Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Daffodil

Elijah Poste speared the soft earth with his spade, stomping hard on the edge to force it deep into the soil. He pushed down on the handle, lifted the heavy load and dropped it into the wheel barrow next to him. Tears welled up in his eyes as he repeated the motion. Spear, stomp, push, lift, drop. Over and over until every last flower in his yard was gone.

When the wheel barrow was full, Elijah steered it across the lawn, up the ramp and into the back of his old pick up. It took most of the day and three trips to the community compost across town, but finally not a single flower remained. The garden beds were bare, black dirt and, at last, Elijah returned the weary spade to its place in the shed. He refused to look at the other gardening tools that stood at attention along the shed wall and were lined up in perfect rows along the work bench. As the sun started to dip in the western sky, Elijah closed the shed door and firmly clicked the shiny silver lock into place in the latch. There would be no more gardening at the Poste home.

Inside his big house on Dapple Deer Road, Elijah Poste washed his calloused hands in the kitchen sink. “I’m sorry,” he whispered to the photo of his beloved wife Elaina that stood on the window sill. “I had to do it.” He dried his hands on a tea towel and shuffled through the dining room and into the living room where he took a seat in his favourite chair and waited for night to fall.

The house was quiet. Too quiet. He couldn’t be bothered to turn on the TV or radio, but the quiet was disturbing. It had never been quiet when Elaina was alive. She was always telling her stories or singing along to some old record. At the very least her knitting needles would be clicking; there was never this much quiet. He hated the silent absence that Elaina had left behind. And more than the silence, he hated the gardens that she had so lovingly tended throughout their forty-six year marriage. He couldn’t bear to look out and see the riot of colour that was Elaina’s art. It hurt too much to know that she would never again don her ugly, blue gardening sweater and, in it, recreate Eden in their yard.

“I had to do it.” The words became his mantra.

As day became night and the world around him faded into darkness, Elijah fell asleep. His tired body slumped in the easy chair and his head lolled to the right, coming to rest on the thread-bare antimacassar that kept the fabric clean and safe from wear. His mouth dropped open and his soft snores cut through the stillness. “Just keeping the demons at bay,” he used to tell Elaina when she would nudge him in the night.

A short while passed before Elijah was awoken by a very familiar noise. He jolted awake to the sound of knitting needles clicking in rhythm with the creaking rocking chair that was Elaina’s. He peered through the darkness and there she was, rocking furiously, knitting with incensed determination. He was stunned, thrilled and terrified all at once.

“Well, if it isn’t awake at last,” Elaina chided her husband. “I don’t exactly have all night, you know.”

“Lainy?” He called her by his pet name for her, the way he always did when she used that tone and he knew he was in trouble.

“Why’d you do it, Eli? Why’d you dig up all my flowers?” She was cross and no excuse was going to be good enough.

“I had to do it,” was all Elijah could think of to say.

“You had to do it? Were you that anxious to be rid of me?”

“No, no, my love, of course not. I just couldn’t stand to look at them knowing you were gone and were never going to tend to them again. I just couldn’t do it.”

“Oh, you old fool,” Elaina exploded. She stopped knitting and looked at her grieving husband. “What makes you think that I wasn’t going to tend to them ever again?”

“You’re dead!” Elijah said in the no nonsense pitch he reserved for these types of debates. He harboured no illusions. He knew he was dreaming.

Wasn’t he? A little doubt followed by a little hope crept in. Either way, he thought, it’s good to have her back.

Elaina snorted. “Dead am I? Well, I’ll show you!”

She dropped her knitting into the basket next to her chair and, mustering all the feisty spunk she had been famous for, marched out of the room. Elijah smiled. Dream or ghost, Elaina’s determination was always both endearing and exasperating. He closed his eyes again and let the quiet and darkness soothe him, this time, back to sleep.

In the morning, stiff and achy from the shovelling and the night in the chair, Elijah dragged himself into the kitchen to make coffee and fix himself something to eat. He puttered about, trying not to think of Elaina, but knowing that she would have already had the coffee made and the toast buttered. Recalling her nocturnal visit, Elijah realized that he felt different that morning. He wasn’t sure what it was. He still felt sad. He still felt a bit angry. He also felt a little ashamed about what he had done to the flowers, but there was a tiny spark somewhere deep inside him that seemed to burn with the same determination that had burned in Elaina.

