The Princess Tree – a short story by Madelon Smid

The elegant blue spruce posed, draped in its snowy finery and glittering with a million jewels of ice, like a Princess on display. Could it be more perfect? No, Rose didn’t think so. This is a moment I will keep forever she thought, this moment of wonderment. The tree stood aloof in the centre of a small glade, receiving as its due the maximum of sun and moisture. Clustered around it, the other trees and bushes bowed forward under their weight of snow. Rose decided they, too, knew the Princess was special and kept their distance, while  standing vigil over her.

Rose loved the Princess tree; so perfectly formed, so simply joyous as it stretched higher each year celebrating sun and rain, and life itself. She came to the small clearing when things became just too much. Near the Princess, as if arranged by a giant with a purpose, stood a massive rock. Often she carried birdseed with her and sprinkled it across the flat rock for the wild birds. The cute chickadees and jaunty jays swooped down in greedy forays, company for the Princess. Rose wanted to join their impromptu picnic. She watched instead.

Three years back she had persuaded her new husband, Joshua, to walk to the tiny clearing with her. Like a proud mama she wanted to show off the Princess. Optimistically, she packed a lovers lunch, chilled wine and fresh baked bread, a wedge of Canadian cheddar and juicy peaches. She carried a blanket to spread on the ground, and dreamed of young love and joyful abandon expressed in the midst of such natural beauty.

Spring awoke in her some fecund yearning that hinted at beginnings – a time to grow a marriage, a child, a new tradition. She walked the wide path to the Princess with her heart singing. A teasing breeze wound its way past crisp white birch, and gnarled oak, wended through the straight poke of scarlet dogwood, and danced within the prickly boughs of wild plum. It flirted with the heavy bounty of leaves, until they fluttered like bashful schoolgirls. Flashes of blue, black and white signalled the darting play of the birds. Early flowers stretched to catch the sun flaunting their bonnets of yellow and purple, scarlet and blush pink. Rose absorbed it all, loved it all.

Josh didn’t. Rose heard him curse under his breath and swat at a mosquito. His toe hit a root and he grunted in disgust. His arms milled around him in a continual battle with dangling branches and inquisitive insects. He could not be still, absorb the peace let alone the beauty. He complained about the flies, the distance, the heat and the idiocy of not being at home. It was six o’clock. They should be sitting down to meat and potatoes. He was missing the news on CBC. He needed to hear the farm reports. She’d retreated back to the farmhouse, hiding her hurt, hiding the Princess from her husband’s insensitivity. She could not bear his disinterest, his inability to recognize the special quality of the tree. If he disparaged the Princess, something in Rose would break and never be mended.

The closest Josh had ever come to a picnic after that was eating the hot meals he insisted she bring out to the field twice a day. At harvest time, with seeds shrivelled on the stalks and dust hanging heavy in the air, he would fill his plate, climb into the cab of his truck and turn the air conditioning on full blast.
The contrast of sticky heat and iced conditioning always gave Rose a head cold. So, she sat in the front seat of her car, the door wide, and stared through the glass of the cab that separated her from Josh. At least she could still see him then; though the transparent wall between them clearly bared their different values, the contrasts in their character, and their inability to share their feelings with each other.

Three years of marriage hadn’t improved the situation. Feeling again the disillusionment of her first foray into romance, Rose came back to the reality of her cold nose and the brilliance of sunlight glancing off snow that bit tears from her eyes. Rose looked at the frost covered Princess and her throat tightened painfully. The tree, the whole scene, was so breathtaking, she told herself. It wasn’t that she felt so lonely, so empty. The farm had gone under the second year. Josh hated farming and had not been able to withstand the pressures of a recession. Inflated costs and poor prices made them just another statistic. They still owned the land, this land. But they rented it to farmers, who had kept their heads above water, by diversifying.

Rose loved the land. At the moment it was the only part of her life she could view without pain. Common sense kept them living in the old two-story house she continued to restore. It stood mortgage free, and that fact, not her need to live in the country, kept Josh from moving them into the city, where he worked as a computer analyst.

Now he had a job he excelled at, with first class pay and benefits. Along with the rent from their land they were financially secure. But Rose’s unhappiness grew with each hour of overtime Josh chose to work, each day he left for the city in the morning and didn’t return until late at night. There were no picnics together–no meals together period. Josh became one with the computer programs he designed with an obsessive voracity, she guessed had something to do with his sense of failing on the farm.

Rose was happy for Josh. He needed work that made him feel good about himself again. But as Josh spent more and more hours glued to his keyboard, it became impossible to overlook her unhappiness. Every time she tried to talk to Josh he brushed her concerns aside. Everything was fine. They were out from under the financial pressures. He could give her security. They weren’t fighting? What more could she want? Each time he pushed aside Rose’s attempts to express her feeling of being unimportant to him, her insecurity multiplied. She felt depressed and defeated, and only the spiritual uplift she felt wandering the land, looking at the Princess, gave her a reason to get out of bed in the mornings.

Rose scooped up snow and ground it between her mittened hands. It fell away, too cold to form a snowball. She brushed her bright red mittens together sending a shower of the crystals into the air. They blew against her face, melting from the warmth of her skin and forming a film of moisture. Rose felt a girlish pleasure and wished she had a child there with her to share the moment. She had quit her teaching job when she married Josh, because they both agreed they wanted to start a family right away. But the children they had planned, three, had no chance for conception. Josh climbed into bed at night long after Rose had fallen asleep worn down by depression and the mad whirl of housework she used to fill her day.

Standing before the Princess she felt a rare sense of peace and openness. She spread her arms wide, eagerly soaking up the sense of well-being along with the warmth of the sun. “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.” The words leapt into her mind, and echoed in the still clearing as she offered them aloud to the tree. Bowed branches of white and frosted spears of grass whispered them back. Prisms, formed by sunshine, leapt from the ice crystals on the Princess. The very ground around the tree seemed to quiver beneath its blanket of diamante, imbuing Rose with a spirit of life and hope. She would try again to talk with Josh.

