28. The animal hoarder

The next midnight move was a tough one.  Morag, the client, was a woman in her mid-forties, short and dark and with an intense gaze that reminded Jesse of a squirrel staring you down at a bird feeder. Her ‘unqualified ongoing disaster’, as she referred to the job, wasn’t a case of moving some boxes between two points, but of locating, corralling, crating and moving almost one hundred domestic and farm animals from a hoarder’s property in Langley, to be distributed at the six different drop-off points in the Lower Mainland where animal lovers were prepared to take on at least some of the evacuees.

With his normal cold efficiency, George treated the Langley hobby farm move as a logistical challenge; for Jesse it was two shifts’ worth of PTSD flashbacks, mixed with the kind of molten, angry misery that sensitive souls feel when faced with the horrid evidence of extended cruelty.

Michel came along to help deal with the scale of the task, which dwarfed anything they’d previously attempted. Jesse heard a lot of colourful Québecois slang the first night. After a while, even Michel fell silent.

Legally, Morag had no claim on any of the animals, and had been escorted off the property twice by the local RCMP. With a voice like a glass-cutter, she outlined the stupidity and laziness of the officers who had seen the hoarding situation and done nothing, not even press ten digits on a cell phone to get the BCSPCA involved.

“Why didn’t you call the SPCA?” George asked, pointedly.

“Because my sister’s name is still on the title to the property,” Morag said furiously.  “So she gets dragged into the legal crap and all the fines and what-not. And now that son of a bitch is out of town – he didn’t even get somebody to come in and put down food.”

“How many crates will we need?”

Morag said, heavily, “All of them.” George shrugged.

“A number, please,” he said.

“Fifty,” Morag said. “We can get two or three cats into each carrier, and probably some of the animals have died.” With a great sigh, she added, “I have no idea what we’re going to do about the pony, the horses and the cow. They’re pretty beat up from being in the paddock with hardly any shelter, and two of them don’t even have bridles so we have to get that sorted out, and god knows how we’ll get them into the truck.”

“I can do that,” Michel said.

Jesse said, “I’m not understanding why this move has to be at night.”

Morag made a growl of disgust. “The next door neighbour is an animal hoarder too, although her animals are in better shape. She drinks herself to sleep every night around nine so if we move fast, we’ll be history before she staggers out of bed in the morning. During the day she could see us from the window that looks onto the east side of the property. She’d call the cops fast as lightning as soon as she saw me.”

“She may call the cops anyway if she gets up to take a leak and sees the lights,” Jesse said.

“If that happens, I’ll stay and you guys can leave.”

“It’s just theft under, trespass and mischief,” George said. “I’m sure we can handle that.”

“Stealing horses is not theft under,” Morag said. “Not if you’re stealing a trailer to move them.”

“I see your point,” George said, “But unless Jesse voices an objection, it’s a risk we’re willing to take.”

Jesse said nothing. It’s hard not to see yourself as a hero when you’re rescuing critters.

“You’re going to see a place no animal should live inside and no human should ever create through negligence.  I know my brother-in-law’s crazy and not fully responsible, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is going to be really, really hard. I’m sorry, because you are going to be seeing and smelling this for a long time, at least if you’re not mentally ill or a complete fricking sociopath.”

“We’ll manage,” George said soothingly.

“I won’t,” Jesse promised. “But I’ll keep it together for the job.”

When they arrived, the gate was locked.

“Shit,” Morag said. “I didn’t bring bolt-cutters.”

“Michel,” George said.

Morag watched with astonishment as Michel hopped down from the truck, walked over to the padlock and snapped it apart like it was a breadstick, dropping it with a theatrical flourish.

“He’s very strong,” Jesse said. Jesse had not been able to establish what the upper limit of Michel’s lifting capacity was, although it was easily three times what Jesse could manage. If he could tear apart a padlock, he had stronger hands than a human being should have, so it was comforting to know he wasn’t human. During the last move, Michel had been stacking boxes six high and dancing around with them in a hilarity-provoking imitation of a beefy, working class Fred Astaire.

“No shit!” Morag replied, watching Michel with admiration as he opened the gate and Jesse drove them through.  Michel leered at her, and her frown came back.

“That man’s not quite all there,” Morag said.

George and Jesse both laughed. “The part that’s here can lift half a ton,” Jesse said. “And likely has other talents we’ll need before the dawn comes,” George added.

As wrenching to the soul as to the organs of olfaction, their first task was to locate the animals which had a chance to survive.

“Shit,” Jesse said. A couple of cats approached them out of the darkness, mewing hoarsely. Morag turned her headlamp on. They were filthy and one of them limped, dragging a mangled foot. A kitten with a crooked tail, its eyes nearly swollen shut from flea bites, trotted up to Michel, wailing. Fleas leaped off it as he picked it up.

The dogs in the kennel were too weak to get up. Jesse’s heart broke as one attempted to wag its faeces-caked tail. Fleas moved in sheeted swarms in every direction. The whole property stank, but the kennels were an order of magnitude worse.

Delightful trip

So, I was in Victoria yesterday because Katie and I could not STAND that Alex was so amazingly verbal these days but mOm had not received a demonstration.

We had yummy food and Alex drove toy trucks over mOm’s feet and called her ZiziMa. He likes ZiziMa house. He used to like the Flying Pig but now it almost scares him.

I chased him all over deck 5 of the Spirit of British Columbia yesterday.  My feet are still singing.

I have to take the car back this morning, but I’m going to run some errands first.

Putting this here so I can find it later.

27. Michel arrives in Vancouver.

Jesse tried to work out how having romantic feelings was socially suspect, when every critter on earth with a spine had some variant on romance.

“So you’re asexual,” he hazarded. “As a rule.”

George wagged a finger.  “Don’t start.”

