SOULS OF A FEATHER

 

 

Charles W. Shirriff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

iUniverse.com, Inc.

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Souls of a Feather

 

All rights reserved. Copyright © 2001 by Charles W. Shirriff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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~ 1 ~

 

I LEFT MY HEART IN WINNIPEG

 

Jay settled into his seat on Air Canada flight 836 from San Francisco to Winnipeg. “Excuse us, please. Could you, like, skootch over to the aisle seat so my boyfriend and I can sit together?”

            Jay looked up at a young couple leaning over him. “Sure.” The man was a California beach-god: Costa del Mar sunglasses pushed well up into his sun-bleached (or so he maintained) hair, wind-tanned face, buff body in shorts and a Marcuzza T-shirt with a big-bead Hawaiian necklace. She was a petite with Irish-red hair and bubbling enthusiasm.

            “Me and Troy booked this aisle seat and the window seat, you know. That way we’d, like, have extra space if the middle one stayed empty. I’m Misty.”

            “Hi guys. I’m Jay. The aisle seat is great with me. I’d have booked it myself, but I had to leave in a big rush. I was glad to get any seat.”

            Troy smiled a flash of straight, shiny white teeth. He nodded a curt acknowledgment, “Dude,” before slipping on the headphones.

            “You mean you’re, like, you know, going home for New Year’s Eve?” Misty asked.

            “I guess so.”

            “Then you were, like, visiting friends in San Francisco?”

            “Looking for my dad,” Jay said.

            “Awesome. You were going to be together for the holiday?”

            “I was hoping to find him.”

            Misty frowned. “Is he, like, lost?”

            “I’ve never met him. He left Mom before I was born.”

            “That’s the pits. You know what he looks like, at least?”

            “No. Nothing. Until I get to meet him, I feel alone in the world, without a history.”

            “You have your mother’s history.”

            “I’m more like my dad than my mom.”

            “How do you know that, when you’ve never met him?”

            “I know I’m not like my mom.”

            “You didn’t find your dad?”

            “I did get a lead on where he is, though.”

            “Then what are you doing here instead of still looking?”

            “I have to see my girlfriend. Actually, she’s my former girlfriend, I guess.”

            “Don’t you, like, know for sure if she’s your girlfriend?”

            “Her father doesn’t approve of me. I haven’t seen her since before Christmas.”

            “Well that sucks, not to be with your girl at Christmas. Her father hates you?”

            “I think he likes me as much as he’d like any of Sue’s boyfriends. It’s more a wrong side of the track thing. I don’t fit into the family picture.”

            “Because . . .?”

            “They have money. My family has no money. I’m from a native community. He’s totally white.”

            “You don’t look native.”

            “That’s why I think I must be more like my dad.”

            Misty leaned over to look out Troy’s window. “Oh, look. We’re in place for takeoff.”

            “Good. Now, stop with the questions until we get into the air, eh? I need to concentrate on getting this noisy, lumbering behemoth off the ground,” Jay said, pulling on the armrests and pushing back into his seat as if by sheer willpower he would raise the plane’s nose.

            “Bummer. Everybody says I, like, talk too much. I guess it’s because I’m such a shy person.”

            After the plane had risen sharply into the afternoon sky, Jay exhaled with a sigh of relief. “OK. Now we can talk.”

            Misty leaned over and looked intently into Jay’s eyes. “Tell me like, everything. I love other people’s stories.”

            Jay took a deep breath. “I’ll start from the beginning. But promise me you’ll stop me if I’m boring you.”

            “Cool. People say I’m a good listener.”

            “I used to live in the bush, way up in Northern Manitoba, with my mom, sister and brother.”

            “Why did you leave?”

            “I got fed up with the isolation. That, and her live-in boyfriends.”

            “Sounds like you didn’t get along with them.”

            “It was OK. I got beaten on some by a couple of them.”

            “How awful.”

            “They thought everything I did was weird.”

            “Like what?”

            “They made fun of me for reading everything I could find.”

            “That doesn’t sound very serious.”

            “It’s like death by a thousand cuts. Each cut is nothing by itself. If you get enough of them it’ll kill you.”

            “So you just packed up and left?”

            “There wasn’t any future there for a guy like me. I moved south to live with this cool older guy named Phil in Winnipeg.”

            “A family friend?”

            “No. I met him on the bus. He’d been travelling home on his motorcycle, but it broke down and he had to take the bus. I had no place to stay so he did the big brother thing and let me stay with him.”

            “You were amazingly lucky.”

            “He’s a cool guy. Maybe you’ll meet him sometime. Tell me about you and your friend, eh?”

            “Oh, cool. We’re kinda, you know, like, almost married. Troy took a course in computer graphics in San Jose. He landed this job with some sort of film company in Winnipeg.”

            “He got work right away, eh? I didn’t even know there was a film company in Winnipeg.”

            “It’s called Frantic Films. They’re doing the TV show Quest for the Bay. They also do animation and computer graphics for movies.”

            “Like, anything I might have seen?” Jay asked.

            “Storm of the Century, for one. Swordfish for another. Totally awesome special effects. Troy has always been fascinated by movies.”

            “I’d like that kind of work, but I don’t have any education or training or anything. I like hanging around where they’re shooting films. I hope someday to get chosen as an extra, but I’ve never made it so far.”

            “They shoot a lot of films in Winnipeg?” Misty asked.

            “Some. Most of our actors go to L.A. where the real action is.”

            “I didn’t know film stars came from Winnipeg.”

            “Our most famous ones were in the movie Hannibal.”

            “I don’t believe that. You’re handing me a line.”

            “It’s true. Some of those fourteen tusked boars came from near Winnipeg.”

            Misty laughed. “You’re funny. One movie doesn’t qualify them as stars.”

            “They went from there to be in Crocodile Dundee III. Doesn’t that make them stars?”

            “I bet they have a better life now than they had in Winnipeg. It isn’t going to be cold up there, is it? Everyone says it will be. And there’ll be, like, snow all over the ground?”

            “It’ll be freezing. Let me guess. You’ve lived in California all your life, haven’t you?”

            “Oh yeah. Like, we’ve never been anywhere. This is such a cool adventure.”

            “It’ll be cool, all right. Especially if you didn’t bring warm clothes. And there will be piles of snow. We don’t call it, ‘Winterpeg Manisnowba’ for nothing. At least you won’t have to worry about mosquitoes for six months.”

            “What’s a mosquito?”

            “Little flying things that bite you.”

            “Gross. They have teeth?”

            “No. A long needle-nose they use to suck blood out of you.”

            “Only a drop or two. They itch afterward. Wood ticks are worse.”

            “Wood ticks? Yuck.”

            “A wood tick will bury its little head into your skin and inject a muscle relaxant into you. That way, it can suck the blood out more easily.”

            “Yuck.”

            “My mom told me about moose in the bush up north. They’d get so many wood ticks they’d collapse. If no one removed the ticks the moose would die.”

            “You’re, like, playing with my mind again, aren’t you? Those things don’t exist, do they?”

            “Oh they’re real, but they only live in trees or long grass. Lots of city people have never seen one. You’re lucky to live in California where you don’t even need to have screens on your windows.”

            “Let’s talk about something else. Insects give me the creeps.”

            “I like talking with you. It takes my mind off Sue.”

            “Tell me about Sue. What happened to her?”

            “Her mom says they found her unconscious on the bathroom floor.”

            “That’s scary,” Misty said.

            “She wouldn’t talk to them or anything, so they took her to the hospital. They’re doing tests.”

            “It sounded serious.”

            “She’s such a great girl. I’m really worried.”

            “You must know almost everything about Manitoba, Jay. Besides, its blood sucking insects, I mean. Tell me about it.”

            “I’m afraid I don’t know all that much,” Jay said. “Only what I read in magazines and the newspaper.”

            “Like what?”

            “Like Manitoba grows the best marijuana in the world. It’s one of our major exports. People say it’s better than the best Jamaican.”

            Troy looked over with sudden interest. “Dude. I thought Vancouver was the drug capital of Canada.”

            “British Columbia’s biggest cash crop is marijuana. However, for the home-grown designer stuff, Manitoba’s the place.”

            “It’s illegal, isn’t it?” Misty asked.

            “Except for some medicinal uses.”

            “That’s so cool. If I had a chronic backache, I could buy it legally?” Troy asked.

            “You’d have to get a photo I.D. so you wouldn’t get arrested for possession.”

            “If I had an I.D., where would I buy it? On the street?”

            “You’d have to get it from the government, and they have strict rules. There are fewer than a hundred people in all of Canada who have medical permission to use marijuana.”

            “Does the government buy it from the drug dealers?”

            “They grow it underground in a deserted mine shaft up north in Flin Flon where they can keep it secure.”

            “That’s too bizarre. It needs heat and light. How can it grow underground?” Troy asked.

            “Hydroponics. They can control the heat and use artificial light.”

            “Cool.”

            “They had trouble getting started because there isn’t a legal way of getting seed.”

            “It’s easy to get if you know the right people.”

            “The authorities aren’t supposed to know about that.”

            “What about the street stuff? Where does it come from?”

            “It’s grown in people’s basements. If they don’t get caught, it’s a lucrative business.”

            “The police would never find it in a basement if the windows are covered.”

            “The Hydro company notices a sudden increase in power use. Then the police raid the place and confiscate the equipment.”

            “Like our days of prohibition. I can just see the cops rushing in with their axes and chopping up all those great pot plants and breaking up the equipment and the high power lights.”

            “We Canadians are much too frugal for that. The confiscated equipment is used to grow herbs for winter use by restaurants at the Forks.”

            “The Forks?”

            “It’s an upscale tourist area built where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers join.”

            “What else is Manitoba famous for?” Misty asked.

            “It’s probably the world’s hog capital. Besides the boars for Hannibal, Manitoba farmers raised five million pigs last year and plan to produce 10 million next year. We’ll have at least four times as many pigs as people.”

            “Unreal. It must stink like a . . . well . . . a pig sty.”

            “It’s a big province. I guess the stench blows away. Sewage disposal is always in the newspapers as a big problem in the country.”

            “I always thought of Manitoba as a rather backwoods kind of place. It doesn’t seem like the sort of place that would be into movies and special effects,” Misty said.

            “Oh we’re quite advanced in some ways. We’ve established laws for e-commerce on the Internet, and we have one of the highest rates of Internet use in the world. That’s progressive.”

            “I guess when you can’t sit on the beach or ride the waves you have to come up with imaginative things to do,” Troy said.

            “We also have the longest recreational pathway in the world.”

            “The what?”

            “The Trans Canada Trail. It’s 16,000 kilometers of paved biking path. Right across Canada.”

            “What a cool idea,” Misty said.

            Jay and Misty passed the time chatting idly about winter in Manitoba, the need for irrigation in California, the flatness of the prairies and the novelty of having four seasons compared California’s two.

           

***

           

At the airport immigration booth, Jay was one of the chosen elite to have his luggage inspected.

            “Where’s your luggage?” the inspector asked.

            “I don’t have any,” Jay replied. “I had to leave suddenly.”

            The inspector looked up with interest. “You had to leave suddenly?”

            “My girlfriend’s in the hospital here in Winnipeg.”

            “Oh, I’m sorry. You can go right on through.”

            Jay hustled through the exit door and was jogging up the stairs when he heard a voice call, “Jay. Over here.”

            He stopped and turned back. “Mrs. Parkington. What are you doing here?”

            “I came to meet you, of course,” answered the neatly dressed, middle-aged lady, fussing with her gloves.

            “How could you have known I was coming? I didn’t have time to phone. I’ll bet R.B. sent you a message like he did to me.”

            “Who’s R.B.?”

            “Running Bear. I don’t think you know him. He’s the native shaman I met at the Red Dragon restaurant when I started working there. How did you know?”

            “Your friend, Steve, phoned me from California. He said to tell you he’ll pick up your stuff from the hotel and bring it with him when he comes back. I brought you an overcoat. In case you’ve forgotten, Winnipeg is cold in December.” She handed Jay the overcoat.

            “Thanks. As soon as I got the message I knew I had to come quickly.”

            “A message from R.B.?”

            “Not directly from him, but I’m sure he had something to do with it. It’s a bit complicated. I was on the beach when an eagle feather fell to the ground. When I picked it up it spoke to me. Well, it didn’t exactly speak, but somehow I knew I had to phone you. This vision of a guardian eagle sometimes comes to me. It’s as if R.B. talks to me through the spirit of my guardian eagle. He told me that Sue needed my help. I know it sounds crazy now, but it was totally real at the time.”

            “Whatever it was, I’m grateful. However, you should have taken time to pack.”

            “I had a bad feeling about Sue. Is she any better?”

            “The medical tests haven’t found any physical problem. She just lies there, staring into space and won’t talk to anyone. They keep doing more tests every day. Maybe they’ll tell us something soon.”

            “Can we go to the hospital right now, please? I need to see her.”

            “Certainly. It’s not visiting hours but I’m sure they’ll let us in. When you finance an entire research wing, they’re willing to bend the rules a bit for you.”

            “Your husband did that?” Jay asked.

            “In a way, yes. His father started it. He felt obligated to carry it through to completion.”

            “I’m impressive by his generousity.”

            Sue’s mother paid the parking ticket at the machine near the door. Misty and Troy stood nearby, discussing their next move.

            “Is there any way we could we give these guys a ride? They’re new here,” Jay asked.

            “Sure. Anything for friends of yours, Jay,” Helen said.

            “Hey Misty,” Jay called, “would you guys like a ride?”

            “Dude,” Troy said. “If it’s not too much trouble.”

            “Not at all. Come along,” Helen said.

            They followed Helen out to the parking lot and climbed into a silver BMW sedan.

            “Cool wheels,” Troy said.

            Helen guided the car gently onto the street. “I insisted George get me the M5. He wanted to get me a 750iL like he drives. He goes for show and luxury in everything. I like a car that handles well. Besides, this one was about half the cost of his.”

            “This machine must have cost a fortune,” Jay said.

            “Not really. However, they did charge something called a gas guzzler tax, whatever that means.”

            “We didn’t make arrangements or anything,” Troy said. “Can you, like, recommend a hotel? Not too expensive. This is my first real job and we’re low on cash.”

            “And we’ll be lower before the first pay cheque comes along,” Misty added.

            “I have an idea,” Jay said. “This guy, Phil I used to stay with, has a spare room I used to use. Maybe you could stay there. Only until you get settled.”

            “We wouldn’t want to impose on him,” Troy said.

            “Trust me. He’ll enjoy the company. He was pretty down about my leaving.”

            “Why did you leave?”

            “I got hired at this restaurant on the other side of town. I stay in a room upstairs to be close to work. You’d be welcome to stay with me except it’s only a tiny room.”

            “It would be way cool to stay with someone who knows the city. Maybe you could phone him and, like, check it out?” Misty asked.

            “I have to see Sue first. If you don’t mind waiting at the hospital, I’ll phone him afterwards,” Jay said.

            “You can use the car phone,” Helen suggested.

            Jay took the phone. “What’s the security number?”

            “2137.”

            Jay smiled.

            “What’s funny?” Helen asked.

            “That’s your house number.”

            “I use the same number for everything. It makes life so much easier.”

            Jay spoke into the phone:

           

              “Hi Phil.”

              “. . .”

              “I’m in Winnipeg. It’s a long story. I’ll tell you later.”

              “. . .”

              “Yes. I came back to see her. When did you talk to Steve?”

              “. . .”

              “I have a couple of friends who are looking for a temporary place to stay.”

              “. . .”

              “They’re your kind of people.”

              “. . .”

              “Well, they’re Californians. He’s going into film work.”

              “. . .”

              “We’d be coming over in about an hour. After I see Sue.”

              “. . .”

              “I’ll give you a call before we come over.”

              “. . .”

              “It’ll be good to see you again, too.”

           

***

           

Jay and Helen went into the vacant hospital waiting room. “Let me talk to her,” Helen said to Jay, walking over to the nurse on duty. After a brief but intense discussion, the nurse led them down an empty hallway. Their footsteps echoed eerily in the silence, as if the whole building were deserted. The nurse opened a door for them and with a curt nod, indicated they could enter. The hospital room was antiseptic and empty except for a single bed in the middle. A private nurse sat near the door blankly staring into space through glazed eyes. Troy and Misty stopped and waited outside the door.

            Jay felt his chest tighten with nervous anticipation. His breathing became shallow and rapid as he peered at solitary figure lying on the bed, hidden by a sheet.

            Helen whispered into Jay’s ear as they walked toward the bed. “We got a private room for her, and she has nursing care twenty-four hours a day. She’s getting the best care money can buy, but she doesn’t seem to be responding.”

            Jay stood by the bed for several minutes without speaking, looking down at Sue’s wan face. He took her hand and held it gently between his. Her blank stare moved to his face and their eyes met and locked in a silent, distant embrace. The seconds stretched into a minute, and then into ten, with no reaction from Sue except a small tear, trickling down her cheek.

            Jay reached over and brushed the tear aside. “I love you, Sue,” Jay said. “I’m back to look after you. Things will be all right soon. I’ll take you away from here.”

            “You can’t do that, Jay,” Helen interjected. “The psychiatrist said she was going on some medication soon. She’ll have to stay here for observation. They’ll want to talk to her.”

            Jay replied, “This is not the right place for her. I think you know that. We have to get her out of here. She needs to be with me so I can help her.”

            Jay looked back to Sue. “Trust me. I’ll make everything all right for you.” He leaned over and kissed Sue a gentle goodbye.

            “You shouldn’t have promised that, Jay,” Helen said when they left the room. “She’s getting the best care money can buy here.”

            “It’s not medicine that she needs,” Jay replied. “I’m taking her our of the hospital, even if I have to kidnap her. It’s the only way she can get the understanding and support she needs.”

            “We’ll have to see what George says. He’s her father and what he says is law. Let’s get these two friends of yours looked after.”

            “Give me a minute to phone Phil, again,” Jay said, heading toward the payphones. “I want to make sure there’s no problem with my idea.”

            “Jay’s like, such a cool guy,” Misty said to Helen. “Sue’s a lucky girl.”

            “Maybe you’re right. I used to think he was a bit flaky, but it feels good to have him here. I only hope he knows what he’s doing.”

            “I wish I had half the confidence he has,” Troy said.

            Jay returned from phoning. “Phil says to come on over. I knew he wouldn’t let us down.”

           

***

 

Troy, Misty and Jay knocked on the door of Phil’s apartment. The man who opened the door had the look of a typical Harley Davidson biker - husky, a bit thick in the stomach, with a bushy red beard. His piercing eyes, deep-set beneath bushy red eyebrows, surveyed them with an air of suspicion.

            “This is a pleasant surprise, Jay,” he said with a friendly smile that belied his gruff bearing.

            “Troy and Misty, this is Phil. He’s my ersatz mother,” Jay said. With a wide grin he added, “It’s my new word-of-the-day.”

            Misty said, “Hi, Phil.”

            Troy said, “Dude.”

            “I hope you don’t mind my suggesting they might stay with you until they get settled. You did such a great job looking after me, I thought you might like to help them out a bit.”

            “And what made you think that?” Phil asked.

            “It’s more like I felt guilty about leaving you the way I did,” Jay said. “Maybe it doesn’t make sense, now that I say it.”

            “This is the living room,” Phil said, waving toward the thread-bare hide-a-bed. A white leather recliner, sitting in front of the small TV, looked incongruent in the run-down surroundings.

            “Jay’s room is still empty and I do like company,” Phil said.

            They stepped into Jay’s former room. “Cool. A water bed,” Troy said.

            Jay picked up a set of keys off the dresser that used to be his.

            “It isn’t much but you’re welcome to it,” Phil said.

            “Dude. It’s great,” Troy said. “However, you have to let us pay. We don’t take charity.”

            “We can talk about that later. Did Jay tell you I’m vegetarian?”

            “Way cool,” Misty gushed. “I’m like, vegan, too.”

            “Well, I’m not a vegan. I eat eggs and milk, but we should be able to work things out.”

            Jay interrupted with a grin. “Phil will look after you, just like an old mother hen.”

            “How did the search for your dad work out?” Phil asked.

            “I talked to a fellow who worked with him. From what he said, I’m sure it’s my dad. Apparently, he moved south to somewhere near Los Angeles.”

            “You feel better about it now?”

            “A little. But I’ve got to meet him so I can see what I’m going to be like when I grow up.”

            “Children don’t always grow up like their parents.”

            “Maybe not, but I won’t be at peace until I know something about him.”

            “You’re getting close.”

            “Sorry to run, but I left Sue’s mother in the car. We’re going over to talk to Sue’s dad.”

            “I understand,” Phil said. “Be sure to drop around soon, Jay. I want to hear more about your trip.”

            “Good luck. Let us know how things works out,” Misty said.

            “Dude. C’ya later,” Troy called from the kitchen.

            “Thanks for everything,” Misty added.

           

           

           


 

~ 2 ~

 

LIFE ON THE LEDGE

 

Sue’s mother sat on the edge of her chair in their living room. Jay leaned back, sinking as inconspicuously as possible into the plush sofa. Sue’s father paced up and down, taking long pulls from his glass of Scotch. “You’re telling me she’s the same? No change at all?”

            Helen replied, “She lies there, staring into space. I can’t even tell if she recognizes me.”

            “The psychiatrist says it’s severe hysteria resulting from trauma. They’ll start treatment tomorrow,” George said.

            “Not electric shock, I hope.”

            “They don’t do that any more.”

            “I read that some hospitals are starting to use it again. I’d hate that for her.”

            “He’ll use Pentothal to get her started talking. Maybe they’ll try hypnosis, but that will have to be later.” George scowled in Jay’s direction. “Why did you bring him here?” he asked Helen.

            “Jay thinks he can help.”

            “I’m sure he does. What could he do?”

            “He thinks the hospital is not the right place for her.”

            “Where does he think she should be? Up north on some Indian Reserve?”

            Jay cleared his throat. “I don’t live up north anymore. I live here now.”

            “What are you suggesting?”

            “We need to get her out of the hospital.”

            “Great. I suppose you’d take her to live with you in that dive above the Red Dragon? Never.”

            Jay swallowed. “There are people who would help us.”

            “Like your crazy old Indian friend?”

            “Indians are people who came from India,” Jay countered quietly. “How do you know R.B.?”

            “Don’t get smart with me, kid.” George glared at Jay.

            “R.B. is a citizen of this country, a respected First Nations elder, and a shaman besides,” Jay continued.

            George went over to the solid oak sideboard and refilled his glass. “Whatever.”

            “Our friends would help us, but I’m not counting on anyone else. I know I can help Sue because I’ve been there.”

            “We’ve all been to the hospital. That doesn’t prove anything.”

            “I didn’t mean the hospital. I meant I know what she is experiencing,” Jay said.

            “How could you possibly know anything about this? You have no medical credentials. You haven’t even finished high school.”

            “I may not have any formal credentials, but I do know how to help Sue.”

            George frowned at Jay. “You think you know more than the best doctors money can buy? You know nothing about the world. You’re way out of your depth here. I put my faith in people with medical training and experience. You get what you pay for in this world.”

            “Doctors deal with the physical body,” Jay said. “Sue’s problem isn’t physical. It’s spiritual and emotional.”

            “What would you know about ? You don’t have a degree in psychology.” George countered.

            “Maybe I’m not educated, but I’ve had some experience with life. I try to learn from my experiences.”

            “I listen to people who have credentials.”

            “You want credentials? I’ll show you credentials,” Jay said, taking off one of his shoes. He pulled off the sock to expose his foot, ringed with a neat row of cigarette burns. “These are my credentials from when I was twelve. He called them the notches on his six-shooter. I never understood what he meant, but I knew it wasn’t good.” Jay pulled his T-shirt over his head and turned to expose the welts on his back. “And these are my most recent credentials.”

            “That’s horrible, Jay. Why would anyone do that to you?” Helen gasped.

            “The latest of my mother’s boyfriends tried to teach me how to behave. I didn’t learn well. At least he cared enough about me to make the effort to teach me. I appreciated the time and effort he spent. I’m sorry I could never please him. Sometimes I did try.”

            George made another trip to the sideboard for another drink.

            “I’m sorry. It must have hurt terribly,” Helen said.

            “The physical pain soon goes away, but the emotional effects last. They sap your spirit and will eventually rot your soul if you let it.”

            “Can’t you talk it out?” Helen asked.

            “Who can you tell? There’s no one who would understand even if they did believe you. Soon you feel guilty about keeping secrets from those you love. You come to feel that it must somehow be your fault. If it weren’t, you should be able to talk about it.”

            George plopped heavily into his armchair. He took a long pull drink and wiped his mustache with the back of his hand. “It’s too bad about the things that happened to you, but it has nothing to do with Sue. We know she hasn’t been beaten or abused.”

            “There doesn’t have to be anything physical. It can be some emotional conflict the person is trying to resolve. Starting to talk about it can be hopelessly difficult,” Jay said. “I’ve had the experience of sitting with someone who is ready to listen, but the words don’t come.”

            “It’s like making it rain,” Helen said.

            George rolled his eyes. “Here we go again.”

            Helen continued. “When they try to make it rain, they seed the clouds with potassium iodide crystals. This makes a nucleus around which the moisture condenses to form a rain drop.”

            “That’s surprisingly accurate,” Jay said. “There needs to be a beginning point to break through the wall.”

            “Like when they put little nick in the peanut packet so . . .”

            “Stop already,” George interrupted.

            Helen looked thoughtful. “I’ve heard of soldiers in the war whose arms become paralyzed. They can’t hold a gun and have to be sent back home.”

            Jay continued. “In Sue’s case her brain shut down to protect her from having to deal with something.”

            “What could it be?” Helen asked.

            “It doesn’t matter what it was. If we don’t act quickly, the wall will get thicker and it’ll become harder for her to deal with life.”

            Helen looked at George. “Maybe it’s like people who become temporarily blind after witnessing a gruesome accident. Or a person who develops amnesia because . . .”

            George interrupted again. “I still don’t see how this has anything to do with Sue.”

            “It isn’t something you can explain to people who haven’t experienced it. When I look into her eyes, I see the fear and the pain that’s taken over her spirit,” Jay said.

            “Sue’s getting the best treatment money can buy.”

            “She doesn’t need medicine or treatment. She needs someone who understands her feeling of isolation.”

            “That’s what we pay psychiatrists to do. What do you think you can do that they can’t do?” George asked Jay.

            “I’m what’s called a wounded healer. In matters of the spirit, the healer needs to have experienced the emotional pain himself in order to understand it.”

            “It’s like a white man can never totally understand the feelings of an oppressed black man,” Helen said.

            “He can only treat the physical symptoms and hope the spirit will heal itself,” Jay continued. “The symptoms may disappear, but the sickness in the spirit remains to fester and corrode the soul.”

            “It’s like if you’ve never lived on a reserve . . .”

            George interrupted, “We get the idea, Helen. Jay, you don’t mean to sit there and tell me you want to take Sue out of the hospital and away from all medical treatment, do you?”

            “I know that she needs to feel safe enough to be herself. She needs to feel acceptance without having any expectations placed on her. This won’t happen in the hospital, but I can give her that.”

            “What makes you think that will help her?”

            “I know what it’s like to curl up in a corner with the blanket over your head and wish for the world to go away. I was lucky. I didn’t have anyone to take me away to a friendly, antiseptic hospital where they would take care of me. Eventually hunger and the smell of stale urine forced me to come to grips with my own reality.”

            “She could come here. Surely she’d feel safe here,” Helen said.

            “Physically and emotionally safe, yes, but you’d expect answers from her. She needs to feel safe enough to cry without explaining why.”

            “We wouldn’t pressure her,” Helen said.

            “You wouldn’t intend to, but the expectation would be there. It’s as if Sue is standing on the edge of a cliff. She is afraid to move for fear of falling. You’d want to help so much you might push or pull, and make her lose her balance. She needs someone to walk beside her. To be there if she needs a hand to hold without trying to help.”

            “It’s like helping a blind man,” Helen said. “You never take him by the arm to guide him. You offer your arm and let him take it.”

            “What’s the difference whether you take his arm or he takes yours?” George asked. “Help is help. Sue needs help. She needs to face reality.”

            “There will be a time for that, but right now she needs to come to grips with her thoughts and emotions in her own way. A different environment would make it easier for her,” Jay said.

            “Maybe we should tell Jay what we think was troubling Sue before we found her on the bathroom floor,” Helen suggested.

            “No. That’s a family matter. We don’t discuss family with strangers.”

            “Jay’s not exactly a stranger, George. They did go steady for several months, and even you must know how upset she was when she and Jay broke up. He’s the only person who is offering us any real hope for helping her.”

            “You don’t need to tell me anything,” Jay said. “Sue needs help on a feeling level, not a factual level. Maybe it’s better I know nothing other than what she chooses to tell me.”

            George poured himself another drink. “If we let you take Sue out of the hospital, and I’m not saying I will, where would she go if she doesn’t come here?”

            “I have friends who would take us in. We look after each other like family. Any one of us would put his own life on hold, without even being asked, to help. That’s what true friendship is.”

            “I won’t have her in some slum like that Red Dragon place where you live.”

            “There isn’t room for her there, anyway.”

            “Jimmy and Becky’s place isn’t much better. Besides he’s a crook, a convict and a drug addict.”

            “He’s given up drugs.”

            “His kind can never give up the drugs, and anyway that doesn’t make him any less of a thief.”

            “He’s served his time. Now he’s following the red road.”

            “The red road?”

            “Sorry. You’d say the ‘straight and narrow’. Red road is the term First Nations prisoners use.”

            “He’s not Indian, is he?”

            “No. He picked up the expression when he was in jail. I like the term red road better than the straight and narrow. It sounds less restrictive, more positive and flexible.”

            “In what way?”

            “It offers the opportunity to smell the flowers along the way, and to romp in the meadow.”

            “None of that makes him less of a crook. He’s a no-goodnick.”

            “Jimmy’s a caring guy who’d share anything with his friends.”

            “That doesn’t say much when he doesn’t have anything to share.”

            “He’s been a good friend to me. I trust him. He and I share everything we have.”

            “Big deal. Neither of you has anything of value, and never will. He’d steal the milk out of your tea if you weren’t watching him every minute.”

            “He never steals from people he knows.”

            “That doesn’t help me much. He’s a shmuck. By the way, don’t forget to get his watch back.”

            “What do you know about his watch?”

            “I know you pawned it to get the cash to go to California. Never pawn an old Rolex like that. It’s worth way more than you’ll get for it.”

            Jay looked thoughtful. “You’re probably right.”

            George continued. “Steve at least has a job and a decent apartment, but he’s a flaming faggot. His place is probably a hangout for all kinds of gay orgies. I don’t want Sue hanging around with that kind of person.”

            “Steve’s still in San Francisco.”

            “Phil’s place is decent, but he’s emotionally unstable. That’s why they fired him from the police force. I wouldn’t want anyone to find out I’d let my daughter stay with a crazy man.”

            Jay looked confused. “How do you know more about my friends than I do? Did you have me investigated while I was dating Sue?”

            “Of course I did. What’s the use in having money if it doesn’t buy you the information you want? Knowledge is power. Not as powerful as money, of course, because money can buy knowledge.”

            “What about Cam and Jamie? Accountants are respectable and their apartment is decent. Or don’t you like them because she’s pregnant?” Jay asked.

            “My man never mentioned any Cam and Jamie. Who are they?”

            “Friends.”

            “Great. I paid that guy a small fortune, and he still didn’t do a proper job. That’s the last work he’ll ever get from me. Come to think of it, he didn’t report on Tanya, either.”

            “There’s nothing to say about Tanya.”

            “Sue told us you went out with Tanya. She was jealous about that. That wasn’t very gentlemanly of you.”

            “Tanya has absolutely nothing to do with anything,” Jay said.

            George looked sternly at Jay. Jay’s gaze dropped to the flour.

            “You protest too much. You’re still interested in her, aren’t you?” George asked.

            Jay opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by Helen. “What about a hotel? That would be respectable.”

            “She should be here with us where she belongs,” George said.

            “She’s nineteen years old and can do what she wants,” Helen said.

            “Not in her present condition, she can’t.”

            “Maybe Jay does know what she needs. Why don’t we give him a chance?”

            George refilled his glass. “I don’t plan to give him a chance to do anything. I don’t want that klutz anywhere near my daughter.”

            “You know she won’t talk to anyone else. We have no choice.”

            George looked at his drink. Jay stared at the floor. Helen looked back and forth between the two.

            Finally, George drained his glass. “I’ll make a call to the Birchwood Inn. You know the one. It’s close by, just over the Moray Street Bridge. It’s one of Winnipeg’s prestige hotels. However, I want you to understand, young man, that I’ll be reserving a two-room suite and I expect you and Sue to be in separate rooms.”

            “Oh. George,” Helen exclaimed, “it’s insulting when you talk like that. You need to learn to trust people more. Besides, the Birchwood’s now a Holiday Inn.”

            “I didn’t get to where I am today by trusting every momzer who comes along in hopes of latching onto our daughter and our money.”

            “I understand what you mean, sir. You may not know me well enough to trust me, but I do love Sue. I can assure you Sue’s well-being is, and always will be, foremost in my mind.”

            “And no psychic stuff, or Indian mumbo-jumbo.”

            “It’s settled then?” Helen said. “We’ll pick her up tomorrow.”

            “Right now, please,” Jay pleaded. “Time is important.”

            “I don’t drive at night,” Helen said. “We could go now if you’ll drive, Jay.”

            “I’d be happy to. I’ll drive carefully,” Jay said, looking at George.

            “Take Sue’s car, Helen,” George said. “I don’t want anything to happen to your new BMW.”

            “Do you need your overcoat, sir? I’d like to keep it for a day or two until Steve brings me my parka from California, if you don’t mind.”

            “Why would you take a parka to California?”

            “I wore it to the airport and didn’t know what else to do with it except take it with me.”

            “Whatever,” George said, heading back to the sideboard.

            Jay and Helen talked as they drove to the hospital. “Are you Jewish?” Jay asked.

            “No. Why do you ask?”

            “What’s with those unusual expressions your husband used? They sounded Jewish.”

            “That’s Yiddish he’s picked up from the neighbors. A lot of Jewish people have moved into the neighborhood. Unfortunately, George is fascinated by some of their less desirable terms. He tries to be sociable, but he doesn’t have much in common with them. It’s his attempt to bond with the neighbors. I try to keep him from using them, but when he gets a bit too much to drink, he likes to insult people in Yiddish. He figures he can get away with it because they won’t know what the terms mean.”

           

***

 

The hospital was empty except for the nurse behind the desk. “You go and check Sue out while I go and get her,” Jay said.

            “This is crazy, Jay. It’s after 11 o’clock. They’ll never discharge her at this hour.”

            “You go talk to the nurse. I’ll be right back.”

            Jay went down the deserted hallway and tiptoed past the private nurse dozing in a chair near the door to Sue’s room. He took off his borrowed overcoat, wrapped it around Sue, and scooped her up in his arms. He got as far as the hallway before a nurse challenged him. “Hold on. What do think you are doing?”

            “Checking out,” Jay replied.

            “You need a wheelchair to move a patient.”

            “Of course. Would you get us one, please?”

            While the nurse went in search of a wheelchair, Jay continued out to the exit with Sue in his arms.

            “She says the doctor has to sign a release form,” Helen said.

            “That’s fine. Tell her the doctor will do it in the morning,” Jay called from the doorway.

            Helen joined Sue and Jay in the car. “What are you doing to me? I’ve never done anything like this before in my life. We could get in trouble for this, couldn’t we?”

            “A person has to do what seems right at the time. Maybe we’d better get going before they call the police,” Jay suggested.

            “Can they charge us with kidnapping?”

            “I doubt it. After all, you’re her mother. Besides, if they don’t catch us, I’m sure they won’t. There’s a Sev, do you mind if I pull in there, please.”

            “A what?”

            “A 7-Eleven store. I’ll pick up a snack and some stuff for breakfast. Can I get you a Slurpee?”

            “A what?”

            “A Slurpee. You’ve never had one? They’re a crushed ice sort of drink.”

            “It’s wintertime. I doubt they’re selling crushed ice things this time of year.”

            “Sevs sell them all year long.”

            Jay got back into the car with a bag of supplies and a Blue Raspberry Slurpee. He passed it to Helen. “Try it.”

            She took a tentative sip. “Mmmm. Sweet.” She took a long drink. “Oh. It’s great.”

            “Don’t drink it too fast or it’ll freeze your head.”

            Helen gave Jay a quizzical look, and took another long drink.

            “I’m not kidding,” Jay said, taking the drink from Helen. “It can give you a major headache. It doesn’t last long, however.”

            “You’re so protective, Jay. I like that.”

             “You mean to tell me you’ve never had one of these before?”

            “Never. George doesn’t spend much time in 7-Eleven stores.”

            “Manitoba is probably the Slurpee Capital of the World.”

            “You’re making that up.”

            “No, really. I read in the paper that Manitoba Sevs sell an average of more than 7,000 a month, compared to the Canadian average of about 4,600. And Canada is way ahead of the rest of the world.”

            “I guess we like ice.”

             He drove to Portage Avenue and turned left.

            “This isn’t the way to the Holiday Inn, Jay. You need to turn right.”

            “We’re not going there.”

            “Are you kidnapping me, too?”

            “It depends entirely on your reaction to what’s happening. We’re going to Steve’s apartment. He’ll be in San Francisco for a few more days. I have a key. If you don’t want to come with me, then I guess I’m kidnapping you. If you don’t mind, then I’m not. The facts are unimportant. It’s your reaction to what’s happening that’s real.”

            “What’s wrong with the Holiday Inn?”

            “Nothing. I’m sure it’s a fine hotel, and it’d be better than the hospital. Still, it’s an antiseptic environment. There’s no feeling of life in a hotel. The rooms are dead and stagnant, with no hope of the future nor memory of the past.”

            “Like a rain cloud without a nucleus.”

            “Exactly. Steve’s place pulsates with vitality and life.”

            “We should go and check you into the Holiday Inn to keep George happy. He’ll be angry if he phones there and finds you’re not registered. You don’t have to stay there, just so long as you are signed in.”

            Jay made a U-turn and they drove to the hotel.

            “Maybe we should tell him what we’re doing,” Jay suggested.

            “I don’t want to get into a hassle with him about it right now.”

            “I’ll tell him, if you want me to.”

            “No. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

            “You know best, but I’d rather we tell him.”

            “You and Sue can wait in the car. I’ll go in and register.”

            Helen came back to the car. “If you decide to use the room, it’s number 305. You might as well take me home and keep the car. There isn’t much I can do now.”

            “Thanks for all your help. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

            “You can drop me at the door. I’m not going to tell George anything except that you have a room at the Holiday Inn. I hope he doesn’t try to phone you, or we’ll both be in his bad books.”

            “I still think we should be honest with him.”

            “If I have to, I’ll tell him in the morning when he’s sober.” Helen leaned over and kissed Sue.

            “Her eyes followed me,” Helen said to Jay.

            “Don’t tell me. Talk to her,” Jay said. “She needs to have people talking to her, not about her. She needs to regain her place in society.”

            Helen put her mouth to Sue’s ear and whispered intently for a moment.

            “Here’s a bank card for whatever you might need, Jay. The PIN number is the same as the security alarm for the house. You remember what it is, don’t you?”

            “It’s the same as your house number, right?” Jay asked with a grin.

            “I know it’s not smart, but it’s the easiest way for me to remember. Take as much money as you need. All I ask is that you be good to my daughter. Give me a call in the morning.”

            Jay fumbled for his key in the foyer of Steve’s apartment, trying to keep Sue covered with her father’s overcoat, all the time carrying on a rambling monologue. “I’ll have to put you down for a minute until I get the door open. Man. It’s cold. I wonder why anyone would leave California to come to a place like this.” Sue lifted her bare feet off the cold floor, one after the other, until Jay scooped her up again and carried her to the elevator. “We’re going to be staying in Steve’s apartment. I don’t think you’ve ever been here before, but I know you’ll like it.”

            With his arm around Sue’s waist, Jay guided her to the apartment door. The flat gray hallway carpet ended abruptly at the doorway. Sue’s toes kneaded the apartment’s plush carpet, luxuriating in the soft texture, like a cat making itself comfortable.

            They walked past the blue chintz furniture and glass-topped dining room table surrounded by sculptured black metal chairs. The stark black and white posters portraying nude male figures caught Sue’s attention as they walked to the kitchen.

            “Sit here while I get you a robe,” Jay said.

            He returned and slipped a dressing gown over Sue’s shoulders. The expensive silk felt smooth and sensual against her skin. “It’s lovely, isn’t it,” he said. “You have to watch out because it has a mind of its own and it will slip open if you aren’t careful. Here’s a cool glass of milk and some cookies for a late evening snack. They’re Oreos. Your favorite. I have to make a quick phone call, and I’ll be back.”

