All posts by wendyfehr

The Key to Caerwyn

I am launching my latest work in podcast format with the first chapter set for release this month! I thought you might enjoy a “sneak-peek”.

Chapter One: To Begin:

Let me paint you a picture. There is a single door in the darkness and a man steps through it with something small and fragile cradled in one arm. When the door opens, there is a flood of light in the darkness—a blade, a bullet of shining brightness—but as soon as the door closes, the light is gone. You are suddenly cut off, wondering what could have shone like that, with more colours than stained glass and rainbows put together, more colours than you have ever seen on a shining screen, a few less than you have dreamt.

The man that remains is a stretched-thin black—a dusty, worn black—and in the dim light he blends into the corners of the shadows and reminds you that there is such a thing as darkness.

How do you describe him? Everything you come across in your musings—tall, perhaps, or brooding, or maybe dour, or grim—sounds suspiciously like something you’ve heard or read or dreamt before—but at one glance you can tell that he is not any of these things, and yet he is all of them. He reminds you of the smell of old leather, perhaps, or the stone of an ancient tombstone, or the feel of musty paper in a used-book store. Perhaps, you will think, he looks like your own reflection, on a night when you pass a mirror, half asleep and unawares, and nearly scream at the eyeless, masked apparition that is you.

Yes. He could be that.

He takes a long look around and blinks slowly, squinting and trying to see in this dimness you call light. The bundle in his arm shifts and squirms and tries to move, as if it is in fact capable of escape. It is not. He has made it so, though it will cost him much more than he is willing to admit. Now it is harmless, slowly growing lesser and lesser, as if it is losing the outlines that define it, or as though someone has smudged an eraser over its identity. Soon it will be no more than an idea, blending into an abstract concept—no more than a dull shadow amongst the other shadows. It quiets, and is still, and the man looks up. He tucks something into his pocket, and it disappears in a flash of silver and a fold of shade.

Then the man is gone, in a shimmer of air and a ripple of ink, and you are just remembering that the sky is overcast and it looks like it will rain, and then you recall that you have errands to run and dinner to get back to…

You will not remember me until much later, and then you will sit up in bed and think what was that? I’m certain it’s important.
But it will seem like a dream to you, and by the time you wake tomorrow morning you won’t remember me at all.

 

Vacation in Paradise

Ike woke up with his heart pounding. He drew in a sharp breath.

What day was it?

Was he late for the plane?

He looked around quickly, letting himself fall back into his pillow when he saw his wife of many years, Marylyn, standing at the dresser rifling through his suitcase. Everyone had always called her Mary—even Ike—but in his mind he always knew she was really more like her real name, “Marylyn”.

“I can’t find the one I wanted you to wear,” she lamented without turning. “You know—the white one with the palm trees on the front? It’s the most comfortable for the trip. Oh, wait, here it is!” She held up the shirt triumphantly as she turned to beam at Ike. “Better get up, we have to get going,” Mary (short for Marylyn, Ike thought) advised. She came over to the bed and tugged at Ike’s arm. Ike sat up and his wife dropped the shirt over his head. Ike obediently shoved his arms into the sleeves.

Ike pushed back the covers and swung his legs out of bed. They were stiff and his heart was still running a little fast. He thought about his frequent trips to the gym in the past week and ruefully chastised himself for working so hard to get in shape for this trip. He also quietly cursed the overzealous instructor who had pushed him so hard.

“What’s that, dear?”

Ike shook his head. His wife studied him for a moment then smiled a small smile. “I’ll get your shaver,” Mary (short for Marylyn) said as she turned and left the room.

Ike ignored the thrumming in his temple and swiped across the cold metal surface of the bedside table for his glasses. He heard a nauseating clatter as his glasses hit the floor. He quickly reached for them, wondering if he could use the “five second rule” for stuff other than food and somehow negate the fall. He turned the spectacles over, checking them carefully, then sighed in relief when he found them without crack or scratch.

Ike slid the frames onto his nose, the nose pads not sitting quite right—not like his old pair. Those had fit him perfectly, broken in and adjusted over the years to accommodate every distinct angle of his face. These were thicker and heavier. They always slid down his nose.

Ike trudged to the bathroom, trying to work his cranky left foot loose. He cursed the instructor again as he passed his wife. She looked at him then handed him the shaver and watched him make his way into the bathroom.

“Need any help?” she asked.

“Why would I need help shaving?”

“What’s that dear?”

“No,” Ike said more loudly, “I don’t need help.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll be getting your bags ready. Just call if you need me.”

