From Bad to Worse

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Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

When Chris turns seven or so, I find that Jeff often behaves in a menacing way towards him. I fear the worst – that Jeff will be an abusive parent, since his stepmother abused him. It seems that I am constantly stepping in to prevent that from happening.

Chris, at nine years old, has a temper and a short fuse.
“Just like you,” Jeff tells me.
One evening, Chris has a meltdown in the living room. Jeff walks over and grabs Chris by the ankles. He pulls him from the sofa, onto the carpeted floor. Chris continues to scream and cry. I stand up, and step between Jeff and Chris. I don’t know what Jeff is planning to do, but I have to intervene.
Chris gets up and runs to his room.
Jeff stares at me.
“What do you think you’re doing, dragging him to the floor?”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t touch him!”
“Oh yes you did!”
Jeff shakes his head. He doesn’t realize what he’s done, and that scares me.
One night, Jeff and I have a big fight. I attacked his behaviour when I was in B.C. all those years ago. The argument becomes very heated, and like Chris, I get loud and angry. Jeff reaches out and punches me in the mouth.
I run to the bathroom and see that I have a bloody lip. Not only that, but one of my front teeth, which was very crooked, has moved, so that it is straighter in my mouth. I cry. Jeff goes to bed.
I can’t go to work the next morning. My mouth is swelled. I call in sick and do so for a few days. When I return to work, I am very self conscious, afraid that someone may notice my still slightly fat lip. I try to hide the evidence with carefully placed makeup. No one says anything.

When Jeff is given the opportunity to move to Medicine Hat, to be the partsperson at a heavy truck shop, I encourage him to take the job. We can get out of Calgary and live a better life.
No longer will I “have to” work. That will alleviate some of the stress in my life.
Jeff will go on ahead, and find us a house and work Mondays to Fridays. On Friday night he will come home to Calgary for the weekend.

I will need to drive to work and home again, for a month, until we all move to Medicine Hat, so I need to get my driver’s license. I’ve had a learner’s permit for years. I have trouble learning to parallel park, and when Jeff takes me for the test, I fail only due to that.
I tell him, “I’d be very happy to agree to never try to parallel park, if they’d give me a license for everything else.”
I catch a ride to work that week from a coworker and try for my license again. This time I pass, so I can to drive to work myself. I have my stepdad come out to the garage with me, every morning, as I am afraid someone might be lurking around the building.

I thrive on the receptionist position – I love answering the phones, and being busy, typing up quotes for the various salespeople.
Friday afternoons are usually quiet. I sit at my desk in reception, and have little to do except read a book. I hear a male voice making funny comments while I sit there, and sometimes I giggle. I know this is wrong, but at the same time, it seems perfectly normal, to hear a voice, with no one about.
I continue to deteriorate mentally, but don’t recognize the symptoms.

During the week, in the evenings, I pack, for the move. Mum and my stepdad are packing too.

Jeff leaves on a Sunday night, and he has not been gone for more than perhaps, two minutes, when the phone rings.
I pick up and hear a guttural voice say something. I can’t quite make out the words, but it sound like, “Do you want to f-”?
I am shocked, and slam the phone down. It rings again the next Sunday when Jeff leaves. Again, I answered.
“Do you want to f-?”
I slam down the phone, and he calls right back. Again I hang up.
Now I am angry. I make a call the next day at work to the phone company. They tell me tap the phone receiver with a pencil, and say, “Attention, security. Please trace this call.”
It seems like a dumb idea, but sure enough, the phone rings as soon as Jeff drives away, and I do as instructed.
The caller hangs up and then phones right back.
“What was that?” he demands.
“I was told to do that by security.” I tell him. “It was a stupid idea.”
I hang up.
The next moment, my stepdad enters the room.
I tell him that I’ve had one of those calls again, for I have told mum and him about the harassment.
“That’s funny,” he says. “I didn’t hear the phone ring.”
That announcement spooks me.
Surely I’m not imagining things?

As soon as he leaves, another call comes in. I answer, and I ask the caller if he has a sister.
“Yes,” he says.
I demand to know what he would think, if someone called his sister the way he’s been calling me?
Then he asks me out! I tell him that I am “very married” and “off the market”.

I hang up and don’t get any more calls. If they ever happened at all.

I am glad when the end of the month comes and the big moving truck arrives to haul our belongings to Medicine Hat.
This will be the beginning of a better life. The obscene phone caller will not be able to harass me anymore.

July and August, 1970 excerpt from novel

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Back in Kelowna, the next afternoon, I meet someone who will change my life forever.
Jessie has gone off with some guy as usual, leaving me to sit in the park.
A tall guy approaches me and sits down on the grass near me. He shrugs off the army green backpack and sets it down.
He has brown wavy hair, short, unlike the current long hair style for men, and a mustache. He wears glasses, brown framed ones that have been taped up on the side. I love his smile the minute he introduces himself. I like his accent, which I soon learn is a Kansas drawl. He tells me his name is Brad and that he is just a country boy from Kansas, touring the country. Then he says that as soon as he saw me, he told the friend with whom he was hitch hiking “There’s the girl I’m going to marry.”
That is it. I fall in love. What a suave and debonair way to introduce himself. I am intrigued. This is the first guy to mention marriage to me. If I go with him, I am guaranteed to be safe from potential rape and murder. This guy will take good care of me, I am certain. He seems so open and happy.
Jessie comes back from one of her forays away with some guy, and I see her jealousy for the first time. She glares when I introduce Brad. She takes me aside.
“You don’t know anything about this guy. What are you thinking?”
I could point out to her that she keeps taking off with strange guys all the time, and that the last few nights have been dangerous for both of us, as we spend that time on the beach with boys we have just met, but I don’t. I tried to avoid confrontation as always.
“I’m sorry, Jessie, but I am leaving with Brad.”
“So what am I supposed to do?” she asks.
“You could find work picking fruit,” I say, and I don’t mean it in a nasty way, but that is how she takes it. She watches me and Brad leave.
As evening comes, he and I walk with some other people to an old house, where everyone in the group is going to stay. He takes my hand and I am swept away by his care and concern.