            Jay spoke into the phone:

           

              “Hi Jimmy. I need you to do me a favor.”

              “. . .”

              “What I need right now is for you and Becky to move into the Holiday Inn for a few days in case anyone is looking for Sue or me. It’s all taken care of. If anybody questions you, say you’re me.”

              “. . .”

              “No, we aren’t hiding out. I’ll explain later.”

              “. . .”

              “It’s that fancy one on Portage Avenue. It’s called Airport West, I think.”

              “. . .”

              “Yeah. With the fish in the elevators. Room 305.”

              “. . .”

              “You can charge meals and stuff to the room.”

              “. . .”

              “No, you can’t. Food and necessities. That’s all.”

              “. . .”

              “I suppose a few beers would be a necessity.”

              “. . .”

              “Whatever you think is fair.”

              “. . .”

              “If anyone phones tell them I’m out and will call them back later. Then phone me here at Steve’s place.”

              “. . .”

              “Yeah. I had a good time. I’ll tell you about it later. I’ve got to go now.”

              “. . .”

             

            Jay ended the conversation and returned to Sue. “We’ll play a quick game of Snakes and Ladders and then get you to bed. Sorry there isn’t more choice. Steve doesn’t go in much for board games.”

            Jay rolled the dice, moved the pieces for both of them and carried on an animated dialogue with himself throughout the game. Occasionally he miscounted moves to ensure Sue stayed ahead of him.

            “You win,” Jay said with enthusiasm. “That means you get to have me carry you to the bedroom as your prize.”

            Jay tucked Sue into bed, gave her a gentle, loving hug, and slid under the covers on his side of the bed.


 

~ 3 ~

 

BATTLE OF THE VEGGIES

 

“Morning, Phil,” Troy said as he came into the kitchen. “We, like, had a totally awesome sleep last night. Dude. That water bed is one wild ride.”

            “Just like riding the surf?”

            “Not exactly, but it’s way cool.”

            “Glad to hear that,” Phil said.

            “And speaking of water, your toilet is, like one wild trip.”

            “It’s a regular toilet. Aren’t they all the same?”

            “No way. About five years ago our toilets had their water cut in half as a conservation thing. Their flushes are way wimpy. Yours are, like, entirely emphatic.”

            “Maybe you could start a business selling them in California, eh?”

            “I’d make a fortune. But I’d rather become famous in the film industry.”

            “How about breakfast? I usually make crepes, but they have eggs and milk. You did say you were a vegan, didn’t you?”

            “Misty’s vegan. I usually, like, you know, go along with what she wants because she does the cooking. I’m cool with anything. When I’m by myself, I’m, like, a totally ravenous carnivore.”

            Misty came in. “I eat plant products only. Since you’re already, like, vegetarian, it’s only a matter of cutting out the dairy stuff. You know, like, milk and butter.”

            “And eggs,” added Troy.

            Troy sat across the table from Phil. “You’re such a righteous bro, Phil. We’re most appreciative of your killer hospitality.”

            Phil smiled broadly. “It’s great to have you here. I love your company, and your accent.”

            Troy and Misty exchanged looks and smiled. “We were saying last night you Canadians have such a cute accent. What’s with the ‘eh’ thing, anyway?” Troy said.

            “It’s a general question thing. Canadians don’t like to be too pushy, so when make a statement we soften it by making it into a sort of question. The French do the same thing with their n’est-ce pas at the end of a sentence.”

            “You Canadians, like, speak French, then?”

            “Some of us, but not me. They say Canada is a bilingual country, but it’s mostly French in the East and English in the West.”

            “So officially there are two languages?”

            “Well, sort of. We have our laws and cereal boxes in both languages. Except for the province of Quebec, of course. They actively promote French as a way of preserving their culture. Businesses in Quebec are required by law to have the English on their outdoor signs no more than half the size of the French.”

            “What a relief. I was afraid I might have to, like, learn French when I moved here.”

            “Not unless you plan to work in Quebec.”

            “Cool. What kind of vegetarian are you?” Troy asked. “Ovo? Lacto? Ovo-lacto?”

            “Ordinary garden variety. I eat eggs and dairy products.”

            “What about fish?”

            “I’m a simplistic vegetarian. I don’t eat anything with a face,” Phil said.

            Misty frowned. “You aren’t a true vegetarian, then.”

            “I think I am. I started eating vegetarian because red meat wasn’t good for my cholesterol level. From there it gradually expanded to include all flesh.”

            “Not eating meat doesn’t make you a true vegetarian. Being a vegetarian is a lifestyle and a philosophy. It’s not only a food thing.”

            “I don’t know what you mean,” Phil said. “It’s how I eat, not how I am.”

            “We vegans are pro animal-rights. We oppose inflicting cruelty and pain on animals for economic gain.”

            “Now Misty, don’t start with your preaching again. Phil can live his life any way he wants. We’re his guests here and we should remember that.”

            “It’s all right, Troy,” Phil said. “I relish a good discussion. I’m opposed to the killing of animals, too. I don’t wear leather or fur because I don’t want to be responsible for the needless death of an animal. However, I don’t see what’s wrong with drinking milk or eating eggs. It doesn’t kill the animals to produce them.”

            “They raise chickens in tiny wire cages. They are nothing more than egg-producing machines. Male chicks are slaughtered and discarded because they are of no value in producing eggs.”

            “Would it be all right to eat free-range eggs?” Phil asked.

            “In a perfect world it might be. Nevertheless, it’s wrong to use chickens or any other animals for our own purposes when it isn’t necessary. It’s doubly wrong to make them suffer to increase the profit margin for the producers.”

            “What about milk? Cows produce milk naturally.”

            “Cows are raised for the express purpose of producing milk.”

            “They are?”

            “I don’t know for sure. I’ve never even seen a real live cow. However, that’s what I’m told. They should be free to live their lives as nature intended. Besides, do you know what happens to the calves produced as a by-product of their pregnancy?”

            “No.”

            “They are force-fed an inadequate diet to produce tender, light-colored meat and then slaughtered for sale as veal. This isn’t what God intended when he created the world. I refuse to drink milk because of the pain and suffering associated with its production,” Misty said.

            “Besides, she’s lactose intolerant,” Troy added with a wry look.

             “I have cereal, but I don’t know what you’d put on it,” Phil said.

            “Soy beverage is way cool. We drink a lot of it,” Misty said.

            “I haven’t any soy milk. I tried it once a few years ago, but it was gray, thin, and tasted like bitter beans,” Phil said.

            “It’s totally excellent now. They even make different flavors, like vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. More like a milkshake than anything else.”

            “They must have improved it since when I tried it.”

            “I can eat the bran flakes dry or with water if you don’t have milk. However, if you have orange juice, that would be the greatest. I like bran because it’s high in iron, and I always have orange juice with it because Misty says I should.”

            Misty added, “The vitamin C makes plant iron easier to assimilate.”

            Phil looked at Misty. “I’ll remember that. It’s good to know even if one isn’t a vegan. Doesn’t a vegan diet cause some nutrition problems?”

            “A shortage of vitamins D and B12 is the main one.”

            “Vitamin B12 is hard to come by if you don’t eat meat products.”

            In California, we spend our time baking on the beach. That gives us way lots of natural vitamin D.”

            “Manitoba gets a lot of sunlight. We call it sunny Manitoba,” Phil said.

            “Dude. With all your cold weather, nobody in their right mind is going outside. I’m surprised you aren’t all suffering from a vitamin D deficiency,” Troy said.

            “Our milk is fortified with vitamin D,” Phil said.

            In California, we spend our time baking on the beach. That gives us way lots of natural vitamin D.”

            “Manitoba gets a lot of sunlight. We call it sunny Manitoba,” Phil said.

            “Dude. With all your cold weather, nobody in their right mind is going outside. I’m surprised you aren’t all suffering from a vitamin D deficiency,” Troy said.

            “Our milk is fortified with vitamin D,” Phil said.

            “Soy beverage is too. In fact it’s fortified with a wild assortment of vitamins and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, iron zinc to fill in almost anything you might be missing.”

            “You’ve convinced me. I’ll pick up some this afternoon. For now, would tofu sausages and toast be all right?”

            “Fine for me, thanks. You’d better ask Misty about the toast.”

            “Oh right. It’ll take me awhile to get into the swing of this no-egg and non-dairy thing.”

            “We usually make out own food. It’s either that or spend hours reading labels.”

            “How about some honey for your toast?”

            “I don’t eat honey.” Misty said.

            “You’ve lost me again,” Phil said. “What constitutes bee abuse?”

            “It’s a philosophical issue. It’s not how they raise them, it’s the reason for their life that’s important. They are raised for the sole purpose of making honey, and then killed off at the end of the season.”

            “You mean, if instead of killing them off, they were left to die during the winter then it would be all right?”

            “Not at all. They shouldn’t be born for the pleasure or profit of people. They should be allowed to live and die in the fulfillment of their own destiny.”

            “It sounds like a rather fine line to me.”

            “Besides some poor little bees get accidentally squashed when the lids are put back on.”

            “That’s an accident. It’s not as if they are being deliberately killed.”

            “It’s an accident that wouldn’t happen if they weren’t being raised for their honey in the first place. It’s a needless death.”

            “I’ll have to think about it. Let’s get on with breakfast. Coffee?” Phil asked.

            “Do you have tea?” Troy asked.

            “Caffeine free,” Misty added.

            “You’re in luck. I love herbal teas.”

            “Cool. We’ll do a bit of grocery shopping later, but this is totally adequate for now.”

            “Give me a bit of time and I’ll come up with some recipes for us,” Phil said. “I’ve become good at modifying regular recipes to make them vegetarian. Making them vegan shouldn’t be too much more difficult.”

            “You’ll find it surprisingly easy. A good way to start is to use soy beverage in place of milk or yogurt in all your usual vegetarian recipes. It sort of replaces butter, too.”

            “What about eggs? Most baking calls for eggs,” Phil said.

            “You can replace an egg with two tablespoons of corn starch, or with a banana.”

            “This vegan cooking sounds like an interesting challenge,” Phil said.

            “I don’t suppose you’ve ever used wheat gluten?”

            “When I was a boy on the farm we used to take a handful of wheat and chew it until it got rubbery like gum.”

            “I wouldn’t know about that. It’s called ‘seitan’ in Asian food stores.”

            “I have an idea,” Phil said. “I’m planning to have people over of New Year’s Day. Maybe you could make some for dinner. It would be a great chance for you to show off for some of our friends.”

            “Dude. Way cool. What a totally awesome idea. Misty and I have, like, no plans. Speaking of your friends, what’s the deal with Sue and Jay? Sue sounds like she’s in bad shape.”

            “Sue and Jay were an item last fall, but her dad broke them up before Christmas.”

            “They take it hard?”

            “I didn’t think so at the time. As far as Jay was concerned, he seemed to take it in stride. Although, he did always say he was going to get back with her eventually.”

            “What about Sue.”

            “Her friends said she seemed to be sick a lot. Nothing major, just sick to her stomach a lot. They said she seemed worried about something. Then a few days ago, she collapsed and they took her to the hospital. I don’t know what it’s all about except it seems more psychiatric than physical.”

            “You think she was that upset about losing Jay?”

            “There must have been more to it than that, but I wouldn’t want to guess.”

            “It was good of Jay to shorten his holiday to help,” Misty said.

            “It doesn’t surprise me. He always said he was going to marry Sue, someday.”

            Phil, Troy and Misty finished their rather Spartan breakfast and tidied up the dishes.

            “You and Jay seem to be close friends.”

            “He’s more of a soul mate than anyone else I’ve ever met.”

            “He said you met by accident.”

            “We happened to be on the same bus to Winnipeg. Somehow, we recognized we needed to have each other in our lives. It was some sort of synchronicity.”

            “Dude. You lost me on that one. Excuse me, but I’m going to get cleaned up a bit,” Troy said.

            “That’ll take the better part of an hour,” Misty said to Phil. “He’s totally particular about his image. Honestly, sometimes I think he must be gay or something. What were you saying?”

            “You know how things work by cause and effect?”

            “Sure. One thing is the cause of something else. If I drink too much beer, that causes me to throw up.”

            “Well, synchronicity is like that except the two events occur simultaneously instead of one after the other.”

            “If they occur at the same time, one can’t cause the other. Doesn’t that make it a coincidence?”

            “It’s as if some cosmic plan makes the events happen together, for some reason we don’t understand. You might say both the events cause each other.”

            “I get it. It’s like Troy and I are here with you because we were assigned seats next to Jay on the airplane. If we hadn’t been on the same flight, and had seats in the same aisle, we would never have met. Then we wouldn’t be here with you now.”

            “Right. My life and yours are being affected by Jay, although he isn’t directly the cause of any of it. Hence, it isn’t cause and effect. On the other hand, it’s because of him we are having this conversation. It’s synchronicity.”

            “Isn’t it simply a coincidence?”

            Phil replied, “It would be if it didn’t have significant implications for us. Obviously, there are millions of events that occur at the same time. Only a few of these coincidental events are life changing. Jay’s been a catalyst in my life and he still is. I think I’ve been an influence in his life. I consider that to be synchronicity.”

            “How do you prove synchronicity?”

            “You can’t prove something like that the way you prove cause and effect. If I drop something, it will fall down. Cause and effect is easy.”

            “Unless it’s a helium balloon. Then it falls up,” Misty said.

            “That’s different. I meant in a vacuum.”

            “How often do you drop things in a vacuum?”

            “Well, it’s been done in the lab often enough. With things concerning humans, controlling conditions is hard. You can’t put them in a lab. This is where the study of cause and effect breaks down when you try to apply it to people,” Phil said.

            “Maybe an example would help me.”

            “Everybody knows people who have a cat or dog as a pet live longer, right?”

            “Sure. Or maybe it seems longer because you have to look after them and clean up after them.”

            “So you’d say having a pet is the cause and the person living longer is the effect, right?”

            “Sure.”

            “How would you prove it? Would it be possible to do a lab experiment where you take a bunch of people and give some of them pets and others not? And then wait to see which die first?”

            “We could do that. With difficulty. Why not compare people who have pets with people who don’t? That’s simple enough. Just feed it into a computer and see what drops out.”

            “It’s simple enough, but you wouldn’t know if having the pets was the cause or perhaps something else.”

            “Like what?” Misty asked.

            “The personality of the people who have pets. Maybe the same characteristic that makes them like animals also makes them lead a relaxed life style. Maybe it’s the personality characteristic that causes both the liking of pets and the living longer. Maybe you’re looking at two separate effects from some other single cause.”

            “Isn’t there some way to get around that question?”

            “You could select a random group of people who have pets and take the pets away from half of them. Then compare how long the members of each group live.”

            “That could be a problem. Not everyone would want to give up their pet for an experiment.”

            “Exactly. Besides, if you did the experiment only with the people who were willing to give up their pet, you’d be back to the personality thing. It would no longer be an average group, and your experiment would be biased,” Phil said.

            “You’re saying that in the realm of ordinary human life, cause and effect may be an illusion?”

            “As a minimum, it’s highly questionable. Besides there is the problem of which is the cause and which is the effect.”

            “Isn’t it obvious?”

            “Consider the well-known fact that the rate of poverty for two-parent families is less than a quarter the rate for single-parent families. This means getting married is a good financial move, right? Getting , married is the cause, and less poverty is the effect.”

            “I get it. It could be that having money is the cause, and getting married is the effect.”

            “Exactly. This is the big fallacy in a lot of computer-based research. It is easy for the computer to find relationships, but not easy to interpret them.”

            “Can you prove synchronicity?”

            “Synchronicity is one of those things in life that defies proof. It’s a totally different way of looking at the interaction of human events. It requires faith, not proof.”

            “I’ll try explaining it to Troy when he comes back. You may have to help me out. I’m the intellectual one. Troy’s the kind of dude who would rather be on a surfboard than reading a book. Sometimes he can be super dense.”


 

~ 4 ~

 

THIS IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME

 

Jay rolled over to look at Sue. “Hi. You sleep well?” Sue smiled and nodded agreement.

            “We’re going to have breakfast and then visit some of our friends. Anything special I can get for you?” Jay asked.

            Sue smiled and nodded.

            “What would you like? Something special to eat?”

            Sue shook her head from side to side.

            “Something to drink?”

            Sue shook her head.

            “I give up. What do you want? You’ll have to tell me.”

            Sue mouthed the word to Jay, “Clothes.”

            “Of course. Silly me. We’ll go to your place and get some right after breakfast.”

            Sue shook her head emphatically and whispered, “No.”

            “I understand. I’ll phone your mom and have her bring some over. We won’t go anywhere until she gets here. How about you have a shower and freshen up while I get some breakfast ready. Do you need some help?”

            Sue shook her head, climbed out of bed and went to the bathroom.

            Jay popped two slices of bread into the toaster and phoned Sue’s parents:

           

              “Hi. Mrs. Parkington? This is Jay.”

              “. . .”

              “She’s showering right now. We plan to go out and visit some of our friends today.”

              “. . .”

              “Well, yes. I suppose it’s more my idea than hers, but she seemed to be OK with it.”

              “. . .”

              “She needs some clothes. I can come over and pick them up if you’d rather not drive.”

              “. . .”

              “It’s apartment 1605. You’ll have to buzz from the entrance.”

              “. . .”

              “Sure. We’ll save you a toast and coffee. Bye.”

           

            Half an hour later, Jay answered the lobby buzzer.

            “Come on up, the door’s open.”

            He met Sue’s mother at the door and they stepped into the living room. She paused in front of the black and white photos, her mouth dropping open. “These are . . .”

            “Surprising, aren’t they?” Jay finished for her.

            “That’s putting it mildly. I’m not used to pictures of naked men on the walls. Or anywhere else as far as that goes,” Helen said.

            “I’m sorry if they offend you.”

            “They don’t offend me. They’re remarkably artistic, and positively resonate with repressed energy. Still, as you said, surprising. That’s a good word for them. Surprising.”

            “Let’s go to the kitchen. We’re almost finished our breakfast.”

            “How’s Sue?”

            “See for yourself,” Jay said.

            Sue looked up from the newspaper. “Hi Mom.”

            “Sue, how are you? I brought you some things.”

            “Oh good. I was hoping you’d bring that sweater. I’m much better, thanks,” Sue said.

            “Jay says you’re going to meet up with Becky and Jimmy. Are you sure you feel up to it?”

            “It seems like such a long time since I’ve seen her. Don’t worry. Jay will look after me. He even cheated last night and pretended I won at Snakes and Ladders.”

            “I didn’t think you’d notice,” Jay said. “I shouldn’t have done that. It wasn’t being honest with you. Sorry.”

            “You meant well. I think it was a sweet thing to do,” Helen said.

            “Is your husband happy about the present situation?”

            “Maybe not happy. It takes a lot to make him happy, and even more to get him to admit it.”

            “Is there anything I can do to make him happier?”

            “I’ve told him I think this is a good idea, but he won’t be satisfied until he has Sue back home.”

            “When are you coming home, Sue?”

            “Soon,” Sue answered, looking at the floor.

            “I’ve got some errands to run for George. Call me if you need anything,” Helen said. She gave Sue a big hug.

            Later that afternoon, Jay and Sue sipped Cokes and nibbled at a plate of french fries in the Portage Plaza Mall.

            “Jimmy and Becky said they would meet us here. You’re going to be all right with them, aren’t you?” Jay asked.

            Sue nodded agreement.

            “I’ll take my cues from you. You can answer if you want to. If you don’t want to, I’ll fill in for you.”

            Sue nodded and whispered, “O.K. Do I look all right?”

            “Beautiful,” Jay smiled. “Don’t worry about a thing. Remember we’re all on your side.”

            “I know.”

            “Here come Jimmy and Becky now. Hi guys,” Jay said.

            Becky smiled. “Hi. We had a super swim at the hotel this morning. It’s such a totally fantastic place. Thanks for letting us use it.”

            “It’s the first time I’ve ever stayed in a real hotel. Room service is about the greatest invention ever. It’s like the best holiday of my life,” Jimmy added. “They even send beer to the room.”

            “You’re taking it easy on the charges, I hope,” Jay said.

            “Oh sure. We only order what we need.”

            “How much beer would that be?”

            “Jimmy’s behaving himself,” Becky said. “I’m making sure of that.”

            “Thanks for helping us out. Remember that if anyone phones for Sue or me, you tell them we’re out. Then phone me and I can follow up on it. We’re supposed to be living there, you know.”

            “Oh right,” Jimmy said. “I forgot. Sue’s dad phoned this morning.”

            “You’re such a loser, Jimmy,” Becky said. “Try to concentrate on the real world and get that drug-numbed brain of yours working.”

            “What did he say?” Jay asked.

            “He wanted to know if everything was all right. I said it was. He said you should call him at the office.”

            “I don’t suppose you got the number?”

            “You’ve got to be kidding. My brain doesn’t hold numbers well.”

            “I know the number,” Sue said.

            Jay and Sue went to find a pay phone:

           

              “Hello, sir,” Jay said when Sue’s father answered.

              “. . .”

              “Yes. Thank you. The suite is more than we needed.”

              “. . .”

              “I’ll ask her,” Jay said into the phone. He covered the mouthpiece with his hand. “Do you want to say hello to your dad?” he asked Sue. She nodded and took the phone.

              “Hello.”

              “. . .”

              “Yes. I’m feeling better.”

              “. . .”

              “I’ll be home soon.”

              “. . .”

              “No. Not today.” Sue handed the phone back to Jay.

              “. . .”

              “Hello again.”

              “. . .”

              “Yes, sir, I will.”

              “. . .”

              “Nothing right now. I’ll phone if we need anything. Thanks.”

           

            Sue and Jay returned to the table.

            “How was San Francisco?” Jimmy asked.

            “It’s the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen.”

            “How many cities have you seen?” Becky asked.

            “Lots on TV,” Jay countered.

            “You went there looking for your father, didn’t you? Did you have any luck?”

            “I got close. He lives a day’s drive south of San Francisco. I wouldn’t have had time to see him on this trip, anyway. Besides, I need to be here for Sue. She and I will go and visit him sometime.”

            Sue stood up suddenly. “I’ve got to go to the washroom.”

            “Did I say something wrong?” Jay asked in confusion.

            “I’ll come with you,” Becky said, getting up and going with Sue.

            “Did I say something wrong?” Jay repeated.

            “Not that I noticed,” Jimmy said. “But then, I’ve been having trouble concentrating lately.”

            “Are you back on drugs?”

            “No. I’ve been clean since you guys did that number of yours on me. What was it called? An intercession?”

            “An intervention. I hope you don’t think we were meddling, but as your friends we had to do something. Sticking ourselves solidly into the middle of your life forced you to choose between drugs and us. We couldn’t sit by and watch you destroy yourself. It had to be either no drugs or we’d be forced to shun you totally.”

            “When I realized I had to make a choice, it was obvious. I’m lucky to have friends who are willing to put themselves on the line like that for me. What was it you asked me?”

            “If you’re on drugs again. You said you weren’t.”

            “I haven’t touched anything since the . . .”

            “Intervention.”

            “Right. Well, OK. One or two joints to be sociable, but I didn’t inhale.”

            “Oh sure. You and Clinton.”

            “Honest. I’ve been having sort of flashback trips. They don’t last long but they sure mess up my head. They’re from the acid, I think. Ecstasy isn’t supposed to do that sort of thing. They say it takes a long time to get your system cleared out. Sometimes I don’t concentrate well. I think it’s getting better, but a lot of the time my brain is like Swiss Cheese.”

            “Hang in there. You’ll be getting better day by day.”

            “I think Becky’s getting tired of me and my problems.”

            “Remember I’m always here for you if you need help to get through the night.”

            “Thanks. That means a lot to me.”

            “Friends have to stick together. It can be a tough world, sometimes.”

            “Don’t forget we have a deal to go to Montreal, eh?” Jimmy asked, brushing his shoulder-length dirty-blond hair back over his shoulder.

            “Count on it, buddy. Remember our deal. You said you’d give up smoking if I took you to Montreal.”

            “Maybe I did. There are a lot of things I don’t remember. I’ve given up drugs. I might as well plan to give up smoking.”

            “And then drinking?”

            Jimmy glared.

            “Just pulling your chain,” Jay said.

            Jimmy smiled with relief. “It’s a deal. You take me to Montreal and I’ll quit smoking.”

            “What’s taking the girls so long?” Jay wondered out loud.

            “Don’t worry,” Jimmy said. “Those two always have lots to talk about. When we heard Sue was in the hospital, we planned to see her, but we didn’t get around to it before you set her loose.”

            “I wanted to get her out of there as quickly as possible.”

            Becky and Sue returned. Sue’s eyes were red and moist. She was leaning on Becky’s arm.

            Jay looked at Sue. “Is everything all right?”

            Becky answered, “No. We need to get Sue back to the hospital.”

            “Can we manage in the car? Or should we call an ambulance?” Jay asked.

            “The car will be all right. But we need to hurry,” Becky replied.

            “It’ll be faster than calling an ambulance,” Jay said as the group hustled down to the parkade.

             The drive to the hospital was fast and silent. Jay concentrated on judicious lane switching to beat the orange lights. Sue was looking pale and drawn when they checked into the emergency room. Becky spoke quietly to the nurse.

            “Wait here Jay,” Becky said.

            “I want to come with her,” Jay protested.

            “You can see her later. Trust me. This will go better without you.”

            Jay moved restlessly from chair to chair in the waiting room for half an hour before Becky returned.

            “How is she?” he asked anxiously.

            “They want to keep her here at least overnight,” Becky said.

            “I should never have taken her out in the first place. My stupidity could have killed her.”

            “Don’t blame yourself. You had no way of knowing.”

            “Her dad was right. I’m just an uneducated, stupid nobody. If only I hadn’t been so caught up in trying to be a hero.”

            “You’d better come and stay with Jimmy and me tonight at the hotel.”

            “I’ll have to talk to Helen first. She and George need to know what’s happening.”

            “We’ll come with you,” Jimmy said. “You may need some moral support.”

           

***

 

“You guys stay in the car,” Jay said as he parked the Mustang in front of the Parkinsonson’s house.

            “I think I’d better come in,” Becky said.

            “You’re right. I don’t know anything about what happened.”

            “I’ll guard the car,” Jimmy said. “Leave the keys so I can listen to the radio.”

            Helen opened the door for Jay and Becky. “Come in. George and I were having a cocktail. Can I get you something?” she asked.

            “No thanks,” Jay said. “I don’t think you’ve met Becky.”

            “Why no, I haven’t. Sue’s talked about you often, but we’ve never met. Nice to meet you.”

            “Mr. Parkinsonson,” Jay said, “I’d like you to meet Sue’s friend, Becky.”

            “Is this a social call?” George asked.

            “I’m afraid not,” Jay said. “We had to take Sue back to the hospital.”

            Helen jumped up from her chair. “We have to go see her.”

            “I told you to leave her there in the first place,” George said. “You should have stayed away from us and let the experts handle things.”

            “Is she all right?” Helen asked.

            Becky moved over to sit beside Helen. “The doctor says not to worry. There is some hemorrhage so they want to keep her for observation.”

            “If you’d left her there in the first place this would never have happened,” George said.

            “I’m sorry, sir. You’re right. I made a bad mistake.”

            “I hope you learned something from all this.”

            “Yes, sir. I should have sought guidance instead of being so impetuous. It was more important to me to be a hero than to respect the opinions of others. I’m sorry.”

            “Good. Apparently there was no serious harm done.” George said. “What you did was stupid, but it was a gutsy thing to do.”

            Jay looked confused. “You’re not mad at me?”

            “Of course I’m mad at you, and I expect you to listen to me next time. However, I do like it when people have moxie.”

            Helen interjected. “Your motives were good, Jay, and we appreciate that.”

            The three spent a few more minutes reviewing what little they knew and restating the obvious until Jay and Becky left for the hotel.

            “Damn fool kid,” George said, settling down with the Financial Times. “We’ve got to keep him away from our daughter.”

 

           

           

           

~ 5 ~

 

WELCOME BACK TO THE REAL WORLD

 

Early the next afternoon, Jay drove over to see Helen, and asked, “I’m going to the hospital to see how Sue is. Would you want to come with me?”

            “George and I talked to the doctors earlier this morning, and had a meeting with the psychiatrist. He had a good talk with Sue.”

            “And . . .”

            “There’s no need for her to stay there. She can leave as soon as we want.”

            “Did they say what the problem was?”

             “It seems it’s the way her body reacts to emotional stress. He says teenage girls often react physically to stress.”

            “But what’s causing the stress.”

            “He didn’t say.”

            “Was he angry that I took her out of the hospital?”

            “On the contrary. He said she is much better emotionally.”

            “Then why did they want to keep her there?”

            “The psychiatrist wanted her there because they didn’t know what her environment would be like if she came with us. He said whatever you’re doing, you should keep doing it.”

            “Do you mean her dad will let her stay with me at Steve’s place?”

            “He thinks you’ll be at the hotel. However, he is resigned to having you look after her. The psychiatrist was specific on that point. He says she feels safe with you. He said something about writing a paper on the therapeutic value of Snakes and Ladders, whatever he meant by that.”

            “Do you want to come with me when I pick her up?”

            “I think not. I got the impression we should leave things up to you.”

            “I’ll keep you posted,” Jay said.

 

***

 

Jay and Sue finished an afternoon snack at Steve’s place.

            “Are you sure you feel up to coming with me to the Red Dragon?” Jay asked.

            Sue nodded agreement.

            “Han Sing gave me time off until the New Year. Since I’m back, I guess I should go in to work. I can use the money. If you can spare me for a few hours a day, that is.”

            “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be OK if you go to work.”

            “What about visiting Running Bear?” Jay asked.

            “You say he’s been good for you. Let’s give him a shot at me.”

            “He’s a great old guy, and an amazing shaman. I never know what he’s doing, but it works miracles for me.”

            Jay turned the car down North Main Street and found a parking spot in front of the Red Dragon. “After San Francisco, Winnipeg seems tiny,” Jay said. He looked over at Sue. “You can stay in the car or come in. It’s up to you.”

            “I’ll come with you.”

            “All you have to do is relax and go along with whatever happens. I’ll do the talking.”

            Sue took few deep breaths. “OK. Let’s go in.”

            A wizened little man of Asian heritage looked up from his activity behind the counter. “Hi sonny boy.”

            “Hi, Han Sing. This is my girlfriend, Sue.”

            Han grinned. “You make a cute couple, but I hope you don’t intend to have her stay here with you.”

            “We’re staying at Steve’s. I wanted to see how you’re getting along without me.”

            Han Sing laughed. “You think one week and the place will fall apart without you? You could take a pot of tea up to R.B. if you want to be helpful. I hope you take Arrow out for a walk while you’re here. I’m tired of doing it every day.”

            Sue looked at Jay. “Arrow is Running Bear’s dog,” Jay explained.

            Han Sing put the kettle on to boil. “I do a special little turkey dinner as a thank-you for my regulars and their friends late afternoon before New Year’s. Usually a lot of people drop in. We could use your help.”

            “I think we’ll be going to a friend’s place for dinner. It’ll probably run from around eight until midnight.”

            Han Sing put the pot of tea and three cups on a tray. “It would help a lot if you could come in around four and help us get set up. Stay as long as you can. We don’t charge for the meal, so there aren’t any bills to worry about. It’s the serving and cleaning up that needs help.”

            Jay picked up the tray. “I always knew there was a soft heart beneath that tough exterior.”

            “Don’t let it get out, or these guys will be after me all the time for charity. Besides, most of them stay and drink until midnight. That pays for the meals.”

            Jay knocked and gently pushed open R.B.’s door a crack and called gently, “Boozhoo.”

            An ancient First Nation native sat cross-legged in the middle of the room, amid rolled up rugs creating a circular living space in the middle of the room. “Biindigeg!”

            The old German Shepherd beside him lifted his head and sniffed the air. Jay guided Sue onto the hide-covered floor in front of R.B. The dog got up on his shaky legs and wobbled over, resting his head on Jay’s knees.

            “Arrow has missed you,” the shaman said. After a few minutes of comfortable silence, looking at the floor, he turned to Jay and smiled. “Onizhishi giinimoshe.”

            Jay gave R.B. a questioning look. “What do you mean?”

            “Your girl is pretty,” R.B. said.

            Sue smiled shyly and looked down.

            “I know only a little Ojibwa language. My mother taught me a few words. She said our language connects us to our ancestors and our culture, and that I am to be proud of being Anishinaabe. I’m not even sure what Anishinaabe means.”

            Anishinaabe means I am a person. We take it to be the Ojibwa word for our people,” R.B. said, and then began to laugh quietly to himself.

            “Why are you laughing?” Jay asked. “Back home people always laughed when they spoke Ojibwa. I never knew why. I thought it must have something to do with me, and they were making fun of me.”

            “Ours is an oral language. We listen to the sound of the words.”

            “How does that make it funny?”

            “I was thinking of what I said, in my language. The word ‘Ojibwa’ was the name given to our tribe by the other tribes because the seams of our moccasins were puckered on the outside. When I said that Anishinaabe is Ojibwa for us, I was actually saying I am a person who is puckered on the outside.”

            “I can see how it would be funny.”

            “We often laugh because of our language. It speaks in words of action for naming objects. This gives unusual and vivid meanings which are often funny.”

            “I don’t understand.”

            “Our ancestors had no need of a word for restaurant. The time came when we needed one. We made the word ‘wiisiniiwigamigoonsan’ from words we already had. Its real meaning is, ‘he eats little house more than once’ by which we mean restaurant. The separate parts are like a joke to me. It makes me laugh inside every time I hear it.”

            “Was my mother right that I should learn our language?”

            “When the white man took our land and water, we could find other land and water. When we were forbidden by law to practice our traditional ceremonies, like the Sun Dance, we could do them in hiding. However, when they took our language, they took our culture and the heritage of our ancestors.”

            “How did they take our language?”

            “They put our children into residential schools. They were forbidden to speak their native tongue and were punished if they spoke anything other than English. Ours was an oral language until the white man came. When our children grew up, they had no language to teach their children our customs and ceremonies. Our teachings come from the heart and our memories.”

            “Does this still happen?”

            “We have our own schools now. We soon will have our own native teachers who will help our children to regain our past. The first step is to teach our children the value of their language and their heritage. Our culture passes from generation to generation through the imagery of our own words, not the words of the white man. If we lose our words, we lose our culture.”

            “Maybe that’s what my mother meant by wanting me to be proud of being Anishinaabe,” Jay said.

            R.B. nodded solemnly. “Your girl has uneasy influences in her spirit.”

            “I brought something for you.” Jay pulled a crumpled package from his pocket. “It’s a mixture of plants and herbs they use for making a smudge in California. I hope you like it.”

            R.B. accepted the package. “What comes from your heart, I will like.” He took his medicine pouch from a tripod of willow branches against one wall. Selecting a wisp of sweetgrass, he twisted it together, dropped it into a tiny frying pan. He looked at a pair of deer horn rattles. “Rattles are used to call the spirits. We do not need them because they are already with us.” He selected a small drum, and began a steady rhythmic beat. “Let yourself become one with the heartbeat of mother earth. She will be your guide.”

            Abruptly R.B. stopped the drum beating. “We should use cedar,” he said, putting the sweetgrass back in his pouch. He began whittling a piece of cedar into the pan. “Cedar connects with Grandmother Bear, who brings with her, courage,” he said, lighting the cedar shavings.

            As the smoke began to rise from the smoldering cedar, he carried it over and set it on the floor in front of Sue. “Nookwezo.”

            Jay explained, “Smudge yourself. When you breathe in, the smoke mixes with your thoughts, fears and desires. When you breathe out, they go with the smoke up to the spirits. You will be cleared of guilt and worry if you find favor with the spirits.” Jay used his cupped hands to waft the smoke toward Sue’s head.

            Arrow got up and moved away. R.B. began chanting softly in his native tongue.

            R.B. looked into Sue’s eyes. “You must let the world unfold following the rules of nature. Our people learn from the sacred animals.”

            Jay looked at R.B. questioningly.

            “We observe nature and the animals, and meditate on their ways.”

            “You pattern your life on theirs?” Jay asked.

            “There is no control over life and death. We must live our life as best way we can, and accept the world as it unfolds. Close your eyes and become one with Mother Earth and the universe.”

            The sweetgrass smoke curled gently up from the pan, filling the room with its sweet, restful odor.

            R.B. continued, “Other than our dedication to sharing, our people have only one commandment. It is respect. The four faces of respect are: love of yourself and others, patience with your place in the world and with others, discipline in your life, and giving forgiveness freely.” He continued chanting a soft, rhythmic prayer.

            Sue sat with her eyes closed for a long time. Finally, she opened her eyes. The shaman looked into Sue’s eyes. “Do not listen to the words of others. You must put your trust in your inner spirit and follow the words of your heart, not your head.”

            Jay smiled at R.B, “Thank you.” He turned toward Sue. “Do you mind if I take Arrow out for a walk?”

            She nodded. “I’ll wait here for you.”

            Jay scooped the fragile Arrow into his arms and carried him easily out the door.

            “I have something for you,” R.B. said to Sue. He took a five-inch hoop of twisted red birch from the wall. A net of animal sinew, dyed blood red, formed a web with a small opening in the centre. A leather lace lead from the opening through a wooden bead to a hanging owl feather.

            “Thank you. What is it?”

            “We call it Bawadjige Ngwaagan. Our people use it to protect our children from bad dreams. It will protect you from distracting thoughts, and confusing dreams.”

            “I do have disturbing thoughts.”

            “The web catches the bawadjigewin, the bad dreams. Only the good bawadjige can escape through the hole in the middle of the web and slide down the feather into the sleeper’s mind. The owl feather adds wisdom to the dream.”

            “How do I use it?”

            “It will hang above your sleeping area. When the morning light hits, the bad dreams and thoughts dissolve.”

            “It’s beautiful. Thank you. I’ll cherish it.”

            “My great-grandson made it for my 80th birthday.”

            “I couldn’t take your grandson’s gift.”

            “It has served me well. Now it will serve you. I will have no further need for it.”

            “I’ll cherish it, and think of you when I look at it.”

            “He made it in the traditional way. The willow is becoming brittle and the sinew will shrink causing it to collapse soon. By then it will have done its work, and you will no longer have need of it.”

            Jay returned with Arrow. “That’s an awesome dreamcatcher.”

            “Its eleven points are for each of the four winds and the seven sacred teachings.”

            “I know about the winds, but I don’t know the seven sacred teachings,” Jay said.

            “The Wolf teaches humility. Wisdom, the Beaver and truth, the Turtle.”

            “I know the Eagle symbolizes love. You taught me that, and it has served me well. I learned the hard way the teachings of respect symbolized by the Buffalo.” Jay said.

            R.B. continued, “The Bear gives courage, and the Giant we call Sabe denotes honesty. These are the seven natural laws by which we live.”

            As Sue and Jay headed toward the door, Jay paused at a wooden bowl half full of money. He took a ten-dollar bill from his pocket and dropped it on top of the bills.

            “That’s not necessary,” R.B said.

            “I owed you that,” Jay replied.

            “You owe me nothing. I remember the time you needed money and my little bowl helped you. That is why it is there. My people respect others by giving to them what they need. I have little use for money. This is my way of sharing with those who have more use for it than I do.”

            “There is much I can learn from you.”

            “Do not return the money to me. That would make the action nothing more than a white man’s loan. It would break the circle of helping. Give to someone whose need is greater than yours. In that way, the circle of respect will continue when he gives it to someone else. We come into the world with no possessions; we leave with nothing. While we are here, we should share what we have with those who are in need.”

            “I’m not breaking the circle. The money I took has already gone on to help another. I was hoping to start a new circle with this gift.”

            “When the bowl is empty, it accepts your donation gratefully. However, it is not empty now. Putting more money in it now does not help anyone. You must find your own way to start a new circle of respect.”

            “I have to give help without expecting anything in return. Not even gratitude, right?”

            “You learn quickly.”

            Miigwech,” Jay replied.

            On the way out of the Red Dragon, Jay asked, “What would you like to do now?”

            “I’m feeling rather relaxed. I’d like to be alone with you for a while.”

            “You want to go back to Steve’s?”

            “Maybe drive around the city a bit and then go back to Steve’s later if you don’t mind.”

            “It’s your party,” Jay said, pulling out into the light traffic. “Let’s take a drive through the Forks and Osborne Village. I’ll cruise the city until you’re ready to go home.”


 

~ 6 ~

 

Later in the evening Sue and Jay returned to Steve’s apartment. The phone was ringing as they unlocked the door:

           

              “Hello, Jay here,” he said into the handset.

              “. . .”

              “We just got in. Is there a problem?”

              “. . .”

              “Is he still there?”

              “. . .”

              “What did he say?”

              “. . .”

              “Did he say Sue, too, or just me?”

              “. . .”

              “OK. Thanks. We’ll go right over.”

              “. . .”

