwood on this very beach. He’d lost his men, the spices he’d purchased with slaves, and his bearings. A fisherman rescued him and gave him shelter. The story goes that the fisherman had a beautiful, young wife called Luella. Grandfather makes particular note of her sparkling green eyes.
            He would stress that the fisherman was the salacious one, not the Viking as one might assume. Luella was abused and desperately unhappy, and Oscar was smitten. The Viking could be quite sentimental and charming, and pulled at Luella’s heartstrings.
            One early morning, when the sea mist hung to the cliffs and the water was calm, Oscar seized the fisherman’s boat and he and Luella left the coast of Devon behind. Oscar hoped to persuade Luella to settle in Scandinavia, but she couldn’t bear to leave her country, so they landed at a small port on the North Sea coast. Grandfather would point out how indulgent Oscar was, building a castle for her which overlooked the sea, so that she could watch for him returning home from his trading and conquests. Luella was never seen outside of the castle, and there are no pictures of her. They had two illegitimate sons who built on their father’s trading success.
            Grandfather would add new details from time to time, but, even though it appeared to be a passion of his, I didn’t find the story particularly exciting.
            I’m nearing the end of the cliff path, but I have to tell you what I found out yesterday.
            Grandfather died last week and I’m the only family around, so I’m going through his things as I clear out his home ready for sale. In a drawer of the large, dark oak, roll-top desk I found a locked box. Once I managed to pry it open, I discovered a thick, spiral-bound book filled with Grandfather’s writing – his memoir. Curious, I curled up in a chair and read, and am still reeling from what I learned. This is a synopsis of the parts that interested me the most.
            My Grandfather, Orville, when a young man, entered a race across the English Channel, from France, in his fifty-five-foot yacht. A violent storm stirred up enormous waves which smashed the boat, and his crew was lost overboard. He managed to cling onto the mast, and was eventually tossed up by the foaming sea, like a piece of driftwood, onto the same red, barnacle-covered rocks I can see from this cliff path. Exhausted, he was crawling through the rotting seaweed which covered the pebbled beach when he saw a fisherman approach, who guided him to his cottage.
            The fisherman had a beautiful wife, Lilian. Grandfather fell in love with her, and it wasn’t difficult for him to convince her to leave with him. He couldn’t persuade her to live in France, so they stayed in a hotel for a while, overlooking the sea. But her husband found her, and, when Orville was absent one day, he visited. Grandfather was not away long, and when he returned, he discovered the fisherman wielding a sharp filleting knife, about to stab Lilian who had been brutally beaten and cut. Orville mustered all his strength and wrestled the knife away from the husband, and stabbed him in the neck, killing him.
            Grandfather built a mansion for Lilian, providing every comfort he could think of. She could always be found there. No mirrors were allowed, so that she would never have to see her disfigured face. I had been sceptical of the reason Grandfather had given for Grandmother’s scars. I was told that she had fallen down the stairs.
            I feel like a fool for not picking up on the clues in Grandfather’s story of Oscar.
I have wondered where Grandfather’s wealth came from, and he would give a different, incredible answer each time I asked. And the tale of Oscar doesn’t help me. But earlier in his memoir he writes of his birth into a wealthy, aristocratic French family living in opulence in the outskirts of Paris. I now realize I’d been oblivious to his muted accent and to the origins of much of the contents of his mansion.

Grandfather and Grandmother never married, which makes my mother illegitimate. It must be a family tradition, because my mother didn’t marry my father, and I have no idea who he is or was. And that’s a story my Grandfather doesn’t tell.  
   
Vicky Earle copyright 2017

Melanie

June 2017

            It was like walking the plank, or what Jackdaw assumed it would be like. He wasn’t sure if a person doomed to the depths would have been blindfolded, but he wished he could be blind to what was coming. He saw clearly in his mind’s eye the end of the plank, the end of his relationship with Melanie, and the dark depths of despair that would follow. He’d be swimming around like a lost fish, alone, in darkness and with no escape.
            Jackdaw sat on the dock watching the seagulls as they floated down to the various yachts, squawking and then landing, each leaving a pasty white mark. But their antics weren’t enough to distract him from what had happened during the past couple of months. It was all too much for him to digest.
He grieved the fact that he’d no longer be able to find solace on the sea, his refuge and escape.
Out at sea, he could leave his worries behind him, a trite sentiment, but true. Sailing his yacht, catching the wind, feeling the bracing salt air, would always clear his mind and settle his spirit. He could manage the twenty-two-foot yacht on his own. Jackdaw had the innate ability to sense a change in the wind almost before it happened, and to accurately judge swell, tides and currents. He treated the sea with the respect it demanded, and stayed safe. But that didn’t mean that he didn’t enjoy some spectacular and thrilling sails, with the water running along the gunnel and the boat leaning heavily as it sliced through the waves.
            He’d needed those escapes. And his bones ached as he contemplated the time ahead. He wouldn’t feel Melanie moving underneath him ever again. But, of course, it served him right. He shouldn’t have been such a rogue.
            He was paying a hefty price for being a businessman who was willing to take risks. He was an excellent salesman. He’d developed a method which worked because just about everyone dreams of getting rich quick. The most recent business venture he planned to get off the ground was a green energy project involving the construction of a vast floating platform on which windmills would be installed. His perfect sales pitch never failed. Of course, he’d done his research and approached people he thought would take the bait and made the promise of huge returns on a relatively small investment. But he’s not called Jackdaw for nothing. He pocketed some of the money for himself, since he’d done all the work. That would have been okay except that the Canadian Government had agreed to be a significant partner and there was an audit, which Jackdaw hadn’t taken seriously and thought he could charm his way through. He got caught.
            Jackdaw closed his eyes, but opened them as if he’d been stabbed. He’d been hit by a determination to do something. Although his whole body felt charged by electricity, he moved slowly, but deliberately towards his penthouse condo. He threw a few clothes and some basic food supplies into his large backpack and struggled along the dock towards his dinghy. The row out to Melanie was exhilarating, liberating. The salt air cleared his head and brightened his eyes.
            He tied the dinghy to the back of the yacht, flung his backpack up onto the deck and climbed on board.

Melanie had never let him down. He set the sails and breathed the bracing sea air, confident that Melanie would take him to safety. 

Vicky Earle copyright 2017

Cowboy

May 2017

            Brandy sat tall on his chestnut quarter horse, holding the reins in one hand, with his hat tipped back on his head. Despite the outward appearance of nonchalance, he felt as if he had a bunch of macramé in his abdomen. He’d hoped and prayed that it had been his imagination, which can be vivid at times. The flashing lights, the whirring and the hissing - it had all of the characteristics he would have expected a flying saucer to have, as it landed with a whoosh in his corn field the night before.
            In the early morning light he could see a distinct circle, about sixty feet in diameter, where the corn stubble was crushed. He could smell scorched earth and burnt stalks, the acrid scents overpowering the smell of his horse’s sweat.
            He dismounted, landing softly on the ground, and looped the reins over the pummel of his well-worn saddle. Perhaps all these years of being a cowboy, out in the elements, had addled his brain. He shuddered and told himself that he had seen, heard and smelled evidence of this thing, whatever it was.
            Brandy scoured the ground, looking for some tangible physical evidence, something he could hold in his sweaty hands – something to back up his story. He kicked at the roots of the burnt stubble, not knowing what he hoped to find.
An ATV veered off the road, churning up dust as it tore towards him. The man wore sunglasses and a black shirt which billowed as it captured the hot air. Brandy could sense the man’s intensity, as well as his determination to reach him. He grabbed his horse’s reins, assuming that the man had no horse-sense and was likely to skid to a halt right under his horse’s nose. The ATV stopped, in a cloud of corn bits and pieces and brown dust, just five feet from them.
            “Hi,” Brandy said, without moving a muscle.
            “Hi. You have a meeting with Brigadier General Smythe.”
            “You have the wrong guy.”
            “I’ve been given orders to get you to the air force base, pronto.”
            “Can’t be me.”
            “You must follow me on your horse to your house, and then ride with me from there.”
            “How do you know where I live?”
            “Part of my orders.”
            Brandy wanted to ask if it had anything to do with the flying saucer, but thought better of it.
            “Identification?”
            The man handed Brandy his identification card, which appeared authentic.
            “We have to go,” the man said. “It’s a matter of national security.”
            “What happens if I refuse?”
            “You’ll be arrested.”
            “I’ve done nothing wrong.”
            “You will have if you don’t come with me.”
            Brandy mounted his faithful and trusting horse, and followed the ATV back to his house. As soon as he got behind the man he had a sinking feeling in his stomach. He felt a loss of control which set off feelings of anxiety. He was being taken somewhere he didn’t want to go, and his imagination began to created various scenarios. One being that, because of what he’d seen, he would be incarcerated in solitary confinement for the rest of his life. He was a cowboy, for God’s sake. He lived for the open air, the freedom, the peace and yes, the hard work. His horse was his constant companion.
            He was on the verge of having a full-fledged panic attack by the time he met with the Brigadier General in his large office. But there was an atmosphere of professionalism and dignity, which calmed his racing heart and quelled his alarmist thoughts.
The Brigadier General politely asked questions about what he’d seen the night before. He wanted specific details, including sounds and smells. Brandy’s memory was clear and he volunteered everything he remembered, including what he’d observed just before the ATV charged into his field.
Feeling utterly relieved, he left the office and was escorted by the man dressed in black, back out through the gates.
“Aren’t you going to give me a lift back to my house?” Brandy asked.
“No. Orders.”
“I have to walk?”
“No, your horse is waiting for you at the corner ahead.”
Brandy was incredulous. Some of the alarmist thoughts returned and intensified as he walked the two miles to the intersection on the hot, dusty road, with sweat pouring down his back. He half expected a fighter plane to dive out of the sky and finish him off. But, sure enough, his horse was waiting obediently for him.
He set his horse off at a lope toward his house, but it had gone. The ground was levelled. The corn field behind where the house had stood, was ablaze. It was as if he’d been evicted from his own property.
He knew why they’d done it. It was a warning not to say anything to anyone, and in the process, they’d got rid of any evidence that might have been there.

