Article Category Archives: Fiction

A Feast to Die For

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Today, Amarjit was making Hardev’s favorite dishes. She wanted to make them perfect. She would prepare his favorites, masalah chicken with red and green peppers, lamb kebabs with yoghurt and mint, moong dhal, Aloo Gobi, rotis, and for dessert, she would spoil him with gulab jamuns. Peace offering.

Amarjit sautéed the onions, garlic, and ginger in the hissing oil in the frying pan. She looked at the washed pieces of chicken in the sinkah, the henand recalled her reaction at the butcher shop when the young man said, “Very good choice. Fresh young hen!” Amarjit started at the description. That was what Amro, her mother-in-law, had said about her all those years ago: “Just like a fresh young hen,” and cackled, showing her betel-stained lips.

Amarjit vividly remembered that rainy December in her village in Punjab. Barely sixteen, she was making chai for her father when the lazy afternoon was disrupted by the arrival of the foreigners from Canada. She heard her name lovingly called out by her father. With her dupatta covering her head, she barely raised her eyes to catch a glimpse of the smiling face of Amro and the leering look of the man, ten years older than Amarjit, that she was destined to marry. Just like that, her voiceless fate was sealed in the arranged marriage proposal. Those were her last days in Punjab before she became the wife of the rich Canadian wallah, Hardev.

“Lucky,” everyone in the bleak village had whispered, their eyes flashing with envy. “Going to Canada!”

Now Amarjit brushed her tears, still bitter, with the back of her hand and turned her attention to tossing the perfect proportion of pungent spices into the masalah chicken.

Twelve noon. Hardev banged the door open and thundered in, sitting down at the dining table, looking older than his sixty years. She noticed his deep wrinkles and bushy brows. With bulging but approving eyes, he surveyed the food she had slaved over all morning. Hardev piled his plate and noisily began shoving his mouth with pieces of roti wrapped around chicken, pausing to bite into the lamb kebabs. He noisily slurped the dhal from the bowl, scooped the cauliflower and potatoes with his fingers. A beast.

 

Illustration of a woman holding a tray of food

Food Plate by Ildiko Nova

 

Amarjit never ate with him. He complained she was too noisy. He complained she was eating too much. He complained she was eating too little. She just sat across from him and watched like a sentinel, noting each approval and recoiling at any dissatisfaction. Sitting back, Hardev pushed his plate away and said, “I knew that when I saw you in your father’s kitchen all those years ago, it was a good omen. You must have learned to cook from the gods.”

Amarjit could hardly believe her ears. Praises. Hurriedly, she waddled into the kitchen and brought out a big bowl of warm, fragrant gulab jamuns. His eyes widened in appreciation. He knew that she had been too busy all morning to have gotten into any mischief. “Acha. Wonderful,” he spat out. She glowed. This one day of praise was akin to months of bliss. Hardev washed his hands and left. No goodbye. No word.

With a sigh of relief, Amarjit cleaned up the mess, humming a Hindi movie tune. She silently savored Hardev’s praises. Thankful that the thali did not fly at her in unprovoked anger. No bitter words slammed into her gullet. Now, she looked forward to solitary bliss. First, she relaxed in the prayer room and chanted the beautiful scriptures from the Adi Granth that transported her to her father’s house where she sat at his feet as they prayed together. Then, she sang a hymn on her waja, turning her head towards heaven, forgetting her worldly sorrows.

Suddenly, the peaceful afternoon was shattered by the angry shrill of the telephone. Amarjit grabbed the receiver. For a few brief moments, it appeared that Amarjit had frozen into time itself. Her face drew a blank look, and her mouth kept gaping. There was not a single sound from her. When she put the phone down, she hung her head for a brief moment. Then she ambled into the kitchen.

She went to the leftover ball of atta and turned on the flame to heat up the pan. She slapped the atta between two palms and doused it in flour. She put it on the counter and deftly rolled it out to the size of a dessert plate. Again, she gingerly lifted the flattened roti and tossed it from one palm to the other before placing it on the hot black pan.

