Saturday, May 2, 2020

"Anchors Away"



The rain had pounded against their house all afternoon with the unrelenting determination of a 1950’s door-to-door salesman.

“I nearly decided to swim home!”  Dorina declared when she joined Isaac and Tate at the table for dinner. She laughed when her husband filled a plate with salmon and set it in front of her.

“Practically leapt into our cart today, didn’t it, Tate? Maybe it looked out the grocery store window and saw a second chance at freedom.”  Isaac winked at his son, who grinned.

Supper in the Lamb household was typically a casual affair. Sometimes they would play a card game or watch a video while they ate, other nights they would talk about their daily activities or upcoming plans and schedules. They spent a lot of time as a family at the little kitchen table. It was the centre of their home — a welcoming, comfortable space that encouraged everyone to linger and loiter, especially the littlest of their clan.

But bedtime for Tate followed on the heels of the meal. When plates and games were cleared away, it was understood that the boy and his father would make their way upstairs and get prepared for sleep: body bathed, teeth brushed, pyjamas donned. Then, when she wasn’t working a night shift, mom took over with a story.

The storm was still crashing into the house while Isaac ushered their son through the bedtime routine that night. Dorina caught them both staring out the bathroom window with toothbrushes in hand, transfixed by the sheet lightning that painted the sky. She didn’t interrupt. The world could be a marvellous place, and sometimes it was exactly the right move to simply stand and gape in wonder. She stepped away from the door and into Tate’s room, picking up clothes and tidying shelves until she, too, got lost in the sky.

Dorina was summoned back to reality by a gentle squeaking as Isaac and Tate sat down on the bed behind her. Tate picked out a pair of crustacean-covered pyjamas that matched the maritime weather well.

“Good night, little lobster,” said Isaac, kissing the boy on his forehead.

Dorina took over the bedside position and asked her very favourite question: “Shall we hear an adventure, or have an adventure tonight?”

“Have one!” came the reply, punctuated by a flash of lightning and an overlapping clap of thunder from just beyond the bedroom walls. The heart of the storm was closing in on them now.

Dorina and Tate were both staring out the window when the first drop of water landed on Tate’s cheek with a splash.

“Hey!” said the boy, looking up in surprise. Another droplet hung from the globe light of his ceiling fan. It wobbled with indecision for a moment before taking the plunge and splattering Tate in the nose. His mother laughed as he wiped the water away.

“Does it usually rain in your room?” she asked, standing up to examine the trickle of water that was quickly becoming a steady, soaking stream. Tate had moved out of its way and over to the closet where he was rummaging around for their umbrellas, but he hadn’t yet found them when a gasp from his mother yanked his attention back to the bed.

Water gushed from the ceiling with a mighty force, as though someone had turned on a giant set of bathtub faucets in the attic. The ceiling was soggy and sagging, and seemed to be growing weaker by the second! Dorina waded through knee-high waves on her way to join Tate at the closet. Working swiftly she stuffed supplies into Tate’s trusty backpack: a pair of flip-flops, his compass, a yellow rain poncho and a rubber ducky that had floated towards them from its half-submerged box on the other side of the room. Into his hands, Dorina dropped a diving mask and snorkel. Tate strapped them on without question or delay.

Dorina snatched up her fanny pack and slipped on a pair of flippers just as the room was flooded with a blinding white light and the deafening crash of an electrical explosion. She scooped up her son and pressed them both against the closed bedroom door, shielding him as best she could from the sudden and torrential downpour. Another loud crack could be heard over the rushing water, and suddenly an enormous, iron anchor smashed through what was left of the roof.

“Deep breath!” shouted Dorina, as every last inch of airspace in the room was engulfed by the rising tide. Kicking off with all their might, Dorina and Tate swam up through the hole in his ceiling. They followed the anchor’s mammoth chain ever upwards, in a desperate search for rescue and fresh air.

A moment later they were bobbing like apples on the surface of the water, perfectly calm and glassy smooth except for the gentle ripples that moved away from them as the breathed. The air was cold, but not painfully so, and the warmth of the water protected them from feeling the chill right away.

“Ahoy!” called a voice from high above their heads. Tate and Dorina looked way up into the scruffy, bewildered face of a sailor. The man was dressed head to foot in rubbery yellow rain gear, prepared for a mighty storm despite the sunshine. His hat was tied securely in place with a bow that nestled deep in his beard, but it was folded back at the brow, for now, allowing for a clear view of his eyes. They were kindly eyes, and full of concern for the scuttled pair below.

“Ahoy there,” Dorina called up in return. “Are you willing to make a catch of us?”

The scruffy sailor nodded briskly and disappeared in a yellow blur. A pair of red-and-white lifesavers plopped down beside them, long ropes snaked over the side of the vessel. Dorina helped Tate wriggle into one of the buoys before slipping the other over her own head and down around her waist. With a great effort from helpful hands on deck, mother and son were both hauled to safety.

“Catfish whiskers and orca fins! Have y’ever seen anything so surprising in all yer life, m’love!?” 

“Ne’er before,” said a sturdy looking woman wearing several inflatable swim floaties around her middle and packed the length of every limb. Her floppy sou’wester hat was a twin to the sailor’s cap, and she wore mustard-coloured hip-waders to match.

Dorina made their introductions and the sailor followed suit. “I’m Cap’n Dan, the Fish Man,” he bellowed. “This fine lass is my wife, Lifejacket Lenore. Over there’s our medic, Mad Mackerel Max. He’s caring for a patient right now if you’d like a peek into the trade.” 

As the four of them ambled over to observe the medic at work, Dan the Fish Man and his wife threw dry towels the size of bedsheets around the shoulders of their rescued guests. The towels must have been super-ultra-double-extra-absorbant because by the time the cluster of onlookers made their way over to Mad Mackerel Max, Dorina and Tate were both perfectly dry and warm.

