Alfie used to be my personal trainer. While I was unemployed from January 2009 to May 2010, he nudged me out the door twice a day and gave structure to my shapeless life as an unemployed person. I squeezed the job search and resume tailoring between our walks and I arranged interviews so as not to conflict with our regimen. Continue reading
November 1, 2020, 6:00 a.m. and I’m in our small kitchen frozen in time in a room stuck in the mid-1980’s with its oak cabinets and brass hinges, limited counter space, drawers that stick, tile backsplash that might be kindly termed retro if it weren’t for the greyed grout that shouts “old”. Three clocks glow different digital shades of lime green, turquoise, and amber. The wall clock ticks – another 1980’s relic. It’s my favourite. I loved the ‘80’s.
Time to fall back and I resist. I think about not changing the clocks because what does it matter? We’re not going anywhere. No one is keeping tabs on our deliverables – we gave that up with work, thank god. Our deliverables now are time for coffee, time for breakfast, time to walk the dog. Frankly, the dog is as good a clock as we need. His whimpers and clicking toenails as he paces the wood floor urge us out of bed in the morning or demand feeding. His soulful stares at the front door tell us its walk time. What else do we need to know?
Lately I’ve become more like the dog anyway, tending to my bodily functions although both my spine and upbringing prevent me from gnawing on my feet or, you know, licking myself clean. Like our mutt, I stretch frequently – down-dogs, up-dogs, the cobra, the corpse – nap a bit, stare out the living room window. It’s a good life in which the clock is irrelevant, possibly even an irritant.
I watch the analog clock’s stiff, one-legged second hand click around in circles, a lurching Frankenstein, around and around and around going nowhere and noisy, to boot, in its lack of progress. Fake time. But then isn’t all time fake? Those coloured digital numbers are fake too. They might as well be purple or pink. Damn it, colour them any shade you like – it’s your time! But at least its silent though don’t be fooled: it’s a silent killer, like CO2.
Ticked off time is my preference, like a list – there, that’s done. I like the sound of time like church bells, the birthday song, the town clock gonging Westminster chimes, or best of all, cuckoo time because that’s where I am, maybe where we all are.
I’m still in the kitchen, one hand on the microwave tinkering with numbers, coordinating time and deciding whether it should read the same as the analog but that’s impossible because the analog is the kind with only four numbers – 12, 3, 6, and 9 – and impossible to tell the exact time. Anyway, as soon as I set the microwave’s clock to 6:09, the stove clock changes to 6:10 and the clock radio to 6:13. I could keep working on concordance but that seems like wasting time, eh?
So, that’s where I am – contemplating timelessness and howling with the dog at the setting moon beaming through the window.
I counted the number of islands we covered in our ride on the Long Sault Parkway because the wind, which I didn’t count on pushing against me so vigorously, whispered “Quit. Sit.”
“You shit,” I said. This is my BIG day. My longest ride of the summer – 28 kilometres. So, no. I’m not quitting.” Continue reading
We grabbed the bikes provided by our hosts and headed down the paved part of Pritchard Road in the rolling terrain of the Gatineau Hills, north of Ottawa, in Quebec. My bike was a heavy, three-speed with coaster brakes. Remember those? You pedal backwards to make your bike stop. A quaint old thing. Like me.
No sooner did we turn onto Lac Bernard Road when the first hill rose, and halfway up, my legs shuddering, I dismounted and pushed that MOFO to the top. My heart was going nuts and I was panting like a sheepdog in the desert, all tongue and sweat. Ahead was brief plateau, a welcome downhill and then, bien sur, another incline. Continue reading
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
“I’m not dying on a diet,” said somebody re: Covid-19. I signed up for that plan. No longer do I scold my husband for destroying my attempts at sugar abstinence when he bakes his wonderful sourdough cinnamon buns. Yesterday I gobbled two with my morning tea then I chased the decadence with a bowl of plain Greek yogurt (penance for sure) and fresh strawberries. This is called balancing my dietary chakras. Om.