Ike cringed slightly as the squeaky buzz of the razor reverberated in his head like a bee that might sting him at any moment. The shaver pulled more than it shaved and when it finally did sting, Ike dropped it. It landed in the sink, jumping around like a mechanical beetle as it rattled loudly against the metal sink. Mary popped her head into the bathroom

“You all right dear?”

“Fine,” Ike grunted as he quickly picked up the shaver.

 

Ike stood in the middle of the airport, scanning around for his carry-on bag. He remembered packing it—remembered the feel of the well-worn leather when he closed the clasp and the way he could only just fit his wallet, passport, and plane ticket in the front pocket and still snap it shut. Ike twisted his head around, looking behind his suitcase, but the bag was nowhere in sight.

“What do you need?” Ike’s wife asked, glancing around the area with him.

“My travel bag,” Ike said.

“Your what, dear?” his wife asked, continuing to scan the area.

“Travel bag,” Ike enunciated a little more loudly. “I think I left my travel bag at home.” The thrumming, like distant thunder, started up in Ike’s temples again.

“But you didn’t bring your travel bag, dear,” his wife informed him calmly.

“Of course I brought my bag,” Ike objected, his wife’s calm only serving to frustrate him slightly. “I wouldn’t go on a trip without my travel bag.” He hadn’t—ever—not once that he could remember. Ike stood up from the hard metal chair with the stuffed plastic seat and took a step or two to the side, his left foot staying half a step behind where he meant to place it. He stumbled slightly before catching himself on the chair and continued his search. His wife tugged at his arm to get his attention.

“It’s all right dear,” she said. “You don’t need your bag.” Ike looked up at Mary (short for Marylyn).

“What about the tickets and my passport?” Ike asked, the car engine thrum in his head grew louder as it moved to the back of his head where it nestled into a dull ache.

“The tickets did you say? Oh, don’t worry dear. I have everything we need in my purse.”

“You have my passport?” Ike asked.

“I have everything,” his wife reassured him. Ike drew in a deep breath as Mary (short for Marylyn, he reminded himself) took his hand and led him to the counter to check their luggage.

 

Ike felt the shuttle stop and opened his eyes. His wife smiled down at him from the where she sat in the seat next to him. Ike lifted his head, still feeling the cool numbness where his head had rested against the shuttle window, and tried to straighten up. His wife tugged at his arm to help him sit up.

“Are we there?” Ike asked.

“We’re here,” his wife announced as if Ike hadn’t spoken.

Ike shoved his glasses further up his nose trying to peer through the thick lenses and looked out the far side of the shuttle to the white stucco building. The front was lined with large windows and Ike could just make out the blurred shapes of dining tables and chairs inside.

Ike followed his wife off the shuttle and into the lobby of the hotel. Mary (short for Marylyn, he confirmed) took Ike’s arm and led him to a group of chairs in the middle of the lobby.

“You look tired, dear,” Mary (short for Marylyn) said. “Why don’t you sit while I talk to the girl at the desk?” Ike felt his heart hammering in his chest and nodded as he half-fell into one of the chairs, his left foot failing to support his weight. His wife patted his shoulder and went to check them into their room. She returned after several long moments and sighed heavily.

“I’m afraid the room isn’t ready just yet,” Mary (short for Marylyn) said with a crease in her brow. “They suggested we look around a little while we wait. Want to go for a little walk?”

“What about our bags?” Ike asked.

“The what, dear?”

“The suitcases,” Ike said firmly as he gestured to the two suitcases by his feet.

“Oh, they said to leave them here and they’ll take them to the room when it’s been cleaned. Come,” Ike’s wife invited, holding out her hand to him.

Ike thought about his tired leg and was going to say that he’d rather sit and wait, but then he realized walking might loosen his sore calf muscle. Besides, the lobby chairs were deucedly uncomfortable.

Who decorates a hotel with hard metal chairs with stuffed plastic seats?

Ike finally nodded and pushed himself out of the sturdy chair.

Ike’s wife linked her arm in his elbow and led them out the far end of the lobby and out the double doors that led to the garden. The two of them ambled along the path, passing a couple playing croquet and two older gentlemen flicking a ball back and forth on the ping-pong table with a steady “plunk, plunk, plunk”. One of them grabbed the ball when Ike and his wife passed, pausing to watch them. Ike and Mary (short for Marylyn, he recalled) continued past and the plunking of the ball started again.

Ike watched as a serving girl passed in her starched white uniform, her sensible shoes making soft hushing sounds as she walked by. Ike caught the clean scent of laundry coming off the bundle of towels she carried. He turned to watch her go and she gave him a smile.

