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Fiction

The Masquerade

Charlene walked into the grand ballroom of the Royal Victoria Hotel, her elegantly coiffed hair piled high atop her head. Her satin gown was off the shoulder and shimmered with the lights bouncing off the many chandeliers. The semi-precious gems of her necklace settled demurely in her décolletage. Her bejeweled mask hid most of her face, except for her shining red lips and her light green eyes. She had arrived.

She held her folded invitation in her right hand, which she had flashed at the doorman on her way in. She looked the part so much that he had not actually asked to see the invitation up close, which was a good thing since she had not been invited. She slipped the folded invitation back into her small clutch purse.

She had never been invited, but this was the fourth year she had attended the ball. It was always the same doorman and she supposed by now he had come to believe she was invited. Only the first year had been the real test. She had decided to sneak into the ball that year, because she longed to see how the one percent lived. This was like dress up for her, a magical night when she could pretend that she was one of them, that she had style and grace and was accepted.

Everybody just accepted that she was one of them. Year after year, she saw the same people and they no longer wondered from where they knew the mysterious “Antoinette”, since they remembered her from last year. No matter, they believed she had money and believed she had donated the required $10,000 to attend the ball. And so, they were gracious to her.

One man in particular seemed to seek her out each year. She had to admit, she was looking for him now as she gazed around the large and elegant room. She felt like Cinderella, looking for her prince.

And he did not disappoint. Although he didn’t know who she was, he would have recognized those beautiful green eyes anywhere. Her demure smile when their eyes met told him she was happy to see him as well. He walked over to where she stood and look down on her.

“My dear Antoinette, you look ravishing this evening” he murmured as he bent to kiss her cheek.

“You flatter me, Armand” she said, but blushed nonetheless.

Last year, Armand had begged for her full name and address so that he could call on her. It was cruel, he said, for her to make him wait a year to see her again. He wanted to know everything about her, where she was from, who her family was, and when he could call on her.

Of course, he couldn’t. He would be shocked to see the small flat she called her home, or to know that she worked in a dress shop. She could never let him know who she really was, or the spell of the masquerade would be over.

Instead she teased him and told him a different story every year. One of them might be true, she said, but she told them so convincingly he believed that any one of them could be true. She was the fourth cousin once removed from Prince Helmut of Austria, was the story she’d told him last year. The year before she was an exiled member of the bourgeois from France. This year she planned to be the granddaughter of a long-forgotten media baron. She knew he’d laugh and try to guess if it was true or not.

Armand took her elbow and guided her to the dance floor where he held her tight against him and together they glided over the polished parquet floor.

“How is your cousin, Prince Helmut?” he asked, his eyes laughing as he looked at her. “I’ve done some research” he said, “and I couldn’t find a fourth cousin in his family.”

“Perhaps you didn’t look hard enough Monsieur, or perhaps you looked too hard”. Her laugh was deep and convincing, and he laughed with her.

“I won’t stop” he said, “you’ve bewitched me Antoinette”.

Charlene had to stop herself from frowning. Perhaps this should be her last year. She would be devastated if he found out the truth about her. Instead she smiled and gazed into his eyes. “I’ll depend on it” she replied.

Of course, Armand already knew who she was. Some months back he’d been having lunch with his mother, when she’d wanted to stop into a dress shop to pick up a new dress she’d ordered. He waited for her outside on the bench but after several minutes, he had walked up to the window and looked inside.

A beautiful woman with long blonde hair stood behind the counter, assisting his mother. She was tall and slim, dressed plainly but elegantly. She glanced up a few times, but never towards the window. She didn’t need to though; he’d recognize those beautiful green eyes anywhere.

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Fiction Life

Frozen

She hated winter despite the fact she’d lived up north for many years. The cold seemed to kill something inside her, and year after year, when she put away the patio furniture and her summer clothes, she cocooned herself inside the house and waited for the frozen world to thaw. Through four long months of bitter cold, she functioned on automatic – get up in the morning and go to work in the dark; come home in the dark and go to bed. When the darkness outside her started to creep into her mind and soul, she used her Feel Bright light visor that claimed to prevent SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD – what an appropriate acronym. She became sadder each day, waiting for the rebirth of nature, the reappearance of the sun, and to feel its warmth on her skin again.