At first blush, the medic tent looked like a greenhouse, a little glass building in the middle of the ship. There was a door to this peculiar little office, but instead of being on the side of the building, it was on the top, hinged to open to the sky. Mad Mackerel Max hovered just above the chair that was pulled up to the desk. He was wearing an elaborate yellow scuba costume, with a lab coat buttoned over the whole get-up to ensure professional vibes. Perched on the chair opposite him was a very tiny mermaid.

The greenhouse was actually an aquarium.

“This wee creature caught our attention this morning,” Lifejacket Lenore explained. “The poor dear has a fractured fin, and Max is doing his best to get her up and swimming again.”

“She is so little!” said Tate. “I thought mermaids were bigger.”

“This is a sea-fairy,” smiled Dan the Fish Man. “They are rather common, but often go unnoticed. People often overlook things that are common and small.”  Tate nodded, already knowing this truth all too well.

Mad Mackerel Max was delicately sculpting a “swimming cast” out of plasticine for the sea-fairy’s tail. His tools were fine and slender, and he worked diligently to imitate the scales of the little mermaid’s tail. When he finished the job, he applied it like a sort of splint to her fin and secured it in place. The sea-fairy was as watchful as Tate and Dorina, and she was ever so patient while the cast was applied. Finally, Mad Macherel Max (who had proven himself quite sane and kind by this point) shaved off a strip of buoyant foam and fashioned his patient a kind of belt that would help her balance until she got used to the new weight of the cast on her tail.

“Right as rain,” said the sailor’s wife. “Now we just have to get her home. It’s a long journey and it would be best if she can save what strength she has until after a good rest.”

“Where does she live?” asked Tate.

“Oh, at the bottom of the ocean,” said Dan the Fish Man. “At this time of year, sea-fairies travel up to the surface very early in the mornings and back down when they’re ready to sleep. Come winter they stay down in their homes much longer, for days and days at a stretch. Winter’s far off, but this wee one won’t be making her daily journey for some time. She’ll have to be satisfied with lobster rides for a while.”  

“I saw a lobster at the grocery store once,” Tate told them. “It had rubber bands around its pinchers.”

“Aye,” replied the captain. “Perhaps I put him there myself. Lobsters are not half so clever as you and me, and though it can be a finicky business to catch them, they do make a lovely bisque. Lifejacket Lenore, what’s on the menu today? Do we have a bisque fit for these visitors?”

Dorina thanked them for the offer but told them about the salmon dinner they had recently finished eating. “We seem to live at the bottom of this ocean,” Dorina told the boat people. “We found ourselves here by following the chain of your anchor. It seems the sea-fairy is our neighbour! We’d be happy to bring her home.”

“How fantastic,” cheered the medic, who had popped out the top of his office only a moment before. “The patient is ready for transfer.”

Dorina pulled the rubber ducky from Tate’s backpack, and helped her son adjust the snorkel and mask back into position. The scruffy sailor handed Dorina a small metal hammer. “When the wee thing is safely returned to her home and you’re both out of harm’s way, strike this hammer against the side of our anchor and we’ll pull it back up. Our medic has booked an appointment with an Atlantic liopleurodon in the morning so we must be on our way.”

They were lowered back over the side of the boat and into the water, followed by a bucket that delivered the sea-fairy into their care. They said their farewells to Dan the Fish Man, Lifejacket Lenore and Mad Mackerel Max, the medic. Once they had wriggled free from the lifesavers, Dorina signalled for the tiny mermaid to wrap her arms around the rubber ducky’s neck.

“Deep breath,” she instructed, and all three slipped below the surface.

The sea-fairy kingdom was well concealed and mostly underground. The entrance was protected by a pair of aggressive-looking watch-lobsters which did not have rubber bands around their pinchers. Thankfully, the crusty crustaceans were brought to heel by the sea-fairy guard on duty. He looked at Tate and Dorina with both suspicion and gratitude, nodding his thanks and quickly sending them away. Tate waved goodbye to the little mermaid who gently patted her plasticine cast and smiled.

They swam down through the hole in Tate’s bedroom ceiling. Dorina pulled out the little hammer and struck the anchor three times with all her might. Just as their lungs felt about to burst, the chain pulled taught and with a whoosh the anchor was dragged up, up and away! A great vacuum was created by its leaving and all the water that had flooded Tate’s room was sucked up through the hole, back where it belonged. The ceiling fan wobbled as it returned to its proper place, but before they knew it everything was set to rights again.

Dorina tossed their adventure gear back into the closet, except the duck which was destined for the tub.

“Look, Mama! I’ve got lots of watch-lobsters!” said Tate, pointing down at his pyjamas.

“I’m glad to know you’ll feel so safe tonight, my little love.”

“Will you be safe, Mama?” 

Dorina smiled warmly at her little boy, growing up so thoughtful and kind. The storm outside was passing. Perhaps Captain Dan the Fish Man was taking his ocean with him.

“No fear, baby boy,” she said. “We are all safe here.”

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Malachi / Thoughtfully Abridged

Malachi 1:1-14

The LORD God, to Israel, through Malachi: “I love you. I have loved you since I chose Jacob over Esau. Though I have rescued you while destroying them, given you hope and them only despair,  you treat me with contempt. A son honours his father and a servant master, but Isreal spits in my face. You pollute my sanctuary and poison my reputation. You offer me scraps and expect a blessing? How dare you gift me the weak and diseased of your flock! You keep the best for yourself then beg favours from your slighted God?! Curse your cheating hearts!”

Malachi 2:1-16

“Choose submission immediately, or I will bring your defiant hearts to heel by harsher means than the humiliation of your pride. I once made a covenant with Levi, to whom I gave life and peace in response to his obedience. Walk with me, worship me, and blessings will follow,” said the LORD. “Thus far, you have earned only curses.” Your sin is disgusting. You cannot commune with God while bedding your pagan bride, for your first wife still lives! Abandoned and made vulnerable by your lust. Little wonder you have been faithless to God when your earthly covenants mean nothing.

