Tribe

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This is the story of how I became a drunk and found a tribe. My memory often fails me, so I have quilted over gaps with scrappy fictions, not completely accurate, but not without truth, either.

I was a sweet, reckless 11-year-old, still taking ballet lessons on Saturday mornings. Our instructor—upright, proper, wearing a pencil wool skirt—told us in her English accent not to hold our fingers “like the bunches of bananahs in Lob-ee-laws.”  I wore the garb of the innocent—pink tights, black leotard, hair in a bun. I was perfect, chaste. I had hankerings then for certain clothes, just like 11-year-old girls do today, but my coveting now seems odd and historical. For example, I yearned for a floor length nightgown sewn from a particular Butterick pattern in lavender viyella. And I wanted a kilt, a real kilt.

I often passed the store on Yonge Street and stood in front of the window, pining for one of the kilts worn by the chalky mannequins. You could order a kilt from one of the many tartans on huge bolts at the back of the store—cut to your measurements. How did they make the pleats, I wondered?  The idea that I should have my own kilt became an obsession.  Did that desire pull me precisely because I did not belong to a tribe? Strangely, my family didn’t feel like my tribe; there was a sense of “every man for himself” with us.  But here I could choose my own tartan, my own clan. . . I could pretend to be Scottish.  I could belong.

My mother was agreeable. Perhaps she thought it quaint that I wanted a kilt.  It must have been very expensive to have a kilt custom made in 1969. We didn’t have much money, but my mother tried to give us what we wanted, within reason. “We’ll find the money,” she would say, and she did.  I chose a small red plaid, the MacAulay modern red, and the Scottish lady measured me up with her long yellow tape, marking numbers on a scrap of brown paper.  I waited impatiently for several weeks, imagining how the quilt would look and feel.  I had a tendency then to fetishize objects. If only I had that thing, my life would be perfect.

One Saturday morning we went to fetch it. That lady’s broad freckled hands wrapped the skirt around my neat, trim body, expertly fastened the kilt pin onto the outer apron, checked the waist, stood me back from her appraising eye, and commented in her brogue that I looked “bonnie.”  I loved the way the skirt swung around my thighs just slightly, the mechanical whirl of the crisp pleats—the big silver pin that I could put in myself—higher if I wanted some of my leg to show. There is something lovely and innocent about a slender 12-year old girl wearing a kilt, bare leg in the fall, black tights in the winter.  You might expect her to raise her arms in a highland fling.  She looks as if she belongs.

* * *

I try to imagine how it all came down to vomit on the kilt and all over the bathroom floor, my sisters both dabbing at me with warm wet cloths, quickly cleaning me up and putting me to bed so our mother wouldn’t know. Perhaps we started by pouring small amounts of wine from corked bottles in the kitchen. We might have sat around the kitchen table with coffee cups half full of too-sweet sherry. But my memory also keeps tugging at the old refrain, “come alive for a dollar five.” That was the joke we used to make later about the cheap rotgut wine “Old Niagara” that kept the rummies fueled. I remembered the old men slumped against the wall of the Silver Dollar tavern when I walked Spadina, paper bags concealing identical green glass bottles lying beside each ragdoll body.

I come up from the abyss of memory with a wry smile. It’s no wonder you can’t remember, can’t put the details together, you killed your brain cells, you pickled them with alcohol. I once asked a chemist acquaintance if he thought my memory loss was from frequent LSD trips while my mind was tender, still developing. “No, LSD is likely not the culprit. That’s the cleanest drug around—more likely it was the alcohol.”

We got tipsy, the three of us, light-dark-redhead, but it was too much sweet stuff my first time drinking. We probably laughed, acted giddy and silly as sisters do. Felt the thrill of being bad. But before the sweet sickness came over my gut, I felt the first stirrings we alcoholics get—that deep gut-warmth. That halo of euphoria that crosses us over into a land of freedom, power, luxury—the velvet couch of glory. Give it to me again and again!

So even though I scrambled up the stairs two at a time, my gut heaving, to retch in the toilet, partly missing and getting the sherry-smelling chunks of vomit on my new kilt, I was still shaken, seduced by that blood-warming pleasure. Even if I woke the next morning feeling black-wasted, tongue sour, I still wanted to go back to that land soon, to loll on that velvet couch again.

There was a problem with empty bottles, which makes me think we had somehow gotten our own booze, not purloined small amounts of our mother’s. Come alive for a dollar five . . . indeed!

* * *

The kilt smelled of my vomit after that, and so I wore it less than you would think a girl would wear a new kilt she was so excited to get. “Why don’t you wear your new kilt?” my mom would ask. “Don’t want to,” I mumbled.

But really what I wanted to say, I imagine, was that it smells vile now, the smell reminds me of my first drunk, which was horrifying because it felt wretched to get sick but it felt wonderful to get drunk. So wonderful that I am going to find a way to do it again, soon. I stuffed the kilt into a plastic bag at the back of my closet.

* * *

Latvia is a smallish Balkan country, the home of Michael P’s mother. I wanted to ask Michael about the Latvian quilt I puked over in his basement all those years ago—what were the colours, what was the fabric? Who made it? But then I remember Michael died of AIDS in 1989. Michael’s tribe is now the tribe of the dead—all those beautiful young men who died that decade and beyond. The faded quilt I wasn’t sure about, but we always joked about it, calling it the “family heirloom.” We would cuddle under it—teenage boys and girls in Michael’s basement room, our hub. We nestled together, legs sprawled over legs, arms around each other, drinking, laughing, feeling the incipient sexual thrill for one another, the thrill of being so close with hormones bubbling. One night we were all gathered there, my first time drinking tequila. Lime wedges, salt shaker, the iconic worm in the bottle. Michael lined up the shots, the shaker, the slices of lime on the edge of his candle table, a slab of wood holding dozens of candles in wine bottles. The dripping wax formed stalactite formations we loved to pick at, rolling warm wax in our hands and creating new shapes.

The candle glow lit our young pimply faces as Michael prepped the shots and passed them round. The taste was medicinal burn, but the feeling was flooding gorgeous warmth, an invitation to the couch of glory.  After several shots, I felt my gut roiling, and it all came up again on the quilt.   I suffered shame and guilt from ruining that heirloom, staining it and souring it so Michael would never use it again.  Michael is dead now. But he was Latvian, he was gay, he had two loving tribes. I like to think he basked in their tribal warmth when he was alive.

