Living the Dream

As a young girl, I always dreamed of becoming another Lucy Maud, devouring books sometimes three and four on the go at one time. Now, here I am, 50-something, and the dream keeps coming back to me. When Magpie Tales started publishing their prompts, I couldn't resist. My first few attempts were shared with a very select few - and it is thanks to their encouragement that I am emboldened to share with more of the world. Read, enjoy (I hope), critique, and tell me what you think.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Nightmare at Elm Lake

Once again Willow at Magpie Tales has challenged the writers in us to respond to her prompt.  Interestingly, this one was posted as an easier prompt, but I found it more challenging than the others. 


The daffodil heads danced merrily in the slight breeze, nodding their goodbyes as Rosemary herded the children toward the car.  Everybody was laden with the last loads of necessities for the trip.

Piling everything into the back of the SUV, Rosemary mentally ticked off: suitcases with clothes – lots of clothes, sleeping bags, pillows, backpacks of toys, bags and coolers of food, boxes tucked away in the bottom with chocolate Easter eggs for the hunt and baskets for the Easter bunny to deliver on Sunday morning.  Okay, looks like everything’s here.

As she made sure all seatbelts were fastened, she mentally locked up the house, all taps off, stove turned off, lights turned off, alarm set.  Ready to go.  Off  to the annual Easter weekend family reunion.

It was Rosemary’s turn to plan and make all the arrangements this year, and she’d looked for a larger venue.  With the addition of several grand-children-in-laws to the family and a few great-grandchildren, they’d become crowded out at the traditional meeting place.  After months of web searching, Elm Lake Resort had been highly recommended by friends, only a 2-hour drive away.  Rosemary patted her purse on the seat beside her, with the reservation information and web-printed brochures in it, and mentally pictured the cabins, house, barbecue shelter, meeting rooms, hot tubs, canoes on the lake – and the field of daffodils – displayed on the web-site.  She looked forward to being once again with her grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, cousins for a full weekend of fun.

As they drove, the children amused themselves with ‘I Spy’ and singing ‘100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall’.  Bill would join them all later in the evening, after work, but Rosemary wanted to get there early to settle in and have a spread of welcome snacks for the rest of them as they arrived.  Some would have driven most of the day to get there and would be looking forward to relaxing for a while before plunging into their share of the cooking and clean-up that always came with such a large group together.

It seemed almost no time, and Rosemary turned down the road that headed toward the resort.  The sign at the corner was a little worse for wear, but after all it was the end of winter, and they probably hadn’t been able to get out and spruce it up for the season.  Just at the corner, there was the field of daffodils – a carpet of bright sunny yellow, first-sign-of-spring daffodils, welcoming them to a wonderful retreat.   Funny – she didn’t think the resort was quite this close to the corner, though.

It wasn’t – another half hour of driving before they reached the entrance, with its broken gate and rutted driveway.  Whew – lots of early-season work to be done here.  As Rosemary pulled up to the main house (‘six large bedrooms, country kitchen, dining/meeting space for 40-60’ according to the brochure), she looked around – at broken down machinery, out-buildings with broken windows and doors falling off their hinges, a lake surrounded by marsh, with no boating access in sight.  Where were the cute little chalet cabins?  Where was the playground area for the children?

With trepidation, Rosemary cautioned the children to wait in the car while she checked to see if the key was in its place.  She located the lock-box, punched in the code from the email message, and retrieved the main house key.  The message said the keys for the cabins would be on the kitchen counter.  Just then Jamie called out, ‘Mommy, I have to pee.’ 

‘Okay, kids, come on, let’s go inside and get things put away,’ said much more cheerfully than Rosemary was feeling at the moment.