Ike and his wife rounded a bend in the path and stepped beyond the manicured foliage out onto a wide expanse of grass. Groups of sturdy metal chairs with stuffed plastic seats dotted the lawn like spots on a ladybug. Ike felt the weight of his left leg and went to sit in one of the chairs. Ike’s wife sat down beside him, placing her hand on his where it rested on the arm of the chair.

They sat in silence for a time until, finally, a lobby attendant walked over to where Ike sat with his wife. The attendant wore navy pants and a white polo shirt. Ike heard the soft rub of the attendant’s shoes on the paved walk and glanced down at them—they looked like something a mountain climber would wear. The mountain climber attendant stopped in front of Ike and smiled down at him. Ike looked up.

“Hello,” Mr. Mountain Climber said in a friendly tone. “They told me to find you and let you know your room is ready. My name is Kyle.” (Ike didn’t know what that would be short for and was wondering how he would remember it for next time). “I’ll show you where your room is.” Ike gratefully pushed himself out of the uncomfortable chair and followed Mr. Mountain Climber down the path to their room.

 

“I’m getting hungry,” Ike said as he unzipped his suitcase and began pulling out the contents. A pair of underwear dropped to the floor and his wife stooped to pick it up before Ike could even begin to figure out how to get them himself. She placed it on top of the pile of clothes overflowing Ike’s hands. “We should find something to eat.” Ike dropped the pile of clothes into the drawer and it exploded into an unruly knot of twisted fabrics. His wife began pulling at the knot.

“What do you need, dear?” she asked as she re-folded one of Ike’s t-shirts and laid it neatly in the drawer.

“Food. I’m hungry.”

“Sorry, dear,” Mary (short for Marylyn) said, “they don’t serve supper until 5:30.”

“Isn’t this an all-inclusive? Shouldn’t there be food everywhere?”

“Maybe I can find you a snack,” his wife said. “You unpack and I’ll see what I can find.” Ike nodded.

Ike looked up some time later when Mary (short for Marylyn) opened the door of the room. She carried a couple of boxes of apple juice—the kind with straws glued to the side of them—and a sandwich in a plastic half-box topped with the sort of plastic wrap that tears instead of pulling off neatly.

“I found this,” she said with a tired smile as she set the items down on the small, round table by the window. She glanced at the contents of Ike’s suitcase that now lay strewn across the bed. “What are you doing?” Mary (short for Marylyn) asked, looking up at Ike.

“I can’t find my toiletries bag,” Ike said irritably.

“What are you looking for?” Mary (short for Marylyn) asked.

“My toothbrush,” Ike declared in a tone that verged on being sullen. “I can’t find the bag. I was going to put them in the bathroom,” he said, flinging his hand in the general direction of the bathroom. His wife glanced in the direction of the gesture.

“Those are in the other suitcase.” Mary (short for Marylyn) pulled another, smaller suitcase onto the bed and unzipped it. She took out a toothbrush and black shaving bag and handed the toothbrush to Ike. “Here,” she said. Ike took the toothbrush and examined it.

“That’s not my toothbrush,” Ike said simply and handed it back to his wife.

“You got a new one a few days ago, dear,” Mary (short for Marylyn) explained. She took the toothbrush and the small toiletries bag into the bathroom.

“I want my old one!” Ike called after her. His wife returned from the bathroom empty-handed and smiled a weary smile.

 

Ike struggled to the surface of the pool, gasping for air as he stood up, only to find he was standing in waist high water.

“Good try,” Mr. Mountain Climber said with a smile. He sounded patronizing to Ike’s ears, and Ike frowned as Mr. Mountain Climber came over. Ike watched him while he explained the stroke—again—as if Ike hadn’t heard him the first time.

“I don’t know what’s wrong,” Ike said shaking his head. “I used to do this all the time. I was a lifeguard, for crying out loud. How could I forget how to tread water?!”

“Just be patient,” Mr. Mountain Climber said. “We’ll get you back in shape. Try again, just think about keeping your arms moving.” Mr. Mountain Climber squatted in the water so that he could demonstrate the arm movements. Ike only watched him. Mr. Mountain Climber stood up. “Your turn,” he said cheerfully. Ike turned and headed for the steps that led out of the pool and onto the deck.

“Maybe tomorrow,” Ike said. “I’m going to read a book.” Ike lowered himself onto the plastic deck chair next to the one his wife occupied. Ike looked around for a lounging chair, but he didn’t see any on the deck.

“Are you done swimming already?” Mary (short for Marylyn) asked, her brow creasing as she studied Ike.

“Yeah. Where’s the book I brought?”

“The what, dear?”

“The book,” Ike said slowly, enunciating the word carefully.

