Truth in versions

flamingos 2006


I dip pieces of me into the ink before writing to you. I struggle to peel off the layers, put them down on paper. Truth hangs off of me, heavy like stones strung on string and threaded through me. I am pulled and know these words you may never read before I am gone. I have conversations with you in my head, letters that I will never said, countless pages that I have written and torn out of books to throw away. Instead I sit perched at the window of your life, watching the world I cannot be part of. The words stuck inside of me like slivers of glass.

You said once that you never lie. You just didn’t always share all the information. Lying by omission. The truth in versions. We are all liars in the end, living complicated lives.



give and take



A: There is a bin inside the door.

B: I told you I would get in. Full scholarship. Yes, at my brother’s place. His wife in the background talking, yes.

A: Did you hear me? Stop throwing your seeds on the floor.

B: Heading out for Chicago tomorrow and then to the coast for a few days. Maybe up to Canada; I haven’t decided.

A: I don’t care about your problems. Get the broom and start sweeping.

B: No, I will call you from the road. Just waiting for my brother to get back. He owes me some money.

A : Life is full of challenges, believe me.

B: I will talk to you later. Looks like a storm is rolling in across the lake. Ciao.

A: You have no idea what darkness is. Not really.

B: Will he be back home soon? I need to go.

A: Stop. I know you are scared and angry, but stop. I don’t want to hear about it any more.

B: Why did you slap me? My face is bleeding.

A: Here Kleenex. You are dripping everywhere.

B: Where is he? He should have been here by now. I need to go. This is my chance to start over. You can understand that can’t you?

A: He isn’t due home for hours.

B: Don’t try to kiss me. Leave me alone.

A: Come in and sit with me.




“Are you ok?” he asked. I stood on the gravel driveway looking for a spot to move my car to. Space was at a premium. We were just told in the office that the owner of the building was having the parking lot paved. The squirrel mafia ran in and out of the dumpsters. His voice rose softly over the hood of his car. I turned. He grinned at me  Although we had never met before, I recognized him.

“Yes, thank you. Trying to decide where to park my car.” I said. He laughed.

“Me too. Do you think we will be safe over there?” he gestured to the far side of the lot. I nodded.

“Yes, should be.” We climbed into our cars and drove over, parking side by side. He smile again as he locked the doors and walked over. He smelled of morning, fresh coffee and vanilla. A gust of wind ruffled his wavy, white hair, as he adjusted his glasses before reaching out to shake my hand.

“Nice to meet you.” He paused waiting for my name.  His hands were delicate and strong.

“Leigh” I said. “It is very nice to meet you too. I work for the Orchestra.” His eyes widened.

“In the office. I no longer play. I have only been here a few weeks ” I explained. We started to walk back towards the building. His seemed to bubble as he walked. Still smiling and light like the first notes of an aria.

“Ah I see. I just started working here again as well. Helping the Orchestra.” We reached the door and I held the door for him.

“After you Maestro.” I said. It wasn’t every day you have the chance to hold the door for Uri Mayer. He chuckled and insisted I step through first.

letter on the path


Letter on the path


We took a well-worn dirt path into the park, instead of driving down the steep hill.  Purple and white phlox bloomed in the meadow around the first bend. Like paint spilling from an overturned bucket, the flowers rushed to the edge of the tree line and trickled through the dark tree trunks. I spotted the letter when the path turned again towards the park. It was wedged in a hollowed out tree. The girls ran ahead as I unfolded the paper. I read the words written in black ink.

Your eyes. Stars without beginning or end.

I love you.  


I reread the note. A black squirrel ran across the path, chittering as he ran by me. A blue heron flew overhead. His wings rustled with each flap in the wind. I folded the paper and tucked it in my pocket. The words hung like dew on spider silk. I zipped the pocket shut and hurried to catch up with the others.

{i am the sky}

In the early morning, I wake up before the sun rises. I drive through fields along the ribbon highway, rubber humming against the asphalt as the sun lifts itself up over the horizon, climbing with long thin legs over trees and houses and farms. This land is not my home. I have been other places that felt more so. Familiar, rooted.

At night, I walk to the field at the end of my street and climb the sliding hill. When the sky is clear and the stars are out, I lay down. I feel small. Tiny, insignificant.

Don’t tell me I am the sky. The voice is back and angry. I am not. I am not this wide and unyielding dome covering every aspect of my life, the weather. The birds are my soul flying in and out of tree branches. The clouds my sadness and the rain my tears. I am the earth, the trees, the lazy rivers, the crashing waves. I am not the sky. When I am clear the stars do not shine more brightly do they?