Brandy put his fingers round the curious piece of metal, which felt a bit like rubber, that he had in his pocket. He picked up his horse’s reins and turned their heads towards town. He would chat with his girlfriend, who was a darn good journalist. 

Copyright 2017 Vicky Earle

Molly

April 2017

            Gertie knows she’s chilled, but has no idea how long she’s been sitting on the cold, cast-iron chair. The patio is positioned on the side of the large, stone house which faces the sea. If Gertie stands on the edge of the patio, she can feel the sea’s pull, and sense the height of the cliffs, as the wind catches her breath and tosses her long, blonde hair into her face. The rocks far below are in constant flux, appearing above, and then disappearing below, the frothy, salty power of the waves.
            The smell of the seaweed and sting of the salt air is no comfort to her this morning. Her heart is broken and it’s as if her soul has flown away. There is nothing worth living for. Her only daughter, Pam, has been injured by someone driving a Land Rover, as she was walking down the lane towards the village, looking for her spaniel, Basil, who’d run off again.
            Pam is only twenty-seven, with her whole life ahead of her. Gertie’s thoughts revolve in circles, increasing in intensity, eating away at every organ in her body. She’s convinced that Pam won’t make it. She stands up, shaking, and takes small, but deliberate steps to the edge of the patio, and hesitates, looking out to sea, as a numbness takes hold of her.
            A red squirrel, carrying an acorn in its mouth, runs across her foot, catching her attention. It’s so unusual to see squirrels on top of the cliff, and red squirrels are especially rare. The oak trees grow a good distance away from the burning salt air, nearer to the edge of the village with its thatched rooves, white-washed walls and climbing roses. For a split second, the surprise visit by the squirrel lifts her gloom. It’s as if the pending doom she expects, has been suspended by invisible strings, hovering above her. But it comes crashing back down, swamping her in darkness. She takes a step to the very edge of the cliff.
            A voice reaches her, as if from a distance, muffled by the wind, and she feels a light touch on her arm. Molly hands her a cardigan, not able to hide her red eyes and puffy face, despite her valiant attempts. Gertie is surprised that she finds some solace in someone else, albeit her housekeeper, sharing her sorrow, feeling the pain, understanding. She steps back onto the patio.
            Molly tells her that the hospital is on the phone which is on the cast-iron table by the house. Gertie picks it up, convinced that the news will be dire. She’s dreaded this day. She knew it would happen. She drops the phone when she hears Pam’s voice. Molly picks it up and, incredibly, Pam’s still talking, telling her mother that she’s not ready to croak yet, and that she’ll be fine. Just a broken rib and some bruises.
            Gertie mumbles something incoherent and collapses.
            Molly has worked with Gertie for nearly thirty years and is well aware of her employer’s inability to cope with any stress, and her over-reaction and exaggeration. She’s not surprised that Pam being hurt would cause Gertie to jump to the conclusion that her daughter is about to die. But, as Molly would have guessed, Gertie hasn’t visited her in hospital, preferring to wallow in despair and self-pity at home.
Molly finds it more and more impossible to tolerate Gertie’s extreme reactions to all the little ups and downs that happen every day. And the woman has no concern for anyone else, including the dog.
            She reflects that it would have been so easy to push Gertie off the cliff. No-one would have suspected a thing. Gertie has threatened to jump several times, to end it all. But Molly let the opportunity pass. As she handed Gertie her cardigan, she knew she could never do it.
            The only living thing in the house that Molly cares about is Basil. He’s a special dog. His unconditional love, his playfulness and his desire to please despite all the odds, is like a life-line for Molly. And now he’s run off. Who can blame him?

            She helps Gertie back to bed, packs her bags and gets into the Land Rover to search for Basil. Rather than bumping off Gertie and Pam and enjoying the inheritance she is due, her new plan is to steal the Land Rover, find the dog and start a new life somewhere as far away from this hell-hole as possible. 

Copyright 2017 Vicky Earle

Obsession

March 2017

            I’m back in the house where I was raised, clearing everything out so that it can be sold. It’s cramped, cold and dingy, just as I remember it when I left, fifty-four years ago. I recall living in a hard, frugal environment, with parents obsessed with making-do with almost nothing. I have no idea how much money came in, but I know for certain very little was spent. I was permitted either margarine or jam on my day-old bread, I had only one pair of shoes, my clothes were second-hand and were mended and patched, and I was often cold because coal was expensive.
I was ashamed of myself and of them.
            I held a private celebration that day when I left. I had a flask of milk to toast my freedom, along with an apple. But in the light of the bright red sunrise the next morning, I rose off the park bench, stiff and cold. The rebel in me was less enthusiastic about starting a new life on his own, when faced with the reality of no food and no shelter. But there was no turning back, so I walked and walked until I came across a garden nursery hiring people to repot plants. I was sure that I’d be a strong candidate since I’d worked for hours in my parents’ garden as well as in their small, humid greenhouse, growing and nurturing vegetables from seed.
            I got the job, not so much for my skills and knowledge, but because I was willing to work long hours for little pay. I found a boarding house which had a dark, damp, closet-sized room with one light-bulb dangling from the ceiling on a cobweb-wrapped cord. The bulb danced every time I shut the door, but the cobweb stayed put. My mother had kept our meagre house clean. I couldn’t get used to living amongst other people’s filth, odour and garbage.
            I moved up in the garden centre world and my last job was Manager of Bowden Tree Nursery, which grows thousands of trees for the wholesale market. This job would have been my favourite one if it hadn’t been for my boss. He was thirty years my junior but thought he knew everything. He didn’t, of course, and wouldn’t listen to anyone, especially me. I hear the place has gone bankrupt and the bank is selling it.

            I didn’t see either of my parents after I left, and they didn’t come looking for me. I’ve never been far away. I could have been found and I can’t say there wasn’t a small part of me which was hurt. Perhaps they enjoyed the reduction in expense.

