handling the rejection letter: spider and moth

I took the time to cradle two moths in my hands. One by one, I escorted them outside. Normally I assume their delicate wings will simply crumble with the terror and flight of capture, so I get it over quick and whack them dead with a dust cloth. And…I’ll be honest. I kill to save time. This is a suite, I have guests coming, I can’t dilly dally being all PETA with insects. But today their delicate hope, pressed against the window pane, moved me.

“The outdoors is there. I can feel it. I can see it. Perhaps if I wait patiently enough and am still enough, the window will deliquesce with the spatter of rain and I can slip my slender wings through its dissolve and be free.”images

I do not offer this grace to spiders. I rescue entirely on the basis of good looks.

Once the clean was done, I came upstairs. My daughter was still fixed to a chair, furrowed brow, puzzling over her essay. Her long slender legs were tucked under her. This isn’t school homework this is “Mommy” homework I’ve given her. She asked me to teach her how to write a good essay. She chose her own topic. I was thinking it might be tap dancing or bunnies, but no. She wrote her essay on: how the BC public school system has failed her while trying to operate under severe budget cuts. She is now tired of this essay. She is tired of the re-writes. The subject is depressing. She still doesn’t quite understand essay structure and she just wants to go outside and play.

I cradle her soft little cheeks in my hand, give her a kiss and let her go.

For now.

(we are going to finish that essay so help me God)

I open my email and read another significant rejection letter. I’ve had some doozies lately. Well, I know it’s not because I’m a bad writer. So…hmm…it can only mean that the artistic community at large has decided that I’m a nutter. Thirty years of me and they’ve had enough. I nod my head and brew my tea. Yes. Makes sense to me. I continue to build a case against myself, thinking of every possible thing I’ve ever done professionally that could cause people to not want to work with me. Then I fantasize about dying tragically and unexpectedly. At my memorial, colleagues say things like, “She was eccentric but she had her heart in the right place.”

This thought makes me chuckle as I pour home-pressed almond milk into my tea. It leads me to think of some of the moments throughout my career when I’ve come across someone who completely lost their coconut. Well, every tech week. Nearly everyone has a bizarre ritual, an emotional outburst, a snarly dog moment, an over-indulgence, an odd default. Some start to talk about themselves incessantly. Some get very quiet and start using aroma therapy and do many deep stretches in odd places. Some become a sexy comedian and try to start up a romance. Some just get sick. Literally sick. Whatever it takes to get through the pressure of the long days and the vulnerability of opening, largely to a house full of peers. I would work with all of these brilliant beautiful nutters again. Of course! In an instant! Even when I think of the worst artistic experience of my career, I would work with all those people again. I’d just watch my back with a couple of them.

And then I thought of the truest thing all day: the NO I received in the mail today has nothing to do with me. The YES went elsewhere. That’s all.

How to capture the YES. That’s a much better way to look at this. It’s something I can do instead of wondering what I should not do. “Keep calling those producers! They’ve been absolutely lovely so far, all of them. You’re on the right track.”

As I write this, literally, a huge spider crawls up the side of my window. (the outside, thank God) She’s massive. I don’t know how those gossamer threads hold up her big fat belly full of desiccated flies. No waiting against the glass for her. No sir. She sets up shop right where she is.

“Come to me my darlings” she waves to passing buzzers with a fuzzy arm.

Oh yes. I wanna be the spider not the moth.images-1

 

 

 

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self promotion and preservation

I have decided to contact a theatre every single day and tell them about my writing. This is terrifying for me. I would rather people just mysterious “hear” about my work, all across the world, and spontaneously produce it. I an not afraid of the word “no”, I am not afraid of criticism, I am afraid of being a nuisance. Isn’t that stupid?!

I started with Bob in Manitoba because he’s a very warm and generous man and he likes me and he’s done two of my plays already and he produces a lot of female playwrights. His line up is always at least 50/50. The overall stats for Canada are still 30/70. We had a good long chat about theatre and what he was up to. He was very encouraging and asked me to send both new scripts. But the nerves…all I could do the rest of the day was can 60lbs of roma tomatoes.IMG_5152

Today I contacted someone I only met once. I sort of chickened out by writing an email instead of cold  calling. Oh, don’t make me phone. Don’t make me hear that tired exasperated “Oh GOD it’s a PLAYWRIGHT” voice from an over-worked AD who is madly trying to cast that play with people of colour in his remote rather caucasian corner of Canada. The courage it took to write this email alone exhausted me. I had to fire roast 24 bell peppers and make home-made catsup. My brain was fried.IMG_5150

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be bold and call Australia. I wonder what polite annoyance sounds like with that accent? I should get my husband to pick up 20lbs of pears. I’ll definitely need to do more processing. Our pantry is going to be ready for the apocalypse. Maybe that’s why my response is stocking up the larder. Calling people trying to market my work certainly makes me feel like I’ll never work again.

I’m onto homemade salsa now. The recipe is from a blog by a woman named something like Madison White. She looks exactly like that pastel cardigan nude lipstick slight bouffant middle aged woman I always go up for in Hallmark movies of the week. Wow. Women from Wisconsin actually look like that, it isn’t just on TV. She claims to have the BEST SALSA RECIPE EVER!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, never mind all you Mexicans, Madison has you conquered. You lose. She wins. She has THE BEST. So, why am I doing her recipe? Because of the pretty pictures.

Each jar I put in my pressure canner, I whisper to myself, “This is the BEST SALSA RECIPE EVER!!!” and then snort with derision. Imagine having the audacity to claim you have the BEST? I have a very funny fast paced murder mystery and a very “now” sexy four hander romance to sell, but I would never say they are the BEST. Maybe I should. Maybe I should call up South Africa and say I HAVE THE BEST 8 HANDER MURDER MYSTERY AND 4 HANDER ROMANCE EVER!!!!!!!!! I wonder if it would work? I wonder if it would help to send pretty pictures?IMG_5149

I know it’s a gender thing for me. I was brought up to be modest, demure, to be looked at and not heard. There’s much of me that rebelled successfully against that but not when it comes to a deep down belief that I SHOULD be heard. I still feel so…so embarrassed to even write that. I don’t know how people without a spiritual sort of mission or social justice mission do it. The way I talk myself out from under the rock is to say to myself, “Well, if the Spirit prompts me to write this, then someone out there needs to hear it, it has nothing to do with me, really.” I could never just rely on my talent alone. I couldn’t just call someone up and say, “Hey, I’ve written something smart witty and sexy, you will want it, all you have to do is read it.”

It’s rather sad, but I have to actually tell myself, “Lucia, if you were a man…you’d pick up the phone.” I hope the next generation, I hope my daughter, never has to say that to herself. Even writing about this, my heart is pounding and I want to have a piece of chocolate.

