miss e

she landed in our cornfield.
not, like you may have heard, in the bermuda triangle or somewhere in the pacific,
but in a soft patch in auntie’s north 40.

and she liked it so much, she just stayed.

our house was small, and nothing fancy; just some wood and brick and not even indoor plumbing — but there was always room for one more, auntie said. and feeding another mouth? heck, back then, we all knew how to stretch a meal.

at first she didn’t talk much. not at all, really.
so we made sure she wasn’t hurt and then we left her alone.

we fed her air and light and quiet time when she seemed to need it — which was often — and soup and bread and hot, hot tea, with honey.

auntie told me to let her be, to not follow her around or disturb her with talk unless she spoke to me first. i was full of questions, but tried hard to be patient and waited for the answers to float down from the sky.

she slept on a cot in the tool shed — one tattered blanket was all we could spare — and she seemed to like being close to the ground. but she looked up a lot, squinting & frowning at the clouds.

our dog lucky was drawn to her. she smiled when he would come around, and let him sleep at her feet.

after the first week miss e started to talk. by then we’d figured out who she was but didn’t let on we knew anything except what she’d told us. which was nothing much, ‘cept that a storm came up, she lost her bearings, prayed hard, and … woke up in our corn.

auntie thinks she lost her confidence along with her bearings, but she didn’t say that out loud to her, just to me. “people sometimes go from bold to bashful overnight. ‘specially women,” is how she put it. “this gal, she’s known false comfort, and betrayal, and lately she’s known more pain than anyone else. the pain of losing herself. she got caught up in something, and is trying to find her way back.”

back to where? i wanted to ask. but auntie just shushed me and told me to go get a nicer pillow from the couch for mel’s head. that’s what auntie had taken to calling her, and she called auntie a dear, and eventually she called auntie a lifesaver, and eventually auntie called mel to her bed.

and lucky’s heart took flight ’cause after that he got to keep both their sets of feet warm.

and i breathed easier, though i wasn’t sure why. i still missed my dearly departed uncle jake, but never since the day he died had i seen a grin on auntie’s face like the one miss e put there.

it wasn’t hard, keeping miss e a secret from the neighbours. we said she was auntie’s long-lost cousin, recently widowed, penniless and heartbroken. and that we’d put her up ’til she got back on her feet. everyone knew that mean forever, ’cause where else was she gonna go?

and my grinning aunt continued to feed her soup and tea with honey. miss e, er, mel helped her with the corn. she detested the cows. said they wasted the wings that god gave them. whatever that meant.

she taught me to catch a baseball, patch a tire, and could mend the tractor even better than uncle jake used to do.

she told me that the answer to just about anything would come to you if you stared at the clouds long enough. sometimes she would walk to the end of the lane at night, look up at the stars and just sigh.

she and auntie always seemed to get along real fine. the closest they ever came to having an argument happened one day when auntie came home from town with a newspaper tucked under her arm. she showed it to mel and they tried not to let me see, but i made out the words “called off” and “presumed dead.” they talked for a while in low voices, stern but calm.

i asked what was going on and they sent me to the pump for water.

when i got back, auntie was at the stove and mel was sweeping up the shards of our brown betty teapot that lay broken on the kitchen floor.

then she took lucky for a long walk, and they didn’t return until suppertime.

auntie didn’t say a word, just cut her a slice of bread, set a bowl of soup in front of her, and went to bed.

mel picked up her spoon, twirled it in her hand a few times, set it back down and then followed auntie into the bedroom. lucky and i went out on the porch and sat until the stars came out.

the low murmur of their voices wafted through the window. i didn’t want to eavesdrop so i threw stones at the shed and tried not to hear what sounded like my auntie crying.

i curled up on the porch swing and was whistling an unhappy tune when mel came out a little while later. she told me she had decided it would be best for all of us if she left.

auntie came out and said the only thing that was best for all of us would be if mel stayed.

i looked from auntie to mel and back to auntie.

mel took her hands out of her trouser pockets and placed them gently on my auntie’s shoulders.

“you sure?” she asked softly.

“absolutely,” auntie whispered.

“then i guess i’m not goin’ anywhere,” mel smiled.