The foyer was dimly lit by an old chandelier hanging from the ceiling on the next floor up, a double wide staircase led to the main level of the house.  The stairs creaked as the family walked up to the landing, so loudly Rosemary wondered if they would hold the weight.  Turning at the landing the banisters on either side looked down on the entry, with six inches between them and the wall.  They squeezed past the railing to the central hallway, ahead of them a large living room with windows overlooking the lake, if you could see through the grime and cobwebs, to the right appeared to be the kitchen, and down the hall to the left two doors, one on either side.

‘Let’s see if one of these gets us to the bathroom,’ and Rosemary took Jamie’s hand.  On the left side the door opened to a closet, with a toilet and sink, rust-stained and discolored with age.  Plunking Jamie on the seat, wishing she had some sani-wipes with her, Rosemary backed out of the room to see what was behind the door across the hall.  Same thing!  Oh my, what had she gotten them all into?

When Jamie had washed her hands, with only water because the soap dispenser was empty, and wiped them on her pants to dry, Rosemary ventured back down the hall to check out the rest of the house.  The fireplace in the living room was blackened with soot, the leatherette on the chairs and sofas was cracked and spilling out stuffing, the carpet showed the tracks of many, many dirty feet from probably years past.  Taking a deep breath, Rosemary headed into the kitchen. 

Well, it was clean, at least on the surface, but it hadn’t been updated since the house was built some 30 or 40 years ago.  The stove and fridge were apartment size – it was going to be tough to cook for everybody.  The small kitchen table would maybe accommodate six people, if there had been more than the four chairs around it.  Rosemary picked up the keys on the counter, and read the note underneath, ‘Keys for cabins 4, 5, 6, 7 – make sure everything is just as you find it when you leave.’  Not very welcoming.

Calling the children, Rosemary squeezed back past the banisters, and headed downstairs to check out the bedrooms.  Except there were none – a big meeting room, with several long tables end-to-end and about 40 chairs in various states of repair or disrepair stacked against one wall, filled the space to the left of the foyer.  On the right – another large room with cots folded and scattered about the space.  Rosemary just stood and stared, not sure what to think, not sure what to do.  Turning toward the window, she spied an older couple walking across the grounds.

She sped outside calling, ‘Hello – are you Mr. Norman?’

‘That’d be me, little lady,’ the man smirked at her.  ‘What can I do for you?’

‘What happened to the house?  Where are the bedrooms?  The kitchen is so small, we can hardly turn around in it!  And where are the little chalet cabins?  This isn’t what I expected from your brochures.’

‘Now, now, it’s okay.  We had to make some changes to make the house into a conference space and government regulations required widening the stairway, and making the rooms downstairs into large meeting rooms.   But there are cots you can set up for sleeping, and just bring your meals down to the other room.  The cabins are right here.’  His hand swept around indicating the broken-down out-buildings.  ‘And the out-houses are just over there,’ indicating two small sheds on the other side of the house.

‘But you mean those two small bathrooms in the house are the only ones with running water?  Oh, and what about showers?’

‘Well, there’s always the lake….’

Rosemary woke with a start, jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen desk to check once again the brochures and descriptions of the resort she’d booked.  Maybe she should make sure everything was in order, before the reunion next weekend.  ‘Okay, kids, time to get up, we’re going for a drive!’

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Several weeks ago, six actually, my blog-friend QMM published a short story as a result of the prompt she found at Magpie Tales .  I found myself intrigued with the concept, partly because I'd always dreamed of writing, but had never really tried to write.  At first my thoughts ran along the line of 'not a chance - nobody would want to read what you have to write'.  But then three weeks ago, the prompt really got my imagination going, and I found myself dreaming a story, so decided to write it out, on a new blog, that I would only let my sister-the-writer read.  Well, she liked it, and with the next prompt came another story-line in my mind.  This time I added QMM to the reader list, to see what she thought.  Now, a third person has read my stories, and the feedback has been encouraging, so now I'm ready to see what other writers think of these.  This is prompt # 6 (# 3 for me) - and I'm going to take a leap of faith and link these stories to the Magpie Tales blog.