I am part of a playwright pod: a magnificent group of local playwrights. We all get together and read scenes and give each other feedback, or not. I love it. But one of the members said he felt the urgency to write as much as he can now because nobody wants to hear from a writer over the age of sixty.

So, I guess we all have our fears. I have no fear of age. I think I’m only going to get better and more audacious. I’m going to be that crazy Nonna Lucia who writes wildly and weirdly. Kids out of college will want to do my scripts at the fringe. Yeah. And I’ll show up with my long white braids and red boots and delight them by saying fuck a lot and having whiskey in my coffee. Yup. That’s what I’m aiming for. I wonder if by then I will have given up on Australia or perhaps by then I will have been produced in every English speaking country in the world – give or take Antiqua…who knows. IMG_5155And then about twenty years after that when all my contemporaries are retired or dead, my work will no longer be produced or even known by the next generation. Fifty years after that it will be in the public domain but no longer available anywhere. Not even my grand daughter’s book shelf. All my words will scatter in the wind, undone into random letters, returning to the great expansive A to Z.

Well, when I get all “Ecclesiastes” about it…..the phone call doesn’t seem so frightening.IMG_5145

 

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cube van girl

On my way into Vancouver a little red vespa pulls up in front of me. A man in his sixties is driving and he has one of those cool brown leather helmets. When his pants hitch up, they reveal beautiful bright blue striped socks. I want to yell out the window, “your socks give me joy!” Everything is winking at me today, who am I kidding? I just drove over the magnificent Lion’s Gate Bridge and through Stanley park all lush and green and sprinkled with young people who all seem to be laughing.

The little girl beside me (I’ve brought Nora’s friend over from Bowen) is excitedly listing off all the rides she’s already been to at the PNE in the past, which food truck is the best, and what she hopes to accomplish today with her unlimited play pass. She’s a great kid on this side of Mocking Bird’s Scout. We’ve already covered all the drama she experienced unfairly in grade six and her hopes for grade seven, her cat, her dog, her baby brother and what her parents do for a living. I drive along Pacific Avenue with its warm sprawling beaches filled with sandy bummed tourists drinking iced coffees, sailboats bobbing out in the bay. How can anyone help but feel like a channel for sunshine today? How can anyone not beam?IMG_4976

A U-haul pulls up beside me, the smallest model of a cube van they build. A woman is driving. She is the smallest model of a woman they build. She is about thirty three. Her hair is pulled back in a perfunctory pony tail and half of her eyelash extensions have fallen out. How do I know this? I am not that close to see. But I can sense it. Lashes don’t stay on eyes that deeply sad. Scout is kicking her legs and laughing over the exhilarating memory of going on the “Hell-evator”. This little woman in the cube van is in the background in sharp contrast. She is not feeling the thrill of her free fall drop right now, only the hell. All the birds can chirp. all the boats can unfurl their sails, all the best looking men can cycle by with thighs as thick as tree trunks and it would not buoy her up.

I’m guessing it’s a break up. What is it she can’t imagine right now? Finding love again? Finding someone before she’s too old to have a child? Did she just get laid off from her dream job? Or is she dealing with her parent’s estate, clearing out the family home because Mom just died of cancer? Or…maybe it’s nothing like that at all. Maybe she was an NHL player’s arm candy and he caught her cheating on him with a right wing and now she has to give up the lavish lifestyle and join the rest of us stiffs and get a job? Oh yeah. She’s moving from West Vancouver to a Surrey basement suite on her grandfather’s blueberry farm. She is anticipating lectures from her father, babysitting her sister-in-law’s snotty screaming children, vacuuming because Mom has a bad back, dealing with her younger sister always borrowing her nude heels and wrecking them, her only escape being her old retail job at Guilford town centre.

That would make me lose my eyelashes too.

“Lucia, the light is green!” pipes up Scout. Scout tells me she used to be a biter, and people on the island just can’t seem to let that go. I love this kid so much.

 

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We pick up Nora at her Dad’s. First Nora shows Scout her room, her cat, her fabulous father and all his paintings. “Woah, you’re REALLY good” says Scout. “Like, I would BUY this!” Nora’s Dad chuckles warmly, “Why thank you very much.”

We head to the PNE to watch Nora dance on the festival stage with the tap company, sweat pouring down their sweet faces in the heat.

The girls giggle and jump on all the rides they can fit into the evening, their faces painted with unicorns and their fingers sticky with cotton candy. I hobble behind them with my blistered feet and stare up at a horrific two armed monstrosity called the Salt and Pepper shaker.

I used to go on all the rides, terrified and screaming, taking up any dare. But now I just don’t need to. I don’t want to. Nobody can make me. I don’t care to invite that kind of excitement into my life anymore. It costs so much and is over before I know it, leaving me wanting more. No. I like the solid ground. I don’t need to nearly die to feel alive. I’ve found much more thrill in being grounded.

Of course, I’m not just thinking about rides anymore…

I ponder this for a while and try a glob of blue cotton candy.

Mistake.

I think of my girl in the cube van. I whisper to her from a sticky curb by the pirate ship, “When you’re sick of it, get off the ride. There are great joys to come from being firmly planted on the earth.”

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savouring peach pie

Tonight I made a peach pie I could confidently serve to the jury of Chopped, the queen of England, or the ghost of my grandfather who always said “Bring on the pie” at the end of every meal. I made a peach pie that Bruce Springsteen would write a ballad about and the chorus would include high plaintive keening. I made a peach pie that made me twenty six again in a white sundress when that man crossed the street to give me a single rose for no reason other than I was twenty six and wearing a white sundress. Tonight I made a peach pie that would make Justin Trudeau and Sophie Gregoire ugly cry.IMG_4703

The peaches were perfectly ripe and Okanagan pure. The skin peeled back with the gentle tug of my blade and the flesh was as perfectly plump as a summer evening too hot for covers. This pie wasn’t a recipe. It was whipped together with a prayer and a song after a day at the beach with my family. I remember: a toss of sugar, tapioca, almond, fresh grated ginger and a splash of decent bourbon and lime. The crust just happened to be angelically flakey and light and browned just right and how did this happen on such a sweltering day with my warm hands? I don’t know. I served this pie after a roast lamb dinner with a scoop of real vanilla bean ice-cream and…

Nothing.

The kids only wanted to eat ice-cream.

One of the adults didn’t finish his and other left the crust.

My husband ate all of his absentmindedly while he talked politics.

I took one bite and knew it was the best pie I’d ever made after thirty years of trying.

It’s not that my guests weren’t gracious, they were lovely, lovely, absolutely, so kind. But they were tired and busy with kids and had other things to think about and weren’t necessarily dessert people to begin with.

Nobody wept with joy. Nobody marked the miracle. Nobody made any particular declaration of love.