My contemporaries were not my tribe. Sure, they partied, they drank, but I started to see I approached drinking differently from them. I had to hide, elaborately, the machinations to get another drink, to keep going when everyone else had enough. I had to keep going until I was curled fetus-like, comatose, on the velvet couch.

* * *

Memory, please help me excavate the first AA meeting I attended.  Likely it was held in a church basement somewhere in Toronto. A large room with scarred tables on metal legs laid with 12-step literature on one end and a huge coffee urn and cookies at the other. A tower of Styrofoam cups and those leaf-shaped maple-creme sandwiches in plastic trays, straight from the package. A cloud of cigarette smoke striating the room. Chairs set in front of a podium. All old men but perhaps two faded washed-up ancient women with bad lipstick. This is not for me. Not my tribe. I am so different. I am young and smart.

* * *

We’d had some wine for dinner but the bottle was empty, and we lay in bed, my husband and I, talking, arguing. I was agitated—I needed more booze. This was becoming a grating need. Not so bad when I hadn’t had a drink for a few days. But when I started, the pull was tremendous, and I couldn’t fight it.  I went up to the kitchen on some excuse and poured a coffee mug half full of cooking sherry I found in the cupboard. But before I took it back down to bed, I took several big slugs. I drank more than my share of wine at dinner, and now I was increasingly slurry in my words and actions. As I got into bed, and he smelled the sherry in my cup, I could see the disgust in his face. He took the cup and flung it against our bedroom wall. I remember the drip, drip of it down the wall, and the stain it left there, even after scrubbing.  You were not of my tribe, husband, you who could nurse a Guinness for hours. You could not understand the addict’s yearning beyond reason.  But who, then, was my tribe? Not other drunks, they were old and washed up.  But not non-drunks either. Not the Scottish or the Latvians. Not the gays, not ballet girls—I had quit dance after being told I didn’t really have the body to make it as a ballerina.

* * *

I remember starting a hand quilting class in my early twenties. Quilting was another yearning—I longed to create those perfect squares and sew them all together. To make something great out of small goods. I only completed one square when alcohol—my then lover—got in the way of my relationship to quilting.  Alcohol was my primary relationship in those days; none other stood a chance.

I have been sober 30 years now, but some days I still feel like an emotional drunk careening through life.  Recently I took up my love affair with quilting. This time, with focus and forgiveness and a Pfaff Ambition sewing machine. This time, I started slow, piecing fabric, watching YouTube videos over and over. Pause and sew, play and sew. The plump woman with infinite patience on the video, sewing, showing. Laughing at herself, sewing, showing. Talking us through the techniques, the tricks.  Always a beautiful finished quilt hanging behind her. And then the women in the sewing machine store, the fabric stores, the quilting stores. Patient, full of information, encouragement, tales of experience, wry compassion for the mistakes. So I would try again, laughing at myself for cutting wrong, sewing wrong, taking out stitches, not once, but three times. Patience growing like a little bud inside me.  Oh you quilters, all you women out there—are you my tribe? Is this how I finally learn patience?

These are women I once would have scorned—too podgy, domestic, uninteresting, unintellectual. They care about fabric, for God’s sake, and quarter inch seams! I cared about building skillful arguments, refuting claims, excelling in academia. But now that stuff seems arid.

Free motion quilting got into my soul when I first tried it. After struggling for an hour to put the new foot on my machine, I took off with the freedom of it. Flying around the fabric in huge loop-de-loops, great flowers, words, lines, circles, hearts grew out of me like thread songs. My whole body moved with the shapes and the orange thread spun out, making my mark. It was like the poetry that sometimes runs through me. I am just the container now, for the great spinning quilt goddess who speaks through me.  Oh, is this my tribe, then? This is my tribe. I can’t wait to tell another quilter about it, to share that feeling of stepping off a cliff into free motion quilting.  Sometimes I worry it feels a bit too much like being drunk, that crazy whoop-de-whoo feeling. Like lolling, once again, on the velvet couch of glory. But I reassure myself: There is no hangover, no shame. Just a beautiful imperfect quilt at the end that I will give to somebody I love. Perhaps to you.

Memoir and sketches by Madeline Walker.

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Already dead

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The day Alex was killed
a beautiful Vietnamese woman,
her mouth concealed by a
paper mask, crouched at my feet
to paint blood on nails.

I felt ridiculous on the throne,
all this attention paid to
my calloused feet.
So I asked her, “what is the loveliest
place in your country?”

In the cheap notebook I keep in my purse,
I recorded her answer, Hoi An.
A few hours later, Alex was gone.

Three months ago to the day
a pedicure, a death.
Still there are curves of mock blood
on the halluces.

Every time I wake, a red wall
of fear rushes at me
I pray for our four surviving sons.

The youngest just laughs,
“Mom,” he says hugging me,
“Just live like I’m already dead.”

 

November 13, 2016 by Madeline Walker
Watercolour by Madeline Walker

 

 

Cones and Bottles

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The evening sky—hot, curdled, yellow—sat heavy on the balconies of 522 Wishart. A few people lingered in deck chairs with drinks, some with cigarettes, some with joints. Angela was one of those.  She would have to go in soon, though, because the sounds from Hell family, one floor below, were making her prickle with rage.  First, the small girl, perhaps four or five, “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, can I have more ice-cream? Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom,” the incessant whine. Then the presumed father—“shut the fuck up, Ape” (short for April?). Then a pitch perfect response from the mother—“stop fucking swearing at her!” and this would rise to a crescendo, with the kid finally running out onto the balcony, screaming, and the two parents inside screaming at each other.  Angela could see the little “Ape” now, a bird’s eye view, her fat ice-cream painted hands clutching the metal rails, and her pigtails quivering as she howled.

Angela wanted to phone somebody. Who? Social services? What’s the crime? Emotional abuse? Yes! That’s real. She had suffered it too. Would this April grow up to be like her, one of the walking wounded?  Probably. In the meantime, she went into her apartment and phoned the superintendent of the building for the fourth time this week. Left another voicemail. Could she get this Hell family evicted? They had been disturbing her since they moved in six weeks ago.