              “Don’t worry. If he’s angry at anybody, it’ll be at me, not you.”

              “. . .”

           

            “That was Jimmy,” Jay said. “Your dad dropped over to the hotel. He wants us to go over to your place to see him.”

            Sue looked down at the floor.

            “If you don’t want to go, you can stay here and I’ll go talk with him.”

            “Would you mind?”

            “Of course not. I’ll say you needed a nap. It’ll be a piece of cake.”

           

***

           

George ushered Jay into the living room and plopped himself into his favorite armchair. “Where’s Sue?”

            “We drove around a bit and I’m afraid it tired her out. We thought it best if she has a nap and not get exhausted.”

            “You mean, you thought it best that she doesn’t talk to me.”

            “She wanted to rest.”

            “Why would she be tired? She hasn’t been doing much of anything, has she?”

            “Pain can be tiring.”

            “She hasn’t been hurt, has she?”

            “Not physically. However, any kind of pain is tiring.”

            “She seems to be getting better.”

            “Yes, I think she’s doing well. She’s a strong girl.”

            “Strong enough to come home? Or do you plan to keep her hidden away forever?”

            “It’s only been one day. I think we should leave it up to her to decide where she lives.”

            “I don’t care what you think. I don’t know why I let Helen talk me into this hair-brained scheme of yours, anyway. Where did you take her today?”

            “We went to the Mall for lunch.”

            “You met up with some of your no-goodnik friends, I presume.”

            “We met Jimmy and Becky. She and Becky have always been close. They had a good talk, I think.”

            “They’re the two schmucks at the hotel?” George asked. He went to the sideboard, poured three fingers of Glenlivet Scotch from its crystal decanter, and took a long drink.

            “I guess so.”

            “What are they doing there anyway? The suite is for Sue.”

            “They’re there to answer the phone and take messages. We didn’t want you to think we had disappeared. We didn’t want to give you any reason to worry.”

            “By we, I assume you mean you.”

            “I take full responsibility for everything, if that’s what you mean.” Jay shifted in his seat.

            “I’m glad to hear you say that. Now you can explain to me why they are at the hotel and you aren’t.”

            “Sue and I are staying at Steve’s.”

            “You chose to disobey my wishes, then. And you lied to me.”

            “I didn’t mean to do either. I only did what I felt had to be done.”

            “It was your idea, then, to pretend to be staying at the hotel and not to tell me?”

            “I take full responsibility.”

            “And you went to see that sham Indian after I told you not to.”

            Jay looked thoughtful. “You’ve had us followed?”

            “What else would you expect after the hotel manager reported that those two imposters were staying there? This time I got a good guy. He doesn’t miss a thing.”

            “How long do you intend to keep us under surveillance?”

            “Whatever it takes. Do you expect me to pay a hundred and fifty dollars a night so your friends can shmaltz it up?”

            “I’ll pay for their hotel, if you want.”

            “When are you bringing Sue home, or do I have to have you arrested for kidnapping?”

            “I’m leaving it up to her.”

            “You know she’ll do anything you say.”

            “That may be true, sir. However, she knows what she needs and I listen to her. She tells me what to do.”

            “You expect me to believe that garbage? How can she tell you what she wants when she barely talks?”

            “There are other, and sometimes better, ways of communicating than by words.”

            “I live my life by words. Preferably notarized.”

            “I think I should get back to Sue,” Jay said, getting up off the sofa.

            “Whatever.” George went to refill his glass.

            “Do you mind if I keep the Mustang, sir? Only while Sue’s with me, of course.”

            “Whatever.”

            The door opened and Helen came in. “Hi Jay. You look like you’re leaving. Hang on for a minute. I want to talk to you.”

            “We’ve talked about everything important,” George said.

            “I have a bit of time. Sue’s having an afternoon nap,” Jay said.

            “We need to tell Jay about Christmas,” Helen said.

            “He doesn’t need to know anything about it,” George responded, draining his glass.

            “I think he does,” Helen said.

            “It’s no big deal,” George said. “We had an argument with Sue.”

            “You’re the one who had the argument,” Helen corrected, “I didn’t.”

            “I wouldn’t have, if she hadn’t been drunk.”

            Jay sat up with interest. “Sue doesn’t usually drink.”

            “Well, she was drunk that night,” George said. “It’s a good thing her friend, Tiffany, brought her home. She was in no condition to drive.”

            “Did Tiff say anything about their evening?” Jay asked.

            “No. She dropped her off and left,” George said. “That Tiffany is one sharp looking girl. I’d like to have her as a receptionist in my office.”

             “Never mind Tiffany,” Helen said. “We’re talking about Sue.”

            George continued, “Sue was talking nonsense about marriage, adoption, abortion and stuff like that.”

            “I thought she was wondering if maybe she was adopted,” Helen said. “I told her she wasn’t.”

            “I told her to go to bed and sober up. We found her unconscious a few hours later.”

            “And that’s it?” Jay asked.

            “It wasn’t what she said. It was the way she said it. She was out of her mind about it. We naturally assumed it was because she had been drinking,” Helen said.

            “You might as well tell him the rest. The argument part,” George said, glaring at his wife.

            “She was upset that she wasn’t allowed to see you, Jay. She said she had to talk to you. Then she and her father got into a huge argument about it.”

             “I was telling her how life has to be. She wouldn’t listen.”

            “You told her she wasn’t to have anything to do with Jay. That was a bit harsh.”

            “She needed to know how we felt.”

            “She stormed off to bed. When we went to check on her an hour later she was on the bathroom floor.”

            “After we found her, she wouldn’t talk to anyone. All she did was ask for you. I hoped she would talk to you. Has she?” Helen asked.

            “She hasn’t told me anything important, if that’s what you mean. She and Becky had a good long talk.”

            “What did they talk about?” George asked.

            “I don’t know,” Jay said. “She’ll tell me when she’s ready, if it’s any of my business. I won’t pressure her.”

            “I want her back here,” George demanded.

            “I understand that, sir. I’ll have her back here when she says she’s ready.”

             “She seems to be getting back to being her old self,” Helen said.

            “Then she should be coming home,” George said.

            “Not that you spend any time with her when she is here.”

            George ignored the comment. “We wouldn’t want Jay to pay for any more nights at the hotel than necessary.”

            Helen’s head swivelled from George to Jay. “Jay is paying for the hotel?”

            “We decided that would be fair since he decided to use it as a holiday retreat for his friends.”

            “He can’t afford to pay that kind of money.”

            “He had enough money to go to California for a holiday.”

            “If you hadn’t forced Sue to break up with him, he wouldn’t have had to go on a trip he probably couldn’t afford.”

            “You seemed happy enough when they broke up. I don’t think you liked the idea of Sue going out with a half- . . .”

            Jay interrupted. “Excuse me. I should be getting back to Sue.”

            George glared at Jay. “Whatever.”

            “Phil’s planning a dinner for New Year’s Eve. Do I have your permission to take Sue?”

            “I don’t know why you bother to ask. You’ll do whatever you want anyway,” George growled.

            “George. Be polite,” Helen said. She turned to Jay, “We think that would be lovely, if you think Sue is up to it when the time comes.”

            “Thanks. It should be low stress and a lot of fun. She knows everybody who’ll be there. I promise we’ll leave immediately if she starts to get tired. Bye, sir.”

            Helen went to the door with Jay. “Don’t worry about the hotel bill,” she whispered. “It’ll go on the AMEX and he’ll never notice it.”

            “Thanks. I’ll phone you tomorrow.”

 

***

           

The sound of giggling welcomed Jay to the apartment. “Sue?” Jay called.

            A voice called out, “We’re in the kitchen, having a hen party. Come and join us.”

            Sue and Becky sat at the kitchen table. Dirty dishes, a half-eaten Salisbury House flapper pie, and three empty diet Coke cans, gave evidence of a late afternoon snack.

            “Hi, girls. Becky, where’s Jimmy?”

            “Cam’s teaching Jimmy some computer stuff. Jimmy’s keen on it. He’s never been excited about learning before.”

            “What kind of stuff?”

            “Word processing, email, the Internet. That kind of stuff. I wish we had a computer so I could learn those things, too. It’s great to see him interested in something at last.”

            “How’s he doing with the drugs?”

            “He’s staying clean. Sometimes he gets depressed. I wish he were happier, but I guess it’s part of kicking the habit.”

            “You two thinking of splitting?” Jay asked.

            Becky looked off into space.

            “Sorry. It’s none of my business. If I can help, remember I’m always here for both of you guys,” Jay said. “Looks like you two have been celebrating something.”

            Sue looked at Becky and smiled. “Yes. I think we are.”

            “Anything I should know about?”

            “No,” the girls said together, and doubled over with laughter.

            Jay looked bewildered.

            “It’s girl talk,” Becky said.

            “How did you make out with my dad, Jay?” Sue asked.

            “Not great. He doesn’t seem to like me as much as he did when we first met.”

            “Was he drinking?”

            “Some, I guess. He didn’t seem drunk.”

            “If he was drinking at this time of day, he was probably drunk. He drinks himself sober.”

            “Excuse me? I don’t know what you mean,” Jay said.

            Becky said, “I’ve seen it with Jimmy a few times. He would get so drunk he couldn’t walk and could hardly talk, but he’d keep drinking. Then suddenly he’d be able to walk and talk normally, as if he were totally sober. The only difference was that his brain was totally turned off. He’d have no idea what he was saying or doing. It’s as if he was on automatic pilot. The next morning he wouldn’t remember anything of what he’d said or done.”

            Jay looked at Sue. “You mean your dad’s an alcoholic?”

            “Yes and no. He doesn’t usually drink too much. It’s my fault he’s drinking now. He’s worried about me.”

            “How can it be your fault, Sue? He’s the one doing the drinking,” Becky said.

            “If I hadn’t spun out, he wouldn’t be drinking. That makes it my fault.”

            “You can’t be responsible for how someone else reacts to a situation. You can be responsible for your own actions, that’s all. The other people are responsible for their own reactions,” Becky said.

            “I understand what Sue means,” Jay said. “If I provoke someone into hitting me, then I’m the one responsible for what happens, not him.”

            “That’s right, Jay,” Sue said.

            “But, Sue wasn’t provoking her dad,” Becky said.

            “Not intentionally, of course. I’m saying I understand why Sue feels responsible. I’ve been there myself.”

            “Are you two saying I should feel responsible for Jimmy’s behavior? Well, I don’t, and I’m not going to. If we have a fight, then he gets to choose whether he’s going to get drunk, or hit me, or walk away, or talk it through. He’s responsible for whatever choice he makes, not me.”

            “Chill, Becky,” Jay said. “That’s not what we mean. We’re talking about how we feel. We can’t change how we feel. Sue feels sorry that her dad is drinking.”

            “But it’s not her fault. It’s something beyond her control. There’s no need for her to feel guilty,” Becky said.

            “And no need for my dad to feel guilty,” Sue added.

            Becky opened her mouth to reply, then closed it firmly with clenched teeth.

            “Let’s switch to a happier topic,” Jay said.

            “That suggestion happens a lot whenever my dad is involved.”

            “Did you know Phil is having a dinner New Year’s Eve?” he continued.

            “That’s great,” Becky said. “Are Jimmy and I invited? We’d love to go. We can’t afford to go out much.”

            “Are you sure Jimmy will want to come? I expect Steve will be there. I don’t think Jimmy likes Steve.”

            “I’m sure he won’t want me to go without him, and I’ll be going if we’re invited.”

            “I’ll put in a good word for you. I’d like to have you meet Troy and Misty. You’d get along well with them.”

            “Am I invited?” Sue asked.

            “Of course. I checked with your mom and dad and they said you could go. That is, if you want to, of course.”

            “Yes, please,” Sue said. “I wouldn’t blame you if you are angry with me and didn’t want to go with me. But you know I never wanted to break up with you.”

            “I could never be angry with you, Sue. I understood your dad was doing what he felt he had to do.”

            “Are you sure he’ll be all right with it? I don’t want to upset him even more.”

            “We’re doing nothing wrong. He’s entitled to react in any way he wants. I’m not going to be blackmailed by the fear he’ll turn to drink. We don’t know how he might react.”

            Becky looked at Jay. “If you don’t know how he’ll react, I’ve got a great deal on the Osborne Bridge for you.”


 

~ 7 ~

 

NEW YEAR’S DINNER

 

Troy and Misty were in the kitchen, discussing the menu for Year’s Eve dinner with Phil. “I think I counted eight for sure. The three of us, Sue and Jay, Becky and Jimmy.”

            “That’s seven,” Misty said.

            “Oh, yes. I forgot to count Tiffany. She’s an old school chum of mine,” Phil said. “I think she broke up with her boyfriend, but she’s never long without one. That could make it nine.”

            “Will that many fit around your table?”

            “With a leaf in it, it will. But then there are Cam and Jamie. They might drop in. Cam said not to count on them because the baby could arrive any time now.”

            “So it could be, like, eleven-and-a-half. Are there any others vegetarians?” Misty asked.

            “Only the two of us,” Phil said.

            “Maybe we should make regular food, and you and Misty can do something vegetarian for yourselves,” Troy suggested. “You could, like, pick the meat parts out.”

            “Over my dead body,” Misty said. “That would leave us with nothing but salad.”

            “Mine, too,” Phil added. “I don’t cook meat. They’ll eat vegan, the same as you and me. Either that or they won’t be eating.”

            “I was kidding. I’m happy with vegan,” Troy said. “I can always get a hamburger at McDonald’s later.”

            “You know I don’t like to hear that kind of talk,” Misty said.

             “I have some ideas,” Phil said. “We could have two kinds of phyllo pastry roll ups for appetizers. One vegetable-mushroom, the other Spanakopitta.”

            “Isn’t goat cheese a main ingredient of Spanakopitta?” Misty asked.

            “Usually,” Phil replied. “We could try it with a tofu cheese substitute. If it doesn’t turn out well, people can go with other one.”

            “Have you ever tried it like that?” Troy asked.

            “There’s always a first time. We’ll call it a spinach roll up. That way the Greeks won’t sue us.”

            “Sounds good. What about a main course?”

            “I was thinking of Tamale Pie or Sweet Potato Quesadillas and a Taco salad.”

            “That sounds rather Mexican. What if somebody wants something less spicy?” Troy asked.

            “We could do a Tabouleh. That’s mild.”

            “It’s hardly a main course.”

            “What about pasta with that spaghetti sauce you make with lentils in it?” Misty asked.

            “Dude. It might be hazardous to your table cloth,” Troy said. “I’m, like, a bit of a messy eater.”

            “Not very fancy for a formal dinner, either,” Phil said.

            “What about sweet and sour gluten balls? They’d be less messy than spaghetti.”

            “You’d have to make the wheat gluten,” Phil said. “It’s not something I know anything about.”

            “Troy made a discovery yesterday. You can buy gluten in a can. It’s called seiten in oriental specialty stores. Or, better yet, you can buy ready prepared wheat gluten in bulk food stores. You add water and mix it gently. It’s totally easy. Troy is such a great provider.”

            “Let’s do that. I get tired of tofu all the time,” Phil said. “Maybe we could do Sweet Potato French Fries. They’re unusual.”

            “I didn’t know you could use Sweet Potatoes.”

            “Same as regular ones, except they fall apart more easily.”

            The three discussed ideas for modifying their favorite recipes to eliminate meat, cheese, milk, and eggs.

            “I wonder if your guests know they’re going to be guinea pigs for developing your recipes.” Misty asked.

            “My friends are used to my experimenting with vegetarian recipes. Cam in particular likes trying different things. He’s way more adventuresome than you’d expect an accountant to be.”

            Phil went to answer the knock at the door. “You’re the first ones here.”

            “Hi everybody. Glad we’re not late,” Jay said. “Troy and Misty, I want you to meet my best, and only, girl, Sue.”

            Sue avoided eye contact as Jay introduced her to Troy and Misty. “Pleased to meet you,” she mumbled. “Good to see you again, Phil.”

            Jay looked around the room. “Wow. Am I in the right apartment?”

            “You like it?”

            “It looks like a different place. You have a real living room now.”

            “Misty did a Feng Shui thing for me. She says there’s a Chinese proverb that says if you want to change your life, you must move 27 things in your house,” Phil said.

            “You moved that many things?”

            “At least. She says she arranged things along the earth’s energy lines to make a harmonious relationship with the environment.”

            “What does that mean?” Sue asked.

            Misty came into the living room. “Hey guys. It encourages the free flow of Chi through the living space.”

            Jay grinned. “Thanks. That explains everything. Maybe you could give us a tour and explain how it all works.”

            “Right on,” Misty said. “You remember that the hide-a-bed used to be between the kitchen and the living room space?”

            “Oh yes. When it opened out it was a nuisance. I fell over it more than once when I came in late at night.”

            “I think it had more to do with your drinking habits than with the sofa,” Phil said with a grin.

            “If it was in your way when you came in, then it also blocked the natural flow of Chi coming in through the door. With the sofa against the side wall, the life and breath of the universe flows into the apartment and circulates freely to the bedrooms and kitchen.”

            “That makes sense. What’s a Chi?” Jay asked.

            “The cosmic breath of the dragon is called Chi. All things have this constantly changing living energy. Chi connects all physical things.”

            “Where does it come from?”

            “It’s always there. Like the earth’s magnetic field, or gravity. It brings with it health, wealth and good luck for those living where it flows freely.”

            Jay looked at Misty. “Maybe you could you do my room over for me?”

            “You should never have someone else do your place for you. It’s much better to learn the process and then do it for yourself. Your own personality and your own Chi are important factors in determining what is best for you. It helps if you practice Yoga in your home. The breathing exercises help you to understand how to harmonize your body’s own Chi with the Chi of the room.”

            “If I changed my room, how would I even begin? I don’t own 27 things, let alone moving them.”

            “We can talk about what we did here, and maybe you will get some ideas about what you might do.”

            “All I have is a bed, a chair and a roll-top desk.”

            “Most rooms are rectangular boxes. The corners trap Chi and hold it there until it becomes stagnant.”

            “When we were kids, we always had to sit in the corner as punishment” Sue said.

            “The stagnant Chi makes it an unpleasant experience.”

            “You mean it’s a bad thing to do?”

            “Having time-out in a controlled space is a much more spiritually healthy punishment than sitting in a pool of stagnant Chi.”

            “That does sound disgusting,” Jay said.

            “Putting furniture diagonally across the corner, like we did with the hide-a-bed, is an easy solution. Or you can place plants or sculptures in them. Or hang a wind chime or crystal in the corner.”

             “What did you do with Phil’s motorcycle?” Jay asked.

            “I must admit finding it in his bedroom was a major surprise. Why is it there anyway?”

            “It’s the only place he has to store it during the winter.”

            “How’d he get it up here? He didn’t ride it up the stairs, did he?”

            “It’s not as heavy as the newer ones. One person at the front and one at the back and it rolls up easily. What did you do with it?”

            “I left it sitting in the corner. It’ll certainly counteract any stagnant Chi in that corner.”

            “What about my room? I don’t have a motorcycle to put anywhere.”

            “Does the door open onto the foot of your bed?”

            “Why yes, it does,” Jay said.

            “Move the bed to a side wall. Or even better, angle it across one corner.”

            “That’s one move. Twenty-six to go.”

            “Softening any protruding sharp corners is important. Corners send out poison arrows. We call them the dragon’s killing breath. They’re always harmful.”

            “How can corners send out poison arrows?” Sue asked.

            “I’ll bet Michael Faraday could have answered that one for you,” Phil said.

            Misty looked bewildered.

            “You know. The lightning rod. He discovered that pointed objects give off a steady stream of electrons. A pointy object on the roof will neutralize the charge in storm clouds and prevent lightning from striking.”

            Feng Shui has been practiced in China for more than three thousand years. How could the ancient Chinese know anything about electrons?” Misty asked.

            “I guess they observed the effects caused by sharp corners and didn’t worry about an explanation. Sometimes I think we’re too concerned with trying to explain everything instead of taking what we feel on faith,” Phil said.

            “Getting back to me,” Jay said. “You mean my desk corners are poisoning me?”

            “Heavens, yes. Particularly if the corners point toward your bed or at the door.”

            “I don’t plan to get a sander to make them round. The desk isn’t even mine. Any ideas?”

            “Poison arrows travel in straight lines. If you put a cloth or a plant in front of the corner, it will diffuse the arrows and reduce their effect.”

            Sue looked at Jay. “We should have Misty take a look at R.B.’s room. I’ll bet he doesn’t have a single poison arrow anywhere in there.”

            “No. Only a furry one,” Jay said.

            Misty looked confused again.

            “His dog’s name is Arrow. Sorry. I’m not good with jokes. Phil says it’s my timing that’s off.”

            Phil continued. “The First Nations peoples have always recognized the importance of avoiding corners. Their tepees were round, and they arranged them in a circle. At their gatherings people sat or danced in a circle around the campfire or smudge pot.”

            “Circles are an integral part of their life and spirituality,” Jay added.

            “Our society meets in rectangular rooms and sits in rows facing a stage or platform with sharp edges pointing out toward the people. No wonder so many of our meetings produce anger and confrontation,” Misty said.

            Jay looked around the living room. “Where did the TV go, Phil?”

            “It’s still there. Under that flowered tablecloth. Misty explained how electronic devices such as TV’s and computers draw attention to themselves, and interfere with human interaction, even when they’re not turned on.”

            “If you hide it, your guests aren’t distracted and can concentrate on talking to each other,” Misty said.

            At that moment, the doorbell rang. Becky and Jimmy stepped into the room.

            “Hi everybody,” Becky said. Jimmy waved in the general direction of the people.

            Jay briefly introduced Troy and Misty.

            “Come in and join the Feng Shui tour,” Misty offered.

            Becky and Jimmy looked bewildered but obediently followed Misty to the kitchen.

             “You’ve moved your fridge and stove,” Jay commented.

            “The cooking stove position is crucial. If it faces the front or back doors it will dissipate the positive Chi entering the room,” Misty explained.

            “And the fridge?”

            “If the fridge or sink are too close to the stove there will be a clash between the elements of fire and water.” Phil said.

            “And I am assuming that’s a bad thing,” a voice called the living room.

            “Hi Cam,” Phil said. “Is Jamie with you?”

            “I’m right here, Phil,” Jamie called. “I hope you don’t mind if I sit in your favorite chair.” Jamie aimed herself carefully in front of the chair, eased herself down gently. “This is good. I think I’ll stay here all night.”

            “Great. You haven’t met Misty, have you, Jamie?” Phil asked.

            Misty pulled a chair over and sat beside Jamie. “How’s the little one coming along?”

            “Getting bigger every day. I feel the size of a house.”

            “Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?”

            “I know, but I’m not supposed to tell anyone. They want it to be a surprise.”

            “They?”

            “I mean Cam and our parents. Everybody wants to be surprised.”

            “It’s due soon?”

            “Due last week.”

            “So it could be any minute now?” Misty asked.

            “I hope it’s soon. This has been more trouble than I expected.”

            “It’ll be entirely amazing to have a baby. You’ll have created a new person in the world,” Misty gushed.

            “There are so many people in the world already, but every new one is so special,” Jamie said.

            “I’d love to have a baby, but it would be such a responsibility. I don’t think I’m ready for that.”

            “It’s been a big task so far. I’ll be glad when it’s over.”

            “After the baby’s born, the real work will begin.”

            Jamie frowned. “Not for me. It’s going to be hard to give her up. A person develops such an attachment to a baby even before it’s born. I hadn’t counted on that.”

            “You and Cam aren’t keeping the baby?”

            “We’d like to, but that’s not the plan.”

            “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be snoopy. I find things about people’s lives exciting. You say it’s a girl?”

            “Did I let that slip out? Don’t tell anyone, please.”

            “I’m good at secrets. I love knowing about people and I hardly ever gossip.”

            “Make your selves comfortable. We have some appetizers, and Jay’ll serve the drinks. If you don’t mind, Jay,” Phil said.

            “Let me do the drinks, Phil. We want to hear Jay’s story of his California adventures,” Cam said. “Besides, you know he can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, let alone serve drinks and talk.”

            Jay luxuriated in being the centre of attention. “Where should I start?”

            “Your search for your father, please,” Misty asked. “I think that’s totally romantic and exciting. Do you ever even, like, you know, remember him?”

            “My mother never wanted to talk about him. I think he left before I was born. I’ve never even seen a picture of him.”

            “You lived up north, didn’t you?” asked Troy. “What was it like?”

            “We lived in a little shack. It wasn’t too bad except in winter it could be cold. We had to chop wood for the stove.”

            “You and your mother lived there alone?” Jamie asked.

            “I have a younger brother and sister. Someday I’m going to have them come to visit here. They’ve never been anywhere.”

            “There are only the four of you?”

            “And usually some man. As far back as I can remember there’s always been a man around the house. I remember five, but there could have been more.”

            “Tell us about your real father,” Misty pleaded.

            “I know his last name is McNabb and I know his Social Insurance Number. Cam here is such an amazing computer wizard. He used the Internet to trace him down to a few possible people in San Francisco. That’s why I went there.”

            “Did you find him?”

            “I found where he used to work and talked to a guy who worked with him last year. I can get my dad’s address from him. Then I’ll go back to California and meet him.”

            “That’s such an adventure,” Misty said. “I’d love to be there when you see him for the first time. It would be such a totally amazing event.”

            Cam changed the topic. “Where are you working, Troy?”

            “It’s a place where they do computer graphics and special effects. They’re called Frantic Films. On Arthur Street right near Old Market Square. You know where that is?”

            “Sure.” Jay said. “It’s in the Exchange District. Where they hold the Fringe Festival every summer.”

            “What’s a Fringe Festival?”

            “That’s something you’ll have to see, Troy. You’d like it. They have amateur plays, music, and buskers. It’s a smorgasbord of creativity. Your kind of thing.”

            “Your vocabulary is getting out of control again, Jay,” Phil said, grinning broadly. “It’s time for dinner.”

            “Would it be terribly impolite if I stayed here?” Jamie asked. “Cam could bring me a plate.”

            “Not at all,” Phil said. “You and the little one deserve to be pampered. Why don’t we make it a buffet? We can sit around the living room and keep you company.”

            “I see you still have the flowers I gave you,” Jay said to Phil.

            “I always have them on the table. Misty says silk flowers are always good Feng Shu, anywhere. I know they make me feel good, but I thought it was because they remind me of you.”

            “They will be exceptionally good Feng Shui because of that,” Misty said.

            “What other general things should we know about arranging our rooms?” Cam asked.

            “The bathroom is important because it is strongly Yin and can unbalance the Yang of the connecting room,” Misty said.

            “Let’s not get into the Yin Yang thing,” Cam said. “Just tell me what to do.”

            “Remember to close the sink and bathtub drains and always put the toilet lid down.”

            “See, Cam. I always have to remind you to put the seat down,” Jamie said.

            “I think this whole Feng Shui thing is nothing more than a fancy way to make sure that men don’t leave the toilet seat up,” Cam countered.

            “It’s not the seat. It’s the lid that needs to be down to prevent the positive Chi from being lost down the drain.”

            “I might be able to remember to put the lid down, but I’d never remember to close the drains.”

            “You could keep the bathroom door closed. Maybe that would be your easiest solution.”

            The dinner was leisurely and the conversation flowed as easily as the wine. The clock showed 9:50 p.m. “Sue and I would love to stay here to bring in the New Year with you guys, but Han Sing could use some help. He had a mob gathering there for dinner when we left.”

            “I have an idea,” Misty said. “When we were kids, our parents used to set the clock ahead so we could celebrate New Year’s Eve and still get to bed on time. We’d watch TV and see the big ball drop in Time’s Square.”

            Phil moved the clock ahead to 11:55. “OK guys. Grab a glass. I’m opening the champagne.”

            Jay put Auld Lang Syne on the stereo. As the clock approached midnight they held hands and sang until the clock showed midnight. Everyone shouted, “Happy New Year” and kissed their partner.

            Phil stood alone, trying to look inconspicuous. Misty gave Troy a quick kiss and rushed over to kiss Phil. “You’ve been such an awesome friend to us. Thanks.”

            “Wow. I wasn’t expecting that,” Phil said. “Do we get to do this again in two hours?”

            “Oh, for sure,” Misty said, grinning broadly and winking at Phil.

            “Bye guys,” Jay and Sue said as they went out the door. “Ciao, Phil.”

            Phil laughed. “You’re hopeless, Jay.”


 

~ 8 ~

 

WELCOME HOME

 

Sue and Jay slept until nearly noon. “That was greatest New Year’s Eve ever, wasn’t it?” Jay asked.

            “It’s the first time I’ve brought in the New Year twice in the same night.”

            “The dinner at the Red Dragon was way better than I expected. I thought there would be a bunch of strange street people coming in for a free meal and then leaving,” Jay said.

            “They all seemed to have such a good time. Everyone stayed until long after midnight.”

            “That Han Sing is one smart cookie. I’ll bet he made killing on all the drinks he sold.”

            “Imagine R.B. coming down to join us for midnight. I’ve never seen him out of his room before.”

            “What do you suppose he meant about it being his last chance for a celebration with us?” Sue asked.

            “I don’t mean to be morbid, but he’s getting old. Maybe he has a feeling about when his time will come.”

            “It would be nice to be that old and to know when you were fated to die. You could gather the people you want around you and go out surrounded by friends and relatives.”

            “Where do you suppose he would want to die? It certainly wouldn’t be alone in his room,” Jay mused.

            “Probably he’d want to be with his family. Do you know where he comes from?”

            “I should spend more time talking with him. He’s always been a shaman to me, not a person.”

            The phone rang:

           

              “Hello,” Jay said.

              “. . .”

              “I’ll see if she’s free.” Jay covered the mouthpiece. “It’s your mom.”

              Sue took the phone. “Hi mom.”

              “. . .”

              “Happy New Year to you, too.”

              “. . .”

              “We haven’t talked about it.”

              “. . .”

              “I don’t see why not.”

              “. . .”

              “We’ll be over in a little while. We haven’t had breakfast yet.”

              “. . .”

              “Bye.”

           

            “What’s the plan?” Jay asked.

            “Mom wants us to come over this afternoon.”

            “To visit or to stay?”

            “She did say it would be nice for me to start the New Year with them.”

            “How do you feel about it?”

            “I’ll have to go home sometime. Besides, Steve will be coming back soon.”

            “Will you be all right with your father?” Jay asked.

            “It’s not my father I’m worried about.”

            “Your mother?”

            “No.”

            Jay got a glass of milk from the counter. “What then,” he asked.

            “You.”

            “Me? How could you be worried about me? You know I’ll always be there for you.”

            “I can’t live with my parents without you.”

            “You know I can’t live at your place.”

            “I mean I need to have you in my life. I’m not strong enough to live without you.”

            “If you mean you want me to be your boyfriend, that’s great with me.”

            “As a minimum.”

            “What’s the maximum?”

            “That’s would be up to you.”

            “You know you’re my girl. I’d do anything for you. I came back from California for you, didn’t I?”

            Sue gave Jay a hug. “You’re too good to me. As long as I have you, I can handle my parents.”

            “Let’s go then.”

            “Can we get a Slurpee on the way?”

            “You’re my girl. You know I’d get you anything you want.”

            “It’ll get us both in a good mood for my parents.”

            “Maybe we’d better get the jumbo size.”

           

           

***

           

Sue turned toward Jay as they sat reached the front door. “I have an uneasy felling about this.”

            “I’m sure it’ll be alright,” Jay said. “I’ll stick around until you feel comfortable. After all, it is your home.”

            Helen opened the door and ushered them into the living room. They sat together on the sofa in an uncomfortable silence.

            “Tell us about your New Year’s Eve, Sue,” Helen said.

            “It was fun. First we went to Phil’s and he did one of his super special dinners. You’d have liked it. It was all fancy ethnic food, but made to be totally vegan.”

            “You mean vegetarian, don’t you?” George asked.

            “Vegan means no milk, cheese, eggs or meat. Misty’s vegan,” Sue said.

            “Who’s Misty?”

            “You remember. I told you about Misty and Troy. Jay’s friends from California,” Helen said.

            “Are they real people, or like his other friends?” George asked.

            “What do you mean, real people?” Jay asked.

            “I mean, do they have money? Or do they have to work for food?”

            Helen ignored the questions. “What else did you do?”

            “We went to the Red Dragon for midnight,” Sue said.

            “You went to Jay’s room?” George asked with a frown, pouring himself another drink.

            “No. For your information, I’ve never set foot in Jay’s room. We went to help Han Sing with his annual midnight dinner for his regular customers. And R.B. came down for it, too.”

            “Sounds exciting,” George said sarcastically.

            “Did you make any resolutions?” Helen asked.

            “Yes, but I can’t tell them or they won’t come true.”

            “That’s birthday wishes, silly,” Helen said. “You can tell New Year’s resolutions.”

            “I don’t want to talk about them right now, if you don’t mind,” Sue said.

            “Now that things are back to normal, I assume you’ve got those two momzers out of the hotel,” George said.

            “They checked out yesterday,” Jay said.

            “I guess you’ll be on your way now, too.”

            “They just got here, George. Try to be hospitable,” Helen said. “And please don’t drink any more. You promised to cut down, remember?”

            “I have cut down. Now that I have my daughter back, this should be a family time.”

            “That’s what it is, George.”

            “Not with him here, it isn’t.”

            “We should be grateful to Jay. The least you can do is to be nice to him.”

            “A kaporeh on that idea. The only way I’ll be nice to him is if I never have to see him again.”

            Sue looked up. “Let’s not get into an argument again. This is my first day back. Let’s try to be friendly.”

            Jay stood up. “I think it would be best if I say goodbye now.” He walked over and gave Sue a kiss. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

            Helen joined him at the door. “Try not to pay too much attention to George. He gets like this when he’s been drinking. I’ll talk to him when he’s in a better frame of mind.”

            “I understand. I had a stepfather like that,” Jay said as he went down the steps to the sidewalk. Jay cast a fond look at Sue’s Mustang as he made his way toward the street. “Bye, bye, you gorgeous hunk of machinery,” he said under his breath.

            “Jay. Wait.” Sue hurried down the steps. “I’m coming with you.” Sue went over to the Mustang. “Get in. You drive.”

            “We can’t take your dad’s car. He loaned it to me so I could get you home. Now that I’ve done that, I can’t use it anymore.”

            “Oh stop being naive. It’s my car. Here are the keys. Get in and drive.”

            Jay held it open for her, and then buckled up in the driver’s seat. “Where are we going?”

            “Anywhere away from here.”

            Jay and Sue drove around for half an hour, talking and trying to decide on their next move.

            “I can’t stay with my parents. I thought I could, but being there made me realize I can’t live there.”

            “I won’t let you go anywhere by yourself. If you aren’t going to stay at home, you’re going to stay with me.”

            “But where?”

            “I’ll move out of the Red Dragon and we’ll get a room somewhere. I’m sure we can find a place I can afford.”

            “What do we do in the meantime?”

            “What about staying at Steve’s a little longer?”

            “Will he mind?” Sue asked.

            “He does have his own life, you know. I wouldn’t want to impose on him too long.”

            “Maybe we could stay there until he gets back.”

            “He gets back Thursday. We should have a plan before then.”

            Jay and Sue drove back to Steve’s apartment after a drive-through McDonalds supper.

            “I need to get over to the Red Dragon to help Han Sing finish cleaning up after last night. Will you be all right here by yourself?”

            “Of course, silly. Maybe I’ll phone my mom. It’s easier to talk to her alone. I think she understands us. Maybe I’ll take a nap.”

            “I should be back around five.”

            “That should be good. Remember you promised Tiff you’d drive her to her babysitting at six-thirty.”

            “Thanks for reminding me. I never think of her as a babysitter type.”

            “It’s only for her niece. She loves spending time with that kid.”

           

***

           

It was five-thirty when Jay got back. “Did you talk to your mom?”

            “We had a good talk. She came up with a great plan. That is, if you agree to it.”

            “Does your dad have anything to do with it?”

            “Don’t give him a thought. Mom knows how to work around him.”

            “Okay. What’s the plan?”

            “She knows of an apartment where we could stay. It wouldn’t cost us anything for rent.”

            “What’s the catch? Nobody gives apartments away rent-free.”

            “My dad has some rental properties. This one isn’t rented at the moment. We could move in right away.”

            “Your dad will be paying for it?”

            “Not directly. He’ll write it off as a business loss. He has a lot of ways of spending company money without it costing him anything.”

            “Are you sure we won’t be obligated in any way? I don’t want to feel in debt to him.”

            “It’s like borrowing his car, only it’s an apartment.”

            “We’d be living together?”

            “I’d like that,” Sue said.

            “I would, too. Isn’t it a bit strange that we’ll be living together when we haven’t been going together for the past month?”

            “We never should have broken up.”

            “If you recall, it wasn’t my idea. It was your dad’s.”

            “We should have stood up to him and stayed together through Christmas.”

            “I didn’t want to cause you problems.”

            “That’s sweet of you. It didn’t work out that way though, did it?”

            “Maybe I should stand up to him now and refuse to take the apartment?”

            “Why would you do that?”

            “I could afford to pay for an apartment for the two of us. I don’t like having decisions made for me by circumstances.”

            “You know you’d need to get a better paying job.”

            “I don’t want to leave the Red Dragon. Arrow and R.B. need me.”

            “They could get along without you. Are you saying you don’t want to move in with me?”

            “It isn’t that I don’t want to move in with you. I don’t know where I’d get a better paying job. That’s the only place I’ve ever worked.”

            “We don’t have a choice, then, do we? You keep working at the Red Dragon and we live in Dad’s apartment.”

            “I think we should be the ones who make the decision as to when we want to live together.”

            “Would you be happier staying at the Red Dragon? I’d stay in the apartment. We could go out on dates and you could come over to visit me whenever you want. That way, when we make a decision, it will be all ours.”

            “Would you be all right living by yourself?” Jay asked.

            “Of course. I’m a big girl. Besides, you’d be as close as the phone. “

            “If I had a phone. But, yes, you could always call the pay phone at the restaurant if you needed to get in touch with me.”

            “We’d better go pick up Tiff now. We’ll talk more about this later.”

 

***

 

Tiffany looked in the mirror on her way to the door. She checked her Smoky Azure eye shadow, patted the two blonde curls accenting the right side of her face, and smiled to check her lipstick and teeth. She stepped out of her low-rent Osborne Village apartment as Jay and Sue drove up. As always, Tiffany was a picture of carefully sculptured beauty. She moved carefully on high-heeled, patent leather shoes, avoiding cracks in the sidewalk.

            “I wish I had a car. I hate imposing on my friends,” Tiffany said as she climbed into the cramped backseat of the Mustang.

            “Don’t give it a thought. That’s what friends are for,” Sue said. “Besides it gives me a chance to see little Emma Sydney again. She’s such a doll with those big, blue eyes.”

            “Are you guys going to stay awhile, or are you just dropping me off?”

            “I’d like to stay and visit with you, if you don’t mind,” Sue said.

            “That would be great. We can play with Emma Sydney until she goes to bed, and then chat until Dan and Jane get back around midnight.”

            “Do you want me to pick you up at midnight?” Jay asked.

            “Dan will give us a lift,” Tiffany said.

            “That’s cool,” Jay said. “I’ll drop in on Jimmy and Becky and see how they’re doing. I’ll see you back at the apartment.”

            Tiffany and Sue played with Emma Sydney until her bedtime. Tiffany picked up Emma Sydney and started her customary goodnight tour. She held Emma Sydney so she could flip off the kitchen light switch as Tiffany said ‘goodnight kitchen’. Then the hall light switch with ‘goodnight hall’, followed by the bathroom and the living room, leaving only her bedroom lit.

             Then they sat on the floor together and went through photos of all the family members, saying goodnight to each person by name.

            Finally, Emma Sydney turned off the bedroom light, and Tiffany said ‘goodnight bedroom’, put her in her crib, and covered her with her favorite blanket.

            In the darkened room, Tiffany recited the nightly prayer, including herself in it:

 

  “Mommy and daddy and Tiffany love you very, very much. It’s not because you’re good, which you are. And it’s not because you are clever, which you are. And it’s not because you are beautiful, which you are. Mommy and daddy and Tiffany love you very, very much just because you’re you, and we always will.

  “And God loves you too, and we pray He will keep you safe.

  “Now it’s time for all the Emma Sydneys to go sleep, and since you are an Emma Sydney, it’s time for you to go to sleep, too.”

 

            Tiffany tiptoed out, closing the door behind her. She turned on the living room light and said, “She’ll be out for the night now.”

            “Some tough job, babysitting her,” Sue said.

            “They’re good parents. Should we have some popcorn?”

            “Sure. We might as well eat while you help me decide what to do with the rest of my life.”

            “I thought you and Jay were all setup. You have an apartment and life looks good from what I can see.”

            “There are some rough spots.”

            “With Jay?”

            “Not Jay himself. He’s a great guy.”

            “What then?”