And so I lose my virginity that night. We have sex, and while I’ve read about it in books at my sister Doreen’s, it is nothing like I imagined. As we lay beside each other, I whisper, “That was my first time.”
“It was? Oh, wow.” Brad gives me a hug. He kisses me and promises right then and there that he will marry me. It is my biggest dream come true. We cuddle together in Brad’s sleeping bag and I fall asleep.
In the morning, we walk upstairs to the kitchen and Brad has coffee. I didn’t drink coffee or tea, because it is against my religion.
After that, we hike to the park. We sit with the same group of people, and talk. Brad is outgoing and talks away to some of the others. I admire his easy going manner and wish that I wasn’t so shy.
A few people panhandle on the street, and along the paths in the park. We collect enough money for cheap wine and bread and bologna. Everyone shares in the goods, although I refuse to drink the wine. The girl with the guitar starts to play and we sing along.
We meet up with a guy who sells acid (LSD) and mescaline. He is about my height, and wears an Australian bush hat. He is dressed in a denim vest and shorts. He and Brad get talking and exchange where they are from. It turns out that Duffy is from Hamilton, Ontario, which is my birth place.
We walk the streets of town, panhandling. Who should I run into but Brad – the “first” Brad? He looks at Brad and then back at me.
“Are you still interested in work?” he asks.
“No, not anymore.”
He nods and walks away.
I am not sorry. I don’t feel that I owe Brad anything. And since he too has had sex with Jessie, the thought of working for him is rather distasteful.
I am beginning to really dislike Jessie. Maybe not her, but her promiscuity.
Later in the day, we walk across the floating bridge, and up into the hills. The stars are bright above us. Someone wants to start a campfire, but they are prevented by cooler heads, as it is pointed out that not only might the cops see the fire and come to investigate, but it is too dry on the hillside for a fire. People form small groups, and talk. Brad and I are joined by a few others, and Brad chatters away while I hang back, quiet and shy. There is a discussion about the rattlesnakes that lurk in the hills, which scares me. I am too young, though, to worry about the danger. Nothing bad will happen to us.
There are falling stars, from the Perseid’s shower, which occurs every year in early August. We watch the show in awe, voices dropping off as the stars fall. Brad scores some weed, and he smokes it. He offers it to me, and I tried it, just a little. My conscience bothers me, but his urging wins out. It is kind of alright. It makes me feel relaxed. No more anxiety that night.
Long after the voices quiet and people fall asleep, Brad and I have sex. This time I really enjoy it. Brad is a thoughtful and caring lover. As I fall asleep, I wonder at my good luck in the two of us finding each other.
We spend a couple of days like this, in the park in the sunshine, music and panhandling and night time in the hills.
We meet Rob, Dustin and Gary, three guys who are from Red Deer. We comment on how small the world is, when I say I am from Lacombe.
Brad said, “I think we should move on. I’d like to see more of Canada. Will you come with me?” he asks, his head turned a bit towards me, long eyelashes half hiding his brown eyes. There are crinkles at the corners of his eyes as he grins at me, dimples prominent.
“Of course I will,” I say. Whatever else would I have chosen to do? This boy has rescued me from danger – spending the nights with strangers all alone and vulnerable – and he talks of marriage, just as I have hoped someone would. I have found my perfect man. I love his jokes and his general sense of humor. He says he loves my Canadian accent. He and I gather up my belongings, and he puts them into his large army green backpack. I leave my empty suitcase abandoned in the Kelowna park.

The morning is bright and it is already getting hot. We walk out to the highway and stick out our thumbs.
We are picked up by an older white haired man who drives a dark blue Ford pickup truck. It reads, “Handeler’s Orchard” on the cab door. He waits while we pile in and then says, as he starts to drive again, “So where are you two headed this morning?”
“As far as we can go I guess,” says Brad.
The elderly man says, “I envy you two. What a world we live in today. I’d sure have liked to just up and take off like that when I was younger. No job, no responsibilities, just the open road.”
Brad grins over at the man.
“Sure enough, that’s how it is for us.”
“Say, what kinda accent is that you’ve got?”
“I’m a country boy from Kansas, USA.”
“Kansas, eh?”
“Yup. Where the corn and wheat and sunflowers grow tall and yellow in the sunshine.”
The old man smiles.
“You a draft dodger?”
“Nope. I was honorably discharged, sir.”
The old man nods, pleased by this answer.
The truck travels smoothly along the winding paved roadway of Highway 97, running past the lake, blue as a sapphire in the hot sunshine, and past orchards and houses and small shops. There are fruit stands, some not open yet, as the main harvest would not be for a couple of weeks. At last, the man says this was as far as he can take us, and he pulls over to the shoulder of the road. He points off towards the gravel road that leads to the west and tells us, “That’s where my orchard is at. Out that way. If you two ever decide you want a job picking fruit, I’ll sure give you a chance.”
With that, he is gone up the road and we hold out our thumbs again. The next ride is in a Duster, driven by a younger guy who takes us as far as Vernon, the next largish city north of Kelowna. As Brad and I walk along the street, the sun beats down. I am thirsty. We panhandle, stopping strangers with “Excuse me, do you have any spare change?” And I, more fortunate than Brad, collect enough for a soda for each of us in short order.
This boosts my confidence! I find talking to strangers and begging is not so scary after all!
We come out of the air conditioned corner store and meet a couple of guys, in blue jeans and t-shirts, who tell us, “There’s a youth hostel over at the church on Porter Street. They offer a place to sleep and a breakfast in the mornings.”
“Hey, thanks, man,” says Brad.
We make our way to Porter Street and I admire the small church which is painted a sandstone color, with brown trim. The building attached is about the size of a modest bungalow, and a big sign on the door states that it is a shelter for transients. I can’t believe our luck.
Brad says, “This is a good place to stay. Let’s go in and see if we can get out of the hot sun.”
By this time, it is late afternoon, and the priest who runs the shelter meets us at the door. He wears a collar that indicates his calling. He has a bald head and a big smile as we enter. The room is large, with a doorway leading, we would soon learn, to a kitchen. Down the hallway are rooms for couples, and for women and men respectively.
After Brad and he chat, he takes us to the couples’ room and Brad and I set out the sleeping bag. Brad takes off his back pack and sets it beside the sleeping bag. He shifted his shoulders.
“I’m glad to be rid of that burden,” he tells me. “The weight hurts my back.”
He brings out his map of Canada, and then his US map. Unfolding them both, he points out the little town where he is from, in Kansas, and then we pour over the Canadian map, and plan our route for the next day. As it turns out, we would not leave the following day after all. But that is because we meet a nice couple that evening, and get to talking. The couple, Maxine, age fourteen, and her boyfriend Keith, twenty, have come to B.C. from Alberta. She’s run away with him and her parents don’t know where she is. Along with the rest of the people who amble in by evening, we talk and laugh and have a good time. Maxine is little, short, with long brown hair and brown eyes. Keith is tall and has black hair and his eyes are aqua blue. I have never seen anyone before or since who has such eyes as his.
When it is time for bed, Brad leads me to the couples’ room. We are off to one side, while Maxine and Keith are over on the other. Brad and I lay awake talking softly for a while, and then we make love. I fall asleep with his arms wrapped around me. I notice that Brad sleeps with his glasses on, which I think is a little strange. “I can’t see very well without them. If I keep them on, nobody can sneak up to me,” he says, the next morning when I ask him about it.
It seems an odd thing to say, but what do I know? After all, we are sharing a house with a group of strangers, so maybe Brad is more sensible about the danger than I.
While hostels originated in Europe years before, for the traveler, the youth hostels in Canada are based on the same idea, but for those hitch hikers – hippies – that have a transient lifestyle. There is a network throughout the country, and this hostel in Vernon would be the first of several where we stayed.
It is a pleasant oasis after the heat in summer or cold in winter of being on the road. There is usually some food, and while there were rarely beds, the floor provides ample room for an unrolled sleeping bag.
Brad tells me that he is going to “liberate” me. He will change my old fashioned ideas and ways and make me a free person. I don’t question this. I don’t wonder what he has in mind, or why he wants to take this job on. I don’t stop to wonder why he feels the need to change me. And do I really need changing?
The morning brings toast for breakfast, and coffee for the coffee drinkers. I don’t drink coffee. It is against Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. We leave the shelter and along with Maxine and Keith and few others, we roam the streets. We panhandle enough money to go to the little corner store near the hostel, and buy bologna and bread for sandwiches, which everyone shares. I overcome my initial misgivings about eating meat, and wolf down my share. The food is delicious.

