November 1, 2009
Day 1 of Nanowrimo
Chapter 1 ... The Recurring Dream of the Rake and the Bimbo
"But ya can't take the piano," she wailed.
Like all the other women, she was a bimbo. She wore a trailing negligee, circa 1920, even though it was afternoon.. Her hair looked like the 7 minute icing kids in the fifties liked on their birthday cakes. Sometimes the dream women appeared with hair that looked more like cotton candy or a Barbie's spun plastic do. Not one of them had ever ever appeared with hair a natural colour or texture, and certainly none ever had bed head.
The two men who had emerged from the truck parked on the street below, the one with the sign on the side reading "Two Nice Guys and a Truck" (yes, I know it's an anachronism) looked uncomfortable. The shorter, heavier one said, "Aw Miss, we're sorry, but we got a job to do, ya know?"
"But it's mine," she sobbed. "He gave it to me. It's all I have left of him now."
"Lady," said the taller mover, "Our orders come from the store where your friend bought the piano. It's a re-possession."
She looked uncomprehending ... like a modern power saving light bulb ... the ones that throw too little light to read by. "Whattaya mean?"
Shorty patted her arm. "It means, honey, that your friend bought the piano on time and stopped the payments when you and him split."
"But why?" she protested. "He's rich."
"That's how he hangs on to his money, doll. This is the third one this guy's had re-possessed this year."
The woman suddenly turned murderous. The plastic beauty drained out of her face, and she began to yank at her hair. "That bastard. That lying prick. I'm gonna kill him."
It was my grandfather she was talking about. He was a womanizer, a playboy ... married to my grandmother in name only ... father to my mother ... also in name only. He was very rich, and very amusing ... good company ... for a time. Word has it that his short flashy life ended in a speakeasy in Detroit. Was it one of the floozies he'd given a piano to? Or was it one of the underworld characters he liked to play with? Or did his luck just run out and he happened to be in the wrong place when the bullet found him? I don't know. No one seems to, or if someone does, she took the secret to her own grave.
But, what I really want to know is why I keep dreaming about the rake and all his bimbos.
The grandfather I never knew seems to be haunting me now. Is he trying to give me grandfatherly advice? Warn me away from womanizers? Show me that you can't trust any man who stays married but doesn't stay home? To avoid looking gift horses in the mouth? To beware of charmers?
Or maybe I'm not supposed to be empathising with the woman, but learning something from him. Maybe he's telling me how to survive in a dog-eat-dog world. Except he didn't survive, and I don't believe the world is a place where people are happier when they are ripping people off.
I've had this dream or some version of it about once a month for the past year, and I still wake up wondering. I've been having other dreams too, all of them about men, most of them about old lovers I've discarded for good reason. I wonder why I am dreaming about them too.
Once again, I get up, turn on the computer, look at the time, shake my head in disbelief, and go downstairs to make tea, before starting to write. The dog lifts her head off her pillow and decides that I am not going anywhere interesting and goes back to sleep. It is two in the morning, and she knows she needs her beauty sleep.
By the time I look at myself in the mirror, I know I do too. Unlike the dream babes, I do have bed head ... and greying brown hair that seldom sees a hair stylist or a blow dryer. My hair just grows.
Maybe Grandpa is telling me I need to do something about myself if I don't want to spend the rest of my life married to a dog.
3:49 700 words in the first hour ...
Chapter 2 ... Other Dreams ... that need to be integrated into a story ... god I hope I find a story!
Tonight it was Danny who arrived. As always he was full of energy and this time it energized me. He spoke in cliches ... homilies ... pasting together the quotes of other people to create the conversations he found so difficult unless he scripted them first.
I remember being absolutely charmed by him when we were first lovers. We were living at the farm, and had spent the morning biking. Afterwards we bathed under the outdoor sprinkler shower he had invented. It was early summer, that time when the eastern Canadian world is bright green with promise. We spread our towels and dried off on the grass under an endless blue sky. Danny got up and picked a wild rose. When he came back he sprinkled the petals all over me and then moved them away with his mouth one by one. We made beautiful love that sunny afternoon. Years later after we had broken up and he was attempting to win his next woman, he told me that she was really hard to pin down. He'd "done the petals thing" and even that didn't work. I laughed ... it was long enough ago ... and if you have a winning script, why change it, eh?
Tonight he reminded me of his courage. We roller bladed together through the night, and once again he saved me from flying straight into the river or into a busy street.
I woke up laughing from a terrifying re-play of a time when Dan headed down the hill from the Experimental Farm and turned in at one of the government buildings, calling to me to follow him. I started down the potholed asphalt road, my wheels catching on the rough surface, all my focus on staying upright. Then, as my speed increased, and I began to go faster, and still faster, I realized I was in serious trouble. There was no way I would be able to make the turn. I had few choices. I could just try to keep my balance, zoom past the turn and hope that the road would even out. I could throw myself to the right where there was grass. Or I could splatter myself on the pavement. None were appealing.
And then there was a car behind me. The car stopped and the driver watched as things played out.
Dan moved into the roadway, planted his skate brake firmly on the pavement, and stuck his arm out. He yelled, "Grab hold as you come by." I did as I was told. We spun around and around like demented square dancers, but his brake held firm. The driver of the car resumed his trip, and I noticed as he passed us that he was smiling and shaking his head. My laughter may have been hysteria ... but I laughed.
Dan was very good at making me laugh. And he always looked after me. When my courage failed, his own bumped up a notch.
He was the second lover who helped me to have fun doing dangerous things because he was so solidly there and I knew that I was safe with him; that he would be brave enough for both of us.
Was Danny sent tonight or did he come on his own because he thought I needed him? Did he know that I needed to be reminded that the best partners are solidly there, that they play together, that they take risks, and they protect one another because they are strong and brave?
Or was he sent as a warning to me to avoid men who never get un-married, because they can only make a partial commitment? That they are protecting their freedom or their money or something by remaining married in name only.
Or perhaps he was reminding me that I should value what a man can share with me, even if it would nice to have the whole enchilada.
two hours ... 1400 words
9:11 a.m. ... resuming Chapter 2
Armand Comes Calling After Fifty Years ...
One night a couple of weeks ago, Armand showed up ... after more than fifty years. I know the dream probably occurred because my second husband had been insanely jealous of him and had nailed his photo to the floor boards during a renovation, a photo I had come across recently while searching for our divorce papers. He'd defaced it before mailing it to me with one of his vituperative frightening letters.
Armand would be nearly ninety now, but in the dream he was my handsome, if a little portly, lover who was almost twice my age when we began our affair. Yes ... a five year affair with my boss. I was a twenty-one year old single mom. He was thirty-nine. Almost fatherly.
We loved one another but affairs with married men are sordid. Everything has to be sneaky. I had to meet him away from home, crouch down in the front seat until we were past the area where there was any real possibility of detection, and, except for one wonderful weekend camping trip, all our shared moments occurred under cover of darkness.
My father suspected, because Armand showed up at his door one night very drunk asking to see me, but my father, like my grandfather, was a worldly man, and besides he avoided confrontations and conversations in which I might have been forced to lie. He preferred to allow sleeping dogs to lie there, to hide dirt under the rug, to pretend that our own very empty relationship was as pretty as it appeared on the surface, like the confections my grandfather's bimbos sported on their heads. So all he said was that Armand had arrived the night before drunk and had tiptoed through the tulips singing. No questions. No need for evasions.
But the other night when Armand visited my bed in the middle of the night, we simply made love, in much the same way we made love every week at that little Laurentian motel. This time we didn't even talk, and this time he didn't shower away the smell of our sex before leaving. And there was no Chinese food at the next door restaurant either. He just drifted away.
After he left I lay there wondering why he'd come. Had he died recently? Maybe I'd conjured him with that photo with the nail through his heart? Maybe he thought I must never forget how terrible it is to be married to an insanely jealous man. Perhaps he was simply an embodiment of all men in stale sexless marriages ... men who seek gratification of all kinds elsewhere but who remain married? Or was this a warning about losing good years when you might have found someone to make a real life with? Maybe it was to remind me that I should stay clear of cowards.
