Cassandra’s Tears

Tears of joy, tears of pain, we are reflected in the salt-water pools we create. So let us build a fleet of paper boats and sail them on our ocean of indecision, laughing at the wind-whipped white-crested waves that would wash over us, drowning us in our own despair, yet somehow never vanquishing us in the end.

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Location: Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Don’t Sit Under the Chestnut Tree...

     There was nothing for it, Marshall was going off to war and Deanna had made up her mind weeks ago that she wasn’t going to cry, that she would be strong, that she wouldn’t make a fuss. After all, if Marshall loved his country more than he loved her, she should at least be glad that he wasn’t running to the arms of another woman, although sometimes she wondered if this whole going-off-to-war thing weren’t in some way the same thing.

     Things hadn’t been great the past while. As a matter of fact, Deanna had been considering ending the relationship right up until Marshall got the letter telling him he was drafted. She realized that giving him back his ring and telling him she had changed her mind would not be a good idea just then. After all, he was going to be fighting for her freedom as well as everyone else’s and she owed it to him to give him something to hope for. Maybe her feelings would change with him gone. You know, they did say that distance made the heart grow fonder, although she had always subscribed more to the saying: Out of sight, out of mind.

     “Give me a kiss, Deanna,” said Marshall. The bus station was crowded and Deanna was feeling a bit shy about a public display of affection, but there were lots of young men in uniform and they were all hugging and kissing their wives and girlfriends, so she figured it was all right if she let Marshall kiss her this time. She stood up on her tiptoes, lips pursed, head tilted backwards, and he bent down and gently kissed her mouth.

     Suddenly Deanna felt lightheaded, maybe because of the pose she was in, her neck stretched to its full length like that, and she started to faint, everything going black. She didn’t feel the hard bus station floor as she landed on it, nor the bench as her head made contact with a loud crack. In fact, she didn’t regain consciousness at all until after Marshall and all the other soldiers were already gone, their bus having arrived and left while she lay inert, the general excitement ensuring that she didn’t receive medical care until it was already too late and she awoke with partial amnesia, the events of the past year totally erased from her memory.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A spring drabble

       Winter depleted my soul with its north-west winds, howling tempests bringing snow and sleet; it drained me of colour and desire. I became a shadow, a recluse, a haunting, seeking warmth by wood stoves, cocooning in quilts, never venturing abroad, held back by my need to hibernate away the months of bone-chilling cold. But then, subtly and softly, the sun broke through gray clouds, the monochromatic world blushed into brilliance once more: blue skies, green grass, purple crocuses; bees buzzed and birds sang. I emerged from my den and inhaled the smells of life around me and thought, “Welcome, Spring!”

Call me the wind...

“Call me the wind, I will blow with the fury of a hurricane; call me the sea, I will lap the shore with gentle tongues; call me the earth, I will shield the seeds in my womb,” intoned the priestess as she raised her arms over the fields where the people had just finished planting grain for next season’s harvest. She sprinkled water from the sacred spring over the soil, a miniature rainfall, the drops glistening in the sunlight, casting fleeting rainbows as they fell from the ornate vessel she waved about.

Creta had been working with the other children just as hard as any of the grownups, breaking up hard clumps of soil, poking holes with the digging sticks, burying the seeds saved from last year. She was hot and tired and dirty and thirsty, and she watched the water fall from the priestess’ hands and licked her dry lips. She thought about going for a swim in the river and slaking her thirst under the waterfall that cascaded over the lip of the escarpment into the pool where she and the others splashed and dove and barely listened as the priestess concluded the ceremony that would guarantee a bounteous harvest in two months’ time. For Creta, two months seemed like an eternity.

Later she found herself at the pool under the waterfall, splashing and diving, dunking her friends, laughing and cavorting, letting the rushing river pound her head and shoulders as it leapt over the rocks above, massaging the soreness from the muscles she had strained while cultivating earlier that day. There was to be a feast that evening, and the children had been admonished to be clean for it.

As Creta pulled herself out of the pool and reached for something to towel herself off, her friend Sora stopped in front of her and said, “Creta, look!” She pointed at Creta’s thigh, and she looked down, seeing a rivulet of bright red snaking its way down to her knee from her crotch. “Oh Goddess, no!” Creta cried, staring at the blood. “It can’t be, not now!” She burst into tears, and Sora backed away, for all the children knew what the onset of menses meant.

Creta gathered up her clothing, wrapped herself in a robe and picked her way down the trail back to the collection of houses, careful not to get dirty again. Her head was swimming with what had just happened. This was so unfair. She wasn’t ready to become a grownup yet. In her own mind she was still a little girl, afraid of thunder storms, sleeping curled up with her kitten, playing with the other children. Now the matchmaker would start looking for a husband for her. A husband! She was barely 13 years old! What did she want with a man? She wasn’t ready for a husband, a home to look after, children of her own. She was still a child herself.