Ape seemed a little bit like her as a child, she surmised. The product of a fucked-up couple.  Okay, if your parents don’t even like each other, find every opportunity to criticize and wail on each other—why do they stay together? To torture their offspring?  Angela’s first memories were a fuzzy collage: She watches from a playpen in a corner of the kitchen as her parents scream at each other, their red faces just inches apart. Or another one—she is in her crib watching her father fuck her mother roughly, her mother pummels his chest, trying to buck him off her as he thrusts into her over and over, the puckered scars on his lean white buttocks flexing in ghastly rhythm.

On her father’s tenth Halloween, somebody thought it would be funny to light the string of Big Tom Thumbs hanging out of his ass pocket. Hilarious. A few skin grafts later, her Dad’s left butt cheek looked eerily like a deformed face, the rough scar pattern resembling eyes, nose, and mouth. And when, from between the crib slats, she watched her parents fuck, which was, unfortunately, too often, that butt-face looked like it was leering at her, mouthing obscenities.

Jesus, thought Angela, I have to stop this nonsense.  Going back to those memories always spelled trouble. And this little Ape was uncovering all kinds of crappy dregs from the past.

Some days had passed, and then the unthinkable happened. The couple from Hell invited Angela for dinner.  There was a knock on the door that evening—it was Friday.  Angela got up from the couch where she was parked for the evening with Nurse Jackie on the flat-screen, one joint, and a 142 gram bag of New York Cheddar chips, her end-of-the-week treat. Angela was the kind of person who precisely doled out her medicine: ten cigs a day went into the silver cigarette case, boxed wine (she alternated white and red) measured each evening, marijuana divided over the month, small bags of chips purchased by the case from Costco and stored in the linen closet.

“Hi, I’m Edie, below you, 304?” The fat thirtyish woman stood before her in all her slovenly glory.  The hair, purple dye washed out to a silver violet at the straw tips, was piled up in a thick and greasy coil on top of her head.  Her arms were thick and dimpled, popping out of her tight tank top and glistening with sweat. Edie had a dark shadow above her upper lip.  The purple hair, the incipient moustache, distracted Angie from looking into the guarded eyes.

“Hi Edie. Angela” she stuck out her hand, but then realized it was covered with the oily salt from the chips she had been munching when the knock came. She wiped her hands on the back of her jean shorts and tried again. Edie’s hand was clammy and reticent in hers.

“Hey sorry to bother you, but Hen and me wanted you to come for dinner tomorrow, if you’re free that is. Just burgers on the barbie. You might have seen—we got a little barbecue this week.
“No, I hadn’t noticed. I don’t usually look at your balcony.”

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean to say you were spying. Except somebody’s been calling the Super about the noise, and I wondered if it was you. Peace offering,” she laughed nervously, pulling at her cotton batik skirt. The elasticized waist bunched under her gut: a stripe of striated white flesh between the skirt and tight tank. A rhinestone stud protruded from the cavernous navel.  Angela felt herself contract in revulsion. Could she actually smell the rotten-cheese odour of an infected piercing, or was it her imagination?

“Oh, sorry, but the noise was driving me crazy.  No hard feelings, I hope. Sure, I can come to dinner. Can I bring anything?”

“Oh just yourself. We’ll have plenty of everything.”

“Hen – is that your husband?”

“We’re not married, but yeah, Hen is short for Hendrix. His parents named him after Jimi Hendrix. Can you believe it? Like they had a death wish for him or something.”

No rejoinder came to mind, so Angela smiled unconvincingly and started to shut the door. She was anxious to get back to the solitary pleasures of the evening, and this Edie was starting to irritate her.  “What time?” she asked just as the door eclipsed Edie’s face.

“Let’s say six?”

“See you,” said Angela to the last sliver of cheek before the door clicked shut.

Saturday at six, Angela stood in front of 304 with a six-pack of beer in one hand and a bouquet of cut-price flowers wrapped in cellophane grasped in the other. She leaned over and knocked on the door with her head, then smiled at her cleverness.

Angela heard Edie yelling from within. “Ape, get the door.”

The door opened slowly, and the little girl stood stolidly before her, holding the doorknob and a grape Mr. Freezie in the other hand, a purple stain around her lips. She wore, like her mother had yesterday, an elasticized skirt and tight tank. And like Mum, her fat bulged from between them. The only difference was that her fat was young and unblemished. No piercings around the navel, yet.

Saying not a word, Ape looked at Angela and then started sucking on the Freezie.  “What are you doing, Ape? Aren’t you inviting her in?” yelled Edie again from the kitchen.

Ape stepped back to indicate Angela should come in, but she stayed mute, making sucking noises and slamming the door loudly. That was another irritation for Angela. The slamming door from underneath her, at all hours.

She laid the beer and flowers down on a chair near the door.  “Hey,” she said, sotto voice to Ape. “Don’t slam the door, Ape. Shut it gently, like this.” She opened the door again and demonstrated a soft close for the little girl who stood as if dumbstruck, betraying not a shred of comprehension as she watched this adult talk to her quietly.

Edie came out of the kitchen with a plastic plate piled with frozen hamburger patties and hotdogs.  “I see you’ve met Ape,” she smiled. “C’mon in.” Angela picked up the beer and flowers from the chair and held them out to her hostess. “Oh great! Thank you!”

Hen came back from getting beer – now there were 24 plus the six Angie had brought. The three of them sat on the small balcony drinking beer, crowded together in plastic deck chairs, while Hen cooked the food on the little grill and Ape played in the living room with a couple of Barbies. She was eating dry Fruit Loops from a plastic container, occasionally smashing one onto Barbie’s unresponsive lips. Heaps of cereal dust decorated the grimy carpet like tiny insect mounds in pastel colours.

At one point, as she carefully negotiated her sawdust hamburger, Angela ventured a question, “So is Ape short for April?”

“Ha, no, actually. That’s a good story,” answered Edie, licking mustard off her pudgy fingers. Angela noticed she had letters inexpertly tattooed on each finger of her left hand, just above the knuckles: P-A-R-T-Y.  “Her real name’s Mariah, you know, after the singer.” And then she interjected a phrase from a Carey song. “Touch my baw-dy, put me on the fl-o-o-o-o-r,” Edie crooned in a scratchy voice, pretending her hot dog was a mic.  “But when she was little and we were trying to toilet train her, she used to shit on the floor, then start throwing it at us. I kid you not. Just like the apes going apeshit in the zoo. So we started calling her Apeshit, then Ape for short.”

