So I’m editing this old short story, from the mid 80’s, so I can air it here on the blog & I get distracted by this show of force in the US capital. Do I want to see what they do or do I want to correctly punctuate a sentence? As they climb over barricades & breaking windows I’m breaking down paragraphs. Are they protestors or terrorists. A rampage of white entitlement that eventually fizzles out. No one even shit on the podium. Death by stress & no change in the results, the forgone conclusions.
In my story there is a change in names, a clarification of motivations but the same result. The story results as comedic as the clumsy crowd of echos lurching up & down the Capital building stairs, bumping into each other as they attempt to get the perfect backgrounds for selfies of their righteous bravery. Everyone seems disappointed at the lack of blood on the floor, that there isn’t any burning buildings for truly dramatic context to tweet.
Already that narrative is being rewritten so that every side is at fault as they insist they are upholding the fine principles of democracy, capitalism & freedom of selfie speech. My characters don’t have that much freedom, even as I change their size & shape they tell me what they should do in the situation I created for them. I allow them to be frail, vacillating & only threats to themselves. As much as they are under my control I end up surrendering them to spellcheck & word count – or should I say word re-count. Even when the story is finished it is not certifiable 🙂 but part 1 was posted here with my music blog on Thursday. https://topoet.ca/2021/01/06/jonesing-for-joplin/
I miss the smell of the restaurant – of food cooking, of someone serving the meal & taking away my dirty dishes, of being able to ask for suggestions. Taking your chicken souvlaki out of a paper bag and finding out it is pork isn’t the same as seeing it on the plate & sending it back right away. I miss plating – the art of someone else arranging food on your plate.
I missing being able to give your order at a coffee shop without having to shout through your mask & over-enunciate words like ‘sweet & low’ & having to repeat yourself as they still don’t hear clearly over the music. I miss paying for things with cash. What do people without plastic do?
I miss wearing shirts to public events, because there are no public events to wear them to. I have a wardrobe based on public appearances, even if the appearance is meeting someone for lunch or doing a feature in front an eager audience of poetry fans. The face mask has replaced the shirt, the t-shirt for now.
Shopping has changed here in Ontario. Not that I spent a lot of time in stores but I miss the sense of destination, of discovery as I browsed the aisles looking. When I do shop I am focused on what I want but there are times when going through the tables of remaindered books at Book City, or even Indigo, results is amazing discoveries.
Not that I mind online shopping for most things & I sure do love packages showing up at my door but I miss the hunt. No more impulse shopping. No more checking every aisle in the grocery store for specials, now it’s all about following the right arrows to maintain social distance.
I missing not knowing what day of the week it is because I’m no longer doing what I used to do every Wednesday that took me out of the house. My cell phone now tells me what day of the week it is. I think this is Monday.
Time for my round-up of local coffee spots starting a little north of the Danforth with the Last Drop Cafe – 549 Sammon Ave. I hit this spot four or five times a year – it’s usually not on my walking route. Good coffee though, great caramel butter tart and always friendly service. Accessible but washrooms are in the basement – duck your head on the way down.
South, I sometimes get to Bandit – 1925 Gerrard St. E. Recently changed management, I think. Usually hit this spot on Sunday’s. Fine coffee, good cookies – really enjoy the Oreo cookie cookie. Accessible, washrooms large and on the same floor.
the patio is open
Recently opened Brickyard Grounds – 1289 Gerrard St. E. is a welcome addition to that corner. Bright, for a change, nice to have a spot that doesn’t feel like a cave. Good coffee, good service. On site bakery for some things, but sometimes no muffins or cookies by 10:30 a.m. If you want, you can have a whole roast chicken with your latte. The Super mint tea is excellent. Frequent flyer card as well. Accessible, washrooms on the same floor but not sure how easy it would be to get wheelchairs to the back area.
I get to Cake Town – 2039 Danforth Ave. nearly every other week to meet up with a recovery buddy. Good service, good coffee, great breakfast bagel, nice butter tart as well. Frequently flyer card. Accessible, washrooms on same floor but pretty narrow for wheelchairs to get back there. Can be a bit noisy if children are there.