It’s these exact moments that I realize it is best for those born with the sign of Leo to believe in God. Leos are very generous by nature but we need to be seen and acknowledged, praised and thanked rather excessively some may say. Yes. It’s true. We live for a rub behind the ears and a “good kitty!” But humans aren’t always there to do that. It can be exhausting. So, times like this, Divinity can come in handy. It doesn’t really matter what manifestation of God a Leo prefers, they all work. If God is the father who sees the sparrow fall, then surely God sees the abandoned pastry gutted with fruit knifed into the compost bin. If God is the creator and we are created in God’s image, then surely She rejoices in a Mini-Me creating something of gastronomical beauty. If God is the more abstract Love and Creative Energy, surely God was in that pie and we ate of it and it was good. If God is my own personal Jesus, then Jesus wept and asked for another piece. He may even tell me, between mouthfuls, that this pie reminds him of a woman who broke a jar of perfumed oil over his feet and rubbed the oil into his skin and then dried his feet with her hair once. And I would tell him about the day when I was twenty six wearing a white sundress. And he would say, “Oh yeah, that guy with the rose? That was me.” I would smile over the empty plate and lick some of the melted ice cream off my finger and wink, “I knew it.”

I quietly thought about this as I pressed the last few crumbs onto the end of my finger and brought them up to melt on the tip of my tongue. I looked up at the big dark beauty of the red cedar above me. I gazed out at the hazy ocean with the red setting sun, smelling slightly of forest fire. I listened to the gentle clucking of our new flock of chickens settling into their secure coop. I watched my not yet two nephew open the patio door and close the patio door and open the patio door and close the patio door, taking great delight in his ability to do so with his dear little chubby toddler hand. How beautiful this slice of life. Have I stopped to taste it? Have I said thank you? Have I savoured every bite?IMG_4705

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The Lion’s Den Cafe

Out from an audition and eager for a spot of lunch before getting on the 2:20pm ferry, I pull into a line of restaurants around Fraser and Kingsway, surely one of them has to be open. Los Cuervos, closed, the Savio Volpe, closed, the gluten free – a bakery only, tiny little cafe maybe Jamaican? not fond of jerks, the coffee place pretentious, Les Faux Bourgeois, closed. I pedal back to the Jamaican joint. It’s full, that’s a good sign: the Lion’s Den Cafe. I peek at their menu: Caribbean Japanese food. Well, never heard of that before, must try.Unknown-1

I sit down at one of the cheerful tiny outside tables. A friendly faced young waiter asks me if I would like a water or coffee and I would like both. He chuckles and says, “Where do you work?” Right, I’m in my “waitress” costume: a white apron over a skirt and high tops. I confess, “I’m an actress pretending to be you.” His face brightened and he asked me about the biz and if he may have seen me in anything. “I play a lot of middle aged women in cardigans” I shrug, remembering that a costumer recently called my hit “cozy”.

I ask him what I should order here and he suggests the curry or the jerk chicken. “How about the Japanese pizza?” I ask. “Oh, it’s very good but it will be a bit of a wait. The kitchen is pretty busy right now. So if you’re in a hurry…” I shrug again. I have an hour I should be fine. “Let’s go for the pizza.” He looks at me a little unsure and then decides to agree with me, “Yes. Good.” And he’s off.

I hear a young man call out a greeting behind me. I turn my head. It isn’t for me, he’s speaking to a Bahamian man in a wheelchair. How did I not notice him when I sat down? He’s ten feet away from me, pulled up near the curve as though waiting for a car. I focus on my phone, on all the people who are not in the vicinity. The young waiter interrupts me gently asking if I want cream for my coffee. Not unless there’s almond milk. “Sorry!” He apologizes sincerely. By then I’ve taken a sip and the coffee is mild and smooth, “Oh no need, good coffee.” He brightens again.  He asks me again about the biz and we chat briefly about the Americans filming here on the cheap, better roles for women and people of colour recently and Vancouver’s independent theatre scene. Then he’s back to the kitchen.

I turn to my coffee and my phone and this time a woman approaches the man in the wheelchair. He’s still here. I guess he’s not waiting for a car. She’s wearing a rough linen apron draped beautifully around her hips. She has that fabulous thick caramel coloured naturally curly hair you see on women who do not look cozy but frisky. She’s sashayed out from the artisan gift shop next door. They know each other. I start to piece it together. This man is a stroke victim. This man used to run this cafe.

I become absorbed in my emails and day book and my Fitbit keeps bothering me to get up and move. Wait a minute, if it has bothered me a couple of times it  means I haven’t moved for a while. I  check the time: oh my goodness, forty five minutes have passed! Where is my lunch?! I was expecting it to take a while but not this long. I peek inside. The kitchen isn’t busy anymore, there are only two tables occupied, what is going on? My friendly waiter looks anxious and starts waving his hands. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it shouldn’t be much longer, she makes everything fresh, everything from scratch…” “I know, but forty five minutes…” “I am so so sorry, do you have to be somewhere?” “Yes, I have to catch a ferry.” “Oh my God, okay, should I pack it to go?” “If it comes out in five I’ll be okay.”

I head back to my table. When I do, another person has stopped to say hi to the man in the wheelchair. Then another. The stroke hit him hard, he can’t seem to move much or say much, but he has a wide genuine smile. This man isn’t only known, he’s loved. Now I feel bad that I’ve been impatient in front of him. But five minutes pass, ten, now I’m in danger of missing my boat. This is dumb. I head back into the restaurant, further in, and can see into the kitchen and notice it is run by one person, a Japanese woman, maybe late fifties. She is absolutely frantic, arms akimbo above her apron, face streaked with panic and sweaty strands of hair sticking to her cheeks. She yells at me from the little peek-a-boo window, “He’s new, he’s new, he should have told you, I make everything fresh, I make it all myself, and it takes time and there have been a lot of people!” Oh my God, this poor woman. The lunch rush was too much for one person and now she’s frazzled and alone. My friendly waiter (who actually has done nothing wrong) bears the blame and hangs his head quietly.

I notice a picture in the bar. It’s a Japanese woman in a beautiful red dress and veil getting married to…the man outside in the wheelchair…a long time ago. They are man and wife. They are young and beautiful and hip, opening up a cafe in a part of town that used to be very sketch.

I can miss a ferry. I lean in and smile sympathetically. “Oh my dear, I see, I see you are all alone here.”

She stops for a minute over the stove, flips my “pizza” like a big omelette. It lands perfectly in the pan. “Yes, yes, if you had ordered the curry – ”  she shakes her head in dismay. “I will next time. But no worries, I can take it to go, I can still make my boat. No rush.” (lie) She confirms what I suspect, “I have to run this restaurant, train new staff and take care of my husband out there…” I nod. “Well, I want to assure you this guy, your new waiter, he’s FANTASTIC. So friendly and great. I’ll be back for sure just because of him!” The waiter brightens and straightens the take out box and napkin bundle into perfect alignment with the end of the bar counter. The owner in the kitchen is surprised by my praise. I head down the little hallway to use the washroom and when I return the Japanese pizza is all packed up and ready to go.