I am the choking seed in the mud. The debris from winter left in the corners by the fence. The nasty phone message. The broken heart. I am the last moment before she died.

I am the weather, not the sky.

Some days I am so overwhelmed. I know the rhetoric, the practice. Stay present. Don’t live in the past, don’t get lost dreaming of the future. I have no future, and the past is eating me. Not just her death, but the thousand other deaths I have lived in the past two years. I have asked for help and received it, but the work remains. I have not asked for help and received it. The why are you not over it yet accusations and you must have moved on by now and sign the papers because we are adults and I am no longer good enough for you. They dangle from me like bitter gems, pulling me deeper.

I get up. I watch the sunrise. I work. I cry. I laugh. I love. I cook. I clean. I am told from many corners I am not good enough. I go home. I watch the sunset. I sleep.

I am not the storm I want to be. I am a drizzling rain that falls like mist and never fills the dried up river bed. I am the husk, forgotten. I am the branch chewed up for mulch. I am spoiled milk left too long in the fridge. I am an egg left to rot. I am yesterday’s coffee thrown up. I am the other one, fucked, left behind, and blinded.

No current.

If I am the sky what would I be?


~ la fraser 2012

A few weeks ago, I shared a writing exercise inspired by Pema Chodron. She wrote “You are the sky, everything else is just weather” – a quote that stuck with me the moment I first read it. On Diving Deeper Writer’s Workshop I have the privilege of looking after the Writing as Spiritual Practice group.

This was the exercise:

Sit with this quote from Pema Chodron. What comes up as you contemplate her words? How is your sky today? What is the weather like? Do not think too much, let whatever needs to come up come up. Don’t edit what you write, just let the words flow from you.

… digging into my sky this evening


100 word story – new years

He was the first one I had kissed that made my knees wibble. New Year’s Eve together then a week. A beginning. I went to him, knowing if I died, no one would notice. He would have been the last. I was ready to go. I never told him that. Instead, I sat on the hardwood floor in bare feet, watching sunlight, writing while he worked. We watched movies and the Dakar rally and in brief moments, explored. Seven days saved me. I wanted to kiss him one last time but the road called me home. Just needed a reason. 

March Pages

The idea is to build to filling at least one page a day… I am not quite there as far as quantity goes, and definitely not there as far as consistency goes, but I’m working on it. I have decided that I will post a little excerpt every few days this month,  maybe more frequently depending on what is going on in my world in general. That being said, here is an excerpt from my March pages so far…..


day 1

I let yesterday go. I felt heavy and sad, worn out and down. It is not a date I want to remember or celebrate. The day that everything I knew shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. The memories stick to me like shards of glass, cutting my skin, my soul. Two years. I am only just now beginning to learn how to breathe again.

Last night, I dreamed that I was standing in a river that was dammed. In the tiny streams that were still flowing, a small group of five yellow ducklings were walking and sliding. They were trying to swim and not doing very well. In the back of my mind, I knew that the river would start to flow normally, and if the ducks did not learn how to swim, they would drown. I went to the little ducklings, and started showing them how to paddle their feet and they followed me down the river. I stepped through the streams and little pools, looking back over my shoulder to make sure they were following. I knew that we would have to go to the riverbank soon before the dam burst. Then I woke up.

Pema Chodron writes about the opportunity that lies within this kind of pain. Our first instinct is to run away, hide from it, deny it, and I definitely did that. The pain so great, so deep because of the betrayal of trust I could not face the truth. I still can’t really. She advises to sit with the pain though. Step into it like you are stepping into a warm pool of water, let it surround and embrace you. In the end, it is the only real way to know; the only way to get beyond it. This is what I had in my mind yesterday as the day passed. I sat in it. It was the first time in two years that there was a sort of dialogue between us about our daughter. Afterwards, I let the tears fall. Actually, they let me fall. I couldn’t stop them. I have been trying for the past two years to find a way to forgive him. I am just not there yet.

day 2

2 am wake up out of a dead sleep. Sweating, heart pounding, no memory of a nightmare or fragment of a dream hanging on me. I throw off the covers, heaving, trying to catch my breath. God what is happening to me? Everything is hot. The air is hot, pressing down on me. It is early March, winter lingering in its weakened state but still holding on, yet I’m drowning. 17 minutes for my heart to slow. Is that normal? I ask the corner shadow. Check my phone for emails that I don’t care to read. Nothing. No text message. No word from anyone.

