I took this picture today on my walk. How it brought back an intense memory.
The fading light through the trees was soft owing to the smoke issuing from the line of lake-side cabins and adding to the vigorous smell of cooked pickerel. Sunday suppertime on Sturgeon Lake in North Western Alberta, 1973. My dad and I readied his red and white 1968 Chevrolet truck and headed home. It was Sunday and he had to get home (an hour West in Grande Prairie) to get ready for the week’s work.
My dad, by then 61, bone thin, just starting to stoop; yet, still towering over me. How after the truck was packed he’d take a moment, remove his cap, scratch his balding pate, then get in and off we’d go. Perhaps he was going over a mental checklist to ensure the cabin was locked up for the week.
It was always a quiet ride home, excepting for the radio. He wasn’t a conversationalist and thus, perhaps, is why I have an over-active imagination in having to keep myself occupied.
First stop, always, the garbage dump.
We are approaching the turn-off and suddenly it was like we were dive-bombed by a flying… something. Like an explosion of crazy in front of me. My heart was in my throat as it was on my side, by the tall steel radio antenna.
Dad laughed, “it’s a bat, caught on the aerial.”
My eyes were like saucers! A bat, mere feet from my head! Just waiting to get its chance to taste my blood!
We pulled into the dump and dad got out, gabbed a blanket from behind the truck seat, went around to my side, threw the blanket on the gyrating bat, pulled it up and off the antenna and snapped the blanket, like he was flicking off dust, and the bat, though hard to see in the twilight, screamed and flew off.
Dad folded up the blanket and put it behind the chair. He then threw out the garbage and again, we were on our way.
“The thing you should remember, never panic. Remember, early in the summer and that bear was in the dump? Keep your distance, yell and shout and he’ll go on his way. Never panic, you can’t think straight when you panic.”
He’d always give these, gems of wisdom to me. His favourite, “experience is the best teacher.” Loved that one.
Well, the excitement over, on the way again. We’d just turned off the dusty, noisy gravel and onto the soothing highway as it began to rain. Not much at first, but quickly grew into a monsoon with lightening and thunder.
“We’ll have to pull over, it’s too hard to see.” So we pulled off to the side of the highway.
That musty smell created by hard rain after a few, dusty, and hot days. I’ve never forgotten it; always cherish it as it instantly transports me to my youth.
Then more lightening, “one-thousand and one, one-thousand and…” boom!
That was close. Then. Oh but then.
This, imbued on my memory. I was looking out my window at the thick forest of birch and pine at the side of the road. A jagged bolt of pure white flashed in my vision. Like nothing I’d seen, but just like a kid drew a lightening bolt: sharp angles to a point. It seemed to linger there, a few feet above the ground; and then, it seemed like an eternity after the image, this, voice-of-god-like crash physically shook the truck.
I jumped over the side and grabbed dad. He laughed, “just lightening, we’ll be okay, we have rubber tires, we’re isolated from it.”
Immediately the rain subsided and we were off again. It was a few miles before I was back on my side of the truck.
Never forgot that moment and, I never looked at that blanket the same way again.
Photo and story © by DC Lessoway
An early fall Sunday, two men walk onto the Lions’ Gate Bridge on the west walk way from opposite sides.
Will, forty-five, looks sixty, gray haired, tall, limping due to a bad back, dressed in a thin, dirty suit jacket, no tie and his dirty shirt open, his suit pants ripped at the bottom, his once fine leather shoes worn and scuffed. He saunters onto the bridge deck from the Stanly Park side.
Brian, also forty-five, tall, fitter than a twenty-year-old, covered in lycra, only a peppering of gray betrays his age. He strides onto the bridge deck from the North Vancouver side. An old song he can’t remember the name of repeats in his head.
Will, who had been walking all night, is too exhausted to lift his head, until he reaches a yellow box on a pole. He just stares at the sign that states: “There is Help.” Nothing comes to him, his mind, a void.
Brian strides past the yellow box and wonders how many have used it. ‘Can’t be that many jumpers, they spent a lot of money on it I’d imagine. I high ratio likely.’
Will continues on, only the wind, bridge traffic in his ears, long ago numbed to the cold, stale coffee and aged donut haunts his breath. He has a sense he is floating upward.
Brian reaches the first pier and looks at his watch. Heart rate: 132. Good, right in the range. Around the park should do today. I have three hours, should be enough.
At the first pier from his side Will turns into the enclave wrapped around the pier and leans against the railing. The water below is fast with the out-going tide. He wonders if it’ll hurt. Suddenly he is hit by a wave of bleak emotion and tears streak his face and he doesn’t hear the lycraed cyclists streak past the pile.
The cyclists now fly towards Brian and as he steps out of the their way he says, “slow down a bit boys.” After they are gone he thinks, ‘maybe I should get a bike. Be a whole lot quicker to get around the park.’ He then reaches mid-point and looks at his watch, ‘if it weren’t for those bikers I’d beat my record.’
