Never The Twain

 

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Never The Twain

“And never the twain shall meet.”

This was the chorus that my grandparents often chanted at me when family members started rowing with each other over one trivial incident or another.
“But what happens when the twain do meet,” I used to ask.
“Don’t be silly,” they said. “The twain never meet. Ever.”
But I know very well that they do.
I know.
I’ve seen them together.

Funny things, they are, the twain, and opposites in so many ways. But so nice, in spite of what some people, especially my grandparents, used to say about them.

Not only do they meet, but they can be happy together and very, very friendly.
“Long time, no see,” the twain say, and they often embrace quite warmly with a bunch of flowers held between them.

Mind you, the twain can also be quite awkward and occasionally very abusive towards each other. I remember my mother and father fighting “like cats and dogs” as my grandparents used to say.

Now, my grandparents had a cat. It was black and white and striped like a zebra. They called it Spot. My parents had a dog. It was an English Cocker Spaniel, gold in color, and off-spring to a famous sire, the Six-Shot Woody Woodpecker. They called the dog  Wimpy but it was by no means a wimp and fought with everything in sight, especially the cat.

So when my father and mother fought and the family cat and dog fought, I thought, quite reasonably in my opinion, that the dog (with his short hair) was male and the cat (with her long hair) was female, and that was the reason why they fought like cats and dogs. And “never the twain shall meet” as my grandparents used to say about my mother and father and the cat and the dog.

I guess it was too early to learn about the birds and the bees when, young and all too innocent, I was learning about the cats and the dogs.

And of course it’s only natural that the twain should meet. My mother and my father, like the cat and the dog, had to meet somewhere, didn’t they? How else would I be here? Now, we weren’t the sort of family that practiced contraception by throwing stones at the storks to keep the babies away.

But I could never work out why the cat always had female kittens while the dog had all-male off-spring. That was a bit too much for me, and nobody ever really explained anything I those days.

 

Raccoon

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Raccoon

Two footprints on the dew damp chair
show that he has been here.

We know he visits at night.
The cat wakes up, jumps off the bed,
leaps to the window, and hisses.
Then she falls silent.

The raccoon steals food from the feeder
and shuffles the pottery shards
we leave out to gather water for the birds.

We never see him.
Sometimes we hear him grunt;
occasionally the wind chimes rattle furiously
as if caught by a giant gust..

We peer into the dark,
turn on the outside lights,
but his absence greets us
like a long lost friend.

Last night, nothing:
this morning, an empty feeder,
those footmark in the dew on the chair:
we know he was there.

Snowy Day

 

Bleak Mid-winter
from
All About Angels

The reverse side of a tapestry this fly-netting,
snow plugging its tiny squares,
clotting with whiteness the loopholes
where snippets of light sneak through.

Black and white this landscape,
its colorless contours a throwback
to earlier days when dark and light
and black and white held sway.

Snow piled on snow.
The bird-feeder buried and buried too
the lamps that can no longer shine
beneath their cloak of snow.

The front porch contemplates a sea of white,
wave after wave cresting whitecaps,
casting a snow coat over trees
with snow-filled nests standing
shoulder-deep in the drifts

while a slow wind whistles
and high and dry in the sky above
the sun is a pale, thin penny
drifting through ragged clouds
that threaten to bring more snow.

Snowy Day
for
Meg Sorick

who misses the snow
and offered to come and dig us out.

1. View from office window with IMac and pencils.

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2. Bird feeders and the mountain ash from kitchen window.

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2a Same scene, two hours later

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2b Same scene, another hour later

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3. Back porch, bird table, and picnic table from living room.

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3b Same scene, two hours later

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4. Cat’s eye view of snow from Princess Squiffy’s vantage point.

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4a Same scene, two hours later

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5. Princess Squiffy turns her back on the snow and seeks an alternate reality

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6. We finished with 63 cms of snow (25 inches), plus drifting of course. Almost shoulder high in places. Other snowfalls in the province ranged from 70-80-90-100 cms. All in all, we were lucky. A wonderful neighbor came and helped us dig / plow ourselves out earlier this evening, and now we can get to the road and our driveway is snow free. Paul: thank you  so very much.

Tomorrow

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Tomorrow

Tomorrow, early, my love, you’ll fly away. Today, all tense and stressed, your foot in the stirrup, as Cervantes would say, the anxiety of the journey on your back, you walk around the Beaver Pond where red and yellow leaves abound. I know you are hoping to see, once more before you leave, the Great Blue Heron that was here last week. Some ducks remain. I can see them standing on the water, flapping their wings, inflaming the wind, keeping themselves warm, not looking as if they really want to fly.