“You have to eat it hot, please, promise you will put it in the oven when you get home?” The chef nods at the box like a mother giving last minute babysitting instructions. “I will” (lie) I pay and tip twenty percent. She comes out of the kitchen and smooths her apron and takes a big breath and smiles. Ah. This is who she is. She presses her hands together and bows. “Have a creative day” she says. I smile back, “Thank you, a pleasure to meet you.”

On my way out I’m too ashamed to say good-bye to the man in the wheelchair because I didn’t say hello. I didn’t even see him in the first place. He was a non-person to me. I had no idea my brain registered disabled people as non-persons.

While driving in vain hope that the ferry might be late, I get plugged up with traffic on Denman Street and have a little unreasonable rage. “Well damn it, damn it, damn it, damn it!” I shout like a toddler. I shout in my car. I knew I was going to shout so I rolled up the windows and put on the air con. I could have just had lunch at home. I could have just shut up and had lunch at the cafe, one or the other. “Damn it, damn it, damn it! F!” I could have said no to this audition that took all of two minutes, a one shot read, three hours of driving. I have a messy house and a guest at home and some kind of f’ing vegan dinner to invent because my kids both watched What the Health. It’s 2:45pm and I haven’t eaten or moved all day and my Fitbit is deeply disappointed in me and I am morally disappointed in myself. F! I THOUGHT I WAS A KIND PERSON!” I bang the steering wheel.

Everyone is heading over the Lion’s Gate bridge. It’s slow as molasses through Stanley park. I flip open the pizza box. “What the hell is Japanese pizza from a Jamaican joint taste like anyway?!” It’s an eggy flour pancake with fried cabbage and peppers and onions and I’m to top it with this sweet soy garlic based sauce. I’m allergic to soy but I want to honour what this woman has made me, so I pour it on. Plus, it smells delicious. I’m not sure if the meal is a hot mess or the most fantastic thing I’ve had in a long time. I fork in the gooey comfort of it at every red light.

While soaring along the Upper Levels, I turn on the radio. I kid you not, a woman is talking about being disabled, needing to walk with canes, and how she receives outrageous discrimination. If I had heard this interview on the way into town I would have cocked my head in surprise. i don’t think of society as being “outrageously discriminatory” towards disabled people. On the contrary. But having just been made aware of my own fault on this point…I listened intently.

Once I get home I do some research on the Lion’s Den Cafe and it gives these people I had just met some names: Juniko Tanabe is the wife, co-owner and chef, Ken Brooks is her husband, the owner, the man in the wheelchair. He had a stroke last year. His only word is “Mama” right now, but he is showing signs of slow recovery. The restaurant has been there for over eighteen years and they need our support or they’re going to lose the business. Here’s their story here.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/friends-family-come-together-to-save-iconic-lion-s-den-café-1.4015318

Of course I did miss my ferry, despite the fact the ferry was late, so I now wait for the next late ferry. I have learned to bring hand weights with me, so I have plenty of time to do my squats and lunges and arm curls in my waitress uniform along the line of cars in the loading dock. Women look up from me behind the steering wheels of their mini vans full of groceries. Some roll down the windows and shout, “What an excellent use of time!”

Once my exercises are done, I open up my kindle, my birthday present from my husband. I continue to read the first book I downloaded, “The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America” by First Nations (Canadian) writer, Thomas King.

https://www.amazon.ca/Inconvenient-Indian-Curious-Account-America/dp/0385664214

It’s fantastic. So witty and warm and accessible and shocking. See, I know I am discriminatory towards indigenous people, largely due to ignorance. Now I have to download something about disabled people. Am I never going to get to fiction?!

My little wise ass voice (don’t we all have a wise ass voice) says to me, “Haven’t you already been living in the fiction of your superiority far too long?”

I toss the rest of my Japanese pizza and keep the box for recycling. It wasn’t too long ago nobody recycled. Oh gosh, remember there was a time I thought men shouldn’t vacuum because that was women’s work? Remember when I thought gay people were mentally ill? Remember when I referred to God only in the masculine and was sure that Indian women were only murdered by Indian men in those dangerous reserves? Well. Right. I guess I can learn.

The sun sets the ocean off dazzling with diamonds and gulls soar overhead. I’m going to hike another 5km today so that I can eat cake. I look down at these knees that give me so much trouble. “Thank you” I say to them. “Thank you” I say to my body and mind. I can be strong, I can move forward with ease. I can head back into the Lion’s Den and rethink.51nWj9+qPIL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_

 

 

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maybe an island

While in the drudgy vehicle parade loading onto the ferry I see a local boy by the pedestrian walkway. He’s eighteen and sporting a new lower half of the chin beard. He’s Robert Sean Leonard with Downs. I often see him on the ferry heading off to high school. On his way home, he sometimes hangs with the other kids and sometimes he’s found a stray traveler to talk to. Always male. He’s usually smiling, chatting away.

But today, he’s on dry land. Oh yes. He’s right in front of the “Welcome to Bowen” sign in a dark tasteful hoodie and excellent jeans. Our boy leers at the off loading vehicles with a water fall of F-U fists. He is flying the bird at everyone and everything and mouthing the words just in case the tourists don’t understand the hand gestures.

F-U! F-U! F-U! F-U! F-U!

I am on the opposite side of the parade, unable to slide over there to ask, “Hey buddy, have a hard day?”

Only about four thousand people live here so I get to know the locals; we’re just over two years. It has occurred to me before that it’s mostly new white money and old white hippies here..and .not enough people of colour to make up a soft ball team. I’ve wondered what it’s like for them. But then I see our boy here and realize – he may be the only one of his kind. The only down syndrome person on Bowen…at least as far as I’ve seen. Maybe “no man is an island” is F-ing tired of being lonely.

A lanky man in his thirties leaps over to have a chat with our angry ambassador. It doesn’t seem to do any good. They sort of shift their weight around each other, our boy looks away, shoves his fists in his hoodie. I can see the lanky man wants to put his hand on the boy’s shoulder but decides it would be invasive…maybe…and kindly greets him well and hesitantly walks away. Our boy glowers after him. As soon as the lanky man is out of sight, our boy is back at the F-Us but it’s only one hand now and more sullen than sincere.

I catch myself. He’s not “our boy”, he’s his own boy. He probably has absolutely no need or love for my mother instincts.

A flouncy chubby girl in polka dots with a real live bow in her hair and boots strides up the walkway towards him with strong naked thighs peeping out from her skirt. He sees her and I can feel his gasp from here.. She’s Mini Mouse plus sized and formidably DD. She’s glorious! Our boy does the most remarkable thing. He floats slow motion in a circle away from her and hugs the rock wall with the welcome sign on it. He curves every part of his body into the rocks as though he’s doing a moss impression and suddenly now invisible. It’s…unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Delicate and graceful as a lyrical dancer.

