Dating, by the Book

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“If you did that during a zombie apocalypse, we’d all die!  Dammit, Misty, get down!” I hissed, trying to tug the girl I’d been crushing on since third grade back into the trench.

“Ugh, calm down, Jesse!”  Misty took a step out of my reach and continued brushing futilely at the green paint spattered across her cleavage and the low collar of her tight cropped tee shirt.  She continued standing out in the open, unprotected and indifferent to her surroundings like the ultimate noob.  She’d ripped off her goggles and the top of her coveralls the instant one of the snipers had taken her out.  Of course, if she hadn’t insisted on leaving her coveralls unbuttoned to the waist… not that I’d really pressed the issue with her looking like G.I. Barbie.

“It’s a stupid game anyways,” her sharp voice brought me back to the moment.  “Is this paint washable?  Why the hell did one of your lame friends shoot me?  Why the hell did we have to come here?  Next time you take me out, make it something fun.

It occurred to me that the girl standing before me and still looking like my wildest fantasy, only greener, was proof that you couldn’t judge a book by its cover.  I should have known better.

“The Op is still live, Misty, get down before you get – ” well… we’ll call that a real… concrete learning experience… I winced in sympathy as pink paint bloomed on the side of her pigtailed head.  Head-shots hurt.  “You should put your goggles back on.”

Misty’s eyes went very wide, and her lips pressed tightly together.  She crouched down beside me, and slipped the goggles back on, smearing pink down her cheek in the process.

“Show me how to use the gun again,” she said, her voice strained.

“What?  Look, how about we just… go?”  I’d tried to give her a lesson about aiming the gun before we’d started the Op, and she’d shown no interest.  I really had thought she’d have fun.  That it’d be a good chance for me to impress her with my skills.  Instead, she’d grumbled and complained through the first half-hour, decided we should leave and gotten shot right in the boob while trying to drag me toward the exit.

Misty finished tying the top of her coveralls tightly around her waist, grabbed my collar and dragged me close.  “SHOW ME” she hissed, eyes full of rage.

I hastily demonstrated the basics and gave her a hushed explanation of aim.  She stared intently at me throughout, nodded, and rose into a crouch.  “Your stupid friends’ rule is 3 shots?”

“Um… yeah?”

I watched in astonishment as she performed a precision tumble across an open area, came up and shot twice.  Kyle yelped from a tree, and Jim cursed from behind a brick panel.  She shot him twice more and stole his cover.  While Jim stalked toward the exit, she sprang up the nearest wall, surprising Amber in her hidey-hole and nailing her with three shots, ran along the top of the wall and jumped down out of sight.

It was chaos.  I could only track her based on my friends’ curses and yelps.  She was ruthless and, based on the people stalking towards the dead-zone, not averse to shooting people in the face.  Not that I could blame her.

I shot Jim when I found him sneaking up behind her, and she shot him again when she turned around.  We exchanged a grin and finished the rest of the crew off as a team.

When I was sure we’d cleared the field, I cleared my throat.  “Misty, I was wrong.  You would totally save everyone if there was a zombie apocalypse.  That was amazing!”

I had plumbed Misty’s unplumbed depths, and they were Aweome.  The guys were going to be so jealous.

Misty grinned at me and replied, “You’re not too bad yourself,” and shot me three times at close range.  She smirked.  “You said last-man-standing, too, right?  Can we eat now?  Winner gets to choose, and I say Thai.”

As she walked off the field, gun raised in triumph, I knew I was in love.  You really can’t judge a book by its cover.

***

In case you didn’t guess… no, I have never paint-balled before.  Click the photo above to read more prompt submissions, or submit your own!

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The Other Side of the Glass

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Wesley stared intently down at the checker board, lips pursed in deep thought.  With great deliberation he moved a piece.  He pressed his heavy digit into the worn wood for a long moment, pondering his choice a moment longer before releasing it.  He sat back with a satisfied grunt and steepled his fingers.  Sunlight glinted off the rim of his spectacles, lighting up the dust motes hanging in the air.

The old clapboard farmhouse sat well back from the road, surrounded by fields now tended by their children.  The dry red dirt of their livelihood sifted through the cracks and coated everything, no matter how often they dusted.  With four kids grown and out of the house, the empty rooms were heavy with the silence and the red dust.