            “I’m not sure I can marry a native.”

            “He’s only part native, isn’t he?”

            “It doesn’t matter how much native blood he has. It has nothing to do with him.”

            “Then what?”

            “It’s how other people react to him because of his native heritage. And how they’ll react to me, as the wife of a native.”

            “I’ve never heard anyone say anything about that. I’d bet most of our friends never give it a thought. I know I don’t.”

            “I’m not talking about our friends.”

            “Then who?”

            “My parents and our relatives talk about it all the time.”

            “You mean they are prejudiced?”

            “They’d never admit it. They’re always saying they don’t care if he’s native, but what will other people think.”

            “So they aren’t prejudiced, it’s everybody else?”

            “That’s what they say. Mom understands and accepts Jay. If my dad could, he’d make Jay and every other native disappear off the face of the earth.”

            “Is he really that way?”

            “Come to think of it, he’d also like all gays to disappear.”

“What about lesbians?”

            “I doubt he even knows they exist. He’s still working on trying to understand that there are such things as gay men.”

“Any other groups he’d like to get rid of?”

            “Probably he’s not too keen on blacks, but he doesn’t see many of them so it’s kind of as if they don’t exist.”

            “Is he going to object to your marrying Jay?”

            “He made it clear to me before Christmas what kind of boyfriend I should have.”

            “Let me guess. Someone exactly like himself only younger.”

            “That’s not going to happen. I don’t plan to have a husband who’ll grow up to be like him.”

            “Did you know he offered me a job as receptionist?”

            “Are you taking it?”

            “I should. What would he be like to work for? A job would be a nice change from sponging off my dad.”

            “He’d be OK. It’s not until he’s been drinking for a few hours that he turns impossible. He’d be fine during business hours. You’d have to make sure you don’t talk to him late at night.”

            “What if he phones?”

            “Caller I.D. is a great invention.”

             

 

           


 

~ 9 ~

 

SPRECHEN SIE GERMAN?

 

Troy was on the phone to Phil:

 

              “Hey. Dude. Could you, like, tell Misty I won’t be home until late tonight?”

              “. . .”

              “I got a gig with Channel 9 to do a documentary.”

              “. . .”

              “It’s about Hutterite Reservations. They’re doing a series of short fillers on different ethnic groups.”

              “. . .”

              “You’re saying I should call it a Hutterian Colony? I’ll try to remember that. What else can you tell me about them?”

              “. . .”

              “Keep talking. I’m making notes.”

              “. . .”

              “Explain that World War One thing again, would you?”

              “. . .”

              “Thanks for the information. It’ll be a big help.”

              “. . .”

              “It’s a low-budget, rush job. The shoot has to finish today.”

              “. . .”

              “Thanks. I might need it. Tell Misty not to wait up for me.”

           

            Troy loaded the rental van with the television camera and tripod, lights and bags of paraphernalia. His assistant sat in the driver’s seat studying a map of Manitoba. She was a sturdy young lady with short-cropped hair, faded jeans, and a businesslike manner.

            “What did you say your name was, again?” Troy asked.

            “jaycee smythe.”

            “Those are your initials, right?”

            “No, that’s my name. No periods. No capitals. Smythe with a ‘y’ and an ‘e’. And no ‘Ms.’”

            “Maybe I’ll straighten it all out later. Why do we need a map? I thought we’d drive along and follow the road signs. A place that big shouldn’t be hard to find.”

            “They deliberately establish their colonies well away from the main highways and communities, ideally near a wood, river or creek. You could drive past a colony on the highway and never know they’re there. They try to avoid the world’s evil influences.”

            “Do you have the route planned?”

            “If we follow the highway west to the Yellowhead Route junction, then turn left, it’ll take us right past the Long Plain Reserve.”

            “Dude. We’re looking for a Hutterite Colony, not an Indian Reservation.”

            “Don’t call me dude. Once we get that far, we’ll be able to find it. Trust me. Besides, we call them Reserves. And they aren’t Indians. They are First Nations people.”

            “Sometimes I think I might as well be trying to speak French.” Troy removed a candy from a tiny paper bag. “Would you like one? They’re sour some-things covered with sugar.”

            “No thanks. They’re too sour for my taste. German would be helpful.”

            “As if. Canadians speak English and French. I know that.”

            “Surprise. Hutterites speak German.”

            Troy set down the camera he was carrying and walked to the driver’s window. “Are you serious? They speak German? Do you speak German?”

            “Not a word of it.”

            “Then we’re, like, in big trouble. Dude. I only speak English.”

            “In your case, that’s debatable. Your American barely qualifies as English.”

            “How are we going to understand these guys, what with their German, and like that?”

            “Oh, they speak English. Most of them better than you do. Not that it’s much of an accomplishment.”

            “You mean they speak German as well as English? Why don’t they speak French?”

            “Because they’ve always spoken German, I guess. Canada encourages people to keep their heritage. That includes their language. We have a diversity of ethnic people. They make up our cultural mosaic.”

            “How can you hope to have a unified country unless everybody speaks the same language? How many languages do you have here in Winnipeg, for example?”

            “Lots. St. Boniface is a French community. Also, there are the Filipinos, Portuguese, Chinese, Italian and, of course, Jewish. They all try to keep their native language alive for their children.”

            “We have a huge Chinatown in San Francisco. The signs and everything are all, like, Chinese. I never go there. I don’t know any Chinese. They have a huge Chinese New Year parade. I think they have it in February. I’ve no idea why.”

            “Our Chinatown has some of my favorite restaurants. Winnipeg has a lot of great ethnic restaurants.”

            “You said you have people who speak Hebrew? Is there a Hebrew section of Winnipeg?”

            “There are a lot of Jewish people throughout the city. Their religion keeps their language alive.”

            “Enough chat. Let’s make sure we’re organized. I assume you know how to work these cameras and stuff.”

            “Sure. I’m a videographer. I’m a pro. It seems I’m also in charge of navigation because you’ve never lived here, and I’m the one who does the driving because you don’t have a license, and apparently you know nothing about Hutterites. Exactly what is your role in this project, anyway?”

            “Dude. I’m the one who got us this gig, and I’m the one who knows something about film making. I’m the one with the talent, education and artistic vision. You’re the video technician. I tell you what to do and you do it. If you have a problem with that, tell me now. I can get a replacement, you know.”

            “I don’t have any problem, except that you keep calling me dude. Stop it.”

            Unfortunately for jaycee, Troy didn’t have the time nor the inclination to explain that his use of the word ‘dude’ was not as something to call a person. The tone, not the word used, was the message. It’s purpose was to express surprise, pleasure, pleading, thanks, or any other emotion.

            “Let’s load up this stuff and get the show on the road,” Troy said.

            The tires hummed along the Trans Canada Highway. Past Headingly. Past Elie and Oakville. Through Portage la Prairie and south down a smaller highway.

            jaycee pointed out a large building surrounded by a scattering of bungalows. “That’s the Long Plain Community Centre. The road to the right leads into Long Plain.”

            “That’s the Indian reservation, right?”

            “Would you believe, First Nations reserve?”

            “Right. What’s that tall metal thing over there? It looks like a skinny roller coaster.” Troy said.

            “Those are grain augers to direct the grain into different storage bins. Most colonies have one. Makes it easy for us to find them.”

            They made a right off the highway at an antique tractor displaying a sign with the name of the colony. The snow was plowed off the gravel road, well back into the ditches.

            “There it is,” jaycee said as they approached a cluster of buildings. “Who are we supposed to see?”

            “Mr. Maendel.”

            “Didn’t they give a first name?”

            “Yeah, but I didn’t remember it. I figured we should, like, be formal and go with Mr.”

            “Clever. I don’t suppose you realize 90% of the people on this colony have the name Maendel? They must have told you something else.”

            “I don’t think so. Not that I remember, anyway. If they all have the same name how does one tell them apart?”

            “That’s what first names are for. Even the children address the adults by their first names. Sometimes they use nicknames when they run out of first names.”

            A man dressed in dark blue coveralls and a black cap walked along the edge of the road. “Excuse me,” jaycee said. “We’re from the TV station. Can you tell us where to go?”

            Troy muttered under his breath, “Now that’s a leading question if I ever heard one”

            “Turn right at the next corner,” the man said, pointing the way. “Three houses down. Ernest will be expecting you.”

            The van pulled into the driveway flanked on either side by ridges of plowed snow. jaycee kept the van in the middle of the road. They got out and started to walk toward the door. A bearded man came to the door to greet them. He wore a blue-checked shirt and dark pants with suspenders.

            “That’s the same man,” Troy whispered to jaycee. “How did he get here ahead of us?”

            “It looks like the same man. He has the same cap, the same full beard, and the same intense eyes. Somehow, he got to be twenty years younger.”

            “What do I say to him?” Troy asked. “He looks like one tough dude. Should I call him ‘sir’?”

            “Try to speak English instead of Californian,” she advised sarcastically.

            Troy got out of the van and started to walk toward the house. Looking back to see if jaycee was coming, he stumbled into the snow bank at the edge of the driveway. Brushing the snow off, he walked to the door. The man held out his hand. “Hello. You must be from the TV station. You all right?”

            Troy took the man’s hand. “Yeah, dude. It’s cool. I’m Troy. This is my assistant, jaycee.”

            “Oh, way to go. Very smooth,” jaycee muttered as she joined him.

             “Come in. We’re expecting you. My name is Ernest. This is my wife, Serena,” the man said, indicating a robust, gently smiling woman dressed in a white blouse, dark-flowered skirt, and a black polka-dot-peppered head shawl. “And here’s my daughter, Jennifer,” he said, indicating a strikingly attractive young woman with bright, shiny eyes and clear skin.

            “Hello,” Jennifer said. “I’m sorry I can’t stay to talk, but I’m on my way to the kitchen. It’s my cook-week.”

            “You’ll have tea? We have coffee, if you prefer,” Serena said.

            A plate of freshly baked cookies sat on the plain wooden table. A potpourri of herb stalks, leaves and dried blossoms floated near the bottom of a Pyrex carafe on a hot plate. Four straight wooden chairs tucked under a square table waited for the guests. They sat and looked around the homey rooms. The kitchen counter had been skillfully crafted by colony workers, giving the space a custom-designed but practical look. A multi-colored, hand-crocheted rug cushioned the floor in front of the sink.

            “Where’s your stove and things?” jaycee asked.

            “Most cooking and washing is done in the communal area.”

            “The tea smells delightful. Such a golden color! It’s homemade?” jaycee asked.

            “Yes. Each family mixes its own personal tea. The gardener grows herbs like chamomile and comfrey. We have peppermint and lemon balm in our flower beds.”

            “We also have Earl Grey, if you prefer,” Ernest suggested.

            “A girls’ work group from one colony will go to another colony to pick linden tree blossoms, or go into the woods to pick wild raspberry leaves, hyssop and licorice. Everything is dried separately. That way, each family can create its own special blend.”

            “It’s one of the social events that brings young people from different colonies together,” Serena said. She filled three mugs of tea before disappearing into another room. The sound of a contentedly purring sewing machine drifted through the open door. Ernest sweetened his tea with a spoonful of honey and passed the jar to Troy.

            Troy munched a cookie and sipped the tea. “We’re here to make a film of, you know, your life here. I’d like jaycee here to take about an hour of video around the . . . uh . . .”

            “Around the colony?”

            “Yes.”

            “What do you want to see?”

            “Your farm operations, of course. Like, maybe the pig barn and some shots of your farm machinery. We’ll need at least an hour of tape, jaycee.”

            “Is it going to be that long a video?” she asked.

            “You should plan to have an hour of shooting for a five-minute spot. I need a lot of footage so it can be edited for maximum impact.”

            “Ray’s the Schweinewirt. The pig boss. I’m the colony Wirt. Ray’s a good man. He was my helper a few years back when I was Schweinewirt. He has studied pig operations all over the United States and Canada. Our equipment is as modern and efficient as you’ll find anywhere. We try to be up to date in all our farm operations.”

            “And some footage of your family life. How you live, what you do for fun, stuff like that.”

            “You and I will talk about our life on the colony. The video shots will be only of the colony’s work and the business aspects. Pictures cannot capture the spirit of our religious and personal life. They would be misleading when out of context. You don’t want that.”

            “What about other aspects of your personal lives?”

            “There are few other aspects. Only different facets of our religion,” Ernest said.

            “What about family life?”

            “The mother stays home with the children. The women don’t have to take time from their other activities to prepare meals, except when they have their week of communal kitchen duty. Until her child is five years old, the mother brings home its food from the communal dining room. From ages five to fourteen the children eat in the separate children’s dining room.”

            “I was told the Hutterites started the first kindergarten.”

            “Yes. Starting at age two-and-a-half, children go to the Klanaschul under the direction of experienced women we call Kinderankelä. That leaves the mothers free to work with the other women in the garden hoeing, weeding and picking vegetables for canning and freezing.”

            “You certainly are self-sufficient, aren’t you?”

            “There are still buy a lot of things we buy: dry goods such as shoes, fabric, sewing notions, grocery staples such as flour, sugar, teas and coffee. We buy toothpaste, shampoo, and medicines such as cough syrup. However, we grow our own vegetables and do all our own baking and food processing. We do a lot of our own sewing.”

            “You look after the people in the community, too, don’t you?”

            “Yes, except for medical and dental work, we respond to all our people’s needs.”

            “Does everyone have a job?”

            “We follow Paul’s rule in the Bible: who does not want to work, shall not eat.”

            “What about people who are too old or unable to work?”

            “We don’t require work, only the desire to work, from our communal family. We expect it from those who can, but we provide for all the people according to their needs. An old person who needs home care is the responsibility of the children, brothers, sisters, aunts, nieces and close friends who come to stay for two weeks at a time. In this way each person’s turn to provide care comes around two or three times a year.”

            Without a knock, the door opened and a younger, thinner version of Ernest, but with a five-o’clock-shadow instead of a full beard, came in.

            “This is, Ray. He will show you around the community,” Ernest said.

            jaycee turned toward Ray. “Why do you have such a modern-style beard?”

            Ray smiled. “You should ask, instead, how long I’ve been married. Come. We can start in the barn.”

            Troy said to Ernest, “You and I can talk while jaycee and Ray do the picture things. I’ll dub in the commentary later.”

            Troy popped a candy into his mouth and held out the bag to Ray, then to Ernest. Ray took a nibble, puckered his lips, and exclaimed, “Zwinkern.”

            Ernest shook his head and declined Troy’s offer.

            “What does Zwinkern mean?” Troy asked.

            Ray smiled. “It’s an old German expression meaning to screw up your eyes. It’s what my grandfather used to say when he tasted something surprising.”

            Ray and jaycee headed toward the door. “Does everyone wear black or dark clothes? Or is it a winter thing?” Jaycee asked.

            “No matter how hot it gets in the summer, you’ll never see anyone dressed in cutoffs or sleeveless tops,” Ray said as they left. “We appreciate clothes that are well-made and modest, not flashy.”

            Troy set his tape recorder on the table. “How about a quick history of how you came to be here. I assume that since you speak German, you must have come from Germany.”

            “Our way of life originated with the Anabaptist movement in the German part of Switzerland in 1525. It started with a group of fifteen Reformed Church members who believed that the Bible and not the Pope was the ultimate authority in religious matters. They also agreed that true believers should not use the sword or violence to protect themselves. Before the group departed, they baptized each other. This marked the beginning of the Anabaptist movement and its tenet of adult baptism, also called believer’s baptism. They wait until the person is old enough to understand that commitment to the church is the centre of our life. For us, this is nineteen or older. Acceptance of these beliefs marked the beginning of the persecution of all those who shared the Anabaptist belief.”

            “In March of 1526, re-baptism was officially declared punishable by death. In 1527, Felix Mantz became the first Anabaptist martyr when he was drowned in the Limmat River in downtown Zurich. Thus, Anabaptists were forced to move to other countries.”

            “Who made them move?”

            “The Catholics and Protestants both hated the Anabaptists for refusing to baptize their children and for re-baptizing adults who had been baptized as children in their own churches. They were also hated for saying the country was not Christian because wars are contrary to Jesus’ teaching of love for our enemies. Charles V decreed that all Anabaptists were to be regarded as dangerous heretics and exterminated. From the German-speaking countries, Anabaptists fled to Moravia, a part of Czechoslovakia, as the persecution intensified.”

            “Where do the Hutterites come into this?”

            “In Moravia, the Anabaptists broke into several different groups. Our group began practicing the community of goods in 1528, and took its name from Jakob Hutter, the elder from 1533 until 1536. He was publicly tortured and burned at the stake in downtown Innsbruck as a warning to those who chose to follow his teaching. Other Anabaptists became the Mennonite, Quaker, and Amish people. In 1770 our people moved to Russia to escape persecution.”

            “Russia was a good country for you?”

            “Yes, for a hundred years. Then czar Alexander II decreed that all instruction in school had to be carried out in Russian and that military service was compulsory for everyone. Neither requirement was acceptable to the Hutterian Brethren, so twelve hundred of them came to the Dakota Territory, which is now North and South Dakota. Only a third of those, about four hundred people, continued with the tradition of communal living and established Bruderhöfe, or colonies. The others settled on individual farms and joined the Mennonites, who share many of our beliefs but do not practice communal ownership of property.”

            “Is it true all Hutterites are descended from only fifteen families?”

            “It’s true we have only the fifteen original surnames, except for the dozen individuals who have subsequently chosen to join us. Originally, there were more family surnames. However, some faded out from lack of male children.”

            “How many Hutterites are there all together?”

            “We are presently about 40,000, living in 430 Bruderhöfe.”

            “What do you mean by Bruderhöfe?”

            “We call our colony a Bruderhof. Literally, it means, ‘brother yard’. When our yard gets too crowded, we start a new colony. Our numbers, and the number of colonies, is steadily increasing.”

            “New colonies?”

            “A colony will branch out when it becomes economically necessary. Because there are quotas on the amount of grain and livestock such as turkeys that producers can sell, a colony eventually reaches a point where there is not enough work for the married men. This usually happens when the colony reaches somewhere between 100 and 150 people.”

            Troy said. “Can’t you just raise more stuff? I thought Manitoba produced thousands of hogs.”

            “Hogs are the only agricultural product without government quotas, so it’s not that simple. Besides, there is a biblical basis for maintaining a moderate size. In St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ feeding of the multitude, before Jesus fed the thousands, he divided them into groups of between fifty and a hundred. That’s the size of our colonies. “

            “Let’s get back to the history lesson. Your people were happy in the United States?”

            “All was well until the First World War. We are pacifists. We do not fight in our daily life, and we don’t participate in wars. The pressure of American conscription forced us to move to Canada.”

            “Doesn’t that mean you are taking the benefits of the society you live in, but aren’t willing to support it?”

            “We support the society of the country where we live. In 1961, we lost our religious tax exemption. Now we pay the same taxes as any large corporate farming operation. Some people criticize us for not participating in community organized team sports, but we don’t consider them important. The only important thing is that we don’t join any military organizations or activities. Other than that, we support the local businesses and communities. Local blood donor clinics are a field of suspender-supported black trousers, and polka-dotted headscarves.”

            The sewing machine stopped and a voice said, “It’s also a chance for us to socialize with friends from other colonies. For our young people it’s an opportunity to meet potential marriage partners.”

            “Any time there is a community disaster people know they can count on us to help, without needing to be asked. Helping others is our way of life. Everyone has duties and obligations to their fellow man. It is not our way ever to ignore these obligations.”

            Troy consulted his notes. “I was told that during the flood of 1950, one of the dike builders requested, ‘Send me ten more men. Or five Hutterites.’ Why would he say that?”

            “We bring our construction machinery with us.”

            The sewing machine stopped again. “Don’t be modest. It’s because we know how to work long and hard until the job is done.”

            The clang of a bell interrupted the dialogue. “That is the dinner bell,” Ernest said.

            “I suppose it’s also used to call you to church?” Troy asked.

            “No. We are never summoned to church. We go voluntarily because we want to.”

            “But how do you remember when to go?”

            “How do you remember to breathe? Religion is our life. We watch the minister’s house when church time nears. When he leaves his house and walks to church, we follow. Now, follow me for lunch.”


 

~ 10 ~

 

DINNER TIME

 

Ray and jaycee joined Troy and Ernest at the dining hall entrance. Ernest led the way with the others carefully following his lead. A stainless steel cauldron steamed with a thick vegetable soup. Steel trays held dozens of baked half-chickens. On the back counter an industrial size pasta maker shone spotlessly. Troy’s face betrayed his amazement at the size and polish of the operation.

            “We all eat at the same time. Our kitchen needs to be efficient,” Ernest said. “We are lucky today. There are Hutterite french fries.”

            “How are they different from regular ones?”

            “They are cooked together with strips of onion for extra flavour.”

             The foursome sat at a long table in the main dining hall. Troy looked around. “The women are all sitting on the other side of the room. Should jaycee be sitting over there instead of here?”

            Ernest looked at jaycee with renewed interest while he answered, “We do not operate by rules. It is only a convention that the men and women sit separately. It has always been done that way. There is no reason to do it differently. The children eat in a separate room.” He leaned over to speak quietly into Troy’s ear, “Is jaycee a woman?”

            Troy smiled. “It’s, like, hard to tell, isn’t it? I think she is, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.”

            Ernest grinned and returned his attention to his plate and the plentiful supply of freshly baked bread. A young man came into the dining room.

            Ernest’s gaze followed him. “That’s my son. He turned fifteen last month. Now he eats with the men. It’s one of our rites of passage.”

            “You have other rites?”

            “When boys are two-and-a-half years old, they get to wear their first suspenders. Girls change from the Mitz to a head shawl at approximately age thirteen.”

            “What’s a Mitz?”

            “It’s that attractive, peasant-style bonnet with a strap under the chin that young girls wear. Doesn’t your society provide events that signify growing up?”

            “Getting a driver’s license is the only thing I can think of. Even that’s not as significant as it used to be now that all-terrain vehicles have become popular.”

            After lunch Troy and Ernest returned to the house and resumed their interview.

            “How have you managed to maintain your culture and beliefs, what with all your moving around from country to country?”

            “The Bible has always been our central guide. It is the first word and the last word of our life. Our faith does not change.”

            “Not even the sermons?”

            “The sermons are read in church exactly as they were written 450 years ago. In German, of course. The minister may add or leave out passages, and may ad-lib pertinent occasional comments. Sometimes the sermon is shorter, and sometimes parts are given in English.”

            “That’s the only change after four centuries?”

            “Many colonies now use hymn books instead of the traditional lining.”

            “Lining?”

            “Having the minister say each line before we sing it.”

            “I see. Don’t you feel a need to keep up with the changing times?”

            “God does not change. The Bible does not change. Why should our church services change? Each minister has his own set of the sermons. When a new colony branches out, the one minister stays and keeps his set of volumes. The other leaves for the new colony with his own set.”

            “What about language? You must have had many changes in language over the centuries.”

            “Wherever we go, we remain German. In our homes and elsewhere in the community, we speak the Tyrolean dialect of our Austrian ancestors in our homes and our community. Standard German is used in church. We learn the language of the country where we live. In that way, we can become part of the community.”

            “Isn’t this difficult for the children to learn? I have enough trouble with one language.”

            “Our children speak and hear only Tyrolean in the home. It is our oral language. In kleine Schul, or little school, until they are five years old, they are introduced to standard German through songs and simple prayers such as a table grace and the Lord’s Prayer. When they start regular school, they start learning English.”

            “But don’t they, like, forget the German?”

            “What children learn in the first five years, they will never forget. Besides, they have German school, which we call grussa Schul, as well as English school, every day. Our church services are in German and the parents speak the Tyrolean dialect at home. We use English for business off the Bruderhof, not for ourselves. When we lived in Russia, we spoke Russian and German. When we moved, we would use the language of our new home when speaking to the people, but we are always German no matter where we are.”

            “It sounds like a lot of school.”

            “What else is there? Children go to school. Adults work. That’s life. I suppose you’d say we get up early and go to bed early, but it’s the same for all farmers.”

            “My friends go to church once a week.”

             “We go to church every day. It’s an important part of our life. Our children go to school until they are fifteen. The adults go to church all their lives.”

            “Your children leave school at age fifteen?”

            “They usually start an informal apprenticeship at age fifteen. Many colonies believe that education beyond age fifteen is of benefit to the colony, so individual students are allowed to continue. Some more progressive colonies are educating their own people to become teachers.”

            “Am I right in saying that your colony structure is patriarchal? You know, like, the man is in charge?”

            “Yes. The man is the head of the household.”

            The sewing machine in the next room stopped abruptly. “And the woman is the neck that supports the head, and, when necessary, turns it in the right direction.” The machine resumed in a whir of activity.

            “I read that there isn’t much crime on a colony,” Troy continued.

            “Look around. What would you want to steal? The chairs? The table?”

            “I wouldn’t mind having that big, fancy new truck that’s sitting out there on the road. It was running with no one in it when we came in. I could have hopped in and driven it away. You people are pacifists. You wouldn’t use force to stop me, would you?”

            “We believe in Gütergemeinschaft, the common ownership of goods, even among different colonies.”

            “Where did you get that idea?”

            “From the Bible. In Acts 4 it says that the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but they had everything in common.”

            “You actually do that? You have no personal possessions?”

            “Nothing of value. Maybe a watch, a pocket knife, a Bible, and a desk or dresser. In this life, people are no more than stewards of the land and of material goods. It is dust to dust, nothing more.”

            “But that truck is yours, isn’t it?”

            “I drive it, but it belongs equally to everyone on the colony. If you took it, someone would see you, and it would be as if you were taking his truck.”

            “I could just drive it off the colony.”

            “You would find some machine blocking your way before you got to the road. You would soon be answering to all 95 of us for your actions.”

            “I see what you mean. But there must be some theft on the colony.”

            “A bunch of youngsters might steal a pie from the kitchen, or some pop from the communal pantry. A man might help himself to a bottle of dandelion wine for a special private occasion. Because we don’t have personal possessions, we have no theft.”

            “How do you handle members who violate your way of life?”

            “There is a six-man council for each Bruderhof. They make decisions on major policies and problems that affect the colony and its operation: the Minister, the Colony Wirt, the German Teacher, and the farm manager, are automatic council members. The others are elected.”

            “What happens to those who are guilty of breaking your rules?”

            “We talk to them and explain the error of their ways.”

            “And that’s it? Aren’t they banished from the colony or put in jail or punished somehow?”

            “If they do not see their error, we may be forced to restrict our daily interaction with them.”

            “You mean you isolate them?”

            “We’d start by not wishing them, ‘Peace be with you’ when we meet. If it’s more serious, they would not be permitted to attend council. If it is even more serious, they would not eat at the table with us. They would not be banished from the Bruderhof, although they might choose to leave if they do not wish to follow our ways. We have a saying you are either in the ark or you’re not. There’s no part way.”

             “What about your children and teenagers? How do you handle them? We have a lot of problems with crime and violence with our children. Our courts don’t punish children.”

            “Our children are rarely punished. They may be unruly or foolish, but they are never evil. We discourage rough play when they are little. They learn to love one another and to work together for the good of the Bruderhof. Children are like soft wax that can be molded and formed by words and experiences. Our children have no way to learn the thoughts or ways of crime and violence. We insulate them from the negative influences of the outside world.”

            As jaycee walked into the room, Troy turned off the recorder. “How did the shoot go?”

            “Great. I wish I lived in their pig barn. They control the temperature to within two degrees and adjust it for different stages of the pregnancy.”

            “I hope you made some notes. The temperature won’t show on the tape. You’ll have to add some voice-over to explain the operation.”

            “I suppose I’ll have to explain why we’re all wearing surgical masks.”

            “That’ll be obvious. It’s because of the smell.”

            “Obviously wrong. It’s to keep from giving any of our germs to the pigs. Those animals are treated with more care and concern than we are in a hospital,” jaycee said.

            “What’s it like to be a man living on the colony?” Troy asked.

            “What would you reckon to be the perfect existence? What are the things you treasure most in your life?”

            “Catching a gnarly wave and riding it in. That, and kicking back with my bros on the beach. That’s what I live for.”

            “That may be fine for you,” jaycee said, “but I’d want work I enjoy. A job that gives me security, satisfaction and friendly people with whom to work. Of course, a husband and a few kids to make me feel proud, and who don’t cause me grief would be nice. I’d like to be able to retire when I’m fifty-five, knowing I’ll be looked after in my old age, and live out the rest of my life surrounded by family and friends. A first-class ticket to heaven when I die would be a bonus.”

            Ja wohl. That’s life on the Bruderhof.”

            On the drive back to Winnipeg, Troy asked jaycee about her experience on the colony. “What did you think of their dress and lifestyle?”

            “I think they present a portrait of themselves to the world,” jaycee said.

            “That’s good,” Troy said, pulling out his notebook. “What does it mean?”

            “The colony wants the world to accept them as ordinary people who have chosen a different way of life from that of their neighbours. They do this by presenting themselves as a living picture of how they see themselves.”

            “How does their dressing in dark clothes and black ball caps or polka-dotted head scarves do that?”

            “Their clothing symbolizes simplicity and their rejection of vanity as it is mirrored by the possession of worldly goods.”

            “So?”

            “It reminds them on a daily basis of their origins, Christian beliefs, and emphasis on preparing for life after death.”

            “What else did you learn?”

            “They make great rhubarb, dandelion, raisin and chokecherry wines.”

            “Be serious. I can’t use that.”

            “I liked the Hutterian Golden Rule.”

            “What’s that?”

            “What’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine.”

            Troy turned toward jaycee. “You have totally cool ideas. Would you want to help me with the commentary?”

            “What’s it pay?” jaycee asked. “Maybe Hutterites don’t do the personal property thing, but I do. And I have to eat.”


 

~ 11 ~

 

WHO’S BEEN EATING MY PORRIDGE?

 

Steve left the baggage claim area and jogged up the stairs. He turned up his collar and shoved his hands deep into his pockets before venturing out onto the street. It was a typical January day in Manitoba. Sunny and cold. Minus thirty degrees cold. A dark blue mustang sat at the curb in the no-parking area with its motor running and its heater struggling to keep the side windows clear. Steve walked in front of the car.

            “Hey, Steve. Hop in, I’m going your way,” Jay said, popping the trunk open.

            “Hi Mustang Boy. Every time I see a Mustang I always think of you, and here you are,” Steve said, climbing into the car.

            “It may not be a Lexus, and not even a convertible, but it’ll get you where you want to go.”

            “I was afraid Phil might come to pick me up.”

            “On his motorcycle? He’d have to be crazy to ride a motorcycle in the winter. You’d be crazy to ride with him. The streets are solid ice.”

            “He’s done crazier things than that. Thanks for coming to pick me up. I could have taken a taxi, but this is nice.”

            “It was the least I could do.”

            “You mean for helping you get back from California and bringing your stuff? Forget it.”

            “That and other things.”

            Steve looked over at Jay. Jay concentrated on the road.

            “How is Sue?” Steve asked.

            “She’s fine, except she tires easily.”

            “Did they find out what was wrong with her?”

            “Some kind of emotional trauma.”

            “Is she getting over it?”

            “I think so. However, emotional pain hurts. And Tylenol doesn’t help.”

            “I know what you mean. I’ve been there. Often. Do you know what happened to her?”

            “Nobody seems to know, or doesn’t want to say. I don’t want to pry.”

            “Sounds like a good idea. Is she still in the hospital?”

            “She’s out, but doesn’t want to stay at home.”

            “So where is she?”

            “We’re staying at your place. I hope you don’t mind.”

            “I’m happy to help.”

            “I know I should have asked you first, but I didn’t have much chance.”

            “You’re both welcome. You know that.”

            “Thanks. We didn’t know what else to do until we find a place for Sue.”

            “You’re welcome anytime. My spare room is usually empty. Sue has problems at home?”

            “Her dad is heavy into the booze. He’s a different guy from when I knew him before. He seems to be down on everything.”

            “You’re included?”

            “Big time. I used to think he liked me, but he’s barely civil to me now.”

            “Any clues why?” Steve asked.

            “Maybe he’s angry I’m back in Sue’s life.”

            “That would be my guess, but maybe there’s more to it than that.”

            “Like what?”

            “Maybe he realizes his little girl if going to leave the nest someday soon.”

            “Sometimes I don’t know how to deal with him.”

            “Don’t ask me for advice. I’m the guy whose dad pays him to stay away, remember?”

            “Too bad I’m not gay. Maybe I could get some kind of deal like that.”

            “Be careful what you wish for. You might get your wish and regret it,” Steve said.

            “I’ll think about that later. Right now, I’m more concerned about moving in with Sue.”

            “What’s stopping you?”

            “Her dad’s going to set her up in an apartment. If I move in with her, then I’ll be taking charity from her dad. He’d own me.”

            “Only if you let him. People accept favours all the time. It’s the motivation that makes the difference. That and your reaction to the situation. You need to talk it over with him.”

            “Maybe later. After things have settled down into a routine.”

            Jay parked in front of Steve’s apartment. “Let me carry your suitcase.”

            “Some of it’s your stuff, anyway.”

            “Hi Sue. We’re here,” Jay called as he and Steve entered the apartment.

            “Hi guys,” Sue called from the kitchen. “I made some coffee and we have Oreos, of course.”

            “We’ll be there in a minute,” Jay said. He accompanied Steve as he made a fast tour around his apartment. “It’s so clean and tidy. Some of my friends leave the place looking like a refugee camp.”

            “It’s important to leave things the way they were. Phil taught me how to keep things neat and tidy.”

            “I hope you’ve learned a few things from me as well.”

            “Believe me. I have. You’re a very special person to me. I owe you a lot.”

            “Thanks. It means a lot to me that you can accept me, what with knowing I’m gay and all.”

            “It used to be an issue, but gay or straight, it makes no difference to me now. I like you as a person. Your sexual life is none of my business, and it doesn’t bother me at all,” Jay said. After a moment’s silence he added, “Especially if I don’t think about it.”

            Jay and Steve joined Sue in the kitchen. “How was San Francisco?” Sue asked. “I’ve always dreamed of going there.”

            “Unbelievable. I can hardly wait to go back again,” Steve said.

            “It was a real eye-opener for me,” Jay added. “I hope we can go there when I go to find my father, Sue. We could explore the city together. It’s totally romantic and beautiful.”

            “That would be nice. I’ve never been anywhere outside Manitoba.”

            “I’d have thought your parents would have traveled all over the world.”

            “They’ve traveled overseas and everything, but they always left me here because I had to go to school. My grandparents would look after me for weeks at a time. I hated it.”

            “Didn’t you like your grandparents?”

            “Oh, I liked them all right. It was the idea of being left out I didn’t like.”

            “I’ll make it up to you,” Jay said.

            “Before you two start getting all mushy, There’s something I want to give you, Jay.”

            “What?”

            “Your father’s address.”

            “You mean the one in San Francisco?”

            “No. I mean the address where he moved. I went to Nob Hill and the guy you met there gave me the letter he got from your dad.”

            “Can I have it, please?” Jay asked, practically jumping up and down with excitement.

            “Relax. It’s in your suitcase with your overcoat.”

            Sue frowned at Jay. “I thought you lived up north with your mother and father?”

            “I’ve had a lot of fathers. Or more accurately, temporary stepfathers. We’re talking about my biological father.”

            “Do you remember what he looked like?”

            “He left my mother before I was born. Cam got some leads through the Internet on where he might live. There’s a fellow I met in San Francisco who had worked with him. Unfortunately, he’d moved south before I got there.”

            “You left when you were so close to finding him? Just to help me?”

            “Of course. You’re the most important thing in my life,” Jay said, going over to kiss Sue.

            “OK, you lovebirds. Here’s your suitcase, Jay. I’m going to visit Cam and Jamie when I get unpacked. The baby’s not here yet, is it?”

            “I don’t think so, at least it wasn’t when I saw them New Year’s Eve,” Jay said.

            They went into Steve’s bedroom. Steve carefully unpacked his suitcase, hanging each item carefully in the closet or folding it neatly into a dresser drawer. Jay checked through his suitcase looking for the letter.

            “It was good of you to get my things from the hotel,” Jay said.

            “You didn’t leave me much choice, taking off the way you did.”

            “You could have left them. It wasn’t your problem.”

            “It was my problem because I’m your friend. Your problems are my problems.”

            “If I get the chance I hope I can be as good a friend as you are.”

            “I think you’ve proved yourself with Sue.”

            “Thanks. I hope so.”

            “There’s something I should tell you. I didn’t want to mention it in front of Sue.”

            “Something serious?”

            “Not really. I have a friend coming to visit.”

            “A girl . . . uh . . . boyfriend?”

            “Let’s say he’ll be a roommate.”

            “And you want us out of here?”

            “That’s up to you. There’s lots of room. However, I don’t know how Sue would react to having the four of us living together.”

            “I’m not sure how I’d react, either. It’s a bit different seeing people living together.”

            “He won’t be arriving until early next week. Don’t get me wrong, you’re welcome to stay. I just didn’t want you to be uncomfortable with the situation.”

            “No problem. We’re looking at an apartment tomorrow. We’ll be out of here in a day or so.”

            “I hope you don’t feel I’m pushing you out.”

            “Not at all. You’ve been totally understanding about our moving in like we did.”

            Jay moved off to the living room to read his father’s letter:

 

La Queresadore Ranch

1231 Alamore Pintata Road

Solvang  CA 93427

 

Hi Buddy –

 

     I lucked out getting a ride with a salesman going to L.A. He was stopping at all the small towns along the way so he took me right to Solvang. Everyone here is really nice. I’m living in their house trailer and there’s lot’s of room. You could stay here if you come to visit.

     They have guests all the time so they are looking for another worker – maybe you could come and get their faucets to quit leaking. You really should pack up and move here – the pay is good and they treat me like family. The phone number is 402 555 6215. The weather here is great – It’s a perfect place to live. They say there are rattlesnakes, but I haven’t seen any. The annual tarantula migration apparently goes across their driveway, but that’s only in November, and it doesn’t last all that long. Tom says tarantulas are friendly things – they just get bad press.

     I’m using my proper name now – Winston – so if you phone, ask for Winston.

 

Your old buddy,

Nobby     

 

            Jay sat reading and rereading the letter. “So he really is my dad. I should have guessed that’s where my middle name came from.”

           

***       

             

After breakfast, Jay and Sue packed their things into the car and drove down Portage Avenue to the apartment block. The recent painting didn’t succeed in hiding the age of the rambling two-story complex.

            “Which entrance do we use?” Jay asked.

            “I don’t suppose it matters. Mom said the apartment was at the west end. There should be parking at the back.”

            Sue unlocked the door. Jay scooped her up in his arms and carried her into the apartment.

            “What are you doing?” Sue laughed.

            “It’s your first apartment. I felt we needed to do something to mark the occasion, and I didn’t have time to chill a bottle of champagne to christen it.”

            “That’s for ships, silly,” Sue said.

            They looked at the empty rooms. “It’ll look better when it has some furniture in it,” Jay suggested.

            “I’ll need a lot of things. A kitchen table and chairs. Sofa and chair. A bedroom set. Television set.”

            “That’s going to cost a lot.”

            “You still have the AMEX card, don’t you?” Sue asked.

            “We can’t use it for furniture unless we ask first. Do your folks have any old stuff they can let you use to get started?” Jay asked.

            “I wouldn’t want to go through the hassle of asking my dad.”

            “Maybe we could ask your mom?”

            “That’s possible.”

            “It’s going to be a lot of work. You could leave the second bedroom empty for now.”

            “Some pictures might help,” Sue said. Jay and Sue looked at each other. “Not like the ones Steve has,” they said together and laughed.

            “We need Misty here. This place has bad Feng Shui,” Jay said.

            “I think you mean bad chi, but you’re right. It needs all the help it can get.”

             “Are you sure you want to stay here?” Jay asked. “You don’t have to, you know.”

            “It’ll be fine. I can learn to dodge the poison arrows.”

            “Some big puffy furniture would absorb them. It’ll be a challenge.”

            “I’m not going to live with my parents., If we can’t afford to pay for a place on your wages, maybe I can get a job. This will do fine until we can afford somewhere better.”

            “I’d have thought your dad would have wanted you to be in a fancier place than this. He’s usually concerned about appearances, isn’t he?”

            “You have a lot to learn about him. He’s hoping I won’t like it, and will move back. Getting his own way is important to him.”

            “I guess he doesn’t know you very well, does he?”

            “He’s been too involved with his work to notice I’ve grown up. And lately, booze takes up his spare time.”

            “You’re worried about him, aren’t you?”

            “I feel responsible for the stress I put on him.”

            “We have to live our own lives. You aren’t doing anything that should cause him stress. If he’s stressed, it’s because of his reaction to life. That makes it his problem, not ours.”

            “You are right, of course. But I still feel guilty,” Sue said.

            “I know. Words don’t change feelings. I often feel guilty for things in my past, even though my mind tells me it wasn’t my fault. My emotions refuse to listen to my logic.”