Hen chimed in. “She still does it from time to time.”

“No kidding,” responded Angie, her flesh crawling.  She didn’t want to keep that image in her mind—the kid scooping soft turds from the floor and lobbing them at her parents. She imagined the damage done to the last apartment: smelly brown stains on carpets and walls.

Angela looked at the girl through the open balcony door. Now she was messing around with a hot dog, breaking it into pieces before she popped each piece between lips still stained purple from the freezie.

Angie stayed just as long as would be considered polite, then escaped back to her apartment. Later that evening when she heard some muted yelling, she took a Zoplicone to block everything out.

A few days later, Edie was at the door again.  It was Wednesday evening.  “Angela, hey I hate to do this, but I have to go do a night shift at work—they just called me in—and Hen isn’t home. He’ll be home soon though. Can you watch Ape for just half an hour, an hour at the most?”

Angela froze. Seriously? She is seriously asking me to babysit?  Angela had just poured a glass of wine and was one-third of the way into an Ian Rankin novel.

“Don’t you have a regular babysitter?”

“Yeah, but that was at the old apartment, miles away.  I need to find some teenager in the neighbourhood. But in the meantime, do me a favour?” She raised her eyebrows and shoulders in an inquiring leer. Apparently she had washed her hair and was now wearing it loose, showing bleached roots above the purple tresses.

“Okay, just this once, though,” Angie said. Oh, well, she could just read the novel one floor below. Ape was practically comatose, anyways. Edie went off to her night shift at Mac’s Convenience Store, leaving her cel number and Hen’s too.  “Help yourself to anything,” she said. “There’s beer.”

Angela sat gingerly on the couch, placing a thermos containing her ration of white wine on the scratched coffee table and her novel beside her on the cushion.  She looked at Ape, sunk into an armchair watching an episode of “My Little Pony” and slowly licking an ice-cream cone with her grey tongue.  Her bare legs stuck straight out in front of her, nicked and cut, her toenails painted hot pink. She wore only cotton underpants and a Dora the Explorer pajama top.  She hadn’t acknowledged Angela’s presence.

After the episode ended and Ape had crunched the last of the cone, she licked her fingers and announced, “Another one.”

Angela looked up from her book. “Another what?”

Ape continued staring at the screen, watching the animated figures from a cereal commercial strut, fly and, yell. “Another ice cream cone.”

“No,” said Angela in a low firm voice.

“What?” said Ape, finally looking toward this intruder.

“You heard me. No,” replied Angela once more, making eye contact with the girl.

Ape, as if bewitched, looked slack jawed at her neighbour. Rather than asking again, she hauled her small plump body out of the deep armchair and started walking to the kitchen.

Angela unfolded her legs, got up, switched off the television, and followed.

She watched the girl pull a kitchen chair up to the fridge, climb onto it, and yank the freezer door open. As Ape put her hands in to get the big five-litre tub of fudge ripple, Angela came up behind her, grabbed the little paws, pulled them away, and shut the freezer door with a slam.

“You don’t want to turn into an ice-cream cone, do you?”  she said in a censorious voice, lifting the heavy, squirming kid off the chair and onto the floor.

Ape beat at Angie’s legs, yelling “ice-cream, ice-cream, ice-cream!”

“That doesn’t work with me. You’re done with the ice-cream. You look like you’re turning into an ice-cream cone, you little fatty.” Angela grappled to control the octopus limbs thrashing out every which way.

She hadn’t counted on the tenacity of Ape, who was trying to drag the chair once more to the fridge. Angela struggled with the child, finally hauling her out of the kitchen into the living room.  She found herself in the weird position of wrestling this flailing sixty-pound body, trying to pin a strange girl onto a filthy carpet.

Finally, in a moment of revelation, Angela threw up her hands. “Jesus Mary Joseph, have your fucking ice-cream, then! You’re going to turn into a big fat fudge ripple monster cone!” Angela rapidly pulled herself off the kid, returning to her book, her wine, and the couch, while Ape, bawling, staggered into the kitchen where she negotiated the chair, the freezer door, the pail of ice-cream, the scoop, and the cone, with lots of banging. Throughout the process, she keened the anguished cry of the persecuted, a rhythmic, almost mechanical wail.

When Hen arrived about an hour later, his daughter was slowly munching to the bottom of her fourth cone, occasionally pausing for a long, shuddering breath, expelling the remnants of her crying jag. Her Dora p.j. top was streaked with melted fudge ripple, her hands sticky, her eyelids fluttering down, down.

“Wow,” he said, “Ape is in her cups tonight.  Am I supposed to pay you for babysitting?” he asked Angela, who had not moved from the couch for 60 minutes.

“No of course not. What are neighbours for?”

Pitch black deep in the night, Angela was woken by a siren, growing louder, louder, then it seemed to be shrieking right in front of the building. After a time, she fell back into the blue funnel of drugged sleep. She had doubled her Zoplicone intake since Hell family moved in.

The next morning she was in the bathroom with the hair drier going when she heard a loud rapping on the door. Through the peephole she saw Edie in her pajamas, looking distressed.

She opened the door. “What’s up?”

Edie started in a low controlled voice, filled with venom. “What did you tell my daughter last night, you warped fuck? Told her she would turn into an ice-cream cone? What kind of mean fuck are you?”  Edie pushed her mascara-streaked face into the doorway in a threatening gesture.

Angela noticed the strong smell of sweat and the fetor of decaying teeth, and she started to back away. Mute, impassive, she started to slowly push the door shut, preventing Edie from advancing.

“Did you hear the siren last night, you bitch? That was your doing.  You gave her a fucking nightmare.  She woke up grabbing her stomach and wouldn’t stop screaming so we had to call 9-1-1. She thought she was turning into an ice-cream cone, for fuck’s sake. Where do you get off telling her that shit?”  She was yelling now, and 402 had opened his door to see what was going on.

Angela closed the door on Edie’s raging face and locked it. She went back to finish styling her hair. Serves the Apeshit right. The greedy little shit.  And her moron parents. Some people!  Letting their kids run the show.

