Jun 12, 2024

The Satanic Majesty's Request



He looked down at me every morning with a side-eye smirk.
Satan, with his bug-eyed hellhound always by his side. 
I reached out to him, my hand touched the pine ceiling, 
and he faded into the dark knots of the wood slats above me. 
I tried to sit up. 
My head smacked the low ceiling, and I collapsed down. 
Rolling onto my side, 
a mattress spring dug into my hip. 
A garbage bag tacked over an open window 
blew softly in and out. 
A sliver of light sliced through the forced darkness, 
throwing a spotlight on a spiral of floating dust. 
I watched the dust swirl 
while my breath aligned with the movement of the garbage bag. 
Inhale in the dark, exhale in the light - 
in for four, out for four.
My eyes dropped to a red plastic bucket under the window, 
a scream from downstairs shattered the air, 
and I shot out of bed.

The morning scream came daily and belonged to 
my deaf twenty-one-year-old cat Flo. 
It was my reminder to get out of bed and move on from 
my fixation with smirking demons 
casting judgment from above. 

Careful not to fling its contents, 
I grabbed the bucket and crouched along 
the wall to the stairs. 
The loft stairs were a hazard. 
They floated, didn’t have a railing and were too steep. 

Flo had watched me and her sister Tilley (now deceased)
fall from the loft and decided a downstairs bedroom was more her speed. 

On one of my first nights in my place, 
I took a late-night slip-and-slide tumble down the stairs. 
I crashed on a wicker chair, 
tipped it over on to a side table, 
knocked that over, 
and broke a ceramic lamp against the wood-burning stove. 
From that night on, 
the red plastic piss bucket 
took up permanent residency 
under the garbage bag window 
beside the mattress on the floor. 

Stair by stair, I sat my way down. 
I remembered the morning prior when 
I'd leaned too heavily on the bucket, 
spilling the contents. 
I watched 
my night's piss 
flow down 
the steps 
and 
seep into 
the grains of 
the unfinished pine stairs. 
It made me think of fish ladders at the Capilano River Hatchery. 

In three hundred and fifteen days, I'd tell my realtor the piss stain
was lemon balm and chamomile tea, a gift from the electrician when Flo died.

Jun 11, 2024

Electric Chocolate Lilies

 

my studio on Hornby

my garden on Hornby


He was a philosophy prof at Berkeley during
the Vietnam War 
but left once the protests started. 
When I asked him why, his answer was, 
 “For the same reason you did.” 
He came to wire my studio for a kiln - 
the Berkeley professor turned red seal electrician. 
While he worked, we spoke. 
Breakfast until dinner -
he’d sit in his car at lunch. 
Academic freedom. 
The commodification 
of 
counterculture. 
During these talks, I’d think of my university buddy 
Barry, and his mocking tease, 
“You want to touch his brain,” 
I couldn’t say it wasn’t true. 
A precise man of slight stature with long grey hair,
down the middle of his back- 
and always in a ponytail. 
50 years moving between Denman and Hornby. 
Married twice. 
A bit of a loser for a son. 
He’s kind, compassionate and emotionally intelligent. 
An “amateur expert” botanist. 
He spends days on end collecting native plants
from North Island mountains 
and from the side of Hwy 19A. 
His property is filled with his fifty-year collection - 
an herbal tea garden, his prize. 
I gave him bushels of my peppermint. 
It’s invasive. He didn’t grow it. 
He asked my Venus and laughed knowingly when I said 
Scorpio. 
A friend, who also wanted to touch his brain
told me he used to lead naturalist hikes around the island. 
On his last day of wiring, he asked me if I’d ever seen
chocolate lilies. 
I said, No
He recited what I thought was a Wordsworth sonnet. 
When I heard the castle house, I realized he was giving me
directions from heart. 
When my cat died, he brought me a tin of Lemon Balm and Chamomile tea 
from his garden.

Jun 10, 2024

Norsk



Articulately rough around the edges and well dressed. 
A best pal and kindred spirit. 
He lived on the waterfront across from me - on four properties side-by-side. 
We’d sit on my deck and drink putrid bile beer
"But hey, at least it’s cold." 
A talker 
and a tall Norwegian 
who said inappropriate things. 
From Crescent Beach. 
He loved genealogy and knew more about my ancestral family than me. 
I’d often see him when I was out for long walks, and we’d continue on together. 
He’d point, "There’s a Norwegian!" 
We’d draft blueprints for utopia and tactics for coups, 
But it’d be unsustainable. 
Me and Dave and Roy standin’ around, shootin’ the shit,
We fought Viking battles together,
spiced rum
nodding in unison.
His brain held a lot of information. 
Kirby, his water dog, was always by his side. 
A retired public servant, horticulturist and genius who knew everyone. 
Married with two adult daughters and two granddaughters. 
He took his elderly father to Norway for one last visit. 
A lovely human and a dear friend who helped me keep it together. 
A fellow city escapee staying on the island during the pandemic. 
We compared island gossip, 
the outsiders, with insider knowledge. 
When he died, his daughter called me.