No titles have come to mind yet - anybody got any ideas?

When I first looked at this prompt, I thought ‘what could I possibly write that would relate to this?’  So now several days later, I find I’m back at my same characters, so maybe this writing exercise, at least for a while, is going to be a series instead of stand-alone short stories – I guess we’ll see.
‘Bang, bang, bang,’    Jane started at the sound, wondering – but only for a second – what it was.  She knew, just hadn’t been expecting it.  Sixteen-year-old Mick was in the basement workshop, hammering out his frustrations just like…..
‘Bang, bang, bang.’   Jock was in his workshop, while Jane paced the kitchen floor, literally wringing her hands, wondering what to do now.  This hammering sound was a new one in their 4-month marriage, and the argument that had preceded it was their first.  Thoughts of the argument caused a complete 180 in Jane’s feelings – from despair and anxiety to disgust and anger.  How could anybody be so stubborn?  Well, if he could walk away from their discussion, she certainly wasn’t going to follow him and grovel.  Let him hammer!!
Jane headed upstairs into her sewing room.  Mom McDougall said quilting resolved a lot of problems, well now was the time to put it to the test.
As Jane settled in front of her sewing machine with the pieces for the quilt blocks ready to assemble stacked beside her, she picked up the first two, matched them right sides together, and fed them under the presser foot – then the next two, and the next.  The sewing machine was humming along nicely in short order.  At first Jane concentrated solely on the little pieces of fabric, making sure that edges were exactly together, that her seams were exactly 1/4 inch, that she didn’t miss a step in the instructions.  The hammering sounds from the basement occasionally pierced through, but they were much fainter being two stories away so were not nearly so bothersome.
Gradually Jane was lulled into a rhythm, and her thoughts went back to earlier hours, when she and Jock had been in the dining room looking at paint chips with plans to choose a color and buy the paint.  Then her thoughts went further back to the other reno projects they’d already tackled and conquered – without one hint of conflict.
When Jock’s father passed away suddenly just months before their marriage, and then Mom McDougall decided this old house was just too much for her, Jane and Jock were more than thrilled to take it on.  Jock was pleased at not having to leave his childhood home, and Jane was excited at the prospect of their own home into which they could infuse their own personalities.  So much nicer than having to rent, and live with somebody else’s ideas of color and decor.
Their plan had been to take one room at a time, starting with the ground floor (leaving the kitchen for the very end, though), then do the second floor, the attic, the basement, and in between tackling the outside during spring and summer months.  The house was structurally sound, having been well-maintained by Jock’s father and grandfather before him, and electrical and plumbing had been upgraded over the years as necessary to keep up with the demands of the times, so Jane and Jock’s job was mostly esthetics. 
The sunny, south-facing breakfast nook had been first – freshen the neutral paint color, put some new grout in the tile floor, hang a new light fixture, new valances on the windows and bamboo shades to roll down only when necessary to keep the room a little cooler in the hottest summer months, wicker furniture with bright cushions – easy, breezy.
The living room was a little more challenging – with no ceiling light fixture, lamps were needed throughout.  But Jane didn’t like the idea of needing to walk around turning on and off each lamp individually every time they used the room.  And they’d already had several gatherings, and knew that they enjoyed entertaining, and this room would be used frequently.  So, the answer had been to connect the lamp plugs to a wall-switch.  After that, again freshening the neutral color, refinishing the floor and woodwork, some new comfy furniture (over which Jane planned to ‘throw’ some quilt creations, and they had a gorgeous room that Jane was proud to usher friends and family into.
And then the dining room.  They started with stripping the wallpaper and were surprised to discover several layers, which took days to get off.  It was certainly interesting to see the design eras emerge as they worked their way down to the plaster.   This was the biggest surprise.  Apparently there had been some kind of water damage, and large portions of the wall had to be stripped out and replaced.  It was no wonder previous decorators had simply put paper over it, and then kept covering it up.  But Jock was game, and it had taken a few weeks to get the walls in shape for painting.  It was choosing this paint color that had started the argument.
‘But this room has always been blue.’  Jock refused to look at any other color chips.
‘Well, no not really, honey, remember the red paisley and the pink cabbage roses?’  Jane tried to reason.
‘Those were before my mother’s time – she always had blue.’
‘But blue in this north-facing room will just be depressing.  The room needs something lighter and brighter.  And I really don’t like blue.  We can paint your study blue, if that’s what you’d like.’
‘I’ll say it again, this room has always been blue.’  The discussion deteriorated from there – each determined to choose the color, until Jock wheeled around and left the room.  Jane started to follow, just to see him disappear down the basement steps – and then the hammering started.  It wasn’t like she’d not heard hammering from the workshop before, as Jock fixed little things around the house, but this was different.  It was so loud, and so continuous!
As Jane stood up from the sewing machine, gathering her block pieces to take to the ironing board, she became aware again of the sounds from the basement.  It wasn’t just hammering, there was some drilling and sawing happening down there now too.  ‘Hmm, wonder what he’s doing,’ Jane thought to herself.  But until he was ready to apologize….
Jane continued working on the quilt blocks, finding as her mother-in-law had promised, that other thoughts just simmered in the background, and eventually Jane got around to thinking about the color of the dining room.  She had wanted green tones in there – she thought a soft green would reflect the outdoors, and be a perfect foil for the mountains in the view through the bow window.  Besides, green was fairly neutral and would complement many other design elements.  Blue, on the other hand ………. Suddenly Jane had the answer – teal, very pale, not quite there, leaning a little more to the green, but still with blue undertones – yes, that could be it.  What a unique color, and would go well with any flowers or pictures.
Jane jumped up from her chair and practically ran down the stairs and into the kitchen.  As she reached for the basement door, it burst open and there was Jock.  ‘I’m sorry,’ they both said simultaneously.  And they were in each other’s arms, hugging and kissing and trying to talk all at once.  Eventually Jane told Jock her idea for a pale teal color, and Jock told Jane he thought a greeny-blue could work well.  And then they started to laugh as they realized that sewing quilts and hammering nails achieved the same thing – clearing their minds to be able to work through their feelings and begin to see each other’s perspectives.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Jane plopped into the kitchen chair, blew her hair out of her face, and heaved a huge sigh.  She listened to Mick and Mhairi playing in the tub, a ploy that kept them from going to sleep just at supper time (and which would keep them awake until late in the evening).  Their happy voices, singing and giggling, made her smile - they knew that if they got quiet, she'd call to them 'I can't HEAR you!!'  Jane sipped her tea, while the chicken dinner sizzled on the stove, and reflected back on the day.  It had been incredibly busy.  Now she wondered how she had got through it all, and how she was going to stay awake until the twins were in bed for the night.