“Oh, it’s in my bag.” Mary (short for Marylyn) reached into a large bag that rested against the leg of her chair and pulled out a thin novel. She handed it to Ike. Ike pulled open the pages of the book, studying it for a while. The writing looked like hieroglyphs, the letters blurring around the edges. He tried to focus his eyes, but gave up after a couple of minutes. He tossed the book in the general direction of his wife’s bag.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Forgot my glasses,” Ike grumbled.

 

Ike lay with his eyes closed, trying to remember what day it was.

Shouldn’t they be going home soon?

He felt like there were things waiting for him at home—things that needed to be done, but he couldn’t quite recall what they were. He lay on the firm mattress, trying to dredge up his “to do” list from the myriad of thoughts that floated in and out of his head. He couldn’t.

Ike opened his eyes, noticing the heat for the first time. The air around him pressed in on him and dried his nose. He tried to breathe in a deep breath but only succeeded in setting off a cough that rattled like a loose chain in his lungs and made his chest hurt by the time he had finished coughing. Ike looked up to see his wife standing beside him.

“You okay?” she asked. Mary’s (short for—what was it short for?) face was pale and drawn like it looked sometimes when she hadn’t slept well. She had always looked so frail when she hadn’t gotten a proper sleep, Ike recalled.

“I think I’m getting sick,” Ike sulked. “Some vacation this has turned out to be! I’m thirsty. Is there any water?”

“Water? Oh, sure,” Mary (short for—ahh, Marylyn) said, going into the bathroom and returning with a plastic cup full of water. Ike took a large gulp, sputtering and spewing a spray of water across the bedspread when he started coughing again. His wife took the cup from him and set it down. She disappeared and returned with a towel. Mary (short for… ) put the back of her hand on Ike’s forehead for a second. Ike thought it felt wonderfully cool.

“You’re warm. Just lay back and rest,” she said quietly as she wiped the water from Ike’s chin. Ike gratefully closed his eyes.

“I want to go home,” Ike said, not opening his eyes.

“I know,” Mary replied quietly.

Mary pressed the button on the side of the hospital bed to lower Ike’s head before sitting down in the hard aseptic metal chair that she had occupied for the past several days. The nurse came in a few minutes later, checked Ike’s pulse and read the machine beside the bed then left again without saying anything. Mary watched the nurse leave, looked at Ike, and let her wet face crumple into her hands.

Letters Home

Dear Family:

Having at last an occasion to write a letter nothing, not threats of slow delivery or postage, shall deter me from writing one.

letter 1

We arrived in Wellington early on January 28th, what would have been the 27th for you, and checked into our room early. It is small—only a bunk bed and a bathroom, but I daresay I have made do with less. There is a common kitchen on the first floor, and we have made use of it as well as we might.

We did little on our first day save for getting from the airport to our hostel, and from there walking about to various locales, trying to determine where on earth the people of Wellington get their groceries. In this regard, the receptionist was very helpful, pointing the way to the train station grocery. We have gotten most of our food there.

I love Wellington. It is probably one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. We’ve been up and down the water-front several times now—think of it as something like River Landing, with docks and sailboats and azure ocean on one side, and warehouses turned restaurants on the other. Beyond that, glass offices with shops at their feet stretch for several blocks before giving way to hills and houses. Across from us is the Rail Station, the very picture of any pillar-and-brick British train station that you care to imagine. A few blocks toward the hills brings us to the timber Parliamentary building, and then the “Beehive”: a curiously-designed domed building.

File 2015-02-20, 12 04 13 PM

The morning after our first night saw us at Te Papa Museum, where we enjoyed New Zealand history, natural science, an Air New Zealand exhibit, a giant squid, and a little bit of Hobbit statuary and Elf armour. The armour, in particular, probably excited us more than it ought. After the museum we took the cable car up the side of one of Welly’s many tall hills, to the Botanic Gardens.

The gardens were stunning. From the very top one can look our over much of the city and Lambton Bay. From that point the gardens descend into lush forests, a mix of tropical trees, firs, and English species; and the woods are interspersed with flower beds, rock gardens, playgrounds, and visitor centres. At the foot of the hill we found the duck pond and, near the gates, the Lady Norland Rose Garden. I have never seen so many roses at once, nor do I expect to again. That visit was certainly enough to secure my love of the park—I only wish we had something like it at home! I have been taking lots of pictures. I will be sure to show you.

On Saturday we took the bus to Weta Cave, and I must say, I am impressed. The “Cave” is the gift shop and tour-accessible front to the real Weta workshops. We were shown through by Matt, a drily witty tour-guide, and he explained the design process used to make props and special effects. There were scores of movie weapons, both metal and plastic, armor, miniatures, models… We were quite carried away. As it turns out, Weta is responsible for not only LOTR and the Hobbit, but also Elysium, Robin Hood, Narnia, Avatar, Planet of the Apes, Tin Tin, and World War Z. I do believe Mason now has his heart set on becoming a “master sword-smith”. We both bought t-shirts.