Celena’s Bakery – 2036 Danforth Ave. – across the street from Cake Town. As you might guess, has in house bakery, great muffins, great breads as well & a good date square. Good coffee. Rarely eat in there though, so have never checked the washroom, which I think are in the basement.
Crema – 508 Danforth Ave. – has some of the hottest bearded baristas serving their excellent coffees. This is always a take out spot for me & have never needed to use the washrooms. Accessible but narrow & probably not a great space for wheelchairs. Good muffins & cookies but nothing great. Frequent flyer card though & even a gift card that offers a small discount with every purchase. I keep mine topped up.
The Only Cafe – 972 Danforth Ave. – I hit this spot a few times a year & always enjoy it. Nicely funky decor, hippies never fade away they just open coffee shops. No brewed coffee though – all Americanas, lattes etc. The breakfast bagel is great here. Too cluttered to be easily accessable & I’ve never used the washrooms. Accessible but another cafe so cluttered inside it’s hard to get a round
Closest to me is the Red Rocket Cafe – 1364 Danforth Ave. I’m in there five or six times a month – most Saturdays for my morning coffee & usually a rice crispies square, but sometimes the great zucchini muffin. Good coffee, great service, (hot bearded barista here too), in house baked goods. I never let my gift card dip below $10.00. Accessible but narrow & cluttered – I’ve knocked things off tables struggling to get to the service area.
“Did you see it?”
“How could I have not seen it.”
“Is that all you feel?”
“It’s horrible. What more do you want me to feel.”
“Some, but for me it’s more like helplessness. It’s not as if I can get there and do anything practical.”
“I wish they’d stop showing that footage over and over.”
“I stopped watching it.”
“You stopped! Why? How could you? Don’t you care?”
“I care, but that doesn’t mean I have to watch every frame every time it comes on.”
“Sometimes I wonder if you have a heart, you know. That is the coldest thing I’ve heard you say.”
“What? That I can’t bare to watch something that horrible? I think it’s pretty callous to keep watching it. Sick. You get some sort of thrill every time you see it.”
“Thrill! No! How could you think such a thing? No one would get a thrill out of seeing that!”
“Then why watch it.”
“So I won’t forget it. No one should forget that moment.”
“I won’t forget it.”
“I bet you’re one of those who think they had it coming.”
“The U S of A.”
“I don’t think anything except it was horrible.”
“I doubt it. If you thought that then you would want to do something, take some sort of action. Some action other than turning off your TV because it made you uncomfortable.”
“Sorry, but I did have to go to the can.”
“You know what I mean. You can’t hide in the sand. If you try to hide you are merely approving the actions of those terrorists. You have to take some action.”
“And what action are you taking? Talking about it? Watching it? Have you left the house or sent a donation to the Red Cross, given blood, made a poster to walk up and down the street with that rallies other’s to action? Have you?”
“No, but at least I care.”
“All you care about is some new juicy detail to talk about. That’s the extent of your action. Talk and look. Opinions won’t solve anything. So far all I’ve heard from you are opinions on what other’s should do.”
“At least I have an opinion. All I hear for you is that you didn’t feel the need to watch. To witness the devastation of our lives. So don’t you take that tone with me.”
“Are you going to enlist?”
“Enlist? What for?”
“If there’s going to be war don’t you want be there, in the front line?”
“If it comes to that I’ll be there. Don’t you worry. Will you?”
“I’m too old. I’ll be one of those bandage makers. But you are the right age.”
“This won’t be a foot war.”
“You think not. Does it have to be a war at all – that’s what I’d ask myself. How can we avoid that.”
“We can’t avoid that. We have to take action.”
“Again I’ll ask you what action are you going to take beside button-holing people with your opinions and rants? Or are you happy to just watch at your safe distance and opine as to what you think others should do.”