The morning had started as usual - awake at the crack of dawn, 30 minutes of ballet exercises so necessary to keep at some kind of fitness level, shower, dress, make the bed, head down to the kitchen to put the kettle on and start some breakfast.  The children generally woke themselves up - if one was out of bed first, the other followed very quickly and the race was on to see who could get to the table first.  This morning was no different and soon Mick and Mhairi were settled in front of their bowls of hot cereal and orange juice.  At three years old, they were independent enough to feed themselves with just a little supervision, and Jane could appreciate eating her breakfast too while it was still hot.  And the cup of tea after they skedaddled upstairs to get dressed was so welcome, and such a nice start to the day.

In short order, the little family was out the door.  It was Jane's day to work at the office, and the twins were used to accompanying her with a bag of toys, books, crayons and coloring books.  In the office door at 8:30 sharp, Jane got the twins settled into their corner, and proceeded to get computers up and running, lights on, make sure that all the medical supply jars in the examining rooms were filled with cotton balls, q-tips, and tongue depressors, supplies of gowns and blankets were topped up in each room, magazines were returned to the waiting room and all was tidied.  Then the patients' charts for the day needed to be pulled and organized, any new diagnostic results on the fax machine put into the correct chart (setting aside those not needed for the day to be filed later).  By the time the door was opened to the public, Jane was almost ready for another cup of tea.