Sunday saw us to the Wellington Museum of City and Sea, an intriguing little museum relating the growth of the city through two world wars, as well as showcasing the few shipwrecks of Wellington’s marine history.

After that, during a wander, we chanced upon the Old St. Paul Cathedral, a spectacular church done in traditional style. It is made entirely of wood, in order to withstand earthquakes, and boasts superb woodwork and stained glass. Being a heritage site, it was open to the public—I am glad I got to see it.

On Monday, we got the most fantastic fish and chips imaginable—deep fried, salty, lemony goodness. Mason got a burger that tasted like it had been marinated and coated in sauce—also delicious! I love it when good things take you by surprise. After that we toured the Parliament building—an oddly shaped thing called the “Beehive”. The tour was a little dull, but the architecture was interesting.

Our next stop is Lower Hutt, where we will be house-sitting for a week.  We’ll take the train to get there—Mason and I are needlessly excited about the train, as we have never had the opportunity of taking one. I hope they leave us coffee!

We will be catching our train in the morning, and it will deliver us to within a few blocks of our destination. From there, if we cannot secure another WWOOF, we’ll be moving on, perhaps travelling through the towns of the western coast, or else making our way directly to Hobbiton.

Rest assured we are well-rested and well-fed (if mostly only on sandwiches) and if we are a little homesick, that is to be expected. We are looking forward to the next leg of our journey.

Please continue to pray for us. We miss you very much, and send all our love. Keep the coffee warm for us!

With Love,

Sarina and Mason

File 2015-02-20, 12 05 44 PM

 

Sometimes the right answer isn’t the right answer.

I was reminded of one of the themes I’ve written into my book the other day. In real life it goes something like this:

My husband and I were heading out to a movie and I quickly threw on a sweater and jeans. As I was jamming my arm into my jacket I asked him, “Does this look okay?”

“You look wonderful,” he replied after a brief glance from across the main floor of the house.

“You can’t even see me from there,” I objected.frosted window

“What difference does it make?” he asked, “I gave you the right answer.

Well, sort of. Maybe. Depends what I’m going for.

What I really wanted at the time was an objective opinion of whether or not I needed to fix my hair or change my clothes so I wouldn’t look stupid leaving the house. My daughters are good at that. They very quickly tell me which of their clothes I shouldn’t wear anymore—apparently I’m too old to wear some of them.

sunburstSure, it’s a bit of a blow to my ego to hear it, but wouldn’t it be a worse blow to have people laugh at me when I’m out? I’d rather hear it from people who love me—preferably before I leave the house.

Isn’t that what family is for?

Clothes and hair are one thing, but who we are is quite another.  I want people around me who care enough about me to choke down their discomfort and tell me when I’ve messed up. It’s the only way I can see that sometimes. While my husband isn’t too concerned about my hair, he does let me know if I’m chasing down a wrong track.

I want people in my life who will help me be a better person, not just tell me what they think I want to hear.

tree arch

A Rock

Teenagers

What do you think of?

I think of the seas

I think of the sands and the wind in the trees

I think of you people, your worries, your strife

I think about dust,

And I think about life

What do you know?

I know of time, and of waiting for rain

I know of the ancients, of love and of pain

I know of your heart, it is cold, like us

I know of life,

And I know of dust.

Why are you here?

I am, for I think, and I think, for I know

I am like the winds, the rain and the snow

I am for you, and I am for us

I am for life

I am for dust

Where will you go?

Nowhere, I think, for the best of us

cannot see past the black edge of the dusk

The question is not where we’re going, so trust

Your heart is life,

though you are dust.

Way up high

By Sarina Fehr

The Truth Taker

Henry pressed the button and heard the synthetic click of a shutter that didn’t actually exist. The lens icon twisted together like the time warp design in old movies then opened back up again. Henry eagerly dropped the camera away from his eye and scrolled the screen to the “camera roll”.

Anticipation turned to disappointment. Henry peered more closely at the image on the screen. The tree—so robust and green with splashes of early-summer sun dripping from the new leaves—had looked so much more when he had lifted the camera to his eye. But there, in the picture, the leaves were dull and drooping, the entire tree looking as though it had shrunk and appeared smaller than it really was.

Henry looked up at the tree again then back down to the camera. He clicked over to the lens screen, adjusted the aperture, and raised the camera to his eye, this time making sure he had collected the entire tree in the frame. Henry clicked the shutter again and quickly looked at the picture. He frowned and looked back up at the tree.