Amarjit watched as the brown spots emerged on the outer side, and she flipped it over as it puffed. With a dishcloth, she pressed the outermost sides of the roti, making sure all parts were nicely browned. She tossed the perfectly speckled roti onto her thali. She reached out for her homemade jar of mango achar on the counter and heaped an overflowing tablespoon onto the compartment next to her roti. Then, she opened the fridge door and took out the leftover bowl of fragrant chole and homemade creamy dhai that she had made the day before. Hardev had refused to have any because she had not made chicken to go with it; he had stormed out, as usual.

She never cared for the fancy food that Hardev craved and insisted that she cookall that never-ending preparation. Amarjit loved the simplicity of her village food: roti, chole, dhai, and achar. Divine. For the first time since she had arrived in Canada, Amarjit ate with gusto in Hardev’s house, their house. She savored every bite as if it were her first. Only when she had satiated her hunger did she finally allow herself to think about the phone call from the emergency room of the hospital barely ten minutes away. The caller told her that Hardev had collapsed in the parking lot of the shopping center. The voice on the other side of the phone whispered, “I’m sorry. It was a heart attack. Just like that. He died immediately. He did not suffer.” Could she please come down to the hospital and make the necessary arrangements?

With a deeply drawn sigh, she put on her sandals and decided to take a slow and leisurely walk to the hospital. She wondered if she would miss cooking.

This Day

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We have a mouse in the house this morning. It found the bread I’d left out to thaw for the boys’ toast. Spring is a strange time of year to be invaded by mice. Maybe her food source ran out. Maybe she has a litter. Too bad. I take some butter and smear it on the trap. This is a day for killing. The mouse may as well go too.

I wonder how many laboratory mice are dying in the fight against COVID-19. Hundreds, if not millions, I guess. Not to mention the ferrets, and cats and chickens and maybe a dog or two. At least they are dying for a purpose.

Ian comes in for breakfast as I’m hiding the trap behind the stove. Levi is with him of course. He follows his father everywhere—to the barn to help with the pigs, to the shed, to the fields. I keep telling him he has do well in school if he wants to be a farmer some day. He tells me he just has to watch Dad.

I send Levi back to wash his hands again and I look at Ian. “Not today,” I tell my husband.

He doesn’t look at me, just sits down, reaches for the milk and pours it onto his oatmeal. “He has to learn some day. It’s not like he hasn’t seen it before.”

“Levi’s only nine. He’s staying in the house. It’ll be hard enough without having him watching.”

“It doesn’t matter who’s watching. Anyway, he can help.”

“Don’t be like this.”

No reply. Just the sound of the spoon scraping the empty bowl.

Of course, the fight doesn’t change anything. We raise pigs. Right now, there’s no place for them to go. There’s no place for them to stay even if we had the money to feed them. There’s no relief in sight. There’s only one humane answer.

My cousin’s son is a chemical researcher in the US. He had to scale back his mouse colony because his students are not allowed to come to the lab. Scale back. That’s a nice term. We’ve all had to scale back at one time or another, haven’t we? Nothing to get upset about. Maybe that’s what I’ll call it.

Breakfast is over. Ian tells Brian to put down his phone and get going. He tells Levi to stay in the house. I try to thank him with my eyes, but he’s not looking at me.

As the three of us walk to the barn, I wonder what my older son is thinking. I wonder what my husband is thinking. I wonder what I’m supposed to be thinking right now.

 

photograph showing a rustic, barn door looking out to a field

My View for the Afternoon by Anne Macleod Weeks

 

According to our On-Farm Written Euthanasia plan, veterinary approved and meeting all the requirements of our national standards of care, we humanely euthanize very young pigs using blunt trauma. In other words, we pick them up by their hind legs and crack their heads against the edge of the concrete pen. It takes force and determination to do it right, but it’s quick. When an animal is sick or suffering, it’s only right.

Today is not right. That’s what I’m thinking.

“How can you?” they ask. My non-farming friends, the students in my grade 11 class, the anonymous voices on Facebook and Instagram where I share information about our farm, trying to educate the consumer as we’ve been told to do by the experts. Sometimes the question comes from genuine curiosity. More often it’s from horror and disgust. “How can you kill those creatures you are charged with protecting?”

I used to try and explain that farmers accept death as a part of life. That we believe the animals have a purpose and are there to be used. That there’s tremendous satisfaction in knowing you’ve given your animals the best care possible and in knowing they are going to feed others. Now I just say lots of animals eat other animals and we take pride in making sure our pigs are well looked after. Neither answer seems to make much difference.