That night she took another Zoplicone. Although she had been careful in dosing her New York Cheddar chips, her pot, her wine, and her cigarettes, the sleeping medication was harder to control.  The desire to plunge into that deep blue-black hole was powerful. She dreamed. An old memory had surfaced. She was turning into a bottle of chocolate milk, just as her father had predicted.  “You drink so much of this stuff, you’re going to turn into a bottle of it,” he would tell her often, fixing her another one. Hershey’s black syrup swirling into the white. Her chosen elixir.  In the dream, Angie’s legs were transforming into cold glass, her head became a big rubber teat and inside, she felt the chilly swish of brown milk coursing through the tomb of her body. She woke with a start, mid-yell, her heart pounding.

At 7 a.m. Angie called in sick. She made a pot of strong coffee and took a cup to the balcony, where she sat in her lounge chair, wrapped in a fleece blanket, and lit her Friday night joint 12 hours early.  As she watched the trees bucking in the strong wind, she wrapped the fleece more tightly around her shoulders.  Then she cried. She cried for Mariah, for Angela, for April, for Apeshit, for Ape, for all the girls turning into cones and bottles, for all the lost little girls.

 

 

 

 

 

Dilettante blues

dilettante |ˌdiləˈtäntdiləˈtäntē| noun (pl. dilettantanti |-ˈtäntē| or dilettantantes): a person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge: [ as modifier ] : a dilettante approach to science.

I have long thought of myself as having a dilettante approach to intellectual and artistic projects. In our loving household, we put a slightly kinder label on it: “Dabblers unite” is one of our mottos. Yet on my more self-critical days, I wonder why I cannot commit to a path and get really good at one thing, whether it’s fiction, sewing, poetry, drawing, painting or making comics. I come into my room on weekend mornings, loving the light pooling on blond wood floors; the palm tree outside the window; my son’s, my husband’s, and my own paintings decorating white walls. The drawing table and swivel chair in front of the window beckon, “pick me! Draw comics today!” The sewing machine and cutting table are spread with a quilt I am in the middle of making, also calling out to me: “Play with us! Free motion quilting is so fun!” And my low wicker chair, lined with plump blue pillows, looks seductive, laptop not far away. “Write! write! you know you want to, you know you want to get better at this short story thing. . . . “ The tall cupboard might be open, with its treasure trove: glue gun, watercolours, scissors, charcoal, India ink, felt-tip pens and pencils in every hue. Whose birthday is next? Shall I make a card?

Yes, I want to create, but when I never commit to one path, I never get really good any one thing. Even when I committed five years of my life to getting a PhD, I don’t think I went really deep, and I didn’t continue my research in that area. I never got to really know my subject. I used to joke that I was getting a “PhD lite” because I would rather go horizontal, exploring many tangents, than go vertical, deep into the material. I’ve always read this way too: skimming and popping in and out of several different books, writing down the title of a new one, pursuing first this lead and then that one, rarely settling down for any length of time and achieving depth. Picking books off shelves, reading a line. This and that, this and that. I’ve celebrated my dilettantism too–deciding to write about film and gender and just doing it, making the plunge. It often feels liberating to follow my variegated passions.

And yet, deep down I know that if I put on blinders and really work at something, eschewing all the persuasive pulls at my attention, a jewel may be uncovered. So, my intuition tells me not to just accept my dilettantism. To choose one path and stick to it, to put aside the other things, simply breaks my heart. However, I sense that that is the way I need to go eventually. I won’t force it, but at some point, “big magic” (Elizabeth Gilbert) will  lead me to the vertical plunge. I can feel it coming.

For now, I will enjoy dabbling.  A little moon quilt, a little cartooning, a little short story writing.  A little of this, a little of that.

 

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Have a creative week.

 

Slow rising stories

 

One autumn we went to visit my sister where she was cooking for a lodge in Cigarette Cove. Her partner ran the place and took visitors on fishing trips. We stayed for a few days, enjoying the remote location on the coast. The boys went fishing while I stayed with my sister in the warm kitchen, talking and laughing, catching up after months apart. I decided to make bread, but after all the preparation and long kneading, it didn’t rise. Disappointed, I threw the white blob atop a pile of food waste in a garbage can.

That night, we walked down the L-shaped dock to our rooms, the water lapping, the dogs running up and down among our legs, the moon laced with moving clouds. In the morning, we woke to the loons calling. When I went to make coffee in the big kitchen, the white blob had risen to a huge balloon of dough. My sister and I carefully removed it from the heap. I scraped off a few coffee grounds, punched it down, formed two loaves, let it rise again, and later that day we had the most delicious fresh bread for lunch.

My sister and I sometimes laugh about the legendary “garbage bread.” I love the slow riser, the late bloomer. The way that stories and bread and flowers surprise you when you least expect it. The way that people grow yeasty and bloomy in their late years, amazing us by finally doing what makes their hearts sing.

So I don’t need to rush the stories. Forget about the goal to have ten written by Christmas. Why?  I can let go of the expectations that academia trained in me: Always write to a deadline. Keep sending stuff out. Succumb to the pressure to publish. I don’t need to operate on that schedule. I can slow cook stories for months, if I want. Who cares?

These last few weeks I have been dipping into short stories by Raymond Carver (Where I’m Calling From) and Sharon Butala (Fever), two very different authors who do not satisfy. They leave me yearning and wondering. And yet in the wanting, there is such pleasure. They make me realize that I can let go of my need to have “closure” or  to “wrap up” my narratives. I was reminded of this as well when I saw more than one student in the Writing Centre this week asking for help in understanding Alice Munro’s “Gravel.” Wondering, feeling, not knowing—this is what stories by all three of these writers engender in me.

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From a story I am cooking now: The swimming pool came in and out of my shifting vision. White lights shimmered up through the blue water. The rest of the yard was in shadow. “Guys, c’mon,” I whispered behind me as we all scaled the concrete blocks like monkeys. Soft rock played through the open verandah door. “We’re going to get caught,” I said to the boys ascending behind me. And then suddenly I went over with a thud and red pain on the other side.

The boys leapt over to help me, saw the weird tilde of my white arm against the black grass. “Shit she broke it, I can tell by the swerve of it, look.” The other boy felt my arm near the elbow and I cried out in pain.

The soft rock clicked off and we heard clip clop steps from the pool deck. The walker was wearing heels. “What the hell is going on over here?” came a woman’s shrill voice. Soon she came flapping over to our huddle in a diaphanous gown, her perfumed head dunking into our circle of bodies. “You kids are trespassing, I should call the cops,” she cried again, trying to rouse the boys to lift their shaggy heads to look into her eyes. One of them, Pete, said, “Sorry, ma’am, but our friend has a broken arm. Can you call the ambulance, please?” Pete labored at enunciation, trying to pull up the sloppy vowels so he didn’t seem so wasted.

