excerpt – February pages

Keeping pages on a daily basis is something I got into the habit of doing a long while ago, but until recently have not made the effort.  Last month, I started back into doing it more regularly (although not every day). I thought I would share a few excerpts from my February pages – one of the days ended up being edited and published by an online literary journal as a flash fiction story. You never know what might come up when you freefall in writing – the only thing to do is to get out of the way. Sometimes what comes up is nonfiction, most often for me fiction is what comes up. Either way, it is a good practice to have – writing a page a day, no matter what the day or writing brings!

February Pages

On my way home from work tonight, I bought myself a bunch of red tulips and a bright purple sweater at the grocery store. I already had sushi and cucumber in the basket, and was making my way to the long line at the cash when I saw the flowers. I like buying myself flowers. When the world fell apart last year, I bought flowers for myself every Friday. Friday Flower Club. I stopped in the summer last year because my garden had plenty of flowers to entertain me. The winter has started to get to me though. It has been such an easy winter, at least where the weather is concerned – I can’t complain about snow or the cold. I could complain about almost everything else. Almost. The tulips caught my eye as I walked by. Tulips. They are sincerely, the most useless cut flower a person can by. They don’t last long; as soon as bud opens they are falling apart, but I love them. I balanced the bunch of tulips in the basket on top of California rolls, salmon, and spicy shrimp rolls, two cucumbers and two bottles of Green Goodness.

Three days ago, or maybe four, I signed up to be part of a Harvard psychology experiment. I did it on a whim. Sort of. Ironically, the study is about how a wandering mind is not a happy mind. I don’t know. I think that I am happiest when my mind is wandering, creating, thinking, inspecting. My mind is also pretty happy when it is perfectly still. There is a certain freedom that comes with wandering that I love. The study will take several weeks of my time or so I am told. I’ll just wait to comment until after I have finished answering their questions at random times of the day. The last series of questions came when I was talking with P. I thought about telling him that he was the reason I bought red tulips today. They reminded me of him, about how beautiful he makes me feel every day. I saw them sitting in the black plastic bucket and immediately thought to him. His smiling face, the way he looks at me with his deep blue eyes, holds my hand… He makes my mind wander. A lot.

I hate shopping for clothes. I do. I hate shoving myself into a narrow, poorly lit box to pull on a pair of jeans or a skirt that I know will make my body bulge in places it shouldn’t or at least appear to. My eyes warp mirrors. Stupid astigmatism. That’s what I blame and offer as an excuse for buying clothes only in the grocery store. If my eyes were exactly the same shape and size, I wouldn’t care nearly as much about how curvy my body is and so jarringly unlike anything I grew up being told to become. Baggage. I have it. I didn’t bother to try on the sweater. I wore holes in two sweaters this week. The holes may have already been there, but I noticed them for the first time this week. Yesterday actually. I needed a new sweater. Luckily the grocery clothes were on sale. In addition to saving money, I would also be prepared in case the snow does decide to show up this year. The pudge would be covered. I chose black first, but my daughters’ voices  fluttered in:  ‘you always wear black. You should wear colours more’. I probably made a face standing in front of the neatly piled knitted wool. No one was watching me. I hoped not. It was true though, for the past two years I have mostly worn black or dark grey. I know why. I wear red occasionally. My winter coat is red. If it was seriously cold I would wear it more. Red is my favourite colour. It is the colour of happiness for me. There were no red sweaters on the narrow white metal shelves on sale. No red sweaters period. Plenty of black and purple. It’s a strange purple. Not quite violet, not quite purple, more orchid. Orchid. I shook my head. I really thought that out loud. I shoved the purple next to the red tulips, careful not to squish the buds. I reluctantly fell into line at the cash.  It took ten minutes to pay for everything, my mind wandered.

The printer whirrs and pushes out the last of the photographs. I spread them out across the kitchen table. The overhead light creates a glare on the glossy paper. I turn it down and look at them again. Nine photos of me: walking in the woods, driving to Ottawa in one, sitting at the top of a ferris wheel in Carp, walking along the Mississippi River. I pull out a chair and stand on it. I hit my head on the chandelier. I notice two of the bulbs had burned out. For a moment I feel bad for the dead lights and the layer of dust everywhere, then it passes. I look down at the table. Disgust crawls up into my throat and settles at my clavicle. The soft fleshy place where they cut you if you stop breathing so they can stick a tube in to do a tracheal intubation. The chair wobbles.