Writing Excerpt: Arriving in Alberta: 1964

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We arrive in southern Alberta after four days on the train. We spend all the nights “sleeping” on the train seats, but learn from the man who hired mum that the sleeping car was included in the price he paid!
The rain comes down in buckets as we alight at the train station in Brooks. A little man wearing cowboy boots, hat, western shirt and jeans approaches us. After introductions are made, and we collect our baggage, we climb into the blue pickup truck the man drives and we are off. The ranch is a few miles out of town. There is a modest one bedroom house, and a shack and lean to as well as barns and corrals where a herd of horses stand. He leads us into the house and shows us the room which is ours. I am to share the double bed with mum. The rancher explains that he will sleep out in the shack. I have time to wonder where he will sleep in winter, but don’t say anything. I am still very shy.
That day, mum unpacks our things, and then she makes supper. It consists of canned yams, meat and cherry pie. We soon learn that this rancher eats only canned yams and cherry pie – for every supper. Mum and I soon grow tired of this fare.
The next day, the rancher shows me his older mare, suitable for riding for a young person with no experience. I am overjoyed. I am able to ride this horse out in the fields and can’t believe how lucky I am to have this dream become reality.
Later, I meet the rancher’s young niece. She rides a pinto horse over from her home, and we go riding together.
One day, as we canter across the field, my horse rears up and I fall off. I hurt my shoulder, and it bothers me for some time after.
One hot sunny afternoon – it seems that southern Alberta is always hot and sunny – so different from the rainy day on our arrival – I tag along with the rancher when he delivers a horse to another ranch. There are a lot of cowboys milling around when we pull up in the rancher’s truck.
These are not the “rhinestone cowboys” of Hollywood, or those Calgarians who don blue jeans during Stampede week in July. These are real cowboys. Blue jeans, cowboy boots and cowboy hats, worn, not for effect, but because of the hot sun. Weathered faces and some, like the rancher with bowed legs from growing up riding horses all their lives.
In the evenings, I read the Western Horsemen magazines to which the rancher subscribes, and there is the popular prairie weekly newspaper, The Western Producer. They have a kids’ page, and I submit a poem which they publish.
This first published work excites me. I am just eleven years old, and about to enter sixth grade. I wonder if perhaps I could be a writer? The thought has never occurred to me before. I’ve had thoughts of becoming a teacher like my big sister, but writing is something that might be even better!
Mum finds the Seventhday Adventist church and pastor in the phone book, and we attend church a few times. Members of the church invite us to Sabbath dinner a couple of times, and Mum complains to me, that there was meat on the table! SDA’s don’t eat meat, she said. I learn eventually that there were a lot of differences in beliefs between the SDA people in Ontario and in Alberta.
One Saturday morning, she tells me that we aren’t going to go to church that day. Well, we stay in the bedroom and when the minister comes to the house, he and the rancher knock on the door. Mum will not answer. I am embarrassed that we are hiding. Why is mum doing this? Still, she calls through the closed door, at last, and tells the pastor she is not going to church. From the sounds, we know that they have left the house, and I hear the minister’s car start up. We stay in that room all day, and mum doesn’t open the door until after sundown, when the Sabbath is over.
The rancher tries to ask her about this behaviour but she ignores him.
My mum contacts her sister, Lena, in Calgary and she and her boyfriend come down to bring us back to Calgary to live. Mum plans to get on welfare, as she has found the everyday work as a housekeeper is more than she could handle. The day arrives, and mum hasn’t told the rancher that she is leaving. He is quite angry. We have only lived on the ranch for the summer, and I am sure that he doesn’t believe he’s got the money he’s paid for our train tickets back yet.
Nothing will change my mum’s mind though, once she reaches a decision. We leave that afternoon, crammed into the car. First, we stay with my mum’s sister. Lena is a bit rowdy. She smokes, drinks, gambles on the horses and has a great sense of humor. She wears a lot of makeup and jewellery and she dyes her hair. She is the complete antithesis to my mother.
One evening, a young fellow arrives at Lena’s. She introduces his as one of my cousins. He is very handsome I think to myself. We all sit down and have a game of Scrabble. Mum will play this game, and let me play it despite her religious beliefs. The cousin tries to make words but is a terrible speller. When I correct him he teases me.
The game finished, Lena brings out cards and shows us how to play “Hearts”. I don’t remember if Mum allowed me to play, or if she played or not. Cards are forbidden to SDA’s.
Mum and I go downtown to apply for welfare and are given vouchers for food, and to pay for an apartment. She finds a seedy little place right in the downtown, across a river in an older part of town. The school I will attend is across that river, so everyday I have to cross the bridge to reach the school. I don’t settle in very well. By this time, I believe the constant changing of places to live and of schools has taken its toll. I don’t remember much about the class, although I do remember this. I walk home one day, to have the boy in the next apartment stop me.
“D-do you want to listen to some records?” he asks.
The poor kid! I bustle away, blurting, “No!” as I run to my door.
I tell Mum and she says that I am way too young to be around a boy. In later years, I pity that boy and tell myself that I was rude. I was embarrassed whenever I thought about my reaction. The poor kid. I probably scarred him for life. Gets up the nerve to ask a girl to listen to records, and she bolts!
From the seedy apartment, which my older sister, Doreen, calls a slum, we move to an older, two storey house that has been converted into apartments. We will live next to her, in a bright little second story apartment. She lives just next door and it should be a cozy ending to our nomadic life. That is not to be. My mum resents Doreen, as Doreen is free with her advice and guidance, which mum calls “bossiness.”
We are now in a nicer neighbourhood. The elementary school is not far off.
I settle in at the new school. For the first time in my life, there is a girl in my class who is taller than me! Freida and I become fast friends. We take turns having our lunch at her place or at mine. She is funny and kind. At recess, I am included in ball games, and I am happy. I belong, at last. I like the teacher. He is the first male teacher I’ve had, except for a short stint in the small Ontario town, with a military minded teacher who, on dismissal, commanded, “Stand, turn, forward,” as though we were soldiers. This teacher is nice.
Despite the new friendship and my happiness with this new school, I am still very shy. I leave my slip on black shoes under my desk at the end of the school day, and when class starts the next morning, I am mortified to see that my shoes are on the teacher’s desk! I cringe, when he asks, “Whose shoes?” I don’t answer. He asks again, then picks them up and holds them above the wastebasket next to his desk.
“Going, going, gone!” He waits a moment, then drops them into the trash.
I tell myself that the shoes didn’t fit right, anyway, which is true. They were a bit big. Still, I am ashamed of my paralyzing shyness.
Mum makes plans, and we are on our way, in a moving truck, to live in central Alberta, in the town where her other sister lives, as well as her dad, my grandfather. True to past behavior, she doesn’t tell my sister Doreen that we are moving. Doreen will come home after school to find us gone. It is a cold winter day with snow on the ground and a sky of pink and gray. I want to move and yet I don’t. I find my sister overbearing at times and yet I am going to miss her. I like the fact that she promised me a small allowance, and told me that I would be responsible for my saving and spending. That is all gone now. The future is unknown. How I would miss my friend Freida.