All Will sees is the water and all he feels is a dark pit. He forces his mind backward, to Tammy, he tries to see her smile, feel her kiss, smell her body, but it all returns to the arguments, fights, the last moment he saw her: closing the door to the house they bought together. Her words still in his ears: “Don’t come back. Ever!”
Brian carries on and in reaching the second bridge pile he ground around it to the right as several cyclists are heading his way. He looks over and sees a man staring down at the water. On the way down the final section of the bridge he realizes the man’s shoulders where shaking. The man was crying. Brian takes a look back. The man is still staring down at the water. He takes three more steps and stops, turns to look again at the man. He is too far away to really see anything so he takes hesitant steps forward. One thought stops him, ‘I shouldn’t get involved, what if he is violent? Has a gun?’
A chilled gust of wind brings Will out of his dark thoughts and he realizes his hands are gripping the icy railing. He can’t feel them, he can’t feel anything. It’s time. He prepares to climb over the railing but is startled by a voice behind him.
Will turns around to see a man, head to toe in lycra standing by the pier.
“Are you okay? Need me to get someone to help you?”
Will shakes his head. Brian takes a step forward and Will’s hand instinctively goes up, then down when he realizes he did this. Brian holds his place, trying to find words to say.
“There is help if you need it, those boxes…”
“No, just leave me alone, I’m fine here.”
“So, you weren’t going to jump?”
Will turns sideway to keep an eye on the man. He didn’t know whether to shake or nod his head. He honestly didn’t know.
Brian looks into Wills face and it strikes him he’d never seen anyone so sad before. Not even on his dad’s face when his mom died. He knew this man is ready to end his life. Brian looks around for the call box, but both are too far away. He made a movement to reach for his cell phone.
“Don’t call. Please. I’m not worth it. Please.”
Brian realized, for the first time in years he’d forgotten his cell. Then he felt puzzled, remembered his own thoughts on suicide. A flashback to when a classmate took her life and how his feels where mixed, how he called her selfish, stupid, too scared to face life. Later a casual hypothetical conversation on suicide with the same thoughts, feelings of how a person could through away their life, how it’s more a betrayal to themselves, leaving their family grieving. Selfish. The word repeated in his mind as he watched the man turn around. Brian took a step forward.
Will immediately spun around, a wild look on his face. Shouting: “Just leave me be! I’m not bothering anyone! Please go!”
Brian realized he will have to talk this man down. He thought, ‘negotiation is negotiation, whether for a car or a life? It’s the same basically.’
“What’s your name?”
Will seemed to have forgotten. His mind was blank.
“My name if Brian.” Instinctively his hand went for a handshake, but he lowered it quickly. “I live just over the bridge there in West Van. How about you?”
Will could only stare at the bridge deck.
“Well, it’s a beautiful day. Uh, not much traffic.” He cringed feeling he was going in the wrong direction. “Well, I’ll be honest with you, I’m not good at this, please let me call someone who…”
“My name is Will.”
“Well that is good Will. Thank you for, uh, thank you. Well, now we are on first name basis. Maybe if I can ask why you’re here?”
Will shook his head and looked away.
“Lost your job? Your home? Maybe love?”
Will looked down and shook his head.
“Who was she?” Brain waited but knew an answer wasn’t coming. “I can relate. My first wife jumped ship. Left me with a two-year-old. Oh those were longs days.”
“She kicked me out.”
“Something you did? Sorry, she have a reason?”
“I lost my job about a year before, couldn’t find one.”
“Did you try…”
“Became depressed to the point I couldn’t leave the bed for a month. She got tired of doing everything. She was six month’s pregnant with our first. Three months ago she said to go, come back when I got a job. I tried, everything, everywhere, any job. Nothing was happening. I showed up at the house two weeks ago and found her mother there. My boy was born a week ago. I said the child needs a father. Her mother said not a father who can’t put bread on the table. Slammed the door in my face and locked it. I banged and kicked the door, I just wanted to see my boy. They called the cops and I was in jail for a night. They didn’t charge me.”
Brian watched as Will broke down and cried. He stepped closer. Will didn’t flinch this time, Brian took another step closer and Will suddenly jumped onto the railing. Brian lunged at him and grabbed his jacket. It tore as he pulled on it. He lunged again, caught Will’s leg and using a foot on the railing as leverage, pulled until Will and himself came flying backward. Brian struggled to hold tight to Will. Will started beating on Brian to get him off when suddenly several hands and arms came in and separated them. It was two police officers.
“What’s going on here?”
Brian, trying to catch is breath, “he tried to jump.”
Six months later, a bright spring day, Brian is striding over the bridge deck. As he reaches the second piling he sees a man standing at the railing. Something in him is tipped off that this is familiar. He stops, not wanting to be a bother, being however unlikely the same would happen to him again. But he went up to the man.
The man turned around and it was Will. “Well hello Brian.”
“Will!” They hesitated, not knowing whether to shake or hug.
“Good to see you’re still keeping up your bridge walking, saving people.” Will got a little misy-eyed. “I can’t say anything but thank you. Just, thank you.”
“You are most welcome. You are doing better?”