Malachi 2:17-3:15

You foolishly mistake God’s patience for apathy when you approve of evil in His name. “I will send a messenger to prepare for my personal arrival,” said the LORD. “Through his reform and my rebuke, sin will be purged from my House. You owe your lives to my longsuffering and unchanging nature, not to your supposed righteousness. Deflate your ego. Discard your vanity and arrogance! Stop robbing me with your partial tithes and pitiful offerings. Give me your best and I will give you a blessing that will scandalize the world for its lavishness. Children, heed my voice and return.”

Malachi 3:16-4:6

The faithful priests held council together, and a book of remembrance was recorded in the presence of those who loved and feared the LORD. “I claim you as my own treasured possession,” declared the LORD. “A day is coming when I will divide the evildoers from the righteous. I will spare from demolition those who loyally serve me, on the day that I crush wickedness to dust under your feet. Remember the Law given to Moses. Watch for my prophet who will come before — and, if you would avoid the destruction due to sin, you must reform your ways.”

Saturday, April 4, 2020

"Shift"

“COVID-19 was the breaking point,” said the professor. “Our planet experienced a-political allyship for the first time. Through a strict policy of isolation, scientists and medical professionals around the world were able to quell and eventually cure the disease. There were dark and severe consequences during that first modern Pandemic for the few humans who chose to rebel, and compliance was made all but universal after just a few public executions in every country. Self-quarantine orders were implemented globally during every vital outbreak that followed for three hundred years with increasing effectiveness until the Great Shift of 2324 when Earth was declared free of biological disease.” The professor moved through the lecture hall as she spoke, trying to engage in a physical way with every student, however briefly. A touch on the arm, a caress of the hair. She also carried a laser-zapper with her, in case she found someone who dared fall asleep during her lecture, but she rarely had to use it. Young people were curious about history, as a rule, and morbidly fascinated by anyone who had spent time alone. “When plagues and poxes had been extinguished, Society finally took a deep breath of their shared air — but rejoining the masses was not a relief to most. After generations of prolonged periodic isolation, the only places that people felt comfortable in the company of others were grocery stores. The Fusionists began there, holding meetings in the produce section, resurrecting the ancient meaning of the word fusion: to merge ‘diverse, distinct or separate elements into a unified whole,’ a definition discovered by reading a paper dictionary, which had been preserved in an archive of such manuscripts. The Fusionists sought to change the social landscape of the planet by reversing course on the isolation reforms that had been used during pandemic eras. Laws that were once made to keep us apart were nullified, and new campaigns for intimacy were begun.” The class became noticeably more comfortable as the lesson approached their own experience. Though the study of history was important and interesting, it was unsettling for them to think of a time before Fusion. For this reason, many students of history opted to study the deep past, when people lived in one-room dwellings and often shared a family bed. Poverty was much more familiar to them than solitude. The professor glanced at the timekeeper, who signalled for her to wrap things up. “When we return tomorrow, we are going to begin an investigation of teamless-writing, a practice which resulted in a great number of independently published books. Perhaps you have encountered one or two of these in your grandparents’ collections, but I will also bring a few examples with me from the university archives. These books were private endeavours, often written in a state of completely voluntary seclusion. Reading them takes an effort as they can be terribly contemplative and rambling at times, but they are excellent resources for studying the world as it was imagined in the millennia before Fusion. Until then, enjoy each other’s company.” Dismissed, the lecture hall emptied onto the street. Every classroom in the university — almost every room in every building, in fact — had an outdoor exit with a path that led down to the road. Many cites had been radically redesigned with Fusion in mind, and the street was now several meters lower than it had once been, in order to accommodate the daily surge of people that gathered for the parade. Terraced sidewalks running parallel to the parade route ensured that everyone had room to spare, though nobody considered it polite to leave much space between souls in such a setting. Everyone left the school arm in arm, or hand in hand and joined in long chains with perfect strangers as they approached the road. The parade was mandatory, and the route was relatively short so there was always someone new to meet. The professor linked up with a secretary from a local high school that she knew well, and a firefighter she’d never seen before in her life. The students mingled with labourers and engineers from a nearby construction site. Respected elders stood beside calloused criminals; scientists and nursing mothers chatted with scampering toddlers underfoot. Everyone came outside to celebrate for an hour every afternoon, rain or shine. In the early days of Fusion, there had been laws governing maximum distances between people in public spaces. Shopping hours were reduced as to crowd people together for optimum density. Eventually, physical barriers were removed in all sorts of places, from private booths in restaurants to the walls in bathroom stalls. Loneliness was declared the final pandemic, and Society was determined to cure it by the complete elimination of alone-ness. Factories stopped making “single” mattresses years ago and encouraged the popularity of platonic bedfellows; bachelor apartments were remodelled as housing for broadly defined families. Hospitals, now largely defunct, were converted into artist colonies and community centres. People were relocated from distant parts and wild spaces and placed in towns or cities as often as possible. Now no one was ever alone. And it had worked, hadn’t it? With sacrifices, to be sure — but a reduction of rest and reasoning were trifling matters in the big picture. One sleepless night, one restless writer, one or two mental breakdowns or minor catastrophes among the intelligentsia. Change always has a cost, of course. Even when it’s change for the better.

Friday, January 31, 2020

"Greens"

Pillow Flights / Chapter One

"Greens"



Tate was learning about consequences.

Generally a good-natured and cooperative five-year-old, Tate was usually content to obey his parents. But everyone has something that can sour their mood, and this little boy’s cheerful disposition always seemed to hit its limit whenever he was faced with a plate full of greens.

Tate disliked all green foods: kale, collard greens and cucumbers, green apple jelly beans and green eggs and ham. He had an aversion to every edible item of that particular hue, but at the very tip-top of the list was the dreaded head of broccoli.