The warmth hits me as I walk into the barn. Quickly we change into our coveralls and boots and pull on our facemasks. Then we head down the hall to the nursery.

Brian is lagging behind a bit. He’s fourteen. So far, he’s been all bravado about this. I wonder if it’s starting to sink in. “You doing okay?” I call back.

“What? Yes.” He catches up. He’s grown again and his coveralls are short. I tell myself to pick him up some new ones the next time I’m in town.

Brian wants to take over the farm someday. He’ll need to learn many things. About animal care. About business. About running machinery and leading people and whether to plant today or hope the rain holds off so the field can dry just a little bit more.

And he’ll have to learn there are times when you are revolted or even terrified by what you will need to do. Times when, no matter how much you want to walk away, the voice in your head will remind you there’s no other choice and no one else is coming to help so you might as well get on with it. Times like now.

What will this day do to him, I wonder? To my husband? To husbands and children across the country, all who are in the very same situation? According to the rumours, tens of thousands of pigs will be destroyed. Pigs that were raised for a purpose, but in the end had none. We are at the door now. I look over my shoulder to see if Ian is ready. He nods. His face is hidden by the mask but I can see his eyes. He looks tired. No. For the first time, he looks old.

I reach for the door handle. From the other side, I can hear soft grunts and movement of the pigs. There’s a tiny squeal. My hand drops. I start to shake. I clench my hands and close my eyes. Through the roaring in my ears, I hear Ian. “Are you okay?”

“Give me a minute.” I reach for air.

“I’ll do it. You go back to the house.” His voice is brusque.

“Go ahead, Mom. Dad and I can handle it.”

My son sounds like his father. I look at him and see worry in his eyes. I will not. I will not make a day none of us will forget worse for my son or my husband. I will not make them doubt. We are looking after these animals in the best way we know how. We will not fail. I will not fail.

I make my eyes smile. “I’m fine.” I say. And I open the door.

Later, I head to the house while Ian and Brian finish cleaning up. I pull out the mousetrap and put it away. Just for her. Just for today.

Beverly

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Their footsteps had disturbed the morning dew and left a long trail of dark green in the grass. I breathed in, exhaled slowly, and trudged up the hill following one of the wet paths. My inner voice echoed with every step. It was the sound of my mother: keep your head up, your back straight, careful of your words.

Years ago, unsuitable soil was dumped here during road construction and pipe excavations. This rolling hill was left wedged at a fork in the road between two streets, both named Beverly. Later, a few random trees were added, an afterthought, no doubt.

It was an unused parcel of land but that day the project team had gathered to kick off the “first of its kind” green infrastructure facility in our city. The team stood in two separate groups at the top of the hill: the field workers and the office folk. The groups had not yet met face-to-face, though introductions had been arranged through emails and phone calls. I was the lone female engineering designer on the team. For this project, I was also stepping into the role of construction inspector.

Stopping halfway up the hill, I took another deep breath. One of the land surveyors had laid out the project on the ground with white spray paint. I hopped over a white line, then another, to the group of my familiars: the office folk. We were the project administrators, designers, planners, and engineers. I nodded, offering friendly hellos. We made small talk about the weather and family. We listened politely to each other’s news. I answered questions from the engineer about the facility and we discussed its construction.

In the other group were the field workers: the land surveyors, machine operators, inspectors, and labourers. They didn’t seem to use birth-given names to talk amongst each other. New monikers had been appointed over time, likely through a slapstick event, shortening of a last name, or as a token of their skill. Their plaid jackets hung loosely over worn-out, orange t-shirts branded with big reflective Xs. Overstretched jeans partly covered their moulded, unlaced boots that were caked with old mud and splatters of oil.

At some point, Keith, the machine operator, broke off from the circle of field workers. He walked over and tapped my shoulder with the back of his meaty hand. A few guys from the field glanced my way.

“We have a few questions, too.” Keith said and he walked up the hill. I quickly followed at a pace that was double time to his natural stride.