“Yes, great! Had a setting of thing with the ex, visitations every other week. I’m okay with that. Went back to university, social work.”
“Oh good for you. It’s fantastic…”
Will suddenly embraced Brian and whispered in his ear: “thank you for bringing me back to life.”
Photo and story (c) 2015 by DC Lessoway
Christmas Eve. A warm, silent snow falls in the darkness of a small prairie town. A town centered with one strip mall, two barbers and three bars surrounded by houses and beyond that, farmland.
At this hour, sixty-two year old Henry, single father and the town’s longest serving barber is closing. He takes off his smock, places it neatly on a worn brass door hanger beside his chair. As it happens each and every Christmas Eve, he turns towards the front and expects Madeline to be at the till counting money. It’s been ten Christmas’s and he still yearns for her embrace, flowery perfume, raspy voice, sharp wit, infectious laugh. A dull throb perches on his shoulders as he dresses for the cold. He reaches for the back door then remembers the gift. The one he brought last spring when prices on winter items were cheap. It’d been wrapped for months with wrapping he found on sale in July. Habits he’d learned from once having to count each penny and having little during the great depression. In the back room, he grunts as he moves a chair and lifts a loose floorboard. His secret hiding spot. A last resort to hide gifts from his far-too-curious son. Then it was out the door.
At a street lamp at the furthest reaches from town center Henry’s son, ten-year-old Wayne waits. He’d just walked the seven blocks from his sitters, in anticipation of his dad’s getting home and allowing the opening of at least one gift as was Christmas Eve tradition. Wayne stands at the streetlamp beside his house staring up into the kaleidoscope created by the snow falling through the light above him. He loved doing this and only when conditions were perfect: at night, the temperature just below freezing, low clouds, no wind, and the snow has to be falling in large flakes. And always with some trepidation: he was sure his friends would think he was crazy. But these moments made him feel good, warm.
Sitting in the idling car Henry’s mind wanders…
Madeline gets into the car. “We’re late! Let’s go, you know Wayne will be
waiting. What’s wrong?”
“I forgot to get the gift. Damn it!”
“Is it in the hiding spot?”
“No, I forgot to buy it.”
“I reminded you many times, not on me.”
“What will we get him?”
Madeline pulls out a small wrapped gift. “Always prepared.”
“Oh thanks. Saved my skin again. Did you mean to give him that?”
“Bought it for last year, remember, you misplaced the gift, but found it last second?”
A car horn wakes him. As he drives through the intersection he looks over to the empty seat and smiles.
Henry steers the car through the maze of the new subdivision. His shoulders stop throbbing and he smiles again to see Wayne under the light, jumping up and down.
Brian couldn’t sleep.
He arrived late Friday night at the rustic cabin an hour’s drive from the blustery city. A spur of the moment thing. It was late August and he’d been to the cabin twice since May. Guilt the likely trigger. How could he not frequent such a quiet, sanctuary from the cruelty of the world. Too busy to go. Always too busy.
He flings away the covers, the cool air flushing over him, refreshing. How he used to leap out of bed, to catch the last few stars wink out in the deep violet sky. Age, must be age. His joints like popcorn as he flips his sinewy legs over the edge. Stretch. Ah. How easily the flexibility returns. A faint pressure in his bladder prompts him to get up.
He fumbles his way to the kitchen. Pausing to wonder aloud why he always bumps into things. The furniture in the rectangular, open-plan cabin hadn’t moved since 1975. A flick of the light brings stars to his mind’s eye. The external shutters on the windows might be closed, but likely not. A moonless night. Bodily functions cared too, coffee ready. He sinks quickly into a faraway reverie as the wakening elements of the toaster reflect on the glossy ceiling. His distant eyes brought back to focus by a faint flitter against the panel windows. Several large moths, attracted by the light, carelessly bump against the glass. Memories of bygone evening moth hunts bear a flush of youthful verve. Coffee and toast on the dock!
The creaking screen door echoes in the quiet. He struggles to keep the door from slamming while balancing his coffee and toast. A sweater and jeans might have been cozier than a tee-shirt and shorts. A faint hint of deep indigo hovers in the far east above the lapping, rippled waters. Late summer in this northern lake the sun appears later, cooler. Wet from the dewy grass, chilled sand sticks to his feet as he nearly stumbles onto the dock. A short walk out over the water and he finds an abandoned aluminum chair. In fleeting rush of anger he realizes his brilliant university student, but scatterbrained son, Tyler, the likely culprit.
Impressions of stifling summer afternoon: the course paper of a favored book, in the same chair, on the same dock, the waxing and waning roar of water craft, the ceaseless chatter of seven-year old Tyler splashing about. The calming timbre of her voice.
The gloom invades and expels the memory. A salty sting in his eyes rouse him in time to see his toast splash in the inky water. Returns the dry mouth, throbbing ache. He sets the coffee down, steps out of the chair and lies on his back on the plants of the dock.
Emblazoned stars of the Milky Way bring a sort of, relief. That maybe she, up there, possibly aches as well.
© 2013 by DC Lessoway