Short Story

Here is my second story from the Protection Island Short Story Book. It is fiction and was inspired from a Times Colonist competition many years ago. The Colonist had put up a challenge to write a two hundred and fifty word short story that had to include the five words: newspaper, cosmos, whale, spiderweb and impress. I didn’t win, but got good feedback. Since then I expanded the story and changed Cosmos (which in my original story I appointed as the cosmos flower) to Forget-me-nots to better suit the ending.

               Seafarer

They met in Ucluelet at a B-B-Q get together of a mutual friend, on a sunny Saturday in early July after a month of rain. He stood across from her at the patio table loaded with assorted salads and condiments. He paused over the potato salad when he noticed her putting her burger together.

She looked up when she felt his eyes watching and caught his stare, stopping her action in mid motion. 

“Sorry,” he said, and smiled down at his still naked burger laying on the half bun, “most people put potato chips on the side.” 

 She continued to add chips on top of her open burger and then squeezed mayonnaise over the chips. She reached towards him to pick up a long slice of pickle and placed it gingerly on the chips, glanced at him as she placed the top bun on, and pressed lightly with a crackling sound then picked up her burger and took a bite. He hadn’t taken his eyes off of her. 

 “I dip french fries in my milkshake too,” she said and walked away to sit with her girlfriend. 

She owned a small sailboat, built by a local shipwright. A 28 foot wooden sloop named Island Girl and moored in Campbell River where she lived. She had sailed her first big voyage last summer, circumnavigating Vancouver Island, with two friends as crew.

In September he accepted her invitation for a weekend sail to Cortez Island. Out in the choppy waters of the Straits he hid his seasickness, and then fought to hide his terror when a short, intense squall hit them before they reached Mansons Landing. After reaching their destination he watched impressed as she set the anchor. He tried to pay attention as she explained to him what it meant to fall off when sailing upwind. He tried to pay attention when she described to him how to plot a course as they sat in the cockpit with red wine and chips. But his attention was caught up in her brown hair that had curled in the moist salt air, and then his thoughts pulled him ahead to how the evening would be, curled in the bunk, he inside her, floating embraced in this wooden half-shell on the still dark water. 

They found a place together that winter on Protection, a tiny island near the city of Nanaimo. Island Girl was tucked safely on her mooring in the waters between Protection and Newcastle Island. 

During their first winter together he was coerced out of their warm house for short day sails with her in the cold rain and wind, stuffed into thick cruiser suits, toques and gloves. He never let on his discomfort, his tensing, queasing stomach whenever a gust pushed Island Girl’s shoulder deep down into a tossing beam reached sea. It’s ok, she’d yell to him over the wind, she’s a good boat, she’s loving this.

They would come home chilled through and climb into the hot tub, each with a tumbler of whiskey, and he would listen in amused admiration while she talked of new expeditions, her desire for further shores, bigger oceans, maybe a bigger boat. In the evenings he would practice his guitar while she studied for her captains license. 

The summer that followed she took him sailing in the Straits of Georgia at any opportunity, exploring the gulf islands north and south, threading through the long inlets along the Sunshine coast. She noted on those trips, and then said that he isa fair weather sailor. When he said he supposed that’s true and how could she tell,she said because his arm isn’t locked around the winch, and he smiles more.

He sees now he missed taking her seriously when she would talk to him about crossing oceans. Sail here, what’s wrong with the waters around here, he said to her.

 It was all leading to this day, at the marina, with both of them facing each other on the ramp that led down to the 58 foot sailboat that waited to take her away. The opportunity to crew across the Pacific to New Zealand meant the time had come. 

She stood before him holding out a clutch of small purple flowers cinched up in newspaper. She waited while he turned away and distractingly looked back up the ramp at nothing in particular. Waited as he took a breath; watching his chest fill then collapse. 

He turned back to her and took the flowers, then dropped his arm to let them hang from his side. He couldn’t look into her face, his eyes searched for somewhere to anchor, where he could hold for a moment; rally a semblance of composure. He found it in a graffiti of three words in blue felt pen on the aluminum rail near her left elbow, Impress with kindness. His lips pursed at this whisper from the ether that told him to open his heart, just for this moment. Enough, he thought, to let her feel that it’s not lost on him; that he is capable of understanding she had anticipated this, wanted this long before they became involved, since before Ucluelet, since before him.

