Category: sunday sketches

Push pins

My generation uses pins in maps of the world like notches in bed posts. They are a lists: Top Ten, Bucket List, look how far I’ve gone. They are our hand to play, our curriculum vitae: the course of life. Sometimes it ceases to be about travel, and the destination is paramount.

We grew up in a world more global than ever previously imagined. We live lives where it is no longer enough to be born, grow, and die in one place, or two. You’re nobody until you’ve been somewhere. We were all in a rush to put push pins in maps. Take photos around the world, send back postcards, collect your souvenirs and show them on the mantle. Is it it bragging, or trying to hold on to the feeling of freedom? Is it reminiscence, nostalgia, or vanity? Is it a search for this ideal we learned somewhere - the wanderer, free and lonely, wild and willing? Who is this person we all want to be? What is this epic that we all emulate?

The Caretaker

Joe finished with a satisfied pat of flat of his shovel on the fresh churned earth. He looked up. The leaves had turned to fire on the trees, red and orange maples, yellow oak trees, and the drooping willows just turning from green to yellow. The sky was clear and blue, and the air was just crisp enough to herald the coming winter. The early afternoon light streamed through the canopy, and it was peaceful.

As it ought to be.

Joe picked up his shovel and placed it in the empty wheelbarrow. He wheeled his way back to the little shed in the south corner. After he had returned everything to it’s place, Joe grabbed his lunch bag from the bench, and locked the door behind him. His keys didn’t jingle as he walked, and he didn’t whistle. His heavy-booted feet made almost no noise on the soft ground between the gravestones. After twenty years, Joe had instinctively become a silent guardian of the peace of this restful place.

He made his way through the rows of gravestones, some decorated with flowers, wilting in the autumn air, some empty. He reached the bench, and sat, his lunch bag on his lap.

“G’morning, Abe,” he said, nodding to the man beside him. Abe nodded back.

“Mornin’,” he replied, his wrinkled and spotted hands clasped in his lap. Joe unzipped his lunch bag, and pulled out a sandwich, carefully wrapped in wax paper, and just as he liked it: peanut butter and jam, with peanut butter on both pieces of bread and raspberry jam, not the seedless kind, generously sandwiched between. He handed it to Abe. Abe nodded his thanks, and bit into the sandwich.

Joe took out a second sandwich, just the same. He opened his thermos and poured two cups of tea. Still steaming, it was just as he liked it: milky and sweet.

“Leaves are starting to fall,” Abe said, between bites. Joe nodded.

“I’ll be raking all day tomorrow,” he replied.

“You ought to get them to buy you a leaf blower,” Abe suggested.  Joe shook his head.

“Wouldn’t be right,” he said, “Raking suits just fine. Maybe get a new rake this season, though.” Abe nodded in reply. The men sat in comfortable silence, with their sandwiches and tea. When they were done, Joe produced two cookies from the lunch, and shared one with Abe. As Joe rose to leave, to get back to work, he patted Abe’s arm.

“See ya tomorrow, Abe,” he said. Abe nodded.

“Tomorrow,” he confirmed. As Joe walked away, he turned back for a moment to watch Abe get to his feet and place a small stone on the top of the gravestone nearest the bench. The headstone lined with smooth pebbles in shades of grey, with hardly room for more.

Joe worked his way back through the graves, on his way to the shed. On some, the hyphen connected dates that were too close together; one had a new hair ribbon, pink and perfect, as always. Laureen had asked him once if these small graves made him saddest, if seeing a teddy bear or a toy placed on the cold ground was the hardest.

Joe knew better. There was no hierarchy of grief. Each stone marked a loved one, and that love was not tempered by time, or age, or the manner in which they died. Each stone bore the same weight on his soul, and Joe felt the gravity of each one.

The moon

I sparkle on the quiet ripples of the lakes, and filter through the shadows of tree leaves. The oceans run to meet me, like faithful dogs. I’m a lantern for furtive romances, a beacon for misadventurers. My friends are lost, lonely, sleepless. Wanderers like me. My greatest hope is that I bring them comfort, and light in the darkness. There is serenity in silver light that pierces the darkness. I wish to drive away the fear of night, but at times my power wanes. Or I am I caught behind curtains.