On the Bus Again

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I live in a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario. I’ve been here ever since my husband died, nearly ten years ago. I can’t say that I like to be a widow, but I do like my single hood. I suppose I’ve grown more and more independent, and yes, even set in my ways.
I take the bus into the larger city to the west about once a week. Sometimes I have a reason to travel, say, for a doctor’s appointment or to shop the sales. More often, I have no excuse to ride, except to observe, and occasionally meet people.
I enjoy studying people on the bus. I go home and write about them. Haven’t published anything yet, but who knows? It can still happen, even though I’m seventy-three and getting older by the minute, it seems.
The fellow with the pink hair band! Now that was a character. I quite liked talking with him.
Yesterday I rode the bus again. There was a young lady, about twenty, sitting in the first seat, across from the bus driver, and close to the window. She seemed to shrink against the seat, and she didn’t look out the window as I approached. She stared straight ahead,
as I settled down beside her.
She had short hair, cut at an angle on one side, so that it hid part of her face. The other side was shaved. It was black and a bright auburn on the ends. Rather pretty, I thought, and I found myself wishing, not for the first time, that I was younger, so that I, too, might
experiment with bright hair colours.
She shifted away even more, if that were possible, as I sat down.
I set my white leather purse down on the floor in front of me, and leaned back in the soft blue cushion of the seat.
The girl coughed, bringing up her arm so that she wouldn’t spread germs. I liked that. It showed that she had some manners. A rare thing these days.
As the bus lurched forward, and several people stood to be ready for the next stop, I
leaned toward the girl and said, “My name is Sonya. I haven’t seen you on this bus before.”
The girl turned to stare at me. Her wide mouth worked a bit, before she replied, “I just moved here from up north.” She had large grey eyes, an unusual smoky colour that made her hair colour choice fitting.
“Oh, then you won’t have got used to the crowds yet, then.”
“No – no not yet.”
“Do you live in  P—-?” I asked, naming the town where I live.
“Yes, I do. On Dorcas Street.”
“Oh, that is a lovely area. You must have an apartment then.” I know the town well enough to picture the shady tree lined street and the old brick houses that have been converted into apartments.
“Yes, I have a bedsit. But it’s large enough for me.”
“Of course, dear.”
We rode in companionable silence for a couple of minutes. The young lady was no longer leaning so hard into the window side.
“I might get a cat,” she said, all at once.
“Oh, that would be nice. There’s always a cat needs a home.”
“Yes, and I won’t get a kitten, but a full grown cat. Like you said, cats need a home.”
“Good for you. And what is your name, dear?”
“Michaela.”
“What a lovely name.”
“Except no one pronounces it right or spells it properly, you know.”
“I am sorry to hear that, Michaela,” I said, careful to say it right.
“And I got sick of my boyfriend back home always calling me ” Michael.””
“And no wonder. That would be less than respectful, if you didn’t wish to be called that.”
“Exactly, which is part of the reason that I moved down south. Just to get away, from him and from my family too.”
The riders who had stood up moved forward to the doors as the bus pulled up to the next stop. They left and a few more people got on. The bus pulled away from the curb.
I noticed that Michaela studied each person as they moved to find seats. She looked from under her side swept hair, head down and not looking directly at anyone.
“Are you afraid about something that happened before you left?”
She looked at me, her mouth a little “o” of surprise.
“Well, yes, I am worried that they’ll find me and make me come home.  I had to get away before something worse happened.”
This last statement piqued my interest. I realized that I must be careful how I broached this subject.
“Then things didn’t go well between the two of you?”
“Not at all. We had a big fight when I told him I needed some time away. He got mad.”
“Oh, my. I do hope it didn’t get physical.”
The bus lurched as it pulled onto the highway. It wouldn’t be long until it arrived in P—-.
She glanced at me, through her hair.
“Well, it did, sort of. I – I had to defend myself. And I did, ” she went on. The words came then, in a torrent.
“I was at  home. Mum and Dad were out in the barn, tending to the dairy cows. He came into the house, and started to argue. I ran into the kitchen, just to get away from him. And he wouldn’t stop talking to me. He yelled at me.”
She hesitated a moment.
“I hate it when people yell. I wanted him to stop. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I just wanted him to be quiet. To go away.”
I nodded, and Michaela said, “I grabbed the knife on the counter. I’d been planning to make a sandwich when he walked in.
“I tried to make him be quiet. Mum and Dad came in then, and told me I had to get away, real quick. They took care of everything, you know. “
I patted the girl’s hand where it lay, clenched in her lap.
“And so you came south,” I said.
“Yes, and I’m never going back there, ever!”
She looked at me, with those smoky grey eyes. No tears, only clarity.
“Well, this is my stop, ” I said, as the bus slowed and pulled in. “You carry on and make a life for yourself here, ” I told her.
She smiled at me then, as I picked up my purse and got to my feet.
“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you for listening.”
I smiled and left the bus.
As I walked down the street, I pondered the conversation.
How little we know of others and their troubles, their plans and their secrets.

Part Two – Story Excerpt

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Photo by Philipp Reiner on Unsplash

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This is the second chapter of my autobiography.

I must make the disclaimer that all names have been changed to protect the identities of people involved.

The facts are only as I remember them, and may not be completely accurate.

The events in this chapter occurred between 1964 and 1966.

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We arrived in southern Alberta after four days on the train. We spent all those days “sleeping” on the trains seats, but learned from the man who had hired mum that the sleeping car had been included in the price he paid! The rain came down in buckets as we alighted. A short little man wearing cowboy boots, hat and jeans approached us. After introductions were made, and we collected our baggage, we climbed into the blue pickup truck the man drove and we were off. The ranch was a few miles out of town. There was a modest one bedroom house, and a shack and lean to as well as barns and corrals where a herd of horses stood. He led us into the house and showed us the room which would be ours – I was to share the double bed with mum. The rancher explained that he would be sleeping out in the shack. I had time to wonder where he would sleep in winter, but didn’t say anything. I was still very shy.
That day, mum unpacked our things, and then she made supper. It consisted of canned yams, meat and a cherry pie. We would learn that this rancher ate only canned yams and cherry pie – for every supper. Mum would soon grow tired of this fare as would I.
The next day, the rancher showed me his older mare, suitable for riding for a young person with no experience. I was overjoyed. I was able to ride this horse out in the fields and couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have this dream become reality.
Later, I would meet the rancher’s young niece. She rode a pinto horse over from her home, and we would go riding together.
One day, as we cantered across the field, my horse reared up and I fell off. I hurt my shoulder, and it bothered me for some time after.
Sometimes I would read the Western Horsemen magazines to which the rancher subscribed, and there was the popular prairie weekly newspaper, The Western Producer. They had a kids’ page, and I submitted a poem which they published. I was so excited!

