The Ecological Citizen

There’s no doubt, people have a misplaced hatred for wasps. For the last few years, I’ve become fascinated by just how useful and beneficial wasps are for the environment.

For starters, wine drinkers should raise their glasses in a toast to this insect that makes it possible for us to enjoy wine. Farmers hire wasps by the thousands to protect crops.

And the next time you hang a wasp body bag, know that you’re targeting and killing the wrong insect. Wasps are on guard to protect your garden from real pests.

And so the story goes. Thrilled that The Ecological Citizen based in the U.K chose to publish The Opposites for their January issue.

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While you’re at it, check out my contributions to World Animal Foundation.

The Train Man 

I couldn’t believe it. But there he was, the handsome man I had met on the train in Germany three years earlier. I stood motionless as a still portrait of his attractive face was broadcast on the television. I know I stared, my mouth was surely agape; the mug in my hand crashed unceremoniously to the tile floor sending the dog scampering.

When I met him, he was eating a tomato and cheese sandwich. Such a strange little fact to remember, yet when I thought of him over the last three years, two things stood out for me, and the sandwich was one of them.

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I was on my way that day from Frankfurt to Linz, Austria. My visit to Germany that year taught me that Germans keep a pretty good secret. I would be foolish and even reckless to share it on such a public forum. Revealing what I learned would change everything.

But that morning, as I stared at the television, the anchor’s lip rushing, eager to share the tantalizing tidbits somewhat confused and intermingled with opinion and fact made me relive my German experience.

His name, they said, was Jacob Braun. He was thirty-six, an influential architect from Bonn. 

On the train on that June day, I sat in the wrong seat, in the wrong carriage, and potentially even at the wrong time. Coming from Canada, I learned all about the importance of the railways that built the country. My grade eight geography teacher had bored me to death with RR2 this and the CPR and CNR that, that no teenager would ever find interesting. He didn’t teach us how to navigate the system, only the tedious elements that forty years later weren’t helping me find my way through the network of train lingo and fast moving stations.

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In Canada, people associate the train with the past. Too bad for those hardworking individuals who devoted their lives to laying track and dying for the economy’s advancement and prosperity. In Canada, people drive everywhere. Only those who live in major urban centers rely on some type of train or subway service. Cars and trucks dominate our transport system. A scenic train journey is for people who can afford the opulence of chugging across the vast terrain on a Via Rail vacation.

In Europe, people rely on the train. I envy them the luxury of traveling to their destination in style and never having to find a parking spot; never mind parallel parking which is on the driver’s test but infrequently used. Traveling by train is second nature to Europeans. Thinking of the incident, I remember another particularly striking feature of the man. He had beautiful hands. The sort men who play the piano should have. His digits were long and slender. Each nailbed had a distinct lunula showing, and his cuticles were healthy and pink. He wasn’t the sort of man who got his fingers dirty. Riding the train can be such an intimate experience because you can’t escape the proximity of other patrons regardless how you try to hide behind the cover of a book, earbuds, or staring rudely out the window.

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Because I travel frequently, I speak with many people, sometimes poorly in foreign languages, I can’t quite grasp. My train partner was highly educated. I sensed that from our short conversation and his mannerism. His impeccable English, even though it was laced with the typical German accent and lyrical lilt, suggested a worldly education.

I had just finished my sojourn to Germany, visiting many villages and cities reachable by efficient train links. In Darmstadt, I toured my first Hundertwasser building and became fascinated by Germany’s beautiful and serene parks.

While Germans understand structural elements as is so evident in cities like Wiesbaden, Bremen, and Leipzig, their parks charmed me the most. Parks in Germany reflect nature. Somehow those landscape architects found the true meaning of balance between serenity and nature. God couldn’t have done it better.

Reserved as they seem to strangers, Germans keep the secret of their beautiful country to themselves. Jacob kept his secret as he conversed with me and smiled. Guarding his secret, which, as the news was spelling out, went unnoticed for nearly a decade.

During the lulls in our conversation that morning, I looked out the passing scenery, and flashes of lush greenery from perfectly manicured clover, wheat, corn, and beet fields zoomed past my periphery. 

I remember being nervous. Shifting nervously, thinking the train conductor would usher me unceremoniously from the carriage, I must have talked too much. 

Although my German has deteriorated, I still understand the basics. Jacob was reading Die Welt, a popular news magazine. The front cover captured a series of photographs of missing women. Grainy images of women loved by family desperately searching for their whereabouts and clinging to that deceitful monster called Hope. I couldn’t say for sure, but there were at least twelve squares with portrait faces of young women. Vermist! Like people on our Canadian milk cartons, each missing German person had a name and a family desperate for answers. I couldn’t help them then.

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Jacob, I remember, exited at Regensburg. A beautiful city that most tourists have never heard of. Yet, it’s so charming with its medieval core, its surviving 12th Century stone bridge, and intersected by the blue Danube that Strauss made famous with his waltz serenade.

Enough already. I knew Jacob had boarded the train in Bonn from my short interlude. He said so. And since it was the weekend, he was making his weekly trip to Regensburg. I didn’t know the importance of the statement until I saw Jacob on the news.

Jacob smiled at me as he alighted the train, his suitcase wheeled behind him. I’m an observer. A bit of advice to my family, friends, or even strangers within my proximity. I see you. I notice intimate details that will eventually give you away.

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The newsfeed had switched to a courthouse staircase. Jacob’s lawyer faced a hundred microphones and recorders shoved in his direction. Nicht schuldig. Der falsche Mann. 

Of course, Jacob was innocent. Of course, the police arrested the wrong man. In some lecture hall, the world over, attorneys must practice that phrase repeatedly until they sound authentic. I once abhorred defense lawyers. I couldn’t grasp their rationale for defending criminals. I’ve since learned that we wouldn’t have rights and laws without them. I believe in justice and truth, though both are not always swift and dutiful. What else would we do instead?

The lawyer was a stout man wearing a fine suit. He had a polished look about him and a seriousness that suggested his client was as innocent as he claimed. He barked into the microphones, “nicht schuldig!” to every question and accusation.

I learned many things about train travel in Europe. Train travel is an elegant way to cross from one country to the next. I learned the word alight.

When the automated voice announced the word, “watch your step as you alight from the train,” I assumed something got lost in translation. But alight really just means getting off a means of transport. It means get off or come down. A lovely word that doesn’t quite capture what happens as a person exits a train dragging an oversized suitcase like Jacob did that morning in Regensburg.