Being a warm spring morning, Elijah took his coffee onto the deck off the dining room and sat in one of the huge Adirondack chairs that Elaina had found at a flea market and had refinished the previous summer. The birds were singing and a dog barked somewhere down the block. The occasional car moved slowly up Dapple Dear Road and he was glad for the noise.

With a twinge of regret Elijah’s eyes fell on one of the bare flower beds next to the deck. The turned up soil looked like the blackness that had filled his soul since Elaina’s death. Was it only two weeks ago that she had fallen down in that very spot, taken by a sudden heart attack? It seemed much longer. It seemed like a lifetime had passed without her singing and stories and passionate gardening. Elijah wondered how he was ever going to go on without her

Then that spark inside of him stirred and pushed against the aching, lonely blackness. “It will be okay,” a soft voice whispered.

Elijah finished his coffee and stood up. He needed a shower and some clean clothes. There was still work to be done. The garden beds needed yet to be raked and seeded with grass. “I have to do it,” Elijah said.

As he turned to go back into the house, something caught his eye. A tiny splash of yellow off to the side of the deck drew his gaze. There, in the middle of the torn-up garden bed was a single daffodil. Elaina’s favourite flower.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Nailed to the Wall

There I was at the top of the ladder, hammer in hand, and there they were, scattered across the ground at the bottom of the ladder, a thousand nails glinting in the sunlight like silver jewels. I tried willing them back in the box and back up to my precarious perch high above, but they just lay there, happy as nails could be to have escaped their fate for a short while longer.

Colin came around the corner of the house just then muttering something about not being able to find the ladder and how Bud, next door, was going to get an earful for taking it again without asking. He stopped short when he saw it leaning against the side of the house with me on top of it. I mentally dared him to say anything stupid. He took the dare.

“What the hell are you doing up there?” Okay, it wasn’t exactly a stupid thing to say, but it was a good set up for a foolish follow up.

“I’m putting up the Christmas lights.”

“Um, Honey,” he said, rubbing his chin the way he does when he knows he’s about to step into murky water of undeterminable depths. “It’s August.”

Colin, being the practical man that he is, noticed the hammer and took a prudent step back. He must have also noticed the look on my face. A look that clearly said: What’s your point?

The Mexican standoff began!

While I waited at the top of the ladder for his hero archetype to kick in with my knuckles clinging to the eave in glowing damsel-in-distress white, he searched his mind for his best options. A few chin rubs later and a fearful grunt or two from me, he made his mind up to accept that he was going to spend that sunny afternoon putting up Christmas lights.

“Why don’t you come down from there and let me do it?” Colin suggested.

“Last time you said you’d do it, it didn’t get done and we didn’t have lights last year.”

“Yeah, well...” He looked down and saw the nails strewn throughout the grass. I could see his head shaking in disbelief as he realized I was planning on hammering them into the freshly painted facia board. It was an obvious choice between doing it himself and certain disaster. “Just hand me that hammer before you drop it on my head and get down off there.”

I lowered the hammer carefully and began my descent. Good sport that I am, I helped him rake all the nails out of the grass and put them back into the box where they belonged.

“Where are the Christmas lights?” Colin asked.

“In the shed. The clips for the eaves are in the box with them.” I walked away smiling with great satisfaction.

Who in their right mind puts Christmas lights up with a hammer and nails anyway?

I spent the rest of the afternoon in my garden gathering fresh veggies for dinner and making a lemon ice cream dessert. I figured Colin deserved a special treat.

The next day I got out the wheel barrow, a bag of mortar, a trowel and the hose and dragged them all to the front yard next to the stack of bricks that were killing the lawn. They had sat there for weeks waiting to become a planter. Just for good measure, I grabbed a spade, a rake and a few other dangerous looking bits of equipment. I donned a pair of work gloves, pulled a few strands of hair out of the scrunchy that was tying it back, and, just as Colin rounded the corner of the house in search of his wheel barrow and muttering about Bud taking things without asking, I turned on the hose.

“Ah,” said Colin, “there’s my wheel barrow. Are you going to be using it for very long?”

My head snapped up and the hose flipped out of the wheel barrow, soaking my legs and feet. “What did you say?” My brain was having trouble processing his words.