In two of the photos I am smiling, looking at the camera, when I caught her looking at me through the lens. The others I am not paying attention, focussed on something else, distracted by something I walked past, drawn to examine it closely. My daughter took them all. I shift my feet on the chair. The seat starts to crack. I left the chairs out in the rain one afternoon in the summer. Maybe it was for several days I can’t remember. I step down before I break the chair completely. The me in the photos stare back. Even if I look at the photos sideways, I can’t avoid the eyes. Dark and sad even though the me is smiling. Lines of worry parading on her face. Pale shade of defeat. It strikes me suddenly that I am seeing through my daughter’s eyes, what she sees. Not what I see. She told me when she found her camera in her room this morning that it is her personal goal to take a photograph of me. I am not sure how I feel about it. I scratch at my neck.

Fingers stumble and sputter. I put down the pen and roll it across the top of my dragon table with the flick of my finger. Plastic clicking against glass while the wooden carved dragons watched from below. I am thirsty. I should get up and make some tea or pour myself some vitamin water. I will probably trip over one of the tea stools. I often do. I don’t move. I fish another pen out of my briefcase and draw circles with it on the paper I just ripped from the notebook. There is a pile of paper balls covering my toes. Midnight magic peeks through the white. Or was it violet delight. I can’t remember. It’s been a while since I wanted to paint my toes. I used to paint them red. That was then. Now it’s purple. A colour to pull me higher. Can’t get much lower right now. Driving home today, I wanted to write you a letter. I wanted to say to you the things that I have wanted to say and never had the chance to. I started to cry when I drove through Talbotville. It’s not good to drive and cry. It really isn’t. I turned the music up. Kept driving. It was raining by the time I pulled in the driveway.

Something is wrong with my head. I set my alarm in plenty of time last night. I woke up an hour earlier than it was supposed to go off. I knew he was coming for 7:45 am. In my head I knew it. I was still in my pyjamas when he came to the door. I opened it.

“Hi, you’re an hour early” I said, leaning down as he stepped onto the stoop to kiss me. He shook his head.

“No, it’s 7:45.”

“OH no.. “ I looked down at my flannel green pants and the thin white tee shirt I had on. He smiled.

“I’ll be two minutes” I said. He kissed me again.

“I’ll go buy us some coffees and breakfast. Be back in 10 to get you.” He climbed back into his car. I ran upstairs, careful not to wake anyone.

I started the medication three weeks ago. It was on the warning label, the side effects. The gaps. The brain misfiring. Sure, I was sleeping again for the first time in two years and I wasn’t waking up with a chest of dread, but I couldn’t connect time schedule and the actual time. I threw on a pair of light blue faded jeans, a long sleeved undershirt and a Kelly green tee shirt. Socks were a problem. I dug through my sock drawer and found a mismatched pair. My shoes were in the front hall closet. I looked out the window. My driveway was empty still. The closet was a disaster. I pulled out one running shoe and tried to find its mate. 5 shoes later, I was still only finding left shoes. What the hell. I dug around the bottom shelf. Finally a pair. I shoved my feet into them. They were a bit snug, probably my daughter’s. I tied them up anyway. No time to look for right shoes now. I scribbled a note to her to call me when she wakes up and left it on the dragon table. I was locking the door when he drove back up towards the house. Good timing.

“Hello sleepy bear” he moved the bag of bagels from the passenger seat so I could climb in. I ducked my head and closed the door.

“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what happened.” I really didn’t. The gaps were bothering me. I wanted to stop the medication, but it isn’t time yet. I didn’t tell the doctor this week, about the gaps or the other thing. It takes time for things to settle, he said. I had lived with social anxiety disorder for my entire life with no meds. Hiding it mind you. Using every ounce of energy to do the smallest thing, like go to a movie or a dinner party or stand up in front of a news camera for work. I was exhausted all the time, but at least I could remember how to tell time.

Black cat running along the fence line, between frosted furrows of dirt. He moves uninterrupted. My heart catches for a second. Pale pink sky as the sun rises. Oak tree stripped bare by the season and waiting. Wanting. Caught between the morning and memory, driving becomes automatic. I can smell your cologne on my skin still. I breathe you in again and again. You’ve touched this life like the light, reaching through to the darkest places and have brought me forward.  Six months ago, I was afraid to hold your hand. You held on anyway. I am glad that you did.

Stop and go traffic forces the radio volume up. Voices drone. I am irritated by the time I pass the first hospital. I turn on my ipod at the red light. Surrounded by cars, people in metal bubbles I wonder what they are listening to, thinking, Last night’s dream returns to perch on the steering wheel. After a long day of travelling, we stop to find a place to rest. No private rooms, just a collective one in the center of the camp. Mattresses end to end. Two free ones together on the outside aisle. I settle the girls and sit beside them, left alone. Not by you. You aren’t in this dream.