Crows keep me company on my daily walks and bike rides, which are not nearly long enough to counter the effects of cinnamon buns, but are good for my mental health as well as my cardiovascular system. Now that the fruit on our Montmorency cherry tree is ripe, the corvids greet me in the morning from its branches as they devour the sour morsels and I contemplate my schedule for the day. After they make a burp-like noise, which sounds shockingly human, and flap to the grass in the adjacent field and toddle about in search of their next course, I hoist my derriere out of my chair and put on my sneakers and meet them outside.
I head down the shady Sawmill Creek path. They hop behind me pecking at the grass and then lift off and follow the creek and disappear, cackling over the treetops. For a while it is quiet, until I head north on Queensdale Avenue when I hear one crow call over and over.
He’s perched on a smokestack overlooking a thin wedge of scraggly pines and birch trees and beyond that the bulrushes in Leitrim Creek’s wetland. It sounds like a lament to me but I’m a bit of a romantic. It could very well be a warning to other crows. Stay away. My turf here.
The thing is, whether I walk or ride my bike in the early morning or at lunchtime or just before dusk, that bird is there and he’s always talking. I hear him as I turn left again at the next street and make my way home. His voice follows me for a good kilometre or more. It has a strange echoing quality.
Our youngest daughter used to chatter non-stop. From the age of two to about four, she talked from the moment she woke until she went to bed and still, from bed, she would holler at us. I think she needed reassurance we were there, and she used her voice to keep us focused on her. Even when I was in the shower, she would stand outside the bathroom door and continue her soliloquy. I was incapable of having a thought of my own and I wished with all my heart she would just stop talking for five minutes so there would be space in my brain.
I think of her as I listen to the crow’s calls behind me. Now, at 20, we’re lucky to get a dozen words out of our daughter so maybe that’s why I’m paying such close attention to the crow. Atonement perhaps? I hear it. I’m paying attention.
As I approach home, I pass the small cemetery belonging to the local Catholic church. It’s a newish installation from the middle of the last century but despite that it has a pretty border of tall pine trees and scattered among the graves are a few apple trees and small shrubs. Gracing two large headstones are four crows, all of them facing the same direction and all of them with their mouths open, their tongues still. Are they waiting for the dead to speak? Could the dead be speaking but only the crows can hear? If that’s the case, its comforting to know the crows are on the job. Even the dead need to be heard.
“Hi crows,” I say as I pass them.
As is their polite way, they bob their heads and then, one by one, fly into a maple tree waiting for someone else to come by and take interest.
“Wrong was easy: gravity helped it.
Right is difficult and long.”
I lifted this quote from a blog called earthweal where Brendan writes essays on nature and climate change and posts related poetry challenges. His posts are insightful, loving, hopeful and beautiful and might inspire you to pick up your pen in your thirst for peace in CoVid time.
The quote from Wendell Berry struck me as appropriate for the challenge we face during the pandemic – giving up convenience and what we used to think of as normal for doing something that might be a lot harder and take much longer than the time it takes to drink our double-shot caramel macchiato.
These days time feels like an ice-cube in August. Stay cool, friends.
P.S. – In case you hadn’t noticed, I am posting less frequently as I work on a long project. If you’d like, you can find me on Instagram where I drop pictures of my adorable dog or from my daily walks. No politics, no platform, no mean memes. I am NOT an influencer, just a human.
Social media and I have an uneasy history and the account is private so if I don’t recognize your name, I won’t confirm the follow request. There are limits, dear people.
1. Downward dog
I feed the dog a twice daily dose of pain killer wrapped in cream cheese – the cutest cheeseball you ever saw – for his luxating patella. When he hears me uncapping the lid of the pill bottle he trots into the kitchen. Do we know how many addicted dogs there are? Do we care? Soon I’ll be taking him to a safe injection site.
What would happen if I took one of his pills?
