Leonard: The Reporter
Writing Prompt: “Resurrection”:
One time, when I was a life guard, a little girl came up to me and pointed frantically into the water. I saw the body of a woman with her arms spread eagle, and her hair feathering out around her at the bottom of the pool. How had I missed this accident? I jumped into action, blowing the whistle, and commanding everyone out of the pool. My military officer’s voice of authority came back to me easily. I dove in and was immediately struck by how calm I was under its surface despite the emergency at hand. I reached her still body after several seconds underwater, and then swam adeptly, pulling her to the pool’s edge. I ordered people to take her from me to move her onto the deck as I jumped up beside her lifeless body.
It was then that I realized that I had never actually saved anyone before. I had been in the military, and never saw action. I had been a life guard, and never rescued anyone. I had been a father, and was not able to save my daughter, Vivienne, who had died young of heart failure. However, this time, I might be able to save this woman. I leaned over her, frightened for both of us as the crowd watched us battle for her life. I breathed into her several times, and then, with relief, saw her chest rise and her eyes flutter. I rolled her to her side so she could wretch out everything that had attempted to drown her. Her daughter sat beside us, and I could hear her whimpering in alarm contemplating life for a few moments without a mother. The resurrection of this woman from one who could not breathe to one who could, was miraculous, and when she came to, the people around us cheered. It was the one time in my life where I had been a hero, and I remember every second of it with crystal clarity.
Leonard was satisfied with his writing after reading it over a couple of times. He waited for the others to finish their compositions. He always loved the sound of pens on paper in this little writing group. The coffee was delicious, and for a few hours, once a week, he felt like he belonged somewhere important.
The days of pens on paper were a thing of the past. He used to take great pleasure working as a reporter at his desk in the small-town Ontario newspaper office. He loved seeking out the story, and then bringing it back to the little office, and breathing life into the words while the other reporters around him worked at their ideas. Nowadays, the clicking of keyboards and people plugged into headphones kept everyone at a distance from each other. It was about that time when reporting started to feel mechanical through computers, that he chose another career. He missed the white noise of people brainstorming, paper shuffling across desks, and pens scratching over paper.
He had been taught to write an article in college by studying the form of the inverted pyramid where he would provide his key content upfront and then narrow it down to salient anecdotes and details later in the story. He never knew if his editor had space for all of his ideas. The editor might hack off the end bits if he found it too long. Leonard’s objective in every article was to refrain from skewing his story with his own bias, despite his many temptations to air his own opinions.
He was plagued many times with insecurity as to whether he had said too much or too little or led people to a conclusion that they had not drawn themselves. In essence, he had been taught to do clean research which he would always run by the editor before the deadline. He had very good editors with eagle eyes and incredible reporting integrity. Editors in those days had to make a careful stamp of approval on every article before it went to print because they were held accountable to what people read. If a story was found to be untruthful, or lacking in appropriate fact or evidence, they were required to write retractions apologizing for any errors. Leonard had taken his profession of journalism very seriously and endeavoured to report real news.
Interestingly, his son had taken to writing as well. He was his only other child with a girlfriend that he had a brief relationship with down in the States a lifetime ago. Oddly enough, they had both stayed friends long after the love connection had broken, and she had encouraged his relationship with their son, Adam. Over Adam’s childhood, they had visited together once or twice a year, sometimes in Canada, and often in the States. As a result, they had grown to appreciate each other in ways that normal father-son relationships did not allow. In these brief snapshot encounters together, Leonard got to see the enormous progress that a year could make in a young man’s life. Adam had grown into a busy man who was an editor for a publishing company.
Leonard looked over to see Sarah, another writing group member, reviewing her writing intently. She looked up at him and smiled. Her red hair and green eyes reminded him of what his ginger daughter might have looked like later in the life had she had the opportunity to live. Leonard thought about his Vivienne every day of his life like an aching wound that never healed. She had fallen overboard on one of his sailing trips with she and her mother. The marriage never survived the devastating loss. He wondered where she was now in the after-life.
He waited to hear what everyone had to read aloud in this quiet space shared by these reverent and creative souls. He was especially interested in what Sarah had to write because she always made him laugh, and her intelligence and keen wit gave him hope that the world could be a better place with such kindness and compassion of people like her within it. Today, her writing did not disappoint and he listened, enraptured by her observations of sunsets, her words mirroring his feelings about the universe.