A draft stirred the thick dust on the windowsill, lighting sparks into a beam of light.

Wesley frowned across the board.  “What’ye laughin’ at, woman?” he growled.  “Caint fool me with your psychological games, and you ain’t won this one yet.”

The morning sunlight beat through the window, dusty light flashing across the board. Maggie moved the pieces like she had all the time in the world, light and quick and without any uncertainty.  Wesley snorted, but stared for a long moment, trying to see what her end game was.

“Y’don’t need to give me that look, I know when  you’re laughing at me, with or without sayin’ a thing, sugar.”

He took his turn decisively, regretting his move almost immediately.  Maggie looked far too smug.  Wesley flexed his gnarled hands, rough fingertips scraping the stained wood of the kitchen table in a nervous drumbeat.  The sunlight was kind on his arthritic knuckles, soothing deep aches.

An engine rumbled in the distance.  Wesley peered through the dusty kitchen window, even though it faced out back toward the barn and fields.

“Must be Jerry with a couple a dinners for us.”  Hands gripped tightly on to the arms of his chair, Wesley hoisted himself upright with a low groan.  “Gettin’ old, Mags.  Cain’t let Jerry hear me talking like that, though,” he added with a chuckle.  “He’s already gettin’ ideas.”

Wesley pulled his walker closer and switched his grip to its arms.  His slow shuffle had him wheezing heavily at the front door just before the old Chevy made it to the end of the long rutted driveway.

Maggie twitched aside the living room curtains to watch her eldest son step down out of his truck, tipping a cowboy hat onto his head and walking around the back to pull a cooler out.  She smiled warmly at the man he had become, long and lean and weathered from the sun, just like his father.  The sunlight caught in the stained glass decorations in the window, casting beams of blue and green and red across the faded carpeting.

“He grew up good,” Wesley said with a smile.  “He’s a good boy.”

Their son had put the cooler down by his truck and was testing the hinges on the old gate.  it had come loose from the top hinge a while back, and Wesley felt ashamed he hadn’t gotten around to fixing it just yet.  With a glance up at the house, Jerry retrieved a can of WD40, a hammer and a few nails from his toolkit.  In short order the gate was swinging freely.

“He’s a real good boy,” Wesley repeated, voice sad.  He felt every one of his years like a weight around his neck.

He unlocked the door and shuffled slowly to his easy-chair, settling in with a sigh.

Jerry came in, cooler in his arms, and hip-checked the door closed.  “Pops?  It’s me, Jerry,” he called down the dim hallway.  “POPS?”

“I ain’t deaf, boy,” Wesley grumbled.  His son startled at finding him so close, and Wesley exchanged an amused glance with Maggie.

Jerry glanced uncertainly past his father into the living room.  “Don’t normally find you in here lately, Pops.  Amanda made up some extra chili and meatloaf and stuff for you – I’ll go put it in the fridge, eh?”

He disappeared down the hall and Wesley listened as he puttered in the kitchen. “Bin workin’ on your checkers skills, Pop?” Jerry called out.

“Your mother ain’t gonna beat me this time,” Wesley replied, glaring fiercely at his smiling wife.

The fridge door opened and there was some muffled movement and muttering in the kitchen.

Jerry returned to the living room and passed Wesley one of the beers he’d brought out.  He set his hat on the coffee table and sat down, expression serious.

“Pops, you ain’t et…” He paused and cleared his throat.  “You haven’t eaten hardly any of the meals we left you last week.”

Maggie leaned against the back of the recliner, pressing her hands into Wesley’s shoulders.  Wesley smiled gratefully up at her and patted her hand reassuringly.  “Ain’t been much hungry, son.”

“Amanda and I think it’s time, Pops.”  Jerry leaned forward on his elbows, face lined with concern.  “Time for you to come live with us.  Or at least let me hire a home help nurse.”

Wesley’s shoulders sagged briefly.  “Yeah, I recon you’re right.  It’s about time.  That’s why my suitcase is packed.  It’s in the main floor bedroom, mind helpin’ an old man out and takin’ it to the truck?”

Jerry, at a loss for words at his father’s sudden agreeableness, nodded and strode from the room.  He rushed out, suitcase banging down the porch stairs, as though sure his father would change his mind if he didn’t move fast enough.