Jacob smiled at me once more before he alighted, and I waved. I wondered what on earth he could be dragging in that cumbersome luggage. I speculated he transported exotic antiques or religious artifacts and architectural salvage to decorate his apartment. As I mused over what sort of apartment a man like Jacob would own in Regensburg, I formed a detailed character sketch. He was a modern man, yet I sensed he’d choose an apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows, the shutters spread open, and a breeze billowing in the sheer drapes. The apartment would have to be renovated but with the original charm intact. It would be just off the downtown core, in a warren of narrow passages and cobblestone streets. There’d be no elevator, and Jacob would manhandle the luggage to the top floor. 

I pictured an exposed wall, the original brick, and beams setting the theme. The kitchen would be ultra-modern and small. The washing machine built into the bank of cabinets as Europeans do and which always horrifies American and Canadian tourists on all those international travel shows. A washing machine in the kitchen is where audacity and practicality meet ignorance. 

As the train pulled from the station, I saw Jacob weaving his luggage through the crowd and terminal. A few pigeons scattered and parted the way for him. I’m pretty sure he no longer thought about me.

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For the next hour, I created a life for Jacob. I made assumptions and was right on one account. Jacob was notoriously meticulous. While I pictured him in his make-believe apartment, I assumed Jacob decorated tastefully with high-ticket items, like the marble bust of Beethoven or Mozart, a crystal glass bowl in liquid shades of blue. A landscape painted by an acquaintance with talent. Jacob wasn’t the sort who decorated with trash bought off the internet.

He’d keep his shoes in a row, polished as leather should be, the warm scent wafting in the room whenever he opened the antique armoire that housed his wool jackets, his leather shoes, and the umbrella with the carved handle. Every detail about Jacob was exactly like the knit in his merino wool socks and cashmere sweater he wore that day.

His girlfriend would be tall, lanky, and athletic. She’d have poker-straight hair like she had grown and styled since she was young. She’d gather her blonde strands into a ponytail whenever she got down and dirty to sprint in the park. It would bounce with each stride. I think I called her Giselle, or Gaby, then changed her name to Nina. She had the sort of complexion that tanned easily; she had a permanent healthful glow and no wrinkles in sight, although she was a year or two older than Jacob. 

Nina would joke about having children. Secretly she didn’t want any because, like Jacob, she preferred order over chaos. She had a shrill authoritarian laugh and a direct way of speaking to people, making them feel vulnerable with no place to hide. She worked in finance. Numbers were her thing, and she could understand and debate complex topics. 

On her nightstand, she kept a few copies of the works by Schiller, Nietzsche, and Goethe. She didn’t read modern fiction and deplored romance novels and films.

If Nina had a weakness, it was her inability to resist chocolate. She hid bite-sized bits of Suchard and Lindt in the kitchen and her coat pockets. Although there is no shame in liking chocolate, Nina thought it was her Achilles Heel. She didn’t want anyone to know, especially Jacob.

Jacob knew about Nina’s secret addiction. He found it intriguing that she would go to such lengths to hide this secret. Nina didn’t live at the apartment; she only came for weekends. She owned an ultramodern home that her parents built for her. It was all glass, steel, and white with sharp corners, hygienic tiles, and futuristic furniture imported from Sweden.

I didn’t like Nina. She was the sort of woman who made me insecure with her stallion-like beauty. We had nothing in common. I didn’t like math at all. But I wanted Jacob to be happy.

Jacob wanted to have children eventually. A boy or girl. It didn’t matter to him as long as they were healthy and miniature replicas of himself and Nina. Jacob found Nina fascinating. He’d never met a woman who was so intelligent and confident. Nina knew it all and believed that knowledge was a permanent condition. Jacob would watch her over the rim of a book and mused secretly that Nina, though seemingly perfect, had a giant flaw. She was blind. Blind to her ignorance and impeded vision of life. It’s why he kept her around. He wasn’t so much in love with her beauty, but with that giant fissure that exposed her for what she was once you got up close and personal. She was a snob.

When the train reached Passau, I had to show my credentials to the border security who boarded the train. He wasn’t interested in my Canadian passport. He seemed to be looking for someone. A refugee or illegal. 

I slowly stored Jacob away in my memory bank for safekeeping. The last time I saw Jacob, he opened the door to his apartment and felt content to have reached his destination. He slipped off his shoes, stripped his garments, and folded them neatly into the hamper. He wanted a hot shower before Nina arrived. He left the suitcase in the hallway. He poured himself a glass of merlot and sat barefoot on the Bauhaus chair facing the street and sinking sun. His stomach rumbled, thinking about dinner.

As the news ticker spun across the bottom below the anchor, a series of faces populated the screen. It’s when I recognized Nina. Every single face had a classic symmetry. Pale skin, long blonde hair, startling eyes lined to accentuate their iris, and keenness on their brow. 

Those women in the picture had something else in common. They were missing. They had vanished from their ordinary lives without a hint of where they were hiding. Their missing date ranged from six years ago to one month ago. I dug into the information about the case available on the internet.

With trepidation, I returned to my travel log and confirmed the date. The day Sabine Hofer didn’t show up for work, missed her lunch date with her girlfriends, and hadn’t been seen since coincided with the date on my ticket stub.

In my pathetic German, I explained what I witnessed on the day to the agent taking my call on the tipline. It’s circumstantial, he told me.

The police released a few details, like the remnants of a tomato and cheese sandwich and track marks on the carpet from a large suitcase. There was no DNa.

None of the women came from the same city. Their last whereabouts became pin marks on a map that followed the train line in a country that is breathtaking and perhaps the tourist industry’s biggest secret.

Despite my keen sense of observation, I had sat across from a serial killer, and I found him charming.

The Importance of Lists

Loud Muzak played familiar ‘surfin’ music’ Rose recognized yet found inappropriate, considering near-blizzard conditions enveloped the village like the inside of a snow globe. Rose knew she shouldn’t have driven on the icy roads despite only living three minutes away by car; she had made a rash decision. But she needed a packet of vanilla beans, confectioner’s sugar, and that something else she was now cruising the aisles for but couldn’t remember.

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“You need help?” A lanky store clerk asked Rose as she passed him yet again.

“Yes, it would be great if you could tell me what else is on my list.” She laughed. The clerk had heard that same line perhaps a hundred times.

She had made a list. On the advice of well-meaning family and friends, her house looked like a Post-it-Note factory that exploded and dotted the landscape of every surface.

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Take your thyroid pills.

Water the plants.

Don’t touch the thermostat.

Don’t leave the stove on.

Your keys are in the bowl in the foyer.

Eat!

It was true. She had difficulty remembering. It was normal. Everyone said. It was part of the grieving process. She would recover. She was too young for something more serious, like dementia; she wasn’t even sixty yet. 