I wonder if all those bimbos had dreams about my profligate grandfather.Dreams of My Father ...
After Dad died I had recurring dreams about his coming back demanding that I return my inheritance; that he needed it. They started when I bought a car using his money. In all the dreams I thought of the money as his, never mine, probably because in my waking life I still think of anything I inherited as being his, not mine. And these dreams are frightening because I can't give the money back to him because I have spent it. I awake from these dreams icy cold and trembling. It takes me a long time to go back to sleep after these dreams.
Just the other night, my father arrived, not alone in a nightmare, but with two women, one on either side of him, holding his hands.
The one on the left was very like one of my grandfather's bimbos. I recognized her from a photo he kept from the early fifties. She was white blonde and glamourous. She signed it "All my love, Kippy". She was his New York girlfriend. He traveled to New York several times a year on business. Kippy would have looked great on his arm, sitting across from him at dinner in a smart restaurant eating expense account meals, and making passionate love in the bedroom of his upscale hotel. I think she was a call girl who had several out of town visitors she played with ... for a price. But I might be wrong. I never asked. He never told me.
The other woman was Adele, frumpy, overweight, her dark greying hair cut and styled ineptly. Adele was a dietitian from Halifax. I loved her and wished she were the mother I never had. My father said she had an unpleasant smell.
Where were all the others, I wondered. Joanie who refused to marry him because he was a divorced man and she was Catholic. Mary who sewed beautiful clothes to try to win my cold little jealous heart. The Czech woman he brought to Canada, married and divorced within a couple of years when he realized he'd been used as a passport to the West. Lizzie who was his last partner, the one he never married, the one who said they were shacking up and then giggled at the audacity of having said that.
Why just those two? The two extremes, perhaps? To show what men want, but not enough to make a commitment, and what they shun even though the woman's heart is warm and loving?
10:34 ... another 1 1/4 hours ... if I am right on track that should be another 1000 words ... 2400... almost 2300 ... I am going to shower and go out for a walk to clear my head ... maybe my story will find me.
12:52 ... at it again ... still no story ...
Chapter 3 ... Rough NOTES ... Maybe He Wants Me to Find the Answer
All those other men come and go once or twice, but it is my grandfather who keeps coming back. He didn't care enough about the bimbos for it to be about them, and he never even met me, so why would he be trying to help me now? I think he wants me to discover the truth ... and perhaps to avenge his murder.
I'll follow my instincts first ... one of the women who thought he loved her and then found out that she was just one of many women he bought for a couple of payments on an upright piano. She would have to be smarter and stronger than the others ... smart enough to figure it out ... angry enough to want him dead ... strong enough to pull the trigger.
Where will I begin?
She would dig through her papers and go from there ... but her family tree is so sketchy and she is the only twig left she would have trouble ...
Newspapers from Detroit in the 1920's might have reported the shooting.
Toronto death notices in the same time period.
He was married to my mother's mother about the same time ... the marriage took place in Toronto ... he was German and she was a Scotswoman from Aberdeen so either a civil ceremony or at either a Lutheran or Presbyterian church.
Maybe I can find my mother's birth certificate ... that might give me some information about her parentage.
And, of course, since this is fiction I can simply pretend to do all this ... and invent it ...
And he can visit when she is going off track or when she is getting closer ... sort of a hot-cold game.
1:10 ... I am at least finding my genre ... and moving away from a non-fiction mindset.
I need to sit down and plan out the storyline now ... with pen and paper.
I think my story may be about her doing what her grandfather wants her to do ... find out what happened to him ... and as she deals with this quest she makes sense of her own life ... helped by the men in her dreams.
Title ... The Men of My DreamsDay 2 Nanowrimo
Danny Returns With Another Message
I awoke with a start when he left. He had been telling me about his Hungarian mistress — the woman with whom he had his one great passion. The attraction was immediate and reciprocal and they had an affair that lasted for a few years. Eventually she left him, but the memory remained indelible. They made love recklessly and in all kinds of dangerous places. They flirted with the detection, not at all like my affair with Armand. Was it because they had more courage or because they had less to lose?
Danny was married to his childhood sweetheart, a country girl who bloomed early and then became blowsy, a girl who rebuffed his more adventurous sexual advances, calling them dirty. The Hungarian woman was not as pretty as his wife, but she was hot.
"Don't you remember?" he scolded me tonight. "I told you that the Hungarian woman kept my marriage viable for an extra five years. If I hadn't been having that affair I'd have made life miserable for Marie."
No roller blading; no lovemaking; just a lecture on the benefits of extramarital affairs.
I thought about how I had provided the same service for Armand; how every married man's mistress gives him what is missing in a dead marriage so that he never has to leave the stagnant pond. The pond is a haven for the cowardly. Even Danny had his moments of cowardice. He couldn't leave his pond until the one person he respected most had died. He couldn't disappoint his father. O'Grady's were responsible men who looked after their women. O'Grady's did not believe in divorce. Of course Danny's father had a wonderful marriage in which all his needs were met.
And what about the Hungarian woman? Was exciting sex enough for her? Maybe it was. She and Danny worked together so they were able to see one another daily, to skip out for an occasional afternoon delight by the river, to flirt at office parties ... it was more than just the odd encounter. They fed the flame daily, just as Armand and I had. And ... like me ... she likely left when she decided she wanted more — weekends, holidays, children perhaps — or the respectability of a wedding ring.
When she left, Danny replaced her with another highly sexual co-worker willing to risk losing her husband for the feeling of being alive that Danny provided.
I sigh. He was very good at making a woman feel alive, but when he wasn't getting everything he needed he simply flitted on to the next woman. He always said there are thousands of women you can love; none of this one love stuff for him. Probably a more practical approach than the romantic alternative, actually, but when he pulled it on me I left. No regrets about our years together ... and none about moving on when it stopped being good.
I lay in bed for awhile thinking about my life with my dog. It's a pretty good life. No one ever calls up while I'm writing to tell me it's noon and lunch should be on the table. The dog asks me to play sometimes when I don't feel like it, but she accepts "Later" far better than any man ever did. She has to be fed and watered, but kibble with yogurt twice a day is a lot easier than cooking for a man, especially if the man believes that pasta is something fit only for lunch; that eggs are a breakfast food; and that a real dinner consists of the kinds of things his mother always produced in her kitchen, one in which hamburger and all other less expensive cuts of meat were absent.
So, no regrets ... but why the hell had he started showing up in the middle of the night? It was fun to roller blade with him again, but really, who needs lectures at 2 a..m.?
Too wide awake to sleep, I made myself cocoa.
The dog asked to go out and I considered joining her. The moon was full and the sky so clear I wouldn't need a flashlight. It was tempting, but it was also November and I'd need to get dressed ... so I drank my cocoa and then we both snuggled in for the rest of the night.
I dunno, Grandpa. I think life with a dog is not as bad as you might think. Of course I'm a lot older than you ever were.
2:34 a.m ... another 700 words ... up to 3346ay 2 ... 7ish
Chapter 3. The Real Reason Grandpa Visits So Often
I hadn't been asleep for more than an hour when Kenya began to keen. I groaned and asked her if she were sick. She felt fine ... cool wet nose ... paws and ears normal ... but she was huddled up against my bed shivering, her hair standing straight up like a thick black Mohawk. I tried to get her up on the bed so she could cuddle and get over her night terror but she was having none of it. She cringed away as if the bed were the problem.
I was too sleepy to spend any more time than it took to find a cookie and put her in the walk-in closet where she prefers sleeping on blustery stormy nights, and we both went back to sleep.
But not for long. Grandpa decided to pay another visit. I smelled his hair pommade first.
"You were just here a couple of nights ago," I said. "Are you planning to make this a nightly occurrence?"
His brilliant blue eyes pierced the darkness, and he responded by smoothing his already slick hair, giving the small moustache a couple of pats, and saying through thin lips that did not look friendly, "This is the first time I've come myself. It seems you inherited your grandmother's inability to understand subtlety."