Writing Prompt: “Awe-Inspiring”:
There is nothing as awe-inspiring as my world at sunset. I think of the world ablaze and how splendid it looks in its nocturnal anticipation. How few times have I actually sat and watched its descent, except, of course, when I have travelled.
I remember being on the Nile River floating from Luxor to Aswan, listening to the “adhan” (the mosque’s designated caller of prayer) delivered from the various town mosque minarets along the shoreline. Marketeers floated on tiny boats alongside our large river boat, and tried to sell us rugs and other textiles. There was something magical about hearing their voices singing to us in an effort to encourage our business. Their galabeya silhouettes contrasted magically against the evening amber light.
I remember sunset on the Grand Canyon. It captured the magnificence and the enormity of this wonder of the world. Nowhere in the world have I ever seen such a glorious sunset as in this amazing wonder of the world. It changed the hues of the rock as it descended into darkness transforming from atomic tangerine, to coral, to burnt sienna, and then in its final declaration of light, to glorious luminescent sinopia. No painter would ever really be able to capture it. I have tried. It is impossible.
Now, I sit on the little veranda many evenings in this little town and watch the sunsets. I have the time. I make the time. Every night the clouds shape the colours in their striation, cirrus, cumulous; or her favourite, lacunosus formations (that resemble the ripple waves on a beach). Every single evening dazzles me with a different light show. Then the curtain of light closes, and the comfort of darkness enlivens my other senses to hear the frogs and to smell the pungent cedar trees from the forest below.
Sarah: The Bank
She deposited her cheque and withdrew some cash from the bank machine, and then grabbed the receipt. She rarely looked at her bank balance, preferring to look at the numbers in the quiet of her home. However, for some reason today she glanced at the total. It was considerably more money than she could remember depositing. Had she made a mistake? She quickly reviewed her statement, and realized that her deposit had been correct. She put her card in again, and looked back through her banking history. Fourteen thousand and forty-four dollars was deposited last Monday. How could this be? She walked into the bank to speak with a teller who reviewed the situation in detail. He reviewed his computer that someone had deposited the money in cash. No one knew who it had been as there was no need for a record of a cash deposit. As long as someone was not withdrawing from her account, they could do what they liked to contribute to it.
“How did this person know my account information?” she asked, feeling exposed.
“They likely never knew your account number, but likely gave us your name and some details, and offered it as a gift to your account. It is legal. If it had been over fifty-thousand dollars, we would be obligated to notify you, but in this case, it was not necessary.”
“So, there is no way to track it?”
“What about security cameras?”
“No, Mam. There has been no security breach or damage here, and so this type of search would not be accommodated,” the manager who had been listening to their conversation leaned over and provided a definitive answer.
“I see,” she gathered up all of the statements that they had printed out for her, and left the bank in a daze. She could not imagine who would give her this substantial amount of money. Her parents were not in the habit of such generosity. Her ex-boyfriend of many years, rarely kept in touch, and none of her friends would be able to spare such a fortune. Instead, this was a random deposit made in cash by someone who had decided to give her some money. It was done in person, and everyone she knew who had money, lived far away, and would not travel such a distance to give her cash in secret and then leave without notifying her. She wondered if there was anything unforeseen in such an anonymous monetary gift. Would someone show up on her doorstep and expect something from her? Was this a mistake that she might have to restore to the bank at some point should someone come back to claim it? With whom should she inquire about or share this situation?
Leonard: The Boat
Every time it came time to finally launch his boat, some other matters came up. His son would phone up and talk him out of it. Adam was irritatingly sensible which was probably why, Leonard concluded, that he was not married yet. His friend would fall ill and go into the hospital and need a visit. He had to collect clothes from the laundromat, or food from the grocery store. Eventually, he would lose his nerve wondering if it was truly the right decision to simply sail away into the sunset.
He had an Island Packet Long Keel Cutter 35 and named her Gloria. She was a jewel. She had a 4 foot 6 inch draft, displaced 17,500 pounds, with a 12 foot beam with new rigs and sails. It was the Volvo of sailboats, boxy, not sexy, but very safe and comfortable. The interior had a dining table that could fold up against the bulkhead, making lots of space inside. He always got a great sleep in the roomy berth, and there was lots of storage in the aft cabin. The galley had a great stove and 12 volt refrigerator. The boat could hold 90 gallons of fresh water, and so he could have showers when he chose to do so. It had been a lot of work restoring sections of it over the last few years, in an effort to finally get off the grid in this little town. He was excited by the prospect, but was not entirely sure when it would be the right time to make his escape.