Jun 9, 2024

Expresso


He’s socially awkward, handsome, and his front teeth are broken. 
Super smart, with a penchant for salmon burgers – 
But only the Costco ones.
A card-carrying Green, 
Because I can’t vote anarchy. 
We awkwardly problem-solved together. 
As per my buddy Dave, 
“Don’t you two start trying to fix shit. You'll fuck it up even more.” 
In the summer, he wore high black socks with sandals and questionable shorts. 
By appearance, he wore the same t-shirt for 365 days. 
I like this design. I bought all of them. 
He lived in the forest down the road from me. 
A trailer in the middle of a meadow. 
I’m just a guy living in a meadow in the forest. 
56 
Originally from Ontario. 
Years ago, he and his girlfriend ended up on Hornby after they finished a tree-planting gig. She left after a few months.
He has a show on community radio every Wednesday - 
The Phlip Side with Phil. 
He’s corny, likes to read and has no patience for pop culture or movies. 
Particularly Game of Thrones.
We bonded over expresso in red neon cursive. 
It just works faster.
He taught me about every tree on my property—the cedars, the firs, the arbutus —what they like and don’t like and whether they’ll survive the next ten years. 
He humoured me while I waited to make sure I didn’t go into anaphylactic shock the first time I ate huckleberries from my yard. 
He delivered the water that kept me alive. 
When I left Hornby, I gave him my jade plants because I knew he’d look after them. 
In a parallel universe, they're thriving.
When my cat diedhe came over and told me stories about his dog, who’d moved to the island with him thirty years prior. 

Cigarettes and Strawberry Incense


Wearing a summer dress and carrying a bottle of prosecco, I knocked on her front door around 5.

A few hours before I moved into my cabin, her friend helped me clean crap out that the previous owners had left behind. We had a few good laughs, and she invited me to join a bunch of them for a BBQ and a few games of ping-pong over at her friend’s place. Not knowing a single soul on Hornby, I summoned some courage and decided it was time to loosen up my armour. 

The front door opened. There she stood. Her ice-cold blue eyes were emotionless, save for the aura of hatred that pierced me. I introduced myself and tried handing her the bottle of prosecco—which she ignored. I waited for a hello, an introduction, a thank you, or for her to invite me in. Nothing. 
I stood there feeling like a deer mouse, an asshole, a loser. 
She stood defiant. 
Should I stay, or should I go? 

A shadow approached from behind her: a handsome man in his early 50s with black hair and the same ice-cold blue eyes. He smiled graciously and invited me in. I followed him down a dark hallway, and she followed me. Her stare burned the back of my heels and between my shoulder blades. 

The house was a haphazard array of dusty knickknacks, faded photos, and dried-up plants. Every pot, pan, dish, and utensil was caked with week-old food and strategically stacked on the kitchen counter like a game of Tetris. Strawberry incense and cigarette smoke hung heavy off the air. Within three steps, I knew that, absolutely, this was a witch's house. 

The man summoned me to a worn-out cushioned bench alongside a massive old oak table littered with half-empty red wine glasses, overturned bottles and bags of weed the size of throw cushions. I tried again to give her the bottle of prosecco, but she turned her back on me. Her friend who I shared the laughs with a few hours before, was nowhere to be seen. Smoke and dust obscured a figure sitting in a high back chair at the head of the table. Still holding the bottle of prosecco, I slid along the bench until I was beside the figure. A woman in her 60s with waist-long blond hair smiled, held out her hand and introduced herself. 

The man I gathered was her son. He accepted the bottle from me, passed it to his mother, whose eyes still hadn’t left me, and asked her to open it. He slid along the bench and sat beside me. I was sandwiched between two strangers in a strange home on a strange island in the middle of nowhere. 

I attempted small talk as the matriarch opened the bottle of prosecco. She poured some into her glass, still holding remnants of red wine, and took a sip, 
“Who drinks this shit?” 
She poured the entire bottle of prosecco over the sink full of dirty dishes. 

I’d had enough of her. 
I stepped out of my armour. 
The sun broke through the dank house, and I saw her clearly. 
Her ice-blue eyes held the faintest flecks of what once was. 
A powerful woman beat down by booze and abuse. 
She steadied herself against the counter, dropped her eyes and let me look at her. 

I felt the strength of the woman beside me and the gentle power of her son. 
Outside the windows, the earth buzzed. Inside, all had stopped. 
She raised her eyes to mine, pulled herself over to the table, sat down across from me and lit a cigarette. 