            I’m here clearing out the house because my mother has died at the ripe old age of ninety-three. I think my father died when he was ninety-four. Perhaps their economical, thrifty existence extended their life-spans, but I’m hoping it’s mostly due to their genes, because I’ve just turned seventy and I want to live a lot longer.
            This house won’t fetch much, even in this market. It’s a tear-down since it hasn’t been maintained and it’s so small. The roof has been leaking, creating havoc with the ceilings. And blackening wallpaper is peeling off the walls revealing crumbling plaster riddled with cracks. Without the mould spores, my parents might have lived into their hundreds. But my mother had apparently managed to sweep the floors, dust the sparse furniture, and scrub the front doorstep until her dying day.
            I open the freezer. My parents did spend money on a second-hand chest-freezer to preserve home-grown vegetables. I find it devoid of food except for three bags of ice-coated green beans and a white plastic bag. I toss the beans into the garbage and reach for the bag. It contains something flat and square, and I have trouble lifting it up. Newspaper is wrapped round the contents, which is firmly held in place with rough gardening twine.
            I tear off some of the newspaper and find wads of bills. At a rough guess, I’d say there has to be at least $100,000. I can’t stop my hands from shaking and my legs from trembling. Money is the last thing I expected to find in this house. I ask myself if there might be more hidden in other places.
I find similar amounts under the mattress in pillow cases, in cracked mason jars in the greenhouse, in an old pressure cooker under the sink, and smaller amounts in various tins, and about $50,000 in an old coal scuttle in the corner of the cellar.

            It’s taken me two days to scour the house and its contents, and I’ve returned from the bank for the last time, having deposited $1.2million. And my friends all think I’ve lost my sanity because I’m going to buy Bowden Tree Nursery. I’m counting on my genes to let me live long enough to make it a tremendous success, and I plan to have lots of fun in the process.   

 Copyright 2017 Vicky Earle           

The Scarf

February 2017

The deep notch in the rough bark of the maple tree is an eyesore. Melanie can’t bear to look at it, but it’s hard not to, because the tree grows in her backyard. The wound is ugly and weeps sticky sap down the tree’s trunk, just like the tears running down her hot cheeks. The damage to her beautiful tree stands as a symbol, a stabbing reminder of what has gone wrong with her life.
A life which once had been full of promise, of hopes and dreams - she would escape from the controlling domination of her parents and get married to a man who cared about her as a person. They would build a home together and live happily ever after.
            And she’d thought that their love would endure any adversity thrown at it, but, looking back, she sees that it took very little to unravel her plans - a scarf.
She’d woven a scarf on her loom with lovingly-selected colours, using a pattern which brought them into play in an artistic and pleasing way. She’d planned on posting photographs of the scarf on her blog, as well as adding them to her binder, which she’d packed with samples and pictures to show potential customers.
But Simon had hated the scarf, and hadn’t even attempted to show appreciation for it. In fact, he’d chucked it down the wrought-iron spiral staircase onto the floor of the foyer in his parents’ house, on the day when his mother had laid on a birthday lunch for him. He’d told Melanie that he couldn’t understand what made her think that he’d wanted a scarf. He wouldn’t be seen dead in one, and she should know these things.
His outburst should have set off alarm bells, but Melanie is sensitive to the fact that each person’s taste in art can be vastly different. And she considered the scarf to be a work of art. She retrieved it, and stowed it in a box in her closet.
Although she didn’t realize it at the time, the worst part of the episode wasn’t the rejection of the scarf. Through what Melanie had thought was harmless chit-chat with Simon’s mother during the birthday lunch, her passion for weaving came out. She’d not shared this with Simon. In fact, she’d not shared much, or any, of her hopes, dreams and loves with Simon, but she knew everything about him. Had she ever really talked to him? Had he ever truly listened?
Simon’s mother had asked about the loom, how large it was, how much noise it made and how much space her weaving took up.
A couple of days later, she and Simon had watched as large wrecking equipment lumbered and rumbled on the lot that they’d bought. The old clapboard bungalow had been slated for demolition that day and Simon had been excited to see it go down, shattering to pieces. But Melanie couldn’t help wondering who’d lived there, what their hopes and dreams had been, and what joys and happiness they’d had in their lives. Something about the bungalow had appealed to Melanie. It was innocent and humble, and held treasured memories.
Simon hadn’t been able to talk for a while. The noise had been too loud as walls collapsed in front of them, and he’d been too excited to speak.
But, when the noise had subsided, he’d told her that, of course, she couldn’t have the loom in their new house. There wouldn’t be enough space for such a large thing, and besides, he couldn’t possibly put up with the racket from all the clicking and clacking.
She’d turned away from him just as the bulldozer had started to flatten the backyard. Its blade hit the maple tree, making its leaves tremble. She’d felt an immediate kinship with the tree and her insides had quivered as she’d scanned the devastation in front of her and she’d absorbed the reality of the kind of man who had stood next to her.
She’d watched the maple tree settle and had realized there had been no love in her relationship with Simon, and what was most important to her was the freedom to be herself.
She has bought him out, and has obtained permission to park a house trailer on the lot until she has the deposit towards the construction of a house. She plans to build a small, unpretentious clapboard house, similar to the one that Simon had watched being destroyed with so much glee.

She wipes the tears from her face. At least she’ll have her own castle where she can weave new hopes and dreams with warm colours and soft textures, making as much noise as she wants.

Copyright 2017 Vicky Earle

Candy Shop

January 2017

            Mrs. Brigit’s candy shop is the only one in town. And now it’s going. And I’ve been assigned to write an article to be printed in the local newspaper, about its demise.
Things are changing too quickly for me. This candy shop was the centre of my life while I was growing up, and is still part of my routine, as I buy candy each Friday from Mrs. Brigit’s daughter for my grandchildren. I confess that I buy toffee for myself, too. She makes it herself and stores it in a big glass jar with an enormous screw-top lid, which I couldn’t get my hand around even if I was desperate.
            The newspaper’s going down the tubes as well. That’s not quite true, I suppose, but it’s only going to be on-line, or off-print, which is a shame. We’re being educated on how to use on-line media. The articles are shorter and there’s less interest in the kind of investigative journalism I like to do. You know, finding out why the Bank Manager left town suddenly, or why the train crashed at the railway crossing just outside town. I’m glad I wasn’t one of the poor souls who was aboard. I like digging into that sort of event, peering under every stone, and finding out the true story behind it. I’m sure it helps somehow.
            I watch Gertie stock candy jars with the same quick, fluid movements of her hands and wrists that her mother used, as she grabs handfuls of the sweet treats and drops them into the large, glass containers.
            “I hope this isn’t the last time you’ll be doing that,” I say as I move closer to the counter.
            “’Fraid it probably is.” She doesn’t look up.
            “I’m sorry to hear that your shop is closing. I’m here to write a short article for the paper.”
            “There’s nothing to say. I’m closing. That’s about it.”
            “Rumour has it that the business is bankrupt and you’re about to liquidate everything.”
            “Hah. That’s the rumour is it?” Gertie looks up, her pale face punctuated by dark eyes and a small nose.
            “So, that isn’t true then?”
            “No.”
            “Can you tell me what’s really happening? This shop means a lot to many people. It’s sure sad to see it go. And you’ve been so supportive of the community.”
            “I like to think so, but it didn’t do me any good.”
            “What do you mean?”
            Gertie slams one of the screw-top lids down on the dark wooden counter and stares at me for three long seconds. I suppose she’s deciding whether or not to tell me what’s going on.
            “That new fancy convenience store at Main and Brook Streets is determined to capture the market. They want it all.”
            “But why would you leave because of them?”
            “I can’t tell you any more. You can’t print anything. Sorry.” She turns her back to me. I’m sure she’s crying as she unpacks boxes of brightly-coloured suckers.
            “So, why are you stocking the jars?” I can’t leave without trying to get the whole story.
            “Because I want to leave the shop in perfect order.” She sniffs but doesn’t turn around. Her rounded shoulders are hunched over the boxes, but she’s barely moving.
            “I don’t understand.”
            “I don’t want to remember the shop as an empty shell. And I owe it to my mother.” She turns to face me with red eyes and tears running down her cheeks. I scramble to think of the right thing to say, and it doesn’t come. I walk behind the counter and take her into my arms. She feels warm and soft, and smells of strawberries and toffee.
            I step back and look at her.
            “What’s happening to the shop, then?”
            “They found some legal thing. I don’t understand it, but they said I can’t operate here any more. They bought it for peanuts.” She wipes her face with the sleeve of her sweater. “I couldn’t fight it. I don’t have what it takes, the money or the strength to deal with people like them.”
            “I get it. I have an idea though. It’s crazy, but it might be better than nothing.”
            “Anything would be better than this. They say they’re going to bulldoze this place and build a parking lot. What am I going to do with myself?”
            “I’ve got space at my farm. It’s a heated and air-conditioned workshop that I never use. What if you went on-line? I could deliver once a day in town. You could do more of your gift baskets and more of your specialty candies, like your home-made toffee. It would be small at first, but I’m sure it would grow.”
            “That’s good of you, but I’ve no idea how to go on-line, as you put it. And why would you want to help?”
            “Because I like your toffee.”
Gertie smiles.
And that’s, in a nutshell, how the seeds of the on-line success of Gertie’sCandies.ca were sown, and why I resigned from the newspaper.
           