I was met at the hospital by my mother, who sat with me on a hard wooden bench in the hallway. “How could you be drinking? You’re under-aged. Like way under-aged! You’re 13, for god’s sake! Where the hell did you even get the booze? Who booted for you? I’ll wring their necks, the fuckers,” she spit-whispered into my ear. The crisp nurses clucked their disapproval as they passed. “No painkillers for you until the alcohol is out of your system,” said one when I groaned in agony. I was being punished. I could see it in their amused, accusing eyes.

 

 

Write what you don’t know

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“The writer is someone, who, embarking on a task, does not know what to do.” Donald Barthelme

I am reading Station Eleven by Emily St. Jean Mandel. Although I read Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, I haven’t really been curious about dystopian novels. But this book has me turning pages hungrily. One of Mandel’s themes is the persistence of the works of Shakespeare after the collapse of civilization. This got me thinking of what I know and what I don’t know and what to write about for story number eight.

What did Mandel know, I wondered, in order to write this so-readable novel? She looks blessedly young on the book’s back cover (b. 1979). Yet she writes confidently about Shakespeare, Toronto, BC’s Gulf Islands, pandemics, the life of an aging artist, multiple marriages, paramedicine, the end of civilization… and I am only on page 77. She mustn’t have “known” all this to start. Into the cauldron goes the writer’s research, experience, and imagination. Boil them together with a bit of newt’s eye and bat’s wing to produce fiction.

The old saw about “write what you know” keeps the writer in the silo of lived experience, starved for oxygen. You need all of it—research, imagination, experience, serendipity—to thrive as a fiction writer. One way to write yourself out of what you know and into what you don’t know is to use Peter Elbow’s loop writing methods described in Writing with Power. I decided to use the one where you sit down and write everything you think you know about a topic, then use that as fodder for a story. Mandel’s novel starts with a production of King Lear, so I thought why not use that play? I proceeded with interest.

What do I know about King Lear? Well not much. I studied the play in the late seventies with the late great Northrop Frye. I still have my Pelican Complete Works of Shakespeare with my fish bookplate dated 1978, the year I took my sole Shakespeare class at University of Toronto, Victoria College. Frye was an eminent scholar, yet I remember little from the class. I do recall his long pauses as we waited with baited breath, our pens raised, ready to record his wisdom. And the only thing I remember from his lectures was not even about Shakespeare—it was about music. He said that Bach’s Mass in B Minor was surely the voice of God speaking through the composer. As for King Lear, well I remember only that I loved that play the best. A few of the most famous lines stick with me, and I notice as I page through the play that almost forty years ago, my twenty-year old self carefully circled in pencil any mention of nature, natural, and unnatural. I must have written an essay on that theme.

But really, what do I know of Lear? I remember my father joking with me, the youngest of his three daughters, that I was his Cordelia. A rather odd comparison, as I think of it now, but I loved his rueful laugh when he said it. Then there was my first husband’s favourite line from the play, “Reason not the need,” from Lear’s speech in Act 2, Scene 4:

O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars

Are in the poorest thing superfluous.

Allow not nature more than nature needs,

Man’s life’s as cheap as beast’s. Thou art a lady.

If only to go warm were gorgeous,

Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear’st,

Which scarcely keeps thee warm. But, for true need—

My then-husband’s occasional invocation of that line has stayed with me these many years. When frugality became a constraint, he would implore, “reason not the need.” Let us not reduce our lives to need, to scrape by on the drab thrift store clothes, to make black bean soup again. Even beggars need a bit of splurge and splendor. Let’s treat ourselves. You only live once.

But there you go. What do I know of King Lear? A long ago reading for a Shakespeare class almost forty years ago. Frye’s wavering voice. A remembered association from my father’s mouth that cast me, in jest, as his Cordelia. A line spoken by my ex-husband that reverberates still. Reason not the need. And a bleak sadness when I think of Lear, a “poor, bare, forked animal” on the heath.

It was an interesting exercise. I really don’t know much about Lear. An embarrassingly small amount of material, in fact. But I was able to gather enough together to start. I wrote what I know, and that will lead me into what I don’t know. A few shoots that might sprout a story that is more interesting than my experience. Perhaps research will lead to a character based on Dr. Frye. Perhaps a re-reading of King Lear that may lead to something. Or another listen to Bach’s Mass in B Minor that might be fruitful. Or perhaps I can write a story with one character who always reasons the need and another who resists that dictum. Or a contemporary father who sees his daughters as modern-day versions of Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, and those joking nicknames become more real than he ever intended. So many stories waiting to be written.

img_1077I do not know what to do, exactly (see Barthelme), but I know that limiting myself to writing only what I know is the equivalent of Goneril and Reagan’s telling their father, you don’t really need all that finery, that retinue. I join Lear in saying, “reason not the need.” Let me read, research, imagine. Let me grab from a cornucopia of ideas, thoughts, books, facts, art, beauty, and experiences to make stories. Here I go into story number eight. I’ll report back later.

 

 

The work wants to be made

 

I usually write about reading and writing, but today I want to expand and talk about other stuff as well—all the sources that have been sustaining me through this horrible summer. Summer of accidents, death, sadness, and grief.

Reading. I am reading Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn. I don’t remember meeting a more wonderful narrator—orphan-boy detective Lionel with Tourette’s syndrome.   His verbal and physical tics lift this detective story out of the ordinary. Lethem gives a master class in first person narration. I am less interested in the story than in the brill narration.

Writing. I finished my seventh story. My goal is still 10. I like this one, though I don’t know if any of them are any good. Sometimes ideas emerge from a deep well I didn’t know I had access too. Sometimes the process feels like automatic writing. . . “where is this coming from?” As Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic, “The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you.” I am not even thinking as I write. The words just come out.

The latest, “Cones and Bottles” is about a woman Angela with a shitty childhood encountering a girl named Apeshit who is in the midst of her own shitty childhood. Angela confronts some of her demons around addiction and control. Ice cream cones and chocolate milk bottles figure in the story. Angela’s new neighbours invite her over for a barbecue.