Escaping had become his primary reason for living lately. He wanted to feel alive again. It was time to feel the pulse in his veins that had become shallow and unpredictable. He wanted to explore some of the world that remained open like a gaping question mark. Most importantly, he wanted to know himself again because he had become lost in this old body that housed a young man’s heart.
Sarah: The Survivor
Every week she attended a writing group. This eclectic group of creative writers met in a little community hall that was built when this little quintessential BC hippie town was first formed by a paper mill company in the early 1900s. The small wooden building was painted bright lime green on the outside. The interior was filled with the dark brown hues of Douglas Fir. The hardwood floors creaked under the weight of her feet as she moved carefully through its hall carrying a full hot coffee and loaf cake to her seat. Each week, she was ready to sit around the old wooden table with eight or so other members who came to free-write with their journals and pens in hand. They were given a writing prompt by Fran who was the leader of the group who then carefully timed them for ten minutes to compose something out of thin air. “Time” she would call out in her loud deep voice when it was time to stop writing. There would be some groans at the interruption to the flow of their creative concentration. A couple of people would rebelliously continue even after they were told that it was time to stop writing. Then, everyone would stop, read and listen.
It had been the one morning every week that Sarah would force herself out of bed, throw on her old sweater and sweat pants, and pull her hair together into a pony tail. She was always five minutes late no matter what her massive effort to be punctual had been. It was a struggle to get moving in a life where she no longer had any real time commitments. Her recent middle-aged medical diagnosis after a long life vacillating between good and ill health, proved to be genetic, disheartening, but manageable. She would live a long life, but she had to take care of some things in order to do so.
She chose to move to this small town to be near the ocean, and the woods where she could breathe better, rest and rediscover herself in a world with a slower pace and fewer expectations. Over the past few years, travelling was her escape. Egypt, Thailand, Turkey, Japan, Cuba, Nicaragua and Vietnam, just to name a few, were places that pulled her into new experiences to become the person that she only dreamed about for the rest of the year while she worked hard as a teacher. Once she got on the airplane, every other responsibility in her life dissolved away, and for a little while, she was completely immersed in her new experiences.
Recently, every time she looked into the mirror, her middle-aged status frowned back at her. She stared deeply into her settled eyes of a societal burn out. Over time, her sense of responsibility and importance of having a busy career fell away and was replaced instead with her accepting time to recuperate and rebuild her life. This vacuous space of time required discipline and focus that had never really been afforded her previous life composed of lines: bottom lines, deadlines and front lines. She now sat dormant on the sidelines, waiting to feel that impetus to charge back into her profession again in which she was well-trained and very experienced. It was in this period of nothingness, in the grey weather of the West Coast where she came face to face with her new unknown destiny, alone in a frontier of her own.
During this period in her life, she wrote in order to preserve her sanity and to ward off a sense of purposelessness, isolation and depression that threatened to devour her each and every day. She phoned the town library who directed her to this eccentric little group with an odd assortment of people who gathered together to disclose ideas that never went any further than the group. “Please come and join us, Sarah,” Fran, the founder of the group welcomed her warmly. Fran always forgot Sarah’s name at every meeting, but Sarah learned not to take it personally.
It was an eclectic group. Carrie was an ex-ESL teacher from China and writer who was now an elderly landlord in the community. Randy ran a mechanical outfit out of his garage, and believed adamantly in aliens. Brian was a red-headed young man who skipped work at Canadian Tire so that he could come and join us. Gladys was an elderly lady who found it difficult to breathe and talk, but managed to inch her way towards the table in her walker every week. Anna was a tough-talking, no-nonsense kind of woman who originally had no teeth. She was always talking about them, and one day, she showed up with a full mouth of teeth again. Bob was recovering from addiction, but who over the few months that she had been in the group, seemed to be happier and healthier. Paul lived on the streets, and did not always make the group, but when he did show up, his words of the world were powerful. Haddie was a textile designer who owned three looms. David, a radio announcer known for his eccentric behaviour, wore cosplay costumes on many occasions, surprising them with his fantasies as he played out his characters.