Copyright 2017 Vicky Earle 
             
The Winner

December 2016

He puffs on the fat cigar, his paunch touching the rail, as he peers over the immaculate ponds and gardens. He lunges into his pocket as if he’s just remembered that he has his binoculars with him. I can clearly see the holes in the lining of his worn tweed jacket as it flaps open. I doubt he can see much because the cigar smoke is being wafted into his face by the gentle breeze, and the sun is bright enough to make his temples gleam.
Soon, the thoroughbreds will be making the turn for home. As he follows the ten horses, I can almost feel his sense of resignation. He has had a long stretch of losses. None of the horses he trains has won any money. In other words, not one has come in the top five of any race this year, and it’s only four weeks from the end of the racing season. His horse is running at 50:1.
This man used to be a legend. It was rumoured that he could communicate with his horses, that he had an intuitive perception of what was ailing them or what they needed to be successful racehorses.
But then his wife left him. I saw her get on a Greyhound bus, headed for Las Vegas. She said she wanted more excitement in her life. He hadn’t seen it coming.
He’s such a private man, he’s never talked about it, not even with me, but I know that her leaving shattered his world as he knew it. About the only thing that’s remained the same is the pleasure he gets from smoking a cigar when he’s standing at the rail, as he is today.

He wasn’t prepared for the dirty divorce. He didn’t have the heart to fight, so he lost a lot. He moved into an austere apartment close to the track, cut back on expenses, cut back on living. Except that he took to eating as a way of consoling himself, taking comfort in fatty fast foods and lots of cream and sugar in countless coffees. His paunch grew, and his clothes stretched.
The saddest thing is that he became somewhat of an automaton, rather than the feeling, sensitive, intuitive trainer he had been. Success at the races has alluded him ever since.
His wife left about a year ago and I’ve decided that it’s time for things to change. I want to stop his spiral downwards and this is the start. I button up my linen jacket, confident that I’ll be in the winner’s circle in about five minutes.
The horses’ hooves are thundering on the turf, throwing divots up in the air behind them. The beautiful chestnut filly with a broad white flash on her face is taking the lead. I knew she would.    
My father drops his binoculars, so they hang round his neck and sit on his paunch. He pulls the cigar out of his mouth and starts to yell her name, cheering her on, over and over, and almost choking on his words. I’m almost choking on my tears.
I admit that I used my knowledge as a veterinarian to dose the filly with something which would give her an advantage. I’m an ethical person and don’t believe in cheating, but I had no choice. It was the only way I could think of to help avert my father’s spiral downwards into deep depression. Something good had to happen. Something had to be done to restore hope and optimism. And she’s a good filly. She’ll do well without my help, once Dad’s back on track, so to speak.
As I smile at the camera in the winner’s circle, with my father’s arm around my waist, I have no regrets. The horse looks good, and I know that they won’t detect the drug.
My father’s smile is worth the risk.

Copyright 2016 Vicky Earle

Memory

November 2016

            He moved like a tortoise does in cold weather - slow and deliberate. No-one knew how old he was, or where he’d come from. He’d just turned up in town one sunny day, rented an apartment above the hardware store, and spent time at the bar across the street. Otherwise, he’d plod down the main street towards the cemetery, or ride his bike slowly along the lakeshore path. People said he hardly talked at all, and most agreed that he was aloof, impossible to get to know.
            That summer, I had a college assignment for an introductory psychology course. It had to be about memory. It was a vague assignment and I had been at a loss, until I saw the man cross the street from the bar to the door which led to the stairs to his apartment, his short grey hair ruffled in the breeze.
            I dodged a couple of cars and rushed to his side. As I approached, I noticed that his shirt was clean, pressed, and a crisp white. His khaki shorts looked as if they’d been tailored especially for him, and his toenails were manicured, clean, short and even.
He looked at me with curiosity and questioning in his green eyes.
            I garbled my words, rushing to get out why I’d run over to talk with him. Despite my fumbles, he nodded and beckoned me to follow. We ascended the dark staircase. He unlocked a battered door at the top and switched on bright, strategically-placed lighting.  
I gasped.
            The walls were covered by paintings. I stood stock still while my eyes soaked in the magic. Each masterpiece was created with artistic talent and immense sensitivity, yet the subjects of the paintings were pretty mundane – such as a burro laden with sheaves of hay, standing by a tent.
            I don’t know how long I’d been standing there, but the man gave me a nudge and handed me a glass of water. I thanked him as he gestured to me to sit down.
            “Now, young man, what you see on these walls represent my memories. Memories of a wonderful and exciting life on archaeological expeditions. My wife was the artist, who captured where we went, all around the world, but mostly South America. As far as memory, for your project, the paintings are my stimuli, reminding me of the places, what we did, what we found and how we lived.”
            “So, why are you here?”
            “It’s as good a place as any.”
            “I don’t buy that. There must be a reason.”
            “Bit brazen, aren’t you? That’s okay. I’m here because my wife’s buried in the cemetery. She was born here, and wanted to be buried here.”
            “What happened?”
            “I miss her every day.”
            “You can’t forget what happened, can you?”
            “I must not forget. She died because she was on a dig with me. She was absorbed in her painting, and we assume she didn’t see the venomous snake. We couldn’t save her. That’s the unfinished painting there.”
            “Perhaps you should give the paintings to a gallery and make a fresh start.”
            “No, I’d feel as if my heart and soul were being torn out of me. I don’t want to forget.”

            I will always remember that afternoon. I got A for my assignment. 

Copyright 2016 Vicky Earle

Transformation

October 2016

Some said he was the epitome of an encyclopaedia salesman. His pants were shiny with wear, his loafers were dull, crying out for nourishment, and his jacket was patched at the elbows. The harder he worked, it seemed to him, the harder it was to make a living. No-one liked a stranger knocking on their door, whatever time of day or evening it was. In the good old days, when he started out with high hopes and big dreams, he would more often than not be invited in, even offered a cup of tea or coffee, and, in enough cases, they ordered a set of encyclopaedias. So he made a reasonable living, for a while.
But instead of a steady growth in business, there was an unwavering decline. He hadn’t seen it coming. He admitted he had had his head in the sand. He didn’t understand the technological age, and the world-wide web was scary as hell. And he couldn’t grasp why people weren’t interested in reference books any more, or why he had the door slammed in his face so many times.
On a particularly bad day, one man barked at him that the only place for encyclopaedias was in the museum. That confrontation - that’s what it felt like to him - rattled him so much that he stopped. He stopped even trying. It was the last straw.
He thought he would end up on the shelf in the museum along with his beloved books. And, perhaps if he hadn’t met Michelle, he might very well have done.
That evening he decided, against his better judgement, to go to the local pub for a beer.
He felt lost. He couldn’t imagine himself doing anything other than selling encyclopaedias, however hard he tried. His brain wouldn’t tolerate anything else being considered, not that anything feasible came to mind.
He’d heard that a drink could loosen you up, get you thinking out of the box. What a ridiculous term, but when he thought about it, he did feel as if he was trapped in a box.
Michelle was sitting at a table about fifteen feet away from him.
He was at the bar, not knowing where else to sit, and not wanting to feel completely alone, although he was used to being on his own.
Being alone is much worse when there are so many people surrounding you, especially if they’re having fun. And Michelle and her friends were having fun. The word “rowdy” came to mind as he slowly sipped his beer.
He jumped out of his skin and was close to falling off his stool, when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Michelle smiled at him as he turned, startled.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you. Just thought you might like to join us.” Before he could answer, she’d grabbed his hand and was leading him back to her friends. Someone had found a chair for him.
He’d never been in a situation like this. What are you supposed to say? How are you supposed to act? He was peeping out of his box. It was terrifying.
He sipped his beer. No-one asked him anything. They chatted and laughed, ordered more drinks, passed around their phones with the latest photos on, in case someone wasn’t up to date with their posts on various social media.
He began to enjoy himself. It was if a congealed crust was peeling away from all of his senses. And he was sure it wasn’t the beer since he’d only drunk half. No-one put any pressure on him to say anything or do anything. He began to unwind.
But then Michelle turned to him and asked him where he worked. Before he could tie himself up in knots, he surprised himself with the reply that he was “in between jobs”. He’d heard that somewhere.
Oh great, she said. He turned to her, wondering why she would think it was great.
She asked him if he had any experience with marketing. Well, he had, sort of. She explained that they were putting together a team to develop and implement a marketing strategy for the railway company. Would he like to be interviewed, say Friday at 3pm?
He’s never moved so fast in his life. He bought a new suit and new shoes. But the most time-consuming thing was learning how to use a smart phone and getting some education on the internet. He found Wikipedia and it blew him away. Now he realized!
He didn’t look back. And now, as you probably know, he’s one of the leading social media gurus, and a leading-edge consultant on new marketing skills using online tools.
And Michelle is one of his partners.
And he wears very shiny brogues.

