Blind Raise: A Poem by Shelley Robinson

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The Right Hand

Born into the world the Ace of Hearts

she rides the wonder years

Pollyanna eyes wide open;

believing that super men emerge from telephone booths,

everything possible, nothing insurmountable

rafting the thunderous odds of the Kicking Horse

 

Working for the King of Diamonds

where The One blocks the sun,

her fortress is surrounded by dangling carats;

her ego pays the bills,

buys the furniture

stashes loonies in a Tim Hortons can

 

Broken by the Seven of Clubs

money blankets unreliable bedfellows,

rounders with stilted promises;

she looks past the bidding games

where the players finally fold, expressionless;

trust is earned, not given

 

Amidst a run of spades

pain forces true character to the surface

where her inner child and mature woman separate;

everyone learns to lie, but she studies the truth,

wondering if Justice prevails beyond Judgment 

even when the verdict is dealt through sleight of hand

 

Her friend jumps off the Alex Fraser Bridge; 

she retreats to Refuge Cove, searching for luck

dreaming of a ten—open;

then the tide deals her a star fish

and like any last card, she makes a wish, 

picks it up and wonders whether to throw it back in

 

The Left Hand

Dancing on the deck of the major arcana in between time 

playing The Wheel of Fortune,

he is born a simple Fool from Calgary,

convinced that the Magician rescues people;

he struggles to find his True North, strong and free

and heads West

 

His God speaks to him through an old man, The Heirophant

explains how to reconcile strategy and luck

on the long bus ride to Gibsons:

“never look the dealer Death in the eye and

always ignore The Devil who distracts you 

with ambivalent ambition”

 

Time loops and he slips

somewhere into the middle of the deck,

at the end of the highway in Lund,

his card not yet drawn;

like Temperance, he waits to be turned over,

for The World to finally reveal its meaning

 

Sitting on beached driftwood along

the still waters of Desolation Sound,

beside an ancient midden of shells,

breathing in pungent spring, cedar and skunk cabbage

savouring fleeting fulfillment, the essence of it; 

The Empress turns to him and smiles

 

He stands at attention, saluting this perfect moment;

he ponders, extending his hand to her,

uncharacteristically choosing not to

calculate his roses, bells, acorns and shields;

this time his hope rebukes the law of averages,

defies the trick deck

 

He suddenly forgets how to worry;

he compares his life to the shifting tide pools,

the sea anemones, hermit crabs, limpets and moon snails 

suspended in time, living in the present,

waiting for their ocean Chariot 

to come in and carry them somewhere else

 

She turns to him and waves;

the idea of The Lovers

mesmerizes him as much as her beauty;

he bets his future and walks over to her,

she flings a star fish back into the Salish Sea

showing him how to win the unbeatable game of time

 

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Sailing Home by Shelley Robinson

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The boat was a Freedom Yachts Cat Rigg that slept six people.  It was a Gary Hoyt Design with an almost four-foot fin keel draft and a gun mount spinnaker.  Although it appeared a bit worse for wear, Jacob knew its value.  It had not been a long and highly contemplated decision.  In fact, it was a decision he made in under a minute.  As soon as he saw it, the impulsive, but well-intentioned idea was born and there was no turning back.  His dad would fix this boat and it would, in turn, help his father heal his broken heart.  All it would probably require would be some fibre-glass repairs that were both structural and cosmetic.  As well, he would have to probably look at getting some keel and rudder modifications.  It would need some paint both topside and bottom.  He estimated that it would be a couple month’s work if not more.  However, he remembered that his father loved this kind of detailed work and they had, through most of his youth, shared the rewards of getting each rescued boat out into the water for a fishing trip.  It was always a labour of love that rarely covered the costs, but it was an adventure every time.

As expected, his father, Harry, baulked at the idea.  “I have to stay in Victoria and tend to the garden.  Your mother’s clematis will be devoured by the deer if I don’t keep on top of things around here, and it’ll cost a lot to repair a boat like that, Son…and, wouldn’t your social life get a bit cramped with an eighty-year-old hanging around your house?”

“What social life?”  Jacob finally joked.  Being on-call for the hospital all day and night did not allow much time for ‘socializing’.  It never had.  Even in his marriage.

There was much hemming and hawing in a drawn-out conversation about the practicalities of such an idea for both of them on Pender Island, even though Harry could stay quite comfortably in Jacob’s guest suite.  Harry slowly turned his decision around with an enormous sigh, “Well, I guess your mother would approve of me coming over to see that you’re taking care of yourself.”  They both knew the truth that loneliness had set in for Harry over the past six months since his wife’s passing.  Nothing had been able to snap him out of his dark funk.  The once vibrant gardener who used to have his ever-present life-long companion of almost sixty years by his side, was now simply a shadow of his former self.

When Harry arrived the next Sunday afternoon, Jacob walked down the heavy planked ferry ramp at Otter Bay to meet his father.  Harry carried an old army duffle bag and a fiddle case, and sauntered slowly up the dock with a negligible limp. It seemed to Jacob that just yesterday Harry had been taller, stronger and more capable than anyone else’s father in his hometown.  Now, he seemed smaller and hunched over with an expression of surrender.

“Have you been waiting long?”  His father’s watery blue eyes betrayed his happiness to see him, and Jacob embraced him in an awkward hug and patted his back solidly.  “Come on.  I’ve got some steaks waiting.”

The old Ford truck stymied Harry. “Why such a junker?  Surely a doctor can afford a better vehicle than this?”

“On Pender? What for?”

“What woman in her right mind would go anywhere with you in this dilapidated  beast?”