“I asked if you were going to be long with the wheel barrow. I need it to haul the grass clippings over to the compost pile. But it can wait until you’re done... whatever you’re doing.” He smiled and gestured in the direction of the stuff I had dragged out. “I think I’ll just head over to the golf course and hit a few practice balls while you’re using the wheel barrow.”

He started to walk away. “I have my cell phone with me. Just call when you’re finished and I’ll scoot home and finish up with the lawn.”

I was stunned. In twenty-five years of marriage, my ruse had never failed before. Colin had always succumbed to my clever traps. I had no point of reference to fall back on, so I just stood there and watched him drive away.

Bud from next door appeared from the other side of the house a few minutes after Colin had left me standing there without a clue how to build a brick planter. ``Hey, Mary! Can I borrow your wheel barrow?”

“Take it,” I said in disgust.

“Thanks.” Bud dumped the water out of it and wheeled it away.

There’s nothing worse than being nailed to the wall and then left hanging there. I went back in the house and ate the rest of the lemon ice cream dessert.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Selbuvoter Wedding Glove Mystery

The following is my first installment of Magpie Tales stories, based on (or, more accurately, inspired by) a picture posted weekly at

The last thing I need is another blog to keep up. But this is an opportunity to post some creative writing samples. Who knows where it will lead!

In this story the mystery is never solved. Perhaps that is as it should be sometimes.


“Give me a hand with this,” Jack said.

I looked up from my book at the man who had been my husband for sixteen years and sighed. His arms were laden with a box of memories collected over his life time; a life time that was wasted on memories. Jack lived in the good old days and had a penchant for adding to them as time went on. The future was a foreign concept to him and the present was merely a point in time from which to look back and remember when...

“What are you doing with it?” It was a dangerous and stupid question, but I asked it anyway.

“I’m going to sort it out.”

“And you need me to...?”

“Go through it with me.”


Unfazed by my obvious reluctance to relive his past, Jack plunked the box on the kitchen table and opened it. The cardboard flaps, worn from many previous openings and closings, allowed themselves to be folded back like the mystical shrouds Jack thought they were. They hung willingly by their scored hinges, four flower pedals blossoming in the light of day.

In spite of myself, I peeked over the edge of the open box. It looked just like it looked last time I looked, like a gathering of bits and pieces of a life that thought a cracked distributor cap from a ’57 Chevy (not even one Jack had owed) was precious. Some old photographs, a few report cards (the ones with A’s on them), every boutonniere from every wedding since 1960, a couple of love letters from the girls that got away, a dog collar (his first dog’s), ticket stubs from every concert since 1974, a pair of baby booties (just like the ones he had when he was a baby), one of those dashboard hula girls (spring broken), a remote control from the first TV he had with a remote control, an empty rum bottle, two ashtrays stolen from hotel rooms, six shot glasses stolen from bars, a few old 45s, eleven LP covers (kept for the artwork), an eight-track cassette, three rocks, some mini liquor bottles from past flights, a T-Rex t-shirt with a brooding Mark Bolan in a top hat, a patch pocket from a pair of striped bell bottoms, a black light, the first dollar Jack had earned (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), a set of coins from Canada’ centennial, his parent’s wedding picture along with various other bits and pieces came out of the box one by one. Thankfully, the stories behind them remained silent inside.

My book, my glasses and my tea had been dispatched to the counter to make room for all the junk. I stubbornly remained in my chair, keeping my hands to myself. I knew better than to show an interest by actually touching anything. I had seen all of these items dozens of times; had been there when many of them became exalted and worthy of the box. I knew all the stories behind each and every thing that now graced my kitchen table top.

Except one.

There was one thing that I didn’t recognize. Nestled in the centre of the table between the broken snow globe and the worn-out, leather wallet was a pair of Selbuvoter gloves, navy on white, with an intricate snowflake pattern on the back. They were old, very old. And big. They must have been made for a giant of a man.

“Jack,” I said, reaching for the gloves, “what are these?”

“Hmmm?” he said by answer as if he wasn’t really paying attention.

“These gloves? Where did they come from?”

“Oh, those,” he said in mock disinterest. “They were my great grandfather’s. My great grandmother made them for him as a wedding present. It was traditional, you know.”

I looked up at my memory-collecting husband and with sudden clarity knew what he was doing. He had just got the gloves, no doubt, and this was his way of introducing them to me. Any excuse to bring out the box!

“They’re enormous!” I said as I examined the perfect knitting.