I’ve seen Lydia Lunch on stage a couple times in the last century, once co-featuring with John Waters. This was my first time in this one. I do have some of her Lps in my collection: Queen of Siam, Dagger & Guitar, and Big Sexy Noise. I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard fan but I do dig her history.
She appeared at The Steady on Bloor. The back room was an intimate, if unheated, space that was the right size for the packed house for her show. She read from her cookbook The Need To Feed – why a cookbook – because ‘she can fucking do anything.’ Plus performers like to reinvent themselves every now and then.
She read several of the chapter introductions that combined food history, her history and her sharply aimed comments on the state of food in the USA. All marked by fun sexuality: of cayenne she says ‘anything that hurts I like to put in my mouth.’; of pasta puttanesca pasta ‘the whore’s pasta: unlike most things that are cheap and easy this one is good for you.’
She started the show inviting us to warm up to ‘the fire of my body,’ but the unheated room never did warm up. I can’t say anything about the kitchen at The Steady. My escort & I had the cheese board & the tapas plate – the only things on the menu other than the prix fixe meal, which we didn’t know had to be ordered in advance. The cheese & tapas were as good as any I’ve had.
Coal Dusters Sample
(55,000 words already written, set in Cape Breton, mid-1920’s, Birk 19 – Clancy 20)
Birk woke with a start. Clancy was at the foot of the bed, shaking the frame gently until he woke.
“Strike’s over b’y.”
Birk pushed himself up, not sure if he was dreaming. “Wha?”
“Union settled for less than we were getting afor.” Clancy tossed his russack on the dresser.
“I knows that.” Birk sat up and put his legs over the side of the bed.
“You sleepin’ like there’s nothing to do.”
“I’m sleeping like someone who don’t have to share his bed with someone who tosses like a … a shirt on the line on a windy day.”
“And smells as fresh.”
“Yeh, freshly fished out of a net.” Birk tossed his pillow at Clancy. “So you’re back?”
“Nothing better to do?”
“I was getting use to having all this bed to myself.” He pulled his pants on and pushed his feet into his work boots. “Been a while since I wore these. Kinda stiff.”
He stood facing Clancy. He’d forgotten how blue Clancy’s eyes were. He grinned not know what else to do or say. He thought of grappling with Clancy, wrestle him to the floor but reached out and mussed his hair instead.
“Time’s awasting!” A shout came from the bottom of the stair.
“Yer Ma hasn’t changed.”
“Good things never do.” Birk laughed.
Their first two days in the pits where spent making sure the shafts and stavings were sound enough for being worked. After the weeks of inaction it felt to good to be back at the work but at the same they would only get paid for the coal they produced. There was no pay for replacing, reinforcing the hoardings, for doing all the maintenance work that had gone undone during the strike. Work that the managers had groused being supposedly forced to do while the miners were lazing about fishing.
“You’d think they’ve cleaned out the carts at least.” Red grunted as they went down for their first shift.
No one was happy about the way the strike had been settled. Everything forced on them by the management, the government, neither of whom did seem to care about the miners but only about their taxes and dividends.
Birk was too focused on getting things ready to be bothered talking much with Clancy beyond quick grunts of agreement as they did their tasks. When he got back at night after their shift he was too tired. Sometimes they both fell asleep during dinner. But he could sense Clancy’s restlessness.
Even as he tried to keep his distance in the bed their shoulders or hands would brush briefly in the night.
By the third day the shafts were ready to be worked. Birk found that he and Clancy were back into their old routine. Joking in the mornings and focused when they started to work. Birk was happy to hear Clancy singing behind him as they got back to the grind of hacking the coal out of the seam. He slipped back into his physical digging and everything that had happened in the pat few months vanished as he sweated.
“Com’on by. Time for a slurp of tea.”
“Wha?’ Birk pushed himself out of the crevice he was working in.
“Can’t make up for lost time that way Birk.”
“Feels good though to be doing sumthin’ ”
They scuttled along to a level spot on the floor to sit.
“Where you get to?” Birk asked even though he knew the answer.