“A woman who wants to go fishing in my new boat,” Jacob grinned.

“By the sounds of it, that’s no scream in hell either,” Harry quipped back.

“Yet…” Jacob laughed.

After a dinner they relaxed with some Irish whiskey and easy conversation reminiscing about the good times he and his parents had shared together.  “Remember the time we were renovating the boat that summer, and instead of grabbing water to drink, you chugged back paint thinner?  We thought you were a goner.”

“It was the best stomach pumping I’d ever had.  Your mother always labelled all of the containers in big black letters after that.”  He found his old deep laugh again.  They moved to Jacob’s deck overlooking Swanson Channel.  The turkey vultures glided beautifully in the thermal currents below them.

Over the next few days, Harry spelled out in dismal itemized detail the expensive reality of fixing the boat.  “You’ve got yourself a humdinger of a work project that will definitely damage your pocketbook.”  The garage morphed into a well-organized shop.  Harry always worked like a surgeon and carefully lined up his ship-building tools, some of which were as old as the hills, along with his fibre-glass repair kits ready for the operation.

One afternoon when Harry was setting a flange for the new part on the mast step, Jacob brought out two beers and lured Harry into having a break.  “I didn’t see you all night.  Hot date?”  Harry half joked and half poked.

“Nope, just work,” Jacob avoided the conversation he had always had with his ex-wife Angela when her face pursed up in disapproval reminding him that back to back on-call schedules would shorten his life span.  It had, in fact, shortened their relationship.  His father sensed a touchy topic, but tried a different one. “There’s a fiddling night coming up at the end of August.”  Jacob heard the invitation in the air.  It was the first time that Jacob had heard his father take an interest in anything since his mother’s death, and he knew that he would not be able to ignore the overture.  He also knew that if Harry was planning things in advance, he was also planning on staying awhile.

“I’ll have to re-string my violin.  I’m pretty out of practice.”  Jacob wanted to confide to Harry that he had become rusty at everything that did not involve the certain and sterile world of his orthopaedic ward.  When he operated and felt the familiar instruments in his hands, he was relaxed and in control of his life, but outside of the hospital, he felt lost at sea.  He avoided and yet longed for a relationship all at the same time, but the medical world and the real world of women did not meet half way ever.

Harry seemed to read his mind, “A ‘Rebecca’ left a message for you.”  Jacob raised his eyebrows.  She was the sister of the host of a gathering he’d been at a few weeks ago.  He had actually called her after the party, and now, surprisingly, she was calling him back.  His alarm at her reply must have shown on his face because Harry joked, “I’m sure she won’t bite,” and winked, “unless you want her to.”

“How did you make it work with Mom?”  Jacob’s interrupted him suddenly feeling awkward and vulnerable.  Harry contemplated for a few minutes as the sun set burned to a red ember just at the peak of the neighbouring island of Salt Spring.  “She sort of made it work with me.  The life of a medical supplies salesman on the road most of the time can be pretty challenging.”  They sat in companionable silence and Harry continued.  “She almost left me when you were fifteen.”

Jacob was surprised, “Why?”

Harry paused to collect his thoughts.  “I’d lost sight of what was truly important. I always felt bad that I put her in the position of taking a stand like that.”

“So, what happened?”

“Well, we stayed together,” Harry laughed at the obviousness of his statement.  “We stayed together because we had you and I made some necessary changes.  I realized then that I wasn’t really working for the family as the ‘provider’ as men think they ought to be.  I was actually escaping some of our domestic responsibilities being so busy at work.  I realized that working sixty hours a week, much of it away from home, filled not only my pocket book, but my ego.  The irony was that I had to always keep doing more and more of it to stay confident about myself and to stay one step ahead of my own game.  I’d won a recognition award that same year with the company as best selling salesman of the year, and somehow as much as I’d worked for that prestigious honour, it didn’t really mean anything at all when Miranda said she’d had enough.  I realized then what really counted.”

Jacob had realized the same thing in his own marriage, but had not acted on it soon enough.  Angela had left him and not amicably nor easily.  She and Jacob both knew that he was in too deep in his career after years of education, internship and then settling into a successful practice.  They were fitting their lives into his work and not fitting their lives into a dream that they both shared together.  After the divorce, he had toyed with the fact that if he could just meet the right woman, someone who understood him better, things would work out.  However, as time went on, he knew that this was conditional thinking.  It was more about learning to be the right man for himself and for any partner.  His father had demonstrated more integrity than he had in his marriage.  His father had sacrificed his career to accommodate his mother.  And Mom had had more courage than he had realized to ask this of him.  He just saw her adoring his father most of his life and he could not imagine a life growing up without both of them together.  They had scrapped and had difficulties, but they loved each other very much.  It was just the way that it was supposed to be with them.

Jacob took Rebecca out on a date the following weekend and Harry teased him most of the morning asking about their plans.  Finally, when the sun hung heavy in the pink and blue cirrus clouds and the dragon flies flittered about, he drove to the ocean front restaurant where she had agreed to meet him.  He always marvelled at how languid this island became at the end of its signature summer days.  The boats in the distance hovered around one area probably spotting a pod of whales making their way towards Thieves Bay.

When he arrived, he saw that she was already seated.  She was a spunky red head with a dancer’s body.  When she moved, all eyes in the room followed the trail of energy she left in her wake.  He had not had that kind of electricity in his life for a long time.  His friend Ken had introduced them, and for the rest of the night he was only conscious of one person in the room.  It had been one of those fondue parties where chocolate and cheese pots were set up throughout the house.  He had dipped a lot of strawberries just to make conversation with her.  Others kept interrupting them, but she had an incredible laugh that drew him to her over and over again.  Every time she looked up at him, he melted, like the cheese in the pots all around him.