It was still early March and winter had lasted longer than anticipated. That silly groundhog was always wrong. This winter had been particularly hard for her, her first year on her own. She had learned to use the snow blower; she had chipped away ice, and closed up all the water lines herself. She’d sat in the dark most nights, worrying about every creaking noise the house made, worried about the power going out or the furnace dying, and imagining herself freezing to death with nobody even knowing for weeks.

She stood beside the frozen canal and thought about the changes in her life and the separation that had been her idea. She’d had enough of being taken for granted in a loveless marriage without even holding hands for more years than she could remember. The only role he’d played in her life was to criticize her and put her down. She was never good enough. She could work and cook and clean and pay for everything but somehow it was never enough. Like the cold, her marriage had killed something inside her and year after year she’d been going through the motions, unable to imagine a future that included happiness.

Not that she was happy now either. Maybe there was no such thing as happiness; maybe it was all just an illusion, like a dangling carrot to keep a person going, this eternal search for happiness. She wasn’t ready to date again. For years she had thought better the devil you know than the devil you don’t and now she realized that no devil at all was the best solution. So, she’d learned to paint ceilings herself, rip up carpets and remove the staples. She cried the entire time out of pain, frustration, and loneliness, but she had persevered.

Things had changed. She was learning to manage on her own, to motivate herself and to keep going; only winter still needed to be conquered. She had avoided dealing with the sham that was her marriage for too many years, now it was time to deal with winter, to draw upon her inner strength, to be a better person, a more resilient person.

She removed her skate guards and stepped out onto the frozen water. Like riding a bike, one never forgets how to skate and it didn’t take long before she was soaring down the canal, arms outstretched and face lifted to catch the rays of the sun. Alone on the frozen canal, warm within her layers of clothing, she was finally flying.

She was finally winning.

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Fiction Life

Daily Commute

She saw the young man sitting across from her on the train flash a look of annoyance as someone brushed his knee with her bag. She wondered why he was annoyed when he was clearly mansplaining (that is the term, isn’t it?) with one leg in the aisle. She studied him more carefully and noticed that his light blue eyes had a very sad look. He was well-groomed with a neatly trimmed short beard, but the woolen gloves that held his mobile phone were frayed with holes along the edges. She looked down and saw his boots were badly scuffed and the sole on his left boot was starting to become detached.

The most obvious thing though was his woolen coat pulled tight at the buttons, so tightly in fact that she was surprised the large brown buttons didn’t start popping off. The jacket was of excellent quality, definitely not some cheap off the rack coat from Walmart, but it was at least two sizes too small. She wondered about his situation as she looked again at his sad blue eyes.

He could feel her eyes on him and he looked down at his phone to avoid returning her gaze. He couldn’t tell if this older woman was just curious about her fellow passengers or if she were somehow judging him. Even though he didn’t know her, he didn’t want her to judge him; he didn’t want anyone to judge him. He had just spent the last of his savings to cover his rent and didn’t even have enough left to pay his utilities. The local welfare office had covered his monthly transit pass so at least he could keep going to interviews. Next month he might end up sleeping on the train if something didn’t turn up.

He caught the train every morning at 7 am and made his way into the city. He was taking a job search program through a library downtown and he usually lingered after the workshop to use  their internet to search for jobs and submit his resume. The location was close to most of the major corporations if a job interview was scheduled; in fact, he was averaging one to two interviews a day. He was trying hard but nothing was working out for him.

This was probably the worst year of his life. He’d moved to the city with his girlfriend and everything had been great until a few months ago when he’d lost his job. It’s funny how you really get to know someone during difficult times, isn’t it? That’s right – his girlfriend had dumped him and moved out, leaving him stuck with a lease he couldn’t afford and no job. His parents hadn’t wanted him to move so far away and they’d actually argued about it, so he wasn’t about to rush back home and eat crow, not yet anyway. He knew it might come to that though; he felt like a complete failure.

Suddenly his mobile phone rang, waking him from his introspective mood.

“Hello?”

“Yes sir, this is Jason. I can absolutely start on the 15th. I’ll be there before 9 a.m. Yes sir, thank you for the call, I’m looking forward to joining your firm.”

The call ended and he just sat there looking at his phone. Then he looked up at the woman sitting across from him. She was smiling at him now.

He smiled back.

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Fiction Life

Pretending

“I’m tired. I realize I’ve been tired for a very long time. Getting through each day, pretending to be normal, pretending to be like everyone else, is exhausting.