It was time to take action, make changes, tell Josh just how useless and rudderless she felt. Maybe she could go back to teaching. Maybe he would put her and a family first if she showed him how far apart they had grown; how “vacant” was their relationship. She had no other options. This perfect moment with the Princess, forced the realization life would not stand still, while she wasted more and more precious minutes. She wanted to grow straight, and tall and beautiful like the Princess, nourished by Josh’s love and understanding. She felt the chill of the air on her teeth as she smiled wide, soaking up a last bit of courage from the Princess, before starting back buoyant with hope. She would talk to Josh tonight, no matter how late he straggled in. She warned herself not to pour her troubles over him, while he was hungry and tired. She would just arrange a time when they could sit down together. She stuck her chin in the air and her hands in her pocket and as her steps accelerated, so did the squeak of the snow under her boots; the cheering on of nature. Christmas was coming. She refused to face another holiday without some resolution to their problems. Maybe she would ask for counselling sessions for the two of them for Christmas. That would get his attention. She tried to imagine which Josh would hate worse, baring his soul to a stranger, or paying a stranger to listen.

Rose did get Josh’s attention. All sorts of attention. First he patronized her, brushing her request for an appointment aside. When she insisted they sit down and talk, at a time when he was prepared, he grew impatient and arrogant. “Prepared for what?” he wanted to know. “Was she threatening him?” He grew angry and insisted they talk right now. Fully aware they were off to another bad start, Rose stuck to her guns and voiced her concerns. He scoffed at her suggestion for counselling, appeared shocked when she suggested a separation might be one of their options. After all, Josh didn’t appear to need her for anything. His face froze in confusion. “He didn’t understand! When had all this happened? Why was she saying all this now, for the first time?” He  accused, as again he tried to mount an offensive against words he didn’t want to hear.

But gently Rose persisted. It wasn’t for the first time. She had been expressing the same feelings aloud for three years. He had just never bothered to listen. Exhausted by the emotion of the scene, the intensity of their discussion, she held back a thousand tears. Josh hated crying. He called it an act women used to gain advantage, so they could win.

Rose used all her strength to remain calm, in control, and still find a solution. She wanted to save her marriage, but she didn’t think Josh cared. She would not bind him if he wanted to be free. But when he realized she might not be waiting there forever, he crumbled. It was Josh that cried. And when he had given her the precious gift of his tears, he gave her his understanding. They talked for hours, purging themselves of old hurts and fears, laying new groundwork and goals. As the first blush of dawn tipped the barren, reaching branches outside their bedroom window with gold, Josh carried Rose to their bed. They affirmed their love, discovering it stronger, brighter, because of a new sense of security.

Over the next weeks, Josh limited his working hours. They ate dinner together and talked. They made love at night, entwined beneath a crimson quilt. Rose came alive again. Filled with peace, she prepared for Christmas, hoping for a child conceived at this special time of love. She took her dreams to the Princess and poured them out in the pristine beauty of those Advent days.

Josh seemed to be making some plans of his own. There was much tiptoeing and rushing past open doorways. On December 22 he stayed home from work. He made pancakes and bacon and carried it up to Rose on a tray. Chilled grapefruit, with cherry centres and a sprig of mistletoe, crowded alongside squat mugs and chequered napkins. The smell of coffee prickled her nose. The look in his eyes curled her toes. Rose felt delicious. When Josh handed her the book she had marked and suggested she stay in bed, she knew he was up to something. She teased him, enjoying his attempts to withstand her curiosity. He swept up the tray and left the room, whistling as only a happy man can. Rose hugged herself beneath the downy quilt and turned her face into the pillow. It smelled of Aramis and Josh.

She woke to the slamming of the back door. “Don’t come down yet,” Josh warned from the bottom of the stairs, “you’ll wreck your surprise.” Rose darted into the bathroom for a quick shower, brushed her hair into a high pony-tail and stepped into a snugly sweat suit in forest green and burgundy. She felt womanly, satiated. She walked with a new sway, smiled with a mysterious languor.

More minutes of scraping and banging ended in silence below. Josh called for her to come down. He waited at the bottom of the steps. The kiss he gave her was sweet, then steamy, the mistletoe nowhere in sight. Rose sighed with deep contentment as he curled one arm around her and clamped a hand over her eyes. Rose stumbled and Josh found a ticklish spot as he tried to support her. They laughed their way across the hall and into the living room. Tangled together he brought them to a halt in the centre of the room.

“I wanted to give you something to show you I really understand what you need from me. I wanted to give you my time, not money.” He whispered against her ear. She felt the dampness in the palm pressed across her eyes. His voice held the huskiness of strain and his lean body backing hers was rigid. Rose’s heart seemed to throw out a little extra heat. Josh really cared. He loved her enough to make changes and work hard to keep their marriage. She didn’t need anything else. “I remembered how you always said you wanted to have a real tree for Christmas and how I always insisted we put up that old fake one. Ta da!” He pulled his hand away. “Surprise! I thought we could finish it together.”

Rose stared a moment, then closed her eyes. The Princess tree stood, draped in lights and tinsel, in the corner of the room.

Paradise Lost – a short story by Madelon Smid

Barry had a big smile on his face as he boarded the DC8 that would fly him to Hawaii. He smiled because he knew with a certainty that he was going to get laid. Not just once, either, but over and over again. Ahead of him walked the source of his pleasure.

He’d met her on the famous beach of English Bay in Vancouver only days before. Gidget Bigelow “NO, I really am called that!” She’d wiggled with pleasure when a big wave drove them together. And a Big hello to you, too, Barry thought as her silky legs tangled with his. She’d gushed her enthusiasm for any stretch of sand. “The sun and water arouses me,” she’d breathed in her little girl voice, “doesn’t it make you just sooooo hot?” With her tanned belly and thighs and voluptuous breasts pressed against him, Barry felt all of that, and more. When he eagerly shared his experiences of swimming in Hawaii, she clung to him cooing enthusiastically.  Like a racer who hears the starting pistol Barry offered her a long weekend in Hawaii.