There was no way she could keep what was happening to her a secret. All the others at the waterfall had seen it. Her mother would know immediately that something was wrong. What was she going to do?

She had to stop walking at that point, feeling an ache in her lower back that had nothing to do with all the bending over and planting she had done earlier that day. Her lower abdomen was tight was pain and she wanted to cry. This was so incredibly unfair!

Eventually Creta came to her own house. Her mother was busy cooking over the fire pit outside the door, humming to herself, stirring a pot, tasting carefully, and throwing in pinches of this seasoning and handfuls of that. She watched her daughter approach and noted the tear-streaked face, the uncombed hair, and then her eyes caught the tell tale flash of red, and she understood.

“Oh, Creta darling,” she crooned, and dropping her spoon, opened her arms and gave her daughter a hug. “It’s started, hasn’t it?” she asked, knowing the answer already. Creta wept afresh into her mother’s shoulder. “I don’t want to grow up,” she sobbed. “I don’t want to!” “Shhh,” soothed her mother. “You don’t have to grow up just yet. These things take time.”

At the feast that night, the other children did not talk to Creta. Her friend Sora would not meet her eye, and none of them would sit with her. She had never felt so alone. Instead, she sat next to her mother, afraid that everyone knew, that just by looking at her they could tell that she had passed that threshold that separated the girls from the women. But once the food was served, the blessings spoken and the eating begun, she started to feel better. She even joined in the dancing afterwards, as the musicians played their flutes and drums under the starry sky.

Already she was starting to feel different, as though this wasn’t the end of the world. Just as the soil had received seeds today and would give up a harvest at the end of the season, she too would become a bringer of life. It wouldn’t be tomorrow, or the next day, or maybe even the next year, but eventually she too would be like the earth, and shield seeds in her womb.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Sometimes I worry…

There is a place I like to be on windy days, a rocky pinnacle on a spit of land that juts out into the ocean, a lonely place where only gulls and curlews visit, the rocks spattered with their droppings, feathers and bits of fish skeletons clinging to the clumps of bushes that withstand the buffeting of Atlantic storms.

It’s a two-hour hike just to get there, so I don’t wait for windy days, the maritime weather being so changeable that it’s rarely the way it started out when I reach my goal. It’s a hard climb, too, so I don’t often meet other hikers on the trail, only the seasoned backpackers who regularly seek out near-vertical scrambles up the glacially-striated rocks. The spit is off the main trail anyway, a time waster for anyone anxious to get to the next exit to civilization.

That’s one of the reasons I like it so much: I’m never bothered there. I can go with my lunch in a knapsack, a sketchbook, writing pad, and spend hours in blessed solitude, communing with nature. And what glorious nature it is! Even when the sea is calm, the surf still crashes against the jagged rocks, upjutting blades that millennia of waves have still not worn smooth.

On stormy days the water is wild, the wind whips up foam and froth, the spray is spread even as far as the remote pinnacle where I perch, protected only by rain gear and a sou’wester tied under my chin. The gulls cry and wheel and swoop and the place is so desolate and god forsaken, I feel as though I’m the only human being in the world and nature is unaware that I am observing its bad behaviour.

When I am seated there on the rock, witness to the waves’ wanton wildness, I am free to draw, to write, or to think. The sketchbook is just an excuse if anyone asks why I go out there, and on occasion I actually do produce a drawing or two, but it’s really just a prop, a superfluous item without which my pack would probably be lighter. I spend most of my time there staring out to sea, watching the changing cloud formations, observing the gulls as they hunt for food to feed their nestlings. I like the way the water is never the same at any given moment, how it is constantly in motion. I never tire of watching the spray dash off the rocks below.

But sometimes I just think, totally unaware of my surroundings as they recede into the background and I get lost in the maze of my own mind. I think about anything: the events of the week, movies I’ve seen, books I’ve read. Sometimes I worry about decisions I’ve made and how they will affect the future. Sometimes I make up stories, tales of fancy that may or may not actually end up in that notebook I carry. Other times I paint large canvases in my mind that have nothing to do with the scene before me.

My favourite days are the ones where I return home from my trek tired, hungry, dirty, and with absolutely nothing material to show for it. It is my escape into a different world where time slows down or stops, where nothing I do can affect anyone else, where the call of the curlew and the whistling of wind are the only meaningful language.

The winter months when I cannot hike to my peninsula are painful for this reason, the summer that much sweeter therefor. If I could, I would turn my fur to feathers and become a gull, making my home by the ocean, nesting on the rocky crags, at one with the wind and the waves, letting my plaintive cry ride above the howling of the storm; and there, overlooking the ocean with my yellow eye, I wouldn’t worry any more.