Over the years, Tate’s mother Dorina had tried a multitude of clever tactics to make broccoli more palatable to her two picky eaters (for Isaac, Tate’s dad, also preferred to avoid that variety of vegetable). She tried grinding it to bits and mixing with cheese; she would add it to sauces or hide it in cakes; she put it in smoothies and once dyed it purple, but every time she went out of her way to satisfy Tate’s taste buds, he would put up a fight and refuse to eat.

Last night, Dorina did not hide the broccoli. She offered no disguises or palate-appeasers. She resisted all the old the tricks that mothers employ. She steamed them and plated them: plain, obvious, and very, very green.

Tate ate his chicken. He drank all of his water. He watched his father quietly consume everything on his plate. Tate ate his roasted potatoes. He listened to his mom and dad chatting about something funny on the radio. He drank another glass of water. He asked to be excused.

“You need to finish your dinner,” said Isaac.

“I don’t want dessert,” said Tate.

“Great, because there is no dessert,” smiled Dorina, “but that doesn’t let you off the hook for dinner, anyway. Eat your broccoli, little boy.”

There is a policy — a sort of family rule — in the Lamb Household, that the dinner table is not a place for fighting. Dinner is for peace and togetherness. Arguments, if arguments have to happen (and eventually disagreements happen even in the very best of families), must wait until after the meal. Tate refused to eat his broccoli. He wasn’t rude about it, but he was very stubborn. He locked his jaw, folded his little hands together as if in prayer, and sat like a statue until the meal was over.

“You are making a choice right now that will have consequences later,” Isaac reminded him. Tate made a very slight nod of assent. “As long as you understand that, you may now be excused.”

Tate took his plate into the kitchen and went upstairs to get ready for bed. Isaac followed him. Dorina made herself a cup of tea and tidied things up, carefully putting Tate’s uneaten broccoli into a separate container of its own.

After about twenty minutes, Dorina joined her boys in Tate’s room. It was her nightly custom to take over the parental duties from Isaac, once Tate was bathed, with clean teeth and fresh pyjamas. She had listened at the bottom of the stairs as her husband had patiently delivered the formal consequences for Tate’s little act of defiance: missing out on dessert the next two times it was offered. Officially, that was the end of the matter.

“So,” said Dorina, after Isaac had kissed his son’s forehead and left them alone, “are we going to hear an adventure or have an adventure tonight?”

Tate answered hesitantly. He’d answered this question a hundred times before, and enough of those has been after a disagreement over dinner that he knew whatever his choice, there was likely some unofficial learning to be done. “I would like to have an adventure,” he replied. If you have to learn a lesson, it might as well be fun.

Dorina stepped over to his cupboard and brought out Tate’s backpack, her trusty fanny pack and a couple of large canvas bags, wrapped up with elastic bands for easier transportation. The ones in Tate’s room were retired from the kitchen, where most of the canvas bags in their house were kept. Tate had seen his mother pack an incredible haul of groceries into each of these, time and time again. 

What he hadn’t seen before was the bright red shopping cart that she dragged out from behind his bedroom door. Instead of the classic fold-down seat designed for infants and toddlers, this cart had a double-wide scooter attached to the back, so that whoever was pushing it could occasionally lift both feet off the ground and ride. The horizontal handle at the back was also lower than a typical shopping cart, and while it couldn’t be called a true miniature model, it seemed specially designed for Tate’s particular height and strength.

“Are we ...going shopping?” ventured Tate.

“Naturally,” said Dorina, making sure the shopping cart’s hand brakes were in full working order. “You don’t seem to like what I bring home from the store, so I thought maybe you would like to help with the next trip.” She looked at him from the corner of her eye, which was twinkling with mischief. It did that a lot.

“How do we get there?” asked Tate, nervously climbing up on the deck of the scooter.

“Like this,” she said, and with one foot planted firmly on the scooter, she pushed off with the other and the two of them hurtled across the floor and towards the outside brick wall of Tate’s room. He would have screamed (or maybe peed his pants with fright) had there been time, but the instant that they should have smashed into the wall, Dorina had grabbed at the hand brakes and they stopped in the middle of a grocery store aisle, milk on one side and eggs on the other.

“How did you learn to do that!?” asked Tate, amazed.

“I read about it in a book once,” Dorina grinned. “We’ll read it together someday.”

Dorina stepped off the scooter and let Tate take control, practising his starts and stops in the long dairy aisle before taking a turn down the next one and into the realm of sweet cereals. Tate’s eyes grew wide, trying to take in the bright colours and bold fonts that surrounded him. He looked to Dorina who was walking behind him slowly. She gave him a shrug of permission, and with a burst of gleeful laughter, Tate began throwing all sorts of boxes into the basket of his shopping cart: Fruity-O’s and Rainbow Crunch, Chocolate Puff Balls and Frosted Surprise. Cereals full of vibrant, artificial food colouring and zingy artificial flavours flew from the shelves, but Tate was too busy choosing more boxes to notice that it wasn’t cereal that actually landed in the cart.

At the end of the aisle, he grabbed at the brakes and turned around triumphantly to Dorina, who walked over and peered into the basket. “Interesting choices,” she said, surveying his haul. “Not what I would have expected.”

Tate finally looked down into the cart. It was FULL of broccoli.

Tate grabbed a box of Sprinkles ‘n’ Bits from the shelf and dropped it into the cart. As it fell past the metal lip of the basket, it immediately transformed into a green head of broccoli. He roared in protest. Tate scootered down every aisle with his cart, tossing cans of soup, bags of chips, bottles of root-beer and jars of peanut butter into the basket. Without fail, every single item turned into broccoli.


Finally, in despair and frustration, Tate found himself among the vegetables. He huffed, and sighed, and groaned. He stared over at Dorina, who was pretending to read a magazine by the cash registers. And then he picked up a couple crowns of broccoli and dropped them onto the mound he had already made from everything else.