"What are you talking about?" I asked sleepily. "I dreamed about your escapades with women, about how you treated them shamefully. I got it. You were a scoundrel."
‘No one bothers to make this trip just to blacken his reputation, woman. Couldn't you guess why I came into your life?"
"Not really, Grandpa. Sorry."
"And don't call me Grandpa. It sounds ridiculous for a woman of nearly seventy to call a man half her age Grandpa."
"Okay, Paul. So what's the message, eh? Are you trying to warn me about men who take advantage of women?"
"Don't be ridiculous. You're old enough to take care of yourself. And you don't have all that much time left to play."
"So, what then? You want me to immortalize you by writing about your philandering?"
Kenya's wet nose nudged in under my duvet and dampened my pyjama leg. "It's all right Girl. It's just a dream. Go back to bed."
"I want you to do your duty as the only living member of my immediate family," Grandpa muttered. "And get that dog away from the bed. She smells."
"If she can put up with you, you'll have to put up with her. She lives here; you don't." I hesitated, and then added, "Although you seem to be moving in."
"Well, will you help me or not?" he asked brusquely.
"Tell me what you want me to do," I muttered. "I need to get some sleep."
"I was murdered and I want you to make sure that ... " His voice trailed off, and we were left with a lingering smell of attar of roses, and yet another question.
Did he want me expose his murderers or to avenge his death? Either seemed irrelevant now almost a century after his death.
One thing was sure. He had no interest in helping me. Why was that no surprise? I called Kenya up onto the bed and we slept until a frozen pink dawn brightened the morning sky.
7:49 am ... another 600 words8 a.m. Chapter 4 ... The Quest Begins
I gave Kenya her Dentistik, made a pot of weak tea, put the pot, a mug and a creamer on the round silver tray and turned on the computer. Three hours later (I have dial-up up here in these hills) I had uncovered very little I didn't already know. I was looking for something in the Detroit papers about a shooting death in the twenties or thirties. The first site demanded payment of $10 a month. It didn't seem important enough to spend that much money.
I decided to try Chicago. Hours later I was still no closer to the truth.
New York was no better and there were between 30,000 and 100,00 speakeasy clubs in New York City alone during prohibition according Wikipedia.
I broke for a while to bake some banana bread and turned on the radio in the kitchen. In the middle of the regular CBC morning programming, the radio screwed up. I began getting some other signal and a fragmented song came in amid the static and Jian Ghomeshi's voice. It was an old Irving Berlin number called "Hello Montreal". Good bye Broadway, Hello Montreal ...
Of course ... Montreal was known as Sin City, and, between 1920 and 1933, it was the largest wet city on the East Coast.
I'll bet the old coot didn't bother with the American cities at all. I bet he headed off to Montreal where he could have a feast of everything decadent without leaving Canada.
A whiff of smoke floated past my nostrils, and I checked the oven. The banana bread was fine. And then the smell became stronger ... cigar smoke ... expensive cigar smoke ... maybe even one of those really expensive ones I'd just read about: Havana Panatela Supreme Deluxe, the one favoured by Al Capone, which sold for the equivalent of 2 ½ hours wages during the Depression.
"Finally," said a now familiar voice.
"This is a non-smoking house," I said wearily.
"Thank God you inherited some of my brains. Good thing you're not such a prig about sex."
He laughed, a throaty smoker's laugh, and then he was gone again.
Something weird just happened in real time. I heard a noise that sounded like a small animal ... but nothing gets into this house, and certainly not into my den bedroom. No smell of cigar smoke ... just the rattling noise ... but I shivered.
Well now I knew where I should start looking for answers. I decided to visit Sin City.
8:58 a.m. another 370 words ... and now I am really going to make banana bread.
Day 3 ... Tuesday, November 3 ... 3:29 a.m.
Chapter 5 The Women Come on their Own ...
For years I wished I could remember my dreams. Everyone dreams most nights, but I remember scraps of about two a year. Now my night visitors seem to come regularly, and not only do I remember the dreams, but they wake me up and my days now start at 2 or 3 a.m.
Tonight started the arrival of a procession of women. Not in a parade, not together ... but in sequence. They were my grandfather's discarded bimbos ... and they were as anxious to set me straight as he was to set me on my quest to avenge his murder.
The first to arrive was Mitzi, a woman about fifty but remarkably well preserved.. She wore an outfit Hedy Lamarr would have loved. Leopard skin body suit with a long swirling cape of creamy wolf fur. Her hair was a bouffant pouff of toasted meringue that matched perfectly. I was impressed.
"Where did you find it," I asked in amazement.
"In Montreal, of course. People think you have to go to New York or Paris, but everything's there in Montreal. You just have to look."
"I'm going on Thursday," I said. "Maybe I could find something for a wedding I'm going to."
"Better go on Saturday when the whole Chabanal is open to the public," Mitzi said. "But you won't have time for shopping anyway. You have a job to do.
"They're changing St. Laurence Main so fast these days you probably won't even be able to find the Cleopatra, and you really need to try to get in there before they clean up the whole red light district."
"Why?" I asked. "Why is that important?"
"It's the oldest strip joint in Sin City, and the girls there are all ages, some nearly as old as you. Someone will be able to help you."
"Help me what?"
"Find the truth."
"I was going to visit the big art gallery on Sherbrooke. He liked art."
Mitzi laughed. "Paul liked flesh and blood women way more than he liked pictures of them, Doll. And I hear you ain't allowed to touch pictures ... Besides the women in those frames don't kiss back."
She started to fade, and I pulled her back with a question. "What happened to you after he died?"
Mitzi gave me a wink. "I married one of my rich Johns. I was one of the lucky ones whose dream came true ... saved by Prince Charming."
Before I could ask whether her afterlife was one big shopping spree she had disappeared.
As I dozed off I could see a decrepit wraith emerging from a tunnel. I was instantly awake. "Who the hell are you," I asked trembling. She was filthy. No sugar daddy in her lifetime and no fashion district in her hereafter.
"Helen," she said. "I was one of your grandpa's piano girls."
"What happened to you? Your hair ..." I began. I looked at the greasy straggle of grey that clung to her scalp.
"I lived on the street ... no need to keep up appearances there."
"Which street?" I asked. I know, stupid question. What did it matter which street. No street in Montreal in the thirties would have provided her with a chance to bathe.
"I haven't got a lot of time for chit chat. They ration time out, you know."
A hint of exasperation raised one eyebrow and she emitted a hissing click as her tongue flitted behind blackened front teeth. "Just listen," she sighed. "You have to go to Stanley Street, just below Ste. Catherine. The Chez Paree."
"Isn't that where they used to have a burlesque show?"
"Yeah. It's a high class strip joint now. No touching allowed."
"What will I find out there?"
"Talk to the girls. There's over sixty of them there and they've still got all their marbles."
"How could they know anything? They'll be young."
"There's at least one who's carrying on the family trade. Most strippers hide what they do from their kids. But there's the odd one who was lucky herself and figures the fastest way to the top is by being good on the bottom." She leered grotesquely.
"How did you end up so badly, Helen?" I asked.
"Me? I trusted the wrong guy. By the time he finished with me I'd lost most of my teeth, and couldn't hear out of one ear ... and I had the clap. Couldn't work. No one wants a broken down whore."
"It wasn't my grandfather, was it?" I had to know.
"No. Paul was a bastard in his own way, but he was good to all his girls for a couple of months. His problem was he had no staying power. Always needed a new fix, a new girl."
"Today he'd be a coke addict," I guessed.
"Not sure. He played with hashish and other drugs back then, but his addictions were women and horses, and I'm not even too sure about the gambling."
"Who do you think killed him?" I asked her.
"I know who killed him, honey."
And then she vanished leaving behind a whiff of something vile, like a terrible disease ... decades of filth and degradation ... the disease of poverty.
I opened the window to let in the frigid night air. Kenya stirred, raised her head, and then flopped back down with a deep sigh.