This first published work excited me. I was just eleven years old, and about to enter sixth grade. I wondered if perhaps I could be a writer? The thought had never occurred to me before. I’d had thoughts of becoming a teacher like my big sister, but writing was something that could be even better!
My mum contacted her sister, Lena, in Calgary and she and her boyfriend came down to bring us back to Calgary to live. Mum planned to get on welfare, as she had found the everyday work as a housekeeper more than she could handle. The day arrived, and mum hadn’t told the rancher that she was leaving. He was quite angry. We had only lived on the ranch for the summer, and I am sure that he didn’t believe he’d got the money he’d paid for our train tickets back yet.
Nothing would change my mum’s mind though, once she reached a decision. We left that afternoon, crammed into the car. We first went to stay with my mum’s sister. Lena was a bit rowdy. She smoked, drank, gambled on the horses and had a great sense of humor. She wore a lot of makeup and jewellery and she dyed her hair. She was the complete antithesis to my mother.

Mum soon got an apartment, a seedy little place right in the downtown, across a river from the older part of town. The school I would attend was across that river, so everyday I had to cross the bridge to reach the school. I didn’t settle in very well. By this time, I believe the constant changing of places to live and of schools had taken its toll. I don’t remember much about the class, although I do remember this. I walked home one day, to have the boy in the next apartment stop me.
“D-do you want to listen to some records?” he asked.
The poor kid! I bustled away, blurting, “No!” as I ran to my door.
I told my mum and she said that I was way too young to be around a boy. In later years, I pitied that boy and told myself that I had been rude. I was embarrassed whenever I thought about my reaction. The poor kid. I probably scarred him for life. Got up the nerve to ask a girl to listen to records, and she bolted.
From the seedy apartment, which my older sister, Doreen, called a slum, we moved to live next to her, in a bright little second story apartment. She lived just next door and it should have been a cozy ending to our nomadic life. That was not to be. My mum resented Doreen, as Doreen was free with her advice and guidance, which mum called “bossiness.”
I settled in at the new school. For the first time in my life, there was a girl in my class who was taller than me! Freida and I became fast friends. We took turns having our lunch at her place or at mine. She was funny and kind. At recess, I was included in ball games, and I was happy. I belonged, at last. I liked the teacher. He was the first male teacher I’d had, except for a short stint in the small Ontario town, with a military minded teacher who, on dismissal, had us, “Stand, turn, forward,” as though we were soldiers. This teacher was nice.
Mum made plans, and we were then on our way, in a moving truck, to live in central Alberta, in the town where her other sister lived, as well as her dad, my grandfather. True to past behavior, she didn’t tell my sister Doreen that we were moving. Doreen would have come home after school to find us gone. It was a cold winter day with snow on the ground and a sky of pink and grey. I wanted to move and yet I didn’t. I found my sister overbearing at times and yet I was going to miss her. I liked the fact that she had promised me a small allowance, and that I would be responsible for my saving and spending. That was all gone now. The future was unknown. How I would miss my friend Freida.
We arrived in the small town of Sylvan Lake and the mover took our belongings to a cabin which was made up of a large kitchen/living room and two bedrooms. It was bitterly cold. During our winter stay I would always be cold. The cabin was heated by a wood/coal cook stove. I would wake up in the mornings to a warm fire that mum had started in the stove, but the rooms were always chilled.
I started school. The building was huge. It was designed for all grade levels from kindergarten through grade twelve. It was a small town, but all the country kids were bussed there, so there was a huge student population. From the first day, I was intimidated by the sheer size of the school, and the noise in the hallways as the kids bustled about opening and closing their lockers, and retrieving books. The school secretary showed me to a classroom. I remember very little about the events in the school while I attended. I was given special workbooks to take home to work on my mathematics. The students in my class were the first to have been taught the “new” math from the early grades. I was lost, and couldn’t grasp the concepts the teacher tried to show me. I fumbled with the workbooks and it was as though I was learning some new language, but without any reference to English. I began to have stomach aches. I would tell mum that I was too sick to go to school. She let me stay at home.
We moved to a small old house. The landlady lived next door and she often came over to chat or, as mum said, to snoop. The house was cold and mum kept the living room drapes closed to try and keep the heat in.
Mum got a dog, a German shepherd that had obedience training. She soon gave it away, complaining that it cost too much to feed it. Again, I was without a pet.
A welfare worker arrived, and during her little interview with mum, she demanded to know why those curtains were shut. Mum explained, but I had the impression that the woman thought mum had some sort of mental illness. The worker told me that I must attend school. Then she left.
Mum was frightened that I would be taken away by welfare, so she insisted that I go to school, sore stomach or not.
Mum contacted the SDA minister and we began to attend church. The members had decided to start up a small church school, and mum enrolled me as soon as it opened. The other kids who attended from the countryside around the town had parents who drove them to the school, a few miles away. The parents drove in rotation. I was picked up at the end of the street, every day and dropped off at the house after classes.
The school had just a few students, and one teacher. She meant well, but she often lectured me on things like being too sensitive to what the kids said to me, and that sort of thing. There weren’t any kids my age there. I was the oldest. And the tallest yet again.I just didn’t fit in.
I noticed that these kids were no better than those at the “worldly” schools I had attended. I was disillusioned. I had really believed that I would find friends because they were the same religion as me. That was not going to happen.
I had not been to a dentist ever, and had two painful teeth. One day, as I got into the car, to ride to school, one of the kids said, “Oh, your breath, whenever you get into the car!”
I hadn’t realized how my breath smelled.
I believe the teacher contacted my sister Doreen, as the next week, Doreen came up to our place and took me to a dentist. He was an SDA. I had two infected molars, and he pulled them. It hurt so bad! I think he should have given me antibiotics first, to reduce the infection and inflammation, but he did not. I developed a fear of dentists after this ordeal. At least my breath didn’t smell bad any longer!

Bert, Martin, Lainie and Kate

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Downtown_Janesville

I drove into town to have a talk with Harry. I knew he had a hard time coping with life, but I didn’t think it was an excuse to mistreat his daughter.
I pulled up and parked in the driveway, behind Harry’s beat up old Chrysler. As I approached the front door, I saw that it was ajar. Strange.
I pushed the door open all the way and called out for Harry and for Lainie. I listened. There was a sound, but I couldn’t quite place it. I stepped inside and called again.
This time, there was a nearly inaudible reply. I followed the sound, and walked into the kitchen.
Martin sat on the floor, his arms around Lainie. When she looked up I saw that she had a black eye. Martin was covered in blood.
“What the -? What’s happened here? Where’s your dad, Lainie?”
Lainie raised one arm and pointed towards the cookstove, which was half hidden by the breakfast bar. I stepped around Martin and Lainie, and saw Harry.
He was lying on his back, eyes staring sightlessly up at the ceiling. His face and chest were covered in blood. There was a butcher knife sticking out of his belly.
I reached into my shirt pocket and dialed emergency.
After I made the call, I walked back to Martin and Lainie.
“It’ll be okay. The police are on the way. Don’t worry.” I wanted to reassure them both, although I knew that nothing would be okay for them.
Martin said, “Lainie was gettin’ beat up by her dad again. I walked in on it and lost my temper. I didn’t mean to kill him. I just wanted him to stop hurting her.”
I heard sirens in the distance.
I said, “Martin, nobody in this town will blame you for what happened.”
The police arrived and burst into the house. Over the next hour or more, Lainie and Martin were led away, and Harry’s body was examined as was the crime scene. I had to explain what I’d seen and heard and then I too was escorted to the police station.