I no longer remember the time when the earth was new, and I know that now my light seems less bright from there. An eternal fear of darkness has lit up the nights in ways I couldn’t manage. It has driven the mystery to the shadows, and drowned serenity. But some times of year still belong to me, some moments are mine alone. The sleepless moments where you pace by the window, uncertain of changes, as you always are. The infinite moments of looking up at the sky and feeling part of a bigger whole. The passionate moments reserved for darkness, softened by my light. Those are the moments that we share. Moments of quiet and thoughtfulness.

I leave reluctantly at dawn.

The Door

It was there in the morning when Ma came downstairs, at dawn, to start the bread baking. It must have appeared in the dark of night, for when she woke Da he grumbled that everything had been normal when he blew out the last candle the night before. And was she sure she wasn’t imagining things?

It looked as much a part of the wall as if it had always been there. The wood was faded to the same degree as the floor boards. The brass handle was polished, flickering in the light of the hearth fire. It was a shock, that morning, and no one spoke much or took their eyes off of it as they broke their fast.

“Oak,” Da finally said, with a satisfied smile, as if that solved the mystery of the Door that had suddenly appeared in the kitchen overnight. Ma frowned.

“Oak? But that hardly makes any sense. There are no oak trees in these parts,” she said.

“All the same, ’tis made of oak,” Da said. He was concentrated on his breakfast now, and not the least concerned by the Door.

That night, as the sun set, they realized they could see a warm, steady light from underneath the door. Though the sun had set outside their window, the light underneath the Door was surely sunlight.

Benn Jr stood watch all night, never slept for even a wink. Something, he thought, Well, anything, could come through that door at any second. And why wasn’t Da concerned? The next morning, when he was so tired that he fell asleep behind a bale of hay for two hours, Da scolded him for being as silly as the girls.

The girls, after a short period of stunned silence, spoke of nothing but the Door for days. Sammie was as fearful as Ma. Neither ever turned their back to the Door, and spent as little time as they could in the kitchen, which meant that Da had too many dinners of cold meats and cheese for his liking. Tara talked through every plausible explanation - as if there could be a plausible explanation for the sudden appearance of a door in the middle of a wall in the middle of a kitchen in a house that was every kind of ordinary, most days.

Thea on a chair by the door, when no one else was looking, and listened closely. She hoped to hear a sound, and dreamed of hearing a voice. If she heard a voice, it could very well be the voice of her first true and tragic love. The Pyramus to her Thisbe. She waited, and listened, and dreamed of who might be on the other side of the Door.

Sometimes, during supper, Da would give it a sideways glance, when he thought no one was looking. He wondered. But he wasn’t a man who wondered, so he said nothing.

For weeks the family waited out their own private mystery, fearing, hoping, or puzzling an explanation. For months, they held out hope that something might Happen. No one ever tried the handle. No one ever peered underneath, or through the keyhole. For years, the children grew older and the youngest could hardly remember a time when there was no Door. Ma had long since forgotten her fear, and now swept the floorboards in front of the Door, pushing the crumbs underneath to save her back from bending down with the dust pan. Even Benn lost his conviction that Someone or Anything would come through the door, and returned to his bed down the hall.

One night, Da found himself in the kitchen, after blowing out the last candle. That was when he saw the light underneath the door go out, as if the Other Side had gone from day to night in an instant. He frowned. He had become used to the faint glow, accustomed to the fact that the kitchen was never fully dark. It had been years since he had stood in such darkness.

When they woke up the next morning, the Door was gone. They stared at the wall in stoney, unhappy silence.

January

The soft falling snow turned that moment into any moment - muffling the trappings of the present. Masking the pavement, covering 2013 in a blanket of white. A clean slate. It could be 1920 or 1830. It could be any moment in all of time. The time traveller enters the snow storm.

The snow flakes are soft and thick. Halfway through my thirty minute walk my coat, scarf, hat are white. My cheeks are rosy and wet. My eyelashes are laced with snowflakes, their presence softens the lights of the city, halos the streetlights and blurs the lines. It is brisk but not cold, my scarf and hat keep me insulated enough to feel the warmth of a fast walk on uneven ground.

The streets are quiet - muted by the snow, and emptier than usual for the same reason. There’s something about this snowfall that makes strangers smile at each other. Makes me sing under my breath as I walk. Makes me laugh when I arrive, covered from head to toe in snow, to meet him outside the restaurant. When I look up at him, through wet eyelashes, I can see he feels it to - the grace of this snowy night. I can see, for a moment, how he sees me - rosy, shiny, my eyes full of the delight of a perfect January night. I can see his feelings for me, brimming in his eyes. Blurred, haloed, softened.