“Back to my Ma’s. “I figured your family had enough to do keepin’ fed without an extra face to feed. Not much to do here without getting pulled into that spineless union’s foolishness. Ya can’t trust them.” Clancy slurped his tea. “Still smells the same down here.”
“No more ‘an you can trust the owners.”
“That’s for sure. I hear you kept yourself busy in a pretty way.”
“Wha?” Birk nibbled at his bread.
“You and the nun.”
Birk could see Clancy smirk in the dim light.
“That lass’s been trying to teach me how read and write proper. Don’t see as I’m going to do much with that. I could read figures well enough. But now I can sign my name pretty good. But …. ”
“She’s getting to you, isn’t she?”
“Yeh but not in the way some seems to think.” Birk was eager to have someone to talk to about Lillian. There were things he didn’t he could tell his mother. “Everyone thinks I’m …. sweet on her. But tisn’t so. Sure she’s pretty and that, but she makes it hard to breathe when she’s around. It’s like she’s trying cover me up with whatever scent she’s wearing. Always looks at me as if she wants something more than an answer to what the numbers add up to.”
“She must have her eye on you.”
“Well I wish she didn’t. Ma gets so burned up about her being a Catholic girl. She thinks Lillian wants to turn me mick too. I wished I knew what she was after.”
“What most women want Birk m’boy. To land a decent man who’ll look after them. So I don’t know what she sees in you.” Clancy’s laugh echoed in the shaft.
“Yeh. I’m glad to … that … fuk Clancy I never had a mate I much took too … like m’brother”
“Yeah. I missed you too monkey.”
Birk resisted the temptation to reach out and touch Clancy somehow.
Back at the face they were working he was happy to hear Clancy singing the familiar ‘shovel and pick, pick and shovel,’ then, ‘rake and hustle, hustle and rake.’ Clancy stopped mid-word.
“Hush,” Clancy whispered. “Stop for a minute.”
Birk leaned away from the wall. “What is it?”
They stood holding their breaths. A distant rumble could be heard. Then the ceiling over them groaned and a large flat strata of it shook free and fell with a dusty thud.
Birk pushed Clancy toward the wall. “We better high tail it.”
“Right. That’s what happens when you don’t wait for the inspectors to come.”
They made their way to the main shaft that was crowded with the other men on the shift. They were grousing about how hastily the management had get things started and how the union didn’t make any difference or even seem to care about the possible unsafe conditions. Another heavier rumble overhead stopped their nattering.
“At’s a big one.” one of the miners said.
Part of the ceiling collapsed ahead of them.
(for more see my NaNoWriMo posts in Novmember 2012)
The October Racket at the Rocket was another fine line-up of diverse writers hosted by Sandra Cardinal. The Rocket was decked out in spooky cobwebs, skulls & rats. The pumpkin bar was excellent. Try one while there are on the menu. Also happy to see that management have built a small portable stage for the many music, comedy & spoken event that they are playing host to.
First feature was Jerry Levy who read a piece of one of the stories in his collection Urban Legend. He prefaced the section with a look at the Golem legend in literature. Although the story involved recreating the hero’s deceased fiancee the language was simple, direct & effectively drew us into the story without using, what I call the language of the eerie. Even in the short section he presented it was clear clinging to the past is responsibility not a solace.
Next up was Koom Kankesan with a section of one of his Rajapaksa Stories. A funny, sardonic take on the politics of Sri Lanka from someone who experienced it first-hand. The section showed how consumerism is gradually dominating culture – with a protagonist caught up in Chinese technology and fascinated with American ‘classic’ films. He made great use of the rat squeeze toys & had fun with the ‘you fucked my wife’ scene from Raging Bull. (my review of the book: https://topoet.ca/2013/10/28/the-rajapaksa-stories/)
After the break we heard poet Jean-Paul Bedard – he opened with a piece dealing with the bombing at Boston marathon he had run in. About the bombers he says ‘grasping out in desperation for the American Dream’. His rhymed pieces were filled with sharp observations: denizens of a coffee shop ‘they were broken in familiar places,’ after summer ‘all tanned and bruised.’ He successfully rhymed Toronto with desperado.