Once she’s well past him, once her perfume has wafted away, he pulls away from the wall and transforms back into a boy. He stands there, forlorn, looking after her.

The last few cars off load from the ferry and he has no ill feelings at all towards them anymore, just a sigh of sadness and maybe…a kind of relief.

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pina colada boys

Three young men sit beside me on the patio talking about IT in their button down shirts and their semi casual light coloured pants, having a bite after work. All three of them have all manner of grooming very well attended to: the beards are closely clipped, the hair slicked back, hands are immaculate. These men are single, ringless, and smelling like soapy spice. All in their mid twenties I suspect. I smirk to myself, “Next up in conversation will be Trump or hockey” but no. The fellow on the end starts talking about his girlfriend.

“…she lives with her Grandma so…it’s hard for her…not having her parents around…but crazy things she’s learning, man – she can cook. Dude. Her gramma taught her. She can cook for the whole family, crazy shit like that. And she’s a religious girl. You know? So she has more freedom than some other girls but – I respect that. What she believes.”

My ears perk up. When do I get to hear a young man talk about his girlfriend? Never! The other two nod in appreciation.

“A person of quality.” Says the fellow next to him.

“She’s a good girl” says the boy.

“what’s her name?” Says the guy on the end.

“Noori”

“Ah. Like Nora with an I.”

The boyfriend repeats the proper vowel sound, longer, “Noooooori.”

“Ah.”

The waitress interrupts them and takes their order. Various tacos – and they start talking about a guy at work. I become engrossed in updating my Fitbit, my fitness Beachbody App and my accountability partner (obsessed much?) My concentration is broken when I see what my three boys have ordered for drinks. A pitcher of pina colada. Are you kidding me? I nearly burst out laughing. I love it. I love it when people surprise me. Maybe one guy has a pina colada when he’s out with his mother, but all three of them, all three of them together decide on a pitcher of pina colada?! I check to see if there’s some wild drink special. Nope. They just all happen to like this particular drink. Okay.

The tacos come and the guy on the end immediately drops salsa on his nicely pressed pastel coloured button down shirt. He flags the waitress.

“Excuse me, do you mind brining me some Tide Out?”

“Some what?”

“You know for stains. That little stick. Tide out.”

“I’m…right…I’m sorry we – we don’t have anything like that.”

“For spills.”

“Yeah, no.”

He sighs heavily. What kind of restaurant serves salsa with no Tide Out? I am wishing so badly I had some in my purse because his pain is palpable.  He is no longer pristine. There goes his entire evening, salsa hanging on the right side of his chest like a badge of goof.

I like these fellows. I wish I had all afternoon to eavesdrop, but I have to get to my costume fitting. I head down the street to the hotel and up the stairs to the conference room. I’m feeling a bit protective because Nora and I were called into a mother daughter spot. She got a hold, then a day later, I got a hold. Then two days later I was booked and she was still on hold. Four days they held her until releasing her. That’s hard on a kid. I walk through the door and see the girl who got the part. Ah. I text my daughter, “They went with an African American family and stuck me in a different spot as the middle-aged woman with tech issues”. Explains everything.

I try on exactly ten cardigans with various neutral stretch pants and flowing blouses: the middle aged woman uniform. There’s a fine line at this time of life between clothing and pyjamas.

In walks the guy who landed the repair man role. I’ve seen this fellow before. He looks like he’s ridden in on on an appaloosa pony. He’s got a scruffy blonde beard and wild white blue eyes, weathered rosy cheeks and a one eyed scruffy little blonde dog same colour as his beard who comes with him everywhere. Does this guy fill a niche or what? He works all the time and he’s very good.

Our costumer has a bright red orange skirt and bright red orange lipstick to match it perfectly. It’s fabulous. However, what is not fabulous is the fact that she is behind and someone forgot to load in her rack of children’s clothing. There’s a wall lined with African American children, all in a row, waiting to be clothed in H&M. Many video games are playing at once on devices, adorable little heads bent, a line of bobbing afros. I want to squish them squish them squish them they are all so cute. But – no. That would certainly not be welcomed. So, instead I pace along the wardrobe racks with my Fitbit, logging in 3000 steps in three hours. I’m quite pleased with this. I am wearing what normal women wear, apparently. Complete with grey flats. Grey. Flats. The ugliest shoes ever invented. like slipping my feet into two dead fish.

As I rhumba, grapevine and march along the clothing racks, not giving a crap what people think of me because a gal’s got goals people, a gal’s got goals! … I have a little smile on my face thinking about my pina colada boys. The tenderness the boyfriend had in his voice when he said his girlfriend was religious. The fact his friends didn’t tease him about the likelihood that this meant he wasn’t getting laid. The earnestness in which the fellow closest to me wanted to remove a stain. Good young fellows who enjoyed ordering a fruity alcoholic beverage in public without fear of recrimination.

Scruffy dog barks, scruffy man lays out his plaid blanket like a bed for the pup and then proceeds to name drop to me the stars he worked with this year and why he thinks his pilot will get picked up. I nod.

“You work much?” He asks.

“Oh a little”. I say. I could arguably “win” but I don’t play the game. Let Mr Scruffy be the big man today.

Three beautiful leggy girls walk in with astonishing figures. One is chattering excitedly, “I can’t believe I got the part of “Asian girl on the bus” because I never get the Asian girl parts, even though I am Asian, I’m only half Asian, and when they put me with a full Asian family, I’m a foot taller than the father!” The other girl smiles at me, generously inclusive, and says, “Are you on the bus too?” I shrug. “I have no idea. I’m the all purpose middle-aged woman, that’s all I know.” They chuckle at me like their Mom just told a joke. They have no idea they are going to be me tomorrow like I was them just yesterday. With shorter legs.

I head home on the ferry to my own scruffy dog and smile, thinking of all the unexpected people I met today and how beautiful they all are. My daughter calls me excitedly, she’s been invited to a sleepover. Well I guess the four day hold has blown over. Good. I walk laps around the ferry deck until BOOM my Fitbit explodes in fireworks of congratulations: 10,000 steps. How wonderful. And I haven’t even walked the dog.images

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when do I stop being a chauffeur?

I iron out the crinkles in my daughter’s crinoline. I am at my ex-husband’s. He’s away. We’re prepping for the big night at his house.IMG_4195

I painted these walls. They haven’t changed. I think this colour was called French vanilla. I stare at pictures of his stern relatives from generations past. They’ve dropped off my tree but I can see my daughter’s eyes in that great grandmother. I still love these kitchen tiles. I picked them almost entirely because they were named aubergine.