I am trying to work out letting go on that level.  That’s what I suspect. At my desk, the day is laid out and ready for me. The phone goes off at 9 am. Harvard time. I am half way through my part of the study. 52% completed. My chart for what I want to do and have to do is predictably split. Happiness is clustered in the focus corner of graph. My focus does need more focus though. I can tell by the blue dots. I am generally happy. Who knew. In the window, the sunlight is still there. The oleander is happy, ready to bloom.

The sun is shining for you. Another unusual day in February. 6 degrees Celsius.  You would have been 65 today. I would have made your favorite: dark chocolate cake and marshmallow icing with pocket change wrapped in waxed paper shoved in between the layers. Then I would have laughed quietly when you tried to distract someone, anyone, to mash their piece to find the coins, even if it ended up being mine.

I want to remember you in that moment now. Nothing else. Not the you a year and a half ago. No. I want to remember the cake mashing and when you refused to read out loud the birthday cards given to you because the sentiments written inside would make you cry. And the falling star we saw driving back home from Nova Scotia that last time. And how you leaned over and whispered to me after John Denver stopped singing on the radio to ask me if I had always been able to sing that well. It was the first time you heard me clearly. And the last time.

The rest will wait another day.

Snow crunches under my boots. I miss that sound this winter. I am not sure how but I forgot this perfect winter song. The air is sharp and clear. My nose is cold from standing outside waiting for pump to finish filling my gas tank. The sky is open and wide. I look up and feel like I am falling into it. I decide on tea as the pump pings the end of its duty. Camomile mint in my favourite white ceramic mug. Then I will sleep.  I have been tired since Saturday, even longer than that. The nightmares are back.

I got up in the middle of the night because my youngest was throwing up. The sound of her retching in the toilet made me leap out of bed from a dead sleep. She looked at me with half opened eyes, squinting in the bright bathroom light. Said she had no idea why she was throwing up. She threw up several more times. I rubbed her back, then gave her a glass of water and a warm clean cloth to wipe her face with. I told her I didn’t know, but hopefully now that she had, she would be able to sleep again. I hugged her and made sure was ok as she crawled back into bed. Almost fifteen, I tucked her in the way I did when she was three and fighting a bug. I touched her forehead. No fever at least. I kissed the top of her head and turned off the light. The moment I crawled back into my bed, and lay my head on the pillow, I began to dream.

I dreamed I was in my room. I got up carefully. I didn’t want to wake John up, or the girls. I couldn’t sleep. I was restless. I pulled on my clothes and shoes and went downstairs. The house was dark and empty. I decided to go for a drive. I drove through the night along the empty highway. In the way only dreams can, the highway shifted and I was back home in Kinburn. I drove past the community centre towards the house my parents built in the woods on Styles Sideroad. There was something on the highway, cars, trucks, motorcycles, people blocking my way.  I stopped. They were celebrating. I watched through the windshield as the crowd moved around me. The side door slid open. Three men climbed in. One of them told me to drive them back home. They gave me no choice. I usually always lock my doors when I am in the car alone. I didn’t this time. I felt something undo in my stomach. I drove up the highway, following the man’s directions. I parked on the side of the highway. They told me to follow them into the house. I did. There were more people inside. The three men went upstairs to the bedroom. I managed to slip away in the kitchen, and out the side door. A girl stopped me on the driveway. She knew me somehow. Asked me questions about other people that I knew. I tried to be polite and answer, but I wanted to go home. I said good night to her and hurried across the empty highway. I opened the driver’s door. Someone had piled everything that I had in the back of the car on the seat. My briefcase, and two other bags. I thought it was strange and started to pick everything up to put in the back. I turned, and the man how first climbed into the car earlier appeared beside me. His face was hard. Without saying a word, I knew what he wanted. He lifted a knife with his left hand. I started saying “no” over and over again as I grabbed the knife and bent it away from me.

I woke up yelling and gasping. John wrapped his arms around me, consoling me, telling me softly that I was safe, that he was there. My heart was leaving through my throat. I never used to have nightmares. This one was too vivid.