Walking down the aisle of the airplane he still couldn’t believe his luck.

Gidget wriggled herself into the centre seat of three. An elderly lady with a tight perm and bright pink cardigan already hugged the window. The last minute tickets meant Barry hadn’t been able to get good seats, but he didn’t mind, he was counting on the long flight to give him lots of snuggling time. He settled into his seat just as Gidget turned to say something to him. Her size 38 enhanced breast rubbed against his arm and Little Barry twitched to attention. Big Barry quickly accepted the pillow and blanket the Flight Attendant offered him for the overnight flight and dropped them over his lap. Phew!

Expo Vancouver 1986. Every Canadian wanted to be there. Planes were filled to capacity all gathering on the west coast. This was not a good time to fly to Maui for a holiday, but Barry didn’t care. Barry didn’t care about anything but the fabulous looking woman by his side. Even the snotty Flight attendant who had greeted them didn’t faze Barry. He figured the reason they’d been ordered to check their carryon luggage was to make room for the guy’s attitude.

“Barry Werry, can’t you make that person stop smoking.” Gidget’s breathy voice raised a notch in irritation as she wafted the air with fuchsia tipped fingers and wrinkled her nose in disgust.”

The nickname didn’t please him, but her helpless need did. Barry turned to the Flight attendant and inquired if they were indeed sitting in the “no smoking section”. The middle-aged male pursed his lips and explained in a condescending voice that they were in the no smoking and the smoking began the row ahead. “But, Barry, Werry, what is the point of getting a no smoking seat if you have to breathe it in anyway?” Gidget whimpered. Barry asked to change to a seat further away – this in a plane that didn’t have a whisker width of room left. Now, with a legitimate reason to dislike them, Mr. Snarky scowled and told them both to fasten their seatbelts. Barry made a great deal out of fishing around their hips for the belts and helping Gidget to fasten hers. Like a supervising teacher in a playground, the elderly woman at the window never took her eyes off them. But Barry didn’t mind – his thoughts leapt ahead till later …

Dinner service came and went, dark descended, the cabin lights were lowered in the hopes that passengers would fall asleep and give the flight attendants a break. Midnight found them over the Pacific Ocean.

With Gidget’s breast pressed against his right arm, her light breath fanning his cheek, Barry floated in a blissful daydream of the best way to cop a feel without the old gimlet-eyed lady seeing him. He’d already suggested that Gidget share his blanket hoping he could drape it over both of them and get down to business. “Oh Barry Werry, that would make me just too hot. It’s warm in here don’t you think? Maybe Barry Werry could adjust the air flow for me.” Wincing, Barry opened the vent and then settled back to enjoy the scent of baby talc as it wafted toward him along with the faint warmth radiating from her body. He spread his legs so his thigh rested against hers and sank back into his fantasy. Suddenly Gidget was pushing his arm and whimpering in earnest. “Barry, I’ve got to go to the bathroom,” she whispered in urgent tones. “Get up. Let me out. Something I ate …” The fact that she hadn’t taken the time to extend his name spoke volumes. Barry struggled out of his nest of blanket and pillows, fighting the seatbelt, stumbling over the shoes he’d shed earlier and helped her to rise. She pushed past him and fled toward the toilet in the rear of the plane. Oh, no, I sure hope this doesn’t wreck our weekend.

He settled back to wait, clutching his shoes, blanket and pillow and not bothering to do his seat belt up so when fire alarms shrieked from every direction, causing him to leap toward the nearest exit, he hit his head on the overhead baggage compartment. The crazed Flight attendant hammered on the lavatory door, yelling in his French Canadian accent, “Opennn these dor.” Then “Ouvrez la porte cet instant,” as if there would actually be a non English speaking passenger on the airplane. Ha! The hammering continued until finally the door open and Gidget pranced out looking harassed and huffy. As she headed toward him Barry had the ungentlemanly instinct to hide under his blanket and pretend he didn’t know her.

“Barry Werry,” she panted as if she’d flown there under her own power, “do you know what happens when you light a match in an aircraft lavatory?”

“Yeah,” Barry said, for the first time not quite as enamoured with his potential sex kitten. “All hell breaks loose.”

“That awful man just kept yelling at me to open the door when I had my panties down around my ankles. I was terrified. I thought the plane was crashing. He yelled at me until I’d pulled up my jeans and opened the door. He was mean to me, Barry Werry,” her eyes narrowed menacingly, “I think you should talk to him about his manners.”

Barry who had already seen the fury on Monsieur Quebec’s face wasn’t going there for even the best piece of tail in Hawaii.

“He thought I was sneaking a smoke. He’s really stupid because he knows I don’t smoke. Her raised voice held the interest of the other 233 souls, who roused from their sleep by the shrilling alarm and loaded with adrenaline, smothered them in a miasma of loathing.

“You know there are other reasons to light a match in a bathroom,” Gidget waved her fist at the Flight Attendants. “Oh damn, now I’ve broken a nail, Barry Werry.”

If he could have gotten hold of it, Barry wanted to take the “Werry” off his name and wrap it tightly around her neck. He settled for sorting out his blanket, re-doing their seat belts and using her broken nail as an excuse to kiss her finger then up her arm and over her breast – she seemed oblivious to his poor aim, but the old lady sitting ramrod straight gave him a knowing look and shake of her head.

They arrived in Honolulu around 2:00 am and stepped off the plane to breathe in humid air heavy with the scent of blossoming Bougainvillea and ginger. Barry figured the pissed off passengers and Flight Attendant had formed a hate coalition to make sure he was the last off and therefore the last in the line for customs. He expected to find a big X gouged in the side of his suitcase so he’d be searched. The airport cleared. They stood there alone.

