Friday, 28 October 2011

Eleven Hours in Transit

I’m not a huge fan of Jones Soda, but something about their berry-lemonade blend appeals to every tongue bud I have. This is not the most important of personal revelations in my life, or even in my week, and while such a fact is unlikely to spark much conversation or inspire a comment, I feel compelled to share. I have also never before sat for so long against and escalator, but this particular perch might make it to my favourite list of places. There is something reassuring about an unchanging rhythm of movement to your back and strong dark tile under your butt. Curiosity satisfied.

I’m waiting for a Northland Bus to take me home for the night. It’s a tricky thing, traveling North in this province – to catch a train, you have to make it to Union by eight of the clock – to jump on a bus, you have to wait around for one of two (maybe three) trips up. My options today were four hours or ten hours from my arrival time. Oh Huntsville, both beautiful and vexing.

So, what miracle has freed me from the Library’s deceptively passive-looking security guards, the fever-inducing anxiety of employment’s cold shoulder, and the shackling commitment to clicking “Refresh” on job site after job site, again and again and again? An offer, that’s what! Thank you the pray-ers (and success-wishers, and thinking-of-you-ers, although I believe your efforts significantly less helpful, however well-meaning). I am now the proud (and surprisingly pumped) new employee of a marketing firm based out of the Hamilton City Centre (aka Jackson Square). Details will follow as I learn more about what I will be involved with, but I was greatly encouraged by the friendly, small staff, and the charities that they support and promote. The three partner charities (Special Olympics, Maple Leaf Camps, and Help a Child Smile) really strike a cord with me, and I am excited to get behind what I believe to be truly important programs. If I’m going to be telemarketing in any degree, much better a life-experience for a worthy kid than fancy soaps or some rip-off insurance… or vacuums (right, Care?). Job starts on Tuesday, so I have one more weekend of freedom, and I am seizing that opportunity to move.

As of next week, Loreen and I will become official Hamiltonians (which will be easier on the vocabulary than “Burlingtonians” which just sounds plain silly). We have our keys, we’ve moved the fridge, we’re dreaming curtains and mason-jars and wall decorations and Bible studies and having people over for dinner and baking and Internet access (which we have learned to appreciate as a precious luxury), and in sum it’s been a very exciting few days with the promise of many more to follow. I have several cardboard boxes waiting for my careful Tetris-refined packing skills tonight, and tomorrow I will see everything I own (or most of it) piled into the back of my Dad’s red truck for the sixth time this year. It’s more moving than I had planned… but it finally feels like forward motion, and I have found both hope and peace in that.

Keep a weather-eye to the digital horizon; more stories to come.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Isaac ~ Between the Stops

She had imagined this conversation somewhat differently; his look should have been more disarming, perhaps – or her words more full of life, or more charming, or cleverer. It wasn’t an unpleasant dialogue, but the magnetic attraction she had prepared her heart to resist was not there. He was simply a friend, and it seemed barely that.

What had she expected, then?

…Static. The kind that prickles down your spine, that you can feel in your knees, that sparks an involuntary smile and a slight tremor in the heart. Instead she had experience the sort of static that comes with a radio station just off frequency, the distracting grey blur of bad wiring in a television set, and the immobile static of a long, uninterrupted, uninteresting wait.

And then silence had fallen upon them like the layer of gelatin glaze on a cake or flan; everything that was to be said had been. It was nice, and now it was concluded. Topped off. Only the consumption of the cake could change it now… or the dropping of it.

She averted her gaze. She had been staring at him as she thought these things, and he looked back at her with a passive curiosity, without saying a word. Wordlessness was a bad sign.

The bus lurched forward and she let her bag down to the floor. She picked it back up. A bag on the floor implied something – a desire to stay still, an exhaustion of strength, apathy, a defeat of some miniscule measure. Slung over one shoulder, the bag returned to its accustomed home. He looked on. No words.

The silence echoed itself and seemed to stretch their shared five minutes into unbearable epochs of time. He shifted from one foot to the other and casually said nothing. All of her thoughts, carefully edited and processed, sounded flat and mechanical to the audience of her mind, and so remained unspoken. The bus stopped again and the people crowded on, pressing them a little closer to each other.

She had been waiting for this moment for nearly four years – to talk with him alone, to have his full attention – but all this time she had thought him so different: chatty, inquisitive, energetic, funny… she thought he would be everything she remembered about him from classes and group gatherings. She thought . . . she had hoped . . . but maybe not.

The bus made three more stops before Riah climbed aboard. She waved enthusiastically from the front, paid her fare and danced her way through the people to meet them. She brought with her an incredible flurry of conversation.

“Ah! Girl, I was hoping to meet you today! Did you get my text yesterday? My phone has been acting up like the three-year-old it is and I can’t believe how many messages it has decided not to send, just to spite me, I swear. I hope yours works better than mine! Wow is the bus ever stuffy today, and not just with people, I mean this air is so… I mean, thick, you know? Like a musty old sauna but without all the cute swimsuits, unfortunately. Seriously, someone ought to crack open a window in here! Oh, that reminds me! Guess what I found stuck under one of my windshield wipers this morning? A parking ticket! The city booted my car! Outside my own building! That’s why I’m on the bus, you see – set off the City Hall. But… sorry, am I interrupting something?” She took a breath, barely pausing long enough to flick her eyes in the general direction of the boy standing near by. She continued with a shrug.

