Wild Writers and Other Women

I am at a conference and I’ve come alone.

There is a brunch. Meet the authors, the write up says. An intimate gathering.

We do not share the same understanding of the word intimate.

I am sitting at a table for four except there’s only one of me. It’s a room of about one hundred people.

These other people sit in groups of four or six or a dozen. Conversations and card exchanges abound.

I attempt an expression of engagement. This goes on for some time while the wait staff gathers the chits for our meal choices. I sip sparingly out of my styrofoam coffee cup.

The waitress comes to take my ticket and places a glass of water in front of me. She places a second glass of water in front of the empty chair beside me.

“Just in case someone decides to sit next to you,” she says and I feel worse than before the glass was placed there.

There is a woman across the aisle, sitting at a table for two. She is glancing around the room through lowered eyes. I feel a pang of empathy or, perhaps, hope. I go up to her and say:

“Are you awkward and alone? Would you like to be awkward and alone with me?”

She blushes. She is grateful. We sit together at our table for two. It’s a real table for two now because there are two of us. We are together.

We start with our names, first and last.

We shake hands the way women do, offering up paws, tugging lightly on each other’s fingertips.

“Is this your first conference?” She asks.

“Yes,” I say. “It’s my first time.”

“Me too,” she says and we lean into one another and smile.

She says that it is such a relief to meet someone here, to not be alone.

I agree. It is a relief.

We share our stories and, soon, we are like old friends.

All of this is happening in my head.

In reality, another woman enters the room. She catches the eye of my lady and there is a look of recognition between them. My lady smiles. She has a broad smile, the kind they say can light up a room. And it must be true because I’m dazzled. All I can see is them.

They move toward each other. My hands sweat.

“Did you order the French Toast?” My lady asks the new one.

“Yes,” the new one responds. “You?”

“Yes,” my lady says, “me too!” And the new lady laughs like music and sits down at the table for two which is now a real table for two because there are two of them. I am still sitting at the table for four which is really a table for one (and a half, if you count the second glass of water).

I take a sip of my coffee. It is lukewarm.

Going Back

I’ve been using my shirt as a rag, wiping barbecue sauce off of my fingers. I’m too hot and too tired to be embarrassed. Besides, it’s Ribfest and I’m not the only one.

I head down Dundas toward Wellington, passing storefronts that haven’t changed in fifteen years. The Scottish pub flicks it’s carriage lights on as I pass. The little parlour on the corner pumps out mediocre pizza smells. The used bookstore opens it’s door and Ace Is Base sings memories down the street. I sing along until I’m out of range. If you wanna leave, I won’t beg you to stay…

I make my way to the bus stop on the corner and dig into my pockets for change.

A man in a torn tee, baggy jeans and a cloak of body odour smiles at me, a rib bone sucked clean and hanging from his greasy lips.

“Saw you at the Ribfest,” he says with a nod to my shirt. I fold my arms over my chest even though it’s too late. I don’t want to engage him but I can’t help it. I nod back, eyes fixed on the bone and the orange drips forming on his chin. He contorts his lips and adjusts the bone from one side to the other, sauce leaking.

He stares at me, chewing, until the bus squawks up to the curb and then he smiles and hops on. It’s the one I’ve been waiting for too but I step back and wave the driver on.

The bus lurches forward pulling away from the curb and I sit on the stoop of the nearest building, wiping my sticky bangs off of my forehead with the back of my hand. I pull my purse unto my lap, waiting in the afternoon heat, forgetting that buses don’t come as often here. I peer down the street in vain.

My knuckles feel the first drops just as the thunder cracks making everyone startle and look up. They dip into their bags, pull out their umbrellas and begin unfurling.

I haven’t got an umbrella. I’d forgotten about these summer storms. I press myself against the building but the rain comes at me sideways, soaking me through and, by the time the next bus arrives, I remember everything.

Dear Diary

I kept a diary when I was thirteen filled with unreturned crushes and one-liner pain.

I kept a diary when I was thirteen filled with unreturned crushes and one-liner pain.

Now, I turn the pages, running my fingers along the words as I read them. It’s a old habit – keeping track in the dark. I can feel the parts that have been etched into the paper by a pen pressing a little too hard. What were the words that you really wanted to write, I ask myself. Who did you think you were writing for?

Reel to Reel

Grandpa would sit me next to him in the parlour and play songs on an upright piano, singing into a microphone he’d hooked up to an old reel-to-reel recorder. He’d learned to play songs by ear; Honky Tonk and The Blues, Country and Western. Sometimes, he’d take requests and I’d always choose “Frankie and Johnnie” because it had a dramatic story to it. His voice was hollow like a big empty room and I’d watch his Adam’s apple travel up and down his long throat while he stretched himself skyward, his eyes closed, his hands spread over the keyboard, his fingers fanned out, wavering on the worn ivories.

After Grandpa died, his piano, his recorder, his tapes all vanished in the cleanup, gone to Goodwill by someone who had never sat on the bench or been the audience to his private concerts. But I know those sounds and I am the recording. I have a room inside me for an old upright, and a reel to reel.

I tap my foot on my hardwood floor, head back, eyes closed. I hear his foot on the pedals, the pop of the microphone. The hum that is me.

Oh, Lordy, how they did love.

Smile Scar

I don’t remember how I got the scar on my right thigh. It’s shaped like a smile but not a happy one. More of a forced smile – the kind you give a distant relative who’s come to visit and is motioning you to come in for a hug.

I had relatives like that, all the way from Hungary. They couldn’t speak a word of English and they smelled like basements. Would I smell like that too, one day?

My Grandmother did although my Grandfather didn’t. But they both smelled the same at the end – like honey and sweat and wilted flowers, sympathy cards and nightgowns.