As if a terrible curse had been lifted, each item in his cart was magically restored to its original form. Tate scooted over to Dorina, who peered inside curiously. “Interesting choice,” she smiled, pointing at the head of broccoli settled at the top of the heap. “Not what I would have expected.”

Tate and Dorina rang all of his purchases through the cash machine. At some point, the boxes of cereal became blanket and stuffies and before he knew it, Tate was back in bed.

“Hey, Mom,” said Tate, after she had left her kiss on his forehead.

“Yes?”

“I was thinking. Maybe I can eat my greens tomorrow.”

Dorina smiled at her sleepy, sometimes-stubborn son. “That sounds like a really good choice. Good night, my little love.”

“Good night.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"True-Blue"



Khloe had always liked making things up, and loved all sorts of stories and tales; 

She thought often of hunting with ogres, or having tea with the old Prince of Wales.
She would picture herself surrounded by gemstones and treasures beyond all compare,
Or utterly penniless, drifting ashore on a deserted island somewhere. 
She daydreamed so often of wild events that her real life could seem rather dull,
So sometimes, in small ways, she would exaggerate the details when there was a lull.  

The changes she made were always minute and would often go quite undetected. 

If she’d seen three geese, she might just say nine -- which was slightly more than expected. 
She liked to impress; she loved to surprise; she enjoyed the attention of interested eyes;
She craved the applause that performance provided and simple reporting denies. 
This sometimes led Khloe to slip on the line that divides an untruth from what’s real…
The temptation to lie when the telling was good was an urge that she often could feel. 

On her walk back from school, as she crossed through the park, something caught Khloe’s attention.

From the dirt she picked up a blue five dollar bill, and looked around with apprehension. 
No one was near -- no soul in sight -- so she put the blue bill in her pocket and zoom!
Up and down streets she ran all the way home, then quick as a flash she went into her room.
Her heart was pounding with pleasure and fear as she stared at the sapphire paper;
Who would she tell first? How to celebrate? ...Should she even confess to the caper?

As Khloe’s mind stewed over the issue, her imagination started to spin.

Before an hour of time had collapsed, the little blue note had developed a twin. 
Not five in her head but ten had she found lying under the swing, lost and alone,
Which is what she told Jessie and Eddie next morning, when they caught up on the phone. 
“It was there on the ground,” Khloe explained, “I noticed the colour purple. Quite bright.”
“You’re lucky,” sighed Jessie. “You’re rich!” Eddie cried, both girls assuming the sum to be right.

All the legends and myths that Khloe had read began crowding and clouding her thoughts;

By lunch her blue five had become a green twenty, and her tummy was turning to knots.
“You found twenty dollars right here in the park?” Kaleb asked, as if in a trance.
“Maybe there’s more! I’ve got to get looking!” and he leapt up to seize on his chance. 
Kaleb found Nick and they dug ‘round the swings for a while before Nick came to the source.
“Kaleb says you found twenty?” And she nodded assent. “You boys are on the right course.”

Khloe stayed in the park all afternoon and told her tale to all that would listen. 

At some point the bounty she found swelled again, and her eyes would sparkle and glisten
As she filled the air talking of polymer treasure, and whether to save it or spend...
But somewhere deep down she knew it was false and the truth might come out, in the end.
By the time Isabella showed up at the park, the swing sand had all been removed;
And a dozen young people were mining for gold in the place that Khloe’d approved. 

“Fifty bucks!? A red bill!”  Isabella exclaimed, “I’ve never seen that much in one place!

Can I see it, just to hold it a minute?” she asked. And then Khloe went red in the face.
And just at that moment, who would walk up but Jessie and Eddie, girls side by side. 
“Good timing!” said Isabella, “now Khloe can show everyone  what she found by the slide.”
“By the SLIDE!?” shouted Nick, “but you said by the swing! Why did you let us dig the wrong spot!? 
If the twenty was there, I’ve been wasting my time! Nice, Khloe. For real, thanks a lot.”

“No, it was ten,” Jessie told him. “The bill was bright purple. She told us this morning.”

Eddie nodded, but soon the other kids came as a mob without any warning.
“It was green, twenty bucks,” Kaleb argued. “I thought she said brown…” said Lysander.
And as tempers grew short and accusations grew thick, the air filled up with slander.
Oh, how her insides wriggled and squirmed when Khloe thought of her coming confession!
Never before had she been caught so deep inside an elaborate invention. 

“Stop!” she hollered. “Stop,” she whispered. “It was only blue… it was only a five.

The truth got away from me. I'm sorry I lied. It was foolish for me to contrive
A story that was more than what happened. I didn’t want anyone to feel hurt.”
And she brought from her pocket the sapphire bill that she’d actually found in the dirt.
Her friends looked with pity at Khloe’s blue bill and decided that day to be gracious. 
And Khloe committed to truth after that… at least, her fictions were far less audacious. 

She still likes inventing and making things up, but the lesson she learned really took. 

With the five bucks she’d found, she bought writing paper, and now she is drafting a book.
There is space in this world for daydreams and phantoms, for goblins and fairies, too,
But speaking the truth in real life is important if keeping friends matters to you. 
When you cross paths with three geese, you should say so; when you find a blue bill, celebrate --
Then write up a story about nine blue-billed geese! I bet you that tale would be great.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

"Noted Needs"



A week before the end of summer holidays, Emily and her mum left the house for the all-important back-to-school shopping trip. They never spent extravagantly, but Emily was always given a few new things to wear, a new backpack (if the old one needed replacing), a pack of hair ties and some office supplies. One of the things that she requested last August was a box of golf pencils.


Golf pencils are most often found in the pockets of people who golf, as the name suggests. Golfers are given a new pencil for nearly every game they play, and so the life of their golf pencils is rather a short one. Most golf course golf pencils are thrown away at the end of a match, whether or not they have recorded a winning score on their cards. 