At one point, as she carefully negotiated her sawdust hamburger, Angela ventured a question, “So is Ape short for April?”

“Ha, no, actually. That’s a good story,” answered Edie, licking mustard off her pudgy fingers. Angela noticed she had letters inexpertly tattooed on each finger of her left hand, just above the knuckles: P-A-R-T-Y. “Her real name is Mariah, you know, after the singer.” And then she interjected a phrase of a Carey song. “Touch my baw-dy, put me on the fl-o-o-o-o-r,” Edie crooned in a scratchy voice, pretending her hot dog was a mic. “But when she was little and we were trying to toilet train her, she used to shit on the floor, then start throwing it at us. I kid you not. Just like the apes going apeshit in the zoo. So we started calling her Apeshit, then Ape for short.”

Hen chimed in. “She still does it from time to time.”

“No kidding,” responded Angie, her flesh crawling from this description. She didn’t want to keep that image in her mind – the kid scooping soft turds from the floor and lobbing them at her parents. She imagined the damage done to the last apartment: smelly brown stains on carpets and walls.

* * *

Art making. I found the wooden end of an electrical spool by the side of the road, around 22 inches in diameter. I brought it home and created “Shimmer” a mixed media piece with paper, glue, watercolour, acrylic, spraypaint, coloured pencil, straws, duct tape, wire, found objects. Shimmer has two women who spin for you (well four women, but only two can spin). One expands into dance, the other has contracted into solitude. Jewels sparkle here and there from found objects. There is a little glittery holder for my own version of angel cards at the bottom. This may not be finished.

Spin the girl, pick a card. Shimmer away/ Contract/ Expand/ Change/Everything changes all the time/ pick a card any card/ you never know what life holds for you.

Sewing: Working on “full moon rising quilt.” I love the batiks. I am learning to sew curves, sometimes tricky. This quilt is for a friend that I love.

Painting and writing, sewing and drawing, reading and thinking, dreaming and loving, crying and hugging. These all sustain me during the summer of pain.

P.S. would you like me to pick a card for you? Reply below. I’ll pick it and tell you what it says. IMG_1052

 

Learning the craft: first person first

I have been enjoying Bringing the Devil to His Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life. The first essay is Richard Russo’s defence of omniscience, and he is very persuasive in showing writers the advantages of omniscience with examples from John Steinbeck and Jon Hassler (and others).

Okay, I am convinced. Problem is, it takes time, doesn’t it? To build to omniscience?

I have completed six stories now, and two out of six are third person. One of the third person narrations is close (we go into the thoughts of one of the characters), and the other, I suppose is “omniscient.” But that one felt very weird to write.  First person narration comes naturally, like a river flowing through me.  Third person omniscient feels distant from me, like I have stepped out of myself.  The disembodiment perhaps brings new powers over time.

I would like to write more in the third person, but I want to see if I can keep the energy of the first person and translate it into third person narration.  This feels like a process that cannot be rushed.

After my book of poems was published, I felt squeamish about it–that I was too confessional, too much of me was exposed.  And yet there is energy there, albeit awkward energy. There is soul. In writing fiction, I need to transmute that richness of my voice, my experience, into the more subtle delineations of the third person narrator.

I started a new full-time job on July 18 after four months “between jobs.” I realize the job takes a lot out of me, though I love it, and I am so grateful for employment that fits my skills and my interests.  I remain committed to my story writing, to learning the craft, to carving out some time each morning. I arranged a 9:30 start so I can fit in my writing time. IMG_0435The blog, however, will be more erratic.

In closing, I offer two paragraphs from my stories, one from a first person narration, the other from my most “omniscient” narrator:

I sat in the kitchen nook, feeling quite proprietorial by now. I liked this corner. It felt safe. The kitchen table was strewn with used coffee cups, a colouring book and crayons, a stack of library books in one corner. The other adults had things in hand—there was nothing to do. My son was taken care of. I liked the coffee made from beans from a local roastery. It was strong with real cream. I liked the big panel of windows behind me. I could turn my head and see the narrow yard with a rusty play gym and the compost pile, home to happy rats. I could see the sagging homemade cake perched atop the fridge, the goody bags lined up on the top shelf in the Ikea-styled kitchen. The sun had come out and I felt the warmth on my neck and a pleasant breeze from the open window beside me. The kids’ voices seemed as if they were coming from a distant country in another language. I liked the feel of the smooth cushion under my bare thighs.

Rinaldo unbuttoned the top two buttons of his madras shirt, lifted her small hand, and leaning over the bed, placed it on his bare chest, atop the layer of curly, sweaty hair. “Here, Mum, right here.” Ainslie’s thin arm was fully extended, the hand had disappeared into her son’s open shirt. His large hand covered hers, pinning it to his heart, the chest hair protruding from around the hand sandwich. He leaned over her, his other arm steadying his big leaning body so he wouldn’t fall into the bed. On this hot July day, he was wearing cargo shorts and his trunk-like thighs, also covered with thick dark hair, were pressed up against the wooden rail at the side of the bed. Ainslie opened her eyes, surprised but not alarmed by this new position she was in. Mother and son did not speak, but the room was not silent. The sound of Rinaldo’s heart seemed to fill the space, BA-doom, BA-doom, BA-doom. Ainslie felt the reverberations through her body.

 

Work mentioned

Baxter, Charles and Peter Turchi, Eds. Bringing the Devil to His Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2004.

 

 

 

 

When we were very young

I have been planning and musing over a short story idea, and one of the things I wish to implement is a wise narrating voice of a male ornithologist recalling his boyhood experiences. I thought of Rascal (1963), that beautifully written and illustrated memoir by Sterling North. The story covers one year (May 1918-May 1919) in the author’s life growing up in Wisconsin with his father and many pets, specifically his pet raccoon, Rascal. I was given the abridged version titled Little Rascal (probably for younger children), a red hardcover with a sketch of a raccoon embossed in black on the lower right corner of the book. There were more illustrations in that version than in the original Rascal: Gorgeous “scratchboard” illustrations by John Schoenherr that—although rendered only in black and white—glow with life and light.

I have kept some books from both my childhood and my children’s. But alas, not that book. I searched the shelves high and low. Although it was a favourite, I must have gotten rid of it during one of the many moving purges over the years. I took Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era out of the curriculum library here at the University, and I’ve been enjoying reading the full version of the story.