But it was a steady run of patients, Jim arriving right behind the first one from his rounds at the hospital.  As much as they tried to keep on schedule, and avoid having patients waiting for their appointment time, they were behind by lunch-time.  This of course cut the lunch-hour short, and Jane had just a half-hour to take Mick and Mhairi to the park.  They'd wonderfully kept themselves occupied in her little corner office, getting their snacks when they were hungry, but were certainly ready to get out and about for at least a short while.  Plans to also pick up a few groceries had to be delayed until the end of the day.

Mid-afternoon, while doing a blood-draw on a patient, Jane heard a sudden cry from her office.  Finishing up as quickly as she could and bustling the chatty elderly lady out the door rather abruptly, she went to see what was happening.  It was unusual to hear much from the children, and they generally were happy enough with their own company, and she only had to poke her head in the office in between patients to reassure herself that all was well.  It was Mick - tears running down his cheeks, he was trying to be quiet as Mhairi admonished him to not 'deturve the patients'.  Jane sat in the desk chair and pulled him onto her lap asking, 'what's the matter, honey?   Does something hurt?' 

Mick nodded and snuffled, and held his right ear.  Oh dear, thought Jane - another ear infection.  Mick was prone to these, but Jane hadn't seen any signs that he was feeling unwell through the morning.  Maybe the cool air outdoors at noon had caused a coming infection to flare up a little more quickly.  She found a baby aspirin, which Mick was more than happy to take, enjoying the slightly sweet taste, and then when Jim was free she asked him to look into the ear.  Sure enough, an inner ear infection - well at least they were in a doctor's office with antibiotics handy, and they got Mick started right away.  The aspirin did its trick, and soon Mick was happily playing again.  Jane made a mental note to be sure to give him another one in a few hours.

This little interval disrupted the flow of the office, and the last-minute appointments didn't get finished up until quite late.  A stop at the grocery store, Jane added some snack bars to the cart to be able to stave off the twins' hunger until supper would be ready, and keep them from falling asleep on the trip home.  It worked, and now they were having their 'busy-bath' while supper was prepared. ....

Jane started awake.  Oh, no - how long had she been asleep?  Then she felt a splash on her cheek.  She looked up and held out her hand, already wondering why the twins were so quiet.  Another drip of water, from right beside the light fixture, landed in her outstretched palm.  Glancing at the clock, she saw it had only been a few minutes - but she knew already as she sprinted up the stairs, that the peace was over!!!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Living the Dream

Well, here I am trying to live out the dream of being a writer. I'm not going to share this with very many people, not until I can see if I can actually write anything. I'm using Magpie Tales as my inspiration, and we'll see where that goes. Here's today's picture:

Jane sat in the rocking chair, staring out the window, not moving, not seeing, not feeling.  The setting sun glistened on the fresh spring snow on the mountains to the south, the new green leaves budding on the dogwood tree spoke of the warmth of the spring days, daffodils and tulips poked out of the ground with polka dots of color, a fresh wind moved the curtains in the window.  None of this woke Jane's senses at this moment.

What she saw was in her mind's eye, a day more than 35 years ago.  The dogwood tree was much smaller, the daffodils and tulips first planted the previous fall were more sparse but giving that lift of the first colors of spring, the mountains guarding all below them as they had done for centuries.  The sun had been shining that day, too.  Jane stood in front of the window, breathing deeply of the fresh air, hand on her swollen belly, speaking soft words to the new life growing inside her, who would soon inhabit this room.  This room - the one that had been Jock's when he was a boy - decorated in soft yellows and greens, for boy or girl, whichever God brought into their lives.  One boy or one girl - one crib, one change table, one rocking chair, one of everything. 