But golf pencils can be found in other places, too. Reliably, librarians favour the stunted little graphite implements, scattering them around the shelves and computer tables with stacks of scrap paper, ready to hand whenever someone needs to scribble a note or scrawl down a reference number for whatever book they were hunting. Like the scrap paper, library golf pencils tend to walk away from their posts, never to return. Golf pencils are assumed by everyone, it seems, to be essentially disposable. 

Emily had seen her first golf pencil in a library. It was yellow, about the length of her finger, and had no eraser on its end. She had picked it up with a scrap of paper and had spent a few minutes filling the sheet with doodles while her babysitter tried to find them a suitable movie from the online catalogue. Emily had absentmindedly slipped the pencil into her pocket on the way out of the library. It went through the wash a few days later and got lost sometime after that.

The memory of it came back to her while standing in Staples last August, staring at the wall of perfectly sharpened, multi-coloured pencils. The display had been almost overwhelming, but then she had noticed a chunky, almost square box sitting down on a shelf near the ground. For $10.96 (plus tax) she could buy a set of 144 pencils. Emily had already picked out a few soft white erasers, so it didn’t matter that these ones were without rubber tips of their own. Her mother looked quizzical but agreed to the purchase. 

Emily started school with a pencil case that was absolutely stuffed full of writing utensils. It felt like a treasure chest of sunny gold every time she unzipped the pouch, and she felt almost guilty, somehow, for hoarding so much wealth. It was for this reason that she was so willing to share when Danny had tapped her on the shoulder a week into their September classes. 

“Emily,” asked Danny, “do you have a pencil I could borrow for the rest of the day? I think I’ve lost mine.”

Emily grinned. “I have a pencil you can keep,” she said, handing over one of her 144 golf pencils.

Later that very afternoon, Emily’s class was preparing to take a math test when she felt another tap on her shoulder. When she turned around, Danny was pointing over to Eric, who was looking a little sheepish. “I can’t find any pencils in my desk,” he confessed. “Can I borrow one from you? Danny says you gave his one this morning when he was in a pinch.”

Emily smiled, happy to help again. “Keep it,” she told him, handing Eric another of her pencils. She had so many, after all. She could certainly spare a few more. 

Over the next several months, Emily developed a sort of reputation for being well stocked with pencils and quite willing to share. Other kids in her class came to depend on her generosity when a lack of pencils left them in crisis. Some of her classmates had asked more than once, but she never begrudged their carelessness because she knew from first-hand experience how easy it was to lose a golf pencil. 

Emily had been carefully keeping track of how many pencils were left in her original box. She had used more than twenty pencils on her own over the school year and had given most of the others away whenever asked for help. She’d even offered a golf pencil to her teacher once or twice! By early May, she was down to just nine little yellow pencils, and she was starting to get nervous. As with most of her worries and woes, Emily brought the issue to her mother. 

“I know we usually only go back-to-school shopping in the summer, but just this once can we go end-of-school shopping too?” she asked. “My classmates rely on me, and I don’t want to let them down.”

Though slightly baffled at how even a whole class could go through such a big box of little pencils, Emily’s mother agreed to restock her supply. Together they went back to Staples and bought another case of 144, so that she would be well-equipped and ready to help whenever a friend was in need. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

"End In Sight"



Most families function under some kind of motto, though very few take the trouble to name it outright. 


Probably your family has a united mission of this sort, whether you know it or not -- some guiding principle that everyone subconsciously adheres to; a rule that quietly governs the behaviour of those within the household. Perhaps your family motto is something like: “Mind your own business,” or its near-opposite, “What’s yours is mine.” In my house, growing up, the motto was, “A job half-done is a job not done at all,” and there could be rather severe consequences for unfinished chores and duties.

In Jason’s house, the motto wasn’t only spoken, but it was also written up and framed over their dining room table. It was certainly something his mother and father believed, but Jason wasn’t quite as loyal to the family motto as were his parents. It read: “Hard work builds good character.”  

Thanks to the motto, Jason found himself doing very difficult things on a regular basis. Most of them were not the type of project that could be finished with an hour of diligent effort, through diligence was certainly helpful when tackling the jobs that his parents put on his proverbial plate. Last summer, for example, Jason’s dad had completely demolished their front porch -- and rebuilding it took up every weekend of the school holiday. Jason had worked beside him the whole time, helping to measure and drill, hammer and saw. It was a fun project for the first weekend or two, especially during the demolition phase, but Jason tired of porch-building long before it was finished. 

“I want to do something else,” Jason protested one Saturday morning. It was only ten o’clock, and sweat was already starting to bead up on his forehead from the heat. “Can’t we take a day off?”

“Jason, this is a big project. If we put it off today, it’ll be that much easier to put it off again tomorrow, and next weekend. Better to persevere and buckle-down. Let’s get as much done as we can before we take a break. Remember, we’re building a deck, but we’re also building our character! There is double satisfaction for those who stick it out when things get hard.” 

Jason sighed. He thought a day off from character building would be nice too. But in time, bit by bit, the new front porch had taken shape under their diligent effort. When they finally finished the whole thing, Jason was proud of what they had built together and proud of himself for making it all the way to the end without quitting. 

Jason was in the middle of a new project right now. He’d come up with the idea at Christmas when his mom had made a passing comment about wanting a nice, warm blanket that she could use when she was reading. His mom loved to read, and curled up on the couch nearly every night with a novel of some kind. She read big, thick books with thousands of pages, chipping away at them a chapter at a time. She read the Lord of the Rings, David Copperfield, Don Quixote and the Bible. Basically, as long as it was too big for a backpack, she was into it. 

Jason hadn’t developed the perseverance to get all the way through even one of her favourite books, but he was determined to help her enjoy them all the more by making her a blanket to curl up with. 