I should not watch horror movies before sleeping. Especially ones about angels at war. Or Christopher Walkin, whom I love and fear.

The floor is warm under my toes. My throat is full of sand. In the darkness I step quietly. The girls are sleeping. At the top of the stairs the brrap of the cat chattering cuts the silence. Shhh, I tell him. I need water. The stairs groan as I walk down. The cat barrels past me. There’s no reason to shove. We are all going to the same place, I mutter in my head. In the kitchen, I search the darkness for a mug. Turning the lights on would be painful and blinding. I move easily knowing where everything is. No echolocation required.

The water tastes like tin and algae. I make a face that no one sees. The cat knocks on my elbow. Yes, I know you are there. I scratch his forehead with my other hand. His white spotted fur glows in the moonlight. The backyard is empty except for it. The street is too I imagine, though I refuse to look. My heart dances against my rib cage. I find it hard to breathe. I asked for one day without being worried or bothered. I never have just one day. I ask in the mirror, as I climb the stairs again. What would it take to break free? A chance if I can see it.

I never used to worry like this. Maybe I should have long ago? I don’t know. I never used to have nightmares either. Why would angels be at war in the first place? It’s another question I have never thought to ask. The answers are in the opposite, like the cure for being poisoned. These thoughts weave in and out as I lay down again and sink my head into the pillows. The sparrows and robins could be quieter. Or shut up all together. They won’t because it is time for change. I have no choice but to listen.

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.


Mary of the tall pines

They come with the rising sun now: praying on their knees, crying at my feet, asking for forgiveness, for healing, for miracles. My feet are wet, still as the day folds and ends. Below, pine needles flattened in rounded divots, radiating outwards. The sunlight filters through the low branches and the whispering pine boughs. The young woman who found me first, stumbled and then crashed at the base of the tree trunk; her face, bleeding, and turned towards the tall treetops. She looked past me to the blue sky above.

“Please, God, help me.” She cried out. It made my heart heavy to hear the pain in her voice. The despair. She lay on her back while the wind arranged the branches to let the sunlight pass to her cheeks. When the first shaft of warm sunshine touched her, she saw me. I watched her scramble to her knees, and clutched her hands together, knuckles white and stretched.

“Please, I am no one special,” she sobbed, ‘but if you could please help me just this one time, I will make my life different. My name is Anne Marie, and if you help me, save me from this, I will change, I promise that I will.” Anne Marie ran the words together, losing breath at the last. She sat back and wiped her face with the heels of her hands. She cried for two hours. Speaking between the teardrops. She told me the story. I listened to the river that poured out of her. Fragments tumbling in the currents of daily life; her husband left her after sixteen years for a girl half her age. He left her humiliated, doubting everything she thought she knew to be true. Her job didn’t pay enough for her to support her daughters, buy food and pay the rent. Some days she went without eating because she was afraid there would not be enough for her daughters to eat properly. She had no family in town. It wasn’t even her town to begin with. It was his. She knew no one. Her mother died a year ago of cancer. Anne Marie’s brothers and sisters, father scattered, no longer speaking to each other. They spoke to her, making her the hub of the wheel. Alone and in the center. Helpless to do anything except be there when they need her. Her heart so thoroughly broken she lost faith, wandering aimlessly, hollow empty. She felt ugly, weak, useless. She could never be enough for someone. They always leave. Please, just one miracle, not for her, but for her children. She needed to know, to be reassured that there is meaning behind everything that happened. A reason, some hope. When the words stopped, she sat and listened to the wind and the trees singing. I was tied with a rusted wire around a branch that had been snapped off in a storm some time ago; rocking gently with the swaying wood. Blue-green eyes, rimmed red and full still of tears watched me. She looked into my face, and I saw her change. A ripple of recognition, then the ecstatic smile.

Anne Marie did not return for three days. She didn’t come any closer than the outer edge of the crowds. Always watching, she kneeled by the clusters of white and purple violets growing around me and bowed her head in prayer. I heard her voice mingling with others. One voice in the ocean. She was asking questions on the third day. What had she done to lead herself to where she was right now? What had she done wrong? What had she misunderstood about her path? What should she do next? She never used to mind about money. She never had much, but it never worried her. No matter what happened, they worked it out, but now that she was alone, with no one to help, she was paralyzed by fear.

“Should I let go? How do I do that? I can give up and give over to you everything that I am, let you guide me again. I did that, and everything fell apart. Do I need to do that again? Give up and die again and again. How many deaths? What comes next? I am afraid.” She whispered. I listened.