Leonard was the oldest in the group. He was in his eighties, and had been first an officer in the military, then a journalist, next a commercial diver, and finally, a recluse on one of the Gulf Islands where he jokingly described his profession as selling pot in order to make a living. He was an articulate writer who spoke softly of his many past lives, and always with clearly laid-out plans to escape it all. Sometimes he wrote about sailing away on a boat he had been building and harbouring nearby for over a decade. At other times, he told them about his motor cycle and his plans to drive down into the States to visit his family, and then camp along the beaches of North America. He invited them all to his going away parties that never came to be, and they quickly learned that there was always some delay with his boat, or his bike, that prevented him from launching his dreams.
What Sarah learned was that no one in the group really aspired to publish, and as a result, there was no real expectation to critique each other as writing groups typically did with the members heralding themselves as literary experts. Instead, these people let down their masques and disclosed intimate details of their lives through various topics. They usually worked with three writing prompts a week, and through these literature starters, brought forth some aspect of their lives in sound bites of fiction or non-fiction; poetry, or prose.
It was here where she started to heal. She was shy at first, not telling anyone much about her career, education or upbringing, now feeling like an imposter in her own life, and for fear of appearing pretentious. Instead, she just wrote her ideas down like everyone else, and was impressed with the raw talent that shone brightly out from everybody once a week. These people made space at the table; welcomed her warmly when she arrived; and listened to her intently when she read aloud. Her narratives made people laugh. Her jabs at the politics of the local area started heated conversations within the group. She felt valuable here once a week, while during the other six days of the week, she did odd errands or attended social gatherings in this little town, and accomplished the stuff of life. She followed a strict diet. She walked. She read. She wrote. She painted. She waited.
Sometimes in the middle of the night after a dream or nightmare, the truth began to flicker to life. She had never really known an authentic life of her very own; instead, she had been living a life working for other people. She had been living 6:00 am to 6:00 pm as a cog in a wheel designed to drive an organization forward, never stopping—never failing.
Her big epiphany came one morning when she was drinking tea and listening to her antique clock counting her thoughts that she felt absolutely no loss in the work that no longer absorbed her time. She looked for it, but the grief was gone. Her job, in retrospect, had been finding and providing second-hand experience to herself and students. None of it, except when she was travelling, had actually been her first-hand knowledge or experience about anything beyond the scope of her home and school and other frames of reference. As engaging as she could be teaching students in a classroom about the subjects that she taught, they were still learning it through her eyes, or through books, or the Internet, and rarely from being in the real world themselves.
What she did miss was the conviction that she had once had about her identity in her hard-earned career. Now she was adrift in a new life in a beautiful town in the Pacific North West of Canada that boasted bear, cougar, fish and wildlife who were literally her neighbours and came around regularly just to keep her on her toes. The lush beauty of moss and ferns beneath canopies of cedar and alder trees stunned her wide open like the Morning Glory flowers that unfurled to the sun in the early hours of the day. The fiery autumn sun set over fragrant blackberry briars kept her busy making jam and wine. Nature’s abundance surrounded her. She learned to wear sweaters in the moist sea air, and go for walks while appreciating the sea lions beckoning her alert in the summer mornings. She realized that each and every day that she lived in this sleepy town away from the pressures of her old reality, she was starting to heal. Colour was returning to her cheeks in a face that was no longer puffy from stress. In the positive disintegration of her life, her Phoenix was rising.
Leonard: The Motorbike
Writing Prompt: “Roadways”:
I had found the perfect three-man tent that would fit nicely into the saddle of the motor bike. I have done a ton of upgrades to my Road King. It is more than just a lot of chrome. Last week, I put on a new rear tire with lots of tread. It has seen a lot of action, this motor bike, especially down the backroads around these islands. I think that it is ready to hit the highway again, and I phoned my son to let him know that I am coming down. He seemed oddly excited to have me finally on my way. He talked about us getting over to the Grand Canyon as this was a place I had visited once in my youth, and which has always stood out as the one place I would return to before I died. I remember the hotel up on the cliff overlooking the canyon where I sat and watched an artist carefully bring to life through oils, the burning orange colours of the canyon at sunset.