“Am I late?’ he asked.

“Oh no, I came early to watch the sunset and catch up on some reading,” she admitted.  “I love this view from here.  Don’t you?”

He agreed.  He asked her about her day as the owner of the town bookstore.  She had received a new shipment of books by the local children’s author that had finally come and done a reading for the book club she had started.  She seemed very excited about it.  Wine loosened up the conversation further and he explained his various roles at work and all of the related jobs and meetings that he was part of recently.  He was proud of his accomplishments and yet she did not seem interested in it.  It puzzled him because he believed that there was a certain glamour and importance about cutting people open and making them better, but Rebecca asked different kinds of questions:  Where was he from?  What was his family like?  What did he do in his spare time?  Who did he hang out with on Pender Island?  What did he hope to do with himself in the future?  He was oddly disturbed and entertained to have someone interested in just him, rather than in his job.  He tried to answer her as honestly as possible, but much to his own chagrin, his answers seemed to steer back to his work.

He explained his father’s visit and the boat project.  “If we ever get it fixed up, I’ll take you out for a sail.”

He turned some of her questions back to her.  She had been raised in Calgary.  She wanted a simpler and more meaningful life where things were greener, people knew each others’ names and there was a delightful charm about the island life that had begged her to stay.  “I couldn’t get over the fact that at the end of many house lanes there were little sheds housing people’s wares of blackberry jam, eggs or honey for customers to pick up and pay based on the honour system.  People hitch hike here trustingly instead of having any kind of bus system.  I just knew that I had to stay in a place like this.  The next year, I bought the store and gave up my teaching job.”

Then she asked him what he felt his destiny to be, and he felt the conversation ground shake beneath him.  Her bright eyes awaited his response, but his hesitation was a gaping hole of silence.  He did not really have an answer beyond his work, and he knew that she knew it.  ‘Why did she have to ask so many damn questions?’ he wondered.  He was unable to pretend.

She veiled her disappointment at his lack of true engagement in the talk of dreams and future, and then politely steered the conversation to safer waters.  In essence, she rescued him.  The evening then became one of pleasantries and small talk.  When the delicious salmon meal was finished and the bumble-berry pie disappeared, Jacob dared to ask, “Will you go out with me again some time?”  Rebecca paused and then declined.

There was an extremely awkward silence after that, but Jacob asked why she had turned him down.  She replied, “Oh, I get very busy this time of year.”  He sensed her lie, and asked her to be honest with him because he had enjoyed the evening very much.  She bit her bottom lip, “I’m not interested in playing second fiddle to someone’s work.  I’ve been there and done that too many times in my lifetime.”

He waited for her to add something else, but her face flushed slightly and her eyes danced with determination when he responded, “How do you know that that would be the case with me?”

“Because everything in your life is second now.”  Her answer was straight forward and sensible.  “A focused man like yourself only changes for a woman initially, but he always reverts back to what he perceives to be his basic calling…the call to prove himself.”

Jacob felt oddly defeated and motivated by her comments wondering why he should bother with this at all.  He answered his own thoughts, ‘Because she’s real, and like Angela, she’s telling me the truth’.  He only had to be kicked in the side of the head so many times before he finally got it.  He thanked her for joining him and told her that he would be in touch because he would still like to take her on his sailing boat.  She smiled at his persistence and nodded.  His heart jumped at the possibility.

The beautiful thing about Pender Island was that the moonlight usually lit the way home.  He drove slowly on the twisting narrow road to avoid hitting any tiny black tail deer lurking in the shadows.  As he approached his ocean front driveway, the disappointment of her initial rejection hit him.  He felt like calling Angela, even though three years had passed since their initial separation.  He wanted to tell her, “I was an ass.”  He smiled wondering how many ex-wives would love to be told by their ex-husbands that they were jerks.  Oddly, the lights in the house were off.  Harry was usually up later than this time.  When Jacob walked into the front living room, he sensed something was wrong.  He called out “Dad!” and started making his way down to Harry’s bedroom.  It was empty.  He carried on to Harry’s ensuite and found him lying unconscious on the bathroom floor.  His pulse was thready and his breathing was shallow.

“No!”  Jacob whispered urgently at his father afraid to move him for fear that he had fallen and hit his head on the sink affecting his neck.  After calling 911, he heard the wails of the Island EMS as it made its way along Schooner Way.  They had responded quickly to his call.  Tears were streaming down his cheeks dotting his father’s grey shirt as he rolled him into the recovery position.  Jacob knew for a second what Harry must have felt like finding his mother on the floor the last day of her life.  She had died from a massive coronary.  Two parents in one year was simply too unfair and he began to cry the tears of a young boy lost in a harsh world without his parents to rescue him.

What they learned later in the hospital was that Harry had had a stroke.  His small body filled up so little of the bed under the hospital blue bed linen.  They had airlifted him to Victoria where they did a CT Scan to see if it was a brain clot or bleeding.  The ECG indicated some fibrillation and Jacob waited to talk to the doctor on call while Harry dozed.

“What happened?”  Harry rasped out in the early hours of the morning awakening Jacob from his uncomfortable slumber in the chair beside him.

“You had a stroke,” Jacob answered softly so as not to awaken the patient behind the curtain next to them.  Leaning closer, Jacob said, “We’re in Victoria.  We got here in time, and they were able to give you some medication to stop the full effects of a stroke.” And then finally he asked Harry, “What happened?”