            “Let’s go furniture shopping. We can use the card. I find it’s always easier to get forgiven than to get permission.”

            “You’re a lot like your mom, aren’t you? What style are you thinking of going with?”

            Sue’s brow furrowed. “It’s hard to imagine a style for this apartment. Maybe we should go with the garage-sale look.”

            “Or you could go with new stuff now. Then we could fit it into our new place when we get it.”

            “Ah. You said, our place. That’s sweet of you. Let’s go with secondhand stuff. My dad won’t be able to complain about the cost, and we won’t have to worry about sticking with a motif.”

            “I know the perfect place. Let’s do a tour of Value Village stores.”

            “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never been to one. Aren’t they like junk stores?”

            “Jimmy and I spend a lot of time shopping there. They have great stuff. It’s old, but some of it is barely used.”

            “We could say we’re going for a retro-look.”

            “Besides, we’d be helping a charity. They get the goods donated, and give the money to a good cause, like Diabetes research. “

            “Would they be tax deductible? My dad only donates to charities that give tax receipts.”

            “I doubt it. Doesn’t your dad ever do anything without having an angle to benefit himself?”

            “Not that he’d ever admit.”

            “If we find some things we like, then I’ll see if I can borrow a truck tomorrow,” Jay said.

            “Where do you want to go for lunch?”

            “Let’s go back to Steve’s place and start packing up our stuff. We can grab a bite there.”

            “Good idea. Steve’s been great about our staying there. We should get out of his way while he’s still happy with us.”

            Jay and Sue spent the afternoon touring furniture and second-hand stores. It was nearly dinnertime when they returned to Steve’s apartment.

            Steve was engrossed in vacuuming the living room. Jay walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. Steve jumped and said something undecipherable, but clearly profane.

            “Sorry, man,” Jay said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

            “That’s OK. I scare easily. It comes with the territory.”

            “What territory?” Sue asked.

            “Being gay. A lot of people consider gays fair game for hassling. We learn to scare easily when we’re young.”

            “I’m sorry,” Jay said. “I’ll try to remember next time.”

            “Do you have plans for dinner?” Steve asked.

            “Nothing specific. We do plan to eat,” Jay answered.

            “Great. Let’s go to The Panic Restaurant on Broadway. Maybe they still do vertical food.”

            Jay looked at the ceiling. “Oh, great. Here we go again. Is it only you, or do all guys like you want to go to places I’ve never heard of?”

            Steve smiled. “It’s all guys like me. Travel agents like to eat in fancy places. I assume that’s what you meant.”

            “Smart guy. I deserved that. Can Sue and I afford vertical food? It sounds expensive, whatever it is.”

            “You could use the credit card,” Sue suggested.

            “That wouldn’t be fair. I don’t want to abuse your mom’s generosity.”

            “My treat. I’m an incurable romantic. You two make such a cute couple. For a pair of straights, that is. I’d love to treat you to a fancy dinner.”

            “Thanks, you’re a sweetheart. By the way, we’ll be moving out tomorrow,” Sue said.

            “You know you’re welcome to stay if you want to. Where are you going?”

            “If you like we’ll show you before we go to the restaurant.”

            “Great. Let’s go.”

            After a brief stop at the apartment block they arrived at the restaurant. “Nothing on this menu makes any sense,” Jay said. “Especially the prices.”

            “Leave it up to me,” Steve said. “I love playing the host.”

            “We want to have three different orders of vertical food,” Steve ordered.

            “Very good, sir. What would you like?”

            “Surprise us. Tell Lenny it’s for Steve and his friends. He’ll make something impressive.”

            “Very good, sir.”

             “And a bottle of Dom Pérignon

            “An excellent choice,” the waiter said, with a little bow.

            Steve leaned over the table and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “I shouldn’t admit it, but this is one of my favorite ways to feel important. Whenever I’m down on myself, I come to an expensive restaurant like this where the waiter knows how to be properly obsequious. It’s great for my ego.”

            “Not great for the pocket book, though,” Sue said.

            “What’s money for if not to get what you want?” Steve asked.

            Sue lapsed into a thoughtful silence.

            “Did I say something wrong?” Steve asked.

            Jay jumped into the conversation. “What do you think about the apartment.”

            “I assume that you’re paying for it. Sue’s dad would have gone a bit more upscale.”

            “It’s his building. He isn’t collecting rent from us. Besides, I’ll be staying at the Red Dragon.”

            Steve lapsed into silence.

            Jay looked confused. “A penny for your thoughts, Steve.”

            “I’d rather not say. It’s none of my business.”

            “Come on guys,” Jay said. “Let’s get things out in the open. At this rate, I’ll be talking to myself all through dinner.”

            Steve took a deep breath. “Don’t you think he’s being manipulative? He sounds like my dad when he was trying to shape me to fit his straight world.”

            “We’ve thought about that. If it begins to pinch, I can always move out.”

            “Easier said than done. Once you get used to a better way of life, it’s hard to give it up.”

            “I’m considering it to be generosity, at least until I have evidence to prove otherwise,” Jay said.

            “When you said money gets you what you want,” Sue said. “It made me wonder about my dad’s motives.”

            The waiter arrived with their orders.

            “This is fabulous,” Sue said. “They look like little Eiffel towers.”

            “Mine’s more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa,” Jay said, nudging the tall sprig of rosemary with his fork in order to straighten it. “Is there a rule about how to eat these things?”

            “Don’t let it intimidate you. The person who pays the bill gets to set the rules,” Steve said. “And, I might add, to break them.”

           


 

~ 12 ~

 

HOME AT LAST

 

“This is the last of the furniture,” Steve said, twisting an armchair so it would fit through the door. The chair was typical 70’s orange and reddish brown upholstery with wooden arm accents.

            “Now all we have to do to spread things around a bit so it looks like we’ve done something,” Jimmy said.

            “It should stay where it is. We’d only be moving it again when Sue gets here. You know how it is with women,” Cam said.

            “Tiffany will be coming over with Sue, later. They will probably want to arrange the furniture. We might as well leave things as they are for now” Jay said.

            “I can’t believe all the stuff you got for so little money,” said Steve. “I spent more than that on my new sectional. And here you are with four rooms of furniture.”

            “You should hang out with us more often, Steve,” Jay said. “Think how much money you’d save. I do want to thank you guys for all the help you’ve been. I’d never have been able to do it without you.”

            Jay went to the fridge. “What can I get you? I’ve got beer for the working men and martinis for the . . .” He stopped abruptly, looked sheepishly around, and added, “There’s no right way to finish that sentence, is there?”

            Steve leapt to Jay’s assistance. “It’s OK. I know your heart’s in the right place, even if your foot’s in your mouth. You’re trying too hard to accommodate the gay guy. Actually, I’d like a beer. Like any other real man.”

            Jay set bottles of beer on the kitchen table and everyone gathered around to relax.

            Jimmy passed a beer to Steve. “I don’t know how you can expect us to consider you to be a real man, when you and your friends greet each other with ‘hi girlfriend’.”

            “Take it easy there, Jimmy,” Jay said. “Let’s not get into an argument. We’re all friends here.”

            “That’s OK, Jay,” said Steve. “You make a good point, Jimmy. However, I think you are being far too black‑and‑white.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “Like a lot of straight people, you’re looking at a stereotype not the person. Gay people are as complex as straight people. Sometimes I feel like a beer. Sometimes I feel like a martini.”

            “Well, I always feel like a beer. You’ll never find me drinking something like Long Island Iced Tea or a martini.”

            “And I suppose you always go to the same kind of movie?” asked Steve.

            “Of course. If it doesn’t have lots of action in it, I can’t be bothered watching it.”

            “You mean to tell me you never go to a movie that has an interesting romantic story?”

            “Only if I’m with Becky. She doesn’t like action movies. I have to humor her occasionally.”

            “Maybe gay people are more complex than straight people. Have you ever heard the term two‑spirited?”

            “I have,” Jay’s said. “R.B. sometimes uses the term when he is referring to a medicine man or a shaman. He says being two-spirited in their culture is considered to be a special gift which brings with it special powers.”

            “What kind of powers?” asked Jimmy.

            “It gives them the power to understand the thoughts and emotions of both men and women,” Jay said. “That gives them unusual power.”

            “I’d like that kind of power,” Jimmy said. “Most of the time I don’t understand Becky at all. Or any other girl, as far as that goes.”

            “It’s not the sort of thing you learn. You have to be born with it. Unfortunately, people born that way often find it to be more of a curse than a blessing,” Steve said.

            “Why would that be?” Jimmy asked.

            “Because in our society people will label you as gay, with everything that goes along with that term.”

            “I think you tricked me somewhere along the way,” Jimmy said. “However, I think I understand what you mean.”

            Steve deliberately switched the conversation. “How have Troy and Misty been making out with the Winnipeg winter?” asked Steve.

            “I haven’t talked to them since they got here,” said Jay. “Phil said Troy doesn’t start work with Frantic Films until next month. He’s been getting some work with the local TV studio to fill in.”

            “I was talking to Phil a few days ago,” Cam said. “He sounded happy to have them there with him.”

            “I’m happy about that,” Jay said. “It should be good for him to have somebody living with him. Do you think he’s ever going to go back to work?”

            “As soon as he gets his own life on an even keel, he will.”

            Jimmy pulled out a package of cigarettes. “You mind if I smoke?”

            Jay’s brow furrowed. “I thought you were going to quit.”

            “I said as soon as you take me to Montreal, I’d quit.”

            “That might be a long time. We don’t have any spare cash. Sue’s looking for work and so am I.”

            “You’d leave the Red Dragon?”

            “Han Sing doesn’t need me. Anybody can do what I do. Besides, I want more than that from life.”

            “So you would leave?”

            “I’d miss Arrow if I left. I don’t think R.B. is going to be able to look after him much longer. They both are getting old.”

            “You certainly have become attached to that dog, haven’t you?” Jimmy said, putting a cigarette to his lips.

            “If you don’t mind, we’d rather you didn’t smoke in our apartment. It’s not good for Jamie and the baby to be in a smoky environment. She’s coming over this evening to see our place, if she feels up to it.”

            “So what should I do?”

            “Probably it would be best for your own health if you didn’t smoke. I guess if you must have a cigarette, you’ll have to go outside.”

            “It’s not such a big deal. I’m cutting back, you know.”

            The door opened and Tiffany held it open for Sue. “Wait until you see what we bought,” Sue said, as she set a big box on the table.

            “It looks like dishes,” Jay said.

            “Good guess, Jay. We needed something to eat off. It’s a 20-piece setting, and it was only 25 dollars.”

            “That’s a reasonable price,” Steve said. “At 25 dollars a piece that’s only five hundred dollars.”

            “No, no, Steve. It was 25 dollars for the setting.”

            “Well that’s even better. A hundred dollars for a setting of four. That’s cheap.”

            “It was 25 dollars for the whole box of dishes. All twenty pieces.”

            “Now that’s just plain ridiculous. I’d pay 25 dollars for one plate. Where would you get a deal like this?”

            “Canadian Tire,” Sue said. “Tiffany saw their sale flyer in the newspaper.”

            “You buy dishes at a tire store?” Steve asked. “I’ve seen those stores around, but I’ve never been in one. I get my tires from the car dealer.”

            “I don’t know why they call it that. It does have tires and automotive stuff and hardware. But it has tons of other great stuff as well.”

            “It doesn’t sound like my kind of place,” Steve said. “My friends would die laughing if I said I bought dishes at a tire store.”

            “Did you have fun, Sue?” Jay asked

            “It was a great experience. Not something I’d want to do every day, but I wouldn’t have missed for the world. And I couldn’t have done it without Tiffany’s help. She knows everything about finding bargains.”

            “I had fun, too. Shopping is always fun, especially with someone else’s money. I wish it weren’t so cold,” Tiffany said. “No matter how much I bundle up, I’m still freezing.”

            “That short skirt doesn’t look like bundling up to me,” Steve said.

            Tiffany stuck out her tongue at him. “One has to look decent in public.”

            “You know I’m kidding,” Steve said. “You always look great.”

            “I always think I’ll get used to the cold,” Jay said. “But every winter it comes as a surprise how cold it can get.”

            “Do you plan to put the furniture around the apartment?” asked Tiffany. “Or are you going to leave it all in the middle of the room like it is?”

            Jay and Jimmy exchanged knowing looks. “I guess now that we have our decorating experts with us, we might as well finish doing this,” Jay said.

            “Let’s put the sofa over there,” Tiffany said, pointing to a place against the wall. Jay, Sue and Jimmy did the moving. Steve and Tiffany gave advice and suggestions.2F

            Twenty minutes later, the furniture had been placed, moved and then moved again.

            “Now that looks totally excellent,” Jay said.

            “You’re not saying that to make us stop, are you?” asked Tiffany.

            “What would make you think that?”

            “It’s the fourth time you’ve said everything looks perfect.”

            “Well, this time I mean it,” Jay said.

            “I almost forgot to tell you. I applied for a job,” Sue said.

            “At Canadian Tire?” Steve asked.

            “I’d be afraid to work there. It’s much too big a store, and I have no experience. I’d have to learn about all their different stock.”

            “So where is it?”

            “We stopped for an Orange Julius in the mall. They were advertising a job, so I applied.”

            “That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get it.”

            “The manager said I could come in for an interview tomorrow. He said if everything checks out I could start work this week. I’d be a trainee.”

            “I think that’s great,” Jay said. “Did he say what sort of hours you could expect to be working?”

            “He didn’t say. Probably it’ll be the hours nobody else wants. I’ll be low girl on the totem pole.”

            “You’ll be alright with that?”

            “I think so. I’m not like my dad.”

            “I’m glad of that,” Jay said.

            “Speaking of fathers,” Steve said, “have you found anything more about your errant father.”

            “I wrote him a letter a few days ago,” Jay said.

            “What did you say?”

            “Not much. Just said I was his son and that I wanted to meet him.”

            “You gave him your phone number, I guess.”

            “I gave him the phone number here,” Jay said.

            “Does that mean you live here now?” Steve asked.

            “I wouldn’t say that.”

            “At least not yet,” Sue said.

~ 13 ~

 

LIFE’S NOT JUST A BOWL OF CHERRIES

 

Jay and Sue sat on the sofa after supper. “What do you think we should do tonight, Jay?”

            “Let’s go see Cam and Jamie. I’m so excited about their baby.”

            “I wish you wouldn’t talk about the baby. It worries me.”

            “Why is that?”

            “I’m afraid something will happen before it’s born. It’s bad luck to talk about it.”

            “Their pediatrician says everything is going well. They’ve had ultrasound, and everything.”

            “Then why isn’t the baby here? It must be overdue by now.”

            “Nature has a way of doing things her own way. We know how to control a few things, but the important things in life are beyond our control.”

            “I’m still worried.”

            “When we get married, I want to have at least two. A boy and a girl.”

            “What if I can’t have a baby? What then?”?

            “Of course you’ll be able to have babies.”

            “But what if I couldn’t? Suppose there’s something wrong with me so I couldn’t have a baby. Would you still want to marry me?”

            “We could adopt. I’d rather have a little person that’s half me and half you, but if we had to, I’d want to adopt a baby.”

            “You didn’t answer my question.”

            “Yes. I’d marry you. Do you want me to propose right now?” Jay dropped down on one knee in a mock proposal.

            “Don’t try to be funny.”

            “Sorry.”

            “You know marriage is nothing to joke about.”

            “I wasn’t joking. I’d marry you right now, but we should wait until I get established. Then we won’t have to feel in debt to anyone.”

           

***

             

Jamie opened the door and ushered the two friends into her apartment. “Come in.”

            “Hi Jamie. Any baby news?” Jay asked.

            “I’m going to the hospital tomorrow morning. The doctor says it’s time to get on with this business.”

            “They’re going to induce labour?” Jay asked.

            “Is there a problem?” Sue asked.

            “She thinks it’s time, and goodness knows I’m ready to move on with my life. She doesn’t think there is any problem. Can I get you something to drink? Or some munchies?”

            “Oh, no. Thanks. We just finished supper,” Jay said. “Where’s Cam?”

            “He’s at one of his monthly coffee house meeting.”

            “Accountants have coffee house meetings?” Jay asked, as they all made themselves comfortable in the living room.

            “It’s the Bahá’í devotional gathering,” Jamie said. “I usually go with him, but I haven’t felt up to going to any group things lately.”

            Sue exchanged a quizzical look with Jay. “We don’t know what you mean.”

            “I mean that I get tired easily. That, and I don’t like to be too far away from a bathroom.”

            “We meant we don’t know anything about Bahá’í,” Sue said as Jay went into the kitchen to phone Steve.

            “It’s our faith,” Jamie said.

            “Your religion?”

            “It isn’t a religion the way you probably think of religions. It’s more a way of life and a way of looking at the world. It’s an expression of our faith in the evolution of humankind.”

            “I don’t believe in evolution. The Biblical story of creation is more important to me than Darwin’s theory of evolution,” Sue said.

            “I didn’t mean Darwin’s theory of evolution. We can’t be bothered concerning ourselves with that sort of argument. For us, scientific facts and religion are simply two different ways of looking at the same thing. There is a fundamental oneness between them. They have to be in agreement with each other because they are one thing.”

            “Doesn’t the theory of evolution contradict the Bible’s description of creation?”

            “If there appears to be disagreement it’s from our interpretation, not in the facts. In science a theory is an attempt to explain something. A theory can never be right or wrong; it can only be a better or poorer explanation. To say that the theory of evolution is right or wrong is ridiculous. In a word, creation is what God did. Evolution is a theory to explain how He did it.”

            “What about the Bible’s description of the creation of the world in six days?”

            “We don’t interpret specific Biblical writings literally. What with translations and the changes in society, the specific English words in our Bible probably don’t have the same meaning as the original Hebrew. Isn’t it possible that what is translated as a ‘day’ in the Bible might have originally been used as a general indication of a period of time? It could as easily refer to an eon instead of a twenty-four-hour day.”

            “I’m sorry. I interrupted what you started to say about the evolution of humankind.”

            “I meant that the spiritual development of the human race is continually evolving. Each particular religion represents a stage in this evolution. God has intervened in the past through Divine Messengers such as Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammed to provide the link between God the creator, and man his creation.”

            “Where does Bahá’í fit into this?”

            “The Bahá’í Faith represents the current stage in the evolution of the world’s religions, and Baha’u’llah is the most recent manifestation or Messenger of God. Through him the Bahá’í Faith was revealed to the world in Persia during the 19th century.”

            “Don’t different religions worship different gods?”

            “The Bahá’í believe in unity. There is one God, who is the same for all religions. That’s the fundamental oneness of all the world’s religions. Finally, there is the oneness of all mankind. There are diverse people, but they are all of one race: mankind. The search of religion is to realize that unity.”

            “How can you say that all the world’s religions are the same?”

            “The temples may be different, the trappings, rituals, and speakers may be different, but it is the same spirit of God that is channeled through them.”

            Cam walked in. “Hi, Sue. Glad to see Jamie is entertaining you. Is Jay here?”

            “Hi Cam,” Jay called, returning to the living room.

            “We wanted to see the soon-to-be mother,” Sue said.

            Jay glanced around. “Do you have a room for the baby?”

            Cam and Jamie exchanged looks. Cam said, “We haven’t made it public yet, but we’ll have to soon. I guess we might as well start with you. Jamie and I aren’t keeping the baby.”

            “You’re not keeping it? Why wouldn’t you keep it?” Jay asked.

            “How could anyone give away a baby?” Sue asked with a look of horror.

            “We couldn’t raise a child. We’re roommates, not a couple.”

            “There are lots of one parent families. Don’t you want to keep it, Jamie?” Sue asked.

            “We never planned to keep it. I’m doing this as a favour for my brother and his partner, Kris,” Jamie said.

            “They want a family,” Cam added.

            “Couldn’t they adopt?”

            “Maybe. But they wanted to feel that the baby was part of them. They wanted to have a genetic connection with the baby.”

            “I can relate to that,” Jay said. “Until I get to know my biological father I won’t feel I can ever know myself.”

            “It’ll be gratifying for your brother to see a reflection of himself in the baby as it grows up.”

            “It’ll be charming for Kris, too,” Jamie said.

            “She’ll be able to see her partner in the baby,” Jay suggested.

            “He’ll like that,” Jamie added.

            “Did you say ‘he’?”

            “Yes.”

            “You mean they’re . . .” Jay said.

            “Yes. Gay as hedgehogs. But they both wanted to have a family,” Cam said. “They talked all the time about adopting kids. Then Kris suggested that maybe they could find a girl who would be a surrogate mother for them.”

            “When they told us about their idea, I knew it had to be me,” Jamie said. “This way the baby will have genes like my brother’s.”

            “That’s noble of you to do this,” Sue said.

            “And from there it was a short jump to the idea that it would be perfect if he had Kris’ genes as well.”

            Jay thought for a moment. “I don’t mean to be nosy or gross, but how will it have Kris’ genes?”

            “He’s the sperm donor,” Cam said. “I’m sorry for misleading you when we first met by implying I was the father. We didn’t know how to explain this to people. We’re still not sure.”

            “It’s perfect,” Sue gushed. “The baby will be almost their own biological child.”

            “But what about you, Jamie. Can you handle giving up your baby after nine months?”

            “I thought it would be easy. Now that it’s getting close, I’m feeling nervous about it. I’m going to feel so empty. No pun intended.”

            “I’ll be here for you. It’ll be all right,” Cam said.

            “You’ve been unbelievably good to me during these past months. Like a real husband,” Jamie said. “I’m sure some of my mood swings weren’t easy for you.”

            “It’s been an awesome experience, believe me.”

            “We’ve been talking about the Bahá’í Faith. Now that you’re here, maybe you could explain it better than I could. I’m overdue for a bathroom break.”

            “If I’d known you wanted to hear about Bahá’í, I would have had our friends come over to help explain it. What more do you want to know?” Cam asked.

            “I’d never heard of Bahá’í before now. Is it some sort of sect or cult?” Sue asked.

            “It’s a well-established religion. Worldwide it’s the second most widespread religion, after Christianity. There are more than six million people in the Bahá’í Community.”

            “Then why haven’t we heard of it?” Sue asked.

            “The Faith forbids them to recruit members. Parents allow their children to make their own decision concerning the Faith, based on their experiences within the family unit and the informal teaching of their parents.”

            “How do they get new members?”

            “They hold small study groups in their homes. Like we are doing here, only with more people.”

            “Sort of like a cocktail party,” Sue suggested.

            “Exactly. Except the conversation has more meaningful content and they don’t serve cocktails. In Montreal during the early 1930’s they started calling these meetings ‘firesides’. Now, firesides occur all around the world in more than two hundred and thirty countries. They include more than two thousand ethnic groups “

            “How did it get spread so widely?”

            “They believe that service to others is the purpose of both individual life and social arrangements. Many of them, and their children, go to underdeveloped parts of the world to do what they call ‘pioneering’. They are willing to reorganize their lives for the sole purpose of introducing the Faith to a new region, either locally or internationally.”

            “Does that mean religion becomes their whole life?”

            “Not at all. It’s a religious obligation for them to pray and meditate every day, and to participate in a period of fasting once a year. It is also an expectation that they must be wholly engaged in the world at large. When they pioneer, they are not acting as missionaries. They live the life of the people around them. Their lives don’t appear any different from that of their friends and neighbours.”

            “I don’t understand. What do they get out of this?” Jay asked.

            “Good deeds and service to humanity are the most important elements of spiritual training and personal development. Bahá’í is as much a faith as a religion. There aren’t the rituals and clergy of traditional religions. Each individual is responsible for his or her own spiritual growth. Each person reaches the highest level of his own human happiness.”

            “It sounds a lot like the New Age philosophy.”

            “I think there are a few fundamental similarities between the New Age philosophy and the Bahá’í Faith.”

            “Like what?”

            “New Age and the Bahá’í Faith both believe in direct individual spiritual development rather than relying on the dogma of an organized religion. Also they both believe that nothing is important unless it is done for the benefit of others.”

            “Then why did you choose the Bahá’í Faith instead of following the New Age philosophy?”

            “I think they both start with the same philosophy and converge at the same place: eternal truths to life’s major questions. However, New Age is an unorganized philosophy. The Bahá’í Faith has a formal structure and administrative order. And there are specific laws in the Bahá’í Faith to which the believers adhere. Besides, New Age makes use of tools which I find more distracting than useful.”

            “Such as?” Sue asked.

            “Things like candles, incense, chanting and drums to help a person meditate.”

            “That sounds harmless enough. I sometimes like music and incense when I want to relax.”

            “But you don’t rely on them for your spiritual development, do you?”

            “Sometimes I do when I’m meditating,” Sue said.

            “They also use tarot cards, runes, pendulum, bodywork and toning to help them guide their lives.”

            “I wouldn’t put much trust in those things.”

            “And then there is, of course, the whole alien being thing.”

            “They believe in UFO’s and stuff?”

            “Big time. I met this New Age guy and he kept talking about the Galactic Federation’s 12 mother ships surrounding our solar system.”

            “What have you got against Star Wars? I love those movies,” Jay asked.

            “This isn’t Star Wars. This is part of their belief system. He talked about alien spirits inhabiting human bodies.”

            “How does that work?”

            “He said some children are born with an alien soul. They call them Star-seed. In other cases, the alien soul enters later in life. These are called Walk-ins.”

            “That’s more than I want to think about,” Jay said.

            Jamie came back into the room, carrying a plate of cookies.

            “Are you and Cam planning to become Bahá’í?” Sue asked.

            “We’d like to, someday,” Jamie said. “We like the way the Bahá’í Faith stresses the similarity between people and their beliefs instead of emphasizing the differences that separate them.”

            “Why don’t you join them, then?”

            “We’ll have to get our lifestyles in order first.”

            “Why is that?”

            “Our lifestyles would have to reflect our Faith. It’s not like some religions that seem to be an hour on sundays. Being Bahá’í is twenty-four hours a day, every day. We’d have to live the life.”

            “Don’t you do that now? You seem like such good people already.”

            “Unity is the basis of the Bahá’í community. There must be unity between the diverse peoples of the world and unity within oneself. However, unity within the family is most fundamental.”

             “You mean your Bahá’í friends disapprove of your being roommates?”

            “They would never be so harsh as to judge any person that way. It’s more that we wouldn’t feel we were presenting an appropriate image of the Bahá’í Faith to the world, particularly when Jamie is pregnant.”

            “Is it the living together thing?”

            “A Bahá’í is expected to refrain from sexual intimacy before marriage, and to be faithful in marriage. We know there isn’t anything sexual between us, but our lifestyle doesn’t show an appropriate respect for marriage and the sanctity of the family.”

            “You two do seem to be advertising all the wrong things.”

            “I think what we are doing is right. People can think what they want, but I’m actually a pregnant virgin. We won’t accept the Faith until our lifestyle reflects our beliefs more accurately than it does now.”

            “Will Cam have to give up his bar friends?”

            “It will be easy for him. The bar has been more of a social club than anything else for him. He’s finding the same kind of companionship and support from his Bahá’í friends as he did from his bar friends.”

             “You say you’re not members, but I thought you were attending a service?”

            “It wasn’t a formal service. We don’t attend their formal services, which they call Feasts,” Cam said.

            “That sounds like a banquet.”

            “It’s a feast for the soul. The Feast has three parts. A devotional time during which members read selections from Bahá’í writings, because there is no clergy. Then there is a sort of business meeting when the members are consulted concerning the day-to-day operation and policies. The last part is a social event, usually with a simple buffet meal.”

            “That sounds like more of a major event than the usual church service. They wouldn’t do these every week, would they?”

            “Only on the first day of each Bahá’í month.”

            Bahá’í months are different from ours?”

            “Their calendar has months with 19 days in each month. Somewhere there are catch up days to make up the other four.”

            “What meetings do you and Sue attend?”

             “We attend the Holy Day Celebrations and devotional gatherings. Anyone is welcome to these.”

            “Where do these take place?” Sue asked.

            “They meet anywhere convenient. Usually in a home, or a rented hall. Here in Winnipeg they have a building on McMillan Avenue. Some larger communities have their own centre.”

            “Don’t you have churches or cathedrals or something?”

             “There’s one Bahá’í temple on every continent. Each is planned to be available for use by all the religions.”

            “Excuse me, but I’m going to make a pot of herbal tea. Anyone want something different?” Jamie asked. She looked around for a reaction, and getting none, disappeared into the kitchen.

            “If there is no clergy or ritual, what are the services like?” Jamie asked.

            “Most of the service is taken from the Bahá’í writings. At the discretion of the local community, readings and prayers from the world’s religions may be used. Sometimes there will be a capella singing or instrumental music, depending on the talents of the group,” Cam said.

            “I’m still not clear how this whole thing works. Don’t religions need to have a clergy to direct the people through a set of rituals?” Jay said, taking over the conversation.

            “It’s a gathering where people of all religious faiths can meet to worship God without dogma or restriction.”

            “That doesn’t tell me how it happens.”

            “Each Bahá’í accepts individual responsible to follow the Bahá’í laws. Even though Jamie and I are only seekers of the Faith, we are preparing ourselves by following the laws.”

            “Such as?”

            “Daily private prayers are required.”

            “Prayers never work for me,” Jay said. “I used to pray for things, but my prayers were never answered.”

            “There are three compulsory prayers designated in the writings of Baha’u’llah. We are to choose from among those three.”

            “You don’t pray for specific things or people?”

            “The Bahá’í believe that God intervenes in human affairs through His Messengers, not on individual request.”

            “I don’t think I’d be mature enough to follow a set of laws without having direction from a minister or priest or something.”

            “You know how a baby goes through a series of successive developmental steps to reach the adult stage. In the same way, humankind has gradually evolved through separate religions toward its collective maturity. You have all the collective maturity of the ages within you. All you have to do is to turn your mind inward to find it.”

            “Following the laws will do this?”

            “They think so, and it seems to work for me. The Bahá’í Faith represents the current stage of this process of evolution in religion.”

            “What do you see for the future? Will everyone become Bahá’í?” Sue asked.

            “Not necessarily. The Bahá’í Faith is currently the latest stage in the unification of humankind. It will not be the last stage.”

            Jay stood up. “Sorry to end our discussion, but we have to go. I have an appointment to see about my writing the GED.”

            “That’s the General Education Development program, isn’t it?”

            “Steve says I should try for it. It’ll give me the equivalent of a Grade 12 graduation. If I decide to go to university, I’ll have the entrance requirements.”

            “Let me know if I can help. I agree with Steve that you’re a smart guy. You can do it, if you want to put in some time studying,” Cam said.

            “It’s mostly that I seem to remember everything I read.”

            “And he reads everything he can get his hands on,” Sue added.

            “Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll need all the help I can get,” Jay said.

            “I’d like to continue this discussion another day,” Sue said. “Maybe we could get invited to a fireside sometime.”

            Jamie smiled. “I’d like that. We’ll let you know when there’s going to be one.”

           

~ 14 ~

 

CIRCULAR JUSTICE

 

January in Manitoba is a slow month. The clear sunny sky masks the frigid minus 30 degree temperature. At this temperature, with even a light wind, exposed skin will freeze in less than a minute. For those who don’t have to go to work, or shop for groceries, cabin fever can become a reality. Tempers flare until depression sets in to await the arrival of spring.

            Jay was spending most of his time at Sue’s apartment and taking the bus to work every day. Sue’s Mustang didn’t like cold weather. If left for more than two hours without being plugged in, it would stubbornly refuse to start. Jay tried taking it to work, but the Red Dragon didn’t have any electric outlets to plug the car in. Jay soon tired of going out every couple of hours to warm it up. Bus service was every five minutes and the ride twenty minutes. Besides, as Sue pointed out, the bus was more environmentally-friendly.

            Jamie’s baby was born on the seventh of January. Kris flew in from Toronto to take the big, healthy baby boy home to meet Harold. Jamie was left alone to deal with her post-partum blues with only Cam to give her comfort. Sue was happy working at Orange Julius afternoons and weekends. She said it was good to be out meeting people instead of moping around feeling sorry for herself. Jay and Sue set aside Sunday afternoons for visiting with their friends. They usually discussed minute details of their lives and played a few hands of Hearts over tea and cookies. Phil had learned long ago that winter storms could negate overnight a week’s planning for a dinner party, so he went into hibernation.

            One Sunday afternoon in early February, Jay responded to the door bell. “Hi, Jimmy. Isn’t Becky with you?”

            “She said it’s too cold to go out.”

            “Everything is all right, isn’t it? She’s not mad at us or anything, is she?”

            “Nothing to worry about. She wants Spring to come.”

            “Don’t we all? Let me hang up your coat.”

            “Hi Jimmy,” Sue called from the living room. “Is it still cold out there?”

            “Not bad. It’s up to minus 25. It doesn’t seem so cold because the sunshine is glorious and there’s no wind.”

            “Did I tell you about my new job?” asked Jimmy. “I’m working at a little coffee counter in Broadway Drugs.”

            “I knew you’d find something eventually, if you kept trying,” Jay said.

            “It’s not great, but at least I’m bringing in some money to help pay for the groceries. Besides, it gives me a chance to meet a lot of important people who come in on their coffee breaks.”

            “What are your hours? We’ll drop in and have coffee there next week,” Sue said.

            “It is only part‑time. I’m there noon and supper times, and for coffee breaks. That’s when they’re busiest. I’m hoping maybe to be full‑time soon. How are you doing at Orange Julius, Sue?”

            “It’s fun. I’m fitting in well, considering it’s my first job.”

            “You’re a super girl. There must be lots of better jobs than that for you.”

            “It’s low stress, and that’s important right now. When I leave work, I don’t have any worries to take with me.”

            “How’s your job, Jay?”

            “I’m thinking of changing jobs. There’s been a guy dropping in at the Red Dragon. He’s asked me if I’d like to work in his store.”

            “What kind of job does he have for you?” Jimmy asked.

            “It’s as assistant manager of a little clothing boutique in Osborne Village.”

            “Do you know anything about being an assistant manager?”

            “Not a thing. I told him I don’t have any experience. He said they’d train me on the job.”

            “Do you know anything about clothes?”

            “I can always ask Steve. Clothes are his life.”

            “Why would he want to give you a job?”

            “Maybe he just likes the look of me.

            “Trust me. You wouldn’t be getting offers based on your looks,” Jimmy said with a big smile. “Why don’t you give it a try. You haven’t anything to lose.”

            “What if it I don’t like it?”

            “Han Sing would take you back if it didn’t work out.”

            “What makes you think he’d take me back?”

            “He probably wouldn’t hire anyone to replace you.”

            “You mean I wouldn’t leave a vacancy? Thanks for the compliment,” Jay said, making a wry face. “Enough about me. What have you been doing for excitement?”

            “You remember my friend, Peter?”

            “Isn’t he the guy that got into a big car accident?” Jay asked.

            “Yeah. Car theft. Drunk driving. Leaving the scene of a fatal accident.”

            “He must be in jail by now.”

            “He’s doing a community sentence.”

            “What does that mean?”

            “He’s living at home doing community service things.”

            “How’s he get away with that?” Sue asked.

            “It’s not all that easy.”

            “It has to be decided through a sentencing circle. I went to his last week.”

            “I’ve never heard of a sentencing circle,” Sue said. “How does it work?”

            “It’s done on the reserve. This was in their community hall. It was set up with two circles of chairs. The inner circle was for Peter, his lawyers, family members and people from the community. The outer circle was for spectators.”

            “Is their significance in their being circles?”

            “A circle has no beginning and no end. Everyone is equal. No one is better or more powerful than any other one. In the centre there was a smoldering pan of sweetgrass.”

            “It was sort of an open trial, then,” Sue said.

            “It wasn’t a trial, because he had already pleaded guilty. I was expecting there to be more details about the accident, but even the RCMP officer spoke only about his feelings when he saw the accident and how he was upset about it for days afterwards. Everyone spoke from the heart, not the head.”

            “Did everyone have to speak?”

            “Only those in the inner circle had the opportunity to speak. The outer circle maintained complete silence. The elder, holding a white eagle feather, spoke first and set the stage for the others. He then took a different eagle feather and passed it to the person on his left. A person can speak only if holding a feather. When a person chose not to speak, the feather passed on to the next person. The feather moves from person to person in a clockwise direction.”

            “If someone wants to reply to a speaker, what do they do? Walk over and take the feather?”

            “No way. There is no discussion. Each person has a chance to have his or her say, but there is no back and forth discussion. The feather moves from person to person around the circle without reversing direction as it completes its circle. The people must be patient, and they listen to show respect.”

            “If there is no discussion of the crime and no discussion between the participants, what do the people say?”

            “They expressed their feelings while the judge listened and tried to determine the community’s mood , and their dedication to rehabilitating Peter. The whole process was intensely personal. By comparison, the regular court proceedings are impersonal and factual.”

            “I don’t understand how that can work,” Jay said.

            “They talked about how his actions had affected them as individuals within the community, and how they and others would be affected by having him back in the community to serve his sentence.”

            “Did Peter speak?”

            “He talked of his feelings of guilt and sorrow for what he had done. He tried to explain how he had learned from the experience, and how he would try to redeem himself to the people he had hurt and to the community.”

            “How does a person redeem himself for an accident?” Sue asked.

            “It was pointed out he pleaded guilty in order to avoid putting the victims through the pain of court proceedings.”

            “A good point. But there must be more.”

            “He promised to make presentations to schools and the community. His story will prevent others from making the same mistakes he did. His sincerity and motivation were open to the group for them to evaluate. In particular, he would use his experience to illustrate the role that drinking had played in his downfall.”

            “He’d live at home and have a normal life? That sounds a bit soft,” Sue said.

            “It wouldn’t be a normal life. He’ll have a strict curfew, enforced by the community.”

            “What if he breaks curfew?”

            “He’d be reported to the authorities and he would spend the remainder of his sentence in jail. Supervision of the curfew would be a community responsibility.”

            “Is this enough punishment, considering the people he hurt?” Sue asked.

            “They go for rehabilitation, not punishment. Besides, there’s the opportunity for healing to take place for the victims and their families.”

            “How would that happen?”

            “One person pointed out that having Peter confined to his home would serve as a message to all the community members, particularly the younger ones. Every time they drive by his house the parents will remind their children of what happened to him and why. Peter will also talk with the people hurt through the accident and with their families. Anger and hurt will diminish, and Peter will realize more fully the impact of his actions on community members. If he went to jail, there would be no involvement as far as the community is concerned.”

            “How long does a process like this take?”

            “This one took all day.”

            “They must have had a lunch break, eh?”

            “Coffee and donuts were available on tables near the door. People in the outer circle helped themselves, being careful to walk around the outer edge of the circle, of course.”

            “The people in the inner circle were served individually at various times. Maybe they had some sort of secret signal when they wanted something because there wasn’t any interruption.”

            “This sounds more like a spiritual experience than a sentencing,” Jay said.

            “It was. There was a pan of smoldering sweetgrass in the centre. One man kept it going by adding more sweetgrass. He was the only one who ever stepped inside the circle. It’s a mark of reverence for a sacred place.”

            “Is this option open for anyone?” Sue asked.

            “If the sentence is longer than two years, a community sentence is not an option. The sentencing circle is to decide if there is enough community support to rehabilitate the person.”

            “Why haven’t I heard about this before?” Sue asked.

            Jay answered, “Conditional sentences where the person does community service are fairly common through the courts. For the First Nations people it has special significance because it gives them a chance to deal with offenders in a more traditional manner. Statistically, the white man’s courts and jails haven’t worked well for native people.”

            “They’re getting better. Jails now allow smudges, sweatlodges and meetings with elders to give the native people spiritual guidance,” Jimmy said.

            Sue looked at Jimmy. “You’re not native. How do you know so much about this?”

            “I was in Headingly for a while, remember? Over half the people in jail are First Nations people. That’s a lot, when they make up only 12 percent of the population. While I was there, Calvin Pompana would come and hold weekly spiritual gatherings complete with smudging and drums and everything.”

            “I don’t see why this has to be different for native people. Can’t they do this through our courts?” Sue asked.

            “Native tradition doesn’t involve outsiders, such as a judge or jury. It relies on people who have personal knowledge of the situation or of the people,” Jay said.

            “They also expect the criminal to be honest and open in explaining his conduct and the situation,” Jimmy added. “The sentencing circle would happen only if Peter pleaded guilty and accepted his responsibility for the accident.”

            “We like to say justice is blind,” Sue said. “Native justice tries to have its eyes wide open. I like that.”

            “By the way, I saw your old Rolex in the pawnshop window. Someday I’d like to get that watch back,” Jimmy said.

            “I plan to get it back for you as soon as I save up some money. That might be quite awhile at the rate I’m going.”

            “What watch?” Sue said, snuggling up beside Jay.

            “When I needed money to go to San Francisco, good old Jimmy, here, loaned me this Rolex his grandfather had given him.”