“He’s a good boy,” Wesley said softly.  “They all are.  I hope one of them moves in here.  It’ll be nice to have some younguns runnin’ around the place again.  I know how much you’ve missed that.”  He patted his wife’s hand again and let out a deep sigh.

Long shadows stretched across the empty yard by the time Jerry left.  Wesley stood and offered his wife his arm, feeling a real bounce in his step for the first time in he didn’t know how long.  “How’s about we go finish that game, sugar?  And after that, maybe I’ll take you dancin’.”

***

Visit Our Write Side to read more prompt responses by clicking on the photo above!

 

Doing Business

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The photo is from “The Darkroom” writing prompt… click it to check out other responses!

***

When the aliens first arrived on Earth, there were… misunderstandings.  Highly intelligent though they were, the beings were extraordinarily literal.

Martha did her best to accommodate them for her tours – she really did.  She arranged things to start an additional half-hour early so that they would have time to read – in excruciating detail – the entire waiver and ask questions.  So. Many. Questions.  She’d reviewed her spiel and removed euphemisms, word-play and jokes from the notes, because, frankly, a day-trip to Algonquin Park didn’t have time for a two hour debate on whether a bear did indeed do business in the woods, and what that business might be, and what customs might be involved.  She’d learned to switch between parent of impressionable child and tour-guide for Travellers speak, because they were slightly more likely to understand the expression “Does a bear do business in the woods?” if she used more adult language.  Slightly.

So her business of an ex informing her that actually he wouldn’t be taking their son fishing like he’d scheduled months ago was just SUPER.  She loved her son dearly, but he had the verbal filter of an 8 year old boy and the subtlety of a battering ram.  And she didn’t have time to find someone to look after him for the next two days of Traveller tours.

***

“As you can see, the Park is heavily forested with a wide variety of tree species, including Jack Pine, birch and Sugar Maple.  The booklet goes into further detail of all tree species found in the park, and methods of identifying them.”  Martha drove down the highway, chatting her way through her on-the-road information, knowing from past experience that the eight Travellers in her tour van were alternating between staring intently out the window, staring intently at their informational booklets and staring intently at the various parts of the interior of the van, all with equal intensity and interest.  Feedback on her tours didn’t give her a hint about what she could say that they would be more interested in, and she suspected that if she rattled off stats about the 1982 Superbowl or about the tour bus’s maintenance history they would be equally interested.  Since starting Traveller tours, she’d had to do research on the tour bus, in fact, to accommodate those who wanted to know about plastic used in the old bus instead of about birds that migrated through the park.  They were just plain interested.

Ben draped himself over the back of the passenger seat, grinning a gap-toothed grin, and crowed, “You don’t know JACK!”

OH business, Martha thought.

There was a discordant buzzing in the back, as the Travellers carefully dissected this statement.

One reedy voice after another arose, each politely waiting until the previous one had finished their sentence before adding their own rebuttal.

“I have met a Jack, but am understanding that this was not the only Jack, and am unsure if meeting is adequate to equate to knowing.”

“I have indeed, never met a Jack.  Is this a matter of concern?”

“I have met more than one Jack, and feel confident in the 81st percentile of knowing one of them, though his full name is Jack Perkins and lives at 43 Seventh Street in the town of Toronto.  Having worked closely with him for 257 working days between March 23, 2016 and today, I believe I know him well enough for that descriptor to apply.  If this is the Jack of which you speak, I feel confident in refuting your statement.”

And on, and on.  Most of them had, at some point, met a Jack.  Only two thought they could probably consider their relationship with the Jack in question as knowing.  

Martha then listened in astonishment to her son’s reply.  “The Jack I’m talking about is a Jack Pine tree, and the phrase, you don’t know Jack, is one way of recognizing them, because the phrase is usually paired with this gesture,” he paused for demonstration, and Martha winced and made a note to have another conversation with her son while the Travellers hummed.  “And if you look at a Jack Pine, that’s kind of what it looks like they’re doing.”

The buzzing hum rose again, and again, they spoke.

“It is an offensive expression meant to show disrespect towards another’s knowledge base.”

“But trees on this planet cannot be disrespectful due to their intelligence level, so they are not, in fact, being disrespectful.”