Harry managed a weak smile, “It was the bloody eagle.”

“What?”  Jacob thought Harry might be delusional from his medication, but Harry continued in a slow and laboured way.  “It was lifting up a chicken and dropping it on your front cliff trying to kill it.”

Jacob caught himself smiling as this frail old man, his father, revealed the bird drama that had been happening quite regularly on his front cliff since he had bought the place.  “But the chicken wouldn’t die, right?” he finished his father’s story, having seen this crazy eagle steal the chickens from the neighbour’s chicken house many times.

“No, the bloody thing wouldn’t die.  The eagle kept flying higher and higher with it squawking and flapping in its grip…”  He coughed loudly and Jacob gave him some water to help with his dry throat. “…and then it kept dropping it to smash the life out of it.”

“So, what has this got to do with you?”  Jacob was still puzzled.

“I’d never seen anything like it.  I got all excited and I had to run downstairs and get the video camera, but I tripped at the base of the stairs.  That’s really all I remember.”

“Dad, you had a stroke trying to film a falling chicken?”  Jacob said in disbelief.

“It appears so…” Harry managed a soft painful chuckle.  The danger of his life almost ending was lost on them in the humour of it all.  Harry finally fell back to sleep and Jacob waited until the morning to learn from his colleague the matter of his father’s prognosis.  Lance explained that they had attempted to dissolve the clots and that had only met with partial success.  He was going to have to remain in the hospital to do his full rehabilitation considering his age and his lack of medical support available on Pender Island.  They would then move him into another ward to help him with his recovery.  Jacob realized that his medical connections likely had something to do with some of this special attention to his father.

Their visits over the next few weeks focused very little on the depressing matters of health of which Harry hated to speak.  Instead, they talked about the boat renovations: what to buy; how to fix it; and stories of the trial and error disasters of Harry and Jacob’s past projects.  Harry and Jacob were re-building the boat together just as they were rebuilding their lives enough to set sail again.

The sweet strains of the violin sang out one day when Jacob visited.  Harry had been entertaining his fellow patients with “The Lilting Banshee.”  The quick beat of the Irish jig filled the corridors.

“The boat is almost done.  Are you ready for a sail?”  He announced that the final sanding and painting had begun.  He had recruited a carpenter to help speed up the process, in part because he wanted to take his father out for a sail, and because he also hoped to invite Rebecca out for a sail around the island.

Jacob did not read his newspaper on the Ferry to Victoria this particular morning.  He spent more time than usual looking out at the Gulf Islands appearing like large furry creatures resting their heavy cumbersome bodies into the sea.  The waves and currents wrapped around the wake and then disappeared into the vast waters around them.  Grey seals warmed their bodies on the little island boulders just past the marina, and Jacob felt the call of the ocean again, like he did in the old days when his father had shown him the world of tying knots, tacking and jibbing, and gliding across the water.  Harry had given him all of that time.  Jacob had for some reason deprived everyone he had ever loved this basic human commodity.  Time.  Why?  It had been something he doled out so sparingly, sometimes more frugally to himself, than others.  What had driven him?  Money, prestige, power, pride?

He had tried to keep in touch with Rebecca by email, and had told her about the slow and steady progress of the boat and his father.  She would reply occasionally and spoke briefly of her store renovation, visiting authors and a distance education course on spirituality that she was taking on-line.  He had seen her in town occasionally.  Once he had spotted her on a date with someone else, and it had been disheartening.  It had bothered him because he knew Ed who was a fun loving outdoorsman that ran the local kayaking shop.

When he had not heard from her in a while, he popped in at the book store and asked her if she would join him on his boat that he had just painted with his mother’s name “The Miranda”.  She looked around her uncomfortably and took him to the back of the store by the psychology section.  He imagined that he probably needed a self help book entitled “Dating for Dummies” given his circumstances.

“Listen,” she looked at him with her beautiful lashed eyes.  Her hair was loose and curling around her shoulders. “I’m really flattered by your attention.  You really do seem like a nice guy.  The thing is…I just don’t think that I’m all that interested.  I’m sorry.”  She left little room for negotiation on this matter.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I want someone with the same dreams that I have—to run this shop, build a wellness centre on some ocean front property growing organic food, travelling around the world, climbing to the top of a few mountains, and then coming back to this quiet island from time to time to re-group.”

“I live on this island too.  How do you know that I couldn’t fit into that dream?”

“Does it even remotely resemble your life plan?”

He hesitated.  He had not really thought about any of it.  This woman had a way of pointing out everything he needed to work on, rather than making him feel good about who he was right now—a man finding his brain after a painful divorce, losing his mother and then almost his father.  “You really haven’t given me much of a chance,” he spoke quietly.

She considered this possibility.  “But I’ve given what I need from a relationship a great deal of thought.  Have you?”

“No,”  he was honest.

“Well, then, you’d be fitting into someone else’s dream rather than finding your own way.”

“What about sharing a dream?”

She looked down.  A shadow of doubt crossed her face just for a moment and then she resumed.  “I’ve been in a relationship where I was a salmon swimming up the stream of the ‘successful, but busy life’, and…” she looked away, a bit teary by her admission, “And…like the salmon, I started to die at the end.  I’ve finally found myself here, and…well…I’m willing to wait to meet someone who is already on the same journey on his own impetus, not mine.”

His heart pounded inside of his chest.  He was losing someone else again.  He wanted to slam his fist into the book shelf and demand that she give him a chance, but he knew that he had not really done the work.  He really was just not ready for this new and very exciting relationship.