Copyright 2016 by Vicky Earle

Basil's Healing Powers

August 2016

            Mandy wanted to pick the large, luscious dandelion which was growing between the patio stones. She wanted to put it in a vase so she could gaze at its sunny face and count its petals to help pass the time. As she bent down and reached for it, a shrill voice shattered her thoughts and brought her down to the hard, lonely reality. She was not permitted to pick anything. Then followed a lecture on plants and flowers, how they grew and how they should be left to grow, their need for nitrogen from the soil, and oxygen from the air. Mandy covered her ears and ran into the great, grey stone house.
            Her Great Aunt didn’t want to look after anyone, and certainly not a ten-year-old girl. The prospect of having her for the whole summer sent shudders down her spine. Mandy’s precociousness and curiosity terrified Eunice. And the worst of it was that the girl had had the audacity to ask her why she hadn’t married. The nerve.
            Eunice couldn’t sleep that night. Memories of Donald, of their brief happiness together and the music they’d danced to, waltzed in her head. But so did the telegram bringing her the worst news imaginable. Donald had been killed in combat, and she would never be in his arms again. She vowed that she would on no occasion ever let another man touch her, and she’d kept her promise.
            Mandy’s spirits were consistently doused by Eunice’s cold, resentful demeanour. She felt clammy and shaky, knowing she was unwanted. Her parents had abandoned her, visiting her much older brother who was studying art in Paris, and then they planned to see Europe, whatever that meant.
            Mandy needed to hug Basil, her beloved pussycat. She would feel better. She had had to fight long and hard to convince her parents that they should insist Basil go with her. She couldn’t bear to think of him shut in a cage for the whole summer. Eunice said she was allergic to cats, but her parents relented, so Mandy brought him anyway.
            Basil was smart and knew to stay out of Eunice’s way. He slunk around, almost crawling on his belly. But when he was with Mandy, his ginger tail was up like a flag pole and his purring sent tingly vibrations along Mandy’s fingers.
            Mandy started her search for Basil. He’d discovered some spots where he liked to curl up and sleep: under the apple tree on an abandoned small wooden chair, on the window-seat in the dining room and, of course, on Mandy’s bed. But he was nowhere to be seen. Mandy called his name as she walked, skipped and then ran through the house, around the house and along the various garden paths.
            Eunice watched the child become more and more distraught. She saw the child’s tears and heard her sobs as she collapsed on her knees and buried her wet face in her hands.
            Something cracked. Incredibly, Eunice thought she heard something splitting open inside her. Compassion and empathy welled up, blotting out all other emotions. Such strange feelings: strong, not to be ignored, not to be buried.
            She ran to Mandy, lifted her up and hugged her, the child’s warm, sticky body retching with grief. Eunice told her they’d look together for Basil, and said they should get the bag of treats the cat couldn’t resist. Let’s shake the bag, she said, he’s bound to come.
Mandy stopped crying and took Eunice’s hand. Eunice almost wept with pleasure at this small sign of trust, of acceptance. They called Basil’s name and shook the bag of treats as they circled the house. And Eunice heard something coming from behind the garage door. It was a meow. Basil had snuck in there without her noticing when she’d put the broom back.
Eunice, Mandy and Basil hugged, smiled, stroked and purred.
Mandy had a wonderful summer that year, and enjoyed several more. 
Copyright 2016 by Vicky Earle  
              
The Fountain

July 2016


            The fountain emerges through the mist as I steady my horse, who has a fear of moving water. Its spray wafts through the dark, cold air, shrouding us in dampness. I hear the approach of the wagon and its two horses well before I can make out their shapes. The clacking of the metal horseshoes reverberates off the cobblestones, and bounces off the crumbling walls of the palace. Echoes are winding through the ruins and returning to us, to be soaked up and washed away by the fountain. It is a mystery as to how it continues to spew and dance when there is no-one left to care for it.
            The woman steps down from the wagon, her hand resting, appearing to hover, on the man’s arm. As she watches her step, I see the crimson ribbon in her hair, entwined in her red curls. And, as I look down, past the still-heaving sides of my horse, I notice that the hems of her lavish skirts are tattered and soiled.
            There is no logic to any of this, I think, as the man takes the reins of the horse which I have been leading to this spot.
            I am thankful that both horses are honest, strong and level-headed. I could not have reached the fountain in time otherwise. And I know that my job is only just beginning.
I hope she is a good rider. We have a long way to go through countryside where anyone could be hiding. We will be riding nearly all the way under the cover of darkness, with the mist thickening. The meagre lantern I am carrying will not be enough to light our way.
            The man helps the woman to mount. I can tell that she has ridden before. She has good poise in the side-saddle and holds the reins with soft, but knowing hands. She nods to me and we trot off, breaking into a canter as soon as we leave the cobblestones behind.
            We emerge safely from the dark, dank oak forest, which I think is the most dangerous part, and enter the muddy lane which leads to our resting place. But when I glance behind I see the woman slumped over her horse, thankfully still in the saddle with her arms encircling the horse’s neck. As I pull my horse up, her horse stops. I drop the lantern and pick up her horse’s reins. I toss them over his head and lead him at a brisk walk. I dare not dismount and try to move her. I pray that she stays on the horse until we get to the Inn.
            The landlord greets me in muted light which glows around his large silhouette in the doorway. I have the feeling he has been there for days, waiting for us, looking out. He and his burly wife heave the woman out of the saddle and carry her in. I dismount and lead the horses to the stables, feed them and bed them down.
            I almost cry with the utmost of relief when I see the princess propped up in a chair by the blazing fire, sipping some broth. Her beauty transcends the dirty clothes, the dishevelled hair and the strain on her face. The landlady believes she is suffering from exhaustion and lack of nourishment, and gets no argument from me about staying for the night. She hands me a book of poetry and all but demands that I read to the princess, saying that it will help to calm her nerves. Perhaps it will help to steady mine as well. This delay is necessary, I know, but I must take the princess to France before the King’s enemies find her. Our lives depend upon it.  

Copyright 2016 by Vicky Earle

Poison

June 2016

             Josephine is stuffing her suitcase with a random selection of clothing, without thought or planning, just hoping that there’ll be something that’s right for each occasion. The only item she is careful to select and fold, placing underneath the rest of the jumble, is her plain, black dress. She dreads the unexpected flight back across the Atlantic, and as she thinks about what she’ll be doing there, she feels as if she’s being sucked into quicksand. Nowhere to go but down.
            She got the call from her older brother the day before. And his news shook her, making her tremble like an aspen tree for the rest of the day. She couldn’t focus on anything, nothing in her life seemed important any more. Pangs of guilt surged through her. She should have stayed in England with her two brothers, rather than come to Canada to study.
            Despite the turmoil in her head, she managed to get a flight, for sooner than expected. But her living brother said he couldn’t put her up, so she had to find somewhere to stay, and rent a car so she could get there from the airport. There’d be no-one to meet her.
            Scrunching up her favourite sweater and thrusting it into the corner of her suitcase, she contemplates her younger brother and the musical legacy Blair leaves behind. If you listen to her older brother Geoff, Blair chose to live below his potential. Giving yourself up to music is not something Geoff is capable of understanding, and Josephine knows that Blair’s lifestyle filled him with disdain. There isn’t a lyrical bone in her older brother’s body.
            But the irony is that, Blair, after several years of dedication and creativity, made it into the big leagues. And, much to Geoff’s chagrin, he made a lot of money. Geoff, meanwhile, was struggling as a pharmacist, ending up working in a supermarket. He resented Blair’s success and openly displayed his anger at life, for its unfairness, for rewarding art instead of hard work. At least that’s how Josephine believes he saw it.
            Josephine chucks a toothbrush into her washbag, remembering the earlier phone call from Geoff. He’d told her that Blair was on drugs and was in bad shape, and that he’d found out that Blair had an appointment to see a psychiatrist. Josephine wondered why the phrase ‘blood is thicker than water’ had no relevance to Geoff’s feelings towards Blair. In fact, his feelings were more vitriolic towards his brother than to anyone else that Josephine is aware of.
            What Geoff told her didn’t make sense, so Josephine texted Blair. And he phoned her right away, denying any involvement with drugs. He dismissed Geoff’s accusations by making a couple of jokes about his brother, suggesting that Geoff must be the one smoking something. Blair sounded upbeat and enthusiastic about the record he was about to release, and told her about the video he was making. He was also going to make a debut appearance at a theatre in London the following week.
She followed up with Geoff, who told her that Blair’s condition was obviously serious and that he could be suicidal. Those who are determined to commit suicide talk about the future, he said, and share their concocted plans, to make sure that no-one is alerted. But Josephine thought this was ridiculous mumbo-jumbo, and attributed it to Geoff’s wishful thinking and the ongoing poisonous jealously which was eating away at him.