***

It was several hours before I was released. The officers told me that Martin would be held in jail, and that Lainie was free to go. I offered to take her home to my place. She agreed. I had to make a stop at the house, and a police officer escorted Lainie inside so that she could get some clothes and other things. When she came out, she climbed into my truck.
“All ready to go?” I asked.
Lainie nodded. She stared straight ahead as I drove off. We arrived at my cabin and we went inside. I cooked up a meal and Lainie ate. By this time, she seemed to be coming out of the daze she’d been in.
She turned to me as she buttered a slice of bread and said, “Thank you, Bert, for helping me and Martin. I was so scared.”
“It’s okay, Lainie. Of course you were scared, but you’ll be safe now. You’re welcome to stay here as long as you need to.”
Lainie thanked me and then she volunteered that she had her job at Jensen’s and had to be at work the next day. I told her to call Mrs. Jensen and tell her what had happened. I was sure she wouldn’t expect Lainie to work.

***

Mrs. Jensen was more than sympathetic to the situation. She had, as the whole town had, already heard about the killing. She told Lainie to take the rest of the week off, and come in for work the following Monday.

Lainie asked me if I’d drive her to Mayer’s so she could talk to Kate. I thought it might be good for Lainie to see her friend.

Kate and I and Lainie had a discussion about Lainie’s future. We agreed that Lainie should move into Kate’s place and try to continue with her life without her father.

Next, I drove over to the precinct and talked to the desk sergeant. She said that Martin was charged, but not with first degree murder, since he’d been trying to protect Lainie.

***

Martin’s trial was a few months later. Both Kate and Lainie sat with me as the case proceeded. Martin’s parents both testified to Martin’s kindness and gentleness and that seemed to affect the jury. At the end, Martin was given a short sentence, due to the circumstances of Harry’s death. I think that when Lainie testified about her dad’s cruelty to her, the jury felt sorry for her and even looked on Martin as a hero.

When Martin was released from prison and came back to town, he didn’t stay around very long. His parents sent him off to college. I heard that he did well there, and found that he had a gift for computer science.

I ran into Lainie and Kate one Saturday morning, when I went into town. They were walking down the street, hand in hand, and I looked askance at them, as we stopped to chat.
Lainie giggled and Kate smiled at me.
“We’re a couple, Bert. First we were roommates but then things progressed.”
“Well, good for you both. I hope life is treating you both good?”
Lainie nodded and said, “Bert, if it hadn’t been for your help that awful day, I don’t know what I would have done. I thank you.”
“And so do I,” said Kate. The girls departed, walking on down the street.

I sighed. Martin was in college, the girls were together. Maybe it was time I found someone who would want to share my cabin. There must be some woman out there who’d like living in the country. Maybe I’d sign up on one of those dating services.

I walked into Mayer’s later that morning, shopping done, and had coffee. Mrs. Mayer convinced me to have a slice of lemon pie, and I ate, while I registered on a dating service with my cell phone.
Who knew what tomorrow might bring? Even for an old guy like me. I rubbed my chin and thought maybe I’d shave off my beard. It was time I started looking a little less like a mountain man.

The End

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Okay, so I admit I rushed through the story this week. All for a good cause though.

I wanted to have it finished up before Camp NaNoWriMo which starts again July first.

The story was created as I went along, not planned out, and the chapters show that unfortunately. But, there is something to be said for just writing without too much of a plan. Sometimes the characters take over and do what they wish to do, unruly people.

Hope that you enjoyed what was written. If I do this again, I will plan somewhat better so that the story is chronological and more time is devoted to development.

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If You’re in Search of an Audio Book Reader

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If you are planning an audio book, I highly recommend

Scott ODell Audio Book Narrator, Actor, Performer. Voiceovers. Member of Sag/Aftra

He is doing my short story collection and I am happy with his work.

Again, I am not receiving any remuneration for this suggestion. Just happy to help other writers out.

 

Martin (Chapter Seven)

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When I learned that Lainie had got the job at Jensen’s Hardware, part of me was happy and part of me was sad. I’d really wanted that job. I left my house that day, and ran into Kate. Well, I didn’t run into to her literally, of course. I knew that she’d be at Mayer’s after lunch. Her shift usually ran either eight o’clock in the morning to four in the afternoon or noon to eight at night. She was there and she siddled up to me and winked. I winked back. We had a good friendship I thought. And she was one of the few kids in school who had never made fun of me. God knows, there were enough of them that did.
“Hey, Martin. What can I get you?”
“How about a cheeseburger and an orange soda?”
“Sure, right away.” She walked towards the back and I watched her. I was half torn between my love for Lainie and a strong attraction to Kate. The girls were so different, I decided I was just weird to find them both attractive. It didn’t occur to me that maybe my thoughts were normal for a guy my age. I was used to finding fault with myself, mostly because of the dyslexia and the teasing I’d got all through school.
Kate brought me my food. I told her that Lainie had got a job at Jensen’s.
“Well, good for her! Give her something for herself, instead of looking after her old man all the time.” As she spoke, Kate lowered her voice and tossed her head towards the back of the restaurant. I saw why as soon as I checked out the room. Lainie’s dad was at a booth with three of his cronies.
The place got busy for a while, and Kate and Mrs. Mayer rushed around, serving customers and cleaning tables.
Then, Mrs. Mayer approached my table. She sat down across from me.
“How are your folks, Martin?”
“They’re doing good, Mrs. Mayer. Mom won at whist the other night.”
Mrs. Mayer smiled at me. She said, “I’m glad to hear that. Her and I have had some bad luck at that game. Too bad I missed that. I was working that night.”
She hesitated, and then spoke again.
“Martin, have you given any thought to what you want to do until college? Are you interested in working?”
“I sure am, Mrs. Mayer. Do you know of some job?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. I need someone to work here, cleaning tables and dishwashing. Would you be interested in that?”
“I sure would! When can I start?”
Mrs. Mayer laughed.
“I’m glad to see that you’re enthusiastic. How about tomorrow, from noon to eight?”
“Sure. I’ll be here. Thank you, Mrs. Mayer.”
She took her leave then, and I finished my meal. I was happy. This was just what I needed. Now both Lainie and I had jobs, and maybe the three of us would make it to that party on Friday night.
I sauntered home, and my mom and dad were delighted when I told them my news.