It was not long after she left that the others came. They came, prayed, touched my feet as they passed by. Their stories make the violets grow. Sickness, heart break, worries, sorrow, asking for forgiveness, for healing, no story the same, no story any different. Two sparrows greeted the day with me to begin the second week. The crowds grew as they do. It was no long before the pine needles gave way to mud. Still people crouched to kneel on the hard roots and exposed granite. Some wondered how I came to be attached to the tree, dangling so high above the others. The rusted wire had begun to seep through the cracks in the wood and old brittle pain, staining my face. The sparrows hopped from branch to branch around me, chattering to themselves and eating the seeds from the pine cones. Once in a while a seed would fall loose and drift to the forest floor. Anne Marie held her vigil while the priests came and went. The Diocese came to evaluate. They could not determine the how or why either. It seemed I just appeared from their vantage point down below. Red cords and brass poles pushed the faithful back further. Ladders and magnifying glasses revealed the embedded wire. The tree had claimed it and me years ago.

The first day I found my home in the branches was not unlike this day. The sun was shining. Small white clouds dotted the open sky; an invitation for a pause. Sparrows and chipmunks scurried on the ground. Penelope was nine when she wrapped the wire around the trunk. Pine sap ran over her fingers. She tasted it hoping that it was sweet, but it was not. She stood, hard faced staring at me.

“I don’t feel you.” She said finally. “I am supposed to, I think. Emma said that if you stare at your statue long enough you start to feel. I feel nothing.” Penelope stepped back and kicked at the ground. She looked me in the eye again; fierce blue from behind a veil of blond hair that had fallen across her face.

“Is it because I am not Cath-o-lic?” she demanded. She touched the blue painted shawl covering my head, her finger rested in the palm of my hand.

“I am sorry for that. I don’t know what I am. Emma’ s mother picks me up on Sundays to go with them. They say it is to be closer to God. I don’t know about him. I like your face, the way that you look in the stained glass windows and the big tall statue in the corner of the church. The priest talks in Latin. I can’t understand but it makes me sleepy. I am afraid to sleep anywhere else. I pretend to pray so that I can close my eyes and listen.” Penelope said to me in a small voice. “It’s not safe to sleep at my house. Not when she’s still there.” Every day after that, Penelope came to talk to me. There were no houses then around the trees. As the tree grew taller, I went with it. Penelope stopped coming when the snow fell. She came back in the spring with flowers she pulled out of the ditch.

“These are for you.” She said holding up her fist. Roots and dirt dangled from her wrist.

“I don’t even know if you like flowers, but I thought they were pretty.” She said dropping to her knees. “I am going away and won’t be back for a long time. Maybe never. The police came and took her. She tried to take me first. My dad says we’ll be safe now. I hope he’s right.” That was the last time I saw her.

Thirty years later, the clutch of pine trees were a parkette behind the Wendy’s on Fifth Avenue. The crowds were spilling onto the asphalt. It was good business for the fast food restaurant. Even the faithful get hungry sometimes.

Three young boys stood in front of me in the late afternoon sun. Two of the boys had stones. They threw them one by one towards me, trying to hit me in a game.

“Oh! That one hit her on the side of the head. Did you see that?” one boy with red hair shouted. The other two shouted in unison that they had and that he should try it again. The crowds left two days ago when the officials from St. Peter’s church confirmed that there was nothing extraordinary about me. There were those who milled about for a while. Some did not want to leave. One or two lay down on the ground among the piles of garbage left from dinners at the fast food restaurant. Take out wrappers and empty drink cups blown and torn in the lowest branches of the pine grove. Anne Marie stayed longest. She picked up the garbage and took it to the dumpster at the back of the restaurant. There were those who laughed at her.

“Why bother? It’s a fake anyway. No miracles here. Just a hunk of wood stuck up in a pine tree. Go home Anne Marie.” Mrs. Wilson told her. Anne Marie ignored them. When the forest floor was finally cleared of debris, she went home to cook dinner for her daughters.

The second boy stood forward and took aim. He held a bigger rock in his pudgy hand. After a few practice swings he threw it. The rock landed short and the other two laughed.

“See guys, I told you this would come in handy.” The third boy said. He unhooked the strap of the bee bee gun from his shoulder and leveled the gun at me. The cold black barrel pointed squarely at my chest. He cocked the gun, took aim and squeezed the trigger in a single breath. The pellets hurtled towards me and in seconds shattered bits of wood flew everywhere.