Lists. Yes. Rose made lists. She made a list of what she wanted to accomplish and what she had to finish. Her daughter Meghan had brought an assortment of cute packages of Post-it-Notes, and a litter of colored squares decorated her fridge, kitchen counter, and bedside table.

The little lists helped with the daily tasks, but they didn’t replace the giant void in her heart, and Rose dreaded the thought of her memory vanishing completely.

Yet, here she was loitering in the grocery store aisle, looking for that last item on the list that tormented her memory because she hadn’t remembered to bring the list. 

How’s that for irony? She thought.

Most of the aisles had thinned out; there were only a handful of others desperately looking for that thing they couldn’t find. Rose didn’t think the man in the produce aisle was really looking for a kumquat or shallots; he was looking for conversation even if it was meaningless as “some weather!”

Rose had already given him that small token and a smile. It’s all she had to offer.

While scanning the shelving in the bakery aisle, she tried to find the clue that would trigger an avalanche of words that may guide her to that singular item she could visualize written on the bottom of her list, yet couldn’t read. She did a mental checklist: shortbreads, vanilla crescents, Linzer jam cookies, palmiers, cannoli, kolaches, meringue, and coconut macaroons. She’d been baking this European menu of cookies since she was young.

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She had the essential ingredients, as any decent baker would, in the pantry. However, without that last elusive ingredient, her foray into her baking endeavor, if the weather forecast held, could end before she even got started. 

She had taken the chance to leave the house when the storm granted the neighborhood a five-minute window. The idea to go came out of nowhere because Rose thrived on giving her home-baked cookies to friends and even strangers who would enjoy them. This little gratification went a long way to suppressing her feelings of loneliness and worry. It didn’t always pan out.

Since Mike died, the house had become too much. She could manage the inside, but the yard and the long circular sidewalk that bent around her house like an elbow was a bitch to shovel. Mr. Chapman helped when he could, but he had other battles. Rose hated that sidewalk; in summer, she hated the sloped lawn.

Standing in the baking aisle, she picked up a few tubes of sprinkles, miniature silver balls, and tiny white snowflakes. She added them to her basket, although the price was ridiculous. And she knew they weren’t what she came for.

That elusive item tickled her brain and ran away with the secret in a game of hide-and-seek, and she was losing more often than winning. And for the kicker, her memory played that other game of peekaboo at the most inappropriate moments. Of course, Rose kept that secret under wraps.

The forgetting didn’t exactly happen as she always thought it would happen. It wasn’t orderly how she usually liked to do things. It was random, without rhyme or reason, but always elusive.

Well-meaning people assured her: everyone forgets stuff. Who hadn’t scratched their head wondering where they put their keys, where they hid those important papers, people’s names, or that convenient lie: oh, I forgot to call, to pay the bill, to send a thank-you note. It was a side effect of living. They suggested she find humor in every situation.

And Rose knew that forgetting always lurked on the other side of remembering.

However, this forgetting was never as convenient as that. This forgetting habit played tricks. Rose forgot to eat. She forgot what program she was watching a minute ago. She forgot words and names. Common words. The names of family members. She arrived in places and didn’t know how she got there. What was worse, she was aware that these out-of-place moments were becoming a repeating occurrence.

It also happened with her dreams. Although her doctor tried to appease her, Dr. Halat said that forgetting her dreams wasn’t part of any diagnosis, yet it bothered Rose more than anything. She’d always been a vivid dreamer, so vivid that some mornings she spun herself deeper into the delicious web of the dream after she woke. Within her dreams, she felt so in tune with her world. Sometimes the images in her dreams were a confusing sequence of pets she once loved and a basket of distorted memories she took comfort in them. She resented that forgetting also robbed her of secretly meeting Mike in her dreams, yet these dreams also introduced her to people she had never met. Characters whose features she could see down to the moles on their upper lip and recognize the sound of their voices. As if a stranger visited her in her dreams. After Mike died, she didn’t sleep well for a long time. It disrupted her pattern—her doctor said. It would take time—her doctor said.

One morning a few months ago, she woke with the distinct impression that she had had a powerful dream. But when she transitioned from sleep to waking, the dream lagged. All that day, she felt the residual of dreaming and could hear the laughter and feel the sensation as if the dream was on the other side of the wall. Only she couldn’t pass through the door.

At first, it was a one-off. Like her doctor said, dreaming returned, and Rose took comfort in that. Then the memory lapses happened more frequently, and she googled the symptoms of dementia. Disappointed with her search, the top sites from the leading medical authorities listed cookie-cutter symptoms—a regurgitated list of ten signs.

Her doctor chided her for self-diagnosis, which irked Rose. If the NHS, the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic, and the John Hopkins Clinics all invested in broadcasting medical advice on the internet, didn’t that substantiate the facts? 

Rose merely twirled her thumbs and said nothing when her doctor told her not to worry. Yet, here she was in the grocery store looking for that thing she couldn’t remember. The more Rose strained to see the list she could picture on the kitchen counter, the more convinced she became she had onset dementia.

“You alright then?” A plump check-out girl tidying the front checkout asked with a courteous smile. It’s when Rose noticed she was the last customer. The light outside had transitioned into that nebulous white where snow glare and dimness uncomfortably meet and become indistinguishable from each other.

“Are you closing?” Rose suddenly became aware that the Muzak had stopped. Quietude replaced the incessant noise from cash registers chiming and clacking, or whatever the noise cash register made.

“Yes. The storm. We’re closing early so everyone can get home .safely.”

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“Okay then. I’ll pay for my things.” Rose smiled and pushed her cart toward the checkout. Outside, the snow formed soft dunes on top of the few cars remaining in the parking lot. 

“Sorry. It’s really coming down out there. Lost track of time.” 

“That’s alright. We’ll get you on your way.” The check-out girl faked compassion and put the few items into Rose’s cloth bag.

The door silently swished closed behind her; Rose pulled up her collar and ducked deeper into her coat. She couldn’t remember where she had parked, but she concluded the grey Honda was hers since there were only four cars. It had the least amount of snow and was parked closer than the others. She deduced that employees always got shitty parking spots.

She rummaged in her purse for the fob and cut herself on a piece of paper; she should have kept her leather gloves on. A red drop of blood surfaced, and she fished out a tissue to stop the bleeding and walked toward the Honda; clicked the auto start and door locks, and threw her purse and shopping bag onto the passenger seat. It was a slight cut, but it stung.

The wiper cleaned most of the snow from the windshield, and her breath fogged the inside of the windows. Rose shivered in unison with the dropping temperature. Snow grumbled beneath her tires; the snow made it impossible to see where the parking lot ended, and the street began. She relied on instinct. Luckily, she only lived a few blocks away down the road. She looked forward to a piping cup of tea; a blanket draped over her knees while looking through the cookbooks to refresh her memory of which cookies to bake first. And more importantly, figure out how to cope with the missing item on her list.