He’d roped his dad into helping him get the supplies he needed, and went to YouTube for a tutorial on how to crochet. He stuck to simple stitches and basic yarn, and made excellent progress for the first little while. His mom’s birthday was quite close to Mother’s Day, so his goal was to finish in time to give the blanket to her as a gift that would cover both… but by the end of January, things were feeling pretty hopeless, and his excitement about the blanket had evaporated. 

“I want to do something else,” Jason sighed. “Dad, do you think Mom would like this as a scarf instead?”  

“It’s pretty big for a scarf, at this point,” said his father. “Harder than you thought it would be, eh?” 

Jason nodded. His dad put down his phone and looked over at Jason compassionately. “You’ve set yourself a mighty goal, and the road ahead might still be a long one, but there is tremendous value in persevering through to the end of any project you’ve set your mind to. And you’ll be proud of yourself when you finish! Keep going, buddy, bit by bit, one step and one stitch at a time. You can do it.”


Jason sighed. He could feel his character stretching with every twist of the yarn and dodge of the needle. His fingers were sore and his brain was burning, but he kept at the task with diligence until the big scarf grew into a full-sized blanket, nice and warm and perfect for curling up with a book. 

Jason’s mother cried when she unwrapped his birthday / Mother’s Day present, which is always a good sign. And he was proud of himself for making it all the way through, without quitting. He didn’t want to admit it, but he couldn’t help himself: maybe there was something true about his family’s motto after all. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

"Moving House"


Summer break was less than two months away when Mackenzie announced she was moving. The child was one of Mr. Merkus’s kindergarten favourites, for she was helpful and fair, and reliably kind towards even the oddest of playfellows. In the way of children, her declaration was made with the same carefree tone that she might use to report the colour of her jacket or the name of a doll; she simply said it and moved on, appearing utterly unconcerned about her impending departure. Mr. Merkus squatted down beside the table where Mackenzie was working with playdough. “Kenzie,” he commented, “our class will miss you very much, you know. When does your family move?” Mackenzie mashed together a lump of red and yellow playdough while she answered. “We’re moving house tomorrow, but don’t be sad. We’re not going far. Just across the street, this time.” “Oh,” said Mr. Merkus, a little perplexed. “It seems an awful lot of trouble, just to move across the street.” Mackenzie smiled. “Not much trouble, if everybody pulls their own weight.” Mr. Merkus thought it was a clever thing that the little girl would know how to use that expression. He gave her a thumbs-up and sauntered over to another set of pupils. At lunchtime, Mr. Merkus went into the staff room to use the microwave. There he fell into conversation with the other kindergarten teacher, Ms. Gregory. “Have you heard that Mackenzie’s family is moving tomorrow?” he asked. “Yes! They live right around the corner from me. I’ve been looking forward to their move for quite some time. You’re planning to help, I hope?” Mr. Merkus furrowed his eyebrows. “Do you think it would be entirely appropriate?” “Appropriate!” Ms. Gregory said with a laugh. “If it was inappropriate, do you think the Mayor would be coming? The whole neighbourhood will be there! Many hands make light work, as they say. You really must come and join in, Chris. Don’t miss all the fun!” Mr. Merkus nodded his head slowly, considering this new information. The microwave beeped. He took his lunch back to his classroom without another word. Mr. Merkus didn’t live in the neighbourhood where he worked, though he did call the city his home. When the weather was warm enough, he would commute by bicycle, weaving through the residential streets and admiring the wide variety of houses present on each. Such was the case on the day that Mackenzie’s family was set to move. As he neared the school, he noticed a man using a big roll of yellow caution tape to close off a cul-de-sac. Mr. Merkus paused briefly at the sight. On the sidewalk, coiled up like an immense python snake, was the largest cut of rope that Mr. Merkus had ever seen. It was as thick as your arm, and the colour of dry summer grass. The man with the tape smiled and nodded, as though Mr. Merkus was already in on the secret. Mr. Merkus nodded back, both puzzled and intrigued by the man, his tape, and his rope. But the bell was about to ring, so he had no choice but to pedal on with his questions. The rest of the day appeared normal enough, and by mid-afternoon, Mr. Merkus had nearly forgotten his early morning encounter with the caution tape man -- until two o’clock, when there was a knock at his classroom door. He was greeted by the very same gentleman he’d seen on the street, arms overburdened by a wobbly heap of construction gloves. Several pairs fell from the pile as the man made his way into the room. “Afternoon, Mr. Merkus! I’m Kenzie’s dad, here to deliver the gloves for moving day! Every willing student and teacher gets a pair. You’ll be joining us, I hope?” Mackenzie stood beside her father and started sorting out the sets that were labeled extra-small. “I . . . will, yes,” said Mr. Merkus. He helped Mackenzie sift through the pile, and made sure that every child was properly fit with protective gear before finding himself a rather larger pair, and opening the classroom door for Mackenzie’s father once again. “Thank you,” the man said from behind his leathery load. “I’d shake your hand, but I haven’t a spare. See you soon!” Mr. Merkus closed the door behind him. At the end of the day, it was customary for parents and guardians to gather about the school in quiet groups, awaiting the release of their children. For Mr. Merkus, moving day was proving exceptional even in this regard. When he led his line of students onto the playground, he was met by a veritable horde of people crowding in around his kids. Each child was quickly claimed by their proper adult and then hoisted up onto shoulders so that they would be able to see over the growing mass, as a witness to whatever it was they were assembling to do. Mr. Merkus was swept up in the moment and, along with everyone else, he moved down the street and around the corner, coming to a halt in front of the yellow caution tape. It was a physically feeble barrier, but the community respected its symbolic request for cooperation. Mr. Merkus looked around. At first blush, there didn’t seem to be anything special or unusual about the houses on this street. Two rows of two-storey homes faced each other; each had a driveway, many with a car parked out front. About halfway down the road, Mr. Merkus noticed that the monstrous, serpentine rope he’d seen coiled up that morning had been fastened by hooks the size of battleship anchors to the underside of the house. Where the building’s foundation should have been, a layer of bricks had been removed to reveal a hulking set of wheels. The house was perched on four gigantic castors, of the style that is commonly found on office chairs, or mobile bed frames. Mackenzie was perched on her front porch, which was now suspended a good three feet from the ground. The bottom steps had been lifted away, set off to the side, on a neighbouring lawn. Just when Mr. Merkus was wondering what they would happen next, Ms. Gregory appeared at his side. “Got your gloves?” she asked, inspecting his hands. “Those ropes have been known to splinter in the past. They’ve been used for generations of house moving, so a little wear and weathering is to be expected. Almost time to pull your weight!” She gestured to the house, the rope and then over to the empty lot across the road. He hadn’t noticed it before. Suddenly the whole situation became shockingly clear. “We’re going to DRAG it?!” he gasped. “Of course,” said Ms. Gregory. “What were you expecting?” A well-dressed woman with an absurdly large pair of scissors came over to the crowd and ceremonially cut through the caution tape. The crowd formed itself into a line along both sides of the rope, bent in unison, and picked it up. “On my count,” cried Mackenzie’s dad from his driveway. “One, two, THREE!” Everyone heaved their hardest, and the house rolled a few feet forward. After a pause, Mackenzie’s father called out again, and then again, measuring their progress as he paced beside his home with each pull. It took them an hour to shuffle the house into the street, get it turned around, and then coax it up the driveway and into its new space. A team of people brought the bricks over and began burying the big wheels behind them. Another team of people handed out hot dogs and popsicles to everyone who had helped haul the house across the street. Mr. Merkus joined a group of people transplanting the garden beds, and he was up to his elbows in the dirt when Mackenzie’s father finally tracked him down for that handshake. “Thanks for helping us move. It’s a real blessing to live in such a supportive community. Sure couldn’t do this alone!” “Happy to help,” Mr. Merkus replied, surveying the scene. The whole street was full of laughter and friendship, a welcome reminder that human kindness was still alive and kicking, at least in little neighbourhood cul-de-sacs. He walked back to the school to retrieve his bike with a heart full of hope for the world. And he smiled as he pedaled, all the way home.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"The Lemon's Aide"