The roadways always felt good to me under a motorbike with a good engine. When I was heading somewhere with my helmet on, and my gear stowed away neatly behind me, I knew that my life had purpose and adventure. I did not know what would happen next, and that was refreshing given that in most of my life lately, I knew exactly what was going to happen. I longed to travel again, and chase after the next story, but those days seemed to be behind me. I was working on my autobiography, but even that was getting side tracked by my poor memory. Some days, I can remember the bits and pieces of my life. Other days, I cannot.
The thing about travelling is that when I travel, I long to come home. This is the harsh reality of the traveller: the tugging of the heart to leave and the pulling of the mind to return to its comfort zones, just like canaries that fly back into their cages when they are released.
After the writing group today, Leonard started to walk downtown. Before he knew it, he was walking along the road that led to the ferry, and then, without understanding how, found himself on the ferry looking back at the town from the water. He did not have any money and no real destination, but sat comfortably in the seat looking out over the water. The captain announced a sighting of a pod of Orca on the starboard side. They breached for quite a few minutes right in front of everybody. They were marvellous in their enormity, and he never tired of seeing these mothers playing with their enormous offspring.
‘When Gloria and I decided to leave’, he thought, ‘I will be neighbours with these whales.’ Maybe he would hear them calling to each other at night while he moored in any number of Gulf Island marinas. It would take him some getting used to with the clanging of sail boat halyards every night. It did not really matter as he could sleep whenever he wanted now in his retirement. There was no real need to fuss and fume over all of the mundane tasks that he frittered his time away with now, living in a town with too many unimportant responsibilities. He longed to leave for good.
”On second thought,” he reconsidered, “Perhaps taking the motorbike down to see my son would be the best plan.”
Sarah: Asking Questions
“Where is Leonard?” she asked.
“He was put into the hospital. He was caught wandering, and his family wanted him taken into care. He has been struggling with the onset of dementia for quite awhile. It seems to be getting the better of him as his behaviour has become unpredictable,” Anna told us.
They sat quietly, contemplating the writing group without Leonard in it. “Will he need anything? Should we be visiting him or sending him anything?” They all contemplated their own final old-age destinations. Where would each of them be when they lost their faculties?
“I think he is being assessed, and will be medicated. The hospital is likely the best place for him to be,” Anna reassured us. “I will be visiting him this week once we are allowed, and I will let you know how he is doing next time we meet.”
Sarah sat chewing on the moist lemon loaf cake, and sipping on the rich, dark coffee, listening to the gentle cadence of people reading their weekly devotions. This little community hall had become her church, and this group, its spiritual congregation. Their religion was the written word. They wrote to prove their existence. She wondered if anyone would ever read her journals that she stored in a firebox at home in her attic. Would historians from the supernatural future look back and like the Egyptian hieroglyphic experts, try to recreate the world as she recorded it in her careful cursive writing? Would the paper survive like the parchments found in Ephesus in Turkey, in part because they had carefully fortified the library walls in order to protect it? Would her words survive?
Would Leonard be okay?
Sarah: The Visitor
He came up the steps and found her sitting, enjoying some morning coffee and sunshine. The sun always surprised her with happiness when it warmed the one adirondack chair in the corner where she always sat with her coffee in hand looking out over the water. Her hair was wild with curls, and she was wearing her favourite flannel pyjamas. She did a double-take when he showed up suddenly at the top of the stairs holding a parcel of some sort. She had not heard anyone approaching and when he appeared, they both stopped and stared at each other for a few moments. He looked incredibly familiar, and she tried to get her social bearings.
“I’m Leonard’s son, Adam,” he announced awkwardly. He set down a parcel by the door and came over to shake her hand. He looked around at the view of the ocean in front of them. Gulls squawked and her ginger tabby came over to brush up against him with a welcoming head rub.
“Yes, of course,” she answered. He was the spitting younger image of Leonard with dark red hair, blue eyes, and fewer wrinkles. He stood straight and wore a loose grey shirt and jeans. “Come and join me. Do you want some coffee?”
He hesitated and sat down next to her without answering her question. Instead, he got straight to the point, “Leonard passed away.”
“I’m so sorry,” she gasped, taken back, pausing to find the right words to continue.