Her speedometer said she was doing ten miles per hour; she couldn’t get much traction because beneath the snow lay a slippery layer of ice she now remembered had been an icy drizzle that morning before it turned to snow. 

A car stuck in a deep drift blocked her street, so she had to keep going straight and backtrack up the laneway that separated the last block she lived on from the small wood but gave everyone on her street access to a garage and stored everyone’s whatnots. Except for Mike, he imported the habit to park in the garage from Canada, although he had to wiggle himself in and out of the car as there wasn’t enough room to open the car door properly.

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Driving through the storm, she could barely see the houses. Snow dunes formed on people’s lawns—people she should have known because they were neighbors yet couldn’t remember their names. She concentrated on cutting a swath through the deepening snow, her hands knuckling the steering wheel like when she was sixteen and learning how to drive while her father yelled instructions at her and braced himself for impact. 

“Eyes on the road!” She could hear his voice and the frustration that he’d rather be at The White Elephant on a Saturday afternoon with his friends than his teenage daughter, who couldn’t tell the clutch from the brake. 

Rose awkwardly parked her car in the lane, ten feet away from her own garage, because a drift created a natural barrier like a dune in the Mojave desert. She reached for her belongings, pulled the collar up once more, and left deep prints in the snow, the walls of snow collapsing into her ankle-height boots and melting against her thin stockings. 

Rose used the fence to steady herself and propel her along when she stepped on a shovel buried in the snow. The handle sprung upward and punched her in the face with lightning speed, and ignited a spark on impact. If Rose had seen this happen on television, she would have laughed. But the pain was surprising and utterly unexpected.

She lost her balance before she could catch herself and fell face-first against the cement fence post she didn’t feel the collision or her skin tearing against the rough edge. Although she saw a series of sparks like miniature stars in a firework explosion, the flash of intense pain dominated all else, though she wouldn’t remember it later. 

Rose landed awkwardly on her side, bracing her fall with her free hand. Speckles of red stained the snow like holes poked in a sieve. She might have passed out from the pain momentarily. She felt the slow crawling of a rivulet of red blood trickle down her face, over her nose, down along her skin until the collar of her turtleneck absorbed most of it. The rest bled into the snow.

Rose kept her eyes closed and summoned the strength to surmount the fire-like pain in her head when she thought she could hear the faint ringing of the telephone inside the house. She had one of those old-fashioned phones because she liked how they looked and how she could cradle the receiver into her neck while talking and cooking. She opened her eyes, and a big fat snowflake landed on her pupil. Instinctively, her eye blinked it away.

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She tried to sit up, but the movement sent a burning poker of pain through her head. She fought for strength and prayed that the pain would cease. Undoubtedly, Rose knew she had to get up or crawl toward the gate, use the lethal post to pull herself up and pull the latch. Something she could do in her sleep most days.

Rose talked herself into taking three long breaths before trying to rise again. She was sure now that it was her phone that kept ringing, though, for a split second, she thought the ringing stemmed from the pain. She grimaced when suddenly, she could hear Rusty, her neighbor’s annoying Jack Russell, bark. That meant Mr. Chapman was coming outside to take the dog out for a piss. Small bladder. Rusty barked again and again. She overheard Mr. Chapman say, “Oh, stop it! Just do your thing.”

Rose could hear Mr. Chapman’s frustration; the dog was, after all, the family dog that their teenage kid was supposed to look after but seldom did. She strained to listen, and in between Rusty’s sharp yaps, she mumbled, “Help me! Help!” Only Rusty cut her off each time.

Rose brought her legs closer for warmth, and more snow infiltrated her boots; her one leg was exposed because, during the fall, her slacks had risen to mid-calf. The cold and snow burned her skin like fire, and shifting to pull her slacks down not only hurt her head, it intensified the cold. 

One more minute. Rose braced herself for more pain and dug deeper for the strength to rise. 

Rusty’s bark changed from annoying yaps to frantic barks and intermittent growls. Mr. Chapman reprimanded the dog, his curt, “shut the fuck up!” billowed through the snowy quietness.

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And then the screen door slammed. The distant phone stopped ringing. Rusty barked through the glass, and only a stillness attributed to heavy snowfall accompanied Rose’s breathing. The snowy landscape took on a pale blue hue. A tear rolled over the bridge of her nose and splashed into the snow, burrowing like a worm next to the traces of blood. The annoying ringing in her ear broke the stillness; she heard her pulse emitted like a signal through the snow.

The news would report that it was the worst storm of the century. The snowfall broke records for the accumulated inches and the coldest day on record. Logistics became a nightmare for the number of accidents reported on the highway, injuries related to accidents, insurance claims associated with accidents, and broken water pipes.

Rose opened her eyes; the snow was quickly covering her red coat and black slacks. Her teeth chattered for some time until a warmness spread throughout her body, and she could no longer feel her body. Her blurred vision made everything look like a mirage, and the endless white shimmered like heat set on atmospheric boil. She also remembered the item on her list.

When the snowplow came down the alley, the driver cursed the grey Honda parked at what he called: “a fucking stupid angle.” The car forced him to pass closer to the opposite fence line than he liked, and the blade sent a stream of dirty snow into an arc that left a tall snowbank that someone would eventually have to clear by hand.

When the dull glare of the sun returned for half an hour that late afternoon, Rusty pissed on the mountain of snow. He sniffed the dropped leather glove frozen to the ground. Mr. Chapman lit a cigarette, cupping the flame and checking over his shoulder to ensure spying eyes weren’t watching.

He wondered why on earth Rose had parked her car that way until he saw a small mountain of plowed snow covering her garage door. He wondered if he should offer to shovel the snow; then again, he corrected his thought pattern, she could always ask for help. She has my number.

He stomped with Rusty down the plowed path toward the street that circled back on the sidewalk to the front door of his house. Using the front door would allow him an excuse to slip into the two-piece bath and wash his hands and face with the potent flowery soap and remove traces of his cigarette. He rarely smoked on his street; he waited to get to the park and hide beyond the row of evergreens before quenching the craving. 

When he hung his coat up, he said to himself, “it’s getting dark so quickly.”

Later that night, he woke at two o’clock to the sound of ringing. At first, he thought he dreamed the sound, but he distinctly heard the soft ringing as he lay in the stillness. He recognized it as being Rose’s antiquated phone. He considered closing the window, but not with his sleep apnea. Nah, he just couldn’t. Instead, he hoped everything was okay. Only bad news ever came after midnight.