Barry had been told that there would be a commuter plane available to fly them over to Maui. However, when he inquired at Information where to board it, the woman never bothered to point out it would be seven more hours before it appeared and instead sent them on to an outdoor gate system where the planes drew up along a long cement tongue poking from the main airport. Carrying both their heavy bags and Gidget’s two carry ons he trudged about a half mile with Gidget dancing along behind him bemoaning the fact that her jeans felt too hot and she needed to change into shorts. The main terminal lights grew dimmer and they found themselves isolated in the dark. Everything was closed down and locked up tighter than a widow’s windows. As they stood there wondering what to do next a patrol car drew up and a policeman got out. “What are you doing out here at this time of night?” When Barry explained the situation, he said with some disgust, “They should have told you to wait at the main terminal. I am going to sit here while you go over to that pay phone and call a taxi to take you to a motel.” He named the closest motel then had to give Barry an American quarter to make the call. Barry squirmed, Gidget chattered and the policeman waited stalwartly in his cruiser never taking his eyes from them until ten minutes and thirty-seven seconds later a taxi drove up.

By the time Barry got Gidget into the motel room it was 3:30 am and although he could never, ever, be too exhausted for sex, Gidget apparently was. Barry turned on the TV while Gidget monopolized the bathroom.

“The suspect is armed and dangerous. Police found his vehicle abandoned inside the airport grounds just after midnight. The man is believed to have murdered two people earlier this evening.” Now Barry understood why the policeman had insisted on staying there to protect them until they were safely away. They must have looked like prime hostage material. “Take us we’re tourists.” He decided Gidget was better left in ignorance – which he concluded by now was her default position.

After this the morning flight in the Fockker aircraft to Maui seemed anti climactic. They arrived at Paradise. A deserted paradise! A lone taxi took them from the airport to the luxurious gated community where Barry’s friend owned a condo. The road and yards were empty. When they finally got to the condominium headquarters to check in, a breathless employee rushed to the main desk. Apparently a hurricane had passed near to the island and fearing a tsunami, officials had ordered everyone to the highest ground – the golf course. People were just now returning to their homes and businesses. Ah, and they’d missed all the fun!

“Oh Barry Werry Jerry, just think we could have been killed,” Gidget shrilled.

And you don’t know the half of it, thought Barry.

The condominium was the height of luxury, with every amenity. An enclosed courtyard enticed him onto a private patio at the back and luxurious grounds spread down to a private pool and beach in front. They changed into summer wear and went on a tour. You’d think by this point Barry’s fantasies would begin to approach reality. But no, Gidget’s energy levels could have powered the island. She spent every minute in the condo with the phone affixed to her ear talking to her friends in Canada about the luxurious condo surroundings. At first he wallowed in his sense of pride that he had impressed her, but as the phone bill mounted along with his libido he started to get pissed off. He figured a beer would help and snagged one from his friend’s supply, while Gidget dialled yet another number. Finally, she ran out of chitchat or friends, and Barry, well into his fourth Coors was informed they should hit the beach. “After all that’s what we came for Barry Werry Jerry Cherry.”

Maybe that’s what you came for. He almost puked when she said his name. He blamed it on the beer, but the rhyming scheme was getting stale fast.

It took him two minutes tops to shuck his clothes and drag on his swim trunks. Gidget ‘I’ll just use the second bedroom. Then I’ll have a bath of my own and closet space’ Bigelow took a lot longer to change. She tried on three suits before they could go. After one look at his back and a giggle she’d taken to calling him Hairy Barry Werry, but Barry didn’t mind because each was a teeny bikini and Gidget had a body to die for, or at least toast with another beer. At last, they were settled on the private beach. Barry had every intention of using the ocean as a screen for some heavy foreplay, which would of course entice Gidget out of the water and back to the condo. But after frolicking along the edge of the waves Gidget decided that her suit wasn’t up to their power and she should change to another. Frustrated and drunker than a groomsman at a Bachelor party, Barry lay face down on his mat and waited. Little Barry poked the sand below. She returned in a suit that she informed him was better for the pool. With a sigh, he gathered their stuff and followed her swaying hips back up the beach to the crowded patio. There she ignored him while she cavorted with dozens of young people, mostly males who were stronger, faster and pushier than Barry. He lay on a lounge chair fuming, fortified by a couple more beer and the fact that she was going home with him. After dinner at the nearby 5 star hotel, Gidget suggested a late night swim and slipped into yet another bikini. Barry dragged off his jeans and ran after her in his skivvies. Water makes her sexy, he repeated like a mantra as he followed her into the ocean. “Oh Barry Werry,” she grabbed for him with enthusiasm. “Isn’t this roman …” she stopped abruptly as he started screaming like am arachnophobic confronted by a tarantula. “Don’t touch me. For Cripes sake don’t touch me,” he pushed her hands off his body. Her nails scraped across shoulders redder than hot peppers and Barry screamed again – because he’d just realized he was in too much pain to have sex.

He slept in the guest room that night, because, “Scary Barry Werry didn’t need a big old soaker tub and king size bed if he was just going to sleep. Hmph!”

“Barry, werry, jerry, terry, hairy, Gidget, fidget, widget, bitget,” he whispered to himself in a drunken voice that became louder as the hours passed and he descended into the hell of a hangover. His sunburn was so severe, he felt he was being roasted alive and prayed for a quick death—right after Gidget gave him mouth to mouth to revive him and then began stroking him all over, begging for him to take her and … He lost the fantasy as chills wracked his thin frame.

By day three Barry wanted only to plant himself in a shady spot in hopes that Gidget, sauntering by on her way to and from a change of clothes, would hand him a cool drink. He’d long since given up on asking her to put lotion on his burn, because her activities calendar had filled to capacity and she had no time for him. His single swimsuit status meant he had no reason to follow her about, but still hanging on to a thread of a hope that she would soon sit still long enough to come across, he continued to spring out of beach chairs, off blankets and beds like a crazed stalker trying to keep tabs on his obsession.

