I’m at work on a number of projects. These include a collection of personal essays; a “novel in stories” called If Sylvie Had Nine Lives; and a novel about the further adventures of Kate, a character who narrated the first and last stories in Sightlines.
from If Sylvie Had Nine Lives
Two nights before the date printed in silver italic on her wedding invitations, Sylvie’s old friend Erik from high school called, the guy she’d ridden with through all those dust-hung after-darks on country gravel grids in his mom’s long Meteor, boatlike in the night. He was on his way through the city, he said. They should have a drink. In her left hand Sylvie held the clunky weight of the phone receiver, and in her right she held a half-made yellow wedding flower. Begin by stacking half a dozen sheets of coloured, see-through plastic. Pleat the stack accordion-style, then bind it at the middle. Spread each side into a fan; fluff. Repeat four dozen times. Get married.
“Hang up the phone,” said Margo. “Pay some attention already.” She took the flower from Sylvie’s hand and fluffed the unfinished side and handed it back. Among the rules for nuptials in 1974: decorate the wedding car with flowers the colour of the bridesmaids’ dresses. Or, in Sylvie and Jack’s case, decorate the wedding truck. They might have used Jack’s Corolla, but rust had made macramé of its lower regions; the Dodge pick-up Sylvie’s dad bought December a year ago was the better choice, looking new except for a few pocks in the paint along the driver’s side from stones and speed, his refusal to concede ample passage to oncoming traffic.
Sylvie angled the receiver away from her mouth. “I am paying attention.”
“Course you are, it’s just not all that obvious.”
Sylvie held the flower to her nose as if she expected perfume. Somewhere in this city was Erik, also with a receiver in his hand and a cord leading away from it. Tug. She looked out the high, small window. Living in a basement suite, you see the lowest quarter of anyone walking around to the back door at the head of the stairs. She knew her friends by their legs, their shoes, the sizes of their feet. Here came Penny’s sneakered feet now, Penny arriving to help with the flowers.
Things get away on you, the better part of a year goes by, next thing you know your mom’s booked the United Church out home and made arrangements for the midnight lunch: assorted cold cuts and Aunt Merry’s home-made buns and Uncle Ronald’s special pepper pickles.
“Yes, let’s,” Sylvie said into the phone.
“Good,” said Erik. “I’ll meet you at that club, what is it—The Yips?”
“Sure.” Sylvie thought how he sounded like a hick, referring to Yip’s as The Yips. Hello country bumpkin, with your definite article and your capital T. She hung up and said, “Let’s wrap this up, Margo. I’m going out.”
“Not your beeswax.” She went up to meet Penny. “Thanks for coming, Penny,” she said, “but it turns out this isn’t a good night for making flowers after all.”
“But Sylvie, you only have tonight and tomorrow and then that’s it.”
Yes, Sylvie thought, that’s true.
They used to drive at night, she and Erik, along the back roads near Ripley looking for parked couples. Once they found a vehicle, they’d train their high beams on the rear window for a bit, and then they’d back up and turn around and take off to find another car, laughing to think of Shelley or Beth or Serena struggling to do up her blouse, the buttons so big and the buttonholes so small and the fingers so suddenly fat.
from Pen and Me:
There’s a monkey lives up inside my mind, an active, agile creature who loves to play. She’ll scoop my thoughts together, knead them, roll them in her hands, slap at the mess until she’s got herself a ball; then she’ll take that ball and bounce it off the walls up there. Or she’ll pull it apart like taffy, stretch her arms wide, a glob of thoughts in either hand and a sticky, sagging swag between. She’ll scoop the mess together again, make another ball, add more bulk—say a little suspicion, a little paranoia; knead, press, roll, slap—and she’ll go bowling with it, clatter and racket, ouch! A little quiet please, a little peace.
I’m so intent on outrunning the monkey, I’ve flown clear from the prairies to the western edge of the continent. That should do it, shouldn’t it?
My sister isn’t here to meet me in Arrivals, but I didn’t expect her to be. I’ll find her somewhere in this airport, her husband’s flying out today. I hoist my suitcase, stuffed with six weeks’ worth of wardrobe, over the lip of the carousel. Now my duffle slides down the chute. I shoulder it, hnfff, thread myself and my load out through the thicket of bag-anxious travelers, and make my way to Departures. There, over there: Pen, Richard and their little guy, Billy. Pen stitches a zig-zag between my arrival and Richard’s leaving—a hug for me, a kiss for him, her hand on my arm, then on his, mine. All a rush. Richard kneels to hug Billy and stands to give Pen a last dramatic embrace, complete with a dancer’s dip. Yes, a rush, including Pen’s quick joke to Richard about the redheaded entomologist from Simon Fraser U who will fly south in a week to join him on the project. He laughs and lets his long fingers rest briefly on Pen’s shoulder. She says, “You and redheads,” a comment I assume she wouldn’t make if she weren’t simply teasing. Odd and sweet at the same time.
Richard’s changed since I saw him last, though not a lot. His ten extra pounds press his shirt into a modest pout overtop of his belt, but he’s still Pen’s same old, handsome husband—brows that want grooming, but hardly a wrinkle until he smiles. His magnetism is undiminished by the pout at the waist and the small moon of baldness at his crown. That talent he has for making the woman he’s speaking to feel as if she’s the most important presence in the room. I remember, once—it’s years ago now—as we moved from one space to the next at a party and I felt his hand touch down on the small of my back—before I realized he’s that way with nearly every woman he meets—I remember thinking he was about to hit on me. I remember thinking this was how affairs began: a hand settles on a back, lightly, warmly, and in that warmth a possibility flares—by chance or by design—and all that tiny flare will need to make it whoosh is a little oxygen from one side or the other.
(Copyright Leona Theis. All rights reserved.)