Quebec City is probably an interesting place. But if you mosey along the north bank of the St Lawrence Seaway, going west about 80 miles, you come to Trois-Rivières. We’ll stop there, even though another 80 or so miles would get you to Montreal, a place with some international renown.
Yes, we’ll stop there, because she was born (this time) in Trois-Rivières. French Canadian parents (this time), and a big family, too, about 11 children and some miscarriages. Roman Catholics (this time) and I don’t really have to explain that they lived in poverty, do I?
She was perhaps a fallen goddess, a faerie creature, either blessed or cursed with empathy. So it was that she once again found herself in human form, relying on her unusually open eyes, natural slyness and odd concern for the half blind and downtrodden, and struggling to remember the hidden past.
She half-remembered or at least faintly sensed her previous lives. China…always China. Scotland, or maybe it was Carthage. It sure as hell wasn’t Cadillac, Saskatchewan. But over the course of nearly a century (this time) she only lived this life, her life, day to day. She rejected the church, she rejected the government, she accepted the half-truths of family, and love, and marriage, and children. Inevitably there came the final truths and mysteries, and the beckoning of other futures.
Along the way there were children. There was a daughter. There were husbands. There was tragedy and a half-breed, adorable child, soon to be perverted, separate, isolated, emotional, selfish.
Have you ever laid above the earth, blocked from the light of civilization, surrounded by dark trees, and then reached up to touch a handful of stars while passing through the ocean of the universe? Have you tasted freedom, real freedom? And felt that dizzying, even sickening, sensation of flying lost through time and space? Till, with relief, the tether of the things you love first halts your escape and then guides you safely back to sanctuary?
He grew up. He played, he learned, he lied to himself. He was injured and was then imperfect. This was proof of his unsuitability for heaven.
One day another found him and he joined the human race. And then…
The day she died, he carried his only child in his arms, walked up to where she rested, unconscious, in the hospital. She had withered within dementia, was now birdlike, skin over bones, like a fossilized archaeopteryx. Was she really unconscious, or had she already departed this still breathing corpse? Was she finally abandoning him? Or had it already happened?
He wanted to hold her hand, one last time. But the child needed comforting. She was beyond being comforted. He left and she died within the hour.
The memory of how he had not held her hand was painful to him, so of course he treasured it. Treasured the loss and the regret and the guilt, treasured that indefinable sense of awful separation that was his only inheritance.
Where is she now? A lifetime away, a millennium, or possibly just seconds, or possibly she is right here and now.
He was four years old. In his own world, in the Five and Dime and then suddenly…where is she?
Frightened, panicked, he shouts out for her, “Gram!”
“I’m right here.” Her calm voice. She is right behind him. He grabs hold of her dress, leans against her, relieved, secure.
He’s still a child. He’s four years old, he’s twenty-six years old, he’s fifty-seven years old, he’s eighty-three years old. He didn’t ever think he’d last this long. He’s still a child.
They are coming for him, heavily laden with responsibilities. With grim and tired resolve, he settles into dreary middle age.
Gary Fletcher – December 6, 2017