I checked my email, discovered the one I'd been looking for, and relaxed myself. Time to pee and go back to sleep for what was left of the night. It was 5 a.m. and I had a class at 10:30 in Ottawa.
It was almost 8 when Kenya nudged me awake. I rolled out of bed straight into the shower. I fed Kenya and let her out by herself and then spent the the rest of my time looking for my keys. Nowhere. Damn, I hate getting old. Those keys evade me on a daily basis and I always manage to avoid the one pocket in which they are lurking. Yes, yes, I know, if I'd just hang them up on the hook by the front door, get into the habit, I'd stop losing them and I wouldn't have to deal with the damned hot flash that suffuses my entire body every time I panic. At nine, I gave up the search, took the extra car key out of its secret place, gulped down half a cup of tepid tea and headed off to my class.
Five minutes from home I was stopped by a traffic collision. A white car was in the ditch on the other side of the road, its nose down and its rear end pointing straight up. Metal bits and pieces were scattered all over the road on my side, and there were six vehicles with flashing lights parked higgledy piggledy all over the highway. After about three minutes of listening to Anna Maria Tremonti interviewing Armed Forces recruitment officers who skirted her questions with that infuriating obtuseness all bureaucrats manage, you know, where they avoid the question and keep repeating whatever party line has been agreed upon, the traffic started to move. A cop motioned our line forward, and I saw the truck for the first time. It was lying on its side in the field on the same side of the road as the car. Somebody must've been injured, if not killed, but all the emergency vehicles were from the fire and police departments. I guess the ambulance had come and gone already. The rest of the drive passed quickly. The Current featured an interview with the man who just published his secret conversations with Bill Clinton, and then I saw the first sign of Christmas in Ottawa. Some men in a truck were beginning to string lights on the trees near the Canal. I love Ottawa at Christmas.
The sketchbooking class was fun. We received gifts, watched a slide show, looked at a collection of journals and resources Michelle had brought, and did our very first drawing in our pristine sketchbooks. I tried out one of the ideas I'd seen in the most beautiful sketchbook on display. Mine fell somewhat short of its goal, but it was a definite improvement on any attempts I'd made before this class. I sat beside an old friend I hadn't seen for a long time. Had no idea she was taking the course. We arranged to go for lunch next week.
On my way home I stopped to make arrangements to pick up my language student the next morning, passed a hazardous waste truck which was cleaning up after this morning's accident, and then I was home. Both Kenya and Peter, the carpenter working on my house, were delighted to see me. I like days when I have a manageable schedule. As I age I find myself wanting to limit the number of things on my to do list each day, and a trip to town with only one or two stops suits me just fine.
I began a calm search for the missing keys, and found them in my yellow rain slicker. Then I gathered up the recycling and took it up the hil and opened the car trunk where I knew I had a couple of large items from my last overwhelming shopping trip. When I picked up the laundry detergent and the green garbage bags I discovered the now mouldy raspberries I'd forgotten four days before. I hate getting old.
And of course Grandpa has no concept of old. He was under forty when he bought it. He thinks it will be easy for me to discover all the details about his death. But I'm no Nancy Drew, and the family history, like its family, is very sparse.
I don't have a clue when he died. I can make an educated guess that it was somewhere between 1929 and 1932, but it was pure luck that I figured out that it happened in Montreal. Or was it? I wonder if they have some kind of rule book wherever he and the bimbos are now? Not allowed to tell anyone here on earth anything directly or something.
And he has no concept of tight money either. A day trip to Montreal by train is going to set me back over a hundred bucks. I can tell you straight out, I won't be making many of those trips, especially at this time of year in a twelve year old car that can't make it all the way up my road once the snow falls.
And I need more sleep than the old goat's been letting me get lately too. 4:17
November 4, 2009 6 a.m.
No Dreams ...
A weird thing happens when a quest of any kind becomes the focal point of life. It happens when I begin to follow any interest. It used to happen all the time when I was still working. It always happens when I am immersed in writing or my newest hobby: painting funky furniture. Everything I do begins to relate in some way to my obsession.
I lose my own life, and instead begin to follow leads. Life becomes a bit like following maze paths. If I am lucky I will discover that I'm in a labyrinth, not a maze.
My grandfather's quest for justice has become my quest for the truth, my newest obsession. And I feel as if I am lost in his maze.
Fortunately or unfortunately, I also have a life of my own that demands my attention, and so occasionally I escape from the maze.
Last night provided me with one such psychic escape; I slept dreamlessly ... at least I think I did. The old goat will likely haunt me at some time today, but I have a busy morning planned, so perhaps he will wait until afternoon when I return from the hike/English lesson/closing luncheon.
Providing English language training to a man a few years younger than myself, one who is charming and would rather play than work on his vacation, seems to be a very decadent way to earn money. I know that Klaus will likely learn at least as much English from talking to people as he would from a formal lesson, so I don't feel nearly as guilty as I might.
I am beginning to sound like Grandpa.
Grandpa's philosophy was based on being good company, having a good time himself, and sharing his joie de vivre with the ladies. Did he harm them? Not if they understood that during the short time he was here he would flit from flower to flower displaying his colourful charm to all who were lucky enough to be touched by him. A butterfly, not an elephant.
I thought of a walk I took once while traveling. I sauntered along a path following the erratic movements of a bright blue butterfly. I remember the torturous climb to the path. I remember the crowds that thinned once I got there. I remember the vendors selling junk on the way up and the ones selling drinks at intervals along the road. I remember Peggy's demands that I photograph her on yet another marathon physical challenge after she'd jogged ahead. But I also remember the beauty of the view beyond the wall.
Most often though, I remember that butterfly. Every other butterfly I have seen since then has reminded me of the glorious landscape through which we passed as we made our purposeless way along the cobbled road of the Great Wall of China.
If I discovered who killed my Grandpa, what would I do? Whoever did it would be just as dead as he is now. It was beginning to seem a very silly undertaking.
"No quest is silly, woman," rumbled that now familiar voice.
I looked around for the source. I sniffed the air. Nothing.
"Good grief, have you decided to haunt my waking hours like some vile ear worm?"
There was no response.
"A quest is supposed to help you find the courage you lack," I said aloud. "I don't think I am cowardly."
"A quest is a journey in which the adventurer discovers something far more important than the treasure he seeks," he finally answered.
"What did you learn on your own quest?" I asked.
He laughed, "What quest? I was a butterfly, remember?"
7:14 ... another hour another 600 words.
The characters are leading me astray ... but that's okay ...
November 6, 2009
Day 6 of Nanowrimo
6,999/50,000 words so far.
The First Montreal Research Trip
That man has no concept of old age. Or of having to live within your means. He arrived in the middle of the night bellowing like a bloody calf caught in a roll of barbed wire. "Good lord, woman, you spent an entire day in Montreal and you accomplished nothing."
I pointed out that that I left home at 7:30 in the morning and didn't arrive in Montreal till almost noon; that I couldn't get to his work until after my appointment at 1:30.
Then the barrage started. Why hadn't I taken taxis instead of walking for miles on end lugging a heavy briefcase?
"You looked like an idiot switching it from one hand to the other all afternoon."
"No one walks from Mansfield and Dorchester to Amherst ... "
" ... and then back to the Main and up past Sherbrooke, past Moishe's, past god knows what else ... and then backtracks back to Sherbrooke, past McGill, to Mansfield and down to Dorchester again. What were you thinking?"
"It's Rene Levesque .."
"Why in hell would they give a perfectly good street a peas soup name?
I started to explain, but he cut me off. "No bloody wonder you were tired. You walked about ten miles going nowhere."
"And what in the name of god were you doing with that old man and the dogs?"
I tried to push him away but my hand encountered cold air. I snuggled back in under the duvet.
"Well?" came the relentless voice.
"I walked," I said evenly, " because I see more when I am on foot. And I had time to kill before the appointment."
"But, coming b..."
I broke in, "I don't have money for taxis, Grandpa. And I knew I wanted to stop on St. Laurent to see what was left of the tenderloin. I wanted to see Cleopatra's."