I wrote about angels two days ago. Started to. Actually I wrote about a dream I had nine years ago. I can still remember it as though I dreamed it last night. I didn’t dream last night. I was awake from 3 am on. Stared at the blackness for two and a half hours until sleep came and took me for a few minutes longer.  I stare at my handwriting. Blue black loops that follow invisible lines. That night back then, before everything fell apart, I dreamed I was walking down a dirt road from my childhood. My daughters walked with me. A little boy with white blond hair ran up to us across the open field. I told him that he should run home to eat. It was getting late. The three of us kept walking towards a cluster of tall white houses. A basket of red flowers dangled from the second floor window of one of the buildings. Something flew towards us. I could see it in the sky. I told the girls to go inside to play.  They flew closer. Seven angels. I could only see their wings at first, then they arrived. They stayed on the rooftops, looking down and out towards the horizon. One of the angels spoke to me. He invited me to sit beside him. I closed my eyes and opened them again. I was sitting on the roof. I asked him why they had come. He said they had come for him. We spoke about that for a few minutes, until a woman’s screams interrupted us. I looked down and saw her standing in the courtyard. She was crying and screaming at the angels.

– Why, why did this happen? You said that everything would be ok. She yelled until her voice cracked. She turned her face upward and I saw her eyes were mine. Her nose, my nose. Her mouth mine.

– you said everything would be ok.

I looked at the angel beside me. He said nothing more. Just placed his hand over mine. Seven years later, the one we spoke of left without a word of explanation. I cried every day for the first year and a half. There are not as many tears left these days.

It is time to talk to the angels again. I believe.

A thousand little disasters sit in my lap this morning. Maybe it is the weather. Endless dark grey days that tease us with brief windows of sun. It plays with the mind. Warps everything. Fills the cracks with worries, regrets or worse until we burst. The grey is invading my dreams. Another vivid nightmare last night. A long one.  In part of the dream, a young girl, 10 or 11 years old with long white blond hair was standing on the bank of a fast moving creek. She stood in snow to her knees, staring down at the swirling water. I watched her from a bridge further up from her. I could see the current rushing the water past us both. She wore a white knit winter hat. The only thing that stood out from the grey white scene were her red lips, but they were fading in the cold too. A couple ran towards her, shouting for her to step back. They rushed to her side and held her until she was safely away from the edge. I watched, body tense, in case she did fall. Someone asked me after the little girl was gone if she had fallen, would I have dove in after her. Of course I would have. Without a moment of hesitation. I couldn’t see who asked me and I woke up before I could look. That was the last part of the dream. The first, I don’t even want to talk about. I spoke to my doctor about them briefly. Post traumatic stress possibly. I don’t know. I don’t feel like I know anything any more. This means more waiting. I am back to operating on no sleep and exhaustion creeps in to roll around with the pieces of me that I just can’t seem to get together any more. I can’t win.

My head comes loose when she comes to stand at the edge of the table. People float and weave in the room, moving slowly from table to table. I watch them out of the corner of my eye. Then she speaks.

“I’m Angelina” she says. I look up at her smiling face. Grey-blond hair plastered to her forehead. She clutches a salmon pink bag to her chest. This is the twenty-seventh time we have met.

“Hi Angenlina, how are you?” I say. She blushes.

“Did you do all of these?” she gestures to the table. A basket of photographic note cards, a display of jewellery and two paintings. I nod. She brushes one of the canvas with her fingers. Pale blue waves and white sea foam under her skin.

“I can see angels in these.” She says staring.

“Yes?” I say. My skin tingles a little right at the edges of my elbows on both arms.

“Yes. You did a nice job listening to them.” Angelina says. She reaches for the basket and looks through the cards, flipping past them one by one. She hovers at one.

“I like this one.” She says, pulling it out and handing it to me. Pink sunset over the ocean behind the dark silhouette of a stone island and pine trees.

“I’m glad.” I say as she fishes out some money to pay for it.

“Have you been saved?” Angelina asks. I smile. I don’t tell her the story. I just say yes. She asks if I have read the Bible. I say yes again. Before she can ask me the next question dangling from her lips, another woman arrives beside her. I say hello. The new woman touches one of the photographs on the table.

“I was touched by an angel once.” She says. Angelina and I both stay still and listen. Angelina’s face bursting in a bright smile.

“The angel came up behind me and touched my shoulder. It was the most beautiful feeling.” The woman picks up the photograph of Grace, the memorial of Bobby’s sister.  Grace stares through the coral hibiscus blossoms at the three of us.

“I have been healing with the angels’ help.” She continues. Angelina asks her if she goes to church.

“No, I can’t. I live in Kensington. It’s too hard to get out.” She leans on her walker. I nod. Angelina doesn’t understand. She sucks loudly on her teeth and shakes her head.