When my cat died, she brought over a bouquet of white hydrangeas from her garden she brought back to life.

Jun 8, 2024

X-Acto Knives and Pink Pomeranians

 


That day at the depot, slicing mattresses with an X-Acto knife, he told me he felt guilty for being alive.

Shirtless, leathery and over-tanned,

shiny found objects hung from cords around his neck,

brushed his nipples and grazed his ribs.

His pants, skintight and zebra print,

I’m charming, a recovering junkie and an alcoholic. I’m 56, and I shouldn’t be alive.

A chipped Christmas ball dangled from his earlobe.

Thirty years ago, he had a dream he was a character on Hornby, so he quit his diving gig and left North Van.

I’m a talker. I just hung around long enough until someone eventually gave me a job.

His Pomeranian is pink, 

I think she might be a little disabled.

He grows weed and free dives.

The cops just leave me alone.

He asked me who I was with and told me I looked like I’d seen some shit.

When my cat died, he brought me a black garbage bag full of weed.


Jun 7, 2024

The Return to Hornby

my home on Hornby 

In moments, I’d be under the shroud of the forest. I veered left at the fork in the road, marked by the century-old dilapidated house. The three-storey-high slash pile at the base of the hill slapped me awake; I knew that once I reached the top, the familiar daylight would turn dark. I hadn’t planned on ever going back. Yet there I was, driving across Denman to catch the Hornby ferry. 

It was late May, a month since my dad died and a season since I left that rock. My friend Lynn had asked for my help. Her husband was ill - too weak to walk, and it was time for them to leave their island home. One of the many things I learned during my time on Hornby, was that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. 

I remembered the first time I drove up that hill past the three-storey-high slash pile and into the dense forest. It was February 2017, and it was snowing. I’d rented a cabin on an acre on the waterfront for a few weeks - Jane’s house. I don’t know why I ended up on Hornby. I don’t think I’d even heard of it until a few weeks prior, and I definitely didn’t think I’d ever live there full-time. 
 
The memory of heartbreak, grief and my five-year facade of happiness and contentment weighed on me. My breath turned to whimpers I didn’t want to hear, and I shoved each one down and traded them for hiccups, gasps, and choking breaths. I didn’t blink; I let my eyes swell with unspilled tears that blurred the road ahead. My memory dragged me forward, fast and tight, around the same winding curves, the same gravel road, and the same anticipation of hitting a deer and dying. The road ahead narrowed, the unspilled tears burned, and the forest grew darker. 

On the ferry to Hornby, as I had multiple times before, I meditated on the depths of grey in the low-hanging clouds and the break of the iridescent crest on only the blackest of waves. Twice a month, I’d take that six-hour trip and never for pleasure - laundry, groceries, vet, and the occasional personal moment of anguish when I’d end up in the Comox Hospital Emergency department. Sometimes, out of sheer mental exhaustion, I couldn’t do it. I’d let my laundry pile up for months, buy my food at the gas station, and hoped Flo and I would pull ourselves out of whatever angst had befallen us. 

En route, the memories of the BC Ferries crew surfaced. The ones who yelled at me, time and time again, to put on a mask - a piece of paper over my face, while I sat alone in my car on the outdoor deck of a barge-like ferry. And the cunty bitch who, at the height of the second heat dome of 2021, belittled me while Flo lay on my lap, taking her life’s last breaths. She approached my car, looked at my lap, smirked and shrugged, ‘That’s not my problem. Turn off your car!’ I ignored her as I reawakened the wrath I’d quieted within me for many months. Two hours later, I returned. Flo had died, and my soul was sliced deep. We looked into each other’s eyes, both hungry for confrontation - and it was then that I drove my stare beyond what she mortally knew. 

Angry memories still simmered inside me when the ferry bounced repeatedly against the Hornby dock. The usual line of vehicles was waiting to leave; beat-up pickups with barefoot drivers taking goats and hay to God only knows where, rusted-out Volvo wagons, BMW SUVs, and Finn the plumber’s orange work van. The line of cars that once meant nothing now resembled a funeral parade. 

Rubber to metal, to wood, to asphalt, I rounded the shaded curve at the telephone pole; the same signs reminded me not to burn down the island, conserve water and that Scott and Bailey’s wedding was that way somewhere. I drove up past the abandoned housing development and the old thatch-roofed pub. The pub my parents and I went to the first time they visited me on the island. My dad was genuinely happy, which was rare, yet I was detached, exhausted, and numb with grief. I was self-absorbed, stuck in the past and ignoring that present moment. The thought of my selfishness on what would be one of my dad’s last days on earth made me nauseous. 