Henry glanced up at the sun then walked slowly under the nearest branches. The branches reached down to embrace him as they wrapped their shade around his shoulders. Henry put a hand on the trunk of the tree and glanced up. He reached toward one of the lower branches, pulling off a handful of dead leaves from amidst the green foliage surrounding them. Henry studied them in his hand then quickly tilted his hand and let them drop on the ground. He took a half-step back. He walked out from under the shade of the tree, shivering when he stepped out into the heat of the mid-summer afternoon. He took one last look at the tree then turned and started off down the park path.

Henry walked slowly through the park, savouring the idea that he had nowhere to go. He let his arms swing a little as he walked, breathing in the musty brown scent of sun-warmed earth as it mingled with the garden-green smell of just-sprouting grass.

A fast-moving biker whipped along the path toward Henry, heedless of the children scampering around on the grass. Henry took a step to the side to let the biker pass. He felt the weight of the camera in his hand and, impulsively, he quickly raised the viewer to his eye. He snapped the shutter just as the biker passed. The biker turned a quick glance on Henry, frowned slightly, then raced on.

Henry lowered the camera to check the picture. Everything except the biker’s face was blurred. The face might have done better to be blurred as well. Henry had caught the biker in the midst of a scowl, his face bunched up and his jaw clenched, teeth showing. Henry thumbed the screen and deleted the picture.

A slight breeze brought the wind-chime sounds of children’s laughter to Henry’s ears and Henry glanced around. A short way down the path, Henry spied a playground with children buzzing in and out of play equipment like bees around a beehive. Henry strolled down the path to the bench opposite the play equipment. He lowered himself onto the fading wooden seat, the chipped paint making a two-tone design of light and dark, like the colours of a toasted marshmallow.

Henry heard the jangle of metal on metal and looked over to see a tattered dog cantering crookedly along the path. Its ratty fur hung in clumps along its back, collected in age-old mats. Dirt and sand soaked into the fur on the dog’s legs and paws. The dog licked its chops as it passed the playground but didn’t stop.

Henry lifted his camera to his eye and snapped the shutter. He looked down at the picture then looked curiously back up at the mutt as it dog-tracked away down the path. Henry looked back to the screen. The camera hadn’t picked up the mats or the dirt—those things  hidden in the colourings of the dog’s fur. What Henry noticed above all else was the dog’s bright, white teeth gleaming out from the picture. If Henry hadn’t known better, he would have sworn the dog was smiling at the camera. Henry grinned and saved the picture.

A loud giggle rose up out of the blanket of noise that covered the playground, like bubbles rising from a soda. Henry glanced around, only locating the source of the sound when it erupted again. A girl—maybe three or four years old—ran across the black rubber surface of the playground in a bouncing stream, her dark curls bobbing up and down behind her. A tall woman, solidly built, followed close on the girl’s heels, arm outstretched toward the girl.  The woman caught up to the girl in two long strides, reaching for the girl’s hand and halting the girl’s flight. The girl turned, her giggle sharpening into a high-pitched shriek, a large smile splitting her face. “Come here you,” the woman caught the girl up in her arms. “Time to go home.”

Henry cautiously raised the camera. He quickly snapped the mother and child then lowered the camera just as quickly. Henry casually glanced down at the camera screen. The sun had caught the girl just right when Henry had opened the shutter, limning her in a white shadow, part of the girl’s dark hair sparkling with flashes of sun as she smiled up at the mother. The light wasn’t so flattering to the mother. Her face was shrouded in a dark shadow, the crease on her face even darker as she turned one corner of her mouth down.

Henry quickly glanced back up at the retreating forms of the mother and daughter as they moved off down the path and away from the playground, the mother pulling the reluctant girl by her wrist. Henry looked back down at the camera and pressed the delete button.

Henry stood and turned his face up to the sun. He closed his eyes, feeling the heat as it turned the inside of his eyelids a bright pink. He took a deep breath and smiled a small smile. He had a fleeting thought of work—pictured his computer lying dormant on his desk at the office while his officemates worked diligently at theirs—and quickly shoved the thought aside, not liking the slight clutch of guilt that gripped his stomach. Henry opened his eyes and continued walking along the path.

A few minutes of brisk walking brought Henry to a part of the path that curved along a man-made lake, it’s uniform edges fitting around the buildings and forcing the water to remain confined to its prescribed boundaries. Several benches lined the side of the path, looking not toward the path but, rather, toward the lake. One bench rested in the shade of a large oak tree, its branches protecting the elderly woman on the bench from the onslaught of the mid-afternoon sun. The woman held a paper bag on her lap and every few seconds she would reach a translucent-skinned hand into the bag, pull out her gnarled fist, and thrust it forward flinging crumbs in a wide arch toward the lake’s edge. There would be a flurry of wings and feathers as birds and ducks squawked noisily in front of the woman, vying for the crumbs that spewed out onto the ground and sometimes into the water.