Final feature was Vanessa McGowan – who proved that great hair and cure shoes don’t detract from her emotionally compelling writing and performing. I’ve reviewed her several times now & am always happy to hear her again. Hard hitting lines: ‘you’re not disabled enough,’ a mother who ‘cut you so deep with her eyes,’ ‘the silence of sober made you feel small,’ & ‘ not in our family, playing like a loop,’ helped the audience acknowledging that she is ‘the miracle left to tell the story.’
On the open stage I read ‘Petition,’ ‘How Do I Fear Thee’ and
Catching my breath after a busy, for me, week. My friend JCD visiting from New York had me walking around downtown & neighborhoods I rarely spend much time it. He was staying at the Courtyard just north of College. His first day here we had a banal lunch at the ‘market’ cafe in College Park (never again). Supper that night at Swiss Chalet. Love the ribs. I hadn’t realized that 7/11 & Starbucks had made such inroads south of College along Yonge.
The next day we had a great lunch at Flo’s Diner. A reliable kitchen, smooth coffee with great staff. I lunch there every other month or so & am never disappointed. The following day we got over to Kensington market after getting off the street car at Bathurst – I loved the reclaimed cargo container food shops – nothing tempted me though. Did a good look through Kensington stores. Checked out the wood burning bagel place (I’ll hit there another day) but I really had to try The Grilled Cheese on Nassau St – simple menu & good, thick, oozing delicious cheese sandwiches served with ripple chips (you can’t have everything.) Simple fare but the best grilled cheese I’ve had in ages. The place had a sweet 60’s vibe interior & the cub waiter was hot hot hot. I’ll eat there again.
That night we supped at Sambucas on Church St. Good pasta & more excellent service. I lunch here occasionally & have always been impressed by the inventive menu, reliable kitchen & the friendly staff. Our final dining experience was Lunch Saturday at Como en Casa on Yonge. When it says authentic I have to believe because I have nothing to compare it too – I had a perfectly spicy beef stew with rice, beans & a big corn chip. I’ll certainly lunch here again too.
As reluctant as I was to see my friend off to the airport Saturday I was eager to get back to my routine, cut out the carbs, spend a day doing s.f.a & not wondering how much to tip or if the washroom has something to dry your hands on – hmm that’s an idea – maybe I should do restaurant bathroom reviews?
a little something to get you in the mood for halloween:
First feature Brock Hessel blasted the room with an in-your-face, take-no-prisoners piece that trampled several Canadian cultural icons underfoot – from Jack Layton to Don Cherry no one was spared at the hands of his palm-reader/masseuse Joannne, who will earn your votes ‘one had job at a time.’ His other pieces were filled with hard-earned understandings ‘dancing alone in front of the mirror you used to take selfies,’ ‘you bookmarked the box you used to box me in.’
After the break DM Moore made an impassioned appeal for Tarek & John – two Canadians caught up in Egypt. Then Heather Babcock captivated the crowd with a polished image that suited her polished work. her first piece. ‘Where did my face go’ was delightfully self-aware & funny piece that acknowledge the power of looks while wondering on looking into the mirror where her face was gone ‘perhaps my nose is rolled up in a forgotten sock.’ Her fiction pieces were as direct, ‘as if layoffs were contagious and could be spread by eye-contact,’ ‘looking for a place in her bones called shelter.’
Music feature Nelson ‘SoHot’ Sobral, despite suffering from a sore throat, did a high-energy set that left us wanting more (but we had to clear the stage for another show at 9:30). With his propulsive, crisp acoustic guitar he gave us a set of emotional, direct to and from the heart songs. ‘I’ll always be by your side, even when I’m on the floor.’ He harkens back to Fred Neil & Joe Walsh and is so hot he popped my cork.