“Apparently, so was my great grandfather. According to legend he stood nearly seven feet tall and wore a size 18 shoe.” The pride he injected into all of his memories was seven-fold its usual magnitude. “It’s a minor miracle that I have them at all. He was buried wearing them, you see.”

I dropped the gloves, recoiling in minor revulsion at the thought. Jack laughed.

“You’ve heard about those bodies that they dig up even now and then that are perfectly preserved. Usually, it’s women, but every now and then one of lesser human beings,” I rolled my eyes at this self-deprecation, “turns out to be worthy of sainthood.”

This was going to be a doozey, I thought. “Your great grandfather is a saint?” There was no hiding my scepticism.

“Not exactly. At least not officially as far as I know. But it seems that the church is ‘investigating’ the possibility.”

I gave Jack my best you’re-full-of-it look.

“Seriously,” Jack said. “There’s a bunch of cardinals or something pouring over his remains even as we speak, trying to decide what his status should be. He’s not just mummified, Clare. He’s absolutely perfect. He looks just like the day he died.”

“I didn’t know your family was Catholic.”

“They aren’t.”

“So what is the church’s interest in this?”

“It’s not every day that a hundred-year-old body comes out of the ground looking like it just went down for a nap an hour ago.”

“Okay, there’s more to this story than you’re letting on. Give.”

Jack smiled. He had me just where he wanted me.

“I don’t know all the details,” Jack began. “I don’t know much about my great grandparents at all. All I know is that the cemetery where they were buried was recently moved. All the bodies – about sixty, I’m told – were dug up to be moved to a new plot. Something about the residents nearby complaining about hauntings or some such nonsense. Anyway, a new plot was found that everybody approved and the exhumations began. My great grandfather was among the last to be buried in the cemetery and, as it turned out, the last to be dug up.

“When they pulled his coffin out of the ground, it tumbled over, broke open and he rolled out. Caused quite a stir, I’m told. The grave diggers were stunned and called in the authorities. The body was taken to a university in Prague, I believe. Somehow, and this is sketchy, the church got wind of it and now they are fighting with the university for the right to have the body to determine if this is a bona fide case of divine intervention.”

“That’s bizarre,” I said. “But how did you end up with the gloves?”

“They arrived in the mail the other day.”

“Just like that?”

“Pretty much. Yep.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I don’t either.”

“It’s creepy.”

“It is a little.”

“It is a lot!” I said. “How on earth did these things end up being mailed to you? Why didn’t they stay with the body?”

“I don’t know.”

“So how do you know all this other stuff?”

“I called my mother.”

“Does she know how the gloves got here?”

“She says she doesn’t.” He said. “But she knew they were missing.”

“What are you going to do?”

“About what?”

“The gloves.” Wasn’t it obvious?



“Someone wanted me to have them.”

“But who?”

“Don’t know.”

“Don’t you want to know?”

“Not really.”


“Because the mystery is more fun and makes a better story.”

“That’s sick.”

Jack didn’t answer.

The idea that a pair of gloves that had been buried with their owner for a hundred years and then mysteriously arriving by mail was disconcerting to say the least. As I cooked our supper, I told myself that Jack made the whole thing up. Maybe the gloves did belong to his great grandfather, but my mind would not believe that they had spent the last century in his grave with his pristine body. That was just ridiculous. The story was too vague, too much was missing.

It wasn’t like Jack to tell half a story; he was a detail man. His good-old-days stories were painfully specific. Right down to the colour of underwear sometimes. I just could not accept that Jack would accept such a bizarre and unconfirmed account any more than I could accept the macabre yet fuzzy facets of a tale so outlandish as this one was. I decided to put the whole thing out of my mind.

And somehow I managed to do that. Until, that is, a package arrived a few days later from Jack’s mother. In it was a note, in her shaky, eighty-year-old script:

Dear Jack

I thought you might like this to go with your great grandfather’s gloves. What a grand story this will make for you.

Love, Mother

Along with the note was a photograph of a giant of a man with neatly parted silver hair and equally giant handle-bar moustaches. He was laying on a slab in a morgue and was dressed in a black suit that looked like something a farmer would wear in the early 20th century. And on his hands was a pair of navy on white Selbuvoter gloves. Next to him stood a priest and a doctor. On the back was written: Jacob Anderson Born 1853. Died 1910. It was dated Jun/09.

He looked like he was sleeping.