"You wasted about ten minutes with that filthy old man and those smelly creatures," he retorted.
"I stopped to give him some money to help feed them. You wouldn't get that either, I guess. He has seven dogs and a cat living with him. And they are all healthy. He's begging for money to keep them that way."
"I noticed that you didn't look any too clean yourself on the train going home. It was probably because you kept touching that yellow cur. I was embarrasssed to be seen with you."
" No one saw you," I said through teeth clenched so hard my jaw ached almost as much as my knees.
"Why didn't you ask to go into the Cleopatra? You were so damned close to finding some answers and you were too stupid to realize it."
If I'd been sitting up, I'd have hung my head. He was right. One of the aging "girls" was right there talking to the door man. I asked them how long the Cleopatra had been there and learned that it had started in 1975; that it replaced a whole series of clubs dating back to the late nineteenth century. They were friendly, especially the woman, and more than willing to talk to me.
But I didn't ask to go inside. And I didn't ask any personal questions. I shied away from the hard parts. Fine detective I was revealing myself to be.
"I know," I said. "I'm sorry about that. Really I am."
Instead of giving me any slack, the old man kept on badgering me.
Why had I turned back before I got to the fashion district, the Chez Paree, the art museum? Any one of those might have given me some leads, some insights into his life in Montreal.
Why, for god's sakes had I eaten at the station and taken an earlier train home?
"I was fucking tired, that's why," I yelled. Kenya stood up and came over to the bed on sleepy legs. I stroked her head. "And I was hungry and my knee was aching." I was beginning to whine.
"When are you going back?" he asked coldly.
When was I? Was I? If there was a next time, I'd plan it better than this trip. Bill was going to Montreal in a few weeks. Maybe he could do some of my research. He'd have fun doing the Cleopatra part. And it was the part I couldn't imagine doing myself. I'd ask him and provide him with the questions I wanted answers to. Bill always wanted to be a reporter. Here was his chance.
Grandpa must have been satisfied by my decision because he disappeared, allowing me to sleep.
In the morning, I emptied the briefcase I'd carted around all day on the bed. Its contents spilled over the duvet: a novel, a pencil case, an art magazine I'd bought but not opened, a hair brush that was just as unused, a camera, a calendar, a case containing documents, more documents, a brown envelope, and two black journals, one enormous and heavy, the other small and likely the only one I should have brought. Last to tumble out was the only colourful offering, a splash of yellows and orange — an almost finished pair of socks for a big footed grandson. i hadn't touched it all day.
I opened the enormous journal, the one fom my sketchbooking class. In it I had recorded two horoscopes from two different papers, some advice for writers from a CBC interview with Arthur Black I'd heard enroute to the station (carry a glue pen), a couple of ragged clippings including 2 photos, one of a sad hairless bear in a German zoo, the other of John Crosbie with Prince Charles and Camilla ... Crosbie making a political statement by wearing a sealskin coat. I made a mental note to carry a glue stick in my pencil case from now on. Most of the news in both the Globe and the Citizen focused on the dismantling of the gun registry and H1N1. I've decided not to bother. Get the shot that is ... I hate guns.
My itinerary was neatly printed on the right hand side of the page. The rest was an untidy hodge podge of notes and sketches. My sketchbooking teacher would not have been impressed.
The next page was more pleasing to the eye ... and about half of it related to the train trip ... a house with peeling paint where we stopped on a siding ... a graveyard ... graffiti ... the city skyscape on the north side of the tracks ... notes about the cluttered neighbourhoods on the other side. The rest dealt with Montreal on foot ... the smells of cigarette smoke and chocolate ... the statue of Mary wearing a crown of Christmas lights that looked as if they were as prickly as thorns ... the old man and his passel of mixed breed dogs ... the rounded statue of hugs at the corner of Amherst and Rene Levesque ... lunch at the pudding cafe on Amherst ... a map of my circuitous and torturous route ... and complaints about my weariness as I ate supper at the Planet Deli. The last time I ate there, my daughter was with me ... it was years and years ago.
And then there was the phrase: Collins Funeral Home 1975. Irrelevant. Misplaced. An orphan.
That's where my mother's funeral was held. My husband and two daughters. A handful of people I didn't know. A closed coffin. Johnny, her second husband, seeming lost. Grant, the 25 year old half brother I didn't know, being charming and competent. Not much of a send-off.
And you, my dear grandfather, the one who is now so determined to impose on family, where were you all her life? You didn't even live with her mother ... and her mother passed on the responsibility of giving your daughter a home to your parents.
"No one could have lived with that woman," he said. I hadn't realized till I heard his voice that he was in the room.
"She was older than I was, and more experienced. She tricked me into marriage by getting pregnant and going to my parents. They insisted that I marry her."
"What did you want to do?" I asked. "Have her get a back alley abortion?"
There was no answer.
I continued. "Is that what you did with all your floozies when you impregnated them?
"Of course. They knew what to do. And I was generous."
"Just think," I mused, "I could have had all kinds of aunts and uncles. Instead of sodden masses of dead fetuses."
"Don't be disgusting."
"You're disgusting," I said. "How many of those women died as a result, or do you know?"
"One died. One became infertile." His voice was unusually subdued.
"How fortunate for you," I sneered. "Why didn't my grandmother have an abortion?"
"She said she wanted a child."
"But she never looked after my mother. And she couldn't stand me."
"She tricked me. And my parents. She was a bitch. I told you."
"I think you two deserved each other."
"Maybe we did, maybe we did ..." His voice, suddenly tired, floated away, and I was left alone looking at the messy clutter on the bed.
The next page in the journal was all text. My final notes on the trip. Everything on the street except for the Cleopatra is abandoned, boarded up, being prepared for gentrification. Grandpa's right. I don't have much time before they will have cleaned up all the remnants of the ghosts who used to play on this street. There are some notes on the people I talked to. He had a hacking smoker's cough. She smoked too but she kept her face made up, looked hardened, but not unhealthy. Of course, make-up gives the illusion of healthy colour. Then there were some figures. The whole trip cost me $139 even without taking taxis.
But I am glad I saw the outside of the Cleopatra, and that I had even a brief conversation with the people who work there.
Funny that Grandpa couldn't understand my spending a few minutes having a real conversation with a destitute old man and his dogs, but he spent most of his adult life with people society has always labeled as trash.
I'm ticked off with myself for not really talking to them the way I talked to the old man, for feeling shy about intruding by having a real conversation about what matters to them. Surely to god my own morals are not getting in the way ... or are they?
Who decides whether a nurse who tricks a man into marriage and then abandons her child is better or worse morally than a whore who risks her life having an abortion to prevent the birth of an unwanted child?
Would my mother have been any unhappier if she'd been born to someone like the warm woman I just spoke to?
Would I have been if I had been descended from such a woman?
One thing is sure, though. I am here because my mother was not aborted. If my grandfather had had his way he'd have nobody to bug about getting revenge for his murder.
November 8, 2009
Day 8 Nanowrimo
Well, I wasted a whole day yesterday ... wandered around feeling weepy about the news from Pat, wishing my legs were not aching, and worrying about going to the wedding feeling sick and down. I walked Kenya around the lake and felt even worse. And then I did the only sensible thing I'd done all day. I phoned the groom and said I didn't think I would make it to the wedding; that I was going to take a hot bath and have a sleep and then decide. As soon as I made the call, I felt as if a weight had been lifted. The bath was pleasant but neither sleep inducing nor reviving, so I curled up with a movie and a bowl of nuts.
The first movie was The Soloist. I didn't realize it was going to be about living on the street with mental health issues, and I found myself thinking about the old man and his dogs, and then about my friend who collects photos for story ideas. We call his collection his "Old Men and Dog Pictures". He's the friend I will likely ask to help me find out more about the history of the red light district.