She was asking him to wait for her. She searched in his eyes for a blessing, or a release. She had said to him earlier; to not jump at this chance was like trying to hold a whale in a spider’s web.

 He was thinking of that image now, and it pulled his lips into a nearly imperceptible smile. He didn’t want a smile to come, he pushed it down, he wanted her to know his heart was breaking.

But she caught it and her face brightened. She knew he’d be fine, knew it then. They would hold fast. Anything more will just have to wait. There will be enough time for that.

A crew mate called to her from the sailboat, she turned and waved back to signal that she was coming, then turned back to him, opened her arms and shrugged a smile. 

He took her in and pressed her tight for a long moment before he pulled back and kissed her mouth. Then defying everything in him let her go and said, “Sail back home, sail back to me.” 

He watched her walk down the dock, and then was seized with a sudden need, before she stepped into the cockpit, before the ocean separated them, to call out to her, anything to make her turn and look at him one more time.

“Hey, what kind of flowers are these anyway?” He held them up tight in his hand. 

She smiled and shook her head, and shouted, “I don’t know,” then she laughed and said, “forget-me-nots,” and brought her hand to her lips and released a kiss to him as the dock lines slipped to free her.  

Our Auklet’s mainsail, taken one summer while out for a day sail in the Georgia Strait.

     

Mother/Daughter

My girls, Beacon Hill Park, Victoria B.C.

I call Victoria B.C my soul city even though I had only lived there a mere five years, during my mid twenties; a struggling single parent with a four year old daughter. Even though it was during the more difficult time in my life, young, directionless, and floundering in a relationship with a rock guitarist.

Yet still. I think it is where I grew. And though the growth had its hardships, and in truth don’t the two go hand in hand, these times and places where growth happens always leave an indelible mark. For better or worse.

I was in fact quite happy in those five Victoria years despite the obvious chaos and confusion I had going on then. Ok – my entire 20’s decade was chaos and confusion- but, I grew up. A bit.

Within that five year period while there I worked at a five star Bed and Breakfast as the breakfast chef, which I absolutely loved, then later left the B&B to train and work as a Care Aid. The money was union money and benefits, so it was a strategic employment choice.

Even so, it was when my daughter and I were evicted from our James Bay apartment that eventually determined our move back up island to affordable Nanaimo.

Reason for eviction being the building we were living in was unfortunately slated for demolition. Being built in its place a luxury adult oriented condo high rise. Thus all of us were given notice. And leaving Victoria, reason being that I couldn’t afford to rent a house, and to find an apartment that allowed children was nearly impossible to come by at the time. I looked hard, searching through the listings in the Times-Colonist in every effort to remain in Victoria. The thought of leaving was, I didn’t want to think about leaving. But, time was running out and nothing was coming up.

Except for a two bedroom house my sister-in-law’s parents had coming available in Nanaimo just as my daughter and I would be exiting the Victoria apartment.

But that last Victoria residence, our apartment, was where our fondest memories are kept. It was full of single parents and low income families. We were happy there, neighbours helping each other with child care, and bonding together as a tight community. It was across the street from Beacon Hill Park. My daughter and I could walk out our door, cross the street, and have all of Beacon Hill Park and that great stretch of waterfront at our fingertips. Or we could take a walk down streets lined with great old trees and character homes and be downtown in the heart of the harbour in ten minutes. My daughter’s school was a three minute walk away.

And although I have lived in Nanaimo for most of my adult life, from the age of eighteen, whenever I go to Victoria  – it’s only a one and half hour drive away- I feel as if I’m being embraced by the dearest of an old favourite aunt. It feels like I’m coming home.

This feeling is the same for my daughter.

Recently she visited from her home in Kimberley, located in the Rockies of B.C., with her one and half year old daughter, my first grand baby. A visit to Victoria is on the list of things she wants to do.

Spending the day walking through the park, my baby with her baby, seeing these two together, I could see my daughter once again as the little girl she was with me, remembering our life here, my own youth, my young daughter at my side where together we once had spent so much time, climbing the rocky shoreline over looking the ocean and out towards Port Angeles in the United States.