            But two days later Geoff phoned her to say that Blair had, indeed, committed suicide just as he’d predicted. An overdose of something. This was to be expected, of course, blah, blah, blah. Josephine was shaking too much to take it all in. Something was terribly wrong with this picture. So Josephine is packing frantically, not just because she has a funeral to attend, but because she wants to find out how Geoff managed to poison her little brother. 

Copyright 2016 by Vicky Earle

Lulu

May 2016

Her waist measured the same number of inches as she had lived in years, thirty eight, and she was fine with that. It has something to do with her addiction to chips, and a lot to do with her sedentary lifestyle. Sitting and focusing on her work were things she did well. Walking and taking in the scenery were a waste of time and, worse than that, boring. Lulu had an active mind which contrasted with her inactive body.
She liked her quiet sanctuary of solitude on the forty-fourth floor overlooking the university where she worked. Every morning, including week-end days, she took the elevator down to the garage and drove the five minutes it took to get to her parking spot. There were ten steps to the elevator which heaved her up to the third floor. Then it was only fifteen more paces.
On this particular Saturday she was frustrated because she’d been compelled to leave work early. The anger had started to bubble in the morning, and now her face was flushed red, a tell-tale sign that her rage had surfaced.
She opened her closet door and scanned the contents. Her clothes had changed since she’d looked at them that morning. They had worn and faded, and become out-dated. She shuffled hangers, rummaging deep into the ends of the closet. She found a dress she’d forgotten she had, but she’d have to shrink three sizes to fit into it.
Everything looked different. It was if she was floating above her body, her condominium, her clothes – her whole life, in fact. The contentment she believed she’d felt, evaporated in a second. She endeavoured to hold onto it, to clasp at it, but it was too late. It was as if the beacon which had been guiding her, reassuring her and consoling her, had been extinguished. A new, harsher, more objective light shone on her and around her lonely existence.
And the mirror stopped telling its lies. She stood in front of it and thought she resembled a human version of a feral cat. Her hair was frizzy, her clothes looked as if they’d been bought from a charity shop, her sneakers were grubby, and her nails were chewed down to the quick. Her face was showing signs of aging with wrinkles in the dry skin surrounding her eyes and mouth. Her teeth were stained and her lips were fading away.
She would just have to cancel. It was unacceptable for her brother to have organized a blind date for her. It was unthinkable. She couldn’t remember how she managed to get herself talked into it. She’d always avoided them, always managed to evade attempts to link her up with some other outcast.
But her brother had said it would mean so much to him if she would just have a drink with this guy, Zack. He said Zack was a leading nuclear physicist with a brilliant mind. But he lived like a hermit and needed a friend to talk to. He’d told Lulu that they’d have something in common in the research they both did. There’d be plenty to talk about. No need to worry on that score. 
Lulu found her old curling iron, discovered some pants with an elastic waistband which fit, unearthed a black top with a decorative butterfly on the front, rubbed some hand-cream on her face, put some eye-liner on and painted some gloss on her lips. She applied one coat of aged, purple nail varnish, drying it with the hairdryer.
The image in the mirror had perked up. She smiled, despite herself. But the teeth! At a speed she wasn’t used to, she tore down to the supermarket on the first floor and bought some whitening which promised results in thirty minutes, and grabbed some cheap but smart sandals.

She sat at the bar, wondering why she felt so ghastly. Her nerves tingled, her heart raced and her breaths were shallow. Her hands were so shaky and sweaty that she could barely hold the glass.
She knew who he was before he reached the bar. He wore a summer jacket with buttons which were far too distant from the button holes. He had a beard which she suspected had just been trimmed. His checkered shirt had brand-new creases in it, and his pants were shiny from use. His clumpy shoes were polished, but well broken-in.
She relaxed. This would be okay.

Copyright 2016 by Vicky Earle

The Binder

April 2016

Brandon and I are sitting opposite one another at a small round table, but we’re each facing the garden. We’re surrounded by the bursting sounds of spring and the vibrant green of new shoots. My husband’s spectacles are poised on the end of his nose as he reads the newspaper.
I’m leafing through a binder while contemplating when to raise the subject of a trip to England again. I’ve printed off information on flights, hotels and car rentals, as well as directions.
Brandon hasn’t been back since he emigrated with his parents to Canada thirty years ago. But I’m curious and want to see where he was raised, and meet some of his English relatives.
His eyes shift from the page to the mug of tea on the wobbly table.
“Brandon,” I say, to get his attention. He notices the binder, and sighs while turning the page, flapping the newspaper as if he’s wrestling with it.
“Brandon, I’ve collected some information on flights and places we could stay.”
“I’m not interested.” He pushes his spectacles up his nose half an inch and loses a couple of pages in the process. “Blast. I’m not interested, Moira. You’ll have to go by yourself.”
“Brandon, you know that I want to see where you were born, and to meet some of your relatives there.”
“Not interested. If you really must go somewhere, Arizona sounds interesting. A couple of my colleagues have bought houses down there, they say there’s good golfing.”
“It’s so torrid there. I think it’s all desert isn’t it? Anyway, that’s not the point. I want to go to England. Nowhere else can substitute.”
I get no response. I’m lingering but don’t have a plan. There must be a reason why Brandon so vehemently doesn’t want to return. It doesn’t make sense.
“Brandon, I’m going to be an eternal pain in the neck about this England trip unless you tell me why you don’t want to go.”
He slaps the paper onto his knees and his hazel eyes darken. He looks at me with an intensity I’ve not experienced before. I imagine a lithe version of me wriggling under the table and disappearing.
“So, you really want to know?”
“Yes, of course I do. We’re married. We should share things.”
“Some things are best left unshared as far as I’m concerned.” His voice is somber and his face has paled. “Remember, you asked me.” 
“Okay.”
“When I was a boy, I was in the church choir. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to share the details, so you’ll have to live with the short version. The priest took a liking to me and it wasn’t good for me. I eventually told my parents. They didn’t believe me and told me I was a disgusting liar and that no priest would ever do such things. But another boy was in the same boat and one day he talked to me, I’m not sure what brought that on. His parents had beaten him because they thought he was a sinful liar, that his stories were all an evil creation. I told him to tell his parents to call my parents. And it worked. And then my parents were so distraught about the whole thing that they wanted to leave. In short, they lost their faith, their jobs, their home, but they said that we had each other and we should make a new life. They asked me where I’d like to go and I said Canada. I didn’t know anything about this country, but the Rocky Mountains sounded like fun. We ended up in Ontario, with no mountains, but that’s okay.”
“What happened to the other boy?”
“I heard a few years later that he’d committed suicide, despite his family trying to get him help. The scars were too deep, perhaps.”
“So, where shall we stay in Arizona?”