2. Coffee low
Our youngest daughter has become a coffee drinker. I enabled her, bought the best beans – locally roasted – but she prefers McCafe. “You can buy them in the grocery store,” she says.
I will not.
3. Personality plus
I looked myself up on Google. I wanted to make sure I’m still here because lately I feel like I’ve disappeared. Google says Susanne Fletcher has many incarnations – in the 1940 census of Ancestry.com, the acknowledgements page of Sex in the Ancient World A-Z, a letter writer to the Durango Herald.
A personality test confirmed Google’s findings. I was a different person each time. I took the test twice. I’m tempted to do it again, addicted to refining the defining but the reality is I am now, and always will be, TBD.
In the Merriam Webster dictionary, I’m MIA unless you consider the word “promiscuous” which is what Google infers considering the number of entries under my name. Google practices the algorithm method which is why there are so many of me.
4. A Collins glass half empty
Poetry doesn’t calm me anymore. I prefer Tom Collins to Billy Collins. Tom was my first grown-up cocktail in The Breezeway – the student union pub at Memorial University of Newfoundland. The maraschino cherry was at the bottom. Bottom’s up!
5. To Have and Have Not
I am the daughter of an alcoholic and lately I drink too much. I hadn’t planned to become an alcoholic when I retired. I thought I’d be a writer.
Around 4:30 in the afternoon I get anxious and then I have a drink and the worried birds in my gut calm. At first it was a martini made with Georgian Bay Gin, a gin that smells of windblown junipers and jack pines, a dive in cold water on a hot day, skinny dipping, sex on hot Canadian Shield rocks, moss pillows, and campfire. Then hot weather fell like spent magnolia petals and I changed to drinking crisp white wine. Cheap. Plonk. Grocery store. No way am I standing in line at the liquor store on specially designated circles of hell drawn on the pavement to buy a decent bottle. Cheap gets me to cheerful just as good as fancy French.
4. Pandemic Curve
I’m distracted by the American Goldfinch undulating by my window – yellow and black, a Jackson Pollack flight of splash and dash – a Scoliosis of time.
I know this is not the end. This is not the beginning of the end. Nor the beginning of the beguine. Its post-modern swing – a goldfinch in the wind.
There’s not much to see outside the window where my desk sits: a big swath of sky, a maple tree, the row of townhouses across our narrow condo street, a shaggy pine that was once a shrub but now obscures the neighbour’s front door, the shadows of people in their kitchen windows.
Our street is a dead-end and holds only 14 units: there is no through traffic. Every car that motors up the hill and turns into our laneway is scrutinized thoroughly by me and any neighbours who happen to be in their kitchens. Like gophers, our heads pop up as we follow the progress of the vehicle. Funny thing is there is more traffic now on our tiny street than before. A daily parade of UPS, FedEx, and Purolater trucks, the unmarked vehicles delivering Amazon packages, and of course Skip-the-Dishes and Uber Eats drivers meander into our neighbourhood.
In New Orleans I bought purple suede shoes peppered with silver studs across the toes and, not surprisingly, in Nashville, I purchased blue suede pumps. I slid my feet, Cinderella-like, into their cushioned blue interiors, stood, took a few steps and twirled, the full skirt of my dress flaring. The clerk stared, only mildly startled and asked me “Are you an attorney?” Nashville lawyers, I thought, must be more colourful than the pin-striped, double-breasted esquires in Ottawa. In Dolly Parton’s home state, I pictured lawyers sashaying to the bench in untouchable blue suede shoes with matching satin pocket hankies. A spin at the bench seemed plausible. Continue reading
The book Bright Wings – An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds, has flaps on its front and back covers that when opened give the book an impressive wingspan. The anthologist is my man Billy Collins, who paired his talent with the artistic Audubon ornithologist David Allen Sibley, to hatch this beautiful collection. However, in a recently acquired habit, I assessed the parity in the poetry assembled through the table of contents. Out of more than 100 poems, 37 were penned by women. Hmmm. My feathers ruffled. Continue reading