The cork was on the bottle of champaign that The Central honored us with for the launch of the Damned. The staff was great, kept sound levels perfect, and kept our thirsty audience happy. Looks like the Damned has found a beautiful new home. Join us next month, October 31 for a scary scary night hosted by Lizzie Violet.
one of the pieces I read at the Damned:
I wished him dead
every time I sat in his class
I wished he were dead
not someone I had to face every day
I would only have to glance up at him
writing formulas on the black board
the drone of his voice and wish him dead
he would always call on me
to read out what he had written
I picture his brain exploding
bloody cosines gush from his nose
all over his spotless white shirt
I wanted a sharp steel edge on my protractor
to cut out his heart
save the class from algebra trig calculus
his stories of sailing
how he figured directions with his slide rule
die die die
so we can figure out the angle
to bury you
so your rotting corpse
will slump into your penny loafers
bones a jumble of secants and underpants
the formula on the board
meant nothing to me
it could have been written in flame
blah blah squared equals something degrees
my feet burning by the time I sat down
he would pat me on the shoulder
say you seem to be catching on
when I was really catching on fire
his abacus belt buckle at eye level
I’d stare at the rubble on my page
hope his hand would stay a bit longer
hope some of his knowledge could rub off
what was the angle of the dangle behind that zipper
The day before I was swamped by FanExpo I was to Stratford to see their production of Blithe Spirit at the Avon Theatre. It was our first day trip with the new old car – a Cobalt 4-door. Smooth ride and a great sound system.
Before the show I lunched with Clara Blackwood et famile – to celebrate her birthday. We dined at Molly Bloom’s – my first time there. Usually we hit Features for lunch, but change is good. Molly’s was busy but crammed. We sat under the electronic fish-tank – which only rebooted once while we were there. Fish & chips were excellent.
Blithe Spirit was excellent. Briskly paced, a laugh-out-loud script that didn’t rely on one-liners to get laughs, performs who clearly enjoy their characters, and the expected Stratford attention to costumes plus a splendid set. To top it off a finale of sweet stage-craft effects that one rarely gets to see.
This is our third Stratford day trip, adding to the list of shows we’ve enjoyed this year: R&J, and Tommy. Next up Measure For Measure.
Tale of the Unexpected
he was into me
I could tell by the way
his eyes held mine
as he talked about books movies music
searching for common ground
to make bedrock
for us to roll around on
books I hadn’t read yet
movies I had no intention of ever seeing
music I was indifferent to
but I’m a patient listener
I knew what it was like
the nervous energy of hoping
to strike the right chords of concordance
seeking that common ground to roll around on
I’d met him a fews times before
a friend of a friend
but he wasn’t my type
too tall too clean shaved
I could tell he was mistaking my listening
for a returned interest
my nods on the right time
were cues to him to lean closer
touch me lightly on the forearm
to emphasize a point
I understood this neediness
I used to fall for waiters who joked
mistaking their professional patter
for something more than working for their tips
I’m not that naive anymore
I know the difference
he was into me
once was a time
when that would be enough
myself esteem so low
my interest in them was fueled
by their interest in me
even if they weren’t my type
my need for acceptance was so great
I’d have no resistance
not that I don’t enjoy having someone interested in me
but now I can resist the pull better
lessons learned and all that
I’d know after ten minutes it wasn’t going to work
Day One of the workshop winding down. Due to campus construction we’ve been assigned a new room – much brighter & with windows to the corridor – but with bad acoustics – how can anyone teach in such a room – so we’re straining for every word & telling people to speak up – some people that is – not everyone brings my experience of shouting over bar tenders to the workshop setting.
There’s eleven of us in the class – mostly ‘old’ hands who have taken workshops with Rosemary previously, some of us more that a couple of times. Most with some writing experience as well, some published, some getting back to writing again.
Today we mainly look at how to avoid passive protagonists – wondering why the villain usually more interesting that the hero. A passable lunch at Tim Ho’s – the only way to make a grilled cheese panini okay is to douse it with tabasco sauce – processed cheese slices ugh.
In the afternoon we did the first look at class members writing – two of the ‘old’ hands were the first up – hard to avoid I guess but a good way to let the newbies be less fearful when their turn comes up & also to hear just what gets said about the work.
