Thursday, April 22, 2010

Old Bones

This postcard story written in Welsh Cakes: Book of Short Stories, was originally written for Halloween. It has memories of student nursing days from 50 years ago. The story is so short, it is given in its entirety.

What Old Bones had been called when he was clothed in the flesh and walked the earth he couldn’t remember. His brain was pickled in formaldehyde and sat in a jar on a laboratory shelf, and his memories came to him now through his bones. He was left alone in his closet for days and months on end—the instructor brought him out in front of the class only when he wanted to give particular emphasis to a certain bone. Little else happened that would jog his memory these days.
Old Bones did remember, however, that tonight was All Hallows’ Eve; and it gave him a thrill knowing that he might be hi-jacked from his hook. Tonight, a medical student might carry him to the nurses’ residence, enter a room, and place the skeleton’s trembling bones between cool cotton sheets. He wouldn’t be able to smell the perfume, his olfactory sense lay with his brain in the jar of formaldehyde, but the feel of the sheets as they caressed his frame would be enough to stimulate his scent memory.
Old Bones felt himself become young in spirit in anticipation of the evening ahead; his jaw chattered and his bones rattled with excitement at tonight’s possibilities. Perhaps the nurse would take him in her arms and dance with him down the corridor of the nurses’ residence. If not, Old Bones would do a tap dance of his own in honor of this night.
Halloween was Old Bones’ very own celebration, his patronal festival, so to speak. He would make the most of it before the moon was set this night and the sun rose to shine its rays on empty eye sockets. Old Bones gave himself a shake. This was no time to think thoughts of melancholy; he had 364 other days for that.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Never Too Soon

I saw her on a hot summer day, one of those sidewalk-shimmering July days, more typical of Toronto than Muskoka. Her grey hair was pulled into a bun, and her blue silk dress told of a more gracious time. She stood on the curb watching the traffic, hesitant, unsure of herself.
I finished my errands and had almost forgotten her. But there she was, still standing on the sidewalk, as if the cement had set around her feet and held her to the ground.
I put aside my ‘mustn’t get involved’ thoughts.
“Do you need help?” I said.
“I’m waiting for a ride. Jean said she would pick me up and take me across to the other mall. It’s too far to walk.”
“I could take you, if you like,” I said, “I’m going there, anyway.”
I thought she might be too afraid to accept a ride from a stranger, you hear so many bad things on the news these days, but it made me feel better that I’d offered.
“Thank you, it’s very hot standing here.”
I helped her into the car and buckled her into the seat belt. The whole exercise took no more than a couple of minutes of my time. I gave her my name and address before we parted.
“Thank you,” she said. Her voice crackled like radio static and a smile crinkled her face.
A few days later I got a note in the mail.
“Dear Grace, At eighty years of age you don’t expect to make new friends, but I made a new friend today. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.’ Thanks for not being too late, Iris.”

This story is based on an actual event. This lady was a writer and I visited her in her apartment and helped her with some writing about her life that she wanted to record for her family. A couple of years after we met, she passed away. I was glad I had got to know her.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Music of the Night

This is another short-short story from Welsh Cakes: Book of Short Stories with a widow living alone and lonely, missing her husband's presence.
The venue of this story is a house in Toronto, where I lived for many years, and the situation is summed up in the following words from the story:
"She listened to the sounds of the night. The reggae music poured into the darkness and mixed with the sounds of laughter and bottle clinking. Smells of late night cooking rose from hibachis and seeped through her screened protection.
The Saturday summer gatherings were regular rituals in the back lane and Dorothy hated them. She knew that the morning would reveal unpleasant sights of litter, broken beer bottles and the mark of men on the garage doors; the smell would be rife in the hot humidity.
Even though she dreaded these nights, she felt sorry for these immigrants who were taken advantage of by landlords getting rich off their desperation. Dorothy understood their need to escape from the dark and airless rooms in which their poverty forced them to live; their need to go into the night air, to sit on fire escapes and in concrete yards without walls.
They were full of hope when they came to Canada, and an infusion of the music of their homeland was a renewal of optimism to them like an infusion of blood would replenish the white blood cells of a leukemia victim."
The story ends with a decision to make a new beginning:
"Dorothy rose from her bed and began another day of putting her life in order. She turned the radio up in an attempt to let its music and talk drown out her thoughts and heart beat. She had to stop grieving soon and listen for a new beat, a new song, a new voice. Perhaps today she would take her daughter’s advice and look for an apartment and open her heart to a fresh start. The music of the night had forced her into an awareness of a life grown stale. She made up her mind. She must begin again and this time she would, as the old song said, begin the beguine."