Just as the nuts turned into a supper of junk food, and the first glass of wine into more, one movie led to another. The second, Silent Night, was about a hiatus at Christmas during World War Two ... not the one I expected, when the troops on both sides decided on a temporary truce ... but one in which a German woman imposes a truce as a condition to allowing soldiers to share her accommodation on Christmas Eve. There were the stereotypes of course ... and both German and American soldiers changed in predictable ways as they recognized the humanity of their enemies, but it was more than simply a sentimental movie. The woman made her stand because she recognized that her son was being swayed to the prevailing view of the enemy as a cardboard villain figure, and she wanted him to think for himself ... and stay alive rather than becoming fodder for this ugly war machine that was now swallowing its children.
I thought about my own German roots, and about my grandfather with the aristocratic Aryan blood flowing through his veins but very little evidence that he was anything but a rich spoiled American playboy. I knew there had to be more than this stereotype, that he had to be feeling something when he acted thoughtlessly ... but I had no idea how to find the key to the real and complex human being that Paul Donat must have been.
I turned off everything downstairs and went to bed at 8:30. Some time between then and 4:45 when I awakened in the morning, I had visitors.
Grandpa was in his usual snarly critical mood. "You drink too much to get anything accomplshed," he accused me.
"I know," I said, "But I do get things done. Just not what you seem to expect me to do."
"You didn't even go to your friends' wedding, for god's sake. Stayed home and guzzled wine and ate beans and toast. Were you trying to pretend you were being forced to eat the American k-rations in the film?"
I laughed. "It was the only tinned food I had that could be heated quickly."
"Not a good habit to get into," he retorted. And then he got down to the real reason for his visit. If I could find one of Eva's daughters or grandchildren, I might learn more about what happened to him.
"Did Eva shoot you?" I asked.
"Of course not," he snorted. "Eva loved me."
"They all loved you," I said, "but one of them killed you."
He looked startled. "What makes you say that?"
"It makes sense. You treated all of them as if they were disposable. As soon as the newness wore off you threw them away." I paused and then continued, "And you had a very short attention span. It took almost no time for the sheen to wear off."
"That's not entirely true," he said. "Talk to Eva."
"Eva will have to decide to come to me, Grandpa. I can't conjure up ghosts."
"Don't be too sure of that," he said as he left, and then added, "And don't call me Grandpa. I hate it."
Eva didn't come, but Mitzi dropped in. This time she was wearing a leopard skin coat over a revealing low cut black sheath. Her shoes were black patent with leopard skin heels. How did other women do it?
My spare bed was covered in clothing and shoes, and I would not have been able to put together a single outfit suitable for a wedding. The only black shoes I owned were laced up suede oxfords and the only outfit that matched my somewhat suitable brown shoes was an old pair of brown slacks and a patterned silk jacket I'd bought in Beijing about five years ago.. Several silk camisoles were splayed across them. Before I elected to stay home, I had finally decided to wear one of the black outfits with the sporty black oxfords I'd brushed in an attempt to hide their age, and hope that no one noticed.
"Your hair looks nice," she said. "Too bad you had to waste a good haircut in front of a small screen though.".
"I was beat," I said. "Did you know Eva?"
"Everyone knew Eva; she didn't work in the clubs, but she knew all the girls."
"What did she do for a living?" I asked.
"She was some kind of community worker. Ran a soup kitchen kind of place just for women and kids. When the girls were down on their luck they ate there. Sometimes she put them up for a few days. Not sure where she got her money from. I don't think it came from the city. Maybe she had a rich daddy."
"Did she know my grandfather well?"
"As well as anyone, I guess. But she wasn't one of his girls, if that's what you mean."
"He said she had kids; that they might know something."
"Yeah, maybe. I never met her kids. Not likely she'd have brought them down to the Main."
"I wonder if my grandfather did anything besides gamble and date pretty girls."
"He had a wife."
"I know, but he didn't live with her."
"She was a real humdinger, from everything I've heard."
I waited for her to elaborate. She didn't disappoint me.
"She was very beautiful ... classy looking ... even though she didn't have lots of dough. She was a nurse, you know, but not one that worked in a hospital wearing a uniform and clunky shoes. She went to people's homes and looked after them there. And she stayed there. Boarded like. Got to meet lots of rich people and their families that way.. That's how she met Paul. She looked after his mother."
"I remember someone telling me that now."
"She was smart, smarter than Paul. And she was different from the girls he was used to."
I raised a questioning eyebrow.
"The girls in the clubs took it all off right away. She held back like a good stripper. And I hear she teased him with tiny little peeks, just accidental, you know, for months before she started to date him. And even then it took him a long time to get into her panties."
"I'm surprised he didn't just say the hell with it." I said. "He sure didn't need to wait around for a cocktease. He had plenty of women willing to give him what he wanted."
Mitzi raised her own eyebrow, and whistled. "Boy you sure don't know much about men, do you? She was very good at holding back and just giving him enough to want more ... and then pulling back again. By the time he finally got her into bed, he was completely infatuated. And more important, so was his mother. She was like a member of the family."
"Why did he marry her if he could have had the sex without it, I wonder."
"She was a nurse, honey. She made sure she got pregnant right away. From what I heard, it took her only a month to get in a family way."
"Good thing," I mused. "His relationships lasted an average of two months. But he'd got women pregnant before. Why did he marry her?"
"His parents insisted. Told him he had a responsibility. And from what I heard his mother really wanted a grandchild."
"She could have had lots of them if she hadn't financed the abortions."
"This one was different. This baby would have a nurse for a mother."
"And maybe she thought Paul would settle down if he got married," I said.
"Yeah, but she hadn't really known the real Marie either," said Mitzi. "As soon as that baby was born Marie was back out working and the baby girl lived with her grandparents."
"How did Paul like that?"
"I think he was relieved. He was back in the clubs within two months of the marriage, and he didn't have anything good to say about Marie. My guess is she began to show her true colours as soon as she had the wedding ring on her finger."
"He said she was a bitch."
"The only person who really knew her was Eva. I saw photos and I heard she wasn't nearly as maternal as she pretended to be, but I didn't know her personally."
I wondered how I might conjure up Eva. I decided to do some research on soup kitchens in that area.
And then, Eva arrived ...
I'd been dreaming already when she arrived so silently I wasn't aware that she was there for some time. It had started with another "get back to work on your funky furniture" nagging dream. Then I found myself at The Well, an Anglican women's day centre, which had commissioned one of the chairs. That dream setting morphed into another women's centre, this one in Mongolia where Didi Kalika, an Australian woman, has set up orphanages, homes and work centres for orphaned teeenaged girls who had been forced onto the street, and a kindergarten for her orphans and the children in the slum neighbourhood where her own centres were located. The last I had heard, she had just opened a soup kitchen for destitute women and their children. It was hard to keep up with Didi's lifework. I am not sure which of her projects I was in when I saw the woman. I held a baby in my arms and was talking one of the girls when I noticed the quiet grey clad figure standing in the doorway. She was dressed in a dove grey suit and wore sensible shoes. She was not Mongolian. Still carrying the baby, I walked over to her.
"Hi," I said. "Are you a volunteer from one of the western countries?"
She smiled. "I guess you could call me that."
"What do you do here?"
"I came to see you," she replied. "I heard you were looking for me."
I must have looked confused because she went on in her soothing voice. "I followed you to The Well when I heard you wanted to see me, but you didn't notice me there."
A wet nurse relieved me of the infant and we sat down on the tiny orange and blue chairs intended for the toddlers' tea time. My sore knees groaned, but she seemed perfectly comfortable.
"So you're a Canadian volunteer," I said.
"With VSO?" I asked.
"The Anglican Church," she murmured.
I don't handle the mix of religiosity and volunteer work overseas too well but I decided to be polite. After all Didi was a Buddhist nun and look at all the good she does.
"I didn't know the Anglicans had a mission in Ulaan Baatar."
"We don't," she said. "I'm only here because you are."
"Me?" My face must have been dialed to zero, like my brain.
"I'm Eva," she said. A few old friends have been telling me you need to talk to me."
"My grandfather?" I asked.
‘Him too ... and Mitzi ... and Marie as well."
"How did you know Marie? I can't imagine she'd have been your type."