“You’ll find someone.”  Her kind tone was conciliatory, and he smiled politely saying things that he could not quite comprehend himself—something about wishing her well, and hoping he would see her on a mountain top somewhere, someday.  He bought a book and left the building feeling like a pathetic school boy being turned down to go to a school dance.  He drove home feeling completely humiliated.

A couple of weeks later, the day to launch his sail boat had finally arrived, and even the fact that he would be doing it alone did not diminish his enthusiasm.  He looked for a course that would allow him to sail away on a reach.  He won the tug of war on the mooring line.  He trimmed the jib on the side opposite the direction he was sailing.  He was certain that the mainsheet had plenty of slack, and finally the main sail could fully luff and fill and this awoke in him a feeling of absolute euphoria.  As he gained speed and control, he gave the bow line a good heave.  The day was a windy one and he was happy with the sails that he had purchased.  Otter Bay Marina never looked as good to him as it did today as he sailed on past it.  The wind pulled at his sails and he felt alive for the first time in years.  Rebecca’s rejection flew out of his mind as he felt the boat speed up a few knots and he busied himself with setting his course.  He could hear his father’s voice in his head as he maneuvered nimbly about his boat.

He had asked his father to be in Sydney when he arrived, and a joy soared through him as Harry and Harry’s new friend Alice, a fellow patient from the hospital, approached from their car and walked down to the dock.  From a distance, Jacob could feel Harry smiling out at him while Jacob waved to them from the water.  He was a kid again, and he could hardly wait to show Harry his new sailboat—their boat—the boat that brought them back together again.  When he jumped out onto the dock, Harry joked, “Nice boat—I hope you have life jackets.”

Jacob pointed to the name on the side of it, and Harry smiled.  Alice beamed on from the sidelines and declined the invitation to join them for a sail.  “Where’s your date?” Harry looked perplexed. “I’ve even got a date,” he teased, pointing to Alice.

“I was shot down a second time.”

“Well, I guess third time lucky is a charm?”

Jacob shook his head.  “I’ve got some work to do before that happens.”

As he and Harry sailed away from the dock, Alice waved at them happily.  Jacob raised his eyebrows at his father to tease him about Alice, and Harry just waved him off as if to say, “I’m interested, but too old.”

They both smiled out at the water together.  As they hit the middle of the sound, he knew that he and his father were where they most belonged, sailing home to Pender Island where, at the end of it, they would drink a bit of whiskey and play some of their favourite tunes on their fiddles.  He felt like he was taking the first big step towards a new life, and for the first time in a very long time, embracing life happily on his own.

Leonard’s Escape: A Short Story by Shelley Robinson

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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?”

“No.”

“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.

Focal Points: Reflection by Shelley Robinson

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Too Many Rabbits:  She is a woman of multiple focal points.  She has a habit of chasing too many rabbits in too many directions and often flops down on the ground, disheartened and down-trodden by her state of “dis-expectation”.  Nothing ever really lives up to her standards of interesting enough, fun enough, organized enough or thoughtful enough.  Everyone around her knows her tragic flaw of perpetual disappointment, and stays clear of her before she gets them in the grips of her sentence starters: “I haven’t heard from you lately;”or “You never do this or that…” or “I was hoping we could go shopping together.”

Shopping together entails the painful experience of her walking down aisle after aisle longing for things she doesn’t have, comparing items to products she assumes are better somewhere else; and “could we just go to another store after this one to compare prices.”  The cost of things is always in question, and in the end, all of the joy from the overwhelming world of retail therapy is squeeezed out and hung out to dry long before she is ready to go home.  All the while, she ponders why she can’t have or do what other people are doing with their wonderful friends and families in their wonderful worlds.

Greener Pastures:  Her world of envying all of the other greener pastures paralyzes her ability to actually do anything about her own circumstances.  Her life is simply too overwhelming and reduces her to fits of drama that people find difficult to endure.  We long for someone or some circumstance to come along and shake her awake to her own good fortune.  Maybe then she might stand up and pay attention.  Solutions abound to those who are willing to be present long enough to be honest about their responsibilities and, in turn, their relationship to them.  Oh, the world of the emotionally disenfranchised people who blunder and blame, and find no joy even when joy sits right in front of them sharing tea.

She sits in her elder years, quite plaintive and charged and easily set off by anyone presenting condolences, or worse yet, offering solutions.  “You know,” she speaks emphatically after she tires of any unwanted advice, “All of my friends are dying.”  This statement is the trump card that forces people silent.  And then her victim status is clearly marked and protected with her emphatic stonewalling conversation clincher: “I don’t want to talk about it!”

We all want to whisper (or maybe shout), “Go in the direction that the wind is blowing instead of standing in it refusing to bend.  Find one point of direction and start moving towards it.  Stay on track.  Keep focussed.  Be gracious in the journey, and for goodness sakes, be grateful!”  We don’t say this to her out of respect for her age and disability.  We sit quietly watching the drama unfold.

In the end, she was a woman of multiple focal points.  She had a habit of chasing too many rabbits in too many directions.  She got lost and made sure that no one wanted to look for her.

 

 

Goal Posts: Reflection by Shelley Robinson

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Soccer with the Boys:  Every time she ran past all of the boys in the old field nearing the make-shift goal consisting of coats or back packs to mark either goal post, she got nervous.  What if she shot the ball and missed?  What if she tripped and fell?  What if she let someone else block her and steal the ball away?  Inevitably, she’d make a big effort and usually miss.  She had more break-aways than any of her male friends, but to no avail in the end.  It was very frustrating.  Even when she was hyperventilating on the sidelines, pondering her next strategy, she was perplexed by how she would choke in her end game.  This nervousness was self-fulfilling, of course, and she often copped out and passed the ball to someone who could finish the game and close the deal, but never credit her for doing much of the work to support the goal.