It is my daughter’s finale dance recital tonight. She is in five numbers. She’s the youngest in her group by two years or so, accelerated, a natural, they tell me. My favourite costume is the tuxedo top tutu that I carefully fold into her Dad’s old garment bag from Moore’s mens wear that used to carry his suits. She is flitting around completely naked, going through what tights, what tops, what order, what hanger and where is her lipstick. She has the same hips as her father. Something about the way she moves. She’s like this tuxedo tutu compared to his suits: the smaller girly version of him, decked out with rhinestones. She catches me smiling.

“What?” She looks at me shyly, suddenly remembering she’s naked.

“I’m just so very fond of you. I love this dress.”

“Me too!”

I continue to iron, this time a cowboy shirt. I found the iron in the place I left it. Not the ironing board though. That was hidden in the bedroom closet. Plenty of room, not so full. I never iron. I wish I did. It gives me the feeling I can smooth out anything. My surroundings tell me this isn’t true. Bittersweet, being here. The unfamiliar and familiar. The gorgeous kitchen he created himself: planed the wood, mitred the joints meticulously. I love it that he’s here to make a home with his daughter out of all the hopes we started with. The best part of him is built into these walls: his creativity, his courage, his attention to detail, his intelligence. This is what shelters her.

I find a hole in her jeans, surprise surprise.

“Does it have to be these?” I call through the sound of the shower.

“No. Any ones will do”.

The trick is to find the “any ones” without a hole. If I were my mother or grandmother or Nonna or that stern great grandmother on the wall I would be darning myself silly. Instead, I just sigh, resigned. How did my mother have the time to keep her place so clean? Maybe it’s time for me to admit I’m never going to reach that level of domestic excellence instead of beating myself up about it? But how, honestly, how can I not have a tidier house? She was a single mother with three kids and nothing was out of order, ever. No holes, no spider webs, no heaps of paper, no rotting cheese in the fridge, no dog hair on the black trousers, no finger prints on the door knob, no dead tulip leaves slopped over the side of the flower pot, no coffee spill down the cupboard drawer, no tooth paste ring under the glass in the medicine cabinet. It’s kind of the worst being brought up by such an amazing housekeeper. I have the eyes to see all the flaws but the inability to keep up with them.

Where did she find the time? Well, I know the answer to some degree. From a young age I either walked bussed or biked from school or lessons or friend’s homes. Certainly by Nora’s age Mom had stopped being my chauffeur. She couldn’t have been, even if she wanted to, she had to get to work. I remember her driving me along the path I was to walk in order to get to my new school in Red Deer, twelve years old. She drove slowly, pointing out landmarks, and I remember her looking down at her odometer and remarking, “oh look, it’s almost exactly a mile! That should take you about fifteen minutes.” And it was no big deal. I can’t imagine letting my daughter out of my sight. What if she was walking and a white van with blacked out windows drove by her and snatched her up? What if she was biking and she stopped paying attention and she swerved into oncoming traffic? What if she was followed when she got off the bus by a bunch of older girls who decided to beat her up? That used to happen to me. And I didn’t have holes in my jeans.

When am I going to let go? When am I going to decide she can do it on her own?  It doesn’t help that she’s a little thing. Everyone else is sprouting up around her and she’s still tiny. She’s 85lbs dripping wet. And just as I say this to myself, her dripping wet self streaks across the living room with a towel on her head.

“I’ll go in wearing my first costume.”

“Okay.”

By her age I was 115lbs and 5’2″. I was bigger than my Mom. I could walk to school.

I also did chores by her age. I vacuumed and dusted and started to learn how to cook (albeit badly). I brushed the dog and mowed the lawn and did dishes and shovelled the walk. I learned how to iron. I don’t remember getting an allowance. I probably did. It probably wasn’t much. I eye my daughter who grabs a drink from the fridge and then leaves the glass on the counter instead of putting it into the dish washer. Little does she know what I am plotting.

Maybe I don’t get her to do chores because I have joint custody? Maybe I want our time together to be precious, fun, necessary? But maybe this is doing her a disservice. It is also necessary to learn some of these life skills. Maybe I am her chauffeur because I want to maximize my time with her. Maybe this is selfish of me.

All I have to do is start to admit she’s not a baby anymore, she’s growing up and I don’t have another who is younger to mother, this is it and that’s just the way it is.

All I have to do is accept my mortality.

She zips up the garment bag and wraps her little slender arms around me.

“Thanks, Mom.”

I want to hold onto her tightly for too long but I don’t. She’s wearing her dance make up. She looks so much older. She looks…like me. Except skinny. F’ing lucky.

I drive over to the Northshore and I drop her off at the stage door of the theatre.

“You good to go in by yourself?”

“Yup.”

She glides out of the back of the car with her dad’s garment bag. Her ten foot lashes, her mound of curly hair and her painted red lips. She’s all arms and legs and Maybelline and she still smells like baby.IMG_4196

 

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honey

I pull down stars late into the evening. I dismantle a galaxy; it has long since lost its shine. Some tender Mom or Dad had meticulously placed each celestial being on the ceiling once upon a time, to help their baby sleep. “The night is not so dark, little one. There is is always a star to wish upon.” It takes me quite a while to pry the loving gesture out of the stucco’ed sky. I demolish planets and comets and feel like a malevolent god.images

Out the open window down the street under the moon and mewing through the night is my neighbour calling timorously, “Luna Luna Luuuuuuna…” This has been going on for at least half an hour. I crumple a moon in my hand, “Is she calling for you?” I chuckle. I know who Luna is and I know where Luna is. That young brat of a black cat is slinking around the bushes with the low income housing Tom of the same coat, scoping out rats. I saw them earlier when my old dog and I took the last walk of the evening. They eyed us suspiciously then scampered off into the complex courtyard. Oh Luna isn’t lost, she is found. Her little pink collar is tinging tonight. She sniffs the fur of her feline cohort. His neck is bare and he smells of petuli and dope.images-3

I am painting over wasabi with honey if you ask Benjamin Moore. My daughter and I chose wasabi when we first moved in: an effort to find some FUN FUN FUN! in a year full of moving, divorce and death. I painted everything green in those days: NEW NEW NEW! But now several years have passed and green has done its job and can retire, handing the walls over to calm soothing gentle honey. AHHH. That’s all I want these days. AHHH. No longer in survival mode. AHHH. The galaxy, though dim, was a comfort to my daughter but the ceiling is looking grey and it’s time for white and tidy brightness. She’s older now. She is sleeping through the night without being afraid. She is big enough to open the window and look out into the real big sky herself.

I sort through her closet. I’ll keep the dinosaur model but she’s outgrown the bath toys. A little sad setting them aside for recycling. I fetch the rubber ducky with the tiara out of the bin. That one cannot go. Oh. The dresses too short to wear now. I wonder if she’d want them as tunics with tights. Ah. The hello Kitty dress…probably no. It’s all dance wear and sports bras and skinny jeans. It’s all Heartland, Sam and Cat and Glee.images-2

I decide to take a break and head into the kitchen for a glass of water and a peek at old timey Facebook. My friend writes, “The thing that kills me? My daughter would have loved to have been at that Ariana Grande concert.” Hm. I have no idea what he’s talking about. Why would that kill him? Ariana Grande. I convinced my daughter Bang Bang was about bumper cars. I think she has probably figured it out by now, being eleven. Yeah, she would have loved to have been at that concert too. As I scroll down, I start to piece together what he’s talking about. Horror. Horror. What horrifies me the most is: the suicide bomber targeted young girls.