“I couldn’t convince my brothers and sisters to read the Bible either.” Angelina says. The woman shrugs. I say nothing.

“What I want to find is a doctor who will let me work with him and give me a place to stay. I can live on my own independently. Then I could help more people.” She puts down the photograph and starts to roll away towards the next table. I smile.

I have done a terrible thing. Pages torn out and scattered, ignored, detested. Broken journal spine and soft red leather cover ripped. I know the trick to tear a phone book in two. I used it on my writing today. Fuck that shit. You want me to be nice and take whatever you dish out? Fuck that too. I kick at the drum hoping my foot will go through my heart and break it completely. It’s almost there.

I dreamed two nights ago of inspecting my dead body. I was drafted into the army, being forced to go to war. A group that I didn’t know wanted to keep me from going. I didn’t know them in the dream, didn’t know who they were but they took me somewhere, and somehow, in a way that can only happen in dream state, took my mind out of my body and put it into another. Then my body was wrapped up tightly, tied with cord and was laid out on a cart waiting to be shipped off. I knew it was mine. I looked at the toes. My job in my new body was to learn how it was supposed to move. Where the original mind went, I didn’t know. I had to learn how to hold my head again, walk the way the body was supposed to walk, talk the way the body was supposed to talk. If I didn’t – someone would discover that I wasn’t going to bootcamp after all. I woke up from that dream shaking my head. It was a strange one. Last night’s was just as strange. I was going on a trip with my daughters to a resort in space. A planet, maybe the moon, for a holiday. There was a beach on it. A young girl asked me to play with her in the sand. I woke up from that dream shaking my head again. My friend called me a space cadet after I told him about it. What do I need to know about? I ask myself this each morning, each night. I still don’t know.

My brain is a weird place. The only place I can escape to.

I want to retreat now as I am stuck waiting for others, waiting for confirmation, waiting for approval, waiting for direction. I hate waiting. I hate the feeling I get being stuck. I can’t work on anything else until the waiting is done. So retreating inside is the only option, even for a few seconds.

Someone left two paper cranes on my desk this morning. Of all of the origami creatures that can be made, they are my favorite. I cannot manage to fold them. I have tried a thousand times. I am good at making swans, frogs and boxes. Cranes defeat me. I found a book on Sunday about zombie origami. I didn’t buy it but I should have. I know some zombies who could use some folding.

More waiting. I should clean up the mess at my feet. More failed attempts to string words together in some meaningful way. It’s too bad. I liked that journal even if there were mostly empty pages. They were waiting too.

I have been sorting through acceptable lies in order to return to bed and not step out of it for several days. I am walking backwards through days, thinking, ticking off lists that I have forgotten to write and self-medicating with passion flower and melatonin. I have exchanged the robot for a shivering fearful mouse haired ghost. Breathing is like inhaling shame. Only one question floats now, when will it end? The mouse is convinced that it never will.

I stood on the edge of the falls on Saturday, watching the water furiously leap into the white mist and disappear. I felt parts of me peeling off in the high winds and jumping too. It is hard to have a sense of how tall the falls are until you are standing at the gorge overlooking the whirlpools and rapids in the river. Sheer cliffs topped with naked elms scratching the grey sky point out the obvious. Falling over would mean death.

I still feel the rumble in my tail bone. I started to feel it standing on the observation deck and as I walked holding his hand along the black railing. When we stood close with our cameras, I prayed silently. “Don’t let me go”. I didn’t want him to hear. He doesn’t believe in those sorts of things. I didn’t let him hear me throwing up in the hotel bathroom after midnight either. A different evacuation on my knees bare, ceramic tiles cutting into flesh and only the howling wind to listen.



4 thoughts on “excerpt – February pages

  1. thanks HLW 🙂 it is therapeutic and yes, definitely a big plus in honing writing skills. I think that is why I love doing a daily free fall (rather than trying to do a daily journal which I consistently have failed miserably at for years now) because it allows that gate to be cranked open, and whatever needs to be written arrives. Sometimes the voice of the I-character is cranky or witty, sometimes the characters take on a life of their own. I like that I am getting back into the routine of not writing routinely again!


  2. thanks HLW 🙂 it is therapeutic and yes, definitely a big plus in honing writing skills. I think that is why I love doing a daily free fall (rather than trying to do a daily journal which I consistently have failed miserably at for years now) because it allows that gate to be cranked open, and whatever needs to be written arrives. Sometimes the voice of the I-character is cranky or witty, sometimes the characters take on a life of their own. I like that I am getting back into the routine of not writing routinely again!


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