Stay Cool:  Today, she decided, would be different.  She wanted to try a different strategy.  She would not work so hard to do the big shot to score, but instead, she would slow things down just long enough to tap it in away from the goalie.  She would “place” the ball in the imaginary net. She would coax it in and surprise the other team.   As she ran in another game-changing break-away, she decided to breathe instead of holding her breath in an anticipation of kicking the ball with all of her might.  This time she slowed down and ducked one way while kicking the ball in the other direction.  While attempting to deak around a boy who flung himself in front of her intent to score, she fell onto the ground after he collided with her, and they both looked up just in time to see her ball casually rolling into the goal.

“Yes!” she hissed aloud.

“No!” the other team’s boys exclaimed in disbelief.

“Yay!” shouted her own team mates in admiration.

Finally, she had figured a way to outwit the other team, as well as her own performance anxiety. The trick was to slow down and calmly knock in the winning point. They never saw it coming. This became her Modus Operandi (MO) in the game of life wherever she needed a competitive edge to not only get ahead, but to stay alive.  Keep cool and go around the goalie when they least expect it.

Tap.

Score!

 

 

Pressed: The Uncomfortable Truth about Late Adult Cystic Fibrosis (CF) or (CRMS) Diagnosis: Catching My Breath After a Long Journey by Shelley Robinson, PhD

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Triage:  What do you do when you are drowning in phlegm, coughing up a gut, and unable to breathe?  Does this sound like you?  You avoid going to the hospital because you have been to the clinics and hospitals a few dozen times without success.  However, you finally end up in someone’s medical office because the problem persists or gets worse.  You explain your symptoms to the doctor, and you try to explain that this time, you would like them to take you seriously.  This is not the typical cold, you plead.  It has plagued you too many times, and it feels like every time you get sick, it is worse than the time before.  It feels like pneumonia, bronchitis and the flu combined.

The doctor asks you to pull up your shirt so he/she can listen to your chest.  He/she assures you are not wheezing and that “things sound fine”.  Occasionally, one of these doctors orders up a chest X-ray that indicates some variation and degree of phlegm issues in the chest (depending on the occasion), but essentially, it is not considered a big deal.  You are sent home with or without a course of antibiotics and possibly an inhaler prescription (often without a sputum sample or blood test), and are left to pick up the pieces of your own slow recovery for the next few weeks.  Over the counter medications do not really help, and there is a sense of desperation in the whole situation as you cannot miss work indefinitely.  There is little medical follow-up because you are just glad to get better and the doctor has moved on to the next patient.  If you pursue it too assertively, you are deemed a “hypochondriac” and sent home with a pat on the back.  No one really connects the dots of your sorry lung issues in your ten-minute appointments.  The wait time for specialists can be up to a year, and so you soldier on with your life hoping that things will resolve themselves with time.   Next year, it will be easier, you reassure yourself.

Turning Point:   In my case, this scenario was repeated two or three times a year since childhood for 51 years.  In a couple of instances as a child, I was intubated and hospitalized.  As I got older, my family knew my routine as a fragile sick person that could be down for weeks with a cold during the fall and winter months where I would transform in the spring and summer months.  I always noted that when the furnace came on (dry air), my significant medical issues arose.  Aside from one doctor who I had in my twenties who did routine sputum cultures and told me that I was “growing some pretty strange stuff in my lungs”, I was never really taken all that seriously even when I was hospitalized.  In the doctors’ defence, they work extremely hard to manage crowded waiting rooms; as well, the research about CF and related issues is quite new.  My lung specialist told me that I did not have asthma or any lung issues by conventional testing, despite my obvious difficulties.  My signature phlegmy cough was recognizable by my colleagues and friends, and my son commented that he always knew when I was coming to pick him up from school because he could hear me coughing down the hallway.  It was something that I just learned to deal with and survive each time I became ill.

In a recent hospital visit in 2016, I was initially sent home “with a cold”.  I returned worse the next day to a young doctor who decided to take me a bit more seriously than the doctor the night before.  After further testing, we quickly learned that I had pneumonia and pleural effusions.  This situation escalated to a crisis where the doctors then admitted me into the hospital and eventually into intensive care.  The doctor on call admitted, that they did not know what was wrong with me as my situation was deteriorating.

On Day Two in this little hospital’s ICU, breathing in oxygen and hooked up to antibiotics and machines monitoring my vitals, I asked for a sputum culture.  The doctor indicated that sputum cultures rarely showed much, and that they were not really as helpful as blood work, but I insisted.  I wanted to know more about this sticky and overly-productive phlegm issue that was blocking my breathing and controlling my life.  My sputum culture came back showing Burkholderia Cepacia Complex (B. Cepacia).  The doctor told me that this was sometimes a bacteria typical of people with Cystic Fibrosis.  I was terrified of this term Cystic Fibrosis (CF), laden with terrible stories of medical strife and death as by definition it is “[a] common grave genetic disease that affects the exocrine glands and is characterized by the production of abnormal secretions, leading to mucus buildup that impairs the pancreas and, secondarily, the intestine.  Mucus buildup in lungs can impair respiration” (medicinenet.com, 2017)