Living a life in constant yellow can be a wearying existence.
When you're yellow, people expect you to carry on as though every moment of your life is bathed in sunshine from dawn 'til dusk, but the truth is that even Yellows have blue days.
Just ask Lemon.
Lemon was a tough guy to peel. Although bright and smooth in appearance, he often struggled to keep up with the expectation of being the life of the party. He compared himself too frequently to Banana and Passion-fruit (one admired for his form and the other for flavour), but even with this self-troubling habit most others in the fruit basket couldn't see past his goofiness to the sour pit he was feeding.
Lemon was sad. When you're so yellow, there's no opportunity to show off some of the other colours that are experienced just below the surface. The pinks of love, the blues of melancholy and the oranges of adventurousness never saw the sun on Lemon's peel... but before too long another colour began seeping out from his core.
"Lemon," Papaya commented one afternoon, "you're looking a little lime... are you okay?"
Lemon did what he could to let the comment roll off his back: "I'm fine, I just need a little more Vitamin D, that's all."
But sunshine wasn't enough to stop Lemon's greenness from spreading. In a few days, everyone had noticed – and they began to talk. "I know he's been hanging out with the Veggies recently," Apple said to Peach as they watched Lemon roll slowly from one side of the basket to the other. "Maybe the broccoli has been rubbing off on him a little too much?"
Lemon's friends tried to cheer him up and get his yellow back, but they couldn't figure out the root problem. Lemon was looking darker and darker every day, and everyone was worried.
"Is he rotting?" a little grape asked.
The response was uncertain and hushed. "He's sick, honey. Tired maybe... maybe more."
Two weeks after Lemon's hue had begun to darken, Radish got thrown in with the fruits.
"Are you an avocado?" Radish asked, unaware of the gradual pigmented depression Lemon had found himself in. She based her question solely on that which could be observed: the once yellow Lemon was now a very deep blueish-greyish-green colour.
"I'm a lemon," said Lemon.
Radish furrowed her eyebrows. "What has happened to your sunshine?"
Lemon sighed heavily, brimming with tears. The dimples that had once served to highlight his cheer now seemed to emphasize the depth of his creases and the weight in his eyes. "I've lost it," Lemon confessed. "It's been gone for a terribly long time."
"Well then," said Radish, gently, "I will help you find it again."
Radish listened while Lemon opened up. He spoke of the wear his friends had on him at times, and he recalled moments of frustration and fatigue often suppressed in order to serve his bubbly social role. He confided in Radish for a long time while she said nothing with neither smile nor tear. She simply listened.
Little by little, Lemon's grey lightened, the blue faded, and the green disappeared. Little by little, Lemon was yellowing. When he had explained everything he'd been keeping to himself, and all that pressure had been released, he laughed. Radish looked pleased, but also different, somehow.
Before Lemon had a chance to inquire, Radish nodded quietly and tipped her head to one side. "Did you know," she began, as though it were a question, "that colours are contagious? They have an amazing quality about them that is transferable – blues and yellows and even pinks – they can be passed on or pulled in by others. You've gotten much yellow back, and I've got some of that now too! But I also took on a bit of your blue and a little green, to help you get rid of it. So that's why I look a little odd – I'm brighter, but also darker than when I arrived here. More the colouring of an unusually ripe apple than a radish, you might say."
"But I don't want you to be blue or green!" Lemon cried, obviously distressed.
Radish smiled. "It's okay Lem. It's what friends do. We share the good and the bad, the blue and the yellow. We trade off and balance out and complement. It's our design."
Lemon gave Radish a hug. If this act seems impossible, consider that a radish is rarely a radish in such tales, and such tales are rarely told with the simple intention of entertainment. Rather, they often come prepared with an applicable punch:
When life gives you Lemons, be the Lemon's aide.