“I’m not like everyone else. I came from a different place. Life has shaped me and made me who I am; but somehow that’s not enough and it’s not okay to be who I am. I’m supposed to pretend that nothing that happened to me mattered, that none of it affected me and that at the end of the day, I’m just like everyone else.

“Except I’m not. I’m tired. Tired of living in a world that expects me to conform – to fit a predetermined mold. A world that refuses to let me be me. I live inside my head too much, and I know that’s not healthy. I come out from time to time and pretend to be who others expect me to be but that makes me tired. So very tired.

“Every single person sees me differently. If they all got together and talked about this person they knew, none of them would realize they’re talking about the same person. I am someone different to everyone that knows me. Which means that nobody knows me. And now I’m tired.”

I listened to the man sitting across from me, looking him directly in the eyes. I could feel his confusion and despair and wished there was something I could do to give him hope, to convince him we all had the same thoughts, we all felt the same way. He was just giving a voice to the thoughts that we all had.

Because I was tired too.

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Fiction Life

Forever

It was a windy October day, and she stood at the edge of the park, lost in her own thoughts. She was alone in the park and she watched the empty swings swing back and forth, their chains rattling in the wind. The day matched her mood – solemn, reflective, and overcast. The clouds above made the park seem grey and dingy. Each leaf falling from the trees seemed like a final pirouette through the air towards its inevitable demise.

She used to bring her son here when he was younger and he would squeal with delight as she pushed him gently on a swing.

“Faster Mommy” he would cry, “I want to go higher, I want to FLY!”

Nothing scared him; and he laughed his way through childhood, through school and soccer, through life. He loved playing soccer and he brought an exhilaration to the game, running faster, jumping higher, almost flying. It was hard to keep your eyes on him.

Today was the anniversary of the day he went away. She still felt the ache in her chest, the pain of not having her ray of sunshine. She knew that with time she’d learn to accept it, and that it would get easier, but she couldn’t believe it yet. It felt as if she’d feel this pain forever.

Forever. That was how long he’d left her for. That road of no return. It was probably the only day in his life when he wasn’t laughing. The day she’d come home and found him hanging in his room. She hoped he was flying and laughing again, wherever he was.

Forever is a long time.

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Fiction

Marking Time

Fifteen minutes to three o’clock.

I was nervous. I had flown into Vancouver early this morning. Why did I agree to meet him today? By the time I cleared the arrival gates and taxied to my hotel, I only had time to quickly wash up and unpack my suitcase before heading out to Gastown.

Ten minutes to three o’clock.

I had promised to meet him at the clock in Gastown. It’s one of only a few landmarks I know in Vancouver. I haven’t been here in twenty years; things have really changed. I’ve changed, and I’m sure he has too. Would we still be able to relax and laugh together? Time will tell.

Five minutes to three o’clock.

Time moves slowly on the west coast. Or so he always used to say. I have no idea why we lost touch. Same country but different ends of the world it seemed. He told me on the phone that he had never married. I wonder why not. Is it rude to ask someone that question?

Two minutes to three o’clock.

I hope I don’t embarrass myself by talking too much about myself or asking weird questions.

Now I see him (at least I think it’s him). Did he always wear such thick glasses? Recognition slowly dawns on his face (at least I think it’s recognition – we agreed to meet here and I’m the only one here).

“Sarah?” he asked. Just for a moment I saw the doubt in his eyes.

I smiled. “Hi Mark, is it really you?”

His face lit up with a grin as he wrapped me in the biggest hug I’d had in years.

Then at exactly the same time, we both started to laugh.

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Fiction

On Devil’s Rock

The following is a work of fiction.

She stood high atop Devil’s Rock, looking down on Lake Timiskaming, high above the surrounding expanse. From her vantage point she could scan the areas all around her, each one holding a precious part of her past. She could remember when she used to jump from this rock into the water below. The first time she was terrified and she had no idea how she had finally found the courage to take the plunge. Perhaps it was peer pressure or not wanting to look weak in front of her friends.

Through the years there had been accidents though, times when people took a chance and didn’t jump far enough out and ended up crashing onto the rocks below. Those ones never survived. Others had been caught by undertows and couldn’t make it back up to the surface for air. While some of them managed to be rescued, others ended up being carried on the current until they landed on some unfortunate person’s beach.