To avoid the beach and bare skin (he’d have bet his Calgary Flames season tickets he’d never do that) Barry suggested a day in the port of Lahaina. Gidget shopped, while Barry darted from one spot of shade to another. She loitered a long time, looking at a pretty ring with a diamond star on one end of an open band, not quite meeting a crescent moon on the other. Thinking this might be the key to her affections, he bought it for her. Thrilled she slid it onto her pinkie finger and walked about admiring it, her arm half raised her hand tilted in a Queen Elizabeth wave, that caused people to stop and bob half bows and curtsies in her direction just in case she was a celebrity.

With their return to the mainland imminent, Barry was just beginning to recover. Gidget had spent the last evening with her new friends, while Barry lay in a tub of cool water moaning about his bad luck and thinking her truly evil. If she hadn’t changed so often he wouldn’t have been out in the sun waiting for her. Waiting to jump her bones. She didn’t have a thoughtful or giving bone in her luscious body.

When they boarded the commuter flight to Honolulu Gidget’s battery was fully charged, Barry’s all but drained. They had several hours to wait before their flight to Canada took off. After a visit to the rest room Gidget suggested they get lunch at the airport restaurant. Then they went and sat in the lounge while they waited for their flight to be called. Barry was still amazed that all the buildings in Hawaii were open to the outdoors, but now he got his look at the downside of that as some dried plant fragments swept by in a refreshing breeze and buried themselves in his eye. It felt like he’d been stabbed with a chopstick. In agony, he pushed his finger hard against the eyelid to hold his eyeball still. It soothed it a little. So there he sat his finger poking into his eye socket, his tongue poking out to catch his tears, and insensitive Gidget Widget thinking he was making sexual plays for her. She wiggled closer, he came to attention, his arm still in salute position. The moment, if there even was one, dissipated faster than a woodie in a cold shower when she looked down and discovered she’d lost her new ring. The ridiculous became ludicrous. Deciding it must have fallen off when she dried her hands, she returned to the restroom. Barry hovered outside anxious to support her. The door opened and he got a glimpse of a floor covered with crumpled paper towels and several irate women bombarding Gidget with soggy balls of paper they’d scooped up, before she made it out and clear.

“Terry, Hairy Werry,” I think I lost it at lunch. She’d also become lost in the mire of his many names. “We have to go back and check our table.” They reached the restaurant where, of course, their table had been cleared. Nothing on the floor or bench seat—into the kitchen she marched. Barry followed. Either Gidget’s lengthy explanation wore him down or Barry’s tear-soaked face struck a note of sympathy, because they gained permission to go through the food trays containing the unwashed dishes, cleared from the tables. Barry rooted with one arm, his middle finger pressed against his sodden eye. Gidget went through the bins like a high efficiency vacuum. They failed to find her ring.

As they hit the lounge, Gidget let loose with a long string of epithets that would have been censored on all but pornographic channels. A large black man sitting a few seats away, rose, came over and towering above Barry, said, “Mister. dis is not right to speak like dis in dis public place. Discipline your woooman.” Flabbergasted Barry flailed for words. The flight was called just as he was about to try castigating Gidget, who’d swelled to the size of a blowfish in her wrath. Finger in eye, he grabbed her arm and jerked her away from what surely was the biggest linebacker in the NFL and into the boarding line.

He literally swept her on board. As Barry sank into the aisle seat beside Gidget, another elderly lady eyed them dubiously from the window seat. Let her look, he thought, there won’t be anything to see. Gidget had long since figuratively castrated him, and bloodied and torn he’d retreated from the field; the victim of a gorilla war he hadn’t even known he was fighting. Fate had inflicted damage too great to overcome.

“Barry Werry Cherry I’m put out.”

“If only you had,” he sighed.

“You need to punch out that big oaf for being rude to me.” She glared past Barry to the large man seated across the aisle.

Barry scrunched a little lower in his seat. “No I don’t need to Gidget Widget Fidget, better you just sit still and read a magazine and pretend you don’t know me.”

She huffed into angry silence. The one good thing of having three sisters was he knew just how to make a woman shut up.

When the wheels hit the tarmac he couldn’t get down the ramp fast enough. He wasn’t sure if he was missing in action or had just missed the action, but never was there an MIA happier to get out of a war zone.

Tracking Love – a short story by Madelon Smid

Chug-a-chug-a, chug-a-chug-a had become as much a part of Sara as her heart beat. She sat in the glass domed observation car of the trans Canada train and felt the deep rumbling around her, under her, inside her. She didn’t want to be there, so she pushed out her lower lip in her trademark pout, in an attempt to add to her mother’s sense of guilt.

Her younger brother, Russ, craned his neck, hoping to see the engine as they went around a curve, while Sara’s younger sister waltzed her Barbie doll across the wide velour seat. Like Becky, she didn’t want to go to White Rock for Christmas. There was no appeal in cramming themselves into their grandfather’s small condo. They wanted to be home with their friends, surrounded by the familiar, comfortable in their own rooms, with their toys for entertainment. But against all their whining and complaining, their mom had moved forward with her plans. This first Christmas after their father’s death, she insisted they spend in B.C. (Before Christmas was wrecked).

Outside the glass enclosing them like a cage, towering mountains jabbed the clouds. Sara had never seen so much snow. White had tumbled from the sky since they’d gotten on the train in Biggar, SK and followed them like an avenging angel across the prairies, through the foothills and into these looming caverns of rock. It muffled the train’s strained beat as the engine pulling twenty-two cars lumbered up the side of a mountain, slower, slower, snail’s pace slow. The conductor had announced at breakfast they were already three hours behind schedule. Sara felt like the sky had engulfed her, swallowed her whole. She would be trapped in this dismal world forever.

She’d wanted to stay in the compartment and lose herself in a book. Her mother had other ideas. “You’ll never have an opportunity to see such wonderful scenery again. Now, quit sulking and come with me.” Sara practiced small rebellions all the time. But wise to her ways, her mother rejected all Sara’s excuses and pleas, and gave her the look. Sara had no power against this weapon, because you never outright disobeyed a parent. Besides, disappointing Mom always made her gut churn like the old washer agitating clothes behind their summer cabin. Sara scoffed at the world of grey outside the glass dome, making certain her mother heard the mocking sound. She never wanted to see this scenery again. Her mother was selfish, and mean, dragging her away from home at Christmas. Sara curled her legs under her on the cold leather seat and thought of her boyfriend. He was such a hunk. He made her feel safe when he held her. She wouldn’t see him for two weeks now. How could her mother do this to her?