In the morning, he took his cup of coffee to the den. He’d be working from home today; such was the privilege of being the boss. He fired up his laptop and checked on the latest news. As predicted, the snowstorm had left a swath of destruction in its path. Road closures occupied the newscasts.

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When the police cruiser pulled up at Rose’s door, he craned his neck. Two officers rang the bell and knocked loudly; one stomped in the deep snow to look inside Rose’s living room window. Mr. Chapman shouldn’t have been so nosy, but he watched the officers shift on their cold feet and wait impatiently. 

On second thought, Mr. Chapman rose from his chair and inserted himself into their visit by opening his front door. “Can I help you?” He said while this breath sent plumes of white in their direction.

“Do you know Rose Grimshaw?”

“Of course. She’s lived on this street longer than most. Did something happen to her daughter?”

“No. We’re looking for Rose. Her daughter said she’d been calling all night. No answer, and that her mother wasn’t the sort not to pick up.”

“Her car’s outback. Covered in snow. So she’s got to be home.” Mr. Chapman gestured to the north.

The officer stomped through the high snow toward the gate when Mr. Chapman called him back.

“Come through the house. You won’t get that gate open without a shovel.”

While the officers backtracked through the deep snow, Mr. Chapman slipped on his coat and boots. He waited by the door.

Rusty barked and sniffed the police officers’ legs, but as a dog, he had a solid amount of respect for anyone in uniform, and he behaved. Mr. Chapman led the way out the backdoor; he had already shoveled a path for Rusty. Yellow snow marked the way.

“That’s hers. I think.” Mr. Chapman brushed the snow caked on the license plate away and nodded. “Yup. Snowplow really socked her in.”

“You think she may have gone someplace with someone?” 

Mr. Chapman didn’t appreciate how the officer probed and dug into his eyes for an interrogation. Mr. Chapman blinked and looked away.

“Not that I know. She has some friends. But last year or so, she’s been staying home. Lost her husband.”

Rusty peed on the high snowbank; he scratched at the glove frozen in the snow, biting the leathery thumb.

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“I guess we need to find a way in. We’ll try the front again. Maybe she is a sound sleeper.”

“She keeps a spare key under the dwarf holding the lantern. In case you need to.” Mr. Chapman didn’t like to divulge this bad habit and had warned Rose several times to find a better hiding spot. Now he felt guilty for knowing where the key was. 

“She have any medical issues? That you know of?” The shovel dug around in Mr. Chapman’s eyes again; cops made him uncomfortable.

“No. Never one to complain.”

“Thanks for your help. What’s your name?”

“Chapman. Fred.” 

When they entered Mr. Chapman’s house again, Mrs. Chapman rolled her eyes, questioning her husband with unspoken words. She nodded at the officers while pinching her housecoat tightly at her throat.

Mr. Chapman closed the door on the officers and the cold that entered the front door. He explained to his wife that they were concerned about Rose at the behest of Rose’s daughter.

“I’m sure the old bird’s fine. Probably drank herself to sleep or mixed up her meds. You know how old people are.” Mrs. Chapman poured herself a cup of coffee and stared out the window with a blank look on her face. 

“When are you going to shovel the driveway?”

“I have work to do. Get your son out of bed. Since he’s not going to school, he might as well make himself useful.”

“Yeah, like he’s gonna listen to me.” Mrs. Chapman turned her back on her husband and plopped a piece of bread into the toaster.

Mr. Chapman sat back in his office chair; his coffee had gone tepid. He saw one officer leave the house, get something from the cruiser, and return a few moments later. 

Mr. Chapman decided it was only courtesy to get his coat and boots on again and shovel Rose’s long sidewalk. There was a fat chance his son would do it for nothing. And he didn’t want another confrontation. 

He heard the tail-end of the weather forecast; they expected another three inches of snow.

He yanked his woolen snow hat down over his ears and wound the scarf across his lips. Sometimes he resented his son and that lazy attitude. 

The patrol car remained parked in the driveway all morning. Mr. Chapman shoveled three times to keep up with the falling snow. He took Rusty for three walks, and three smoke breaks, and debated the independent thoughts of what he would say to his son at the dinner table tonight. They couldn’t let him continue as he was.

At midnight, the snowplow made another pass. Because the driver had a cousin who lived on the street, he also cleared the back laneway again. There was no point in denying that who you knew paid dividends.

The evening news had shown the highlights of the havoc on a loop; every essential service personnel heeded their call of duty. If only his son had such inspirations. 

Rose Grimshaw’s latest Facebook imprint made the evening news. A quick and breathless interview with Meghan, Rose’s daughter, asked about her mother’s last whereabouts.

Rusty hadn’t stopped barking all day and evening as officers came and went. Nosy onlookers tried to pump Mr. Chapman for details that he couldn’t answer. Rose Grimshaw competed the following morning with highway and school closures, weather advisories, and stay-at-home warnings.

“Last seen…” Mr. Chapman’s head snapped around, “…at the independent supermarket on Crenshaw Avenue, just before closing. The anchor said, “Rose Grimshaw was last seen wearing a reddish coat, dark slacks, and carrying a cloth shopping bag with flowers on it.”

The news anchor also included that Rose, now classified as missing, seemed dazed. A courtesy interview with a check-out girl added a personal detail. “She wasn’t out of it if you know what I mean, but she was oblivious kinda; she was in our store for about an hour. We asked her several times if she needed help, but she just shook her head. I think she bought some baking stuff.”

Mr. Chapman was confident they had the right Rose. Rose had always been an avid baker, and with Christmas two weeks away, it only made sense. His family always looked forward to the tin of international cookies. But what made little sense was that Rose vanished. Who would harm that demure old lady? Sadly, Mr. Chapman had suspicions about his son, who wasted hours playing games pretending to kill. However, the police let it slip that nothing appeared disturbed or stolen.

Over the last few days, Rusty had barked himself hoarse and was now barking with a winded rasp. Mrs. Chapman talked on the phone with the vet, who advised her to keep the dog calm and secluded and away from the disturbance. 

Rusty was now whimpering, scratching, and frantically yipping in the two-piece bath. Mr. Chapman had no doubt that when Rusty ceased the pathetic behavior, he was unraveling the toilet paper or chewing on the toilet brush during those rare intermissions of quiet. 

Although Mr. Chapman kept vigilance, Rose’s house remained dark and quiet. As the snow melted on the sidewalk, nosy passersby would point at her house and even dare to look inside the dark window until he shooed them away.

A reward poster made the rounds on Social Media channels, light standards, bus shelters, and the supermarket’s bulletin board. Everyone on the street speculated. Meghan was beside herself. She phoned Mr. Chapman for an update every evening.