***

I worked, then for a couple of days and then it was Friday. Kate picked up Lainie and I in her new car. It was an older model, but nice to look at. It was red, and as she drove us to the party, Kate said she’d mostly chosen the car because of the color, although her dad had also given her the go ahead when he checked out the mechanics.
Now, we arrived in the parking lot of Stevenson Park, named after the town’s first mayor.
There were a lot of other vehicles there already. Lainie picked up the case of beer we’d brought and I took it from her.
“I’ll be gentlemanly and carry this,” I said.
“Thanks, Martin, but we all know you just want to drink more than us,” said Kate. She grinned so I didn’t feel bad about what she said. Besides, to tell the truth she was right. We were all old enough to drink in our state, and I didn’t mind knocking back a few. I knew that Lainie would have one can at most, while Kate could drink me under the table if she was encouraged.
Joking and chatting, we made our way down the path to the lake. There were about thirty people there already. There were quite a few people gathered around a campfire and some of them were toasting marshmallows or roasting wieners.
Kate excused herself and went off to talk to some of the other girls, while Lainie and I found a seat on a fallen log just out of the way of the fire and its smoke. I opened the case of beer and handed her one, taking one for myself. We each took a sip and smiled at each other. She congratulated me on the new job and I asked her how the work at Jensen’s was going.
Her eyes sparkled, as she said, “Oh, Martin! It’s the best thing to happen to me ever. I love working there. I just wish my dad was pleased. Seems like nothing I do ever makes him proud of me though.”
Kate returned and I had time to hand her a can of beer, before I was grabbed from behind and pulled off the log.
I landed on my butt, and there was laughter. I turned to look as I got up, and saw Jordan, Jeff and Mark. All three were laughing.
As I attempted to stand up, Mark pushed me back down. I spilled my beer.
Jeff said, “Ha, look, Martin can’t hold his beer.” The three of them laughed uproariously at that.
I got to my feet, minus the beer and swung at Jeff. Jeff dodged me, stepping back, and I swung at air. Jordan said, “C’mon guys, let’s go find somebody else to pick on. He’s already lost the beer.”
“No way. I think Martin wants to fight. Do you wanna fight, Martin?” This from Jeff. He loomed over me, a good six inches taller than me.
I swung at his chin. I missed. Jeff swung his arm and it connected with my shoulder. Then he pummeled my chest and then my stomach. I dropped to one knee.
“C’mon guys. Enough.” That was Jordan again. This time the other two listened and they made off towards the fire.
Lainie was crying as she grasped my arm and Kate, taking the other arm helped me stand. “Oh, Martin, I am so sorry,” said Lainie.
“Not your fault,” I said, from behind a fat lip. I wiped at my mouth and my hand came away, bloody.
Kate opened her pocket book and took out a tissue. She handed it to me, and I pressed it against my mouth.
“Let’s get out of here,” she said. “We’ll go back to my place.”
That’s what we did. Lainie and Kate were both shaken up by what had happened, but not me. This was something that had happened to me before, always those three guys, although sometimes there were others. School had been miserable for me because of it.
We had a good time playing video games and finishing the beer.
Kate and Lainie told me that Lainie was going to move in with Kate.
“Say, that’s great. I can see both of you in one shot,” I said somberly.
I don’t know why, but both girls burst into giggles at that. Then I saw the time and I told them I better get going. We said our good byes, and I walked Lainie home and went home myself.
I was depressed for part of the walk, after I saw Lainie to her door. I mulled over the beating I’d got and wondered for the thousandth time just why it was I seemed so likely to attract the bullies in life. Then I started to think about my job at Mayer’s. That was a good thought. It made me smile, and by the time I reached my house I was grinning. Mom and dad were still up, watching a horror movie. I joined them for a while, and then went to bed.
As I fell asleep, I wondered if Lainie’s dad had given her any trouble when she got home. Maybe I should have stayed around for a bit. Little did I know what was brewing at her place.

***

Well, Martin was the main speaker this week. I wonder what’s going on at Lainie’s? I don’t trust that dad of hers at all.

It is a very good thing I read this chapter over before I posted. I had some names all confused and that would have been even more confusing to you, the Reader. All fixed, though – I think.

Bert and Lainie (Chapter Three)

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I dropped Lainie off at her dad’s but I sure was sorry to have to do it. I had my suspicions all along that she might not last out at my place, working for me, but I hoped she would settle in. At least then she’d be away from her dad. I knew the man wasn’t all there in some ways. He hadn’t been right since he came back off active duty. PTSD or something I think. It didn’t take him long to start in on the booze. After his wife died, there was only Lainie to take care of him. I think he resented it. That he needed to be taken care of. It can be hard for a proud man to need help from anyone. And his daughter – what made it worse was that Harry told me a long time ago that he didn’t believe Lainie was his.
“She’s brunette, for god’s sake. And grey eyes? Where’d that come from?”
I looked at the red haired man in front of me and shook my head.
“All kinds of genes in a person’s family, Harry.”
“Wish I’d asked Jenna before she died about it. Too worried about her dyin’ to ask though.”
I nodded and we finished our beers. Harry called for more, and we spent the rest of that night in the bar drinking and commiserating with each other. I was a good twenty years younger than Harry. I’d met him when I started to go into the bar when I turned twenty one. He was sort of a father figure I suppose. My own dad walked out one night when I was eight years old, to get cigarettes. He never came back. Mom refused to talk about him when he was gone. I grew up thinking I’d done something to make my dad leave me and Mom.
It wasn’t until I talked to Harry on one of the first nights we drank together that Harry suggested maybe I’d had nothing to do with the desertion.
“Some men just can’t take responsibility, Bert. Some men have to walk away. Me, I never did, even when I thought my kid wasn’t mine. I stayed. Watched Jenna die. Hated that.”
I went home that night, glad that I didn’t have any personal encumbrances, neither child nor spouse. Who needed that heartache?
Harry stopped going to the bars soon after that. He’d got mugged walking home one night and that sort of scared him, I think. Me, I wasn’t much of a drinker anyways, and one DWI was enough. I got off with a fine that I really couldn’t afford, and a tow fee for my old truck. Learned my lesson.

***
When Lainie stopped me on the street outside Mayer’s one day, and asked if I had need of a housekeeper, I said, “Sure do.” It was more because I felt sorry for the kid, than requiring help. She was all ready three days later, when I pulled up at their house, and Harry opened the door. He nodded to me and said, “She won’t last. Too incompetent. Too childish.”
I ignored what he said, and turned to Lainie who stood with her head down, and her face hidden. I wondered if she were trying not to cry. Poor kid.
“Let’s get the truck loaded with your things, Lainie,” I said, picking up her backpack and her old brown suitcase. She had a big paper bag too, which she carried out to the truck. Harry followed us, and he said a gruff, “Good bye. I bet I see you within days, girl.”
Lainie’s shoulders drooped. I said to her, “Lainie, hop in. We’ll stop at the food store for some supplies before I take you home.”
I drove down the street and turned onto Main. The Red and White foodstore was crowded with shoppers. They were offering a big sale for the fourth of July celebrations that were coming in a couple of days. I let Lainie shop mostly. She seemed to know what foods we’d need. She chattered away to me, and I noticed how she was different when her dad wasn’t around.
We headed back to my place, then, and hauled the stuff into the cabin. She carried her fair share, and I was surprised to see how strong the kid was. She was so thin and waif like.

***

It took three tries to write this chapter. Everything I wrote before was too predictable and not in the least interesting. I decided to go back and explore the other characters a little – Bert and Lainie’s father, Harry.