“Play with me, Sara. You promised.” Even though she was sixteen, Sara grabbed the second Barbie and threw herself into Becky’s game, imagining her boyfriend was the prince and she was waltzing in his arms. Pretending was the only thing that helped her escape the reality of her father’s death … for a few minutes. Her mother had sewn them each extensive wardrobes for their dolls. They had far more clothes than most their friends, exquisite ball gowns of sheer, floating fabric, miniature blue jeans and sweaters, nylon stockings and glamorous hats. “Serena is going to the ball, and will win prince charming away from all the other girls,” she declared, as she slid her doll into a gown of pale green net over a silky underskirt.

“No way. The prince already loves Caroline.” Becky twirled her doll across the seat for emphasis.

The eerie sound of the whistle pierced her thoughts as the train approached a tunnel dug into the side of the mountain. Sara gasped for air when they chugged into the dark hole. Would an avalanche swoop down out of the invisible world above, raining rock and snow on them, burying them alive? The world turned black as they wound deeper, the slithering snake of a train seeking a lair, somewhere away from the cold and endless falling snow. She held her breath as the chug-a-chug-a slowed. Would the train stop, trapped by some unseen obstacle, leaving them saturated in darkness?

Then a glimmer of light fell at the front of the car, like the brief lifting of a curtain onto the day. She sucked in air, realizing she’d starved her body of oxygen. What a miserable time. Her mother faced the window, her eyes blank, skin tight and pale, against bones that hadn’t been so prominent months earlier. A wet line tracked her cheek. Sara tried to imagine how she felt, being left alone with five children at the age of forty-five. But as soon as she thought of her father, she felt like a sumo wrestler had leapt on her crushing her into the floor. Tears filled her eyes and pain stabbed her heart like the jagged points of broken ribs.

“Lytton, B.C.” The conductor’s booming voice filled the observation car, as he stepped through the door. Icy air and a blast of carbon smelling fuel accompanied him. Sara hunched into her sweater, wishing she’d worn her jacket, while her mom stopped the conductor. “Sorry Ma’am. We’ve lost another forty minutes with the heavy snow. We won’t be getting into your station until 6:45 tonight.” He checked his pocket watch, cocked his head to the side and closed his eyes. Snapping them open and catching Sara staring at him, he winked, nodded his head at he mother. “Yep, 6:45 if we don’t have further delays.” Mom’s shaky sigh accompanied him out of the car.

“Grandpa’s going to be sitting at that station a long time.” Her voice sounded weary and worried, much like it had for months. Sara pressed against her mother’s side. She curled her legs under her and twisted a strand of hair around and around her finger. Her mother shifted so that Sara sank more heavily against her soft body. For a few seconds she forgot where they where and why, and soaked up comfort, but that wasn’t her mission. She wanted to give comfort, as well. When her mother’s body relaxed and she slanted her a smile, Sara felt as good as when she’d won the badminton championship at school.

Lunchtime released them from the prison of the glass car. They went down the stairs, and lurched their way along the length of the train from one car to the next. Sarah like struggling with the heavy metal doors, holding them open for Mom and Becky, then hearing the hissing weight as they sealed behind her. By the time they reached the dining car, saliva flooded her mouth and her stomach gave an impatient growl. Seated at a table with white linen and heavy sterling, CPR engraved on each piece, she chose from a menu as good as any restaurant. While Becky asked for her inevitable grilled cheese sandwich and fries, and her mother chose a bowl of soup and crackers, which Sara bet would be only half eaten, she decided on Hungarian goulash. She loved trying new foods, and hoped she’d like this choice as much as her chicken pastry from the night before. She’d seen Zaza Gabor on television and read in a movie magazine that she came from Hungary and loved goulash with paprika.

“At this rate, your sister and brother will get there ahead of us.” Mom passed the basket of warm bread to Russ.

“Why couldn’t we all fly? It would have been a lot better than this.” Sara muttered.

“You know your brother had work and Hannah had exams and couldn’t take off the days needed to travel by train. I thought this would be a real treat for you.”

“I like riding on the train.” Russ handed the basket on to Becky.

Sara spooned up her goulash. Outside the wide window white flakes fell, landing on the glass. Like runway models, they paused so she could admire their intricate shapes, before they melted and glided down the smooth surface. In a trance-like state she finished her meal.

But contentment was ephemeral. Within an hour the train was stopped by an avalanche ahead on the tracks. She tried to think good things – at least the tons of snow and torn out trees wasn’t on top of them. But as the hours passed and her mother’s face grew more pinched, her eyes darker with strain, Sara cursed the snow, the tracks necessary to carry the train, the engineer and men moving the obstruction. They were six hours behind schedule when they pulled into the tiny station perched in a narrow valley, where they would meet Grandpa.

Night had long since fallen, and darkness ruled as they stepped onto the wooden platform. The steward set their suitcases onto the wind swept planks. Mom thanked him and gave him a tip. She’d given Russ the tip for the conductor, who’d been so good to them. Russ had it folded neatly in his hand, and stepped forward. Whatever he said was washed away by the wind, but Sara saw him shake the man’s hand and transfer the money, somewhat awkwardly. He turned with a wide grin of satisfaction. The conductor tipped his hat and waved as he picked up the metal step he’d set down for them, and leapt back onto the train. “All aboard,” the conductor called into the gusts of wind. “All aboard.” But no one waited to step onto the train. The station seemed deserted. Mother herded us inside, her head swivelling around the chilly room as she looked for her father. He wasn’t there. A clerk dozed behind the counter, a slice of bald head visible through the small opening where the business of purchasing tickets happened. Mom’s steps lacked the lightness and speed with which she usually moved. “I wonder if there has been an older gentleman waiting here earlier?”