Connecting the Dots:  I was referred to a travelling respirologist to who came into town a few months later, and he listened to my story.  I explained my credibility as an educated person (because it seemed important to appear logical), and spoke my case assertively after rehearsing how to do so with my husband the night before.  My recent five-day stint in the hospital motivated me to advocate for myself.   “I am drowning in phlegm.” I was emotional despite my preparation.  “This has been my life story.  When I get sick, it is unmanageable.  I am completely disabled by viruses and do not recover from them without antibiotics, but the antibiotics game seems filled with guesswork.”  He listened intently.  I did not want to hear the same old responses from doctor’s assigning me a medical category with pat prescription protocols.  I was an educated woman (PhD) and a researcher, and I knew that I needed someone to connect some of my medical data together into a picture that made sense.  I wrote out my history, and tried to formulate my own interpretation of it so that I could share it sensibly with these experts.  Surprisingly, after this one appointment of him paying close attention to my medical story, he referred me to a CF Clinic.  From there, I started to learn more about the lungs and began a rigorous diagnostic process.

What I want to emphasize at this point in my journey is that having adequate time with specialists is truly the turning point in my situation.  In my opinion, it is impossible for doctors and specialists to truly understand a complex diagnosis without adequate time to do so.  Short appointments and sporadic visits with lengthy wait times are not likely to encourage rigorous research, follow-through and the follow-up of any one patient.  My knowledge and explanation of my medical story as a layperson is open for medical scrutiny; however, this is my interpretation of where I am at in my own research process and medical diagnosis given my work with various doctors.  Once I had this tiny piece of “sputum evidence” that I might have bacteria indicative of CF (as scary as this seemed to be at the time), people started taking me seriously.  Interestingly, when they looked back in my files, they spotted this same finding in 2002 and 2009, but these details were few and far between and got lost in my medical trail.  Even though I had many symptoms that are relevant to this type of disorder, I was not knowledgeable enough to draw this type of medical conclusion on my own, nor did anyone seem to have the expertise, nor the time to step back and really look at the whole picture.

CF has typical complications including difficulty digesting fats and proteins, malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies, progressive lung damage due to chronic infections, reproductive issues and sinus infections.  The CF specialists have been very thorough and kind and it has been reassuring that they are tuned into the research of the Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator (CFTR) that I am learning is the most common genetic disorder of Caucasians (Brusgaard, 2012).  I have always had trouble with constipation, sinus infections (and nose bleeds), eye issues (dry eye, floaters and other), bronchial infections, uterine problems and pneumonia, and my doctors along the way have not heeded (or known to heed) some of these red flags by looking at them in their entirety.  In a nutshell, I was a very dry person from the inside out and in light of this lack of natural lubrication in my mucous membranes throughout my body, I struggle with the reduced ability to metabolize nutrition and function easily in my life, especially with my breathing.  I have been ill often, and significantly so, and I have found it difficult to recover from viruses that quickly turn into infections.

CFTR-Related Metabolic Syndrome (CRMS):  By this point of this journey the doctors had become vigilant in my testing.  I was immediately asked to do the definitive CF sweat chloride test.  “If a doctor suspects a patient has CF, a ‘sweat test’ may be administered. This test measures the amount of salt content present in the sweat. If the test comes back positive, it means the sweat collected contains more salt than usual and supports a diagnosis of CF” (Cystic Fibrosis Canada, 2017).  My first sweat chloride test indicated a 70 and the second a 30.  A finding of over 60 was the standard indicator of CF.  Medical eyebrows started to raise.  Both findings were high, but the variation was atypical.  My blood work was showing bacteria that had likely colonized in my lungs for many years because it was not eradicated by the strong antibiotics that I was prescribed once they learned about it.  A metacholine test, indicated that I did have asthma, but not severe enough to warrant the degree of my ongoing phlegm and breathing issues.  Even though I was a healthy woman by many test standards, things were starting to look like there might be more at play in this later-in-life diagnosis.  I learned that 18 people a year are diagnosed with CF into adulthood (Cystic Fibrosis Canada, 2017), but my findings are still inconclusive.  I am being asked to return for a third sweat test in a few months, and am completing a second genetic panel of tests to confirm whether I have any genetic indicators of family history warranting a formal diagnosis.  In light of my circumstance, my father and sister are doing the same testing given that they have similar symptomology.  As a family, we have concluded that the triangulation of this family information will shed light on which direction we each head given my test results so far.

What I am learning is that I fall into this grey area of CF known loosely in the CF world as CFTR-Related Metabolic Syndrome (CRMS).  “Your doctor may diagnose you or your child with CRMS if the sweat chloride test results fall into an uncertain or borderline range described as ‘intermediate.’  The diagnosis of CRMS means [that the patient] may experience problems in the parts of the body often affected by CF…Although the future health of someone diagnosed with CRMS remains unclear, there is a higher risk of experiencing problems in the airways, sinuses, intestines, pancreas or the reproductive system” (Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, 2017).  If this is the case, I will need to follow the CF protocols regardless of a formal diagnosis because I struggle with symptoms that are similar.  I cannot get too hung up on its definition when the research about it is still so new.  These protocols include the following for me, and I am learning to be disciplined to…1) eat a strict CF diet (a diet that resembles an auto-immune diet) with vitamin support (and digestive enzymes); 2) exercise to strengthen my lungs; 3) use a saline nebulizer; 4) use a nasal irrigation system with saline and/or medication; and 5) take prescription breathing inhalers every day.  I have a clearer understanding of the colonized bacteria in my lungs that may reactivate should I become ill and, as a result, which antibiotics are susceptible and resistant to them.  I am also more eligible for inhaled antibiotics where necessary because (my understanding is that) they operate more directly with the airways and with fewer complications to the body.   In general, I am more aware of how to behave in times of illness which defies some of the behaviour typical of doctors when they are leery of prescribing medication or antibiotics or pursuing medical testing where things appear to be simply a cold or the flu.