Another buzzing conference.

“It is funny because no disrespect is actually being shown.”

“It is funny and informative”

The vehicle filled with the sound of crickets chirping, the Traveller equivalent of applause.

Martha wished Travellers were more appreciative of 21st Century Earth humour, as she’d love to hear them at a comedy show.

***

Travellers noticed everything.  So, as happened at least once on every tour, they wanted to stop and see an animal crossing sign.  As Martha was about to go into her prepared explanation of the fact that the signs were representations, her son laughed.

“You’re funny – that’s just a picture of a moose.  It’s just to let you know that moose like to use this part of the road to cross.”

The normally highly sensitive Travellers took this in stride, apparently not concerned that a small human had come very close to calling them unintelligent (or an equivalent word, all of which were highly offensive in Traveller culture, a trait shared by most human cultures).

The rest of the day was peppered with her son’s saucy explanations of things, given in such a direct and simple manner that they cut through what could well have been hour-long debates about the various meanings of ‘bark’, or a seriously concerned Traveller anxiously explaining that it was not calling Fairy Lake a derogatory term for homosexuals, but that someone else may have intended that in naming the lake, or may not have.  Martha had never had such a smoothly run day with Travellers in the year she’d been touring them.

As they cruised out of the park and back to the Traveller’s hotel (Deerhurst, whose deer had not yet been noted, near the possibly-derogatory Fairy Lake) for the weekend in the waning light, one of them spoke up.  “Ben, son of Martha.  For one so young in years, you are rich in knowledge pertinent to the Algonquin Park, and accurate in your speech.  Do you spend a very large percentage of your time there?”

Ben grinned and glanced at his mother.  She saw the look and knew he was about to push his luck.

“Does a bear shit in the woods?”

Riches is Riches

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The pirates spread through the lush undergrowth, sweating and swatting at flies, casting suspicious looks at their brothers in brigandry.  The map had led them here.  To this place.  X marks the spot, and no map was so convoluted, nor led through such terrors as they’d faced, without leading to the kind of treasure a man could retire on.

Maybe even the kind of treasure a ship full of men could retire on.  Though just in case, each was determined to get there first, and shove a semi-retired-and-owning-a-pub sized piece down his trousers before the others caught up.

A man could make good money with a pub, as long as only a few strangers a year disappeared in the night, leaving their horse and bags and that fine cloak they were wearing behind (how odd! but fair’s fair and he didn’t pay his fare).

And so they slogged, swatting and sweating and keeping their fellows in sight in case they tried anything funny.

Dim Jimmy found it, blast him.  Too daft to sweep up at the bar, let alone roll a toff out back of one.  Certainly too loud for any one man to silence him before the rest heard.  If anyone else aboard-ship had looked so damned pleased to find a secret cave entrance, it’d be sure and certain rubies’d shake loose when he got shaken down.  Nothing did though, so the pirates dropped him and waited for the Captain.

The whole crew was cutthroat, but the captain was the most cutthroat of them all.  The wicked grin sliced into his neck by a would-be usurper had scared off most other usurpers.  His use of the other man’s skull as a soup-bowl scared off the rest, so far.  The heavy man’s rolls had rolls, but he moved like a cat, appearing in the midst of the anxiously waiting crew members without even a rustling of tropical leaves.

He stepped over a dazed Jimmy and through into the dank corridor leading down into the cave without a word, not slightly worried at having a horde of backstabbing murderers at his back.

Down the dank tunnel, stumbling and sliding on the uneven steps, they lit their torches and added black smoke to the dank smells emanating from the cave below.

The dim and flickering light of their torches gleamed on the kind of treasure a whole crew of men could retire on.  With or without the bar.  Mounds of gems, piles of gold bullion, gem encrusted armor, jewelery, antique vases, priceless statues… the cave was so vast that the far corners couldn’t be seen.  It was as though the entire island had been

The entire crew – cutthroat, vicious murderers all – whooped and ran out into the field of treasure.  When Jimmy caught up – having slipped down the last several steps and hit his head again – he found the Captain staring thoughtfully at a small brass plaque, and his crewmates giggling and frolicking in the treasure like school children.

“Do you read, Jimmy?” the Captain asked.