“Well, over there, runoff from the road will flow off the pavement through the grass,” I said, catching my breath. “Then it will flow through a strip of rocks over there. Water that flows through the rocks will filter down through the engineered soil, about here.” I waved my hand over the land, stopping at the areas of importance and making circles in the air. I looked up to his face for clues that he understood. A full set of rolled design plans were tucked neatly in the pit of my arm. I held the heavy tube of paper tightly against my coat. Its length balanced my small frame.

“I’m used to laying pipe” he said, “now, I’m buildin’ gardens?”

“No, it’s not a garden, really. It’s an engineered bioretention facility. There will be pipes underneath.” I squished the grass with my shoes as I began to unroll the plans, firmly planting my heels in the ground. “It’s designed to filter…”

Keith walked away as I was showing him the design and casually joined back into his circle. My eyes squinted after him as if there were a glare from the lights of an oncoming car. I waited, watching to see if he would return. I was left frozen in no man’s land for what felt like several minutes. Winding up the plans, tighter than before, I snapped the elastics forcefully at each end to secure the roll. I walked back to my group with my blood simmering, replaying the scene over again in my head.

photo of bioretention area showing rock, trees, plants

Beverly Street Low Impact Development Area photo by Gail Willis

Conversations began to fade and the two circles dispersed. The office folk walked away, one by one, to their cars and waved good-bye. The field workers continued to linger on the street. One guy talked to another in a truck. A few workers gathered outside the excavator, and one had his foot raised, resting on its tracks. Some were leaning on shovels, while others organized tools. I walked alone down the hill towards my car. When I stepped off the grass onto the pavement, I was signalled by a raised arm and a backwards wave.

“How are these garden pipes gonna connect to this catch basin, here?” Keith shouted. He was standing on the street beside the surveyor and pointing at the metal grate in the road. Beaming, I made short quick strides in their direction.

“Under the layer of engineered soil, there will be a series of subdrains. Each length will connect to a monitoring well,” I said, glancing toward the hill. “Any water in the subdrains will flow towards the outlet pipe.” I paused and tapped my toe a few times on the grate. “And the outlet pipe will connect to this catch basin with a sixteen-inch pipe.”

“We’re gonna be taking out a lot of dirt then, eh?” Keith said. “Any idea how much?” Without waiting for an answer, both men turned and walked up the hill. In the distance, I heard the surveyor answer: “I’m guessing several truck loads.”

The guys started to dig before dawn on a Monday morning. I drove by their dump truck, already full of dirt, on my way to the site. My mind raced. I kicked off my shoes and stomped into heavy boots. I shrugged on an oversized plastic safety vest and fastened the Velcro straps around my waist. My hard hat perched loosely, a bright orange dome tightened to the last notch. I stuffed my calculator into my back pocket. With my arms full of equipment, I leaned forward up the hill. I forced the legs of the tripod into position in the ground, bouncing heavily on each leg. I plunked the “one-man operated” automatic digital laser level on top of the tripod. Marking the measuring rod with penciled lines, I checked the level against the benchmark and headed to the work area. I stood on the edge of the excavation.

“You should’ve been set up before we arrived!” Keith yelled, stopping the excavator. “If I was a contractor, you would’ve lost your job already!” All eyes fixed in my direction. My stomach turned. I hopped down into the trench. In a hurry, I flattened a spot in the dirt with my foot. My lips pursed in a thin line and I felt my cheeks flare red hot. Placing the rod on its end, I raised the metal sections of the ruler until the automatic level beeped.

“Keep digging, Keith,” I announced. The bottom elevation of this trench had to be precise for the facility to work.

“I don’t think so,” he said, staring intensely.

“You need to dig more, about twelve inches or so.” I matched his stare.

“Nope. Check again, did you set up the laser level right?”

“Yeah.”

But I immediately began to second guess myself. I reexamined the pencil marks on the rod, then grabbed the calculator from my back pocket. I punched in the numbers again to double check.

“307 millimetres. That’s roughly twelve inches. You gotta dig another foot,” I said. The area between my eyebrows tightened.

“Check the plans!” he yelled. “You want one of the guys to do the measuring?”

“I designed the facility, Keith. I know what the plans say!”

Keith shook his head and shut the door of the excavator. The machine roared back to life. The teeth of the bucket combed the earth, quickly and methodically, making a small pile. The bucket scooped the pile, curling under, and swung the sandy clay loam into the back of the dump truck. The other guys grabbed shovels and rakes to level and smooth out the hole. I checked again and signalled with a horizontal wave then a thumbs-up when just the right level was reached.