Pending Diagnosis:  No longer will I accept a quick diagnosis and prescription guesswork as the implications for mistakes of this nature at this stage in my life can have grave complications like they did last year when I was first turned away from the hospital, and then later, admitted into intensive care.  I will also insist on testing where it seems appropriate.  I have also learned that testing is a more rigorous and can be a more discreet process when you have the “CF” label attached to the lab requisition paperwork.  My lab findings have shown more issues with this CF screening title than previously indicated.

Now I self-advocate by taking notes, paying attention and asking the right questions.  I keep track of my eHealth reports, and I learn by reading relevant articles.  I am not a hypochondriac, despite the medical profession sometimes making patients feel this way when they are invested in their own health.  Rather, I am an interested participant in my own medical well-being.  I ask for longer appointment times (20 and not 10 minute appointments) and I speak more directly about what I am experiencing in my body as well as how I am feeling about it at an emotional level than I felt comfortable doing in the past.  The body and mind work together and it is imperative that we look address all of it as we work through medical challenges that can sometimes proactively set us in the right direction.

Most importantly, I talk about this situation with people who care to listen.  I am writing about it now so that other people can learn from my trial and (lengthy) error experiences because I hope to spare other people a similar journey filled with repeated illness and complication.  I am particularly invested in my medical findings because my family is now involved and I watch them struggle with some of the same medical symptoms and obstacles for finding workable solutions.  What I am learning is that the research field of CF is opening up with new information for those of us that are paying attention.  I hope that general practitioners and specialists are also paying attention.  My diagnosis is pending, but whatever the findings will be, I will take my medical situation much more seriously moving ahead into the future.  I anticipate that in ten to twenty years, we will have a new language for this type of disorder and likely within a spectrum of possible diagnoses.  We will be better able to help prevent, mitigate and/or solve these issues for people who are currently struggling with these types of problems without knowing what to do about it.

 

Awakening Nearby: Poem by Shelley Robinson, November, 2017

 

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I awaken beneath salal

Ancient firs fend the rain

Sun casts ethereal rays

 

“It is time,” the raven calls

“Let go,” the eagle shrieks

“Be free,” whispers the wind

 

My friends and family?

My job? My dreams?

Frigid fear flashes

 

“They live nearby while you rest,”

Sitka soothes tears

spilling silently where I lay

 

“You are awakening

amidst the fallen;

You are anew,” the alders speak

 

“Go deeply into the forest;

Boscage and briar protect you;

Look forward, not back”

 

“Crescent moon awaits;

Your essence will etch eternal

in their love and laughter”

 

Cedar cradles my spirit

I enter nature’s holy temple

My name is hereafter

 

This poem is written in honour of my friends and family who have recently lost their loved ones.

Mini Short Stories by Shelley Robinson

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It is difficult to write short stories, and especially when the challenge is put forward to do so in under 420 characters.  In many ways, these five little mini-stories are short story prompts for someone to come along and fill them up with more details.

Unexpected Grace

Her scull cracked on the floor.  Should she cry out to her ex-boyfriend?  She would rather die than have him save her.  Her sad life dripped out onto the cold tile.  The cat licked her forehead.  Apathy anesthetized her as she floated to the ceiling.  She willed death to rescue her.

“Push!” A shrill voice scolded her awake. “This baby wants to come out now!”  It sounded like her deceased mother.  Grace was on its way.

 

Blind Date

I ordered another drink.  He was an hour late.  We had been talking online for days, and this was our first date.  We had discussed being soul mates.  He was a veterinarian.  I checked my phone to confirm our details.  The bartender smiled at me sympathetically.

A disheveled older woman confronted me.  “My son changed his mind.  I came instead.”

“Why?” I gasped.

“He’s fourteen.  It’s illegal.  Stop contacting him!”

 

Cry to the Wild

The bear’s claws ripped open her arm.  This black, hungry forest stalker had been tracking her for miles.  She rolled into a ball frozen in fear and searing pain.

It looked up and stopped its attack, distracted by the growl of a scavenging wolf.  It gave her time to throw down her pack and run.  Mother Nature watched her bleed.  Where was her merciful God?  She heard faraway voices and yelled, “I will not die today!”

 

Lost Baby

The old woman found a baby in the park swaddled in a flannel shirt.  Its pink skin and twitching fingers dredged up her maternal instincts.  The urge to take him home to her trailer overcame her and she tucked him into her bulky coat and hobbled to the bus stop.

The shrill newborn cry shattered her will to execute this desperate mission.  She sat on the bench and cried.  This was another baby she would never keep.

 

White Collar Stowaway

He made a decision to stay on the plane connecting to Hanoi.  He hid in the bathroom while the crew cleaned the cabin.  He found a spare seat near the emergency exit and became invisible next to the cute child.  Once flying, he marvelled at how easy it had been.

Buying a visa and getting through customs would be easy.  Then he would disappear into the busy streets.

“Excuse me, Sir, can I see your boarding pass?”

 

Community Reservation by Shelley Robinson

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Community Reservation by Shelley Robinson

Racial segregation
Hindsight indignation
Financial compensation
Compromised position
Confining institution
Embarrassed reputation
Shame of blinded nation
Reconciliation?
Lawful requisition
Rebellious restitution
Path to re-creation
Cultural preservation
Town regeneration
Totem inspiration
Community reservation