Henry studied the dark, wrinkled face of the woman—like a dried-apple doll that people with too much time on their hands used to make. He looked at her white hair, held securely in a stringent bun at the back of her neck. He studied her sunken eyes, the colour of pale cornflowers that lay half-hidden under sagging eyelids.

Henry lifted the camera and clicked the shutter.  He almost didn’t look at the picture—almost didn’t want to see it—and yet he did. In the picture, the sun broke through between two tree branches and shone out from behind the old woman, not obscuring her in shadow, but casting a bright glow onto her face. A fine spray of sparkling silver curls had seemingly escaped the woman’s careful coiffeur in the very moment Henry had snapped the picture, softening the harsh lines stretching out from the corners of the woman’s eyes—eyes that shone like the smile that stretched across the woman’s face, borrowing a gleam from the sun to make its own. Henry pushed the save button on that picture too. The woman turned and smiled a knowing smile at Henry who started and quickly moved on.

A warm, early-summer zephyr tousled Henry’s hair and he shook his head, flipping away the hair that blew into his eyes. He took a deep breath and thumbed the camera’s “off” button as he glanced around.

Henry spied a man leaning over a garbage can, his arms buried inside elbow-deep. Henry regarded the way the man’s long filthy coat draped down around him, like a tattered old tent, hiding the occupant but not really protecting him if it were to rain. Henry lifted the camera, flicking it on in the process. He raised the camera to his eye and took the picture. The walking tent man cast Henry a suspicious scowl and hurried away as quickly as his shuffling gate would allow.

Henry looked down at the picture. He frowned and checked the settings. Somehow the picture had come out black and white, a myriad of grey tones filling in everything on the screen. No. Wait. There was still some green in the grass at the tent-man’s feet. Henry studied the picture for a moment then hit the delete button.

Henry continued along the walking path, his camera clutched firmly in one hand. He reached to his jacket zipper, pulling it down and feeling the cooling breeze whisk inside his jacket. He wished he had worn sunglasses even though he had specifically chosen not to bring them—they made picture taking difficult.

Henry heard the murmurings of low voices punctuated with well-times bursts of shouting. His steps quickened and he soon came to a large group of people dressed in white, black, and purple. The people milled about uncertainly, talking amongst themselves and paying little attention to the foot-traffic on the path as they formed a barricade across the pavement. A woman with a heavy-looking camera in her hand was trying to herd the group into formation on one side of the path.

Henry stepped off the path to move around the group. He didn’t intend to stop, but he noticed the bride out of the corner of his eye and paused to watch her for a moment. She was turned intently to the groom, the two of them talking quietly as they stood in their assigned position, waiting for the others to be placed by the photographer.

Henry considered the controlled chaos for a moment then lifted his camera to his eye. He watched the milling throng that way for several moments then let his finger drop onto the shutter button. Henry heard the artificial “click” and looked down to the camera.

Henry might have laughed if it hadn’t been for the dispirited sensation that sucked at his breath and tugged at his stomach. The picture wasn’t at all what he had hoped for. The bride stood squarely in front of the groom, giving him a stern frown. In return, the groom’s eyes were rolling back in his head which was thrown back in the classic “you’ve gotta be kidding me” gesture. One of the purple bridesmaids was caught half way to the ground as she stumbled, her sharp heel remaining behind, stuck in the dense grass. One of the groomsmen had his head cranked around, watching the falling bridesmaid with a rather impolite expression. Over to the side, the ring-bearer (a grass stain on the knee of his black dress pants) was throwing a hand-full of grass at the flower girl. The grass was spewed out, frozen in the air over top of the girl who had her hands raised up to protect herself from the foliage, her mouth opened wide. Henry could almost hear the scream echoing in his head. The photographer, meanwhile, stood watching the group with a flat expression. Henry shook his head, sighed, and hit the delete button once more.

Henry stepped around a straggling girl in a purple dress and back on to the path. He took a couple of steps forward then shook his head and turned back the way he’d come. This time he didn’t look at the people he passed. He looked forward and tucked the camera back into its case, clicking the snap shut on the lid of the case.