But this morning, the doctor had listened very carefully to the baby's heart, moving the stethoscope to different positions and then said the words, 'Well, my dear, it sounds like twins!'  Jane's breath caught and she held it for several seconds as she tried to grasp exactly what she was being told, and then she smiled and cried and laughed and babbled about being two mothers and not having two names and....  As she stood at the window, waiting for Jock to come home, she grinned as she imagined Jock's reaction when she gave him the news.

She heard the front door, heard her beloved calling out, heard his footsteps climbing the stairs.  As he came in the bedroom saying, 'I knew you'd be here, it's become your favorite place in the house.  What did the doc have to say this morning?  Everything on schedule?'

Jane turned from the window, her grin almost splitting her face, and she started to laugh.  Jock had to ask three or four times what was so funny, but everytime she tried to speak she broke out in laughter and soon the tears flowed with her hilarity.  Finally she got out, 'Two babies, there's two of them in here!'

And Jock turned around and left the room.  Jane's laugh turned into a choke with the shock of his reaction - she didn't know what to do, what to think, whether to follow him, or wait to see if he would come back.  Mere minutes and Jock was back at the door, and he handed her the small carved elephant saying, 'I'll have to make another one, now'.

The next few hours, over dinner, the expectant parents talked about the coming babies - jumping around from subject to subject, names, another crib, more diapers, names, how to tell their families, names,  what about a nanny, a second baby room, names.  They laughed and hugged and cried and kissed - their excitement was boundless.  Then the phone rang, and Jock was called to Emergency, it was his turn for call.

They were used to this; as a doctor himself Jock had a busy practice and took his share of call nights, including calls to deliver babies.  This wasn't an imminent delivery, but somebody reporting with abdominal pains.  Jane cleared up the dinner dishes, and settled into the big armchair by the fireplace in the living room, with paper and pen to start writing out the tasks needed to be done now to prepare for a second baby - and to note a few more ideas for names, after all they might get two of the same sex.

She woke to the phone ringing, and stretched a bit before heading into the kitchen to answer.  As she crossed the hall, she glanced at her wristwatch, realizing that it was really quite late, and wondering what had delayed Jock, he should have been home hours ago.  But then, the life of a doctor, he probably had more patients for his group arrive while he was at the hospital.

'Hello?'  Jane spoke into the receiver.

'Mrs. MacDougall?' the voice on the other end didn't sound familiar.


'Mrs. MacDougall, my name is Lieutenant Peterson, from the RCMP.  I'm sorry to have to tell you...'

Jane went numb, and just barely understood the words spoken.  Eventually she hung up the phone, but just stood at the counter, not completely understanding what she'd been told.  The doorbell rang then, and Jock's partner and his wife came in.  Not just partners in their medical practice, the two men had been best friends since their elementary school days, and the two women had developed a bond as well.  Jim had been called with the news by the staff at Emergency - Jock had been on his way home, when he was hit by a drunk driver, and delivered back to Emergency by the ambulance service where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Moira quickly got tea going, and the two of them just sat holding Jane's hands.  They didn't know about the twins, nobody did, and Jane also forgot.  The next days were a blur of funeral arrangements and notifying families and other friends.  Then there was all the legal issues around the practice.  And Jane still had to get ready for the birth of the babies.

Mick and Mhairi arrived about two weeks before schedule, and somehow Jane was ready.  Her mother came for a few weeks, then Jock's mother took over for the next few until Jane felt like she had a kind of rhythm with the two babies.  The little carved elephant had been tucked away by some kind soul during those first days after Jock's death, and mysteriously had not been unearthed until today, as she was sorting through old boxes in preparation for moving into her new home.  When she came across the little carving in the box in the back of the closet, she'd felt as though the wind had been knocked out of her, and she dropped into the rocker, where she sat unmoving, unseeing - just remembering.