Constant gardeners

The sun shines
bringing some scant warmth
finally to the exotic flowers and
shrubs artfully lining
the byways of suburbia

Everthing aligns perfectly
each frontage gardened and honed
to perfection
owners flit from door to SUV
harmonised, with ease

In my yard raccoons
have dug ugly clumps mangling the grass
a scrap of litter is lodged beneath a bare rose thorn
and spring daffs are adorned with an angry stick
planted by a raging child

I know I let my own weeds grow
their constant gardening steals my silence, anyway.

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He goes further
than you or I might
on the ice laden sidewalk
saw in hand.

What cold desperation
I ask
Leads him to the hardware store
across frozen tarmacadam
risking life, and limb.

I imagine bodies
lying desperate for dismemberment
or a frozen elder
huddled over hearth
faced with intractable logs.

Maybe it is just youth
the illusion of freedom
gliding in ecstacy
on the surface of being
soaring before the wax melts;

unrequited lust for danger
a moment of grace granted.

Held by faith alone
lest the blade falls

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A taste of NaNoWriMo

There’s a moment every evening, if you live any distance from the equator, when the sun closes in on the horizon and the long rays strike their golden faces against the bricks and mortar of a thousand cities. The buildings of Red Square take on the appearance of a fairytale, and a few of the fur-clad denizens pause for a moment to wonder. The buildings of Venice appear timeless, sinking into a warm amber grave as the ripples on the canals turn glassy and the housewives in the narrow sidestreets wind in their white washing, feeling its coolness as the evening takes hold. In Edinburgh, hurrying students, black greatcoated bankers and the ubiquitous hard guy in an all-weathers T-shirt heading for the pub to catch the rugby highlights see the gentle uplighting of the buildings on the grey of the Georgian brickwork, and Candlemaker Row and Slaughtergate take on the air of a midwinter festival in a distant, mediaeval dream.

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BC bud

The marijuana was not her biggest headache, we both agreed. Nor was the Asian gangster buying up grow houses and illegally stealing electricity under an assumed name (all paid for, in due course, via a mysterious transfer from a bank in Richmond). No, it was the policeman who caught the guy who got her riled.

(We are drinking our third cup of tea and her long dark hair is falling down in waves onto her flowing white gown, as I sit in full makeup before a large pack of cinnamon buns.)

He seemed quite good at catching criminals but could not make it to court, time and again, and his excuses seemed to be lies. Frustrated that he would not just admit to drinking beer all weekend or fishing with his buddies rather than answering his summons to give evidence, she let it be known. The gangster’s well-groomed wife has no idea as she drops her children at the gates of the private school in her new SUV. How it has been paid for. (The law firm were outraged but she billed them anyway. The case was dismissed.)

As she absently moves about the kitchen showing a small tattoo on her left foot., I see her one day sitting in judgement. And the small game of recalcitrant policemen versus shady pot empires will pass into herstory.

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Sunday, Alma Street

The homeless guy who hangs out by Seven Eleven is playing his guitar, pacing aggressively across the parking lot. I’ve seen him walk between cars at the intersection – this is new, since he found the guitar I guess, as he used to just sit by the door and requisition our spare change as we came out of the store. It’s Sunday morning – I’m seeing this through the big open window as the guy in Grounds for Coffee prepares my almond mocha. We are at Alma Street; disparaged travellers wait outside for the number 99 Express bus, or maybe the less frequent number 7 to Dunbar. It’s the dividing line between Kitsilano and Point Grey. Between gentrified hippies, baby boomers and families with kids and cash, the Kits crowd, and those who say they “have really made it.” One way or another, whether aspiring for decades to shift from beginnings in East Van to those from China, Africa, Everywhere, who made their fortunes or brought them along to spend. The interior of what was once Divine Design on Tenth is reduced to rubble and plaster. As I turn the corner I see a humble but serviceable small wooden house – like mine – has been torn down and turned to matchwood, revealing a gaping hole to the alley beyond. Something grander will follow, someone’s dream will plug the gap. Climbing the hill I pass small courtyards with running fountains, tiny faux English gardens, MacMansions big enough to house dynasties to my left. My Chinese neighbours bring their small dog out for a walk in the drizzle. They do not say hello.

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Featured on 6S

If you love flash fiction you should check out the excellent ‘6S’ blog.

One of my new pieces ‘unplugged’ is featured there today! Click here to check it out.