Copyright 2016 by Vicky Earle


Unknown


March 1 2016

I stand at the graveside with the collar of my heavy black coat pulled up to protect my neck and ears from the biting wind. The snow whirls around me in blustery bursts of excitement, its cold white energy mocking me. To think that my search ends here.
I am alone. The few people who attended the short service, wearing their concocted grief, have left. They didn’t know the woman buried here. I didn’t know her either. I discovered her too late.
I found out a little about her past from people she brushed up against. She had been an enormous woman with an eating disorder and had had an operation to have her stomach reduced. I heard that this had been successful, in that her weight decreased to just above normal, but the depression ate into her soul. That’s probably why the pernicious anaemia went undiagnosed, and this, along with her heart problems, truncated her life-span. She was 50 when she died, with no family or friends encircling her. Her body was found in a squalid rooming house which overlooked a junk yard.
I must have been standing here for some time. A large, golden moon is rising over the dark trees, shimmering and luminous, using the gravestones to cast shadows all around me.  
I want to live. I’m not yet ready to join this quietened community.
For the first fifteen years of my life, I was bounced like a ping-pong ball from one home to another, never settling long enough to sort things out, or to get to know the people or the community I had landed in. And, rather than making me tough and resilient, I felt as if I was becoming more and more delicate, like a piece of crystal which might break if it was dropped one more time.
I had whimsical dreams about who my parents were and why they couldn’t look after me.
 My favourite fantasy was that I was a princess and that the King and Queen, my parents, were too busy to care for me. They were ruling and fighting battles and protecting their castle, which had a moat around it, of course. But one day, soon, they would send for me. But no-one sent for me. And the woman buried in the near-frozen earth in front of me, was not a queen. According to my birth certificate, which I’ve recently obtained, she was fifteen when I was born, and my father is documented as “unknown”.   
I turn away from the moon and walk back to the car. It’s windows are steamed up so I can’t tell what’s going on inside. I open the door, and sprinkles of sparkling snowflakes waft in, melting in a flash. They stand no chance in the warm air, full of smiles and contentment.
“Mommy, Timmy can say ‘moo’!” Lisa giggles as her eighteen-month old brother points to a plastic cow and yells “moo”. My husband throws back his head and laughs. I knew they’d be all right, waiting for me. My king, princess and prince make me feel like a queen every day. 
My king has been patient and understanding as I’ve delved into my past, but twenty years of searching is enough. I have my fantastical family right here. I don’t need anything more. So my father will forever remain “unknown” to me.  


Copyright 2016 by Vicky Earle

Hot Chocolate


February 2016 

            Geraldine didn’t like the thundering noise the huge Caterpillar construction vehicles were making. She covered her ears and screamed. Melody wished she could be more stoic, but there was no-one to listen. And, in any case, no-one could hear above the thundering roars of the intimidating machines as they changed the contours of the land they had owned.
            Melody knew it had been a poor decision to come back, but Geraldine thought they could pluck some of the happiness from the place, and keep it with them. The post-Jack happiness, that is. Geraldine had grown more sentimental and emotional over the years, and it was clear that she missed their life on the farm.
            They stood, shaken by the devastation of the land and the destruction of the farm house and old barn. It was as if part of their lives had been snuffed out, as if their experiences and adventures had been dreams and inventions. There was nothing left to ignite the memories or to validate them.
            Melody regretted coming and wished they could leave, but some invisible anchor kept her in place. Geraldine had stopped screaming but still held her hands over her ears, and tears rolled down her round cheeks. Melody guessed what she was thinking about, and shuddered. There was a graveyard where one of the bulldozers was working - graves where they had solemnly laid some of their beloved animals to rest, including at least four cats and three dogs, as well as one horse. They wanted them to be left undisturbed. They deserved to be left in peace.
Geraldine gasped and she yanked on Melody’s arm. The bulldozer was moving further south. Watchful, they clung to each other, shuddering. Beads of sweat dampened Melody’s reddening skin. They hadn’t contemplated on the bulldozer working south of where the barn had stood.
            The development company had offered less than the property was worth, but Melody had requested a condition to the sale, rather than an increase in the purchase price. She had demanded that the southern section of the property, which ran along the creek, be untouched, for sentimental reasons. The management consultants for the project agreed, so Melody signed off on the agreement.
            They had had no choice but to sell. They needed the money. Melody had no pension other than those issued by government, and Geraldine was penniless. Previously, before Jack was gone, their existence had been bearable financially, but unbearable in every other way.
Jack was buried south of the old barn. They’d reported him as a missing person, but they knew exactly where he was. Melody had shot him and had managed to dig a grave in the soft earth near the creek, drag his body there and dump him in the hole, with no remorse. She remembered walking back to the house feeling light and free. It had been the right thing to do.
            Her son, Jack, had beaten his young wife Geraldine for the last time. He’d beaten her so badly that she couldn’t see out of either eye and had at least four broken ribs. Melody had tried reporting the beatings to the police, but they didn’t think domestic violence was a priority in those days. And there was nowhere for Geraldine to go. No safe haven. And no money of her own.
            Geraldine had never been the same since that beating. Melody was certain that she’d sustained some brain damage. After she’d done what she could for her daughter-in-law’s injuries, and at a loss as to what to do, she’d made hot chocolate, Geraldine’s favourite. She gave up everything and looked after her ever since, laden by the guilt of what her own son had done.
            As they watched, the bulldozer headed to the section of land that must not be disturbed. Geraldine’s nails dug into Melody’s arm. She knew what Melody had done and where Jack’s bones were. But, the bulldozer stopped, the belching black fumes dissipated, and its engine died. Melody guessed it had parked directly over the spot where Jack lay. She liked to think it was there to prevent him rising from the dead. She felt sure he’d be trying to.

Smiling, she turned to Geraldine and told her it was time to go home for some hot chocolate. 

Copyright 2016 by Vicky Earle

Rabbit Out of a Hat

January 2016

            My therapist said "write about it, it will help". And I want to do as she says, but it's going to make matters worse.

            That evening is fresh in my mind. The flaming reds, yellows and oranges of the setting sun created silhouettes of the pines. The loon called out one last haunting song as it flew out of sight. This was certainly the tranquility I'd searched so long and hard for.

            To get to this point, I'd spent too long reading reviews posted by cottage renters in Ontario's vacation country. I'd find a cottage which met my specific criteria, read a good review, sit back with a shuddering sigh of relief, wipe the sweat from my brow, but feel compelled to read another review. The next one would be negative and not to be ignored. Such things as a backed-up septic tank, power off for a week, a broken water pump, mice in the drawers, damp beds, neighbours' jet skis roaring past from dawn to dusk, a barking dog from dusk to dawn, and more.

            I'd been a hair's breadth away from giving up. But I needed to get away, to find some peace and quiet, to escape. I even considered going to a resort, but the idea of communal dining put me off. People always want to make a connection with you. I sought solace.

            Then I found it.

            And, at first, all went smoothly. But then the rabbit showed up. He looked like a cotton-tail, but about five times larger. His huge dark brown eyes considered me as he approached. I sat mesmerized in the cushioned wicker chair, and wanted to touch the iridescent array of fascinating colours which shimmered in his fur. Entranced, I followed him down to the dock. It was more like a pier, with thick teak planks supported by solid stone pillars buried deep into the lake bed, a masterpiece when it was first built. This had been the clincher for me, when I was searching. Negative reviews noted safety concerns about swimming and canoeing, but I had a 26' yacht. I'd not had the sails up yet because there'd been no wind. Some promised for the next day, so I was excited. But, back to the rabbit.

            I followed his beckoning white tail along the pier. He hopped onto the deck of my boat, onto a seat and then out of sight. I went frantic. I could imagine what damage his large, sharp, rodent teeth could do to my immaculate boat, my pride and joy. The only thing that was mine after the divorce. The only thing that didn't have to be cut into two pieces and destroyed.

            I looked in cupboards, searched storage compartments, rummaged through drawers. Nothing. Then an eerie sense of movement. I scrambled up the ladder, through the hatch, and stood on the deck, gripping onto the railing. The rabbit sat on the pier. Both thick, indestructible mooring lines had been chewed through.

            The wind picked up, the choppy water splashed against the yacht's shiny sides, and the sun disappeared behind the pine trees. There must have been a current conspiring with the wind. The yacht picked up speed and we headed for the weir. I'm a good sailor, but I couldn't get the engine to start (it always started), the anchor wouldn't hold, the sails took too long, and the emergency paddle was wrenched out of my hands.

            Of course, we tumbled over the weir.

            I woke up in hospital and stated talking about a devil rabbit, and haven't stopped since. So, I'm getting therapy.