Now it was Eva's turn to look confused. "My type?"
"I just meant that you likely knew the women who came to your soup kitchen, and all your church friends, and maybe some of the people who hung around the Main, but my grandmother wouldn't have been in any bread line, and she sure as hell, oops, sorry, wasn't religious."
"I met your grandmother when she first came to Canada from Aberdeen," Eva said. "She was very young, still in her teens, and starting a new life in Toronto. She'd gone straight from school to a nursing programme at fourteen and after a few years, realized that she could have a better life if she emigrated."
"So how did you meet her?"
"I was running a home for unwed mothers, and she came to me pregnant, alone, and terrified."
"So I have an aunt or uncle, then," I cried.
‘The baby died during childbirth." Eva said quietly. "Marie stayed on and helped out for a few months, but the pay was poor, and she was anxious to get away from her own mistake."
"Is that when she started home care?"
"Yes. It paid pretty well and she didn't have to worry about room and board."
"And she met rich people," I intervened.
"Yes," said Eva. "Marie wanted more than she would ever have as a working woman."
"Not so different from the women who turned tricks on the Main."
"You're pretty hard on her."
"I knew her. I remember a woman who abandoned her daughter and who hated the only grand daughter she ever had. It was a pretty strong impression ... it's lasted for 65 years."
"Her life wasn't easy. She may have finagled a way into a rich family but she didn't have a happy life."
"My grandfather was right. She was a bitch."
"And you're pretty hard on him too, aren't you?"
"He treated women like garbage. He took what he wanted then threw them away."
"He was human, my dear. He had his faults but there was more to him than his reputation suggests."
"You loved him, didn't you?"
"Yes," she said. "I did."
"But you didn't sleep with him."
"No. I was already married when I met him. To the man I loved my entire life. I didn't love him the way you mean. I knew Paul slightly in Toronto, but it was when I moved to Montreal and began to work at the soup kitchen that I got to really know him." She began to unfold a tale of a man I would not have recognized as my grandfather. A man who brought clients to her and asked for shelter and food for them, pressing a handful of bills into her hand each time.
"Probably just sin money," I scoffed. "He got them into trouble and then they couldn't work."
"No," she said. "He brought me ancient old hags who desperately needed help, not just women he might have found attractive. And women who were several months pregnant and unable to sustain another life. There was a great generosity in Paul."
"Why did he take such pains to hide it?" I mused.
"I'm not sure," Eva smiled. "But when Al Capone started up a soup kitchen during the depression, he told the whole world about it. Your grandfather didn't seem to need to whitewash himself no matter what you think about his reasons for his actions, good and bad."
"Maybe he should have. He left behind a pretty black reputation."
"Paul was who he was."
"Who killed him?" My question hung unanswered in the dark air of my bedroom. Eva was gone.
I got up for a drink of water and wondered where I needed to go next. I did have to solve the murder, it seems. How he died might lead me to the answers I needed about how he lived.
Total Now ... 11,633November 9, 2009
Day 9 of Nanowrimo
Nothing, it seems, is simple.
I prepared some work for Klaus, my German student, and ran it into the village. CBC Radio was celebrating the 20 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall by pointing out the schisms that exist all over the world, including ones between former East and West Germans in the now re- unified Germany. I thought of the tensions between Germans and Turks that Klaus fears may cause terrible problems in Germany. He sees examples of intolerance daily and wonders where it will all lead.
I thought about all the rifts in my own family, the examples of intolerance, the walls that needed to be torn down. We have a pretty bleak history too.
My Scottish grandmother, the nurse, came back into my mother's life for a brief time to create a hell for my German father. It was war time, 1940, when Imy mother delivered me in a difficult Caesarian section. My father had lost his job because he was a German, and so he stayed home to look after my convalescent mother and me. My grandmother arrived one Sunday morning to find my mother serving him breakfast in bed as a treat. That set my grandmother on a mission of hatred and intolerance. She went all over the neighbourhood screaming imprecations against the dirty lazy German who was forcing a frail wife out of her sick bed to wait on him.
No wonder I find it hard to forgive her for her sour nastiness. My only connections with her were negative and showed her in an ugly light. She was the woman who dressed beautifully, wore veils through which she gave perfunctory kisses, and fox furs with tiny little heads with sharp teeth hanging where a soft bosom might have been expected .
She was the woman who threw Christmas presents in people's faces ... because they were the wrong size or colour ... because her grand daughter was squinting against the sun, not smiling in the photo.
Eva met her when she was vulnerable and needed help. I saw her when she had clawed her way to some kind of stability through deception, when her whole raison d'etre was to cling to it. Still vulnerable, I guess, because life was precarious. But I wonder what might have become of her if she had partnered with Eva, if she had given of herself to those who needed help more than she did.
Some people believe that if you ask you will receive. I believe that if you give, you are more likely to reap benefits you never anticipated. My grandmother seems to have lived her life according to a more Scroogelike philosophy.
On-line, yesterday, I read of a book I want to get hold of, Saved by Karin Winegar. It's about rescued animals and the humans they more subtly rescue. I thought of Remi, the Golden Doodle I have known since he was a six week old puppy, the two and a half year old dog who will join my household this evening. Remi snapped at his baby, likely out of fear and exasperation, perhaps clumsily. Remi loves Lucas and is one of the softest dogs I know so it was not out of viciousness. Lucas is almost ten months old and he pulls hair and ears hard. But Remi has to go because Sarah can't take a chance, not with Lucas nor with the other babies she looks after for a living these days. So I am taking him in for a couple of months until everyone has a chance to make some final decisions. I wonder if Remi will save me ... and from what.
Was Eva saved by the women she rescued? I thought of her when I learned this morning that a 61 year old woman burned to death last night in a fire at a women's centre in Ottawa. It wasn't the Well where my wonky women reside, but another Anglican shelter, the Cornerstone. The Anglicans continue their long history of concern for homeless women, it seems.
And did Grandpa earn a place in heaven with his efforts to help women? Would those acts of kindness have cancelled out all the acts of self indulgence? Is there some kind of cosmic scale?
I wrote the other day about someone I care about, some who inspired me to scrawl on the corner of a page your cowardice makes you cruel. And I elaborated wth a string of adjectives including the one he shares with Grandpa: self absorbed.
One part of me wants to let things slide, to enjoy what we can have, because he's more than a self absorbed coward; he's someone with many qualities I love. The other, more sensible part of me, tells me to build walls, end it before I can be hurt. I wish things were simpler.
Eva would likely tell me to be more accepting of human frailty.
My friend Pat wrote last month: "No advice, I'm afraid. Just hold on to a small corner of your heart that is for you alone. I have everything available crossed for you. XXXX"
Just as I have everything available crossed for her.
One more mystery, and probably more important than discovering how my grandfather died ... and lived.
But who knows? Perhaps if I give him what he is asking for I will learn something I need to know.
You Could Start By Realizing that Everything is 50% Good and 50% Bad ...
My father's ghost! No dream. I'm wide awake and he's been dead for almost fifteen years, but I'd recognize that voice and that line anywhere. And he was the embodiment of his philosophy.
If ever I had a love-hate relationship with anyone, it was with him.
First he orphaned me by taking me away from my mother and putting me in a foster home. Then he went to live 1200 miles away so I had neither parent. After a few years, my mother attempted to see me , and he immediately imprisoned me in a boarding school ... an Anglican boarding school, where the all-female staff showed none of Eva's nurturing love of their gender. When I was released two years later he let me grow up unparented for two more years. One day he actually looked at me and discovered I had become a little ruffian wearing a gash of red lipstick for a mouth out of which issued forth most unladylike language. He sent for my East German grandmother who arrived as a new immigrant with no English and was handed an impossible charge to civilize. Poor woman she couldn't cope herself; however was she to tame me?
And yet, I never doubted that my father loved me. Or perhaps I didn't dare imagine something that unthinkably frightening.
And my grandmother loved her son more than he deserved too.