“except to town tomorrow, to buy a new teapot,” auntie grinned.

lucky howled at the moon.

this is how our love affair would go

(from a dog-eared SAGA notebook,
november 2000)

this is how our love affair would go

if you weren’t married, or straight, or celebate — and i don’t
even know if you’re married, or straight or celebate, but if i did know, and you weren’t any of those things, or on the rebound, or dying … this is how our love affair would go:

i’d stop by your desk at work with a casual question about the new project.
i’d linger a little longer than necessary, making deliberate eye contact,
smiling coyly after you answered my casual question, which was in fact not casual at all, but quite pre-meditated, not spontaneous in the slightest but calculated
and designed totally to give me an excuse to stop “casually” by your desk and speak.

and then our shift would be over and i would be outside, waiting on the curb
for the No. 9 bus, pacing and waiting for you to drive past and notice me shivering in the dark, and then you would stop and lean over to the passenger side of your little blue toyota and fumble with the window and offer me a lift. you would point with your head, as if you were tossing hair out of your eyes, and say, “i’m going to the south side, if you’d like a ride …” and i would say, “oh, no, that’s okay, the bus will be along soon, thanks, but … well … okay, then, if you’re SURE you don’t mind …”

and then i would climb awkwardly

into your front seat and fumble with the seatbelt (because I have
incredibly bad seatbelt karma), and you would already be pulling away from the curb by the time i got myself buckled in, and then you would ask, “so where do you live?” and i would say, “oh, just off whyte, sort of near bonnie doon,”
and you would say, “oh, that’s not far from my place, and there’s a great little cafe near there, and i don’t think i’m quite ready to unwind just yet, so is there any chance you might be interested in going for a coffee?” and i would say, “SURE!” and then i would secretly hope i didn’t sound too eager, and then i would secretly smile to myself because my plan had worked and i was now going for coffee with you, and it’s a good thing because the No. 9 bus isn’t even my bus … so if you hadn’t stopped
and offered me a ride i’d have been waiting an awful long time.

cafe starsand then we would be in the cafe and it would be small and dark, but very comfortable
in that cozy, funky, bohemian artist kind of way, and there would be soft jazz playing,
the good, warm, relaxing, sexy kind, not the manic, migraine-inducing, teeth-on-metal kind, and then we would each end up ordering peppermint tea instead of guatamalan dark roast, and you would ask me how i’m liking my new job, and i would tell you, “it’s great, and how long have you been working there?” and we would talk about all the crazy people in the marketing department for a while, and i would absently pick up the spoon from the table and play with it in my nervousness, turning it over and over in my fingers, and then you would laugh and say, “if you don’t quit with that spoon i’ll go crazy,” and then you would lightly touch my hand, the one with the spoon in it, and grin at me in that gentle, sensitive, all-knowing way you have, and you would look me directly in the eye long enough to let me know that the spoon was just an excuse for you to touch my hand, and we would both feel the fire as our skin touched, and we would realize at that same moment that we were hot for each other, and then we would try to pretend we weren’t, and one of us would comment on how late it was getting, and suggest that maybe we should be getting home, because because because …didn’t it look like they were getting ready to close?

and then we would be back

in your car and you would be pulling up in front of my house and then
you would be leaning over to help me get the door open because the handle is tricky on the passenger side … and then as you were leaning over me me to pretend to push
on the sticky door i would smell your soft fine hair
and it would smell a little of cinnamon with just a hint of coffee and sadness,
and i would forget that i barely know you and don’t even know if you are married
or seeing someone or doing a zen celibacy thing, or dying, and i would kiss the top
of your head as you were still pretending to try to get the door open, and then we would both grab the door handle and pull it shut … and then we would kiss, a long, hard, desperate trembling kiss, and then we would hold each other and tremble some more, and then we would look at each other as if to say, “i don’t know what came over me,” and then we would kiss again, and then i would gather up my backpack and lunge out the door, saying breathlessly “i’ve gotta go — thanks for the ride,” and then i would rush inside my house and feel all whooshed and frantic and blessed, and bells
would be clanging inside my head and butterflies would be doing gymnastics somewhere between my red and green chakras …

and then there would be a knock

on my door and i would open it, knowingly but tentatively,
and then you would be standing there holding a scarf and saying, “i think you left this in my car,” and i would say, “oh yes, thank you so much, my grandmother knitted that for me,” even though we both knew it wasn’t my scarf at all, it was your scarf, and it was just an excuse for you to see my face again, and then i would say timidly, timidly, “i know it’s, um, really late, um, but … would you, uh, like to come in for just a moment?” and then you would say, “uh, well, no, i really shouldn’t,” and you would be already gliding through my door like you’d done it a thousand times before
and taking off your coat and dropping it on the floor and stepping towards me …

and i would look into your eyes and i would be all flushed
and i would put my bashful hand on your cool, tender cheek and know that i would never again be able to stop by your desk at work without thinking
of this moment
and blushing
like hell.