“No sir.  Can spell m’name, though… fishhook… twig-wi’-floaty… bubbies…bubbies… twig-wi’-two-arms.”

“Hmm.  Well, what this plaque says is this:

The twisted trophy is yours for the taking,

if the jinxed treasure is worth your changing.

Take a man’s share and leave a man’s life behind.”

Jimmy stared at the plaque for a long moment.  “It says to take the treasure,” he offered.

The Captain sighed.  “Jimmy, what would you do with a sackfull of this treasure?”

“I would buy a Captain hat and as much beef stew as I could eat.”

“And if you were a woman?”

Jimmy hesitated.  “I… would… buy a Captain hat and as much beef stew as I could eat… and I would have bubbies.”  His thought process appeared almost painful.  “I like bubbies.”

The Captain nodded pensively.  “I suppose rich is rich, ain’t it?  Off with ye, grab yerself enough swag to buy a lifetime’s worth of beef stew.  I’ve my own to collect.”

***

Several months later…

Two gentlemen recently arrived from England stood at the punch-bowl eyeing the crowd.  A rather boisterous crowd of ladies stood around a small table  A rather rotund woman with a scar across her throat and a rather spectacularly feathered tricorn hat was leading them in a rousting and highly inappropriate song about barmaids.  The combined glitter of jewelery from the ladies was enough to make one squint, and one of them appeared to have a golden, jewel-encrusted hook in place of a hand.  Empty punch cups littered the ground around them, and two were arm-wrestling.

“These wealthy caribbean ladies are… terrifying,” one said, taking a swig of punch and choking.  “And this punch is… well, I think it’s actually just rum with some bits of fruit in it.”

“Extraordinarily rich, though…” the other replied, eyeing the ladies in question with caution and surreptitiously draining his punch into a potted plant.  “The upper-crust here is… well it’s certainly not like in England, is it?”

“Beef stew for everyone!” a rather impressively endowed lass bellowed out in glee.  She, too, wore a tricorn, though this one was covered in fake fruit and birds, as though she’d attempted to turn it into a lady’s hat.  The others raised their glasses and joined in bellowing for beef stew.

“No, it is very different.  They seem rather uninterested in match-making, at least,” the first gentleman replied, sounding relieved.  He then jerked up with a yelp and grasped his bottom in a most un-gentlemanly manner.

“Wouldn’ be too sure of that, luv,” a lady with a gold front tooth grinned up at the surprised gentleman whose bottom she had just pinched.  “At least a few of us are enjoying the full extent of our changed fortunes.”  She waggled her eyebrows.  “Care for a dance?”

***

For more stories in response to this prompt, click the image at the top of the page!

Le Picbois

In an unexpected turn of events, a lack of internet has brought me back to blogging (written in Word and hoping the internet returns soon).  That and someone starting to follow me in an impressive display of hope.  Some big changes have happened since last I attempted to bring my blog back from the dead.

I think you could probably trace my overall happiness with where I was in my life by how regularly I posted blogs – my level of enjoyment in writing, my ability to think creatively and write short stories.  Kind of sad when I realize how long it’s been since I last wrote consistently.  Or wrote fiction, even that not posted on this site.  Man.

That isn’t the important thing, though, so move out of the shade.  Listen to music, feel better.

 

The long and the short of it is that I realized that my obsession with finding/buying a house in Toronto was, to put it bluntly, an effort to distract myself from the actual issue. My strong dislike of where I was in my career and life in general.  Some things popping up at work, combined with the dog’s injury (full recovery, fyi), and my friend (and also coworker) leaving work to go on maternity leave brought things into focus.  So what if I bought a house in the city?  It wouldn’t change anything else, other than adding pressure to stay where I had an income. Not exactly a real solution to my ennui.  Enter thoughts of job hunting for the first time since I was in university.

In a twist of fate I promptly got called by not one, not two, but three separate headhunters over the course of about a week.  And unlike previous calls, I said “yes” to all of them.  Salmon Arm, BC?  Love the name, gosh that’s far, let’s give it a go.  Mississauga?  Why, it’s just down the road!  Collingwood?  I was there… once…maybe… as a child… it’s… northish.