Mrs. Chapman noticed the first green shoot of an early crocus under their bay window where the west-facing sun always fooled the flowers into sprouting too soon. Christmas was a distant memory. Winter had been too long and severe. Everyone was sick of snow.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The roads were a mess; there was talk of flooding. The village didn’t have it in their budget to remove any significant accumulations of dirty snow on the side streets; they concentrated on major arteries and highways leading in and keeping to their strict budget despite irrational complaints.

Mr. Chapman returned to his routine of going to work, and each time he saw a grey Honda, he wondered what happened to Rose. Rusty recovered his barking voice and was still pissing on the giant heap of ice on the north side of the fence in the alley.

Hundreds of people called the hotline and claimed they had seen Rose in locations that always proved false. Everyone has a look-alike.

Mr. Chapman no longer bothered to hide his smoking from his wife. Although she was often on the cusp of nagging him, he shot her a look that stopped further discussion. He never bothered her about the chocolates and candy she consumed when she thought he wasn’t looking.

Rusty discovered the body; in hindsight, Mr. Chapman believed that Rusty had always known. As more of the snow pile melted, the dog became obsessed with tugging on a corner of red wool cloth. It’s true what they say about a dog and its bones.

Meghan had sent a tow truck to move the car to storage weeks earlier since Rose’s garage front had become a deposit for excess snow. The cops had dusted the car for suspicious prints and other telltale signs of foul play.

Mr. Chapman cocked his head when Rusty pulled out a leather handle that slowly gave way from under the snow. It looked like a purse. And then it was a purse. He dropped his cigarette butt, and it hissed for a brief second on the wet ground.

He fought Rusty for the purse and when he won, his hand dove into the purse to retrieve the wallet. His gut churned with excitement and trepidation rolled into a nausea-forming ball in his gut and throat.

The wallet came out and dragged a square, orange piece of paper with it and cut his finger with surgical precision. It fluttered like paper flutters before it lands. 

The license identified Rose Grimshaw. 

The Post-it-Note, which was stained with two drops of blood, was a short shopping list. Two ingredients: vanilla bean, and confectioner’s sugar.

Beneath the shortlist it said: “My name is Rose Grimshaw; I live at 2023 Burnhamthorpe.”

Fur Elise

So thrilled to be published ‘again’ by Syncopation Literary Magazine. Sorry WP, I’ve not had much time to post on here.

You can read the short story, Fur Elise, here.

Like many great artists, Beethoven, despite his massive talent was always an outsider. Class snobbery was rife during his day and age and it tormented Ludwig. I’ve always loved Fur Elise and can visualize an entire story. This is my interpretation of how the story came into existence.

Beethoven, a music legend. Photo by Benjamin Lehman on Pexels.com

The other part of this story is the setting. There is a reason millions of tourists flood the city. It’s gloriously gorgeous. Echoes of past lives linger on every street. If you listen, you can hear them.

Vienna, some kind of gorgeous. Photo by Yana Nadolinska on Pexels.com

The Cover Page & Center Fold

So cool to finally see my first children’s story published. The School Magazine (Australia) did such an amazing job and I’m just thrilled that, “Swimmingly, Willie” is the cover story and the center fold in the June edition of Blast Off.

The Cover Page, Blast Off, The School Magazine

Page 1, The life of bees isn’t a big secret, but they have a quirky sense of humor.

The 2nd Installment

Not everyone knows this but the Calgary Public Library has such a cool story dispenser program. Lovingly, Willie is part of the 5-Minute Read rotation. There are four dispensers right now. One is at the Edmonton International Airport.

Read the story here: https://calgary.short-edition.com/story/lovingly-willie

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Magnificent Pacific

Whenever I stand on the shores of the Pacific, I begin to understand myself and my insignificance on the beautiful ball circling in the universe; a place I call home. 

El Pescadero, Baja Sur, Mexico Sunset

It hardly matters that the endless blue I’m looking at is the largest and deepest body of water on Earth and that without it, I, and humanity, wouldn’t exist. Knowing that I’m glimpsing only a few thousand square miles as I stand on the shore of 60 thousand square miles doesn’t impact the sensation. I finally understand the meaning of‘ breathtaking.’

The Pacific in size is greater than all the landmass combined. Pacific means to pacify and be peaceful. Magellan got it right when he named the ocean as he sailed across the tranquil waves in 1520, not knowing that the Pacific had the power to wipe entire fleets off the face of the earth with its killer rogue waves and violent storms.

The beauty and tranquility are overwhelming. Standing on the shore of this magnificent body of water, I breathe in unison with Earth. Bathtub-warm water tickle my toes, sand massages my skin at the beach at Las Lajas in Panama with each frolicking wave. I’m beginning to understand how lucky I am to experience my minor role on this planet.

When my husband and I drove down from El Valle de Anton (Panama) at five in the morning, heading west toward that sliver of silver shining in the distance,  a miraculous thing happened. A moment in time that shaped me as a person forever. 

El Valle is a picturesque town nestled on the rim of a volcano and similar to Boquete in Chiriqui, a tourist mecca. I’m going to skip over the details in the part where at dusk, following behind a pick-up truck, we slowly saw details emerge in the cargo. At first, we saw household goods and a chicken coop. But like a mirage, we were soon able to discern faces among the brick-a-brack—a child holding an infant inside the cage. 

As we turned a bend on the winding road, our eyes on the children, a miracle happened. Not sure about where you went to school, but l learned that the sun rises in the east. Yet, I was facing west, seeing the Pacific in the distance and an orange globe emerging on the west-facing horizon. In Panama, I saw a world not entirely upside down, but definitely sideways.

The Skyline from Boquete toward the Pacific

That morning I thought I’d seen it all. It was a lesson on learning not to pass judgment. Don’t compare your way of life to those living in another country and different circumstances. Where I come from, you will face criminal charges for allowing children under twelve to take public transportation without supervision. In Panama, where the family unit is the pinnacle of society, you can transport children in a chicken coop.

With my mouth agape, I watched the sunrise in the Pacific. I’ve seen whales breach in the distance in this body of water, and dolphins perform acrobatic acts. I’ve seen who I am as reflected in the water and that humanity is never satisfied. It’s why we pillage the ocean’s depths, overfish, mine, pollute, and invade this deeply mysterious ocean.

Oceans and algae help control the Earth’s climate, which is always in constant flux. It acts as a set of lungs breathing and exhaling. Only our human interference has given the oceans (all our oceans) a set of smokers’ lungs. The oceans are coughing. There’s a good chance we’ll need to operate.

Although dipping my toes into the tranquil waves in Las Lajas, I understand that the ocean is the birthplace of great violence. In this deep water, hurricanes are born. Back in 2018, it gave birth to super typhoon Mangkhut, which swept across the Philippines and China, reaching 165 miles per hour. The annihilation epic.