At the line of mailboxes at the crest of the first hill, I pulled over and dry-heaved. Drenched in sweat, I wiped the back of my trembling hand across my burning eyes, still full of unspilled tears. I pushed my pupils to release the pressure and clear my vision. Quivering, I gripped my steering wheel and took a left at Carmichael, landmarked by the grand ornamental cherry tree now in full bloom, a moment of beauty gone in the blink of an eye. This was the road to my house. 

I’m flooded with memories. Memories of my daily walks: I’d wander through the pathless forest amongst the cedars and firs for hours. I’d walk around The Loop, getting hammered by the wind, the deep calls of a thousand ravens and my circle of confused thoughts - the what ifs, what now, and whys. The angry ‘Fuck you, Todd,’ the ‘I hate the government,’ the ‘Fuck BCIT,’ the frustrated ‘What the actual fuck’ and the desperate ‘Please, someone, help me.’ 

My heart bottomed out when I remembered the daily feelings of unending loneliness, the pleading for it all to end and the absolute stillness of death. But there was also resilience and a shimmer of faith that things would eventually be ok.  

I turned right on Canon. I loved riding my bike on that worn-out, pothole-infested road. In the evening, I’d bomb round and round the rural island roads past the farms and tourist cabins hidden deep in the trees. From sunset into the depth of night, I’d meditatively ride to the sound of gravel popping beneath my tires. I loved to ride in the pitch-black night. My parents sent me lights, but I never opened the package. Often, I’d end my rides at Galleon beach, sit alone in the dark and tempt my fear. I held a strange sense of solace when I sat alone those evenings. I was alone yet comforted by some knowing that my person, whomever that was, also sat alone in the dark, looking at the same sky, thinking the same thoughts. The sadness and hurt that once accompanied me on my rides eventually lifted. I chose to open my heart to the experience of myself instead of languishing in thoughts of being unable to share the experience with someone else.  

Lynn’s place was a couple of turns and massive potholes away. I remembered wearing my cloak of inferiority when Sam asked me if I knew how to change a tire while pointing to a flat on my car. On the way to the Cove, I’d launched into one of the open pits hidden by shadows. I didn’t know how to change a flat. Derek, who was hanging out at Fish & Chips with Sam, changed it for me. While he worked, we talked about Fubar, how much Tron funking blows and his time working in the patch. Derek was found dead later that summer. 

The boring seven-foot-tall red metal dog sculpture let me know Lynn’s place was on my right. “Fuck I hate red,” I let Flo and Tilley know when we pulled up to Lynn’s for the first time. It was 2019, and the three of us gals had just arrived from Vancouver, and I was a new landowner. Tilley needed daily IV drips for her stage four kidney disease, and I was too nervous to do it. I’d been connected with Lynn, a cat lover and retired nurse, via social media. I brought my cats to meet her right away, and a few hours later, she started Tilley’s drip. November that same year, the three of us gals made the seven-hour journey back to Vancouver so I could put Tilley down. I went to Vancouver to have her euthanized because my ex-husband promised he’d be there with me. He wasn’t. 

I pulled into Lynn’s gravel driveway as she and a friend I’d met a few times before were loading up the back of her truck. I relaxed and felt happy to see her. 
I was greeted with, ‘What are you doing here? We’re super busy.’ 
What the fuck? I pushed the final remnants of any sunshine out of my ass, smiled and said, ‘Hello, friend! I’m here to help you.’ 
‘Where are you going to stay?’ 
'I’m staying at the lodge.’ 
‘Ok, have a great time.’ 
Confused, ‘Can I leave the boxes you asked for?’ 
‘I don’t have room. And we’ve got enough people helping now. You’ll only get in the way.’ 

As I had so many times before, I told myself to keep it together when I didn’t know if I would puke, cry or lose my absolute shit. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get off the island. The proverbial drawbridge was up. The last ferry for the day was done. I smiled, waved, and accidentally reversed too fast out of her driveway, spinning up gravel and mud. Frustrated and pissed with myself for trying to be nice, I drove to the lodge, where I’d booked a cabin for three nights. I checked in and made my way through the path of ever-present Hornby mud to the one-room cabin. The door was open; it smelled of rotten eggs, sulphur water and mildew. 

Two familiar black cats I’d met years before lay on the bed and welcomed me to join them. They listened while I explained that I wanted someone to hold my trembling hand, look in my eyes, and tell me it would be alright, someone to wrap their warm arms around me and stop my shivering, someone to assure me that I’d make it through like every other time because I’d always made it through, always. 

I couldn’t control what was happening in the world around me or how people carried themselves through life, but I could control how or if I reacted. The following day, I left the island. I released my heartache and allowed myself to sob. I let the tears run down my face and drip off my chin. I gagged on my breath and screamed the grief out. My Ego died on that island. 

I boarded the Hornby ferry for the last time and left the comfort of grief behind.

The Satanic Majesty's Request