            Oh, you want the truth, do you? It's a bit different. There was no rabbit. But I did get into trouble with my yacht. The engine did fail and we did plunge over the weir. I came up with the demon rabbit idea when I realized I was in the hospital where Letty, the therapist works. My regret is that I didn't come up with a better story. I'm not the creative type. But it worked, inasmuch as I get to see Letty again. She was the therapist I saw for a while after the divorce.

            So, tell me, how do I convince her I'm not mad and seeing things?

Copyright 2016 by Vicky Earle

         

Climate Change

December 2015

            I'm standing underneath the bronze statue. Too close. I have to crane my neck backwards so that I can give it a careful examination. But I know I shouldn't be doing this. My gazing at this huge monstrosity unlocks memories almost too hard for me to manage. Perhaps my pain is something like post-traumatic stress disorder.

            The plaque underneath states that Robert Gordon Brownswaithe was a hero. He was the Prime Minister of Canada from 2030 until 2038 and, if you believe the hype, he saved the world with his brilliant mind, his science and his innovation. An engine that runs on sun and carbon dioxide, emitting oxygen and water, bears his name. The R. G. Brownswaithe. Well, that solved several of the world's problems almost overnight and he became a billionaire in the process. Then, as a politician, he led the world towards climate change - but for the better. I can just about remember 2015 when people were predicting that many cities would be under water because scientists foresaw the average temperature of the planet rising by 2 or even 3 degrees in the not-so-distant future. My father made nonsense of that. Of course, his new engine was only the beginning. It started an avalanche of progress which stopped pollution cold, so to speak.

            What does it matter that this human being bears the scars of having this man, this icon , as his father? When the whole world has been saved, what can I possibly complain about? And, if I was to suggest to any living being that my father had been immoral, then I'd be accused of being a miserable liar. In fact, I'm sure my saying such would be considered a cardinal sin. But, that's the truth. No-one will ever know it, but that's the truth.

            I don't dispute he was brilliant, as I've already said. But he used his brilliance to steal, to intimidate, to cajole, to dominate and to claim ideas as his own which were not. It all started with my science project I submitted to my school's science fair. I developed the concept for that new engine. I was only 15. Others didn't see it, but he was smart enough to see that it made sense and ran with it. I was shut out and shut down.

            But I mustn't start digging up all that stuff. I'll be back on the bottle again. I need to move away from this thing. I must find a cardboard box to sleep in somewhere. It's really cold. They say the average temperature of the planet has dropped by two degrees, and we could see an ice-age in about twenty years if we don't do something. My bones feel it. I've got some ideas, but I'm not about to share them. Best to keep them to myself.

Copyright 2015 by Vicky Earle



Horoscope

November 2015

             This was the race Joe had been waiting for - it seemed like for his whole life.Finally he had a horse which had the breeding, the athleticism and the heart to run in the big leagues.

             As he drove to the barber, he felt good. being a believer in astrology, he had read his horoscope on Barbara's Sunshine Future website, and been told that the planets were aligned in his favour, that good fortune was about to come his way. Barbara added that family and friends would be important. This made absolute sense to Joe. The purse for the race was $1million, which, without dispute, was a fortune. And he'd be celebrating his win with his family and friends.

             With a bounce in his step and a smile on his face, he eased his rotund body into the chair for a haircut. He must look his best in the winner's circle. Despite the smile, Dirk, the barber knew better than to try to strike up a conversation with Joe. He'd tried once, and the man with the chubby face, gaudy shirt and shiny pants had merely emitted grunts and refused to meet his eyes in the mirror. It seemed to Dirk that Joe was downright stubborn in his unwillingness to converse with him. And today would have been no exception. Joe was in his own world, planning the celebration after his inevitable win. He would throw a party. After all, his horoscope had predicted that friends and family would be important. It would be simple, though. French wine and some brie and camembert, with some fresh bread which he would pick up from his favourite bakery on the way home from the barber.

             It seemed to take an eternity for the horses to get to the starting gate. Joe was jumping up and down well before the horses were loaded. His heart pounded and his hands tingled. His face felt hot and flushed. Drips of sweat beaded on his forehead. At last the horses burst out with amazing power and strength, but Joe felt his chest tighten as his horse galloped at a tortoise-like pace relative to his competition. Never mind, it was a long race and he knew his horse would close well. He would come from behind. And, after all, he knew what the outcome was going to be.

            Joe's heart raced and he could hardly catch his breath when his horse made a move to close the gap, as they turned for home. The excitement was so intense, so incredible, that he felt his heart lurch. But as his horse moved towards the inside rail, another horse bumped him and the jockey went sailing through the air. Joe's horse finished first, but without the jockey. It was quite the spectacle, he heard later. But he didn't care. He was glad to be alive.

            "It was fortunate that Don was with you," his sister, Marie told  him as he sat up in bed, glad to be out of intensive care and rid of tubes and machines. "He diagnosed your heart attack and got you here stat. It was waiting to happen, you know."

            "Yeah." Joe knew. But his mind drifted back to his horoscope. Yes, it was good fortune that Don had been there, and yes, his family and friends had helped to pull him through. Without them, he probably wouldn't have had the will to survive the heart attack, or the desire to get back on his feet. Horoscopes are okay, but are subject to a lot of interpretation, he thought. And horse-racing is not the most important thing. Although it's darn close, he admitted, as he dosed off, picturing his horse crossing the finish line first, this time with his jockey.

Copyright 2015 by Vicky Earle    



Renewal
October 2105
            The horses munch
on the last of this year’s green grass. Their companionship is all I have since my sister left
last week. We had lived together for seventy years. I should have realized that
Tammy would want to leave, to escape, to float free like a butterfly after all the
containment, restrictions and suffocation.
            Tammy had
insisted on looking after Mother after she was diagnosed with dementia. But I’m
sure she hadn’t counted on her living for another twenty years. I ran the house
and looked after the horses, dogs and cats, and gave her a break now and then,
but it wasn’t enough.  Mother soon
demanded, and eventually needed, 24-hour, seven-day-a-week attention. And I
can’t begin to explain how difficult she was.
            Tammy and I
were raised on this small farm, but we were never close. I was put to work at a
young age. Father grew a variety of vegetables, including carrots, cauliflower,
broccoli and beans. He also had a large pumpkin patch. For as long as I can remember,
until the day he died, I had the job of weeding. I was too small to use a hoe
at first, so I used a small fork and my bare hands. My fingers were engrained
with brown and green stains so I did my best to hide them under the desk at
school. I felt like an amateur
because my heart wasn’t in it. I stopped the second my father died and have
grown nothing since.
            I gaze at
the crab apple tree
which looks precarious as its branches, loaded with fruit, swoop down into the
paddock where the horses are. We have great pasture because father looked after
the soil, adding nutrients, preventing erosion and rotating the vegetables. But
we children didn’t get the same treatment. We weren’t the recipients of tender
loving care.
            Mother
hated the farm. As soon as the youngest of us started school, she took on a
full-time job which involved a lot of travelling. If she’d been away on a business
trip for more than a couple of weeks, we’d brace ourselves for her return.
She’d burst into the house. It was rather like a hurricane hitting us. Our lives would be turned
upside down. The furniture would be rearranged, the fridge would be cleaned and
restocked, our clothes washed and folded, our sheets changed and the house
scrubbed. But seldom would she look any one of us in the eye.
            So why did
Tammy and I stay? The others left as soon as they could. I don’t think I know
why I stayed. Tammy has talked of guilt, of the expectation that one should
care for one’s mother in her old age. Maybe, for me, it had something to do
with my girlfriend. She left me after five years and my future evaporated. I
was lost. And I still haven’t found myself, these many years later. But,
despite everything, perhaps I like the farm. I can’t think of living anywhere
else. In fact, I can’t think of living at the moment.   
            So, I have
decisions to make. Do I stay or do I go? I’m 75. Hard to start a new life. Hard
to make up for lost time. I pop the cork on a bottle of wine. I’ll drown my sorrows and block
everything out.
            By the
second glass I know this strategy isn’t working. I can’t stop thinking,
wondering and regretting. But as I drink some more wine, it mixes with my
advanced years and gives me some legs, some boldness. I pick up the phone and
call the widow who lives down the road. Perhaps she’ll be my girlfriend again
and perhaps it’s not too late to start a new life. It has to be worth a try. I
have nothing to lose.

Copyright 2015 by Vicky Earle


No comments:

Post a Comment