There’s one other guy in the class – typical balance for these sort of things – rarely have I been at a writing workshop that was mostly men. As in past years I have too much to say – such is life. It’s shaping up to be another productive week.
Getting my bags packed for Loyalist. How many tee shirts? If only teleportation for luggage was possible I’d travel more. Picked a couple of sections of the Priest’s Niece to take for workshopping. I had considered one of my weird tales as they requite no backstory to understand.
Each year the food options on campus have shrunk as they remodel the cafeteria area – last year we were reduced to Tim Ho’s till 11 a.m. then Subway from 11 till 3 p.m. This year its only Tim’s but it’ll be open till 3. I’m hoping this year it will be a full service Tim’s. Last year, I think, they had usual line of donuts & bagels & wraps but not much else – & even those ran out as it appeared stocks weren’t replenish during the week. Once the cheddar bagels were gone by Tuesday there was no more.
Going off campus for lunch is a pain – we have a two hour break but that time usually used to get ready for workshopping in the afternoon. Nearest off-campus dining is another Tim’s – joy. other spots are twenty minutes away – so adding travel time etc. there’s an hour down the drain.
Here’s one of the pieces I’m taking for workshopping from my 2012 nano:
(Set in Cape Breton coal mining town – mid 1920’s)
Even though the chill of spring was over Lillian shivered under the heavy woolen cover. It wasn’t even a blanket as far as she was concerned. It kept the heat in but she felt cold. The sheet between her and the wool wasn’t thick enough to keep the coarse fiber from chafing her feet. The cover was like everything in her uncle’s house. Coarse. Homemade. She tried to picture the parishioner who had made this and brought it as gift to her uncle. It was meant to be a rug. Under it she tugged her mother’s shawl tighter around her shoulders. It smelled of comfort, of the life she had left behind to come here to this clumsy backwater coal mining town.
Lillian pushed the stiff cover off her and swung her feet to the floor. They recoiled from the cold. She should have left the rug where it was but pulling it over her in the night was the only way she could think of to keep warm. Her uncle had offered one of the quilts but she had refused. The tattered rag patterned comforters looked even more home made than the rug.
Lillian put on her slippers and wrapped her dressing gown around her. The dark blue silk was embroidered with small pink flowers along the hem with larger ones on the pockets and lapels. It was one of the few things her uncle had let her keep when she arrived. He felt her Boston clothes were too good, too indulgent for someone living his house. He didn’t want anything to be a distraction for his parishioners.
“Such gaudy goods are a sign of a lack of faith. The Lord wants us plain when we stand before him not gussied up like a peacock.” He had said as he went through her trunk shoving all her pretty clothes aside and picking the ones he deemed suitable. “They’ll be in the attic till you are fit to leave us. Your father thinks he’s made a man of himself but he never knew the meaning of decorum.”
Her tears only made him impatient with her. Now here she was dressing in rough, colorless, shapeless pinafores, coarse linen shifts that gave her no shape. She wondered if he was more concerned with her being a temptation to him than a lure of Satan to his parishioners.
Her room didn’t even have a mirror. She hadn’t seen her face clearly since she arrived three months ago. There were no mirrors in the priest’s house and certainly none in the small church.
She splashed cold water on her face. Her hands were red and chafed from the housework she was now responsible for. Learning here what her uncle said her father and mother had failed to teach her. How to be a woman who could serve others, not a wonton who only served her own pleasures.
She sat at her dressing table to brush her hair. More than her clothes she missed her cosmetics – the lotions and creams she could use to keep her hands, soft, to keep her hair radiant. All she had been allowed some Castile rose soap. She stared at the space on the wall where a mirror had once been. She knew that by the discolored, and water-mottled rose wallpaper around a clean rectangle of red roses.
She tugged the brush through her hair trying to be gentle with the knots that always crept into it overnight. She resisted the temptation to pull harder, not wanting to break it off in clumps. She longed for a long, hot bath but that wasn’t possible in this house. Too much work to heat enough water for a bath.