Alas, there are no beavers now. An abandoned lodge, the grass on its roof turning brown and dry,  lofts white sticks into the sky, but the waterways are clogging and the beaver have gone. Drowned tree trunks, beaver-gnawed and languishing, grow tiny clumps of grass and weed. Sometimes, they join together and form a miniature island that will grow at last into a grassland. The deserted lodge reminds me of our home, soon to be abandoned by the life and soul that animates it and keeps it alive. It will be sad and lonely living there without you. I know I will have the cat for company, but that’s not the same. I think I’m in charge of her, but I wonder sometimes if you’re leaving her in charge of me.

A thin grey woven webbing garlands one moribund tree. I don’t like tent worms or their equivalents. Every year we face a different invasion of this worm or that and the trees stand shocked by crawling creatures that infest their branches and build their silk cities up into the sky. I hate it when those dangling inhabitants, escaping from their cocoons, swing from low branches and twine silk threads around my face. Give me any day a fresh green frond caught by the morning sun in early spring, or else bright autumn leaves so soon to fall.

I love American Goldfinches when they sing that last departing song. I love most of all the occasional visitors that wing up north on the wings of a summer storm. Do you recall the Indigo Bunting that perched in the Mountain Ash just outside our kitchen window? He had the look of a lost bird and his call was more a cry of help than a birdsong. You took such lovely photos of him as he sat there, looking this way, that way, anyway for the way he needed to go home … and those two cardinals, orange the one, bright red the other, standing beneath the feeder, so bright against the early snow.

The hunting hawks give everyone a fright. They perch on top of a power line pole then step off into space to alight, claws first, on some poor songbird trilling away, quite free from fear, his unfinished symphony of song. Claws first? I gaze again at the photo you took of the Sharp-shinned Hawk that settled on our porch that day it rained. Claws? The massive yellow talons are high grade weapons fit for any war. I pity the poor bird clasped in those claws and brought to earth or lifted high into the sky, a feast for the marauder.

It’s getting late, my love. You walk towards me out of the woods like some lost spirit returning to this earthly world from some spiritual sanctuary. The season is ending. Thanksgiving is close. It will soon be time for you to pack your bags and go. Three silent wishes for you my love: enjoy yourself; don’t forget me … and don’t stay away too long.

Comment:
This piece goes back to the Fall of 2016. Clare and I visited the Beaver Pond at Mactaquac the day before she left for Ottawa. I sat at a picnic table and watched her as she walked through the woods and around the pond. ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’: she didn’t want to leave me and I didn’t want her to go, yet we both knew how important it was for her to visit our grandchild for Thanksgiving. Time apart is good: it makes us realize how much we miss each other. For me, above all, it is a reminder of everything that gets done around the home without my ever noticing the care and love that is poured into each moment of every day. Having to provide that care and love for myself is an object lesson that makes me so thankful for the seemingly simple blessings Clare has brought to me throughout our married life …

Indigo Bunting, for Meg:

For you, Meg: photos, by Clare, of our second Indigo Bunting.

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He’s rather handsome. We usually get them in from the States following a strong south wind or  a summer storm.

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Great Blue Heron, for Tanya:

He was right over the garden: beautiful. We don’t often see them up here as we are on the far side of the hill from the river. Must have been raiding a neighbor’s goldfish pond.

 

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Questions

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Questions

I hear her voice, delicate, distant and I run to the sound, jump on the table, and sit in my usual spot just beside her play thing, but she isn’t there. He’s there, damn it, talking away on that little black thing with buttons. I can see him, smell him. I hate him, his other sex perfumes, his heavy-footed shuffle, his loud voice, his walking-sticks. I run when he approaches, run and hide myself away, making myself small, fitting under furniture where he can’t get at me, trying new places, new spaces …

Downstairs in the basement is good. He has problems with the stairs – shuffle, shuffle, clump, clump – and I get plenty of warning. Not that he ever comes downstairs to the basement. There’s nothing down here for him and I can sit here and snooze and dream and wait for my darling to come back. She will come back. I know she’ll come back. I know she’ll never abandon me, like she’s abandoned him. I am faithful, I can wait.

Besides which, I am training him. It takes time, but he’s beginning to understand that he must do things my way now. I chat him up for food and whisk myself around his legs and down comes the kibble, like manna from heaven. He often spills the food, so I get extra bits, nipping in quickly while he searches for a broom or a dustpan, or that noisy sucking thing I hate so much. That’s not just him, I run when she uses it too: it hurts my ears. And my feelings: I think they’re shooing me away because they don’t want me near. Not that I want to be near him, oh no.

I stay away from the upstairs and the bedroom while he’s here alone. Sometimes we meet on the stairs when I have completed my ablutions, but I give a little shimmy and scoot and leave him star-struck and stranded. He’s just not quick enough. He’s not cruel, mind. He doesn’t kick me or hit me with his stick or anything like that. I just don’t like men. I remember that other man, the one that beat me before she came to the place with all the other cats and cages and took me home. I think all men are like that first man, if you give them the chance, and I’m not giving this one a chance, not until I’ve trained him properly. And he isn’t trained yet. I wonder how long I’ve got?