Juan de Fuca Strait Victoria looking at Mt Baker

Hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones all feast on the warm waters of the Pacific. In the eastern Pacific, these violent storm patterns are called hurricanes. In the southwestern Pacific, they’re called cyclones, and in the northwestern Pacific, they are classified as typhoons.

How to Write a Novel

Jane Austen’s quill and desk in Chawton, UK

For many of us, it isn’t a choice. That inner voice nags us to sit down and expose our most intimate thoughts and ideas on paper. The difficulty lies in where and how to begin. I wish I knew the answer.

There are three trains of thought on how to write a novel. I’m in the Stephen King camp and write by the seat of my pants. Others have a detailed outline, and others snub both for the MFA in creative writing degree.

Google answers that question with 3,640,000,000 hits as of March 24, 2022; minus the four paid ads by Udemy, Friesen, Domestika, and the Book Writing Bureau (I wonder if that is like the CIA or FBI of book writing?)

One of the first things you learn as a novice writer is that snobbery in writing circles is rife. Experts abound; everyone has an opinion on what is good and bad. Some experts decry that so and so, whose piece you just finished chewing through, is a masterpiece. At the same time, the novel you loved from page one until the ending, which you wished never came to an end, resonated loudly with you, is disqualified as mediocre. Or is it loudly resonating?

Literary snobbery is fascinating. You’ll read essays and short story contest winners and second guess your English language skills. Cooking dinner in your leggings (paraphrasing) isn’t a concept I ever mastered. When I tried it, the nylon in the material always melted and ruined what I cooked. The druglords of Columbia can’t be nearly as dangerous as those of Colombia. Somehow I always imagine ‘Columbian’ drug lords as adventurists sporting athletic gear and hiking. It’s COLOMBIA. They even sell T-Shirts (in Colombia), correcting the mistake right next to hockey puck hash and bottles of coke–the powdery kind.

The Silence Among Stillness

Photo by Pat Whelen on Pexels.com

The Silence among Stillness

The sound of her winter boots on snow breaks the stillness. It’s impossible to escape with all the noise she is making. Any deer, wild cat, or coyote would hear her coming, if not smell her from miles away. Wildlife, however,  isn’t her concern at the moment, as spooky as an encounter in total darkness might be.

She isn’t escaping them; she is escaping him.

Of course, there is also the track of the oversized boot prints. Anyone would see the trail in daylight shining like a beacon, “there, she’s gone this way!” Voices commanding others to run and catch her.

Inhaling the cold, Emma stands still. A painful stitch stabs her side and makes breathing difficult. She keeps her eyes on the light ahead. A light she’s been watching for months now, whenever she believes no one is watching.

The light could be a trap. Emma knows that too. But under the cloak of night, she can observe until it is safe to make a move. She knows she has at least until morning until they discover what she has done. Darkness is her only sanctuary. Light her goal.

Enveloped in darkness, surrounded by forest, she knows as surely as her heart beats that she is right to run. Regardless of what happens next, her life as she has known it will end.

She stumbles onward knowing that light is never a good distance indicator. In daylight, it tricks the eye into judging distance; it keeps moving farther away and out of reach at night. She’s been stomping through the snow for hours. The deep and uneven path makes every movement difficult. She has already fallen too many times to count. Her shirt clings to her back, soaked, beneath the dark coat she stole from the hook by the door.

It belongs to him and is much too large.

Her stomach rumbles; she has only eaten a bowl of thinned soup. “You’re useless,” he yelled, cuffing the back of her head that made her spit the soup across the table. Emma hasn’t eaten anything with sustenance for weeks. Her stomach is concave, her arms and legs sinewy.

Photo by Foodie Factor on Pexels.com

Looking back, he didn’t say that exactly, that she is useless. But he might as well have. He also never resorts to the sort of violence that leaves a physical mark. He is way more cunning than that. Sticks and stones.

And her meager diet is self-inflicted. She has to admit that too. Ego, however, has this delicate shell and insists, “I’ll show him.”

Her ego never behaves as she wants it to. Ego has its own ego to battle.

“Keep moving!” She commands her weak limbs to obey despite the strain, but her mind is her biggest threat. It wants to tell her to lie down, curl up, give up, and invite death to take over.

Ego sulks in the corner. Now is not the time to get involved.

Her legs power through the deep snow. Sometimes she sinks up to her knee in the swollen drifts that are difficult to distinguish in the dark. Emma half expects to hear a shotgun blast, a snowmobile blazing through the snow to hunt her down.

The flickering yellow light in the distance hasn’t moved closer, or so it seems. Emma keeps her gaze forward. She has to keep moving, if not for herself, then for the others. When it all started, never in a million years did she think she’d end up like this. Lost, frozen, beaten to compliance. Fighting to survive in a maelstrom of submission and rejection.

Photo by Connie Spicer on Pexels.com

This is not what she thinks she has signed up for.

Her foot lands on solid ground. A road she hasn’t expected spans in long directions. She knows she’s going to make it.

The road leads to a plowed driveway, and a homestead stands against the light of the early dawn with its white clapboard housing gleaming. She slinks up the stairs and peers into the dark windows. She sees the embers glowing in a fireplace; a dog curling into a ball on a rug before it. It doesn’t lift its head and bark at the intrusion, making Emma relax for the first time in months. She appreciates the solitude of her achievement.

She smells the faint plumes of tobacco. She sees the figure rocking in the chair, back and forth, a smile that says, ‘we’ve been expecting you.’

Emma recoils from fright. She recognizes the face—the image on the dust jacket of her favorite author.

“Welcome, Emma. You did it!”

Emma collapses from exhaustion. She rolls over onto her back; she sees the stars blink, that fading light of darkness. She thinks of the others she left behind at the writing retreat. She wonders if they’d be alright. Soon enough, they’ll find the editor tied to his chair. A black Charlie Chaplin mustache painted with a permanent marker below his nose. Pages of her manuscript stuffed into the cavity of his cavernous mouth.

Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

A note pinned to his chest:

“I will not change my POV again!”

Creative Journey

Whenever I have a day between writing content and getting my edits back, which is always nerve wracking, I manage to write a few pieces of short fiction. By short, I don’t mean flash.

This year I submitted to OrcaLit and misguidedly believing I had what it takes to be chosen for publication. I paid to have them review my story and send me feedback. It’s a small fee and worth the price, even if it doesn’t pan out.