I do not know what the next chapter will bring.

Not yet.

***

Martin (Chapter Two)

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I walked across the street and stared at the sign in the window at Jensen’s Hardware.
I have dyslexia, so it’s a challenge to read most of the time. I got the message, though. They wanted to hire somebody. Maybe that somebody could be me. I straightened my leather jacket and entered the store.
“Why, if it isn’t Martin. How are you, son?”
Mrs. Jensen knows me from church. I go there with my parents, even though I resent it. I figure I’m too old to be seen with them. I’m nearly eighteen.
“I’m fine, Mrs. Jensen. I wondered if you’d consider me for the job you’re advertising?”
“Why, of course. I’ll need you to fill out an application, though. Can you do that?”
“I could. Would it be okay if I take it home and bring it back later?” I asked because my mom would help me fill out the form. Like I said, I’ve got dyslexia.
“Sure, Martin.” Mrs. Jensen reached in below the cash register and brought out a sheet of paper. I took it from her and promised I’d bring it back soon.
I folded it up and stuck it in my jacket pocket. I left the shop and walked down the street, in the general direction of home.

***
Then I got waylaid by Kate. She was carrying a bag from WalMart. She grinned and asked me what I was doing.
“Nothing much. Wanna hang out?”
“Sorry, Martin. I’ve got to get to work. C’mon with me. We can talk while you walk me over there.”
It was about two blocks to Mayer’s. I joined Kate and we talked about the party on Friday night.
“You are coming, aren’t you, Martin?”
“I might. Then again, I might have to work.”
“Really? Did you get a job then?”
“Not yet. But I have a lead.”
“Good. Mom says you’re lazy and we got into a fight about it.”
“I’m sorry.”
Kate laughed. “No need to apologize. My mom and I fight over all kinds of things.”
By this time, we had got to the coffee shop, and I said goodbye to Kate. She went into the building and I walked home. The leaves were crunchy beneath my feet. I liked the noise.
When I arrived at our house, a big ranch style that was built in the fifties, I went in and called for my mom. She wasn’t home.
Probably off to play whist, I thought. She and dad retired a couple of years ago. Did I mention that I am a late baby? My mom and dad were both over forty when I was born. They’ve always seemed old to me.
I knew mom would help me fill out the application. I needed a job. Not because I needed money. Dad made sure I received a generous allowance every week. I wanted to work because I wanted to feel normal. Other kids I knew had jobs, why not me? I was going off to college next year, and I wanted some work experience of some sort to add to my college applications. I already volunteered to help special needs kids through our church. If this job panned out, I’d be all set, I thought.
Just in case I couldn’t get into college. My dyslexia was a problem.

***
I went into the kitchen and made a peanut butter sandwich with extra jelly. I put it on a plate and headed to my room, leaving the application form on the kitchen table.
My room was my sanctuary. Mom and dad trusted me to clean it when required, and neither of my parents ever went in there. It was my place.
I switched on my radio and listened to the news and then some music. I was really too excited over the possibility of getting this job. I wasn’t sure why. I must be an idiot to be this worked up. Anyone my age already had worked a couple of different places. I was the only one I knew who hadn’t. Maybe I had a right to be excited then.
I finished my sandwich and put the plate on my night table. Then I called Lainie.
Most of the kids at school thought we had something going on, but we didn’t. I wouldn’t mind though. I had hopes that something would bring us closer together.
We met in third grade, when I moved here, and we’d bonded over a stray kitten we found walking home from school. Lainie had taken it in, and I knew she’d taken some comfort in doing that. After her mom died, she had only the cat. Her dad did nothing but yell at her, it seemed to me. I avoided going over there unless there was no choice. Most times I’d come to the door, and we’d leave right away. We’d go out to Mayer’s and have coffee or a soda and talk for hours. We were lucky that the owners didn’t mind us staying so long. They were an older couple, who loved their work.

***
“Hello,” Lainie said when I called.
“Hi there, Lain. Wanna go for coffee?”
Lainie said, “Can’t Martin. I’m in the middle of making dinner right now.”
“I’m in the middle of thinking you’re the cutest girl I’ve ever known.”
“Oh, Martin! You are funny!” Lainie laughed and I thought it was the nicest sound I’d heard all day.
“I got big news,” I told her.
“What’s that Martin?”
“I’m going to apply for a job tomorrow.”
“Great! Where?”
“At the hardware store.”
“Oh, Martin, not there!”
Lainie sounded less than happy.
I asked her why not, and she told me. She was after that job.
I knew she needed the money.
I asked her if she wanted to get together after she was done dinner.
“Sure, Martin. Wanna come over?”
We settled on a time to meet up at her house.
I put down my phone and sighed. No way was I going to try and take that job now. I supposed I’d have to go out tomorrow and start at one end of Main Street to the other, asking at every shop if they needed help. Might come up with something.
I took a shower and changed. Mom was home by the time I went downstairs. She greeted me and told me she’d won at whist. She was beaming. I knew she wasn’t that good a player and she usually lost, so I gave her a hug and congratulated her.

“Mom, I need your help to fill out an application for a job at the hardware store. Can you help me with it? Not tonight, though. I gotta meet Lainie.”

Mom told me that was fine and then Dad came home. Before I left, he offered to help Mom make dinner. He was a bit miffed that I wasn’t going to be there for dinner. He likes our “family time”, he calls it. I left the house.

***
I got to Lainie’s and rang the bell. Her Dad answered the door, and glared at me. He’d once accused me of laziness and being “spoilt”, which in some ways I knew was justified. Still, there was no need to be rude about it. I didn’t tell him so, though. I wanted to stay friends with Lainie.
Lainie came out of the house and we walked along the street. She stooped and picked up some dried leaves and tossed them at me. The rest of the way to Main Street, we took turns throwing leaves at each other. Then we got to Mayer’s.

coffee

There was only one table left, off in a corner near the kitchen door. We didn’t mind. We sat down and Kate took our order. She grinned at the two of us, but kept her distance. The Mayer’s don’t allow their staff to gab with the customers.
Lainie and I drank coffee and shared a cinnamon roll. We talked about the job opening and I managed to convince her to apply the next day.
“As long as you don’t mind, Martin.”
“Nope, not at all. Next job opening’s mine to apply for though.”
We laughed together.
Lainie’s dad walked in. He strode over to our little table and pulled a chair around from the next table. He sat down and glared at me.
“Hello, sir,” I said.
“Sir? Are you trying to be smart with me?”
“N-no, I’m not.”
“Well, don’t keep my girl out to late, eh? She’s got housework to do tomorrow. Hasn’t done the laundry all week. Lazy.”
Without waiting for either of us to speak, he got up, turned away and joined some of the other old guys at a table in the back.
Lainie was quiet. She stared at her coffee mug. I reached over and put my hand under her chin, so that she was forced to look at me.
There were tears in her eyes.
“It’s okay, Lainie. I’ll take care of you.”
“Don’t need that. I just need a good friend and you are that, Martin.”
Small comfort. I felt like I loved her, and she thought I was a good friend. Still, I would settle for that, for now.

***

I have no idea yet where this story is going to go. Be patient. We will figure it out as time goes by….

***