I start to surf the internet for details: the dead, the injured, ISIS taking responsibility but he may have acted alone, the identity of the suicide bomber, the members of his mosque completely dumbfounded that such a quiet boy from a respectable family could do such a thing, the devastated parents, the naming one by one of the little girls and mothers and teens and boys and men who were killed…the first being a girl all of eight. Saffi. Oh Saffi. Oh all of you out in the night to catch a shooting star.

“Luna, Luna, Luna…!” My neighbour’s voice is becoming more frantic. There are racoons and coyotes about.

I read the expected response from hackneyed Hercules. “This evil ideology must be obliterated. Completely obliterated.” “Evil losers.”

Even my eleven year old daughter, having read Percy Jackson, will tell you that if you cut off the head of Hydra it will grow back two more. The only way to stop it is to cauterize the wound.

The question is: how to. I ponder this with a bowed head, my heart full of sorrow for the loved ones of the lost.

“Luna, Lun- oh there you are! Thank God!” my neighbour says. “I will never let you out again.”

Well, that’s no life for a cat.

I take a deep sigh and unwrap my roller, dip it in honey and make a little peace.Unknown

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Give Way: a dreadful last day in Roma and a surprisingly lovely time in Gatwick and now home

It is 5am and I am up to walk my old dog. Not bad. My clock is only off by two hours. I slip on my sandals and they still have sand in them from Gavitella beach. The moon is high in the sky as old Tartuffe and I stroll around sleepy Little Italy. I am delighted to see that tulips are just coming out now, the cherry blossoms are in full matrimony and the rhodos haven’t popped. My children are sleeping. I am tempted to peek at them both, having missed them muchly. But being teens, this isn’t the thing to do anymore.IMG_4025

Mom. Ew. Creep much?

So I peek at my husband instead. His big warm arm cradling the lucky pillow. I open the fridge to find some almond milk to heat up and I’m overwhelmed by the blue cheese we bought shrink wrapped in Altamura, opened last night.

I haven’t written about the last three days because they were marred with a migraine. An inglorious end to a glorious month in Italy. The migraine began while I was on the crowded commuter train between Sorrento and Napoli, my bags knocking against my knees. And I know some people use migraine lightly, I’m not talking about a headache, I’m talking “can’t see out of my eyes, can’t think, gonna scream, gonna throw up, gonna jump out the window” migraine with no meds in sight. Doors opened at S. Giovanni and who walked in? Why, a three piece accordion band. It’s at these precise moments that I believe in Satan: an actual malevolent creature who cooks up torture for fun. As I hung my head and tried not to weep, I felt that sudden “pour three slightly beaten eggs into the bowl” feeling and oh no oh no! In walks my “Aunt” to greet me, a few days earlier than our anticipated appointment. She is on the train, in all her glory, flowy and showy for all the passengers to see, wearing red that is more suitable to someone who is sixteen. Ridiculously revealing. There is no way for me to hide her.

Forgive me, I don’t usually write about “relatives”, but Auntie really dominated my day and I am sure as I write, many of you women are chuckling with sympathy. I pushed past the accordion players who thought I was up to tip them. I slammed my hip against the rails as we rattled around a curve. I caused a little old whiskery man with a cane to look up in fright over his newspaper and exclaim with white hoary flying eyebrows, “Mama Mia!”

I finally found the washroom in order to have a proper conversation with Auntie and get her under control. But the washroom was filthy, and I discovered far far far too late there was no paper and no other means of reparation. This is so unusual for me, to have an empty purse, but I was thrown off by the extra ten days of travel. My Aunt laughed. “Ha, I’m not so easy to get rid of!” In my state of delirious pain I grabbed an old airline ticket from my pocket and slide its slightly laminated self around, making things worse. She giggled, “It’s a crime scene! It’s a crime scene!” I had to use my hand. Dear God. A discovery worse than “no paper” was “no water” in the sink. There was nothing I could do. Nothing. Auntie said, “You know, this would never happen to Karen or Lisa or Cheryl or Anita or any one of your friends because they are grown ups.” I wiped my hands on the inside of my jeans, a finger painting, and put them back on and walked out. In less than half an hour I had gone from “well put together lady” to “filthy stinking irrational animal.”

I sat down again. My head was throbbing so badly I considered bashing my brains against the metal hand rail. My next airbnb host in Roma had given me about five options on how to get to his place and all those bus tram and train lines knotted like a ball of wool in my head. In my addled state I didn’t understand a single one of them, even after reading the directions out of my one eye about five times. Auntie smirked, “screw it, take a cab”. Yeah. Because she’s made of money. I I typed back, slowly, with one foul finger, “you pick. best way. for woman with bag.” Auntie pouted, “I hope by bag you don’t mean me.” My host, Massimiliano (isn’t that a great name?) wrote back, “I will drive. Wait at Termini at Benetton.” This usually meant a rip off where the host will charge me 30$ euro plus another 5$ euro for my bags. F it. I don’t care. Just get me to a shower and a bed.

I arrived in Roma termini, finally, and found the proper facilities at the station. This is all a blur because the pain was so great. And it was a rush. There wasn’t time to change, the train had been late. I trotted painfully with my carry-on bag wrapped on top of my heavy carry-on suitcase and clutched a scarf I dug out of my bag to hang elegantly at crotch length, that delicate art of coverage without getting the tassels caught between my legs as I wheeled around looking frantically for our meeting place: The United Colours of Benetton. Auntie shouted, “my favourite colour is red!” The handles on my carry on bag ripped off and sent my technology flying. Passengers stepped over my plug adapters and cords as I gathered them up, now openly moaning in pain.

I looked up and there he was, Massimiliano (Max). Just what I expected. An impeccably dressed well groomed hygienic and  handsome young Italian man with great shoes and a tasteful murse. I prayed to God I was in no way odiferous and that he wouldn’t notice my Aunt was with me. I don’t remember much, I was in such pain. And for some reason I didn’t want to burden him with the knowledge of my migraine as it seemed embarrassingly linked to my Aunt, so I didn’t mention the need for medication. I think back now and wonder what the heck I was thinking but I was by no means rational. So he proceeded to kindly give me a little tour of the neighbourhood showing me the restaurants, the tram, the bus, the best coffee, the best gelato. I prayed my Aunt would leave no mark on his seat.IMG_4002

He let me into his beautiful little apartment with a wizard worthy collection of marvellous keys. It was all high ceilings and white and absolutely lovely. Surgically clean. Max arranged my taxi for the next day and refused any sort of payment for picking me up at the train station, which was a good hour out of his day. He was an angel. (He and his boyfriend have three suites they rent out.) He even left  me a bottle of water and a bottle of wine before he breezed away. I sunk to my knees. “Thank you God I made it”. I showered and dried down with the first fluffy towel I’d come across in the entire country. I soaked my clothes and then gingerly crawled like a baby into the big soft bed with thick stiff cotton sheets. I thought to myself…”such…lovely…light…fixtures…” then thankfully fell asleep.