Photo courtesy Anthony DeRosa Pexels

I wrote ‘The Habits of Hubert LaSalle’ for fun. Part speculative and part murder/death story. I worked hard on polishing it, and admit that I love the story. The team at Orca advised me that the story was off to a good start, (the first version) and had potential. But then I missed the target and my story became predictable. The editor explained that it reminded them of a Twilight Zone Series (television from the 1960s, not the teen books). They felt it was trite, they could see the ending a mile off.

While they are right, isn’t most fiction like that? Doesn’t that somehow connect us the story? Those authors who totally blow us out of the proverbial literary world are few and far between.

Of course, I was disappointed. I rewrote the story, included more death. People can’t get enough of death, and had the gumption to resend it for another review and rejection. They kindly informed that while some of my revisions were better, I still hadn’t met their target.

Here is what they wrote:

Thanks for resubmitting this story. We can see that you’ve made a  lot of improvements, but the story still lacks the punch that we are  looking for. You indicate very early on that Hubert is a passive man,  controlled by his wife and others. But once that’s established, you  basically keep repeating the idea for several more pages instead of  moving the narrative forward. We see that you changed the surprise of  Hubert being dead to the surprise of everyone being dead. To us, that’s still a very “Twilight Zone” idea—quite overused in literary circles.  For this story to work for us you need to take it in a very different  direction — something really imaginative that we haven’t seen before.  Sorry to be disappointing.

Sincerely,

While those words aren’t what I was hoping for, I will let them rest. Hubert can sulk in the background while I find a way to fix what ails him. It’s what writers do. We keep going.

You can read Hubert LaSalle here

Central Station, All Aboard

published on griefdialogues.com
STORY BY MONIKA R. MARTYN

https://griefdialoguesstories.com/2022/02/25/central-station-all-aboard/

We heard the train a long way off in the distance. A throaty rumble tunneling toward us, sooty plumes of smoke spoiling the blue skyline. Our eyes wide open, we stood in the shadows of our ignorance. Hindsight deftly made fools of us, and in the bliss of our ignorance, we believed this—this happens to other people.

Sadly, based on the idleness of this flawed theory, we were sold a first-class ticket. Entry to a sport gambling on the unsuspecting. We believed we were mere spectators on the sideline. When Fate handed us the ticket, Stage 4, we knew instantly that she had mistaken us … for someone else. For days, we stood in a winding throng begging for a refund. But as we neared the ticket counter, we heard the hush of whispers, “closed for renovations.” The crush of the crowd shuffled us like a deck of cards onward, pushing us past the window clearly marked: Radiation Therapy. To our dismay, they sold out long in advance, and in exchange, we were handed another invitation: Welcome to the Chemotherapy Department. Chemo wasn’t a choice, but intrepid, we forged on. With our breath locked in the dungeon of our lungs, we knocked only to have the door slammed in our face, “access denied.” Swaddled in our complacency, believing that a system would take care of us, we veered in the wrong direction and missed an opportunity that never materialized. Dumbfounded, we wandered and lost our way when time eventually unblocked the long stairway leading us to the platform designated for surgery. Only to discover it had left the station ahead of schedule. Among the hustle of the domed station, like pigeons bobbing their heads to see clearly, we clung desperately to our only option. A carriage clearly marked Hope awaited. The train conductor blew his whistle, “all aboard.” The upside, with Hope, there’s always another way.

We took to our pre-assigned seats, no map in hand, no GPS to guide us on the journey. Blind faith chugging along, riding next to us like Zenyatta on a trot. Numbed and in pain, we were only able to stare out the window, eyes blankly seeing the scenery rushing past; glimpses of our comfortable lives vanishing in a blink.
Regardless of circumstance, it wasn’t the sort of day trip anyone survived unscathed. There were, however, many vacant seats to choose from. We slipped the ticket stamped: Cancer—Terminal into the pockets of our wishful thinking. Or more accurately, desperately clinging. Our fingers incessantly toyed with the soft fringes of … why us?

Seated, slouching over our trembling knees, it occurred to us that we had been summoned on this ride based on mistaken identity. An idea we couldn’t shirk. We weren’t the sort of people who deserved this crippling invasion. Cancer happened to other people, and any minute now, someone would unchain us from this misery. Joke’s up!
The carriage of Hope turned out to be a ticket to nowhere. Like a merry-go-round, we rode the nauseating ride, dizzy and hungry for a morsel of truth which we didn’t dare face. But Hope generously gave us an extension. Time superimposed a new expiry date to an ending we knew was hurtling toward us at a breakneck speed.

When we arrived at the final destination after endlessly drifting, they took our mother onboard another vessel. No one bothered to ask if we wanted to come along for the ride. Cancer has the audacity to bring entire families down. One word— such debilitating power. Our only option was to ensure our mother’s seat was cushioned. We tucked our love tightly around her and showered her with goodbye kisses. It was hard to smile without tasting the salt in our tears.

While running alongside the train that picked up speed, we watched the track disappear into the tunnel of light. We had passed all the stations of burdens to bear and waved farewell. The image of our mother, a final glimpse of her sweet face, leaning out the window of life, tattooed our souls. Her frail and ravaged body rose above everything she had endured. How she mustered the strength; only a mother can know for sure.
Weak as she was, she embraced us with her eyes and heart, she asked just one thing of us, “help me die in peace.” We granted her dying wish and allowed her to slip beyond the curtain, a quick-change act was certain. We whispered a thousand I love yous, like a rosary chant to take with her. When the light in her eyes finally extinguished, her pain lifted and floated toward the ceiling, settling on us with the weight and discomfort of chain mail.

For the first ten years afterward, we journeyed to the platform with a regularity to set a clock by. Willingly, we handed the porter the luggage marked grief, welcoming him to rifle through the vestiges of every predetermined emotion. We no longer packed the hard edges of our anger, and like the train, it came and departed on schedule.
And with each visit to the station, we brought the satchel infused with the memories of a lifetime. We remain as the gullible children believing in the Disney moment of our beloved Mama’s return, however impossible. With our ears to the track, we listen for the gentle chug of a train we know is en route. Afraid it’s coming for us too.
Even now, we hear the stillness in our hearts softly pounding and realize it is but the footsteps of our beloved mother. She may be gone, but she remains, forever, next to us. An imprint of love and reincarnation.

In loving memory of my Mama.


Monika R. Martyn is retired, married, happy, and a minimalist. She enjoys traveling and creating stories. She has been published in numerous print and online magazines and recently honored with a Pushcart Nomination. The Lucky Man—An Act of Malice, her debut novel is queuing somewhere in the back of the ‘never heard of’ pile, though not through lack of trying.

Visit her on Facebook or her personal website page, as well as on social media platforms: @monikarmartyn.This entry was posted in Coping with GriefLoss of Mom. Bookmark the permalink.