There he is, hanging on to that little black thing, and when he stops talking, I can hear her beloved voice. It’s distant and a little bit tinny, with a sort of echo, and there are other sounds in the background that I can’t quite make out, but it’s her, I’d know her anywhere, and I whimper and scratch, and he puts down a hand in my direction, but he doesn’t tempt me, and then he holds that black thing down and she calls me by my favorite names and I sit there, silent, and gaze into space, remembering her touch, her gaze, her hand upon my neck, my back … no, I won’t let him that near me, not yet.

Yesterday, he sat at her place by the table and turned the picture machine on. Then shadows appeared and her voice came out of the machine. The shadows moved and played and people chatted back and forth and I didn’t understand it, I just didn’t understand. My whiskers stiffened and I sat there and bristled. The machine was warm and I snuggled up to it, behind the flat piece, where I could listen but he couldn’t quite touch me, even though he stretched out his hand. And she called my name, again and again, but I didn’t move, I just sat there and sat there, waiting.

Then I came to the front of the machine where the shadows danced and her voice was stronger. A shadow, I couldn’t make it out, then her voice again, my whiskers stiffened, I leant forward and sniffed, but no smell, it was her voice, and the shadow shifted the way she does, but they had no smell, and scentless, I could not really sense her, I bristled and she called me, called me by my favorite names, and mewed, I mewed back.

But I couldn’t smell her, and there was no sense of touch … is this the hell all pussy cats will suffer … shadows on a screen, a haunting voice, memories shifting and dancing, no touch, no hugs, no sense of smell … and nothing solid … just shadows and absence … and a sense of chill … forever and forever?

Absence Makes the Heart: Flash Fiction

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Absence makes the heart
Flash Fiction

 Time on my hands: so precious these moments alone, with my wife gone away to visit our daughter and our grand-daughter. I didn’t want her to leave me here alone. But I thought she needed the break, the space, and I also thought the women needed time together without the troublesome presence of a man. So many ideas flow back and forth when the man isn’t present, ideas that women share and debate, female anxieties that they will not discuss in front of the male, questions of children and development, teething and first words, actions and reactions, left-handedness and right-handedness, backwards and forwards skills that they will not discuss with the same comfort if the man is there.

I miss her. The sun filters through the kitchen and the autumn leaves store up sunlight like an old precious wine before they fall. Wine: I sip slowly at this bottle filled with life and sunshine, bottled sunshine they call it in Spain, sol embotellado, and I know that although I am alone, my friends are there, at the end of the telephone line. I can call them if I need them and anyway, they call me often or drop in once or twice a day to make sure I am okay. If I walk around the block or knock on their doors I know I will be greeted with warmth, an arm around the shoulder, the offer of a meal.

Thanksgiving is near. I already have two invitations for dinner and another lady, much lonelier than I am, has offered to buy the Thanksgiving food, bring it round, and cook it for me. She will also clean up after wards and leave the house cleaner than when she arrived. Can you believe it? I get company, companionship, and no, they are not the same thing, a cooked meal, and a house clean all together. It’s like winning the lottery.

But really, I prefer this solitude, my adventures with the cat, my slow stroll, not through the autumn woods, but through the leaves of this book. I like exploring my own mind, linking myself now to the self I was when I first read these pages and yes, there have been crises, and there will always be crises, and this is not a crisis, not yet anyway.

I remember when I was in boarding school. First day back from the holidays, I would draw a railway engine, and a train track, and I would number the days until the holidays came around again. For the first few days, I would cross off each day. Then, one day, as the new routine took control of my mind, I would forget to do so and the days would all blend into each other.

The new routine: get up earlier than usual. Go down and feed the cat. Make sure the cat had water. Change the kitty litter and make sure that her litter box is clean. Hoover around the litter box and pick up all the spilled litter. Place used litter in the garbage. Put the cat garbage on one side ready for Monday morning when the garbage men come around. Finish with the cat. Wash hands carefully. Then wash them again.

Downstairs I go. I put the kettle on and debate what I shall have for breakfast. Tea or coffee? Cereal or eggs? Muffins or toast? Breakfast for one is so simple. I take the easy route. Green tea with honey, no milk, no sugar. Some yogurt. Some grapes.

I sip my tea and thumb the pages of Carl Jung’s book, The Undiscovered Self.  I love her and miss her so much, but I am glad she has gone. Her absence allows me to re-discover my own presence. I learn about myself once more. I remember who I am and what I am and how I survive when I am on my own, abandoned, set adrift to fend for myself.

I get up from the breakfast table, look around the house, and find my Teddy Bear. The cat will not come near me, so Teddy it is. I set him on the table next to me and tell him all my news. Then I tell him what is happening on the news. Together, we sit and wait for the phone to ring. If she doesn’t call soon, I’ll call her myself. But not yet, not just yet: I’m still discovering my undiscovered self.