A little melancholic, our past Victoria life flickered briefly before me as I watched my daughter with her daughter, for those few years when it was just she and I.

 

Summer Time and the Living is Busy- and Fun

The crashing aftermath of an empty, quiet house since our July company departed resonates with a small shush. Bob and I reclaim our space like water spreading back into cracks and crevices. A tiny empty nest sensation pervades, but more the satisfaction of time well spent with these family members from Ontario over the last twenty days. Ten days with my brother-in-law Dan, then a three day turn around before my step daughter Crystal and her cousin Melanie arrived for ten days. We packed on the kilometres showing all of them our beautiful west coast island home.

We covered as much as we could cram in to make their trip memorable, driving out to Long Beach on the Pacific Rim, walking across the Kinsol Trestle,in Shawnigan, Sail boating on our little Auklet, backyard BBQ’s. We did Alpine walks in Paradise Meadows at Mount Washington along with a ride up that mountain on the ski lift. We swam in the Nanaimo river, took in the Sand Sculptures in Parksville, and the weekend blast of our cities Bathtub Race. We took them on the tiny Mill Bay ferry over to Buchart’s Garden in Brentwood Bay on the Saanich Peninsula and a tour through the capital city Victoria.

Ah, Victoria yes, walking the historic downtown with Bob and his brother Dan, pointing out the architecture, when what I thought was a gush of water from an overhead flower box -Victoria is known for its flowers-was in fact the faecal bombing of a passing seagull. Oh yes, the splat landing square on top of my head. Feel the seeping into the hair if you will. In all my years living along the ocean with  seagulls wheeling overhead have I ever had such a magnificent soaking. This prompted an immediate return to our motel, driving with all windows down because the high piercing reek of rotten fish permeating the car, and a jump into the shower.

I handled it well. Laughed, didn’t lose my cool. I took it as an omen of good fortune. Ya. (wait it has to be a bald eagle I think…)

Then there was the exhilarating drive following the dictates of our Google Maps when searching for the quickest route back from the Saanich Peninsula to Mill Bay, rather than taking the tiny ferry back across  the inlet or driving back through Victoria and over the Malahat. Google guided us around Mount Finlayson on its thin roads with hairpin turns until at last depositing us down into Goldstream Provincial Park . Close enough.

We were good hosts and ambassadors to our guests and had a ton of fun being tourists ourselves in our own backyard.  Bob and I promising ourselves  we need to continue exploring this big island for ourselves instead of waiting for company to come.

Signage at the top of Mt. Washington, a Whiskey Jack on top of top of the world. These birds are ridiculously, fearlessly social. Put a hand out and they will land on it. Have food in your hand and they are your new best friend.

 

The view dropping over the edge of the top of Mt Washington riding the ski lift.

 

The reaction of a flat lander when the earth drops from under you on the way down from the top of Mt. Washington. It’s OK she was fine the rest of the way.

 

Day at the Kinsol Trestle in Shawnigan.

 

Choosing a route at Paradise Meadows in the Sub-Alpine.

 

Open Meadows of the sub- alpine.

 

The Buchart’s Gardens, well a small section of it. It’s huge, took 31/2 hours to walk its entirety.

 

Swimming in our local river, a first ever river swim for our guests. It was splendid.

 

A must-stop at Ellis River en route to Tofino and Long Beach.

 

Long Beach at sunset. A young woman heading for the surf. One day by gum I’m gonna do that.

 

Dan at Long Beach, contemplating leaving Ontario winters and moving West perhaps.

 

One of several Sand Sculptures at Parksville.

 

Our famous, and this year most treacherous in sixty years due to extreme conditions, Nanaimo Bathtub Race!

 

Warrants two photo spots in my blog. Bone crushing for both tubber and their escort boat. 33 tubs entered and only 4 finished. Last one taking 5 hours to come in. Thanks to a local -unknown to me- photographer for these shots I pulled from our little island community fb page.

 

Another day closed, but we head into town for some music from my sons new band playing at a local pocket cocktail bar called The Nanaimo Bar with Crystal and Melanie ~