The work stopped at midday for lunch. The sun glared against the back of my sunburned neck as I dismantled the laser level from the tripod. I placed it neatly in its plastic briefcase before gulping down some water. I descended from the hill and sat in the grass under a tree near my car. Keith’s truck rolled up and stopped before me at the edge of Beverly Street.

“We’re goin’ for lunch,” he said, nodding in the direction of the guys sitting in the back. His arm hugged the outside of the truck door. “Come on, let’s go!”

“Ok,” I said, rising up and letting the warm air fill my lungs.

“You need a nickname,” he said, grinning. “What should it be guys?”

I walked over and joined their group.

Ruby

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I need you to listen now, just listen. I’m going to tell you the story of how we survived the August blizzard. We both need to know this story so that we remember: you and I are survivors.

Before the storm, when you were still a brand-new person, in those weeks of late summer when the barometric pressure was high and the sky clear blue, we stayed mainly in the big park where there’s a real forest and a river. The afternoons were so warm, and the nights cool for sleeping. There was plenty to eat—wild carrots and cattails and so many blackberries. And the cook at the canteen always gave me the leftover soup. Your cheeks got chubby and rosy and every day you seemed to feel a little heavier in my arms.

When the snow started, falling straight down, I heard people saying how pretty it looked. Later, when the flowers were all broken and bent and covered over, the wind came. The snow on the ground was too heavy for the wind to pick up, but it drove the falling snow sideways, slamming it into faces and bodies and cars and buildings.

I didn’t plan for us to go to the mall. I was trying to get to the little adobe house at the community garden across the street from the mall. It’s squat and sturdy, close to the ground. Less likely to blow away or be bashed in by a falling tree. I thought if I could block the doors and windows with wood and snow we could get enough shelter from the wind.

It took us over an hour to walk there. We’d have been faster if we’d left my cart behind, but I couldn’t do that. A few times, I had to hold on to the cart with both hands to keep myself from being blown away. You were safely tucked into my big coat. By the time we finally made it to the garden, I knew we needed to be inside a real building.

I don’t like the mall. I’ve never felt safe there. But I knew there would be water, and food, and maybe heat. At least for awhile. We hid the cart in the underground parking garage, way over in one corner, behind the garbage bins under a ramp. I took out what I thought we might need, threw the tarp over the rest, and said a prayer. Then we climbed the smelly concrete stairs into the mall.

Outside it was all roaring wind and snow. Inside there was a totally different kind of roaring and I think it scared me more. So many flashing lights and sounds and overwhelming smells. In the food court people were stuffing their faces with ketchup-y fries and messy burgers, fried chicken, horrible orange sweet and sour sauce, tubs of bubble tea. Maybe they were trying to forget about the mess outside or pass the time while they waited for it to stop, or just filling their bellies while they had the chance. Above the food court, the huge tv screen was showing ads for holiday cruises and anti-aging cream and the latest kind of phones.

I’d wanted to be a tv weather girl when I grew up. Grandmother used to let me practice whenever I stayed over at her house. I would stand in front of the big map on the wall in her library and use the yardstick to point to places where I said there were “weather events.” Watch for trends, Grandmother advised. Notice how things are changing.

Grandmother always refused to go to the mall. She said it made her feel dirty. The only time she took me I was seven years old and I begged her to let me see Santa Claus. We waited in line for twenty minutes before she hauled me out by my coat collar and never went back.

By the time the power went off, you and I had found a good hiding place in the family bathroom, near The Gap. Each time we went out there were fewer people. I don’t know where they all went. Maybe they were in the parking garage. I wondered if I should check on my cart, but it felt too risky to leave our hiding place for that long. The emergency generator lasted only a few more hours.

We were still in the bathroom when the skylight collapsed into the food court. The sound woke me from a light sleep. A deep groaning then sharp cracks, like the sound when the thunderstorm is right over your house. A terrible clap. I heard a voice yelling, the roof, the roof! Then a screechy grinding. I pictured the metal frame of the skylight twisting and breaking. Then horrible crashing and thumping as if a dump truck had unloaded tons of boulders onto a glass table top. I held my breath, and maybe you held yours too, like we were deep-diving together. I didn’t breathe again until there was silence.