“Ha’n’t seen anybody all day.” He pushed his narrow frame upright, causing the swivel chair to protest in a series of high squeaks.

“May I use your phone to place a call, then?”

“Sorry Ma’am. The phone lines are down somewhere between here and White Rock. Can’t help you.”

Mom wobbled a few steps and sank onto a wooden bench. “Oh no. What now?”

“Maybe the snow held Grandpa up, too.” Sara took her mom’s hand. “Come sit by the stove, Mom. You’ll be warmer.” Once she had her mom closer to the heat, and Becky tucked in beside her, Sara went outside and looked all around. Russ followed her, swooping from one side of the platform to the other, like an owl riding the currents. The wind swept the snow into banks that, in turn, exposed and covered the deck. A ridge was already collecting along the bottom of their suitcases. With a last look at the empty parking lot, and the bushy sides of the looming mountains, she seized the two of the suitcases and hauled them inside. Becky was asleep, lying with her head on her mother’s lap, her legs curled along the hard bench, covered with mother’s coat. She shivered and leaned a little closer to the stove. She tightened her lips. Why did her mom always have to sacrifice her comfort for someone else’s? Russ carried in a case that banged against his knees with every step. Sara slammed back through the door to get the last case. Pacing on the platform she gulped in huge mouthfuls of air, trying to smother the tumult inside her. She hated her mother for dragging her out here, for always putting duty before fun, for being so busy with her clubs and doing stuff for old people that she never had time for Sara. “Bloody hell!” The fire of rebellion heated her blood as she sang out words she was forbidden to say. In seconds a flurry of snow down he collar cooled her brief revolt. Shoulders hunched, Sara hefted the last suitcase and stomped inside.

Slamming the case onto the floor, and her butt into the furthest bench from her mother, didn’t alleviate her anger, at her mother for forcing her to come, at Grandpa for not being there, at Becky for getting all the comfort and warmth of her place beside Mom. Her mom hadn’t even reacted to all her noise. Sara stewed, mixing in a dozen slights and remembered wrongs until the flavor was so bitter she couldn’t stomach the taste. Talk about selfish. She was the queen! Right now Mom needed her father, stepmother and sister for support. During one of Sara’s rants she’d tried to explain her decision. “I can’t face the memories of past Christmas’s at home with your dad. All our friends will visit and offer condolences, again. Each time it brings your father’s death so close – too real. I can’t deal with losing him.”

With a heavy sigh breathed into the chilly room, Sara crossed to her Mom’s case and took out a sweater. “Mom, put this over Becky’s legs and wear your jacket. You’re going to get so chilled you catch a cold.” Her mother’s smile was sweet and non judgmental. She did as Sara asked. “Sit with us.” Her quiet voice held strength. Sara had watched her face every obstacle caused by her father’s sudden death, with courage and dignity. She had utter faith in her mom. She settled down on the other side of her, and packing her angst away gave her mom as much comfort as she’d take.

For two hours they waited. Sara’s stomach burned from anxiety. What would they do if Grandpa couldn’t get there, if they were trapped for days in the tiny station with no food? At least there was a bathroom. Sara entertained Becky and Russ as best she could, choosing word games and singing the alphabet song until they couldn’t think of one more nursery rhyme. And then something special happened. Mom started talking about growing up on the farm, about Grandpa and Gramma as a young couple with two girls. About how her younger sister, Arlene, had followed Grandpa around like a real tomboy, and how Gran had had to cut off her knee length hair because she had heart disease from getting rheumatic fever as a child. Sara learned that Gran was so afraid of giving her daughter’s her illness that she never hugged them. She tried to imagine how her mother felt. No hugs! Mom’s hugs were the best in the world. And she hadn’t gotten any herself. Right then Sara vowed she would hug Mom several times each day. Everybody deserved love, even if they did make you do things you resented. As she focused on her mother’s life instead of her own perceived injuries, she began to see how hard this Christmas was for her mom. There had always been a pattern around Christmas, woven about their father’s business, their parents’ friends. Long days of baking and storing the goodies away required for the big Christmas Eve party, where all Dad’s clients and employees came to the house. Their Dad buying the tree and bringing it home, then watching from the couch as mom and kids decorated, while Debussy played on the record player and the fire crackled. They got to have cokes a rare treat, and a teeny bit of the baking. “We have to save it for our guests.” Duty bound Mom, always doing the correct thing according to society, not always what was best for her family. Sara could see her mom was too frail to take on any of those traditions this year, and could imagine how much she missed her partner’s help. Now, they both wanted their fathers. And if only one of them could have that, she was happy for Mom. She led her sister in a round of Christmas carols.

Finally the door to the stationhouse banged open. Grandpa stood backlit by the falling snow. “Kathleen,” I’m so sorry I’m late. Six foot two, enveloped in a grey wool overcoat, he strode across the floor and pulled Mom onto her feet so he could hug her. It lasted a long time, and Sara could see Mom was trying hard not to cry. Sara remembered how good she felt snuggled in her dad’s strong arms. She used to sit on his lap Sunday afternoon while he read the paper and smoked his one cigar of the week. When she was much younger, she’d pretended to be asleep when they got home from the drive-in so he would carry her up to bed. She always felt safe with her dad, and now she realized that’s probably what he mother wanted – to feel safe in a world that had turned upside down and tumbled her out. Sara’s gut clenched as she remembered all the nasty little acts, mean words and digs she’d aimed at her mom the last weeks, as if it was Mom’s fault dad had died. Grandpa turned and gave her a long look. “You’ve grown up since I saw you last. Have you been doing a good job of looking after your mom?”

“No Grandpa, but I will from now on.”



My Review of Broken Trust by C.B. Clark

Coming out of an abusive marriage, Natasha Hartford, illustrator, has little reason to trust anyone, especially Detective Chase Brandon, who considers her a suspect in a murder. Caught up in a situation caused by her ex-husband, Natasha works with Chase as the body count rises. While he insists on guarding her, and she insists on helping him, the feelings between them grow. Hartford does a good job of showing me the building attraction, despite the distrust that continues between the two protagonists. The author inscribes detailed scenes that impress like hieroglyphics—no doubt because of her work as an archeologist. She has a gift for getting inside her protagonists heads. The continual fast pace of the plot satisfied my need for action and intrigue.