Massimiliano suite

IMG_4003When I woke up, the migraine had diminished into a manageable headache so I decided to go out and try to find a pharmacy and something to eat for my last night in Roma. All the stores were closed, now eight, but I did find a restaurant named Primi. It was basically traditional Roman food but half the amount and double the price. The food items were presented artfully – little blobs of fried things on the plate. I didn’t notice “fried” in the description. It was all pretty bland. But I did try a Falanghina wine for the first time and that was worth the price of admission. It was almost savoury, as though it was grown with porcini mushrooms or truffles, a beautiful local uncommon white. And I had my last Italian pastry: a deconstructed cannolo that was very nice indeed. I followed this with a boatload of water and a swig of cognac, getting cocky that my migraine was behind me.IMG_3998

But oh, was I wrong. Around four in the morning Auntie came in banging cymbals and the migraine returned with a vengeance. I had to wake up at five anyway. Now, Massimiliano had advised me to take a taxi all the way to the airport despite the 48 euro fee but I had already bought my ticket to take the Metro which was only 7 euro. Being early morning on a sunday though, I needed a taxi to the metro, 15 euro, because nothing else was running.

Still with a migraine and no medication, no pharmacies open at 5am, I taxi’ed to Termini and then Metro’ed to Piramide. From there the little black line told me I could get to Fiumicino and I’m sure I could but the whole thing took so long and I could not find the connection to the other lines in the building, I was beside myself with pain and becoming afraid I’d miss my flight. So I had to straggle out from under the earth and grab another taxi. What did it cost me? 48 euro. “From Piramide?!” I cried. “Si”. Said the grumpy driver. I assented very loudly from the back of the car, “ALLORA”! To which he muttered much Italian along the lines of “that’s the standard price you stupid ass tourist.”

I got to the airport forty-five minutes before my flight to Gatwick and they refused to let me on. “Oh please!” Fine, but I had to run and I couldn’t check my bag. The only reason it needed to be checked was I had two bottles of limoncello hand made in Positano that I wanted to take home. But I couldn’t miss my flight so I had to throw both bottles into the garbage and run RUN RUN to the gate. By the time I got on the damn plane I couldn’t help but let out a few sobs I was in such pain, still having had no time to find a painkiller in the airport.

Gatwick. Arg. Why not London where I could go to the West End and catch a show? I didn’t realize Gatwick was so far from it all and expensive to train. But, turns out, not a lot of shows are open on Sunday and Auntie made sure I was in no shape for a big adventure regardless. I did consider this whole day in Gatwick a complete waste. But this flight was so cheap, I couldn’t say no.IMG_4020

When I arrived in Gatwick two hours later, quite delirious, I was dropped off by a cab (a lovely fellow this time) to my farm house airbnb, just ten minutes from the airport, near Charlwood. I tell you all this horror story so you understand just how heavenly it was to meet Veronica. She took one look at me and said, with beautiful English crispness, “Oh dear, you’ve come a long way, you look exhausted, are you not well?”

Like a little pouty baby I confessed, “Migraine.”

“Sit down. I have just the thing.” She let me into her beautiful well appointed home all wood and fine ceramic and tapestry and good art.  She set me down into her living room and came back with a glass of water, a heap of horse pills and a freshly brewed excellent cup of coffee with cream and sugar. I don’t remember what she said the pills were, I don’t care, they were huge and they worked. “thank you” I said from the bottom of my heart. “thank you!” I sank into her sofa.

Veronica suite

We had a wee chat as the drugs set in and I went upstairs and freshened up. Veronica had set out a heap of towels, and the first facecloth I’d seen since Canada and lovely organic-y mint and lemon soap. (One mustn’t under estimate the kindness of offering guests good toiletry things.) I had the choice of two twin beds, set out like frilly frosted sugar loaves. I had a view of her back garden, filled with daffodils, spring grass, an immaculate green house and three spotted spaniels springing about.

I woke up refreshed! Veronica drove me into Charlwood town to Half Moon pub where I had an English ale and a big perfect lunch of roast beef, yorkshire pudding, cauliflower and cheese bake and all the fixings. I sat out on the patio, the sun shining.IMG_4005

Veronica had given me a pamphlet describing the various buildings of historic interest in town. I didn’t know anything about medieval villages before. Apparently, they were built in a large ring. In the centre was the common ground where everyone would bring their sheep and goats and so forth to graze. Then they’d wander out back to their homes along the perimeter at the end of the day. One of the only buildings in the middle was the church.IMG_4009

So, I went for a lovely stroll around the village. I wandered through the church and graveyard: gloriously beautiful but also a bit creepy with tipping tomb stones and cracked sarcophagus’s where I peeked inside and expected to see bony toes. IMG_4011

Then I walked by ancient barns, homes, schools and paddocks with their stone roofs, leaning, bulging, crumbling and still lived in! I walked along farmer’s fields full of sheep and wild flowers all the way home. For a while a Colin Farrell faced man strode alongside me and then passed me, his shirt off, his muscles bulging, proud, and white as a corpse.

This wasn’t the way I thought the trip would go. I thought my last night in Roma would be wonderful and I thought my day in Gatwick would be a complete wash. But look at the treasure I found in this sweet village on this sunshiny English day? Often the best moments traveling are the ones that aren’t planned. As the signs on the road here say: give way.IMG_4017
IMG_4019

Later that evening, Veronica joined me for a light meal at another pub further away called the Revisited Fox. There I had a very nice potato and kale pie and had to try their cherry bakewell, which was fantastic. We had a wonderful conversation. The next day her husband, Roger, drove me to the airport, free of charge, after a beautiful breakfast with fresh farm eggs. I felt so cared for.

 

The flight home was harmless and didn’t feel long. Scott greeted me with a bouquet of flowers and dinner made. I rather think it should be the opposite. I’m the one who’s been traipsing around Europe while he cared for the dog and house and our BnB. Well, he shall be rewarded appropriately over time.

The wonderful thing about being away, is seeing home with new appreciation. All morning I find myself newly grateful for things I never thought to miss: sidewalks, healthy breakfast. The round soft brown openness of Asian facial features. The smell of rain. Grocery stores where the clerk does the weighing. Wide roads. Silence easily had in one’s quiet spaces. A country that aspires to be as unpretentious and open as its simple flag.

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