“That was for my dad.” The boy said. He spat on the ground and walked away. The other two boys burst out in a sudden fit of laughter. I hung partially held by the pine tree that had grown around me after all of those years. Head, shoulders and part of one arm remained after the rest fell away.

They would forget that I was there. Some would remember when the time was right. Anne Marie would never forget. Penelope surprised herself. She lived twenty miles away. The news found her huddled in the corner apartment over the convenience store, Penelope told me. She arrived just in time to hear the gunshot. Penelope picked up the large splinters of wood and cupped them in her hands gently. She found my feet at the base of the tree, lodged in the crook of a branch. She stood underneath looking up as the rain started to fall.

{excerpt} waking up

My head is throbbing. I shade my eyes from the glare of light. Two African violets in a white plastic margarine container sit beside the window. Bubble gum pink and indigo violet blossoms opening. I go to the window. Brushed steel lines the window glass, cold under my fingers. How long was I sleeping? I had no idea.  A sparrow batters itself against the glass. Its wings flutter and thump against the window by my head. I look passed him to the street. Sun glare burns my eyes. Tears fill the corners, and threaten to spill over. Black rooftops of houses sit in lines below my feet. I realize my feet are bare. The night gown I am wearing is deep purple lined with lace. Outside, I can see orange tattered flags hanging down from sagging telephone wires. They signal a warning to dump trucks and construction crew below. No one works there now. The street is almost deserted. Dull grey weathered telephone poles erupt through the sweating grey concrete. Broken asphalt is piled chaotically at the side of the street. No one must walk there. I can see no footprints in the pale dirt. The dust hovers around steel supports and giant culverts made of concrete. I can see numbers and letters coded in royal blue spray paint on the culverts. They turn upward to the sky. Calling out to someone, anyone. I stand with my palms flat against the window.
Why is the street empty? The question stands up like the rust coloured rebar jut up through the dirt. They are like dangerous fingers daring the unaware to walk through them. I press my forehead against the cool glass. I turn my head slowly, and  try to look further up the street. Orange and black traffic cones lean lazily in different directions. Dirt brown brick buildings butt up against the Vietnamese Buddhist Monastery. Windows covered with white thick curtains. A fifteen foot white statue of Quan Yin sits in the front courtyard watching the street through barbwire and chain link fence. Her feet surrounded by cherry red and fuchsia geraniums in white glowing flower pots. The only person I see, the nun dressed in saffron robes, stands outside the monastery and  sweeps the dust from the trucks off the terrace. It floats around her in thin beige clouds. She smiles in the afternoon sun. I wonder if she can see me in the window watching her. Does she know who I am?

I drag my eyes back to what is in front of me. Pressing my knuckles to my temples, I try to remember the past day. Nothing. The back of the two-storey walk up stares at me through the window. The brick is black, like an open wound, and angry. The faint rumour of a fire  is etched in the formed stone and mortar. I can smell the fire in my nose, a scent memory but I don’t know from where. Wooden balconies balance precariously against the wall. Torn screened doors lean against old wooden door frames daring the wind to come up on them. Nothing moves outside. The wind does not take up the dare. Underneath the balcony, I can see two purple sofas with worn out arms huddle on the first floor porch. Beer bottles and waded paper collect in corners; remnants of the people living there. I massaged my neck. I felt the lumps at the base of my skull. They are large and rounded, tender to touch. My body quivers. I wonder how long I had been standing.
The windows are all covered in the building. Newsprint and cardboard instead of glass.  I am standing like a crow watching. The landscape is like an abandoned urban postcard, tossed unthinking to the ground. Wish you were here. But I don’t. No one moves on the grey boards or gravel yard. Wilting lamb’s ear spills out of the broken garden box and pink primrose struggles to grow in the corner by the rusted out fireplace. Brick and patio tile fragments stacked against the shed. An abandoned robin’s nest jammed in the downspout of the eaves trough. I wonder where the babies have gone. No trace of the signature blue anywhere. All that is left behind, black garbage bags and brown cardboard boxes piled on the second floor balcony and a bright blue tarp flaps wildly in the sudden wind on the roof. Fear settles into the pit of my stomach. The shingles mirror me, and disappear in places where holes like hungry mouths bite at the sky above.


* note: this story grew out of an assignment on Diving Deeper… and has taken a kind of life of its own since I started writing it. Now I am at the point of having nightmares about the story. I often dream stories before or while writing them.. but it is the first time that I have written something that has given me nightmares. This is the sole reason why I am continuing to write the story – to see where it goes! Soon I will be sleeping with the lights on.