            “Not loaned. I gave it to you,” Jimmy interjected.

            “Anyway, I pawned it to get the money. Without Jimmy and his watch I wouldn’t have been able to go to California.”

            “It looks so lonely, sitting there in the window all by itself. Let’s have a race and see who can raise the money to get it back.”

            “When I get a better job, I’ll be able to get the watch back for you. Maybe I’ll have shorter hours and have more time to study for my GED, too.”

            “How’s the studying going, anyway?” Jimmy asked.

            “It’s hard work. Cam showed me on the Internet where I could get lessons and tests to help me study. Unfortunately, I don’t have the five hundred dollars it would cost. I’m studying mostly on my own, with some classes every week. It seems easy enough. I get a chance to write it in June,” Jay said.

            “And then what? University?”

            “I’d love that.”

            “Can you afford it?”

            “I’d save up from my wages until school starts. I could work part-time to cover expenses while I’m at school. Maybe get a student loan.”

            “Are you OK with that, Sue?” Jimmy asked.

            “Of course. He’s my man. I want nothing but the best for him. The GED would be a great step in getting him where he wants to go.”

            “At my age I should be half through university, not preparing to get in.”

            “Don’t be in too much of a rush. Remember that in life the journey is often its own reward,” Jimmy said.

            “And sometimes the only reward,” Sue added.

            “How did you get so smart all of a sudden, Jimmy?” Jay asked.

            “Toilet paper.”

            “What?”

            “Toilet paper. Becky gave me a roll of toilet paper will all these sayings on it. I memorize one a day. It’s helping me to focus my scattered brain and remember things.”

            “Jay’s going to university to learn things. Jimmy just has to go to the bathroom,” Sue said.


 

~ 15 ~

 

VIVE LA MONTRÉAL

 

            February in Winnipeg was, as always, cold. Bone-chilling, finger-numbing cold. Minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit cold. The short winter days caused people susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder to stay home and feel depressed. Canada was been a leader in developing high-intensity lights to offset the effects of SAD. The success of these lights led to the development of a hand held bank of high intensity light emitting diodes controlled by an onboard computer to negate the effects of jet lag.

            The Red Dragon was practically empty most of the time. Han Sing hadn’t minded when Jay left the Red Dragon to take a new job in a downtown clothing store catering to the Rave and Club crowds. The store was called Clinically Insane.

            March came in like a lamb, bathing the frozen city in warm sunshine. The longer days gradually won over the cold, and started an early spring thaw, clearing the streets and sidewalks of the snow left from the snowplows. One warm day in April, Jimmy went into store where Jay worked.

            “Hey, man,” said Jay. “This is your first time here, isn’t it?”

            “Yeah. Cool clothes, but what’s with the name?”

            “Don’t you like the name, Clinically Insane? I think it’s rather appropriate for the people who shop here.”

            “Somehow you don’t fit the image,” Jimmy said.

            “I’m the manager. It’s the salespeople who have to fit the image.” Jay nodded toward the seventeen-year-old behind the counter with color-streaked hair, pierced eyebrow and vacant stare.

            “I see what you mean.”

            “I haven’t seen you for weeks. What’s new in your life?” Jay asked.

            “A lot. I’m starting to pull my life together.”

            “I see you finally got a haircut. Styled, even. I hardly recognized you. And those clothes are great. Not as cool as we have here, but still cool. And expensive.”

            “Things have been looking up for me lately.”

            “You have a new job?”

            “Still the same one.”

            “Where’s all the money coming from?”

            “I’ve got some good business connections.”

            Jay looked at Jimmy suspiciously. “You aren’t hustling, are you?”

            “Good grief, no. You know I couldn’t do that with a guy.”

            “You’re a gigolo?”

            “I wish. Even with this gorgeous hair, I don’t have much success with the ladies. Not even for free.”

            “Well, it’s your life. But be careful what you’re getting into.”

            “The reason I came, Jay,” said Jimmy, “is that I’m going to Montreal.”

            “That’s great,” Jay said “You’re not moving there, are you?”

            “Just a quick trip. And guess what. You’re coming with me.”

            “I am?”

            “Yes.”

            “Just the two us?”

            “Becky is coming with me, and we’d love to have you and Sue come, too.”

            “I’m sure she’d be delighted. I’ll ask her tonight,” Jay said. “What about money? Sue and I run rather low by the time pay day rolls around.”

            “The plane tickets and money for expenses are all looked after,” Jimmy said. “We’d have to go right away because it’s a business trip.”

            “Is it legal?”

            “Of course it’s legal. I told you I’m trying to turn over a new leaf. No more breaking the law.”

            “Can I get you a cup of coffee?” Jay asked.

            “Thanks, but I get all the coffee I want at work.”

            “You happy with your job?”

            “It’s OK. I usually only work at coffee breaks and noon hour when the office workers are out, so I don’t get in a lot of hours.”

            “What about the rest of the time?”

            “Mostly it’s free time for me. I like that. I met this businessman who gets me to deliver papers for him. He’s always in the middle of some big buying and selling deal downtown. He says it’s easier and faster to use me as his private courier. He’s the reason I have the haircut.”

            “You need a haircut to deliver packages?”

            “He’s concerned about appearances. His courier has to look respectable.”

            “Is that where the new clothes came from?”

            “You got it. He says image is important in business deals. You have to look successful to be successful.”

            “You’re sure this is legit?”

            “For sure. I looked in a package to make sure there wasn’t anything in there except papers.”

            “Good. A person can’t be too careful about what they’re delivering. I learned that the hard way.”

            “He’s bossy and pushy. But he’s also generous. He says as long as I do exactly what he wants we’ll get along fine. That suits me, as long as he keeps on being generous.”

            “Well, watch yourself. You have to be careful of strangers. Sometimes they’re not exactly what they appear to be.”

            “So, are you coming?”

            “I’ll talk to Sue about it tonight.”

            “Great. Sorry I couldn’t give you more warning, but well have to leave this Friday. He said he’s got the airline tickets and if we don’t use them they’ll be wasted. We’d be away for a week.”

            “Does this mean you’ll keep your promise to give up smoking?”

            “No way. The deal was I’d quit if you took me to Montreal. This doesn’t count because I’m taking you.”

            “I’ll check with Sue tonight.”

           

***

           

Jay walked into the apartment. “Hi, Sue. I’ve got exciting news.”

            “I do, too.”

            “Ladies first.”

            “My dad phoned to say my favorite grandmother is coming to visit.”

            “That should be fun for you.”

            “He says I’ll be in charge of taking her around to visit all the relatives. She’s 85. It may be the last chance she gets to see everyone. At her age you never know.”

            “There are a lot of relatives?”

            “They’re all over. Selkirk, Elie, Portage and even way up north in Flin Flon. I’ll get to drive all around the countryside.”

            “Flin Flon is getting near where I live. That would be such fun for us to travel there together. You could meet my family. They’d be surprised.”

            “I’d love to meet your family.”

            “When is she coming?”

            “She’s flying in on Monday and will be staying all week.”

            “Oh.”

            “You don’t seem to be happy about this.”

            “Jimmy said he and Becky are going to Montreal for a week and they’d take us with them.”

            “That would be great. When would we go?”

            “That’s the problem. He says we’d have to leave this Friday.”

            “What a horrible coincidence. That’s when my grandmother will be here.”

            “I know. What are we going to do?”

            “My dad says I have to be here to drive her around. He was specific about that.”

            “Can’t your mother drive her around?”

            “Mom’s nervous about driving on the highway. And you know she doesn’t ever drive at night. There’s no way I can go.”

            “Then I can’t go.”

            “But you and Jimmy have always had this thing about going to Montreal. It’s the perfect opportunity for you.”

            “There’ll be other times. I should be here with you. I wouldn’t enjoy Montreal without you.”

            “That’s sweet of you. But admit it, you’d have fun even without me.”

            “It’d be fun, I guess. But I’d miss you terribly.”

            “I’ll be off with Grandma most of the time anyway. It doesn’t make sense for you to stay here alone when you could be in Montreal.”

            “I could come with you. I haven’t been seen my family in almost a year. Well, more like eight months. It seems like a lifetime.”

            “It would be nice to have you along. We could share the driving.”

            “There’ll be lots more chances to go to Montreal. I’ll phone Jimmy and tell him we can’t go.” Jay dialed the phone:

           

              “. . .”

              “Hi Becky, is Jimmy there?”

              “. . .”

              “Hi Jimmy.”

              “. . .”

              “Yes we did. I’m sorry, but Sue’s grandmother is coming to visit. We won’t be able to go with you.”

              “. . .”

              “Can’t you find someone else to go with you?”

              “. . .”

              “Don’t be silly. Of course you can go without us.”

              “. . .”

              “You’re not making any sense. Why couldn’t you go without me?”

              “. . .”

              “Of course I don’t want to be responsible for you and Becky missing out on the trip.”

              “. . .”

              “I’ll talk to you later.”

           

            Jay hung up the telephone. He looked at Sue with a frown. “Jimmy’s upset. He says they can’t go if we don’t go.”

            “Why would they need us? Maybe Jimmy doesn’t have many friends, but Becky knows lots of people who would be delighted to go with them.”

            “He says he won’t go without me. It sounded as if he meant it.”

            “Then you have to go. He’s your friend. You can’t let him down like that.”

            “You’re my girlfriend. I can’t let you down. You mean more to me than Jimmy does.”

            “Let’s not get into a competition here. Let’s try to think about what would be best for everyone concerned.”

            “How about we think about what you and I would like best,” Jay said.

            “No, Jay. We need to think about other people, not just ourselves. Whose need is the greatest?”

            “Whose need for what? I feel like I’m being pulled apart here.”

            “I didn’t realize we were fighting over you.”

            “Come to think of it, you seem to be arguing that I should go. You should be arguing for me to stay.”

            “Get serious. Do you honestly think Becky and Jimmy won’t go without you?”

            “I’m afraid so. He was totally upset when I said I couldn’t go.”

            “We have a choice. If you stay here, then Jimmy and Becky don’t get to go to Montreal. If you go with them, then I have to get along without you for a week.”

            “Well, if you put it like that, the decision is easy.”

            “You’re going to Montreal then?”

            “No. I thought it was obvious I would stay with you.”

            “We have our whole lives to be together. This may be the only chance Jimmy and Becky ever get to go to Montreal. Neither of them is likely to ever get enough money together for a trip like this on their own. It’s their chance of a lifetime.”

            “I’m not keeping Jimmy from going. If he weren’t such a wimp, he’d go without me.”

            “For whatever reason, if you don’t go with him, then he won’t go.”

            “Good grief. How did I get to be responsible for him?”

            “Aren’t we all responsible for each other? I thought that was what our little gang was all about. We look after each other,” Becky said.

            “Are you sure you wouldn’t mind if I went? I’d actually like to go.”

            “Look at it this way. We’ll be doing something nice for Becky and Jimmy.”

            “If you’re sure, I’ll phone Jimmy tomorrow and tell him I’m going?”

            “Why not phone him now?”

            “It’ll do him good to sweat a little. Then he’ll realize what a big favour I’m doing him.”

            “Sometimes you have a  mean streak. Do we have enough money to pay your share of a trip like that?”

            “That’s what’s amazing about it. He says he has the tickets, the hotel is paid, and he even has cash for expenses.”

            “Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?”

            “I didn’t want our decision to be made on the basis of marriage.”

            “In that case, there is no question about it. You have to go.”

           

***

           

Jay, Becky, and Jimmy were up early and skipped breakfast in their eagerness to be at the airport much earlier than necessary. “Are you sure this ticket thing is going to work?” Jimmy asked, looking around the terminal.

            “It should be easy. All you have to do is give the ticket agent your confirmation number and a piece of picture identification and they’ll give you your boarding pass,” Jay said. “Steve told me all about it. He’s a travel agent, so he should know all about it.”

            “But I always thought you needed to have a ticket to fly on an airplane.”

            “This is the new high‑tech way to go. Think of all the paper it saves. Computers are great.”

            “I’m too excited to think about saving trees right now. This will be the first time I’ve ever been on an airplane. In fact, this will be the first time I’ve been out of Winnipeg,” Jimmy said.

            “Unless you count the time you spend in Headingly,” Becky said.

            “Headingly is practically a suburb of Winnipeg. Besides, jail time doesn’t count. It’s a separate world. That part of my life is over with. I’ll never go to jail again.”

            “Relax. There’s nothing to worry about,” Becky said, taking Jimmy’s arm and escorting him to the ticket window. In a matter of minutes they were through the boarding gate and on their way to Montreal.

           

***

           

Two hours later they hailed a cab outside Dorval Airport. “Place To Pee hotel, please,” Jay said to the driver. He turned to Jimmy. “Steve taught me how to say that.”

            Le Hôtel Gouverneur Place Dupuis, monsieur?

            “Sure,” Jay said with a shrug.

            The cab sped along at 115 km/hr along Autoroute de la Côte Liesse, and around the interchange to the Autoroute Décarie. It barely keept up with the flow of traffic which was blissfully ignoring the posted speed of 70 km/hr.

            Jay checked the street signs as they turned onto Rue Sherbooke. “Watch this,” he said to Jimmy. Leaning forward, he said to the driver, “Could you go down Sainte Catherine, please?”

            “Steve told me it’s the most interesting route,” Jay added to his friends.

            The cab traveled on for several more blocks and then made a right turn at the traffic light, honking its horn to force a path through the stream of pedestrians who, also having a green light, crossed with little regard for the oncoming traffic.

            “I was expecting big department stores and malls,” Becky said. “There are tall office buildings but I don’t see any big stores.”

             They crossed Boulevard de Maisonneuve, turned left on rue Ste-Catherine, with the cabbie again using his horn to slice a path through the pedestrians.

            The streets were packed with traffic. The sidewalks teemed with pedestrians. Jay commented about the tall office buildings and specialty boutiques. He noticed in silence the neon-lighted strip clubs scattered along the street.

            “I guess Montreal doesn’t go in for malls,” he said.

            They continued past the Place des Arts, the Université de Montréal, the Saint Laurent sculptures, and arrived at the Hôtel Place Dupuis.

            The cab stopped and the driver turned to his passengers. “Voici votre hôtel. Trente‑cinq dollars, s’il vous plaît.

            Jimmy looked at Becky. Becky shrugged her shoulders. “Excuse me. We don’t speak French,” Jimmy suggested.

            Pas de problème. Forty dollars,” the cab driver said.

            Jimmy handed the driver two twenties. The driver kept his hand extended. Becky leaned over and whispered in Jimmy’s ear, “Tip.” Jimmy added another five to the twenties as they left the car.

            “This is so cool,” Jimmy said. “It makes me feel important. I wish there were more people for me to tip.”

            “Don’t worry,” Becky said. “From the look of the hotel, you should have no difficulty finding a few people to make happy.”

            The hotel was obviously luxurious and expensive in spite of being located in the middle of a poorer area of Montreal. Connected to the hotel, a shopping area provided guests with access to essential goods such as clothing, jewelry, perfume and souvenirs.

            Jimmy wandered around the lobby, his jaw hanging slightly open, and his eyes darting from side to side as he made his way to the desk. “This place is immense. All the homeless people in Winnipeg could fit in here.”

            “And they could find shelter under these trees,” Becky added.

            Oui, monsieur?” the clerk said to Jimmy.

            “You speak English?” Jimmy asked.

            “Of course. May I help you?”

            “I’m supposed to tell you the access number is 4236.”

            The clerk punched the number into the computer. “I’m sorry, sir. We have nothing under that registration number.”

            Jimmy frowned in concentration. “Could you try 4326?”

            “Ah, yes. Here we are. G.P. Enterprises. Two rooms.”

            “We get two rooms?”

            “One moment, please . . . ah . . . here it is. The reservation shows two different parties. One is already taken. You’ll be in 1712.”

            “You don’t have names?” Jay asked.

            “No, sir. The company reserved the two rooms. If you would all sign all your names here, please. The bellhop will show you to your room.” He tapped the bell.

            “Do I get to tip him?” Jimmy whispered to Becky.

            “No. He’s paid to look after reservations.”

            The bellboy loaded the bags onto a trolley and ferried them up to the 17th floor. He carried the baggage into the room, opened a window half an inch, looked into the bathroom and stood casually at the door. 

            Jimmy whispered into Becky’s ear, “What about him?”

            “Yes,” she replied. “But only a couple of bucks. We don’t have much luggage.”

            Jimmy dropped a toonie into the boy’s expectant hand, causing him to vanish out the door.

            “Are you sure that’s enough? I don’t want him to be mad at me.”

            “You don’t even know him. Why would you possibly care if he’s angry with you?”

            “I don’t have any friends other than you guys. Not real friends, any way. A person without friends can’t afford to make enemies.”

            “You have imaginary friends?” Jay asked.

            “On the Internet I have cyber friends through email and chat rooms on the Internet. It’s totally cool, but I don’t think of them as real friends.”

            “Why not?” asked Becky.

            “On the Internet people can say they are anything they want.”

            “You mean you lie to people on the Internet?”

            “I know a lot of people do. I don’t lie. Well, maybe a little on my looks.”

            “Like your being six feet tall, blond, blue-eyed with a buff bod?” Becky asked.

            “How did you know I say that?”

            “I didn’t. It was just a guess, but now I know.”

            “That was a sneaky trick.”

            “How do you know other people lie?” Jay asked.

            “Their stories change. They forget what they said in earlier sessions.”

            “Does that mean if a person has a good memory, you wouldn’t know if they’re lying?”

            “I guess not until you meet them in person.”

            “I’m going to freshen up, and then let’s hit the streets,” Becky said.


 

~ 16 ~

 

LA VIE EN ROSE

 

They stepped out of the hotel and onto rue Ste-Catherine, savoring the early spring warmth of the late afternoon sun.

            “Wow! Look at all the flags,” said Jimmy. “I’ll bet those are the flags of Quebec.”

            “I wouldn’t bet on it,” said Becky. “The Quebec flag is fleur‑de‑lis on a blue background. Those are rainbow flags.”

             “I’ve seen flags like those before,” said Jay. “In San Francisco the streets were lined with flags like these on every lamp post.”

            “All throughout San Francisco?” asked Becky.

            “In the area where Steve and I stayed, they were,” said Jay.

            “Let me guess. That would be the Castro area, wouldn’t it?” asked Becky.

            Jay thought for a minute. “Are you suggesting this is the gay area of Montreal?”

            “Well it doesn’t look like the shopping centre of the city,” said Becky. “And there seem to be a lot of stylishly dressed young people.”

            “I don’t care what area it is,” said Jimmy. “That hotel is marvelous and I love this city. It makes me feel so alive.”

            “My guess is the city centre is back the way we came. Let’s walk that direction and see what we find,” suggested Becky.

            “Keep your eyes open for a store called Priape,” Jay said. “Steve asked me to pick up something for him there.”

            “Are you sure this is the right street for it?” Becky asked.

            “He said the map showed Priape and the hotel on the same street.”

            They walked along the street, looking in the windows of mom-and-pop stores, tiny eating establishments, and convenience stores. Jimmy looked in a window. “Forty-nine cents for a slice of pizza. I wish we had places like this in Winnipeg.”

            “Steve said we should go to a place called Pizzédélic,” Jay said.

            “Knowing Steve, I’ll bet it’s more than forty-nine cents a slice.”

            “He says it’s expensive but unbelievably good. Not pizza like we know, more like a fancy lasagna on a pizza crust.”

            “That would be in the English section of Montreal, I’d guess,” Becky said.

            “Why would you think that?”

            “I read in the paper before we left that separatists had been throwing bricks through McDonald’s windows again.”

            “That’s a clear message of something,” Jimmy said, “but I don’t know what.”

             “They resent places like McDonald’s that don’t reflect their heritage. I read in the paper before we left that they still set fire to their buildings,” Becky said.

            “What’s the connection between McDonalds and Pizzédélic?” Jay asked.

            “In different ways they both represent the English love of profit and their ignorance of the French people’s love for their culture.”

            “Now there’s a fancy store,” said Jimmy. “They seem to sell leather goods . . . and chains, and . . . oh my goodness . . . I have no idea what some of this stuff is.”

            “That’s the store you’re looking for, Jay,” said Becky.

            “That’s Priape, all right,” said Jay. “I might have known Steve would send me to some place like this. Hang on guys. We’re going in.”

            They wandered through the store, trying to look casual among the array of clothes, belts, masks, whips, and skimpy underwear, all made from shiny black leather. Beside a section of videos, a flight of stairs led down to a lower level. Becky looked questioningly at Jay.

            “Why not? What’ve we got to lose?” Jay said, leading the way. “Except our reputations.”

            “And our self-respect. I’ll meet you guys outside,” Jimmy said. “This isn’t my kind of scene.”

            “Stout heart never won fair lady,” Jay said.

            “What?” Becky asked.

            “No. That’s wrong. It’s fair heart never won stout lady,” Jay said. “Oh. Never mind. I can’t think straight in a place like this.”

            “Why can’t he buy things himself?” Becky asked.

            “He said Winnipeg doesn’t stock much specialized stuff. It would take weeks to order it, and you know Steve. He’s not the world’s most patient guy. Besides, it’s the least I can do after his help in San Francisco.”

            “I hope they speak English.”

            “This is what I’m looking for,” Jay said, pointing to a display case with trays of silver hoops, silver bars, clamps, and assorted body jewelry. He was peering intently through the glass trying to make sense of the assorted paraphernalia, when the clerk came over. “Bonjour. Est-ce que je peux vous aider?”

            “Do you speak English?” Jay asked.

            Je regrette. Je ne parle que français.

            Jay took a deep breath. Speaking slowly, clearly and a bit too loudly, he said, “I’m looking for little bars with a ball on each end. They are used with body piercing.”

            The clerk pointed to the tray of rings and looked at Jay.

            “No. It’s for . . .” Jay gestured vaguely toward his chest.

            Mais oui,” the man said. With that, he pulled up his T‑shirt and displayed his nipple ring. “Comme çi?”

            “That’s it. Yes.” Jay said, wishing the man would pull down his T‑shirt.

            Quelle taille?

            “They need to be like little barbells.”

            Pardonnez-moi?

            Jay picked up a pencil from the counter and drew a sketchy picture.

            The clerk nodded. “Quelles dimensions?

            “Silver?” Jay suggested.

            Quelle taille?” the clerk asked again.

            “He said they have to be 10-gauge.”

            Combien?

            Jay wrote ‘10’ on the paper.

            Dix? Nous n’avons que six.

            Jay’s brow furrowed with confusion. He wrote ‘10-gauge’. The clerk shrugged his shoulders. Jay tried adding dimension arrows to indicate diameter.

            The clerk smiled and nodded. “Un ou deux?

            “I don’t understand.”

            The clerk placed two of the 10-gauge ones on the counter.

            Jay looked at them carefully, pretending to know what he was examining. After a few seconds, he picked them up gently between finger and thumb, one at a time, as if afraid they might bite him. He handed them both to the clerk.

            Quatre-vingts dollars plus l’impôt,” the clerk said pointing to the cash register display.

            Jay pocketed the change from the hundred-dollar bill Steve had given him.

            Back on the sidewalk, they joined Jimmy. “Did you get what you wanted?”

            “Shut up and find me a bar,” Jay said. “I need a drink.”

            “Let’s go back to the hotel. We can have drinks and dinner and put everything on the hotel bill.”

            “Are you sure we are supposed to do that?” Becky asked.

            “He said if I played ball with him, he’d look after our expenses.”

            “What did he mean by playing ball?”

            “Doing what he asked, I guess.”

            “And what’s that?”

            “He gave me an envelope I’m supposed to deliver to the hotel manager personally.”

            “And that’s all?”

            “He said for me not to think too much.”

            “That part should be easy for you,” Becky said.

            The dining room was a sea of white tablecloths topped with crystal goblets begging to be filled with imported French wine, polished silverware, napkins shaped like tiny peacocks and a huge vase of fresh flowers. Most of the chairs were empty. Near the window, a girl sat with her back to the door. The maitre d’ escorted Jay, Jimmy, and Becky to a table also near the window.

            “You can order anything you want from the menu,” Jimmy said.

            “We shouldn’t be too extravagant,” Becky suggested. “It’s not nice to be greedy.”

            “We charge it to the room and it’ll all be paid for.”

            “Are you sure he doesn’t care?” Becky asked.

            “He said to charge whatever we want,” Jimmy replied.

            “I’m a bit concerned about all this money you seem to have, Jimmy,” Jay said. “He must be wanting something more from you.”

            “Don’t worry about it. I’m supposed to deliver the envelope. That’s it.”

            “I hate to ask this, but you did remember to bring the envelope, didn’t you?”

            “Of course. My memory is getting better all the time. Your toilet paper is working miracles for me.”

            “Did it tell you to deliver the envelope?”

            “I’ll do it tomorrow,” Jimmy said.

            After the waiter took their order, they looked around the room.

            “Doesn’t that girl look familiar?” Becky asked.

            “I know I’ve seen her before,” Jimmy said. “Isn’t she the person who did a séance with us? What was her name?” Jimmy asked.

            “If I didn’t know better, I’d say that’s Tanya,” Becky said.

            “What would she be doing here in Montreal?” Jimmy asked.

            “I’m sure it’s Tanya,” Jay said, leaning over and waving his hand to catch the girl’s attention.

            The girl’s gaze moved in their general direction and then focussed. Her face brightened in surprise as she recognized them.

            “Come over and join us,” Becky called.

            “Hi guys. What are you doing here? Goodness, gracious. I never expected to see you people here,” Tanya said.

            “We didn’t expect to see you here either,” Becky said.

            “I’ve been here since yesterday.”

            “We got here last night,” Jay said.

            “You look amazing, Jimmy,” Tanya said. “What have you done with yourself?”

            “I’m totally off drugs now, too. And I’ve quit smoking.”

            “Good for you. You’ve also learned how to dress yourself.”

            “He has a system,” Becky said. “He goes into a store and finds a cute salesgirl. Then he lets her dress him the way she likes.”

            “This time last week I thought I’d be spending the rest of my life in Manitoba,” Jimmy said.

            “This trip came as a surprise to me, too,” Tanya said.

            “Did you win a contest of some kind?” Becky asked.

            “I was watching a fashion show at the Portage Plaza Mall when this fellow singled me out from the crowd and asked me if I’d like to model their line of clothes here in Montreal. Of course, I said yes, and here I am. What are you guys doing here, anyway?”

            “Jimmy got tickets and accommodation for all of us through a businessman he’s working with. It sounds a bit strange, but it seems to be working,” Becky said.

            “This is all too weird. We don’t see each other for months, and then suddenly here we all are in Montreal,” said Tanya. “It must be synchronicity.”

            “What’s that mean?” Jimmy asked.

            “It’s like fate. Things happening at the same time for some cosmic reason,” Tanya explained. Turning her attention to Jay, she said, “It’s good to see you again.”

            “You always said if it was written in the stars that we should meet again, then it would happen.”

            “And it has. Are there only the three of you here?”

            “Yes. Is that a subtle way of asking about Sue?” Jay asked.

            “I didn’t want to pry into your private life.”

            “There’s nothing to hide. We’ve been back together since New Year’s.”

            “She’s a lucky girl. I wanted to visit her in the hospital when I heard she was ill, but it didn’t seem like a good idea. She didn’t like me much even before she met you. Then there was that thing about her thinking we were dating. She’s all right, then?”

            “Oh, yes. She had some kind of major trauma, but she’s getting over it.”

            “I’m glad she’s going to be OK. Is she at home?”

            “As a matter of fact we’re sort of living together.”

            “How do two people sort of live together?”

            “Sometimes I stay at her apartment and sometimes I stay at the Red Dragon.”

            “Where do you keep your razor?”

            “Her place.”

            “Then you’re living together.”

            “I think it only proves she and my razor are living together.”

            “Why isn’t she here?”

            “She had to stay home to look after her grandmother.”

            “She’s a good girl. Her family has always been important to her.”

            “I assume you’re staying in the hotel here?”

            “Room 1712.”

            “What an awesome coincidence. I’m in 1714. This must be synchronicity. I have a good feeling about this little holiday. The karma feels so right.”

            “Have you explored the night life yet?”

            “I met this guy, Mel, in a coffee shop downtime last night. He’s lived in Montreal all his life so he knows his way around. Besides, he has a car.”

            “Are you seeing him tonight?”

            “I’d rather hang with you guys, if you don’t mind.”

            “That would be great,” Becky said. “We could use a guide.”

            “I let the stars lead me. They have the hottest clubs here. You can’t miss.”

            “Come on then,” Jimmy said. “Let’s do the town. I’m paying.”

            “Until you’re flat broke, anyway,” Becky muttered to herself.

            “Maybe we should ask at the desk for some directions. At least they speak English.”

            The desk clerk was polite and eager to help. “There’s a Metro station right under the hotel. The Metro will take you anywhere you want to go in the city.”

            “How will we know where to get off? We haven’t any idea where we want to go.”

            “Unless you have a particular destination in mind, just get off at any station. There’s a whole underground city of subway stations, stores, and theatres. Everything you could want is right there. Some stations cover an area of two city blocks, all underground. For starters, I’d suggest St. Denis for theatres, and St. Laurent for eating.”

           

***

           

It was well into the small morning hours when the foursome found their way back to the hotel.

            “I have no idea where we’ve been or how we got back,” said Jimmy. “But it certainly was exciting. And so easy.”

            “That subway system is amazing,” said Becky, as they got off the elevator at the 17th flour, chattering nonstop in their enthusiasm. “Did you hear the fellow say they had to prop up that whole cathedral to excavate under it for a subway station?”

            “I can’t believe they’d do that. You’d think it would have been easier to tear it down and rebuild it.”

            “What about that other station,” Jimmy added. “It had two underground levels, with escalators and everything. Every one of those stations was like a whole shopping mall.”

            “Do you realize we’ve spent the whole night underground?”

            They arrived at their rooms. “Here’s my room,” Tanya said, stopping in front of 1714.

            “And here we are, right next door,” Jimmy said. “See you in the morning.”

            Jimmy, Becky, and Jay went into their room. “What’s this extra door for?” asked Jimmy.

            “I’ll bet we’re connected to the room next door,” said Becky.

            Jimmy knocked on the connecting door. “Let’s unlock our door, and see if Tanya will open her side.”

            “Let’s hope it’s Tanya’s room” said Becky.

            “It has to be,” said Jay. “That’s the room she went into.”

            Jimmy knocked louder.

            A voice responded through the door, “Hello?”

            “Hi. It’s Jimmy. Unlock the door.”

            Tanya opened the door. She stepped into the room and looked round. “This is nice.” She sat on one bed. “I’m going to be lonely all by myself next door. Maybe we could all share one room.”

            “Or one of us could go to your room and keep you company,” Becky said.

            “That’s a great idea,” said Tanya. “I choose Jay.”

            “That would give the two of you some privacy,” said Jay. “You do have an extra bed, don’t you, Tanya?”

            “Sure. Same as you guys. Two double beds.”

            Jay went to the bathroom to pick up his toiletry bag. He noticed his razor sitting on the sink. Jay looked at it for a moment, started to reach for it, and then left without it.

            “G’night guys.” Tanya said, taking Jay by the arm and leading him to her room. The door closed and locked behind them.

            “Let’s see what’s on television. I’m sure they must have something in English,” Tanya said.

            “How about some snackies from the mini bar. Oh, look. They have little miniature bottles of booze.”

            “Let’s have some Champagne to celebrate being in Montreal. It would be the French thing to do, wouldn’t it?”

            “Why not? It’ll be charged to the room.”

            Jay and Tanya curled up on the bed. The late‑night movie droned on in the background.

            “This is nice,” Tanya said. “I always knew we would somehow, sometime, get together again. Ever since that night at the Fringe Festival.”

            “That was months ago. I remember you wanted to call me Truro.”

            “Winnipeg has so many good things in the summer.”

            “Like Folklorama - forty different ethnic groups, each putting on their traditional entertainment and food events for two weeks.”

            “It makes one realize how many different cultural roots there are here,” Jay said.

            “They say it’s the biggest show of its kind in Canada.”

            “You do remember the séance we had at Tiffany’s place, don’t you?”

            “I’ve always wondered if that was for real. Are you honestly a psychic?”

            “Heavens no. I like helping people get in touch with themselves. It has nothing to do with the supernatural.”

            “Where do you learn to do that stuff?”

            “I got started with New Age because I liked their music.”

            “Did someone teach you?”

            “The bookstores are full of New Age things. I pick out the ideas I like..”

            “Where ever you learned it, what you did at that séance helped Steve and I to understand each other.”

            “That was where somebody got the idea you and I were seeing each other,” Tanya said. “And then told Sue,

            “Oh yes. I heard about that a few times.”

            “You and Sue are okay with things now, I guess.”

            “We’ve been getting along great. Her dad’s a different story.”

            “What are you planning to do about that?”

            “Not much except trying to stay out of his way.”

            “You and Sue are serious, aren’t you?”

            “I am, and I think she is too.”

            “Are you thinking marriage?”

            “I want to be part of a family some day. I’ve never felt I belonged in my family. I was always on the outside, somehow.”

            “Why would that be?”

            “Maybe because my sister and brother knew their father. I didn’t.”

            “Weren’t you looking for him in California?”

            “I found where he used to work and I have his new address. I’m going to write him as soon as I figure out what to say.”

            “Does the idea of meeting him scare you?”

            “It doesn’t scare me. It does make me nervous. What if he doesn’t want anything to do with me? What if he doesn’t like me?”

            “You don’t need to worry. Everybody likes you.”

            “I wish. Time we went to sleep. I’ll hop over to the other bed.”

            “You don’t need to move unless you want to.”

            “I meant to phone Sue tonight. Remind me in the morning.”

            “OK, Truro.”

           

***

           

Jay and Tanya went back for their second refill at the hotel’s Sunday brunch buffet. “That’s an awesome spread,” Jay said. “I wish I could stay long enough to taste one of everything.”

            “Mel said this hotel is famous for its Sunday brunch. He knows all about Montreal.”

            “You like this Mel guy?”

            “He’s OK, but he’s no Truro.”

            “Stop that. I belong to Sue.”

            “I don’t want to own you, just borrow you.”

            “What are we going to do today? We should do something French.”

            “Mel said Montreal has a world famous bagel store.”

            “That sounds more Jewish than French.”

            “I think Mel’s Jewish. Things like that don’t mean much to me. I go by the inner person, not the outer appearances.”

            “How do we find this bagel place?”

            “Mel would take us there, if you don’t mind having him along.”

            “Can Jimmy and Becky come, too? I’d feel uncomfortable with only the three of us.”

            “You check with them and I’ll phone Mel.”

            Tanya headed for the pay phones and Jay went up to the rooms. “Hey, guys, open the door,” Jay said knocking on the door.

            Jimmy, clad in a hotel bathrobe, opened the door. “Come in. Is Tanya with you?”

            “She’ll be up right away. She’s making plans for the day. Have you had breakfast, yet?”

            “We had room service send it up. They have the greatest orange juice here. They call it Mimosa. I wish we could get that brand of oranges in Winnipeg.”

            “Do you have any plans, or do you want to join us?”

            “I thought we’d done well to plan breakfast,” Becky said coming into the room. “What did you have in mind?”

            “It sounds a bit strange, but Tanya wants to go to a bagel store.”

            “What could be so special about bagels? We can get bagels anywhere,” Becky said.

            “She says the shop is world famous. She’s phoning Mel right now to see if he will act as our guide.”

            “Who’s Mel?” asked Jimmy.

            “He’s a guy she met here. He’s lived here all his life and knows where to go and how to get there.”

            Tanya came into the room. “Mel thinks it would be great for all of us to go to the bagel place. He says it’s an interesting area of Montreal. Can you guys get some clothes on and be ready in half an hour? He’s coming to pick us up.”

            “He has a car?” Jimmy asked.

            “Trust Tanya to find a guy with the car,” Jay said.

            “Don’t get smart with me,” Tanya said, mussing up Jay’s hair. “Come on, I need help to get ready,” she said tugging Jay to the door.

             

***

           

Although Mel had dressed in casual pants and an open-necked shirt, he still gave the impression of being a serious professional, older than his 23 years. Perhaps a salesman, a stockbroker or a lawyer. His sculptured short beard and moustache dominated his features. He had an easy smile and deep brown eyes that twinkled with the slightest provocation.

            He drove down rue Ste-Catherine with the speed and forcefulness of a typical Montreal driver, pulling his ball cap down over his eyes to shade them. “You have to watch out for the taxi drivers. They tend to ignore red lights,” he said, coasting through the tail end of an orange light. “It’s one of those things they do.”

            “So what’s this place we’re going to?” Becky asked. “Why is it famous? “

            “It’s been in operation forever and still uses the old‑fashioned and traditional methods, like a lot of things in the province of Quebec. They knead the dough by hand and use a wood-burning oven. The bagels are always fresh, 24 hours a day.”

            “Are there enough tourists to be open 24 hours a day?”

            “It’s probably not by coincidence that they’re right beside a major Jewish section of Montreal. We’ll take a drive through there.”

            “Don’t bother. We have lots of Jewish areas in Winnipeg,” Jay said. “The neighbourhood where Sue’s dad lives is becoming largely Jewish. It doesn’t look any different from any other section of Winnipeg.”

            “Trust me, this is different,” Mel said, driving down Avenue du Parc and then turning left on St-Viateur. “These are Hasidic Jews.”

            “How’s that different?”

            “You tell me.”

            “There’s one in a black top hat, long suit jacket, and black leggings,” Jimmy said.

            “They all look like that,” Becky said. “Nothing but Abe Lincolns everywhere.”

            “Why do they dress like that?” Jay asked.

            “They’re Orthodox Jews. The outfit is their way of showing their pride in their mystical heritage. Even the children look like miniature Lincolns.”

             “Look at the long curly wisps of hair hanging down the side of their faces,” Jimmy said.

            “They’re called earlocks. Hairdressers sometimes call them tendrils or side curls. A lot of men have full beards.”

            “Why would they have earlocks?” Becky asked.

            “I know that one,” Jay said. “It says in the Bible that you should not cut the corners of your hair. Their earlocks are corners, I guess.”

            “That’s impressive, Jay. We refer to the Torah, but the quotation’s the same. You know a lot about the Bible. That’s not a common quotation.”

            “I had a stepfather who quoted the Bible a lot. He particularly liked to quote Revelations. Spare the rod and spoil the child was a favorite.”

            Mel returned down Rue St-Viateur and crossed Avenue du Parc.

            “There aren’t any on this side of the street. Across the street there’s nobody else. Is there some sort of law that keeps them over there?” Jimmy asked.

            “Of course not. They have no need to be over here, unless it’s to buy bagels. It’s that simple.” Mel said.

            “It’s as if there’s an invisible banner of faith around their area,” Becky said. “I felt like an intruder when we were there.”

            “That’s the place,” Mel said, pointing to a tiny building near the corner on the right.

            “Are you sure?” Jimmy asked.

            “It’s called the St-Viateur Bagel Shop, because that’s the street it’s on.

            “I don’t see any neon sign. If it’s so famous wouldn’t there be signs everywhere?”

            “That’s not the traditional Francophone way,” Mel said. “They don’t brag with advertising.”

            “Except places like the ‘Club Super Sex’,” Jimmy said.

            “That’s the English influence,” Mel said. “It’s things like that make the Quebeçois want to secede from the rest of Canada.”

            “Can you explain why Quebec want to leave Canada?” Jay asked.

            “You need to have lived here to understand it,” Mel said. “The license plate says it all, Je me souviens - I remember.”

            “I don’t understand,” Jay said.

            “Francophones try to live history the way it was.”

            “What does that mean?”

            “You see that old building across the street?”

            “The one they’re scraping the paint off?”

            “Yes. They’re uncovering the original brass of the embossed frieze work.”

            “That’s looks like an awful lot of hard work. Is it worth it?”

            “We like to live things the way they used to be. We have reverence for our history. Not the way the English have written it, but as we know it was.”

            “I still don’t get it.”

            “Back in Winnipeg, they’d probably tear the building down to build a new one. They’d call it progress. We’d call it wasteful, and an insult to our heritage.”

            “We like things to be new and modern.”

            “Maybe that’s the problem. The rest of Canada doesn’t understand the French way of thinking,” Mel said.

            “How about an example?”

            “You remember the last referendum when people for all over Canada came to Quebec to convince us to vote against secession? Do you remember what their t-shirts said?”

            “Sure. They said, ‘Quebec, we love you’.”

            “Exactly.”

            “What’s wrong with that?”

            “It would have meant more to us if they had said, ‘Québec, nous t’aimons’. The shirts were made for themselves, not for us.”

            Inside the Bagel Shop, hundred-pound bags of sesame seeds and flour lined one wall. The interior looked as if it hadn’t been renovated more than once in the past hundred years. Bagels slid in a steady stream down a chute beside the tiny counter and low-tech cash register.