North’s writing is spare and lovely. He explains the natural world simply, for the young reader, but without talking down to his junior audience. Indeed, the book captures the attention of readers of all ages. When the boy and his father realize Rascal, the pet raccoon, will need eventually to be caged because he’s developed a taste for sweet corn, Sterling’s father plans a trip in Northern Wisconsin, near Lake Superior for the three of them: father, son, and raccoon.

North describes this childhood idyll, two weeks of camping and fishing in the woods. One day, Sterling and Rascal make a discovery in their rambles along a river:

“Then, half a mile farther upstream, we came upon it suddenly—a little lake which was the very source, as round as a big drop of dew and as clear. Its shores were of clean sand and gravel, and it was cupped among low hills, forested with evergreens, with several white birches standing in sharp relief against this background of dark firs.

There were water lilies in the shallows, their floating pads large enough for little frogs to sit on, and blossoms the size of saucers, where green and scarlet dragonflies held court.” (93-4).

My experience of reading this book again is that I revert to the dreamy, safe space of my child self’s imagination. In these imaginary green spaces, I once felt that the world was whole and benign.

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Bookmark by Madeline Walker

North does not adorn his descriptions with multisyllabic adjectives; he sticks to plain words like “little” and “big,” “low” and “sharp,” and colour words “green and scarlet.” He welcomed me into this warm world when I was very young, and I love returning there.

There is a lake just a twenty-minute car ride from where I live. Recently my friend and I took a dip there. The water lilies had just emerged, pure and white amidst lacquered pads. As we slid into the cool water, we could see an eagle take flight from an old log across the small lake. He thrust his big wings, scooped the air, and was lifted up, up. His white head sparkled against the blue sky. Dark conifers surrounded us, and the dragonflies were dancing, just as they did one hundred years ago for Sterling North.

Work cited

North, Sterling. Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era. New York, NY: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1963.

 

 

Plants and Books for Sale

One Saturday in May I noticed a clearly lettered handmade sign taped onto a telephone pole near our house: “Plants and Books for Sale” followed by an address on a nearby street. My husband and I headed over; how could we resist? We approached a small white house screened by a cedar hedge. The driveway was lined with makeshift tables brimming with plants of various sizes and types. Printed sheets in clear plastic protectors provided information about each plant: latin name, care required, interesting facts.IMG_0937

Two deck chairs were set up at the head of the driveway. In one sat a woman, about 75 perhaps, with white hair and an anxious face. A teenaged boy sat next to her wearing a beige safari hat and glasses. He smiled at us and rose as we approached. “Interest…est…est…ed in buying some plants?” he stuttered. “Yes, in a bit” I answered. Looking at the woman I added, “But I am even more interested in the books.”

“Yes, well we have a house full of those, and they’re all for sale,” she announced, getting slowly out of the chair. “Follow me.” As we followed her into the dark hallway and throughout a warren of small rooms, I was impressed by the many bookshelves as well as boxes of books in the house. There must have been hundreds, even thousands of books. Books about philosophy, religion, mythology, art history. Shelf after shelf of novels, books of poems. Thick hard-covered books about countries of the world, about ships, and about plants. Politics, history, economics. This was an incredible collection, accumulated over a lifetime, evidence of an astute and curious reader.

“If you don’t mind me asking, why are you selling all of your books?” I ventured.

“They belong to my husband. He just had a stroke. They said he’ll never read again. And he won’t want them here when he gets back from the hospital. So they’ve all got to go.” She spoke in a rather brusque fashion, then turned on her heel and went back outside.

What a thing to happen! How unfair life is, to rob a man of one of his central pleasures!

My husband and I wandered through the rooms browsing, ending up on the front porch where several cardboard boxes set up on card tables overflowed with books. The boy was soon standing beside me. “Was your grandfather a professor?” I asked. “Yes, he was, before he retired,” the boy replied. We stood companionably together thumbing through books.

For one dollar each I bought Antonia Fraser’s Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter, Norman O. Brown’s Love’s Body, and Through the Flower: my struggle as a woman artist, by Judy Chicago. I tucked them away and forgot about them.

This week I discovered them atop a tall pile under my sewing table.

Fraser’s account of her long relationship with Pinter is comprised mostly of short, choppy journal entries. I read the first fifty pages and realized that the intricacies of their affair, the play reviews, the money problems, the vitriolic ex-wife, the children: none of these things interest me. I don’t really like Pinter’s plays, and I couldn’t get through Mary Queen of Scots. Sure, it’s a real-life romantic love story, and I am a sucker for those. But why on earth did I buy this book, when there were so many other better ones?

I reflected on this for a bit and then it came to me. It was the clippings. When I first handled this book at the sale, three slips of folded newsprint fell out: all from the Globe and Mail, all published in different months in 2010. One was a review of the memoir by Keith Garebian, the other two were reflections about Fraser’s book by Ian Brown and Elizabeth Renzetti. Two of the clippings focused on the uncontrollable force of love. As Brown wrote, “sometimes people’s hearts just overtake them.” Pinter and Fraser, each in their early forties, were both in long marriages with other people. With cyclone force, they fell in love with each other.

The clippings told me a story about this person I’d never met. As the folded slips fell out of the paperback, they brought an image of an old man sitting at the kitchen table in the sun with a mug of coffee, a pair of scissors, and the Globe and Mail. Carefully cutting out articles, folding them precisely, and tucking them into the book he’d recently enjoyed.

Perhaps he loved Pinter’s plays or Fraser’s historical biographies and was curious about the scandal they created in London in 1975.

Or perhaps he was moved by this grand love affair, where two people ignored social expectations and fell into the vortex of attraction and emotion. Perhaps this love story stirred some deep longing in his own heart. In any case, the clippings showed his interest in the book. And they also show his meticulous attention to detail, his wish to capture information and cross-reference it. I like to think the clippings give me a glimpse into his lively, complex mind before the fateful stroke. Or perhaps I’m just telling stories.

I also bought a large pot of Autumn Joy at the sale. The grandson, who shared with us his dream of becoming a botanist some day, told me I could look forward to reddish pink blooms in the fall.

Works mentioned

Brown, Norman O. Love’s Body. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1966.

Chicago, Judy. Through the Flower: my struggle as a woman artist. Anchor Books, 1977.

Fraser, Antonia. Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter. Random House, 2010.