Well, it turns out that the location in BC is one of the hottest dryest parts of Canada, and nearly impossible to even find a rental.  I was feeling my yes-man attitude, but I really like having a roof over my head… and the Ontario bears are more interested in sewage than hunting people.

Mississauga turned out to be a job in which my entire job would be construction site administration.  RESPECT the people working on construction, people.  LONG days, rarely any shade, and even as basically a photographer/construction journalist, just doing it for a month at a time leaves me completely drained.  Necessary work, but not for me.

Collingwood, though.  Collingwood hit ALL the marks.  Interesting job, interesting company, interesting place.

I quit my job.  I tidied up 7 years worth of deck clutter and paperwork, said seven years’ worth of keep-in-touches, and headed north.  To a town less than half the size of the smallest place I’ve lived for any length of time.  I QUIT my job!

And promptly realized that, while most places that aren’t Toronto and are much smaller than it would have much cheaper rent… places that cater to cottagers, boaters and skiers… do not.  Especially when you add in a dog.

It takes about 15 minutes to get anywhere in Collingwood.  It’s got a village-ey rural vibe with a great downtown strip, multiple grocery stores, multiple independent coffee shops and easy access to basically EVERYTHING outdoorsy, and an assortment of great local things.  For example, while at the local farmers’ market a few weeks ago… sampling some delightful Georgian Hills Wine and Cider… I met a couple who’d moved to this area for the rock-climbing.  After that, I checked out the local alpaca farm’s wares (and the two alpaca they brought with them!), and bought locally made pierogies.  Had this town ever been on my radar before now, I might have realized that I’m not the only one who thinks this is pretty cool.

I found a place and moved in the day before I started work at my new job.  And boy did I ever find a place!  My little cottage has cows down the trail in one direction, horses in the other.  Still within a 10 minute drive to downtown Collingwood, but unexpectedly rural.  I could go on and on, but sufficed to say: gas fireplace.

I’m a month into living here, and my only complaint is that my friends from Toronto aren’t quite as close as I’d like them to be.  Luckily, there’s a lot to be said for visiting me.

Work-wise, I hope I’m not jinxing it by saying I think I’m doing well.  A bit of a learning curve for sure, but my new boss is excellent, and I think that on the whole I’m taking on enough of the work-load.  My new coworkers are friendly, my new work really seems to care about its employees, and the cafeteria is full of fruit in a much appreciated display of that care.

Living-wise, Gwynn is adjusting to the new strange noises, my rental is charming, and I have mostly successfully adapted to living on my own for the first time since university.  Minor incidents of cheese-and-crackers for dinner aside.

I’ve still got things to do… but overall…

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Happy.

100 Word Challenge – Room

In an attempt to get back back into writing (and fully distract myself from other things in my life), I figured I’d start with 100 words… no more… no less… with Thin Spiral Notebook’s 100 Word Challenge.  This week’s challenge was :

Room

Click the word to go read some other submissions or submit your own!

Didn’t have any time to try to find a neat picture to go with it, so here’s Gwynn.

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***

“Junk it.”

“All of it?”

“Yeah.”

“Family don’t want nothing?”

“You deaf?  Why I gotta repeat myself?”

“Nah, I got it.  Just sad is all.  I mean, this lady filled them frames with pictures of the people she loved, and they ain’t got time for her stuff?”

“Take a closer look before you get all poetic and crap.”

Grubby sleeve to dusty glass smeared the grime away enough to see images.  He repeated the process on a few more frames before saying, “Oh.”

“The new owner, Mr. Fluffles, wants this room for empty boxes and catnip.”

“Cats, man.  No nostalgia.”

Dog Days

Why?  Because we need more dogs on the internet.

Gwynn is doing immensely better, but it’s the level of difference between someone recovering from a near-fatal chainsaw accident and someone recovering from a possibly career ending sports injury.  The house no longer smells like dying, but it is also still not full of the peppy steps and play-bows of a pretty high energy pooch.

He’s back going upstairs, though, which makes an immense difference to him…

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(he thinks he’s people, now, and now I have a pillow mentally labeled as “not mine”)

And enjoying the comforts of sleeping in many places much more comfortably than he did while his stitches were still… oozing…

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(behind the barbecue, in an attempt to look pathetic enough to get some more barbecue)

And has even started getting back into fitness…

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(He likes to sit on things)

Not Quite the Worst Case Scenario

I was leaving for Nashville in less than 12 hours, so it was unsurprising that we found ourselves at the vet – Gwynn had gone from limping on Monday to having trouble getting to his feet on Thursday.  A thorough exam later and we were sent home with the diagnosis of ‘strained muscle in back’, some muscle relaxants and instructions to come back next week.