            “Claustrophobia time,” Jay said under his breath.

            Mel bought a bag of assorted bagels, and they went back to the car. “I’ll take another quick tour through the Hasidic area,” Mel said. “You’ll notice how similar the houses all are. They don’t try to do better than their neighbours.”

            “What about women?” Jimmy asked. “I don’t see any on the street. Why is that?”

            “Most socializing takes place in the synagogues, schools and in each other’s houses,” Mel explained.

            “What would the women dress like?

            “They wear head coverings, like scarves or wigs. And modest, full-length dresses, of course.”

            “It sounds like a boring life,” Jimmy said.

            “The Hasidic way of life is gentle, beautiful and joyful.”

            “They don’t look joyful.”

            “Sometimes they get harassed on the streets because of their appearance. They’ve learned to avoid eye contact with people they don’t know. Many put on a stern face in public for self‑protection. It’s not easy being an obvious minority group.”

            “There are only a few men on the sidewalks,” Jay observed.

            “It’s not the custom to hang out on the street the way some other people do. They go onto the streets to get somewhere. On holy days, they spend hours around the festive table singing traditional songs, telling stories, and visiting with family and friends. But the world doesn’t see this joyful celebrating, because it takes place in the privacy of the homes.”

            “Don’t they have something to do with the Kabbalah?” Tanya asked. “I sometimes use it for numerology. That’s how I came up with the name Truro for Jay.”

            “People are often astonished that Hasidic Jews would believe in things like reincarnation, prophetic dreams, miracles, angels and spiritual healing.”

            “Those are typical New Age ideas,” Tanya said.

            “What can I tell you? For you, maybe it’s New Age, but for them it’s ancient history.”

            “How can they be so old-fashioned in appearance and be New Age in their thinking?” Jimmy asked.

            “Looks can be deceiving,” Mel said. “You know what they say, never judge a book by its cover.”

            “This is fascinating,” Tanya said. “Do you happen to know any good books I could read?”

            “There are some good ones, but I don’t know the titles. I do know where you can find a lot of good information and recommended books.”

            “Where?”

            “On the Internet there’s a lot of information. They even have complete courses in the Hasidic philosophy and way of life that you can download free.”

            “Great. Now all I need is a computer and somebody who knows how to work it,” Tanya said.

            “I can do that standing on my head. I’ll show you how to do it,” Jimmy said.

            “Where would I find a computer?”

            “Most public libraries have free Internet connections. You don’t even need a library card,” Jimmy said.

             Jay turned to Mel. “You seem to know an awful lot about this.”

            “I should. I’m a closet Hasidic Jew.”

            “You’re a what?” Jay asked.

            “I’m an Hasidic Jew, and always have been. I just don’t dress that way.”

            “Can you do that?”

            “Why not? It’s a faith and a way of life, not a monastery. Individuals are free to do whatever makes them feel comfortable.”

            “What about the earlocks?” Tanya asked.

            Mel took off his ball cap to reveal a yarmulke, with the ends of his earlocks tucked under it. “I have the long coat and vest and hat for religious occasions and attending synagogue. People at work know I’m Jewish, but they don’t suspect I’m Hasidic.”

            “Why do you hide it?”

            “Some people think our lifestyle is fanatical. Others are turned off by the formality of the clothes. In my work I have to meet the public, so I try to be as generic as possible.”

            “Do think you will ever come out of the closet at work?” Jay asked.

            “I’d like to, but I have to wait until society is ready for it. I can’t afford to be ostracized by my clients.”

            “Don’t you feel you’re deceiving your clients?”

            “My clients pay for the work I do, not how I look. I’m just as good a lawyer no matter what I look like. Except in court, maybe.”

            “What about betraying your faith?”

            “I’m as good a Jew with or without the black top hat. If I am betraying anything, it’s myself I’m betraying. Sometimes I feel I am not being true to myself when I hide who I am. It makes me feel guilty sometimes, but I have to consider my career.”

            “What’s it like to be Jewish?” Tanya asked.

            “To begin with, it’s more than a religion. It’s a total community or family thing. Even if I didn’t believe in God, I would still be a Jew. My way of life and my morals would still be those of a Jew.”

            “Can you give an example of how Jewish morals are different from ours?”

            “For one, we don’t believe in charity. There is no Yiddish word for it.”

            “You don’t contribute to helping the poor?”

            “Just the opposite. It’s a moral and religious obligation to act justly and compassionately as a part of our life. In fact, helping our fellow man is our most important obligation. We’re forbidden by our religion to turn away or ignore any of our people who ask for help.”

            “What about people who don’t ask? Like, people who live far away?” Tanya asked.

            “We have little boxes, called pushkes, on a window sill in the kitchen. They’re provided by the organizations we wish to support. Every Friday night, just before lighting the Sabbath candles, a few coins are put into each pushke. This is our duty, not a noble act of charity.”

            “Are you saying you shouldn’t feel good about giving to the poor?”

            “It’s fine to feel good about it, but the poor and needy must be saved from embarrassment. It must be done as fulfilling an obligation and not as a favour bestowed.”

            “Doing things anonymously is good, then?”

            “Let me tell you the legend of the Thirty-six Saints. There are thirty-six righteous or holy men, whom we call tzaddickim, living on earth at any given time. No one knows who they are and they themselves do not know they are a tzaddick. It’s only through the selfless works of these thirty-six unidentified saints that the world continues to exist, according to the legend. The Talmud encourages the doing of good without recognition or reward.”

            “You said it is your duty to act justly to your fellow man. How do you do that?” Tanya asked.

            “In all our dealings, including financial, we never allow ourselves to benefit from another’s misfortune.”

            “So if a person goes bankrupt you can’t buy his goods at a reduced price and make a profit on them?”

            “Only as an open and honest business deal. We’re forbidden to take advantage of him.” 

            “That sounds like it’s covered by the Golden Rule.”

            “Our saying is - what is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.”

~ 17 ~

 

HEADING HOME

 

Seven of the bagels had disappeared by the time the fivesome returned to the hotel. “I should phone Sue,” Jay said. “Is it all right if I charge it to the room?”

            “Go for it,” Jimmy replied. “I’m rich.”

            Jay tried phoning Sue’s apartment, but there was no answer. He dialed Sue’s parents and got Helen:

           

              “Hi. Is Sue there?”

              “. . .”

              “I thought she might be away with her grandmother.”

              “. . .”

              “That’s too bad. She could have come with us then, if we’d known.”

              “. . .”

              “Can I talk to her?”

              “. . .”

              “Why would she be mad at me?”

              “. . .”

              “Well, yes. Tanya is here.”

              “. . .”

              “Can I talk to Sue?”

              “. . .”

              “Hi Sue.”

              “. . .”

              “Well, yes. Tanya is here but . . .”

              “. . .”

              “Please, stop crying.”

              “. . .”

              “Of course I love you.”

              “. . .”

              “No. I didn’t plan this whole thing as a way to get together with Tanya.”

              “. . .”

              “How can you have proof?”

              “. . .”

              “There must be some mistake. That’s impossible.”

              “. . .”

              “I’m coming home right away. Then we can straighten this whole thing out.”

              “. . .”

              “I don’t care what anyone says. It’s not true.”

              “. . .”

              “Please, believe me. I didn’t plan this as a way to be with Tanya.”

              “. . .”

           

            Jay hung up the phone and turned to his friends. “Sue’s upset. She thinks Tanya and I planned this trip as an excuse to be together.”

            “How would she even know I’m here?” Tanya asked.

            “Her dad probably has someone following me. He likes doing that.”

            “Why does he do that?”

            “You’d have to ask him. I guess he likes to know everything. Sue said he has proof.”

            “What kind of proof?”

            “Something written I think. Like letters.”

            “We’ve never written letters to each other, have we?” Tanya asked.

            “No. Sue’s totally mistaken about this.”

            “Maybe somebody’s trying to mess with you and Sue,” Becky said.

            “Who’d want to do that?” Jimmy asked.

            “There’s something strange about this whole thing,” Becky said.

             “Hang on a minute,” Jay said. “Didn’t the desk clerk say both these rooms were paid for by the same company?”

            “You’re right. He did,” Becky said.

            “I think it’s about time we got some straight answers here,” Jay said. “Jimmy, do you have anything to say that would be helpful?”

            “No.”

            “You’re lying,” Becky said.

            “Why are you always accusing me of lying?”

            “Because it’s always been your first reaction to save face.”

            “That’s because I’ve had a bad life and I don’t want to admit anything about my past.”

            “And your second reaction is to avoid the question by changing the topic,” Becky continued.

            “Start talking. And no lies,” said Becky.

            “We need to know,” Tanya added.

             Jimmy looked down at the table. “It’s like I told you. This fellow I work for told me that if I would come to Montreal and bring two or three friends with me and he’d pay all the expenses. It’s that simple.”

            “What about you, Tanya? What’s the deal on you’re getting here with your expenses paid?” said Becky.

            “It’s like I said. This person whom I’ve never seen before my life told me he was representing a firm who wanted to model some clothing in Montreal. He said his company would pay my expenses for ten days if I’d come and model some clothes here in Montreal. He gave me a plane ticket, reserved a room in the hotel here, and gave me some spending money.”

            “Where are you supposed to be modeling these clothes?” asked Becky.

            “He said that someone would contact me at the hotel. I have to wait until they tell me what they want me to do.”

            “Has anyone contacted you yet?” Becky asked.

            “Not that I know of.”

            “There’s got to be some connection here,” said Jay. “The desk clerk said it was G. P. Enterprises, or something like that. Do any of you recognize that name?”

            “I think you know who’s behind all this. Who was it gave you the tickets, Jimmy?” Becky asked.

            “I promised I wouldn’t tell.”

            Jay looked expectantly around the table. Everyone looked blank. Jay’s eyes rested for a moment on Jimmy’s right wrist. “Don’t I recognize that watch?”

            Jimmy looked up. “Yes. It’s that old Rolex.”

            “How did you get it out of the pawn shop?” asked Jay. “I was going to get it for you.”

            “It was given to me.”

            “Nobody gives a watch like that without expecting something in return.”

            “I gave it to you without expecting anything back,” Jimmy said.

            “That was different. We’re friends. Whoever gave it to you had a reason.”

            “I didn’t do anything wrong. It wasn’t anything illegal.”

            “Then tell us what you did do,” Becky said.

            “He said he’d get my watch back for me if I made sure Jay went on this trip,” Jimmy said.

            “You mean this whole thing was a set up to get me here?” Jay asked.

            “I guess so. I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

            “Do you expect us to believe you don’t know who this person was?”

            “Well, I guess maybe I do know who it was,” Jimmy said.

            “Tell us who it is, then.”

            “But I promised I wouldn’t tell.” Jimmy looked up at the angry faces around the table. “It was Sue’s dad.”

            “That would mean Sue’s dad was behind getting me here, too,” Tanya said.

            “Why would he do that?” Jimmy asked.

            Jay and Becky exchanged looks.

            “You mean he’s gone to all this work just to make trouble for Sue and me? What kind of a person does that?” Jay asked.

            “A father who loves his daughter way too much might do that,” Becky said.

            “I’m sorry, Jay. I’d never have come here if I had known it was going to cause trouble between you and Sue. I hope you know that,” Tanya said.

            “It’s not your fault, Tanya. We’ve all been used as pawns in a malicious chess game,” Jay said. “I’m going to phone the airline and get my ticket changed to the next flight.” Jay dialed the airline:

           

              “I need to change the date of my return ticket from Montreal to Winnipeg.”

              “. . .”

              “It’s an electronic ticket. Confirmation number 384T64J.”

              “. . .”

              “Are you sure?”

              “. . .”

              “What can I do?”

              “. . .”

              “Thanks.”

           

            Jay hung up the receiver and sat staring blankly at the phone.

            “What’s the problem?” Becky asked.

            “They say it was a one-way ticket. I have no way to get back to Winnipeg.”

            “What a horrible mistake,” Jimmy said.

            “Or what a horribly dirty trick,” Tanya said.

            “I have no money and no ticket. What do I do now?”

            “I’m going to phone room service,” Jimmy said. “We’re going to run up the biggest bill that guy’s ever seen. That’ll serve him right.”

            “Hang on Jimmy. That’ll backfire on you. He’ll take it out on you somehow when you get back. We need to play this hand out as calmly as we can,” Becky said. “You need to be patient.”

            “But this whole mess is my fault,” Jimmy said. “I’ve got to make it up to you guys somehow.”

            “It’s not your fault, Jimmy. Your only sin is being gullible and way too trusting,” Jay said. “You meant no harm. The three of you should enjoy the rest of your holiday. This is my problem to sort out.”

            “Maybe we should check on our tickets. Maybe all the tickets are one-way,” Becky suggested.

            “Good idea,” they agreed.

            “Let me do it,” Jay said. “I’ll check mine again at the same time.”

            A short phone call established that Jay’s was the only one without a return ticket.

            “Why don’t you take my ticket?” Jimmy said. “I’ll stay here. After all, it was my fault.”

            “Stop saying that. It wasn’t your fault. What would you do in Montreal if you stayed here?” Jay said.

            “You know me. I can survive anywhere.”

            “If anyone is staying here, it should be me,” Tanya said. “My parents would send me money for a ticket. I’d get a huge lecture, but I’m used to that. I’m sure Mel would entertain me for a few more days.”

            “You can’t use someone else’s ticket, anyway,” Becky said. “You have to show a picture I.D.”

            “I don’t look at all like Jimmy,” Jay said.

            “Jimmy doesn’t look much like his I.D. picture any more, either,” Becky said.

            “Maybe, Jimmy could get the boarding pass, and then give it to Jay.”

            “I’m not leaving you here, Jimmy. You’re finally getting your life together, and I won’t let you put yourself in jeopardy over this. I know you would survive, at least physically. It’s what you might do to survive that worries me. There must be a better solution,” Jay said.

            Jimmy looked up suddenly. With a big smile, he said, “It’s so cool.”

            “Then tell us, already,” Becky said.

            “We pawn the Rolex.”

            “You wouldn’t mind?” Jay asked.

            “It was a bribe, anyway. I wouldn’t feel right getting it back that way. Here, Jay. It’s yours. Again.”

            “You’re the greatest, Jimmy. I’ll get it back for you somehow. I promise.”

            “Don’t worry about it. It’s the least I can do for getting you into this mess.”

            “You had no way of knowing it was a setup.”

            “Why am I always getting in trouble?”

            “You’re too trusting. You need to learn that if something sounds too good to be true, it isn’t,” Becky said.

            “I’m off to the pawn shop. If I hurry, I might get a flight out tonight,” Jay said.

            “Let me come with you,” Jimmy said.

            “Thanks. I need all the help I can get.”

            “I hope they speak English in pawn shops.”

           


 

~ 18 ~

 

THE PLOT THICKENS

 

A fifteen minute cab ride got Jay from the Winnipeg airport to Sue’s home. Helen answered his knock. “This is a surprise.”

            “Could I talk to Sue?” Jay asked.

            “She doesn’t want to talk to you.”

            “I know she’s angry with me and I need to know why.”

            “George says you are no longer welcome in our house.”

            “There’s something strange going on here,” Jay said. “The only way to find out is for you to let me in so we can talk about it.”

            “I guess it’s all right for you to talk to me. George won’t be home for a while.”

            “May I come in, then?”

            “Of course. I’m sorry. This whole thing has me terribly upset. I’ve forgotten my manners. Please. Come in.”

            Jay and Helen sat awkwardly on the edge of two chairs in the living room. “May I get you something to drink?”

            “No, thank you,” Jay said.

            “I don’t know where to start.”

            “Maybe with your husband’s mother,” Jay suggested. “I thought she was coming to visit you. That’s why Sue couldn’t come to Montreal with me.”

            “That’s the strangest thing. First, I didn’t know she was coming to visit. Then I found out she was coming to visit, and then suddenly she wasn’t coming to visit.”

            “I understood from Sue it was all arranged. Sue would be driving her grandmother around to visit relatives. That’s why she couldn’t come to Montreal with me.”

            “Where would she get that idea?”

            “From your husband.”

            “He didn’t tell me about all that. But then, he doesn’t include me in all his plans.”

            “It must have been a misunderstanding.”

            “Your arrangements with Tanya were any misunderstanding.”

            “I didn’t make any arrangements with Tanya.”

            “Then how do explain the letters.”

            “What letters? I never write letters.”

            “We have a copy of emails between you and Tanya.”

            “I’ve never sent an email in my life. I wouldn’t even know how to go about it.”

            “Let me show it to you.” Helen went into the kitchen, returning with two pieces of paper. “See. It has conversations back and forth between the two of you. Planning to meet in Montreal.”

            Jay scrutinized the paper through a furrowed brow. “This doesn’t make any sense at all. I don’t know what to say. May I speak with Sue?”

            “That wouldn’t be wise,” Helen said.

            “May I take these with me? I’d like to show it to Cam and see if he could explain what is going on here. He’s an expert with computer things.”

            “Certainly. Now you better get out of here before George gets here.”

            “I’ll be back when I have some answers. Then I have a few questions of my own,” Jay said as he left the house.

           

***

           

“Hi, Cam,” said Jay.

            “What brings you here?” asked Cam.

            “I need a favor.”

            “What’s the deal?”

            “I’m sorry I don’t have time to tell you the whole story right now. What I need is for you to explain email to me.”

            “Sure. Come on in and I’ll show you how to send an email,” said Cam.

            “That’s not exactly what I had in mind,” Jay said, handing Cam the sheets of paper. “Sue got this printout of an email, probably from her dad. She thinks it proves I planned to rendezvous with Tanya in Montreal.”

            Cam looked over at the pages carefully. “It does appear to be emails between you and Tanya.”

            “But it can’t be.”

            “You’re saying you didn’t send these emails?”

            “No way. I’ve never sent email in my life. How can this be possible?”

            “Obviously, the emails were sent. However, the names and messages can be fictitious.”

            “How’s that possible? The printed word doesn’t lie.”

            “The simplest way would be for someone to set up two accounts one in your name and one in Tanya’s name. Then that person would write the emails back and forth to the two accounts, print them out, and there you are. Emails that look they are between you and Tanya.”

            “Is it that’s easy to set up an account?”

            “Sure. There are a dozen companies that will give you free Internet email accounts.”

            “I need is to prove I didn’t write these emails.”

            “I’m afraid we can’t prove you didn’t write them. On the other hand, this doesn’t prove you did write them, either.”

            “This is all very interesting, but it isn’t solving my problem. How do I convince Sue and her parents that I didn’t write any of these emails?”

            “I don’t have an answer for that. There isn’t any way to find out who actually sent them unless you have access to the computer that sent them. The printout doesn’t tell us that.”

            “This has to be a deliberate set-up, doesn’t it?”

            “If you didn’t write them, someone else had to. Would Sue’s dad do that sort of thing?”

            “He would if he knew how. However, he doesn’t seem very hi-tech to me.”

            “Maybe the private eye earned a bonus by providing proof?” Phil suggested.

            “We’re only guessing. Is it possible to trace it?”

            “You can find what server the email originated on. That might prove something.”

            “Would you be willing to explain this to the Parkingtons if they don’t understand me? Or don’t believe me.”

            “I’d do that for you, if necessary. Maybe they’ll believe you.”

            “It’s the only hope I have at the moment.”

           

***

           

Helen held the door for Jay. “Come on in. I tried to talk to George but he doesn’t seem to want to be any help. He keeps saying there’s nothing he can do about what you’ve done.”

            “Let me try talking to him. I brought my eagle feather with me.”

            “That’s the good luck charm you found in California, isn’t it?”

            “It’s more than a good luck charm. The eagle is my spiritual guide. This feather makes it more real to me, and puts me in touch with the Eagle spirit.”

            “Do you want me to be here when you talk to George?”

            “That’s up to you.”

            “In that case, I think I’ll leave the two of you alone. Wait here and I’ll tell George you’re here.”

            A couple of minutes later, Helen called to Jay, “Come on into the study, please.”

            Mr. Parkington sat behind the polished oak desk, backed by a wall of books and a fireplace, his arms firmly folded across his chest. A soft‑leather chair waited in front of the desk. Jay looked in awe at the rows of leather and gold bound books. “I’ll leave you two alone, now,” Helen said, scurrying from the room.

            “Don’t just stand there with your mouth hanging open. Sit,” George said.

            “Thank you, sir.” Jay said, dragging his eyes away from the wall of books.

            “I hadn’t expected to see you again. I’ll give you five minutes to explain your atrocious behavior toward Sue. After that, I hope I never have to see you again.”

            Jay’s sat in a chair facing the desk. He placed the eagle feather in the centre of the desk. “I didn’t come here to explain my behavior. I have done nothing that needs explaining.”

            George’s eyes moved back and forth between Jay and the feather. “Running off to Montreal to be with another girl certainly requires some explaining.”

            “It would require some explaining, if it were true. I think you know it’s not true.”

            “I’ve no idea what you are talking about. It’s obvious you and Tanya planned the whole thing together.”

            “Presumably, you are referring to the emails. Cam said he can explain to you how the emails have been falsified. They have nothing to do with me. I’ve never sent an email in my life.”

            “I don’t much care what any your friends say. I trust the information I get from my investigator.”

            “What does he say?”

            “You must have written them. They show they were sent by Jay McNabb”

            “That shows they weren’t sent by me.”

            “Why do you say that?”

            “Because I wouldn’t have used the name McNabb.”

            “Of course you would. That’s your name. The same as your father’s, and he lives in Ohio.”

            “Why do you say my father is living in Ohio?”

            “Because he is.”

            “I thought he was living in California.”

            “He lives in Ohio. And his name is McNabb. Same as yours. You’re Jay McNabb junior.”

            “He may be my biological father, but neither my mother nor I have ever taken his name.”

            George furrowed his brow. “Why can’t those guys get anything right?”

            “Wouldn’t it have been easier if you had asked me?”

            “I don’t want you seeing Sue again.”

            “I’m sorry you feel that way. However, Sue is the one who should decide that.”

            “She’s so mad at you right now she doesn’t ever want to talk to you again. I think that makes her decision clear enough.”

            “She would react differently if she knew the facts about the trip.”

            “She knows everything she needs to know.”

            Jay clenched his teeth. He looked at the eagle feather. “Thank you for the trip to Montreal. And for the hotel accommodation.”

            “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

            “G. P. Enterprises was most generous. Unfortunately, there was an error with my ticket. It was only one‑way.”

            “That was too bad.”

            “Tanya seemed to be enjoying her trip a lot. I think she’d like to stay there a few more days, if she could.”

            “I’ve never even met the girl. It doesn’t matter to me what she does.”

            “Jimmy was happy to get his Rolex watch back, too.”

            “You mean he took it with him to Montreal? I didn’t think he was that stupid.”

            Jay placed the pawn ticket on the desk beside the feather. “It’s still in Montreal. He pawned it to get me a return ticket. He deserves to have his watch back.”

            George leaned back in his chair and looked at Jay thoughtfully. “You’re going to keep on seeing Sue, aren’t you?”

            “Yes, sir. I am.”

            George stood up and began wandering around the room, breathing slowly and deeply.

            “How about a drink? I don’t have any Long Island Iced Tea, but you might like a shot of Amarula. Long Island Iced Tea isn’t a man’s drink, anyway.” George dropped a couple of ice cubes into a glass, picked up a brown bottle with a golden cord around the neck, and poured three ounces of the liquor from over the ice.

            “Thanks. That would be nice. At least your investigator got my favorite drink right. You shouldn’t be too hard on him. Even most of my friends don’t know my last name, and I’m always talking about McNabb as my father.”

            “Maybe I misjudged you. You’ve got more chutzpa than I gave you credit for.”

            Jay accepted the half-full liqueur. “Thank you. For the drink, and for the compliment. Assuming chutzpa means what I think it does.”

            Jay took a sip of his drink. It was sweet, creamy and not at all pleasant to his taste. He resisted the impulse to spit it out.

            “Good, isn’t it?” George asked. “It’s Helen’s favorite drink. Imported from South Africa, you know.”

            Jay swallowed with difficulty. “I’m sure it is.” He set his glass on the coffee table, being careful to use a coaster.

            “I have your father’s Ohio address. It cost me a pile of money. Do you want it?”

            “Yes, please. I wrote my dad in California and I didn’t get a reply. Maybe he’s moved again.”

            “You should phone.”

            “Good idea. It could save me the trouble of paying for a private investigator,” Jay said with a tentative smile.

            George walked to the study door and shouted, “Sue. Come down here. Right now.”

            Sue walked silently into the study with her head bowed.

            “Jay and I have been talking about the situation in Montreal. It seems there have been some confusing mistakes made. I think you owe Jay an apology.”

            Jay looked up in surprise. “You don’t owe me an apology, Sue. There is no way you could have thought anything else from the information you had. If any apologies are necessary, I think they should be coming from . . .”

            Sue interrupted, “I do owe you an apology, Jay. I should have trusted you.”

            “Let’s forget all about Montreal,” George said. “There is nothing to be gained by talking about it any more.”

            “Could I get you a Slurpee or something on the way home?” Jay asked Sue.

            Sue smiled.

            Jay picked up his eagle feather and the pawn ticket, walked over to George, and handed him the ticket. “Thank you, sir,” he said, looking George straight in the eye.

              George gave a barely perceptible nod of approval.

            “I’ll come upstairs with you to help you get your things together,” Jay said.

            “Thanks,” Sue said.

            “Are you all right with me now?” he asked, as they packed her suitcase.

            “I think so. It was all so confusing. Particularly with my starting a new job and everything.”

            “You have a new job? You didn’t tell me.”

            “I was too busy being confused and angry at you.”

            “What’s the job?”

            “I’m a sales clerk at Molly’s Dress Boutique. The hours are regular and the pay is double that at Orange Julius.”

            “That’s great. How did you find it?”

            “Pure luck. One of Dad’s friends owns the store.”

            “I have a feeling your dad wants to control our lives.”

            “Why do you say that?”

             “I’ll bet either he or one of his friends also owns the store I’m working in.”

            “He’s only being helpful. We should be grateful to have him looking out for us like he does,” Sue said.

            “It would be nicer if he’d talk things over with us before he does things.”

            “That’s not his way.”

            “I love you. If your father comes along as part of a package deal, then I’ll have to learn to cope with it, won’t I?”

            “Can you do that?”

            “I’ll try. However, I can’t make any promises.”

            “I have faith in you. And I’ll try not to be part of the problem.


 

~ 19 ~

 

APRIL SHOWERS

 

It’s said that if March comes in like a lamb it will go out like a lion. Jay and Sue didn’t notice how March came in, but they did notice it go out with an early spring blizzard. Snow never stays long in April. By the middle of April, the streets were clear of snow, the sun felt warm and invigorating. People started looking for birds returning from their winter homes in the south.

            Sue and Jay settled into the routine of their daily lives. Sue enjoyed her job at the Orange Julius. Jay worked at the Clinically Insane clothing boutique during the day and studied for his G.E.D. at night.

            Jay and Sue chatted while they cleaned up the kitchen after an informal dinner of vegetarian pizza and diet Coke they’d had with Troy and Misty.

            “Do you have the feeling that Misty is less concerned than she used to be about being vegan?” Jay asked. “I think she’s getting more concerned with animal rights, and less concerned with what she eats.”

            “It’s pretty tough to be a vegetarian in Manitoba in the winter. Fresh produce gets to be hard to find.”

            “And expensive. I forgot to tell you. My GED results came today,” Jay said.

            “And?”

            “I passed. Now I can apply to go to University.”

            “That’s so cool. What were your marks?”

            “I passed. That’s all that matters.”

            “I bet you did well.”

            “They’re here if you want to look,” Jay said pulling a paper out of his pocket and putting it on the table.

            Sue looked at the paper. “All A’s. Why wouldn’t you tell me? You should be proud of yourself.”

            “It’s not my nature. We are taught that all people are equal with no one better than any other.”

            “But you did so well.”

            “I did what I needed to do. Life is not a competition between people.”

            “Explain that to my dad. By the way, he thinks you should go the University of Winnipeg.”

            “Any particular reason?”

            “You know my dad. He always has a reason for everything he does.”

            “Usually he’s the only one who understands the reason for what he is doing. Did he say why?”

            “Mom said he’s arranged for you to be admitted as a mature student.”

            “I didn’t think I’d qualify.”

            “You know him. He has a way of getting around regulations. People like to make him happy.”

            “What did he do? Offer to build a library?”

            “Now don’t be like that. He’s only trying to he helpful.”

            “I think he’s more concerned with his reputation than with helping. He’s determined to get me looking respectable.”

            “It’d be more convenient for you to go to the university near where we live instead of having to drive an hour every day.”

            “That’s true. It’s mostly that I hate having him controlling my life.”

            “If you’d go to the University of Manitoba to spite him, then you’re letting him control you.”

            “In a negative sort of way, I guess. However, I’ll get there on my own merits.”

            “Would you do me a big favour?”

            “What’s that?”

            “Let him think he got you in. It would make him happy.”

            “For you, I’ll humor him. But if he pushes the issue, I’ll have to tell the truth.”

            “I wouldn’t want you to lie. On the other hand, I’d rather not have him annoyed at us.”

            “Speaking of his being annoyed, we should talk to him about our getting married.”

            “You haven’t proposed yet,” Sue said.

            “I will. I’m waiting for a special, romantic moment.”

            “We should talk to him about it.”

            “Am I supposed to ask him for your hand in marriage?”

            “He’d like it if you did.”

            “I was hoping it was an outdated tradition. What if he refuses?”
            “Then we elope to Las Vegas and get married,” Sue said.

            “I’d want people to see it.”

            “We could have it sent live over the Internet.”

            “Can you do that?”

            “Cam said there’s a chapel that does.”

            A knock on the door indicated Troy’s return to the apartment. Jay opened the door. “Forget something?”

            “Yeah. My cell phone.” Troy said picking it up off the sofa. “In the film and TV business things move fast. If you’re not available, they’ll find someone else.”

            “Let’s ask Troy about proposals,” Sue suggested.

            Unknown to Jay, Troy had been working in his spare time on expanding his three-minute Hutterian TV spot into a documentary on their lifestyle. If he had, he might have resisted the impulse to ask.

            “We were wondering whether or not guys ask the girl’s father for permission to get married.”

            “Be glad you’re not a Hutterite,” Troy said.

            “What do you mean?” Jay asked.

            “If you were, you’d first have to get permission from Sue’s dad for you and your male relatives to meet with him to ask his permission.”

            “That would be a problem. I don’t have any male relatives handy.”

            “Assuming you did, and he agreed, there would be an engagement party where both families celebrate together. After supper, everyone asks everyone else for permission for the marriage to take place.”

            “Everyone?”

            “It seems that way. The minister of the groom’s colony brings a written request to the bride’s minister. The groom’s father asks the bride’s father for permission. The groom asks both the bride’s mother and father. It ends with the bride being asked if she accepts, and then they have toasts and speeches.”

            “That sounds like the wedding.”

            “It’s somewhat like our wedding rehearsal party. The actual wedding takes place the Sunday following the engagement.”

            “That soon? I was thinking more like a six month or year engagement,” Sue said.

            “Thanks for the irrelevant information, Troy,” Jay said. “It does give me an idea, though. When I go to ask him, maybe I should take Phil with me for moral support.”

            “I’d better run,” Troy said, picking up his phone. “Misty will wonder what happened to me. Call me if you need any more advice.”

            “In your dreams, man,” Jay said as he showed Troy out.

 

***

 

Jay had been working at the clothing store since the end of February. It was a better paying job and closer to the apartment. Jay often returned to the Red Dragon to visit with R.B. and Arrow, both of whom were deteriorating in health.

            On one of his visits, Han Sing said, “Join me for a cup of coffee, Jay. We need to talk.”

            “It’s about R.B., isn’t it?” Jay asked.

            “Yes. He says it’s time for him to be with his people.”

            “Back to the home of his ancestors?”

            “He has family and friends living on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. He says the government moved the small Ojibwa reservations into a single big one.”

            “Why would they do that?”

            “It’s an example of white man’s wisdom. They wanted all the Ojibwa in one place so there they would learn the habits of civilized life. It’s like we did with our residential schools,” Han Sing said.

            “Isn’t that where the Shooting Star Casino is?”

            “Like I said, they learn civilized life.”

             “Do you have any idea how we can get him there?” Jay asked.

            “I suppose we could put him on a bus but someone would have to go with him.”

            “Then what about Arrow? They don’t allow dogs on Greyhound buses.”

            “I don’t think Arrow would be able to survive on the reservation, anyway. He needs care.”

            “I can probably find someone take R.B.,” Jay said. “But I don’t know what to do about poor old Arrow.”

            “The kindest thing would be to take him to the vet and have him put to sleep,” Han Sing said.

            “I’ll go up and have a talk with them. It’s important to know what they want.”

            “Good luck talking to Arrow,” Han Sing said.

            Jay came back down half an hour later. “We had a good talk. I’m going to take R.B. to Minnesota.”

            “And what about Arrow?”

            “I’ll look after Arrow.”

            “That’s probably for the best.”

            “I feel it’s my duty to look after him.”

            “He’s had a long, full life. You’ll be doing him a favour.”

            “I don’t mean I’m going to have him put down. He isn’t in pain. He deserves to live out his life in his own way. I have to try to do what I can to make sure he fulfills his destiny.”

            “What does a dog that age have for a destiny?”

            “People could say the same about you. However, a lot of people had a happier New Year’s because of you. I’m taking him home with me. No one should try to predict another’s destiny.”

            “Sue’ll be delighted with that idea,” Han Sing said sarcastically.

            “She’s never been one to want pets. But then, old Arrow isn’t exactly what you’d call a pet.”

            “That’s an understatement. If I had to choose between you and Arrow, I’d choose you. That’s not much recommendation for Arrow.”

            Han Sing and Jay talked about Jay’s new job and his plans for his future with Sue. On his way home, Jay stopped in to talk to Phil.

            “What did you want to talk to me about?” Phil asked.

            “I need some advice. Something has to be done about getting R.B. back to his reservation in Minnesota.”

            “That doesn’t sound like a difficult task.”

            “It is if you don’t have a vehicle.”

            “What about Sue’s Mustang?”

            “It would be crowded with the three of us and Arrow. Not to mention luggage.”

            “I hope you don’t expect me to take him there on my motorcycle.”

            “That would make a startling picture. You roaring along with your bushy red beard and black vinyl biker look, while skinny old R.B. hangs on for dear life, with his long white hair streaming straight out behind him. They’d never let you across the border.”

            Phil laughed. “I’d probably rent a sidecar for that sort of occasion. He’d probably enjoy the experience of riding in the open air with the wind blowing in his face.”

            “Maybe for the first hour. However, we’re looking at a four-hour ride. That’s a long trip for an old guy.”

            “Not everybody enjoys the wind in the face experience as much as I do. He might. I’ve gotten to know him well since you introduced us. He’s told me stories about things he did when he was young that would make your hair stand on end.”

            “I should have taken the time to get to know him better. I was always too concerned about my own problems. Either that or I was looking after Arrow.”

            “You’ll find him to be fascinating company on the trip. He has a wealth of stories,” Phil said.

            “It’s sad to think of him going home to die.”

            “Where did you get that idea?”

            “I just assumed it, I guess.”

            “Well, think again. His people want him to come back and educate people about their ceremonies and traditions.”

            “He’s helped Sue and I a lot. He’ll be a great person foster First Nations spirituality.”

            “The problem is, too many people are promoting interest in learning the rituals and activities without becoming spiritually involved.”

            “Is that a bad thing?”

            “It trivializes native spirituality. People go through the motions, but ignore the native culture and heritage. Then they wonder why it doesn’t meet their expectations.”

            “Who’s promoting it and why?”

            “New Agers and white wannabe Medicine Men have been promoting First Nations ceremonies such as drumming and sweatlodges and the use of things like the Talking Stick and Pipe. They set up training sessions and charge people to learn the techniques. It has become a big business.”

            “How can there be much money in that?”

            “There is when you charge several hundred dollars a head for a few hours in a sweatlodge, and hold pay-for-a-vision sessions.”

            “That’s contrary to the native philosophy, isn’t it?”

            “It’s contrary to all serious religions. You don’t pay to attend church or Synagogue or for their religious ceremonies. The true shaman never charges for assistance. If a gift is given, he will share it with those whose need is greater than his. That’s the native way of life.”

            “But what can a person like R.B. do?”

            “He can instruct those who follow the teachings of a plastic shaman in how to find the Red Road. Maybe some plastic shaman can learn that these are sacred teachings, not commerce.”

            “Why have I never heard of Plastic Shamans?”

            “It started as a California thing. Doesn’t everything?”

            “It seems that way. And then it spreads to the rest of us, right?” Jay asked.

            “Exactly. That’s why it’s so important for all First Nations people.”

            “Getting back to me, I have one other small problem,” Jay said.

            “You usually do,” Phil said with a smile. “That’s why I love you. You make life interesting.”

            “If Sue and I were going to make this into a bit of a holiday, we’d be gone for the weekend. What would happen with Arrow while we’re away? I don’t fancy including him in our holiday. He’s not exactly the sort of pet a motel would be delighted to have.”

            “Well, that’s easy. He can stay with me while you’re away.”

            “Thanks, Phil. I was hoping you’d say that,” Jay said with a smile. “You always were a sucker for strays. Would it be all right if I dropped him off this Friday?”

            “Anytime you want. Maybe bring him over Wednesday or Thursday. That would give us a little time to it used to each other before the weekend. He might find our usual weekend visitors a bit confusing.”

            “I know I did when I first came here,” Jay said. “You’re sure it’ll be all right? Maybe you should check with Troy and Misty first?”

            “They won’t mind. I can always put him in my room so he doesn’t bother them, if I have to.”

            “I’ll bring him around Wednesday, then.”

 

***

           

Wednesday morning, Sue and Jay pulled up in front of the Red Dragon, driving Helen’s BMW. “You stay here and a look after the car. If anything happened to your mom’s car your dad would kill me,” Jay said. “I’ll go in and get R.B.’s things.”

            Jay was back in a few minutes with three cardboard boxes tightly tied with twine. “If we put one of our suitcases on the floor in the back seat,” he said, “we can get these into the trunk.”

            “Do I sit in the front or back?” Sue asked.

            “Maybe it would be best if you sat in the back, if you don’t mind. There’s not as much legroom in the back and it’s a little awkward getting in. I expect R.B. isn’t as flexible as you. I’m going back to get Arrow.”

            R.B. came out, walking tall and proud, his steps slow but firm. Sue hopped out and held the front door open for R.B.

            Miigwech,” R.B. said, graciously accepting Sue’s gesture as his due.

            Jay returned with Arrow in his arms. Sue opened the door and greeted Arrow with, “I guess we share the back seat.” She looked at Jay, “I don’t have to hold him, do I?”

            “He’ll be fine lying on the seat.”

            “We go past Thunderbird House. I have not been there yet” R.B. said.

            “Would you like to stop there?” Jay asked.

            R.B. nodded.

            “I could have taken you there before now,” Jay said. “You should have asked.”

            “It is not our way to ask. We do not push our wishes onto others.”

            “If I’d been more aware of your needs, I would have thought to offer a long time ago.”

            “The white man asks for what he wants. You live in his world.”

            “I try to live in both worlds. I’m sure it can be done, but I need more practice.”

            “You are wise beyond your years,” R.B. said.

            “For our long drive, I hope you can pretend to be a white man and tell me when you want to stop along the way. I’ll be too busy driving this magnificent car to remember to ask.”

            Jay parked in the space adjacent to Thunderbird House. “I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been inside. My culture and heritage are important to me, but keeping body and soul together takes up way too much of my time.”

            Thunderbird House rises from a previously deserted lot at the corner of North Main and Higgins, in a crumbling section of the city. It symbolizes the rebirth of First Nation spirituality from the years of moral decay and feeling of hopelessness in this core area. The stylized Thunderbird, towering above the struggling neighbourhood, serves as an inspiration to the community, and as the spiritual community centre for the First Nations people of Winnipeg. The four entrances, at the true cardinal compass directions, represent the four main races of humankind: north for the white race, south for black, east for the yellow, and west for red. Thus, all races from all parts of the world are symbolically welcomed to come and join with each other in the universal experience of spiritual contemplation.

            They entered through the west door. Inside, the laminated wood ribs support the walls, reaching to the windowed ceiling like the poles of a tepee, creating an open expanse. A small sign advised that shoes were not to be worn. Jay and Sue removed their shoes at the door and went in stocking feet. R.B. slipped the provided plastic covers over his.

            They walked respectfully around the outside edge of the circle in a clockwise direction, looking at the pictures on the wall as they went.  Jay paused in front of one. “This was donated by the Winnipeg Bahá’í” he pointed out to Sue.

            “Jamie said there are a lot of First Nations people who are Bahá’í. Their philosophies are surprisingly similar in some ways.”

            “Like what?” Jay asked.