The sun dipped lower ever so slightly, its light coming to rest directly in Henry’s eyes. He blinked and turned his head away from the glare. When he opened his eyes again he stopped. Some way off, perched on a low stone wall that separated the bank of the lake from the grass of the park sat a woman. It wasn’t her beauty that caught Henry’s attention. She had a large nose that hooked just a little at the end. The woman’s small eyes were enlarged only by the thick glasses she wore. The only colour that resided in her thin hair was from the reflection of the sun.

The woman held a book in one hand but glanced up at the lake in front of her every few seconds. Henry stood watching her until she closed the book. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, taking off her glasses and setting them down beside her. Henry reached to take out the camera, only to find it already in his hand. He looked down at it in surprise but quickly raised it to his eye, flicking it on in the process.

Henry heard the mechanical tones of the digital camera shutter and quickly lowered the camera to check the picture. The tugging at Henry’s stomach let go and an easy breath flowed into his lungs. A small smile meandered across his face as he stared down at the picture.  A calm serenity lay on the woman’s cheeks just where her long, dark lashes rested against them. Her long hair fell back, layered with streaks of sun-toned highlights at the side where the sun shone on it. The pink of her broad lips was reflected in her rose-coloured cheeks.

Henry looked up at the woman and watched as she took a deep breath of the cooling air. He started forward, holding out the camera eagerly, the smile still etched on his face. Henry went over to where the woman sat. She started slightly at the sound of his steps and quickly opened her eyes, looking at Henry. She glanced between Henry and the camera he held out to her. She finally looked down at the viewer. Henry watched as a broad smile broke open across her generous mouth. He smiled too.

The woman looked at Henry and reached out her hand toward the camera. Henry looked at her hand then at the camera, then back to her hand again. He swallowed hard and slowly lowered the camera into the woman’s waiting hand. She smiled at Henry and raised the camera to her eye, pointing the lens at Henry.

Henry took a deep breath and held it until he heard the loud click of the shutter.

 

On Different Pages

There’s this thing that happens in conversations sometimes—it happens to everyone at some point or another (actually, come to think of it, maybe it’s just me)—where I suddenly realize I’m not on the same page as the other person at all.books

It usually starts off as an ordinary conversation (maybe I’m paying attention and maybe I’m not—it doesn’t seem to matter). The other person asks me a question and I answer with what I believe is an appropriate response. A couple of questions later something seems off. There’s a question that’s out of context or an answer that doesn’t make sense.

A few targeted questions generally clue me in to the fact that we’ve been talking about two different things the whole time. A bit of backtracking to see where things derailed brings us back to the start and we set off again—this time heading in the same direction.

desksIt seems to me that life in general runs that way sometimes. You’re going along thinking everyone is heading in the same general direction as you are—living the same sort of life as you and doing the same sorts of things you do. Then someone says something or does something and you realize that person’s life is entirely different from your own.

IMG_5209And it’s at that very point—that moment when the lens turns and you get to look at your life from another perspective—that you have the opportunity to see if your life is headed in the direction you want it to. A sort of compass check. A chance to steer in the right direction.

Those are good moments.

Are you awake?

Some of you may be aware of the concept of “winter driving conditions”: those wonderful times of ice and snow-covered streets that turn our daily commutes into ‘high risk’ activities on par with cliff diving. Some of you may never have had the privilege of experiencing these conditions and some of you may have gratefully forgotten the concept all together. However, at this particular time those of us in Saskatchewan are painfully aware of these ideas — most of the time.

There’s this thing that happens as we adjust to these conditions — even for those of us using our winter driving skills on a daily basis. It starts innocently enough as you are driving along, feeling rather confident of the road conditions that day and being only too grateful to be getting to work in a timely fashion. Your mind begins to leap ahead to your day and what needs to be done, your hands relaxing slightly on the steering wheel. Things are going along fine until, suddenly, you feel your car slide almost imperceptibly — almost. You are immediately jolted into full attention, your hands tightening their grip on the wheel as you act quickly to correct the course of your vehicle. All of your energies are sharply focused on controlling your vehicle and straightening its course.

Usually you can pull out of this situation fairly easily. It’s simply a matter of making small corrections in your steering and setting your car on the right course. If you don’t slam on your brakes (you’ll slide) and don’t overcorrect the steering (you’ll skid and possibly wind up in the ditch — or worse) you should get back on track just fine — just a little wake up call to make certain you’re paying attention.

I think sometimes life sends us the same ‘wake up calls’ — those situations you never see coming that cause you to quickly refocus your attention and straighten a drifting course. It differs for everyone of course: an illness, a job loss, a death, a failure. It may not even be that serious, but then again, it may. And, while these ‘wake up calls’ are scary, they generally provide an opportunity: a chance to ensure we are on the right track and doing what we should be doing.

The trick is: don’t panic. Just steer and keep going.