I headed out to Nashville (awesome place!) safe in the knowledge that my family had it covered in the Dog department.  Frequent check-ins reveal they’re still only taking him on short walks, but the meds are doing their trick.

Almost exactly a week later, I’m on a bus somewhere in the US and getting a frantic series of texts.  With pictures (that I’m not going to share with you because you’re welcome).  In the winning submission for most traumatic belly-rub ever, Doodle discovered that Gwynn’s “back issues” were actually from an oozing, swollen and painful wound fully hidden in the thick fluff of Gwynn’s armpit.  From what we can tell, he must have hit a tree branch at speed when we were last out in the woods.

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This was his ‘stoned Cindy Lauper Lamp’ phase.  

Painting by numbers:

10 days the dog was in pain before we properly identified the issue

6 hours and a border crossing away from him when he’s checked in to the vet.

4 days at home during which time I could have identified the issue before it became so terribly infected

2 days at the vet with the worst blunt-force injury my vet had EVER seen, requiring a great deal of surgery to remove infection.

4″ of stitches along his arm-pit, that, because it had been sitting for so long, still had a huge amount of infection.

6 pills spread out throughout the day to combat pain, swelling and infection

7 days before he could semi-comfortably make it around the l

10 days during which the wound oozed nearly constantly, requiring the living room to be coated in a constantly refreshed layer of towels.

To add insult to injury we got the stitches removed yesterday at the same time as he was diagnosed with a skin infection on his nose.

It’s not the worst case possible, I keep telling myself, but it came far too close for comfort.

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On a more positive note, Gwynn has been thoroughly enjoying the freedom I’ve given him from leash during his lamp-phase.  That and the food – I don’t think the dog will willingly go back to kibble.  He’s eating better than a university student home for the holidays.

A World Apart

Yesterday, I found out that the Chapters nearest me is closing.  EVERYTHING MUST GO, 50% off, SALE SALE SALE!  The remaining books huddle together in a disorganized jumble, leaving the outer edges of the building like a ghost town of empty shelves and dust.  On an unrelated note, this morning I (and most of you) lost an hour, but not in the way that indicates that you’re deep into a really great read.  For Master Class this week, I used the prompt Piquant Libraries, partly out of nostalgia, but mostly because the first definition of piquant I think of is flavorful.  And whether I’m reading a hard-cover book, an e-book checked out from the Public Library’s free online database, or an online story, good books, like good food, are filling in more ways than one.

Click the image below to read the rest of the responses or to submit your own!

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Growing up in a small town, Bailey never understood her mother’s love of libraries.  The single small room allocated for books in the town hall was musty and uninspiring.  It had three dog-eared copies of Where the Red Fern Grows, a complete set of Louis L’Amour’s novels, all but the first of the Narnia TV serial on VHS and an assortment of Christian children’s stories.  Not inherently bad, but certainly not the most piquant of libraries.

Her mother had offered up a selection of her own books, Asimov, Heinlein and McCaffrey, the Bronte sisters and Shelley to round it out a bit.  The town council declined, saying there wasn’t much point in overloading the shelves of a government offered service that got such little use.

So Bailey and her mother kept their own library, milk cartons and 2×8’s to support their hodge-podge collection of books.  Angela’s Airplane and Stone Soup from her earliest memories, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys when she first started reading on her own.  A complete set of the Narnia books.  Sci-fi and Fantasy in the kitchen, Romance in the hall, biographies by the TV.  Geography, History and Art by the desk.  Mystery scattered throughout, because a good mystery surprises you.

None of the other kids in her school read much, perhaps unsurprisingly, but when they were required to choose a book to write a report on, they knew who to go to.  Bailey would ask them questions – action? Drama? Love? Space? Cowboys? Knights? Spies? – and provide her friends with a selection to choose from.  Her mother helped her in creating the check-out slips, even going so far as to buy a date stamp.