            “They both believe in the oneness of the world, and the equality of all people,” Sue said, pointing to the inscription beneath the picture. It read: “The Earth is one country and mankind its citizens.”

            The Sundance Area, in the centre of the building, was being set up for a performance with folding chairs for the spectators.

            As they walked around the circular building, they could see into the offices, meeting rooms, and the eatery. R.B. guided them to seats, taking care to approach them from a clockwise direction as required by native custom.

            They stayed for an hour until the ceremony was over. At the door they, Jay left a donation of money. R.B. also left a donation of tobacco. It was, as R.B. said, a Wacipi time.

            They walked to the BMW with the drums echoing in their heads. Arrow was sleeping peacefully, stretched across the back seat.

            Sue held the door open and looked at Jay. “Would you move him, please? I don’t want to hurt him.”

            R.B. stepped forward and slid easily into the back seat, shifting Arrow onto his lap at the same time. “I will spend time with my brother.”

            “I thought you said he wasn’t flexible,” Sue whispered. “That was easier for him than for me,”

            “I guess sitting cross-legged all day keeps him in shape,” Jay said. “Surprise. Yoga works.”

            “Why did you call Arrow your brother?” Jay asked R.B.

            “The wolf was brother to our ancestors. The dog is brother to us, now.”

            “Does it make me an awful person that I’m happier with him in the back seat?” Sue asked Jay quietly.

            “Of course not. I’m happier with you up here, too. Besides, he said he wanted to be with Arrow.”

            “You did say we’re leaving Arrow here, didn’t you?”

            “For the trip, at least. Phil said he’d look after him.”

            “And after that?”

            “Let’s cross one bridge at a time. Things have a way of working out.”

            “Sometimes I think you leave too much up to fate,” Jay said.

            “I try to create good karma. That’s all I can do.”

            “I hope it works. We’ll need all the help we can get for this trip. I hope Arrow doesn’t get carsick.”

            “It was good of your mother to loan us her car. Your Mustang would have been a bit awkward.”

            “It wasn’t designed for the two of us, and old man, an old smelly dog and a pile of luggage,” Sue muttered to herself.

            Jay pulled up in front of Phil’s place. “I’ll take Arrow up to the apartment. There’s no need for you to come unless you want to.”

            “I’ll stay and keep R.B. company.” Sue said. “I want to tell him how much his dreamcatcher has meant to me.”

            R.B. lifted Arrow up and put him into Jay’s waiting arms. “Gigawaabamin naagaj, my brother.”

            “Does that mean goodbye?” Sue asked.

            “We have no word for goodbye in Anishinaabe. It said I will see him later.”

            “You mean in the Happy Hunting Ground?” Jay asked.

            R.B. smiled gently. “Those are your words.”

            Misty opened the door to Jay’s knock. “Hi, man . . . and dog.”

            “I hope you were expecting us.”

            “Phil’s not in right now, but we’re ready. We’ve even set up a nice blanket for him over there in the corner.”

            Jay carried Arrow over to the blanket and set him down on it. Arrow stood up and started turning in slow circles, scratching and sniffing as he made a nest.

            “I wonder why dogs always do that?” Jay mused.

            “According to the pet experts, it’s a feng shui thing,” Misty said.

            “He’s arranging his furniture?”

            “He’s aligning himself with the Earth’s magnetic field. They say that when an animal has his head facing north, the circulation improves, his heartbeat slows, and metabolism improves.”

            “You’ve got to be kidding.”

            “No. They say it’s their sensitivity to the Earth’s magnetic field that enables animals to find their way home, too.”

   “Now I’ve heard everything,” Jay said. “Feng shui for dogs.”

            “They say it applies to humans as well. You should sleep with your head to the north.”

            Jay shook his head as if to clear out the cobwebs. “Bye. I’ll give you  call when we get back. Be good to my dog, OK?”

            “Don’t worry. He’ll be fine.”

~ 20 ~

 

ONWARD AND OVER

 

The drive to Mahomenee was three-and-a half hours of grain farms and evergreen forests bordering a two-lane highway. Frequent road signs warning of deer crossings kept Jay alert. “If I hit a deer with this Beemer, I’ll be dead meat when I get back,” Jay thought to himself.

            Highway 59 leads directly to the Shooting Star Casino and Hotel, a favorite entertainment spot for Winnipeggers. “This must be the White Earth Reservation.” Jay said.

            “Only a very small percentage of the reservation is tribally owned anymore,” R.B. said. “My people live in small rural communities. We go to Naytahwaush.”

            “How do we get there?”

            “The highway continues south. My nephew and his family live about fifteen miles down County Road 125. When we cross Wild Rice River we are close,” R.B. said. “My nephew harvests Maple syrup and wild rice.”

            “This reservation is huge,” Sue said.

            “The guide book said it’s as big as Rhode Island,” Jay said. “However big that is.”

            “Big enough to get lost,” Sue said.

            “You think we’re lost?”

            Sue studied the road map. “Just kidding. I think we’re doing OK.”

            They pulled over and parked a short distance from the house R.B. indicated as his nephew’s. The house looked down on a wooded area falling off to a creek.

            Jay turned and looked sadly at R.B. “I’m going to miss you. Our time at the Red Dragon was the beginning of my whole life. It’ll never be the same without you.”

            “You’ll look out for Arrow, won’t you?”

            “I’ll always try to do what is best for him. But he’ll never replace you.”

            “You don’t need me. Your Eagle spirit will guide you if you put your trust in it.”

            “I don’t know how to thank you. You’ve been everything to me.”

            R.B. looked at Jay without speaking. For several seconds their gaze locked. Jay felt tears springing to his eyes. “I guess this is goodbye.”

            “Not goodbye, my friend,” R.B. said. “Gigawaabamin naagaj.”

            “What do you mean? I may never see you again.”

            “No. We will meet again.”

            “Oh. You mean in the Happy Hunting Ground?”

            R.B. chuckled. “Before then. Close your eyes and let your mind go blank. Then you will know.”

            Jay closed his eyes. After a few moments he said, “Yes. I did feel we will meet again. How do you do that?”

            R.B. smiled. “I do not do it. There are some things a person can know if only they will put their mind at rest.”

            “Whatever happens, I’ll never forget you.”

            “Now I must meet my family.”

            Jay drove up to the house. Children ran out of the house and dogs barked as they drove up. Sue and Jay carried R.B.’s belongings into the house, with R.B. leading the way. There was a spring in his step and a smile on his face.

            “Do not look back. Your future is ahead of you, not behind you,” R.B. said as Jay left.

            A leisurely drive to Bemidji, a restaurant dinner, pictures beside the Blue Ox, a romp on the beach, and Jay and Sue were ready for the motel. The next day they were home.

            “What about Arrow?” Sue asked.

            “I’ll phone Phil tomorrow.”

            “Don’t we need to talk about this?”

            “I know you don’t feel the same about Arrow as I do.”

            “Then we need to talk about it.”

            “R.B. said for me to trust in my Eagle spirit to guide me.”

            “If you think . . .” Sue started to say and then stopped.

            “Trust me. At least until tomorrow.”

 

***

 

Jay phoned Phil early the next day:

             

              “Hi. We’re home.”

              “. . .”

              “It was a good trip.”

              “. . .”

              “He was happy to join his family. How’re you making out with Arrow?”

               “. . .”

              “You’re kidding.”

              “. . .”

              “I promised R.B. I’d look after him. Would that count as my looking after him?

              “. . .”

              “I think Sue would like that.”

              “. . .”

              “Of course I’ll miss him. But it’ll give me an excuse to visit you more often.”

              “. . .”

              “Thanks for everything. See you later.”

               

            “What did he say Sue would like?” Sue asked.

            “Phil wants to keep Arrow. He’s fallen in love with the mutt.”

            Sue smiled. “Now I’m a believer. Karma and yoga both do work.”

 

***

            Sue said,Speaking of family things, when am I going to get to meet your family?

            “As soon as you want. I’m sure they’d like to meet you.”

            “Would they come here to see the big city, or would we go to their place?”

            “I’d rather they came here.”

            “You’re not ashamed of your own home, are you?”

            “Maybe a little. There isn’t a hotel or anything like that.”

            “I wouldn’t want to put your family out.”

            “I’m sure they would share willingly. That’s our way. However, there wouldn’t be much room for us to stay there. We have only two rooms. My mother and her current friend would have one room. Then the four of us would have to fit into the one other room. It has only one bed.”

            “What about the two who don’t get the bed?”

            “We’d sleep on the floor.”

            “You say that as if you were often the one on the floor.”

            “I’m the oldest. It’s easier for me to be on the floor than for the little ones.”

            “You’re such a sweet guy.”

            “Don’t say that. I’m supposed to be the tough macho guy who looks after his wife, remember?”

            “I like it when you’re soft and gentle.”

            “Maybe I’m only pretending to be soft,” Jay said.

            “If you are, you’re doing a good job.”

            “You didn’t answer my question about getting married.”

            “Let’s have your family here to visit, and while they’re here we’ll announce our engagement.”

            “Hang on. Aren’t I supposed to propose first?”

            “I thought your nagging about it was a proposal.”

            “I’ll do it better than that. I’m practicing being romantic.”

            “OK. I’ll pretend to be surprised when the moment comes.”

            “You will say yes, won’t you?”

            “You know the answer to that, darling.”

            “I guess so,” Jay said. “We’ve never talked about our cultural differences.”

            “Have there been any problems so far? I thought we were getting along well.”

            “Of course we get along well. However, there are some things we need to deal with.”

            “Are you referring to my dad? I know he can be rude sometimes.”

            “I can handle whatever he throws at me. There are a lot of people like him in the world. I’ve learned a lot about handling prejudice and verbal abuse from Steve.”

            “Then what is it?” Sue asked.

            “I’ve had to make adjustments. When we are married, I might not be able to keep it up.”

            “Like what?”

            “I’ve been avoiding my own people. I have no native friends.”

            “Why?”

            “You might not accept their lifestyle and philosophy.”

            “I think I can learn to accept anyone. I might not be able to accept all their behaviors,” Sue said.

            “Here’s the problem. Suppose we had two TV’s and my native friend had none. He’d expect me to give him one of ours because his need for it is greater than ours.”

            “We’ll only have one TV. No problem.”

            “If we have a car and aren’t using it, and my friend needs to go somewhere, I should let him have it.”

            “Loaning it, I could accept. I draw the line at giving it to him because we would need it.”

            “The extended family thing could be tough.”

            “How do you mean by that?”

            “It’s not unusual for children to be raised by grandparents, aunts, or even close friends. We learn that the whole native society is our family.”

            “How would that affect us? We’ll raise our own children ourselves, won’t we?”

            “We will. It’s other people and their children who could be a problem.”

            “They’d want to live with us?”

            “If a street kid needs a place for the night, we’d be a possibility in his mind.”

            “There aren’t many aboriginal street kids.”

            “You just don’t see them as much because they don’t use the shelters. They find a friend or relative to take them in for the night or a meal. We look after our own people.”

            “That could be a problem. Our family has always been close.”

            “And closed,” Jay said.

            “We can work things out when the situation occurs.”

            “I’m sure we can.”

            “Money is tougher. If we have money and my friend needs to pay school tuition, then I should give it to him.”

            “That’s OK. As a loan, of course.”

            “That’s where it gets tough. You can’t count on loans getting paid back. Could you live with that?”

            “I’m willing to try. However, I’d expect you to limit your generosity to actual friends, not the whole aboriginal population.”

            “That’s a fair compromise,” Jay said.

            “Getting back to your family, have you contacted your father.”

            “I tried to phone him.”

            “And?”

            “He wouldn’t talk to me.”

            “Was he rude?”

            “No. He said he didn’t want to meet me and we had nothing to talk about.”

            “I’m sorry.”

            “At least it wasn’t expensive.”

            “What about your mother and family. When can they visit?”

            “It might be a bit of cultural shock for you.”

            “I’m anxious to meet your family as soon as possible.”

            “Where would they stay?” Jay asked.

            “They could stay here. We’d get to know each other better that way.”

            “We have only the one extra room. Are you sure you want to get to know them that well?”

            “We could make it work. There’s the sofa and I can always borrow a sleeping bag if need be,” Sue said.

            “At most there would be the three of them.”

            “What if your stepfather comes as well?”

            “He’s not an actual stepfather. I don’t want to have some strange man coming to stay here. Whoever my mother’s current friend is, he won’t be invited.”

            “OK. Let’s do it. You’ll look after inviting them?”

            “I’ll send out smoke signals right away.”

           


~ 21 ~

 

FAMILY GATHERING

 

Three weeks later, Jay and Sue paced up and down in the waiting room of the Bus Depot, looking at the clock and then at the bus parking lanes.

            “Do you realize that it’s only been a little over a year since I first came to Winnipeg?” Jay asked.

            “It seems longer.”

            “A life time.” 

            “Let me see if I can guess which ones they are,” Sue said.

            As the passengers got off the bus, Sue looked intently at each one. “You said your mother was slim and pretty, John is fifteen and Mary is thirteen.” Sue mentally checked people off as not matching the descriptions as they stepped off the bus.

            “No worries. They’ll all get off together. Darren and Corinne are terrified of the big city. I told them all about it.”

            “Just like an older brother to tell horror stories and . . .” Sue suddenly interrupted herself. “Wait! Is that your mother?”

            “You bet. And that’s Corinne at the end of the line. She’s always been one to wait for everyone else to go first.”

            Sue hustled over to Jay’s mother. “Boozhoo, Mrs. Maytwayashing.”

            Jay’s mother beamed in pleasure. “You must be Sue. Call me Doreen. You’ve been practicing our language. Many people find my name hard to remember.”

            “Jay told me to think of a May Tag washing machine. He said if I could remember Maytagwashing, I could fine-tune it from there.”

            “He always was one to play with words. He should become a lawyer.”

            “Where’s Darren?” Jay asked.

            “He’s fifteen.”

            “I know how old he is. I asked where he is.”

            “Where were you when you were fifteen in the spring time?”

            “Fishing, I guess,” Jay replied.

            “He and Maurice left last week. They will have returned by the time I get back.”

            “Hustle along, Corrine,” Jay said as they approached the car. “If you hurry you can beat Sue to the front seat.”

            “I’ll bet you’re hungry,” Sue said. “Let’s stop at a doughnut shop on the way.”

            “I like a good cup of coffee,” Doreen said.

            “They have good coffee. Everybody goes to Robin’s or Tim Hortons,” Jay said.

            They drove west along Portage Avenue.

            “This is a big city? Where are the tall buildings?” Corrine asked.

            “They’re down the other direction, toward Portage and Main. You’ll get to see them later,” Jay said pulling into Tim Hortons.

            Doreen fidgeted in her seat. “We should go somewhere else.”

            “This is as good a place as any,” Jay said,

            “I don’t like the look of it.”

            “What’s bothering you, Mom?”

            “There are three police cars. There must be big trouble.”

            “They’re probably there on their coffee break. We don’t need to fear the police.”

            “You can sit and have coffee with them there?”

            “Of course. Doughnut shops are the safest places to be. There are usually lots of cops around.”

            “Back home we never see a policeman unless there is big trouble.”

            “We like to see the police. It makes us feel safer,” Sue said as they walked into the shop.

            “You guys sit over there while I get us some coffee and doughnuts,” Jay said. “Unless you’d like soup or a sandwich.”

            “Make mine black,” Doreen said.

            “I’d like a Coke,” Corinne said quietly, as if speaking to herself.

            “It’s so great to finally meet you,” Sue said. “You’ll be staying at our place, of course, and we’ll show you all the highlights of Winnipeg.”

            “Be easy on us,” Doreen said. “We need time to understand your life. It is different from ours.”

            “People are all the same. It’s just that we have more in one place than you do.”

            “A lot more. There are more people in this room than we have in our community.”

            “You’ll get used to it. You learn to ignore the people you don’t know.”

            “That is not out way. We respect all people equally.”

            “I try to respect everybody, but sometimes it is hard when you don’t have a chance to get to know them,” Sue said.

            Jay set down the tray.

            “What do you want to see first?” Jay asked.

            “Your apartment. We need to know where we will be staying.”

            “And then what? Do you want to see the sites of the city? Or meet my friends?”

            “We leave that to you,” Doreen said.

            “What about you, Corinne? You’re very quiet,” Jay asked.

            “I will follow what Sue does.”

            Sue smiled. “In that case, we’ll have to go shopping.”

            “I have no money to shop.”

            “We don’t need money. I have a AMEX card.”

            “But you will still need to pay.”

            “That’s not your worry. You are here as our guests. That’s reason enough to celebrate.”

            “I hope it isn’t rude to ask,” Sue said, “but what does the name Maytwayashing mean?”

            Doreen smiled. “Can you imagine a place where there are trees in a valley, and the wind blows gently through them?”

            “Yes.”

            “That’s what it means.”

            Ojibwa is a picturesque language.”

            “Do you know what the word Manitoba means?”

            “No.”

            “It means a place where the spirit lives.”

            “We can’t spend all day sitting in a doughnut shop, “Jay said. “There’s a whole city here to see, and friends to meet.”

            “Mom invited us all over for dinner tonight,” Sue said. “What should we do for the afternoon?”  

            “Maybe we should split up. You can take Corinne shopping, while Mom and I go to see Phil. I want to show off my mom. We’ll meet at your parent’s place.”

            Sue gave Jay a kiss on the cheek. “About four-thirty. For cocktails.”

 

***

 

Helen ushered Sue and Corinne into the living room. George put down the Financial Post long enough to say, “Welcome. You are Jay’s sister.”

            Corinne smiled shyly. “Yes.”

            “We’ve been shopping, Daddy,” Sue said.

            George returned to his newspaper.

            “Did you buy anything?” Helen asked.

            “Corinne had them put a few things away.”

            “I wanted mom to see them before we buy them,” Corinne said.

            “We should serve refreshments. It’s four-fifteen,” George said.

            “We’re not in a hurry.”

            “We need to be polite to our guest,” George said, looking at Corrine. “We should offer her a drink.”

            “What would you like, Corrine?” Helen asked.

            “I like coke.”

            “Diet or regular?”

            Corinne looked shocked. “Am I overweight?”

            “Heaven’s no. Not at all. A lot of people prefer the taste of Diet Coke.”

            “I’ll try a Diet Coke, then.”

            George went to the sideboard and poured himself a tumbler of liquor with ice.

            “Could you get Corinne a Diet Coke, George?”

            George and his drink disappeared into the kitchen.

            “Tell me what you plan to buy, Corinne,” Helen said.

            “It’s a skirt and sweater.”

            “She looks radiant in it,” Sue said. Corinne smiled shyly and looked down.

            George returned with a glass of cola in one hand and his glass, empty except for ice cubes, in the other. “For you,” he said, handing the cola to Corinne and then returning to the sideboard. He returned with his glass full, and with a glass of Amarula on ice for Helen.

            The doorbell rang. Jay poked his head through the doorway. “I hope we’re not late. Phil got telling stories and we forgot the time.”

            “George muttered under his breath, “Indian time, obviously.”

            “Mr. and Mrs. Parkington, I’d like you to meet my mother, Doreen.”

            “Please, call us George and Helen. Come and sit here beside me, Doreen,” Helen said. “We need to get to know each other.”

            “What can I get you to drink?” George asked.

            “I’ll have what Corinne is drinking, thanks,” Doreen said.

            “You’ll have your usual, Jay,” George said, more as a statement than a question.

            “Thank you,” Jay replied, wondering to himself what his usual would be.

            George poured a glass of Amarula on ice for Jay.

            Jay forced a smile. “Thank you, sir.” He set it on the table.

            “I had a nice time talking with Phil,” Doreen volunteered. “He knows so much about our people.”

            “He’s been a good friend to Jay,” Helen said.

            Sue, Corinne and Helen chatted about stores, clothes and life in Winnipeg.

            Jay tried to initiate a conversation with George. “How’s the Real Estate business these days?”

            George looked over the top of the newspaper. “I don’t invest only in Real Estate.”

            “Oh. What kinds of investments do you do?”

            “All kinds.” George returned to his newspaper.

            Jay shifted his attention to his mother. “How do you like Winnipeg?”

            “It’s very big. And a lot of people.”

            “Would you like to move here?”

            “If I were living near you, I could learn to like it.”

            “Maybe that can be arranged after the wedding,” Helen said.

            George looked up. “What wedding?”  

            “You know Sue and Jay are planning to get married. We talked about it last night.”

            “We were talking hypothetically. I didn’t agree to anything like that.”

            Jay interjected, “It’s not official, sir. Maybe we should talk about this later.”

            “I think we should talk about it now,” Sue said. “We’re planning to be married, and I think this is the perfect time to talk about it while we’re all together.”

            “I meant to ask your permission to marry Sue,” Jay said, “before we did any planning for it.”

            “Would it make any difference?” George asked.

            “It would make a difference as to what kind of wedding we’d have,” Jay said.

            “But you’d still get married?”

            “Yes, sir. We have to lead our own lives.”

            George headed back to the sideboard. Jay eyed his glass of Amarula, now without ice.

            Helen leaned over to speak quietly to Jay. “Leave the drink if you don’t want it. You can get a beer or whatever you want from the kitchen.”

            “I don’t want to insult him.”

            “He won’t notice.”

            George returned to the group, sat down and turned to Sue. “I don’t see how the wedding concerns you or Jay.”

            “We’re the ones getting married. It should involve us.”

            “The wedding is my show. Your getting married is the excuse, but I’m paying for the party.”

            “Relax, George,” Helen said. “Everybody can talk about it. It should be a family event.”

            “That’s what I’m saying. My family expects certain things from me as the host. The ceremony will be at our church and the reception will be at one of the prestige hotels, maybe the West Inn. That’s expected of us.”

            “What about the guest list,” Helen asked.

            “We’ll have our friends and relatives. At my brother’s wedding there were two hundred. We will have three.”

            “You mean your brother’s daughter’s wedding, don’t you?”

            “Same thing.”

            “What about the groom’s side of the family?” Helen asked.    Jay looked thoughtful. “There would be my mother, Corinne, and my brother.”

            Doreen thought for a moment. “Maurice would come. We have six other relatives who could come. And there are a dozen close friends. Would two dozen guests be too many?”

            “I’d like to invite Winston. I don’t think he would come,” Jay said.

            “Who’s Winston?” George asked.

            “My father.”

            “Is he Indian, too?”

            “I’ve never met him. Would it make a difference if he were First Nation?”

            “He’s European,” Doreen said softly. “Do you want to have him there, Jay? You’ve not met him.”

            “Please try to remember not to say Indian, George. It’s not politically correct these days,” Helen said.

            “Whatever.”

            “I’d like him to be there,” Jay said. “Is there a reason you don’t think we should invite him?”

            “I haven’t seen him for almost twenty years,” Doreen said.

            “He’s my father. I’ve learned to have respect for all people. It would be disrespectful not to invite him without a reason.”

            “It is your wedding, and your day. You will do what you feel is right,” Doreen said.

            “Speaking of names, is Sue keeping her name?” George asked.

            “Were we talking about names?” Helen asked.

            “We haven’t talked about it,” Sue said. “Maybe I’ll hyphenate it. How does Maytwayashing-Parkington sound?”

            After a short but awkward silence, Helen asked, “What about the wedding invitations? Do we put Winston’s name on the invitation? Or Maurice?”

            “Jay and his mom should decide that,” Sue said.

            “I don’t think Winston should appear on the invitation. He’s never been a father to me,” Jay said.

            “Maurice wouldn’t be appropriate,” Doreen said. “He’s a friend, not a family member.”

            George looked sternly at Jay. “What do we use for your name?”

            “Is there something wrong with what it is? Japheth Winston Maytwayashing.”

            “Japheth? I thought it was Jason. Is Japheth a real name?”

            “Japheth was Noah’s youngest son. I got tired of explaining it, so I started using the first letter.”

            “I hope we don’t have to pay by the letter on the invitations,” George muttered as he went to refill his glass.

            “You’ll have to choose a best man,” Sue said.

            “That’s going to be tough. Phil’s been like the father I’ve never had. He always pointed out the right path, but then let me make my own mistakes. I owe him a lot.”

            “Your brother would be appropriate,” Helen said.

            “I don’t think Darren would care one way or the other,” Doreen said.

            “All in all, I feel closest to Steve.”

            George gave his head a shake in disbelief. “Let me get this straight. You’re suggesting that my daughter is going to marry a half-breed who’ll have a faggot for his best man? Is there anything else you can do to ruin this wedding for me?”

            “I could let my hair grow. Would you like it in one braid or two?” Jay said quietly enough that George wouldn’t hear.

            Everyone studiously ignored George’s outburst. Everyone except Helen ignored Jay’s comment. Helen suppressed a giggle.

            Jay caught Helen’s eye and mouthed the words, “With a headband.”

            Helen chuckled. George glared at her.

            “You seem to have way too many best men,” Sue said. “That would be a problem.”

            “I’ll talk to Phil and see how he feels about it. I think it would mean more to Steve.”

            “You could have Phil, Darren, Jimmy and Maurice as outriders,” Helen suggested.

            Jay frowned. “This is beginning to sound like a Wild West show. What are outriders?"

            “Like bridesmaids, only on the groom’s side.”

            “That way there’s room for as many as you want at the front with you,” Helen said.

            “Just don’t have more than I do,” Sue chided. “I’d be embarrassed if you look more popular.”


 

~ 22 ~

 

COUNTDOWN TO THE WEDDING

 

July 23rd :

 

            “Let’s pick up Jimmy and Becky and go to the park,” Jay said.

            “What brought that on?” Sue asked.

            “It’s too nice a day to be inside. If we went to Assiniboine Park we could go to the zoo and the Conservatory and like that.”

            “You just want to see Pooh.”

            “What?”

            “You know. As in Tigger and Eeyore. They’re going to set up a pavilion for him at the park.”

            “I didn’t know that. I just thought it would be a nice place to spend a Sunday afternoon. Maybe we could take a picnic lunch.”

            After their lunch on the grass at the park, Jay asked Sue, “Let’s have a treasure hunt.”

            “You can’t just decide to have a treasure hunt,” Sue said.

            “Trust me. We can. Jimmy and Becky will help you.”

            “What about you? Aren’t you going to be part of it?”

            “I’ll catch up with you. I need to . . . ah . . . go to the washroom. You guys go ahead. I’ll look after the garbage.”

            “OK. But hurry.”

            “Here’s the first clue,” Jimmy said, handing Sue a folded piece of blue paper.

            Sue read the message: “To get your next clue use your brain. Go chug along to the choo choo _____.”

            They walked across the lawn to the children’s train ride. They looked around the miniature station until Sue noticed another blue note pinned to the station wall. This message read: “Now join the creatures at the zoo. Ask at the entrance for your clue.”

            The girl in the wicket was looking at her nails on boredom. They walked up to her, and Sue asked, “Do you have a message for us?”

            The girl looked up, noticed Becky and beamed in excitement at the break in her routine. “Good luck,” she said as she handed Sue another blue note.

            “Thanks,” Sue said. The note read: “This garden’s Mol is not small and furry. Look for a big one. No need to hurry.”

            “I don’t get it,” Sue said.

            “I bet it’s the Leo Mol garden. You know, where they have all those metal statues of his,” Becky said. 

            With a little guiding from Jimmy, they passed the decorative pool by the pavilion and found the largest of the metal statues, representing a bull carrying a girl on its horns. Sue peeked cautiously behind the statue.

            Jay was on one knee with a diamond ring extended to Sue. She gave a little scream and jumped back in surprise.

            “Will you marry me?” Jay asked.

            After a moment to collect her composure, she replied, “Of course.” She gave Jay a big hug and kiss.

            Jay slipped the ring on her finger. “Now it’s your move. You get to chose the date.”

            “I’ll have to think about that.” Sue twisted up her face pretending to think. “How’s June 23rd sound?”

            “How long have you had the date picked,” Jay asked.  

            Sue smiled. “Not long. Only since your mom and sister were here. I wanted them to feel part of the plan. They won’t have many chances.”

            “That was nice. Thanks.”

            Sue suddenly became aware of Becky and Jimmy and rushed over to show them the ring and receive their best wishes. 

 

August 5th :

 

            “Are your folks all right with the wedding party?”

            “Mom is. Dad has a problem with Steve as best man.”

            “Because he’s gay?”

            “He says his church doesn’t accept gays in their congregation.”

            “Is that true?”

            “Probably not. You know he’s homophobic. He probably assumes everyone else is, too.”

            “Is he suggesting we use a different church?”

            “He’d never agree to that. His family has always belonged to the same church.”

            “Then what’s the alternative?” Jay asked.

            “As far as he’s concerned, you get a different best man.”

            “I won’t agree to having him choose my best man for me. I’m trying to be cooperative, but Steve is going to be my best man.”

            “What if he refuses? After all, he is paying for the wedding and reception.”

            “Then we go to Las Vegas.”

            “You mean you’d elope with me?”

            “In a minute. This whole wedding thing is for your family, not mine.”

            “Mom and Dad would be devastated to miss out on the wedding.”

            “They could watch it on the Internet.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “Cam showed me a chapel in Los Vegas that sends the wedding live over the Internet. They could watch the whole thing as it happens.”

            “Like all three minutes of it?”

            “Maybe five,” Jay said. “There must be a better solution. Does it have to be a church wedding? My side of the family isn’t going to feel comfortable in a church. We don’t have any churches.”

            “I want us to be married by a minister.”

            “Me too. Could we do it outside? I’d like that.”

            “I’ll have to talk to Mom about it. That might be cool.”

 

February 7th :

 

            “How are the wedding and reception plans going?” Jay asked.

            “Dad’s accepted the idea of having the wedding in the park. He’s going to work out the details.”

            “I thought he was staying as far out of the planning as possible.”

            “He likes organizing things when he’s in control.”

            “And the reception?” Jay asked.

            “That has to be at a fancy place. That’s his showpiece. He needs a lots of liquor, a big meal and a dance.”

            “He gave me the wedding location. I’ll give him his reception where and how he wants it.”

 

March 15th:

 

            “Mom picked up the invitations today,” Sue said.

            “How do they look?” Jay asked.

            “Impressive.”

            “You don’t sound happy about it. Is there something wrong with them?”

            “It depends on your point of view. Have a look.”

            Jay studied the invitation and then read out loud: “the marriage of Susan Eleanor Parkington and Jason Winston May.” He looked at Sue. “Who’s this Jason May you’re marrying? Anyone I know?”

            “It could be the printer’s error?” Sue suggested.

            “Why do I think I see your father’s hand in this? He could at least have left me with Jay. I’m not a Jason. I’m Japheth. He could a least have made it Jayson, with a ‘y’.”

            “I’m sure he’d change that.”

            “You mean to put in a ‘y’, or to use Japheth?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “What about Maytwayashing?”

            “He probably doesn’t like the native sound of it. He’ll be afraid his business associates and relatives would find it off-putting.”

            “Did you say ‘off-putting’? That doesn’t sound like a word you’d use. It sounds like your dad. Have you talked to him about this without consulting me? I’d resent that.”

            “I talked to Mom. I hoped she and I could work this out ourselves.”

            “Your mom’s OK. We understand each other.”

            “I didn’t want to upset you with these problems unless I had to.”

            “Well, I’m afraid you’ll have to. This is my identity we are talking about. I don’t care what Shakespeare said, I wouldn’t smell as sweet as a Jayson. It’s got to be either Jay or Japheth.”

            “I’m sure that’s not a problem to work out.”

            “What name do you want to use after we’re married?” Jay asked.

            “I’d like to drop mine and take yours.”

            “But . . .?”

            “I didn’t say there was a but.”

            “There is no but?”

            “Well, yes. I guess there is.”

            “What is it?”

            Maytwayashing is a bit more than I’m comfortable with. It’s your decision, however. I can learn to live with it.”

            “I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I’d rather have people pay attention to me instead of my name. That’s why I avoid using it.”

            “And?” Sue asked.

            “If I’m going to change it, this would be a good time to do it.”

            “What about your native heritage? You’ve been working at learning Ojibwa. You’re not going to throw that away, are you?”

            “I’m more than my name. I’ll follow my native spirituality no matter what my name is.”

            “I’m glad to hear you say that. I need a spiritual basis for my life. I’d like you to have one, too.”

            “Wouldn’t your mother be upset if you gave up her name?”

            “When she gets married, she’ll take her husband’s name. She’s traditional that way.”

            “Is she planning on getting married?”

            “No. I meant that it’s probably not important to her.”

            “All you have to do, then, is choose a name you want to use.”

            “Let’s sleep on it.”

            “Always a good plan,” Sue said with grin.

 

June 23rd : 8:30 a.m.

 

            For Sue and the wedding party, there was much to be done. Reservations had been made for hair and nails, facials, massages and makeup started at 8:30 in the morning and running through until 1 pm. Everything had been organized, reorganized, checked and re-checked to ensure the perfection of the well-oiled wedding machine. From here on, nothing could stop the process - it had taken on a life of its own.

            The Leo Mol garden at Assiniboine Park had been reserved for the afternoon. “We don’t allow weddings here,” the park manager had said. “Take me to your supervisor,” George had said. An hour later the area had been reserved.

            A professional photographer was on hand to record every moment from the opening chords of the portable synthesizer to the final departure of the newly married couple . George had ordered two thousand dollars worth of flowers in spite of the florist’s concern that there was no place to put them in an outdoor setting consisting of flower gardens, a decorative pool with water-lilies, trees and life-size metal sculptures.

 

June 23rd : 11:30 a.m.

 

            “It’s going to rain. I just know this wedding is going to be a disaster,” George said. “What will we do if it rains? There’s nowhere we can go if it rains.”

            “It’s not going to rain,” Helen said.

            “You can’t know that.”

            “It’s like if you expect the worst, that’s what will happen. If you have faith that things will work out . . .”

            George interrupted Helen. “Yes, yes. We know.”

            Helen continued. “What is it the poet said? The coward dies many times before his death; the valiant dies but once.”

            “What’s that have to do with anything? We should have a tent set up in case of rain. Will the park allow us to set up a tent?”

            “Don’t worry. We can always go into the pavilion if it rains.”

            “I never should have let you arrange this. We should have hired someone to do everything. Then it would have been done right.”

            “Trust me, George. This will be a memorable wedding.”

            “Memorable isn’t what I want.”

            Two hundred folding chairs had been set up on the grass with a path leading down through the centre to a small podium set directly in front of Leo Mol’s sculpture of a deer. The guests were seated: guests of the bride on the left, guests of the bride on the right, and the ten guests of the groom at the front on the right.

 

June 23rd : 2:05 p.m.

 

            The minister, Jay and Steve stood waiting at the front. Bouquets of flowers were everywhere. On either side of the podium, a huge, free-standing horseshoe of flowers, not unlike what you’d expect to see at in the winner’s circle at the racetrack dominated the area. The bridesmaids and groomsmen took their places on either side. The synthesizer began playing the wedding march and the procession began. Sue, dressed in a traditional wedding gown came down the aisle on her father’s arm. Tiffany was exceptionally striking as the maid of honor.

            When they reached the front George took his seat. Out from trees at the front, a stately native figure complete with headdress, beaded doeskin jacket, moccasins and leggings, moved silently to stand the minister. Jay immediately recognized R.B. and turned to look at Helen. She gave Jay a smile and a thumbs-up. The unmistakable aroma of a sweetgrass smudge wafted over the wedding party.

            Cam’s mouth dropped open in surprise and admiration for the R.B.’s regalia. 

            R.B. stood motionless and silent while the minister performed the ceremony. After the newly married couple had kissed, R.B. stepped  forward. He placed a traditional peace pipe into Jay’s hands and put Sue’s hands on top of Jay’s. Looking straight ahead he delivered a prayer for the wedded couple in the musical monotone of the Ojibwa language.

 

June 23rd : 4:30 p.m.

                 

            The official wedding pictures had been taken. The informal part of the reception began on the lawns outside the Country Club. Portable bars dispensed Champagne, liquors and alcohol-free beverages. Gloved waiters moved through the guests offering hors d'oeuvres on silver trays.

Two native dancers in full costume, joined periodically by R.B., performed to the beat and singing of four drummers. George concentrated his attention on small groups of his friends, studiously ignoring the dancers.

            Jay left Sue to talk to Helen. “How did you plan this surprise for me?”

            “I set it up with R.B. before he left. He wanted to do something spiritual for you.”

            “That was before Mom and Corinne came here. We weren’t even engaged then.”

            “I knew you’d be getting married. It was only the actual date I didn’t know.”

             The dinner was four courses of elegantly unusual dishes. Unkown to George, and most of the guests, the food was totally vegetarian.

 

June 23rd : 7:15 p.m.

 

            The wedding dance was underway. Jay leafed through the Guest Book, looking at dozens of names he didn’t recognize, until one name leaped out at him - Winston McNabb. He rushed over to find Sue and brought her to see the entry.

            “He was here,” Jay said. “Did you know about that?”

            “No way. Let’s check with Becky. She was looking after the book.”

            Becky was quickly found.

            “Did you see him? What did he look like? Is he still here?” Jay asked.

            “I didn’t pay much attention. There were so many people I didn’t know.”

            “You don’t remember anything?”

            “Wait. He left a gift. I remember now, because he wasn’t sure what to do with it. I bet I can find it for you.”

            Becky searched through the room filled with wedding gifts, all looking rather generic in their elegance.

            “Here it is,” she said, handing a small box with an attached card to Jay.

            Jay’s hands shook as he undid the wrapping and lifted the lid of the box. He lifted out a single wooden goblet with a wooden ring trapped on the stem.

            “That’s beautiful,” Sue said. “Hurry and read the card.”

       Jay read the card to himself and then handed it to Sue. It read:

 

Dearest Jay and Sue,

       My apologies for not introducing myself to you, but I’ve never brought happiness or success to anyone whose path I’ve crossed.

       I had no money to buy you a present, so I made this little gift for you from a single piece of wood from my back yard. With every wood chip that I carved, and every speck of dust as I sanded it, I offered my prayer that you will find the happiness together that has always eluded me.

       On each anniversary you must share a drink from the glass, and pledge your love to each other.

       Please do not judge me too harshly. I’ve tried, but I never seemed to do anything right.

 

With all my love and wishes for your happiness,

              Winston.

 

June 24th : 10:05 a.m.

      

       Sue and Jay left for their honeymoon in Hawaii, all expenses paid, compliments of George. Jay checked the tickets to verify they were for a return trip.

APPENDIX 1

 

Website URL’s

 

Chapter 1: Pets:                            http://www.petsmart.com

Native Peoples:                             www.turning-point.ca

White Earth Reservation:

Hasidic Jews:                           www.kabbalah-web.org

 

Wedding Plans: 

            Overview -                  www.theknot.comwww.theknot.com  (view 20,000 dresses)

            Advice -                  http://www.weddinggazette.com/ www.weddinggazette.com

            Jay’s favorite–         http://www.frugalbride.com/

            Stationery -             www.botanical.mb.ca/

            Web page -             www.weddingidea.com

            Registering -            www.williamashley.com

                                           www.thebay.ca

                                           www.eatons.ca

                                           www.sears.ca

                                           www.thegift.ca

 

            Ring     -                  www.adiamondisforever.com

                                           www.bluenile.com

                        or                www.ebay.com

           

            Dress -                    www.usedweddingdresses.com

            Ceremony-              www.the-weddingplanner.com  (listen to music)

                                           www.vivalasvegas.com  (streamed live over the Internet)    

            Speeches -              http://www.ultimatewedding.com/ (also vows)

            Honeymoon -          www.whereintheworld.co.uk   (Australia’s Outback by camel)

                                           www.rcrusoe.com

             

 


           

 

 

 

APPENDIX 2

 

 

THE EVOLUTION OF THE GOLDEN RULE

 

Over the thousands of years of human history, versions of “The Golden Rule” have appeared with surprisingly similar messages.

   

CYNICAL MODERN: He who has the Gold, makes the Rule.

 

STANDARD MODERN: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

 

BAHA’I: Choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.

 

HUTTERIAN BRETHERN: What’s mine is yours. What’s yours is mine.

 

CHRISTIANITY: And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

 

JUDAISM: What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.

 

FIRST NATIONS (North American Indian): Grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.

 

WICCA: As in it harm no one, do what thou wilt (i.e. do what ever you want to, as long as it harms nobody, including yourself).

 

ROMAN PAGAN RELIGION: The law imprinted on the hearts of all men is to love the members of society as themselves.

 

ARISTIPPUS OF CYRENE, 365 BCE: Cherish reciprocal benevolence, which will make you as anxious for another’s welfare as your own.

 

THALES, 464 BCE: Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.

 

TAOIST: Regard your neighbour’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbour’s loss as your own loss.

 

CONFUCIAN: Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence.

 

SHINTO: The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form.

 

JAINISM: A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated.

 

SUFISM: If you haven’t the will to gladden someone’s heart, then at least beware lest you hurt someone’s heart.