“He wanted me to give this to you. He said that you would appreciate this painting.” He went over and handed her a box wrapped in crude brown paper. Inside, was an antique-framed oil painting of the Grand Canyon. The artwork leapt out at her with a brilliant, intensity that brought tears to her eyes. She could visualize the exact spot from which this artist rendered this particular moment in time. It was the spot on the mountain that looked down through the rocky canyon to the river below. The artist’s evening light set the beautiful moment on fire. “It is stunning,” she whispered. She looked up at Adam and caught him wiping tears from his eyes. They were both moved by the moment.
It dawned on her,“Did your father leave me some money in my bank as well?”
“Probably,” he admitted. “Money was always showing up in my account. It is his MO,” he laughed. “He spoke quite a bit about your writing group, but said that he liked your writing very much. He explained that you would sometimes drive him home from writing class. To be honest, I think he loved how you wrote about travelling, and you probably helped him dream about all of the places that you described in your writing. He had travelled many places as well when he was in the military, but I guess the one place that you both had in common was the Grand Canyon. He told me that he did find one artist that had captured it well and that you should see and have it.”
“He was right. It is perfect.” They sat transfixed by the masterpiece in front of them. “Thank you for bringing it over.”
“Yes,” he fidgeted. “There’s more,” he stroked his face and paused before proceeding. “I came and picked him up from the hospital when I first learned about his medical circumstances. I knew that it was time to take him on that motorcycle trip that he had always talked about. I waited too long, I’m afraid. I have a few bikes, and have an Indian Chief with a side car—vintage,” he pointed down the block two houses away from them where he had it parked. “I got my love of motor bikes from my father. Anyway, I thought I would come and pick him up and we would just hit the road.”
He struggled with his story, and she waited as he wiped his tears away on his sleeve as emotions took hold of his story. “He was so happy when we took off,” he turned to her, and they were both crying openly at this point. She reached for him and held his hand as he continued to tell his story. They were no longer strangers, but instant friends in their shared affection for Leonard. “When I showed up, he barely recognized who I was, but when I said, ‘Pops, let’s do that road trip’, he was so excited. We got all of his gear and didn’t waste any time. The weather was great. I remember looking over at him sitting beside me with his helmet and a big grin on his face like a small child. He didn’t care that it had come down to me driving and him sitting in that side car. He was just so happy to finally be on that ferry and then being on the highway…with me. We drove for hours like this, stopping every hour or so for breaks and good conversation, talking about our lives as if this might be our last time to do so…” his voice choked up.
“It sounds very special,” she squeezed his hand.
“But, he didn’t wake up at the US border. We rushed him to the hospital, but he had passed away somewhere on the last part of our trip.” They sat still, watching the large red barge making its way towards the pulp mill. “He left me all of his money, what is left of it, and his treasures. But, I remembered that he mentioned that you loved the Grand Canyon and should have the painting. I asked around to find out where you lived.”
He hesitated, “There is one last thing. We didn’t make it over the Hoover Dam and to the Grand Canyon. He wanted to go there one last time. I have his ashes…” The big question was implicit in the pregnant pause.
She was caught off guard by what he was asking of her, but it was a natural one to consider at this point. She was at a crossroads in her life. She had time and inclination for this grand gesture. “Do you want me to go with you?” She looked into his blue eyes with small creases in the corners that revealed that they were more inclined to smile than to weep. He nodded a bit shyly, given that it was a lot to ask.
She breathed in deeply appreciating the enormity of the invitation and what it would entail for both of them. “I’ve never ridden on a motorcycle before,” she admitted.
“I will be very careful with you,” he promised.
She hesitated. “Well, I guess I have some packing to do.”
“Thank you,” he turned to her, and then smiled with a big sigh of relief that lit up his face into a relaxed grin. “I didn’t want to do it alone.”
“I think your father would approve of us following through on at least one of his escape plans, don’t you think?” she remembered all of his plotting and scheming over the past couple of years. “And what about the boat?”
“Ah, yes, Gloria” he considered it aloud and stood up to look out over the view in front of them and then leaned to look into the windows behind them where her easels and ceramics cluttered her dining room table. After some contemplation, he turned to her, “Perhaps Gloria and I have a destiny of our own to consider,” he declared. It was then that she decided to let him inside her house to start planning Leonard’s final escape, his celebration of life journey.