When the worst came to pass, Bailey and her library moved to the city where her mother had grown up.  Her Aunt Mary helped her set up the shelves and smiled tearily as she recognized old friends from her own teen years.

Bailey buried herself in her books, overwhelmed by her grief and her new surroundings.  The city was too loud, too busy, too chaotic.  Mary suggested an after-school job, made a few calls and gave her an address.

The building smelled a bit musty, but from there it was a world away from that sad room from her childhood.  A winged lion and a gryphon guarded the heavy doors, and light danced through tall windows and down the enormous central atrium.  More than a single room – or even a single storey full of books – the library had storeys of stories, more books than Bailey had seen in her life.

And people – children running down the curved staircases clutching large picture books, people checking books out, dropping them off, standing in the aisles reading the back, and curled up in comfy chairs lost in a book.  The library was so much more than its books, and standing in the quiet vastness of it, Bailey fell in love.

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“The love for a good story, well told, lies deep in every human heart.” – Lillian H. Smith, Librarian.

Quilt of Fate

What? Participating.  I feel like I keep having to start-up again, but at least I’ve always got some great prompts to start the gears turning.  Check out the rest of the responses at the link below, and add your own:

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Also check out the artist AquaSixio, otherwise known as Cyril Rolando.  His work is below, one of many works of art painting a picture of a story I want to know more of.  What I love about this particular piece is the eerie colour of the scene, and the way it makes me wonder if this person is running away from something or towards something.  Either way, sometimes making a choice, right or wrong, can feel like leaping from a moving train.  The artist also includes a piece of writing that perfectly describes that stagnation of routine, the reward of jumping from the train.  Read it at Train Train Quoditien.

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My mother spent her life on scraps, collecting the discarded leftovers of other peoples’ lives and putting them together in new ways.  I spent my childhood desperate for the things that others took for granted.  Patches disguised the holes in my jeans from everyone but me, and the hand-made cardigan wasn’t at all like the GAP sweatshirts of my peers.

Just once, I begged, just once might I have a blanket all in one tone?  Monochrome, I pled, to the bafflement of my family.  New.

I rejected the colours, the patterns, recycling and making do.  I ran away to the real world,  and relished my drab wardrobe, cookie cutter condo and processed foods.  I became the happiest of cogs in the machine.

I met a perfectly ordinary girl and fell in love with her family’s staid ways, the generations of suburbanites and shiny new IKEA furniture.

My fiancée forced a strained smile and gave me a sidelong glance when I introduced my mother in her draped shawls and bangles, and I felt embarrassment.  My mother’s eyes sparkled with pride and love.

My bright-coloured family capered and laughed and drank, young and old dancing late into the night in celebration of my wedding to this woman they’d never met, in celebration of my future happiness.  A reminder of my fond memories of home on the open road, each wedding, funeral or crossing of paths a reason for joyous revelry.  My family brought us gifts handcrafted and brimming with love and pride.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when my new wife suggested that their gifts would fit best in our storage locker.  I was surprised I hadn’t suggested it myself.

But not the quilt, I said, stroking the colourful tree my mother had hand-sewn for us, a symbol of good fortune and happiness in marriage.  Every leaf stitched with a member of my family and hers, with room for new additions.  My wife gave me a strange look out of the corner of her eye and pressed her lips together.

Her mother had gotten the burnt umber bedspread on our registry.  Had no one in my family thought to look on the registry?  She clucked her displeasure at their selfishness in denying us a KitchenAid stand mixer in taupe, and I looked at this stranger and questioned myself.

I tucked it away in my closet and brooded.  I wondered if I’d actually intentionally bought 4 pairs of near-identical navy slacks.  Why I ate so many beige foods.  She, meanwhile, cut her eyes in disapproval of the introduction of brightly coloured dress-shirts into my wardrobe.

We scheduled date night in the same way as we scheduled dental work and with as much enthusiasm.  Every moment of my parents’ lives was a breathless run through the deluge of their affection for each other and for life.

When she left me, my first thought was for my mother’s quilt.  I took it down, spread it out and smiled.  My family spread out in beautiful chaos, with blank spaces for my future wife, her family and room to grow.  My mother spent her life taking up the discarded pieces and putting them together anew.

I left with only the necessities, including a vibrant purple shirt in need of mending.