The houses all around her were reminders of her friends; she could associate almost every single one with a friend’s name. Most had moved away over the years and she wondered if they ever reminisced about their escapades, such as the time they climbed to the top of the water tower and sat drinking an entire bottle of Black Label whiskey. They ended up far too inebriated to be able to find their way down and so they slept on the cool surface of the water tank until the morning.

She thought about how each of them had grown and changed so much. As time goes on, people drift apart and start new lives, lives that didn’t include them. They started new families, in new cities, and had almost no ties to the past. She’d kept her ties though and faithfully made the trek to northern Ontario every summer, to reconnect with family and to remember who she was and where she came from.

Like she was doing today, standing here on this rock reliving memories of her youth.

She raised her arms above her head and stood on her toes as she slowly started her dive.

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Fiction

Reflections

The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person or place is unintentional.

“You seem much calmer lately; much more relaxed. What’s changed?” she asked.

I was a bit flippant in my response. “I’ve stopped worrying about everything. We’re all going to die someday; it’s just a question of when, so why worry about it” I replied. “The more I convinced myself I didn’t want to get old, the longer I seemed to live. Now I’m trying reverse psychology on Mother Nature. Maybe that will help me live a shorter life.

“I’m just kidding though. I’ve actually come to realize that tomorrow’s going to happen whether I worry about it or not, so I don’t. “

“Well it definitely suits you!” she exclaimed. “You’re even wearing your hair differently these days, and is that mascara you’re putting on?”

“It doesn’t hurt to at least try to look good,” I said in my defense, “after all, this is the best I’m ever going to look- it’s all downhill from here!” She grinned in response. Then she became serious.

“I also noticed you’ve even been treating me better and not talking down to me anymore. You used to be so rude and insulting sometimes.” I knew she was telling the truth; I had been terrible to her.

“I’ve decided to treat you the way I treat my friends, and I’m trying really hard to do that,” I admitted. “but we ARE friends, aren’t we? I think we should be.”

“You can be my friend or you can be my biggest critic” she said, “but I like it better when we’re friends. We all needs friends who motivate and encourage us. There’s going to be enough people criticizing us, we should be more supportive.”

We were silent for a few minutes. I finished putting on mascara and carefully applying my lipstick. This was going to be a good day. I looked in the mirror and smiled; my reflection smiled back. We had finally become friends.

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The Man in the Shadows

Tshadowshe following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to anyone, living or not, is unintentional.

I saw the door handle move; he was testing the door. Would the locks hold? I cowered in the darkness. Would he leave if he thought I wasn’t home? Not very likely; he had followed me home. He knew I was here; he could probably smell my fear.

A kick. The lock on the door handle gave out and I heard the crackling sound of splintering wood. Would the deadbolt hold? What the hell was I going to do? I quietly crept to the window – maybe I could climb out onto the window ledge. How stupid would that be?

I never should have picked up that bag. I was walking home from work, taking a shortcut through the park so I could enjoy the final rays of sunlight, when I saw the bag just sitting there on the park bench. I looked around but the only person I could see was a kid on a skateboard a few hundred metres ahead.

I sat down beside the bag. What if it was a bomb? I couldn’t detect any ticking though (do all bombs tick?). I slowly slid the zipper open a few inches so I could peek inside.

Oh my God! What was this doing here? Was it forgotten? Was it deliberately left for someone to pick it up? Was it even real?

I squeezed my eyes shut. Think! What should I do? I took a deep breath and quickly picked up the bag. Looking around, I tucked it under my arm and started sprinting. I could barely breathe. I ran all the way home.
When I arrived at my apartment building, my hands were trembling so much I fumbled and dropped my keys. As I stooped to pick them up I saw him standing across the street, watching me.

Work in Progress

creative-writingThere are a couple things about keeping a blog that I find frustrating. One is the administration of the blog itself. For example, I would like to also post some of my creative writing, but I’d like it to be in a separate section, so it doesn’t seem so out of place. I’m not sure how to do that on WordPress. I don’t even know if WordPress is the best option to go with for my blog. With Christmas coming up next week, I may need to leave the “learning” until the new year.

The other frustration is not knowing if anyone even reads what I write. I guess it’s like the tree falling in the forest – if nobody hears it, does it make a sound? I’ll keep writing anyway (it’s who I am) and maybe someday, people will find me. Maybe they’ll even give me suggestions. Like feedback. Or comments. Or just say hello!