From Daring Heights – Writing a Series

I didn’t start out with the ambition of writing a series. I thought I could handle a trilogy with confidence, framed the concept around three brilliant men who meet at Harvard and built on it. I embraced Climbing High, the first book, with enthusiasm, the second, High Ground, with trepidation and the third, High Seas, with love. When the senior editor for my line suggested I had the material for a series and should proceed with one, I leapt on the idea. I did not want to let go of characters I had created, and come to know. They had much more to teach me through their philosophies, actions and feelings. It was a delight to move into book four.

In a recent interview with the “Prairie Post” I was asked, which was my favourite and least favourite book of the series. Reaching High, book four, RG Gribb’s story was easily my favourite. Here I unfold the secret connection between Jake Inglis and RG, to which I allude in the first three books. I left the reader wondering, what had brought the two men together, and resulted in RG giving Jake his intense loyalty and trust. RG, who had no expectations of finding love, moved into his forties dedicated to protecting Jake and his family and expecting nothing more for himself. Suddenly he has it all – a thriving business, a demanding job, and a woman he adores, who wants him, too. Their story flowed onto the page, because it was so integral to my hopes of what I felt this good man and wounded warrior deserved. I also focused on the epidemic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among military personnel, a subject close to my heart.

My least favourite – well, that wasn’t because of the fascinating characters Joshua and Cat – but because of a technical mistake I made in plotting. Josh is an IT genius, who writes security software for government agencies around the world. There, already you have a brain full. Imagine reading the better part of an opening chapter that deals with technical terms, computer geek thinking and Zen philosophy. It was a ponderous start, and in hind sight I wished I’d chosen a better place to begin the story. However, it does pick up momentum and races to a fast action finish with lots of suspense. In fact, I garnered my best reviews on High Ground.

Book five, High Risk, felt like a play date in the park, fast, furious and fun. I revelled in the process of creating two diverse lives and weaving them together into an unbreakable strand, while exploring more of the fascinating history and geography of Hong Kong.

Writing book six was truly a pleasure, as I chose to weave in personal history from my husband’s side of the family. I was intensely invested in my two protagonists. Though Anna was new to this book, Anton had been introduced in book four and his enigmatic persona challenged me to dig deeper. As I forced my way beneath his complex layers of pain, patience and protection, I found my perfect male. I also enjoyed exploring the older woman, younger man relationship that gave Anna so much inner conflict.

Writing the series went smoothly, the editing not so much. By the time I finished, my publisher had assigned three different editors, each with their idiosyncrasies around word usage and punctuation – not my strong suit, especially when it is so subjective these days. I was writing and publishing two books a year, the goal I’d set, but book six stopped my momentum dead. The writing was on target and time, but getting it edited was a long drawn out process of one delay after another. A year and a half after submission Sky High will finally be launched worldwide. A goal met, a series concluded, with mega learning along the way.

You can purchase print books at or The Wild Rose Press or download a digital book on any e-reader.


Retreat Into Writing

Six of our Prairie Quills members ventured afield for a writing retreat this weekend. On a sun gilded afternoon we travelled across wide stretches of flat prairie settled by French, Flemish and Belgian immigrants to Gravelbourg, where we stopped and stayed at Bishop’s Residence. The facility is set-up for individual and group dynamics and conducive to writers finding the peace and solitude they seek.

Gravelbourg, a beautiful town, well maintained and proud of its heritage is a must see to any Saskatchewan tourist. Delightful shops, beautiful buildings and snippets of French history are waiting around each corner.

One of many beautiful paintings done by Father Mayllard on linoleum in the 1930’s

A Saturday late morning tour of the Cathedral paintings and the convent great hall and paintings served as inspiration and triggered a greater thrust of creativity in the afternoon. Of course, we didn’t exclude a trip to Café Paris for a delicious lunch. Some members found strolling through town (population 1100), and taking in the beautiful architecture of clay brick buildings built in the 1930’s, served them well.

Saturday evening Peggy Worrell led the group in a mini workshop on 8 Ways to Make Your Characters Come to Life. Members applied the exercise to one of their works in progress, and all felt the process improved their piece and moved it forward. I re-worked a story I’d written about a fellow in the French Foreign Legion who makes some bad choices that affect the remainder of his life. During the exercise, I realized I had an abrupt transition between the climax and the conclusion, and was able to add material that spoke to the second protagonists motivation, and thus improve the piece.

I find it fascinating to read pieces I wrote years ago. I sometimes question if I even wrote it, or what motivated me to write it. Sometimes I am astonished by the excellence of the piece, and assume a higher power was working through me, for I can’t perceive formulating such thoughts on my own.

Workshop: 8 Ways to Make Your Characters Come to Life

Querying those who took part I learned Peggy enjoyed the camaraderie with other writers, while Irene Bingham liked the peaceful atmosphere with no interruptions from telephones or TV. Dianne Miller said the discussions on writing motivated her and noted the vivacious synergy created by the group. Newly appointed President, Tina Letwiniuk appreciated the atmosphere of Bishop’s House, and felt it allowed for, and stimulated creativity and our growth as a writing group. I most enjoyed the sharing times when writing formed the basis for dynamic discussion on writing styles, routines, rules and brainstorming.

Cozy breakfast gathering at Bishops’s Residence

Cozy breakfasts in the bright dining room provided a relaxed forum for sharing of writing techniques and new learning. We financed the majority of our retreat with a writing grant awarded to the group by SWG. Those who attended feel we received maximum benefit from the monies designated to help writing groups develop their writing skills

My conclusion to our storybook retreat – don’t check this experience off your list. There are as many things left to discover as we unearthed this time around. It is an ideal location for writers who long for the physical, mental and spiritual space to write.