A few years later, after he had wrung all that was useful to him out of her he sent her back to Germany to die ... not to her home in Saxony where she might have died among friends, but to a rooming house in West Germany where she locked herself into a tiny room for the last four days of her life.
Years later my father redeeemed himself by being a better grandfather than he had been a father and suddenly taking great pride in the adult daughter he had ignored throughout her entire childhood. I really was loved by my father in his last years. But it was too late for him to make it up to my grandmother.
Were those years enough to gain him entrance to heaven? That scale still seems pretty unbalanced to me.
And what about my mother?
Was she blameless in all this? She ran around. She had enough of her father's genes to look for gaiety and fun in life, and she wasn't used to the poverty they lived in as a young couple with a child. That doesn't excuse my father of course. She didn't deserve to lose her only child.
She had other excuses as well. She had grown up in her grandparents' home with neither a mother nor a father ... with money and the love of very old people. They spoiled her ... let her run wild ... didn't attempt to teach her responsibility. These were the people who had raised Grandpa to be a playboy. It must have been easy for her to choose to play instead of being a helpmate. And perhaps it seemed normal to her to give away her five year old daughter; after all, her mother had given her away when she was still a baby.
My half brother told me, when he was in his mid forties and I ten years older, that the affection I so desperately wanted and needed was all lavished on him. I was starved and he was drowned in our mother's love.
One hell of a family tree, eh?
A playboy grandfather, a bitch grandmother ... their child abandoned by both.
A playgirl mother and a possessive father who could be coldly cruel.
And on my father's side, no relatives at all except his mother ... his father killed in WW1 ... he'd left any vestiges of family behind when he left Germany in 1929 ... and after WW2, no way back to the past because the world's heaviest fortified wall had been erected splitting his homeland into East and West.
Maybe Eva is right. Maybe I should start forgiving all these poor lost souls who screwed up so badly ... and maybe by doing so I could learn to forgive myself too.
Maybe we are all just doing the best we can. Maybe that's what everyone does ... the best she can ... at the time.
And yes, my father was right ... nobody ... nothing ... is either perfectly good or perfectly bad.
No matter what choices I have left to make, there will never be any simple answers. All the choices we make in life are Sophie's choices.
November 9, 2009
All's well that is going to end well ...
Remi arrived with a large bag of food, dishes, various collars and leashes ... all the paraphanalia well loved dogs acquire. He and Kenya have been playing pretty well non-stop, but always indoors because I don't want to let them out unleashed tonight.
It is hunting season and one of my neighbours gutted a deer he shot yesterday, and dumped the liver, lights and intestines on his tiny property well within smelling distance of the road. I had one hell of a time getting Kenya away from the bloody mess this afternoon and I don't want either one of them getting into it. I will go out with the car tomorrow morning as soon as it is light and shovel it into a garbage bag and deposit it in a can with a secure locking lid.
I must have looked like a complete idiot as I chased her around, her leash in one hand and a large stick in the other. No, I wasn't about to beat her. I wanted to chase her away from the tantalizing mess and tempt her with a stick she could chase. Eventually I tricked her into playing tug'o'war with the stick and then got her collar on. Later Peter let her out and she headed back toward the smelly treat, but came when I called and was rewarded with her best cookie.
We've been out several times this evening and now both dogs have settled in for the night, Kenya on her pillow on the floor and Remi on my bed. In the morning Kenya will oust him, but politely, and Remi will accede and let her take his place quite happily. Of all the dogs I look after Remi is one of the easiest to have around. He is part of the family and has been all his life.
And he is a well loved dog so I am sure that his family will figure out some way to keep him with them and ensure that the baby is safe. They are responsible people who have learned some lessons from this scare, not people who abdicate their responsibilities on a whim.
Sometimes a dog's life looks pretty good in contrast to the fortunes of some people. It all depends on the luck of the parental draw, it seems.
another 368 words before bed 9:26
November 10, 2009
Day 10 By the end of today I should have produced over 17000 words ... that means that to get on track I need to write over 5000 today ... hmmn!
Not likely, not with this to-do list looming:
Get rid of the deer's offal
Take the dogs for a long walk
Leave for sketcbooking class at 9:30
Return around 2:30
Call Magma to get my email running again
And eric to find out where the hell my lamp base is
And Bill re money and Montreal trip
And Jean-Marc about a language exchange idea of his
I have a sketch I want to do for Le Hibou
And I have to write 3-4000 words ...
as well as eat and dress and dry clothes and feed and walk dogs a couple more times ...
I need more strength, not longer days.
What do I want to include today? I want to get Grandpa's plot moving forward ... and perhaps incourporate today's events into the narrator's plot ... Mark and Jean-Marc? ...
And I have to call Nolan to find out how Pat is doing.
Have you any idea how heavy the guts of a deer are??? I had to really wrestle them around to get them into a pail in a garbage bag and then double wrap and get the whole mess into a real garbage pail. And that is when I remembered that a deer's guts contain excrement ... green excrement. I held my breath all the way home. The shovel and bin were in the trunk but my hands were in the car with me. Yecch!
I ripped off the clothing the dogs found so fascinating and scrubbed every inch of me under a blasting shower until I could no longer remember the stench.
I still have to walk the dogs and pour javex on the offending shovel and grassy spot ... I hope that will be enough to deter the dogs. I don't want to have to keep them leashed or in the house for the next week. I really wish David and Leonard had left their mess a long way away.
After my class, I poured vinegar all over the area where the offending offal had been lying, and walked the dogs over to the mailboxes. They were still very interested, and it will likely take a good rainstorm to wash away the memory for good, but at least now they have nothing but vinegar to roll in or eat.
The class was a bit of a disappointment but not a total waste of time, and Liz and I had lunch together at the Green Door. She's being tested for a small stroke or seizure ... a TIA.
Goddamn ... we are all getting old suddenly.
On my drive home I composed an email I will likely not send. It was far too honest to actually write, and besides, email is a terrible medium for telling people what you think of them ... good or bad.
Dear Mark, it began ... I don't know quite how to say this, but I could have loved you ... indeed I was beginning to ... but now all your fine qualities that I love are being subsumed by your cowardice ... and when I think of you these days ... it is not love I feel but contempt.
When you told me about staying in a terrible job for twelve years because you were too afraid to quit I knew I could never have done that and couldn't understand how or why you would have thrown away twelve years of your life. But now you are about to do the same thing again. Different situation. But still you are willing to settle for a half life because you haven't the courage or strength to take a chance on happiness.
I hadn't realized how important courage was to me till now.
Danny's face floated before me ... a reminder of how I had loved his courage. He hadn't just saved me from rollerblading accidents; he'd stood up for me when a principle was at stake. Like my lovely Norwegian, principles mattered to Danny.
One night in a Norwegian cafe we drank beer and listened to a live band. At the next table a young women celebrated her last night of unmarried freedom by dancing on the table at her stag. A drunk at the next table began to harass them, and his hand snaked up the length of her leg to her panty line. Kjell stood up and very quietly put an end to it. Danny would have created a scene. Kjell was quietly courageous and bound by his principles.
Andrew wouldn't have made a fuss either. He'd have left the scene, left the girl dancing on the table to fend for herself. And I knew that when push came to shove, Andrew would leave me to fend for myself too. Andrew is a coward ... unwilling to stand up for himself let alone someone he loves.
725 words ... 1/7 of what I needed to write today ...
The dogs are squabbling all over my den... good ... I hope they wear themselves out so I don't need to walk them again. I think Kenya returned to the scene of the murder but Remi hung out with me so he hasn't had enough exercise today.
I gave Peter a recipe for Greeek pasta sauce and all the missing ingredients he needed ... and then settled in to watch a movie he'd recommended ... about Yugoslavia ... and the civil war ... so sad he had to take breaks.
Jean-Marc wants to talk to me about a language exchange idea of his ... Peter and I discuss movies, travel, food and dogs .... there are few things we disagree about ... so why do I continue to hope that Mark will smarten up?
Surely to god I am smart enough to realize that stripes don't change after 60. A coward will always run scared.