One snag pulled painfully at her scalp. She began to cry. This was unbearable. All she had wanted to do was get married. At twenty-two it was time for her to get married yet her father was always on the guard for young men who wanted his money, wanted her for his money. At the same time her mother was wary of men who might not respect her as a woman. Men who would corrupt her with their unwholesome demands.
When she had met David Henderson two summers ago, she felt she had found someone to please them both. Older than her by five years, David came from an equally prosperous family. He was modest. The two of them had signed temperance cards. They had never been together unchaperoned expect when they walked to church together.
Yet when he asked her father for her hand in marriage her father had said no. He forbade her to ever see that ‘Henderson man’ again. When she pressed him for an explanation her father told her she was only to obey. At church the next week she was told that David had been sent to England by his family. They too felt this would be an unwise match. She later learned the the problem was that David’s mother was Jewish.
That was when James Dunham came into her life. A dashing and very rich man in his thirties who charmed both her mother and father. James had no family in Boston and was there to establish himself in banking. A man her parents trusted and whom she was allowed to be alone with to go to the theatre.
Only he didn’t take her to the theater every time. He would make a great show of it to her parents and then whisk her back to his rooms at the Lennox Hotel. There they would dine in private. He was eager to show her what ‘unwholesome demands’ meant on two occasions. On the second her father arrived at the door unannounced. The hotel manager thought it wise to alert her father as to what was happening.
This is what she had come to from the bright promise of Boston. Her father about to become a senator and here she was exiled in shame to Cape Breton. At least she didn’t end up in a home for wayward girls. Even though she had miscarried she was deemed unfit to be seen as member of the family in Boston society.
Her father’s brother, Uncle Pat, whom she was now to refer to as Father Patrick, had agreed to take her in. He needed a housekeep, or so his letter said. Housekeep! All she had here was an occasional kitchen helper. She was sorry she hadn’t died when she lost the baby.
“Lillian. Lillian are you about.”
“Yes Uncle Pat. I will be down momentarily.” She gave up with her hair. Without a mirror or the proper pomades there was no point in trying maintain it.
She shrugged her smock on over her head and tied a dark blue rag around her hair to keep it off her face.
In the kitchen she was relieved to see that her uncle had cut wood for her. Most mornings he left that work to her. He had even started a fire in the stove. He sat at the small pine table on the one chair in the room.
“Thank you Father Pat for getting the fire going.” She had learned quickly that her uncle expected gratitude for every thing he did around the house.
“It is my pleasure to be of service.”
She pumped water into the kettle and set it on the stove.
“Tea will be ready shortly.” she told him. “Would you like the Ceylon or the English?”
“The Ceylon I think. Yes, it’s definitely a morning for the Ceylon.”
Lillian put the iron skillet on the stove and greased it lightly. It was quickly warm enough for the one egg and one piece of bacon that her uncle ate every morning with one thick piece of bread. She was to prepare his before she could eat anything. She wasn’t allow the bacon.
Her uncle had come to Cape Breton several years ago after two years in a monastery. There he enjoyed an austere life of silence free of concern about, what he now called, objects. Yet he found the solitude taxing and dedicated that he was more suited to being of service with humanity in a more direct way.
The kettle whistled and she poured the water into the tea pot. She was allowed to have a cup of tea with him though. He felt eating in the morning together would be unseemly. Too much like what properly married catholics would do.
She served him his breakfast.
“Now you remember that today is when the union men are coming to speak with me.”
“Yes Unc … I mean Father Pat. I baked two pies last night.”
“Apple and rhubarb.”
“Yes as you asked. I also made some of the chicken soup you like.”
“Not too meaty I hope.”
“Good. We want them to know the Lord is bountiful but also that we aren’t foolish with his bounty.” He wiped the last of the egg yolk up with a crust of the bread.
“This is very good bread, Lillian. You have learned very quickly. I’ll never forget that first loaf.” He laughed as she blushed. “I’m still using it as a door stop at the church.”
“God finds a use for everything.” She forced a laugh. It was all she could do not to run from the room to cry.