“Well anyway, I paid for that spot right before I went in, just to shower you see, and then I came right back out! Must have caught me just a minute after it expired, but then those parking signs can be so confusing to read, never you mind how long I’ve lived there. I think the traffic people will see it my way. I have a knack for persuasion, you know. Mother always thought I’d make a great actress, but I told her, ‘the Law is for me!’ Pretty similar in the long run, I suppose. Just a different sort of stage,” she winked. “By the way, have you seen the advertisements for the new Shakespeare flick? You really must go with me – I can’t think of a single other person who would care for the right reasons. Say you’ll come?”

Riah’s hand darted into her pocket and pulled out her phone. She read something quickly and began to type a reply. Her lips moved along with her mind as she wrote; it would take a few seconds for her to reorient herself.

“Riah, this is Isaac,” she interjected as soon as the phone snapped shut. “He’s a friend I met at school; Isaac, Riah. I can’t remember just how I met her, but she’s a doll. Not a bad cook either, but if she ever offers you a cookie, pass.” She winked at her friend who threw her hand to her forehead in a playfully dramatic pose.

Alas,” Riah proclaimed, “My one major flaw and you just won’t let that story die! One time, and it wasn’t even that much garlic. I didn’t realize it was flavoured margarine, you see.” He laughed freely, and the two girls joined in: a moment of pure relief.

Her friendship with Riah worked well; Riah was a wild gypsy of a girl, if gypsies would ever be caught in stiletto heels. She wore feathers in her hair, bright makeup and dark lips; she gave you three doses of caffeine just by proximity; she was a prattling fool, an exotic beauty and an adventurous, head-spinning mystery; she took life in both hands like a microphone and rocked-out. She was awesome.

Isaac seemed simultaneously mesmerized and overwhelmed by the creature that had burst into their quiet encounter. He also seemed to be weighing his options of whether to interact or simply observe their conversation. Riah decided for him. “So, tell me a story, Isaac. What brings you to the bus today? I’ve got to get off in a few minutes though, so you’ll have to keep it brief.” He looked up and to the right for a quick recall. “I’m on my way to meet up with a couple guys from class. Were working on a project all day.” She tipped her head to one side, just a little. “What are you working on?”

It was the same polite blueprint that had begun their conversation ten minutes ago. She was feeding him questions, leading the dance, modeling each step with the graceful nod of her head. He followed each move perfectly: a good dance partner, except that he was on the back-step.

How many nights had she mooned over Isaac Lamb? How many hours tracing his name like a child, day dreaming of a few minutes company? In her secrets she imagined his confession that he too had been watching, that a secret somewhere in his heart there was a place reserved for her. What a fantasy. What a nonsense it all seemed now.

Riah was tugging at her sleeve and saying her goodbyes. “Nice meeting you, Isaac. Good luck with your group thing. And – hey, space cadet – yes, hi. Text me back some time, okay? Talk soon?” And she was off.

“Your friend is …well, kind of intense, isn’t she?” he smiled at her. She searched his face for any sign of a hidden subtext in the words but found none. No codes in his eyes today.

“Yes,” she replied with a wave out to her friend. “She’s a bit of a crazy, but in a good way. I met her at a protest of all places. She was protesting, I was trying to get to work. I don’t know how it happened exactly, but I ended up holding a picket sign for nearly three hours. Ended up being pretty late for work, too. We hit it off so quickly that we’re nearly convinced we must have met before, so it’s a bit of a joke between us that I don’t remember. Truth is, of course, she’d be a difficult person to forget.”

“I believe you,” he said. “She definitely leaves an impression.”

Stop, stop. A woman pushing a stroller squeezed past them and Isaac helped her lift it off like a gentleman. The mall was coming up soon and they would both be getting off. She looked at him and smiled. He smiled back. No words.

She wanted to tell him everything. She wanted to confess the past four years of wishing he would strike up a conversation, that he would send her a letter, walk her somewhere, sing her a song on the guitar she knew he could play. She wanted to tell him about the talks she had had with her sisters and friends in which he so often took feature. She wanted to tell him she liked him, but instead she just smiled. “See you later,” he said, pleasantly. “See you,” she said.

Off the bus and walking away, their whole lives seemed to be going in different directions. But …maybe there would be another day for words. 

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Libraries and Sometimes Books

This is my first favourite spot in Hamilton. I anticipate a long list of such places, each with a unique perspective for observing this ever-changing reality we call our home. My current perch, though flooded with more light than I usually select for a place to think and write, is a splendidly active corner of the Hamilton Public Library. It's on the first floor, in a corner where all the walls are made of glass. I'm overlooking the indoor farmer's market and have the pleasure of seeing into the picnic-like selection of baked good, fresh produce, friendly laughing conversations as the customers pick through the leeks and apples, the pottery merchants, the ambitious florists, the wanderers, the samplers, the penny-counters, the wrist-watch-watching-foot-tappers, the cheese... It's a perfect beginning for a million stories, all in the pantomime of distance and thick glass. From this place, too near the children's centre for hard-thinking and much grown-up work, I can hear the chanting songs of a sing-along Dora the Explorer video (with many four-year-old sing-along-ers). "Do you need to go potty? Did you finish your apple juice?" There are two or three tales to tell from that phrase alone. Just to my right there is a bank of individual desks. Right now, each is filled up with a sprawl of somebody's life: coffee, muffin, laptop, notebook or perhaps a day timer, backpack, cell phone, person. He's a young guy with a go-tee and a cool hat. Who is he, though? What is he reading, thinking, planning, hoping, forgetting? These are the sparks of truth that my imagination is so excited to fan, to encourage, until a story catches fire. This... this is a good spot.