When I thought things had settled down enough to be safe, we went to have a look. All the tables and chairs were buried. I noticed a corner of the giant TV screen sticking up out of the snow mountain. But I didn’t see any body parts. I stood for awhile, just staring up at the open roof, shocked by how wonderful the fresh air felt, and how strange the wind sounded, whistling in circles above us. The sky was the colour of rotten potato.

That’s when Spider and Mavis came out of the WalMart and found me. I didn’t know they were in the mall too. I used to see them at the shelter sometimes. I knew they were good people. They offered me some of the juice they had, and some butterscotch candies. Spider jumped a little from foot to foot. He said he was just looking for some pain killers. I think Mavis could tell I was hiding you in my coat, I saw her looking down at my body with a sad smile, and then back at my face.

After that, we started spending more time out of our hiding place. Even though the snow and wind kept coming in through the hole in the roof, it was a comforting reminder that the sky was still out there. Someone started a fire in a garbage receptacle and people brought scraps of anything burnable to keep it going. The smoke floated up and out through the broken roof.

I heard a woman say that the snow is a plague sent by God to punish us. Spider said it’s the government’s fault. Mavis said her brother used to work for a company that flies those weather bombers—cloud seeders they call them. She said that her brother has made lots of weather, but never a storm like this. Spider said they were trying to make it rain because of the wildfires, and the drought, but they screwed up and made it snow instead. It’s too full of water, he said, it’s not frozen enough. That’s why it’s so heavy. Why the buildings are collapsing. Plague woman says only a God who loves us would send such a terrible destruction. God wants to purify us, she says.

But snow is just snow. I knew it would melt the way snow always does. And then we could start again.

I didn’t know how much longer I could keep us warm enough, though. I lined our little den with the shiny emergency blankets that I found in the camping store; I burned one of our candles for two inches before we went to sleep, then another two inches when we woke up again. The blankets reflected back the candlelight and you gazed up at it without blinking. But yesterday morning you had frost on your eyelids. I had to breathe on them before you could open your eyes.

Last night I dreamed about Grandmother’s mink coat. I was small again, in the dream, not tall enough to open the closet door. She was there, and she lifted me up so I could reach the knob. Inside, the coat floated in the centre of the empty space, not on a rack or a hanger, just suspended in the air, hovering above me. I reached up to touch it and when my fingers felt the hem, heat flowed down my arm into my shoulder and filled my whole body. I felt my muscles relaxing, my blood vessels and lungs expanding and oxygen flooding my brain. I felt as though I were filled with sunlight—not just shining on me, but actually inside me, radiating out. I could have heated a whole continent. As soon as I let go, the feeling ended and the cold returned.

I woke up with a plan. If Grandmother’s house was still standing, I could get the coat and we might have a chance. I knew that when the snow melted we could dig up the potatoes and carrots left in her garden. We could be warm and fed.

We had to get out of the mall. We had to believe we’re survivors.

Painting by Flavia Testa showing a house with lighted windows in an abstract forest.

Mi Casa es Su Casa by Flavia Testa

Love Handles

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It wasn’t until the pistol end of the revolver was about to enter my vagina that I finally took pause for thought. It wasn’t until the scene was set for them to make intimate acquaintance that I found cause to reflect. I’d have gone ahead and done the scene, were it not for the assistant director on the set who, just before the cameras were about to roll, leaned in and said, “Would you like a condom with that?”

Don’t get me wrong. There was no facetiousness intended. They were a genuinely kind and concerned crew, right down to the coffee girl. It was the context that gave me pause. Because it occurred to me: if a condom is in order, then have others, possibly in this position, with this very revolver, gone this road before me? What road do I travel, surely not the less travelled?

A friend of mine once said, “Grace, I have hit my nadir.” And I she thought she’d had a fight and smacked her Arab boyfriend. It was that kind of pause. Very long, resulting in the discomfort of cameramen and crew who, hitherto for, had been the very model of patience.

I removed the lusty revolver from between my legs and sent it on its way to props. Closing my legs I said, “Thank you, but I will not be needing a condom.” A cameraman was at hand to help me to my feet in my stilettos, avec dignity, sans pants. And I headed to the dressing room to get them.