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The need for geraniums

I saw them once; maybe it was a week ago? No my mind has cut out a two week trip to England propelled by grief and circling loss embedded with music and old, old hills. And so after four last-minute flights are paid and our accountant does his best to juggle our myriad experiences, assets and errors into spreadsheet format I have only thirty dollars left, in my bank account.

I remember the geraniums because of the large ceramic planter on my porch filled with weeds, and because of the smart ladies outside the upmarket supermarket casually throwing them into their shopping carts. And I remember them in the lineup on the last day of April at the bank, where everyone is paying their taxes in the nick of time. Now the sun is out and a riot of incredible flowers is exploding in my front yard – roses, rhododendrons and bluebells unfurl brightly as the blossoms continue to fall like white rain.

The pale blue-grey paint on the front porch is peeling badly. When I sweep, a little more comes away. I imagine its decrepitude offset by red geraniums, which bring me to every Mediterranean urn, every dusty cart track and old lady flapping white laundry in the alps, the view from every barge in Venice and even Cornish courtyards I hold dear. And I think I may have to take out that last thirty bucks and, letting the earth find her way deep under my fingernails, plant them and so feel their bright abundance blessing my every homecoming.

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“Stop whining…stop whining,” the Filipina nanny is talking softly to the little boy, just two, arching his back in the stroller. Ironically to my English ears her intonation, born of the sing-song half-Chinese half-Spanish of her native tongue, gives the words a tiresome drone, I wish I could make it stop.

He begins to cry in earnest: “I’ve peed my pants!” the sobs catch his throat. Matter of fact and chiding him for not taking an earlier bathroom opportunity, she strips him to the waist and produces new clothes from the bag.

There is something hollow about the experience. I know I am projecting something – as a mother. Remembering back to these moments with my own boys I would also have felt the frustration, but it would have been laced with tiredness, and anger, underpinned with empathy and tenderness for that small crumpled face, the little arms reaching up.

The elder brother is digging with a borrowed spade in some grit, my own boy sifts gravel dangerously close to his companion’s face. There is a moment of camaraderie felt by all small beings who squat in the dirt. Important business: earth to earth, sifting in contemplation.

The nanny rounds up the boys abruptly: “We are on the bus,” she explains, shorthand for a bunch of details too onerous to explain. Another tiny boy, the owner of the spades and sieve, comes forth to reclaim his plastic toys. The older two disband, feet trailing on the ground. The metal latch (that keeps those playing safe) clunks down firmly behind them.

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New wheels

The cigarette is hanging from his lip above a collection of gnarly grey stubble. Grease monkeys in long dirty blue overalls lean in close sharing the flame, a little taste of death. He beckons me forward onto the ramp.

Obedient I inch forward, wheels straight, until dismissively he waves his hand. We get out – efforts to engage him are futile, he merely looks through me with light blue eyes as though any information I have is on another plane to his own, and unlikely to be relevant. His grizzly older colleague appears wearing a light pink knitted toque, which bobs incongruously as they haul my other set of tires from the trunk, cigarettes still dangling.

Speech is almost taboo, although it is fine to help myself to pungent coffee from the hotplate laced with condensed milk. The boss sees me, nods, and wanders off. My small son steals sugar cubes from the coffee table, eyeing a chart of tire treads.

Outside the car looks naked without its wheels and I consider that I’m putting my life in the hands of these three, in their cavern of rubber and shiny hubcaps, hissing tools and wordless graft. Somehow without speaking the boss gets me to sign the bill and finally he thanks me. An impatient man with a briefcase is behind us, itching to get onto the ramp and begin his day. The wheels keep wearing down and changing with the seasons, customers come and go.

The tire guy pulls out a fresh cigarette, and looks beyond it all with eyes that seem to match the sky, then turns back inward and continues, as he has always done.

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A chinese ghost

She’s standing at the crossing in Yaletown, slim, Asian, dressed in white like an unlucky ghost. Hair dark and cropped, neck level. From the back it seems as though she is about to cross but getting nearer in the right hand lane I see both hands are over her face. Eyes and mouth covered yet waiting to step into traffic. Public inner moment expressed in the slow springtime rain that my wipers brush slowly aside like tears.

A little over a century ago in Vancouver’s Saltwater City, her Chinese ancestors were not allowed out after dark. Secretively, they constructed an alley of red bricks and rock at the back of Pender Street, in Chinatown, so they could go about their normal business. Many were drafted in to build the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s – the conditions were harsh and the pay pitiful. Of a group of over 5000 sent from China by ship, less than 1500 remained in 1881 as the rest had either perished or left for the more lucrative goldfields.

Glancing in my rearview mirror, I wondered if she would take a step forward onto Pacific.

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