My author Leona, or L, as I typically refer to her, has made me a character who needs answers, and when answers aren’t readily available, my imagination will conjure them up. I want to know who smashed my window and scrawled an obscene insult across my door. And I want to know what my long-dead Dad was up to as a civilian on the Alaska Highway during World War II. The answers my imagination supplies to both these questions turn out to be wrong in so many ways.
My sense of humour never deserts me, but it faces a challenge in beating back my cluster of anxieties. This is a story about imagination — how to use it and how not. Like my father before me, I need to stop looking over my shoulder for what, or who, is out to get me.
Here’s a look at the beginning of the novel-in-progress.
There’s a monkey lives up inside my mind, an active, agile creature who loves to play. She’ll scoop my thoughts together, knead them, roll them in her hands, slap at the mess until she’s got herself a ball; then she’ll take that ball and bounce it off the walls up there. Or she’ll pull it apart like taffy, stretch her arms wide, a glob of thoughts in either hand and a sticky, sagging swag between. She’ll scoop the mess together again, make another ball, add more bulk—say a little suspicion, a little paranoia; knead, press, roll, slap—and she’ll go bowling with it, clatter and racket, ouch! A little quiet please, a little peace.
I’m so intent on outrunning the monkey, I’ve flown clear from the prairies to the western edge of the continent. That should do it, shouldn’t it?
My sister isn’t here to meet me in Arrivals, but I didn’t expect her to be. I’ll find her somewhere in this airport, her husband’s flying out today. I hoist my suitcase, stuffed with six weeks’ worth of wardrobe, over the lip of the carousel. Now my duffle slides down the chute. I shoulder it, hnfff, thread myself and my load out through the thicket of bag-anxious travelers, and make my way to Departures. There, over there: Pen, Richard and their little guy, Billy. Pen stitches a zig-zag between my arrival and Richard’s leaving—a hug for me, a kiss for him, her hand on my arm, then on his, mine. All a rush. Richard kneels to hug Billy and stands to give Pen a last dramatic embrace, complete with a dancer’s dip. Yes, a rush, including Pen’s quick joke to Richard about the redheaded entomologist from Simon Fraser U who will fly south in a week to join him on the project. He laughs and lets his long fingers rest briefly on Pen’s shoulder. She says, “You and redheads,” a comment I assume she wouldn’t make if she weren’t simply teasing. Odd and sweet at the same time.
Richard’s changed since I saw him last, though not a lot. His ten extra pounds press his shirt into a modest pout overtop of his belt, but he’s still Pen’s same old, handsome husband—brows that want grooming, but hardly a wrinkle until he smiles. His magnetism is undiminished by the pout at the waist and the small moon of baldness at his crown. That talent he has for making the woman he’s speaking to feel as if she’s the most important presence in the room. I remember, once—it’s years ago now—as we moved from one space to the next at a party and I felt his hand touch down on the small of my back—before I realized he’s that way with nearly every woman he meets—I remember thinking he was about to hit on me. I remember thinking this was how affairs began: a hand settles on a back, lightly, warmly, and in that warmth a possibility flares—by chance or by design—and all that tiny flare will need to make it whoosh is a little oxygen from one side or the other.
At the airport, just before he disappears through the frosted glass doors and into security, Richard reaches out to give my hand a squeeze. “They’re all yours, Katydid.”
Do bug scholars have bug names for everyone?
He says to Billy, “Bye, little bug.”