But when I got there, I removed my false eyelashes and the gold spangled pasties and I sat. I sat and looked in the mirror at who I was without them.

You see, I was the girl who had it all, the pink bedroom, the parties, the pony rides. Even a year in Lucerne at a Swiss private school that mother said was the absolute end in finishing. This was before daddy left, and mother spent her winters in a spa in Biarritz. Anyway, there I was, all alone in my pigtails and my slippers, standing at the pay phone in the hall dorm, wailing, “I want to come home!”

“Is that what you really want?” Mother asked. “To come home in ignominy?”

“No,” I said. “But there is a flight on Lufthansa.”

Oh I know, I don’t look like much under the lights nowadays, sitting out here in my rocker on the porch all day. Wouldn’t mother have something to say about letting myself go. But I had my heyday, back when theatre school was just a log cabin in the woods. Kidding.

I started out as part of a travelling troop, school tours, the classics. Then I joined a raging lesbian collective called “Broadaxe.” It cut a swath so deep it left my career in tatters. From there I went on to have multiple affairs with my directors. Including two twins who were in the closet, followed by several years in a relationship with an abusive actor. He was meant to be my comrade in arms, he wasn’t meant to be an alcoholic. But he was. I’d like to say it was him who drove me to drink, but I’d be lying. He didn’t even own a car.

After that, I headed out west. By the time I reached the coast, I was at low tide, and washed up, too. And that was when I got this part in a play in North Vancouver about an exceptionally dysfunctional family. Nobody was getting laid, nobody was getting paid, but … I had this scene, only the one scene. I was a woman who comes out of nowhere and vanishes again without a trace and … she seemed to speak to me somehow.

I didn’t pay much attention to anyone throughout rehearsal, kept to myself more than usual. I think I was cautiously circling my “nadir,” wondering if it was going to hit me back. And then it was tech night. And there was this man, this slow, deliberate, very considered man, moving about in the shadows of that tiny theatre. It was Lloyd. He both designed the lighting and hung the lights. Slow as a possum, I think he even played dead every once in a while and just hung there, suspended in that darkened room.

And when it came to my scene, I could feel him standing there in the dark, looking at me. He didn’t move, and then, it hit me. The light. It was my light, it was perfect, no tinkering, dead on. Illuminating who I was.

I did my scene in my light as I looked for him in the darkness. He came down to the edge of the stage wearing this little, sly smileit comes out of the corner of his mouth when he’s about to feed you your laugh line.

“You found your light alright?” Lloyd asks.

“Yes,” I say. “It was easy. Your lights are very well hung.”

It was later, not very much later I’m afraid, when Lloyd and I were in bed together, that I asked him about this little silver pendant he wore around his neck.

“It’s a scarab beetle. From Egypt,” he says. “I always wear it when I’m in the theatre.”

“What is it?” I ask. “A kind of talisman?”

“No,” he says. “The scarab is also called the dung beetle because what she does her entire life is roll a ball of shit uphill. And as the ball rolls back down on her, she rolls it back up, again and again. It’s a metaphor for a life in the theatre.”

Well I laughed at that but Lloyd, he was dead serious.

“She does it because what’s inside that ball are her eggs,” he said. “She’s incubating the future, the next generation, the minds and hearts that will be played out on the stage of life. To the untrained mind, it’s just shit, but to us, it’s theatre.”

When we got married, Lloyd put this little beetle round my neck on a silver chain instead of a ring. It’s the only piece of jewelry I ever let him give me.

When he got sick, he got so thin, he hardly made a ripple in the sheets, just lying there, still as a lake with a loon. That last day, I changed the sheets and made the bed up fresh. I lifted him out of the chair, and he was light as a feather. It seemed to me that if I’d tossed him in the air he’d fly, he was that light. Fly away and disappear, right before my eyes.

“I’m losing my love handles,” he says to me. “And if I lose my love handles, you won’t be able to hold onto me. And I’ll die.”

Lloyd was the one who let go. I told him about the revolver and he laughed, and he was gone.

I went out on the porch and I sat in this rocker and I sat here quite some time. Lloyd shone a light on me, on all the layers of my life. And it became mine. So when he died, I didn’t disappear into the dark. Because I know he loved me.