“Okay. But –“ said Jesse.

“Don’t start.”

“One more question.”

“I don’t promise to answer it.”

“Your people call themselves something,” Jesse said. “I just wanted to know what it is.”

“We call ourselves many things,” George said. “But I tell you what,” he added, pursing his lips for emphasis. “You can ask Michel when he comes by.” He changed the subject with an emotional clang like a jail door closing.

Jesse let all thoughts of conversation drop as he started asking himself what Michel would be like.  He expected, as one does, someone much like George in appearance and manner, thinking that two of George would be something to see, like finding out there are two sets of Niagara Falls, or two moons orbiting the earth. Perhaps not two moons; that seemed too remarkable even for George.

So he was expecting someone about five eight, with sharp, vaguely eastern European features, Edwardian clothing and Old World savoir-faire in manners and expression.

Jesse was sitting up in the cab of the truck when Michel got out of the taxi. Michel looked directly into Jesse’s eyes, and smiled an evil, knowing smile, as if he knew not merely what Jesse was thinking, but the full measure of how silly he was for thinking that he, Michel, could be anything like that little squeaker, George.

“Holy fuck,” Jesse said.

“Impressive, ain’t he?” George murmured.

The person approaching him stood just under two meters tall and was wearing stained blue coveralls, as a professional mover would. His black hair had been shaped into a mullet, which increased his height with something resembling an afro on the top, and fixed his resemblance to a motorcycle club member with a long wild horsetail at the back. He walked like someone who had carried more heavy loads, been in more mosh pits, told more tall tales and courted more fine women than anyone in the world, and that he’d as soon punch your lights out as share a jug of beer.

George had mentioned that Michel had lived in Montréal for a long stretch, but didn’t mention that he’d picked up his accent there. Michel sounded like a Canadiens player from the sixties, attempting his first interview in English. 

Michel opened George’s door and pulled him out onto the ground, “Weak ass’ little bugger that you are, you have to call on me.” Jesse threw himself headlong across the truck seat to get a glimpse of what was happening.

The two of them thrashed around, first in the street, then in the gutter, then on the sidewalk for a minute, insulting each other the whole time as they writhed and sought purchase, if their tone was a sign. Jesse couldn’t understand a word and reached for his phone to record it.  As soon as he turned on the phone George laughed, and Michel said, “None of that,” and faster than Jesse could believe, Michel was laughing at Jesse through the truck window and stood with the phone in his hand. George’s hand came up to touch the phone.

For a strange second it seemed as if having wrestled, they would now dance. The phone rested between Michel’s hand and George’s, as they stared each other down.

Abruptly, Michel tossed the phone at Jesse.  It described a perfect arc and landed in his jacket pocket.

“That was bracing,” George said, smiling fondly at Michel.

“I’m doing this before I go see Kima,” Michel replied, furrowing his monobrow. “Allons-y, I got girls to bang, places to be.”

“Uh,” Jesse said.

“I texted you the address,” George said.

“When?”

“Just now.”

Jesse looked at his phone.  Between the time he’d pulled it out to record the fight and the time Michel had tossed it back to him, George had texted him.

While he was wrestling on the ground with Michel.

“Uh,” Jesse said. “How –“

“Really Jesse,” George said, amused. “Have you never heard of multitasking?”

“Never touch the stuff,” Jesse said, fighting to maintain his dignity with a witty response. “It hurts your ability to concentrate.”

Michel said something, probably in Greek.

“English only,” George said. “Jesse’s a good man, very hard to fool.”

“Thanks,” Jesse said, with genuine gratitude.  Having extra help is great, but not if it means you have to listen to two other people giggle and pass notes in a language you don’t understand.

“That so?” Michel said, not impressed.

“I know you aren’t human,” Jesse said, tired of being the butt of this asshole’s rough humour.

Michel wordlessly turned to George.

“He guessed,” George said, shrugging.

“Timing’s the pits,” Michel said.

“No, not really,” George said. “Kima isn’t pregnant yet.”

Michel gave a shrug that seemed to span the roadway. “If you say so, cuz.  C’mon, let’s go, my balls are itchy.” He dashed around the side of the truck and hopped in next to Jesse.  Jesse felt his weight, and warmth, and realized that whatever the hell they were, they were quite different from each other.  And yet friends. And relatives.

Indecorously, inauspiciously, Jesse’s friendship with Michel had commenced.

26. Layered like an onion

“Gotcha,” Jesse said blankly. He returned the truck, took a cab home, and did not sleep.

Jesse, who knew he was not imagining things, wondered if he’d ever see George again.   Apart from former clients, there was nobody else in town who could identify him. He’d never been to George’s apartment.  If George decided to vanish, there’d be nothing to show for it but a couple of anecdotes and a Fortean-scale mystery and whatever money he’d managed to make.  He could try running down the antiquities part of George’s business, or see if anybody in the poly group had more of a line on him.

Getting out in Abbotsford, though. For George to have been that angry and that disgusted, that he didn’t even want to ride back into town with him, was almost scary.

He felt like he’d broken George. It hadn’t seemed possible.  Now it did.

But George, true to what seemed to be his nature, reappeared for the next job, free of comment or insult, and he waited until he had all of Jesse’s attention to apologize.

“I’m very proud,” George said. “I like to think I know everything and when I don’t I can be quite obsessive and angry and …”

“Humiliated,” Jesse said.

George didn’t argue.  “I’m sorry for worrying you and I’m sorry I kept harassing you about your personal life.”

Jesse briefly considered George, and what he’d said. “You couldn’t worry me, at least about your physical health. I was worried that you’d fired me without notice.”

“Very well,” George said, “I’m sorry about that too.”

“I for one am sorry I saw you disappear,” Jesse added.

“You didn’t see that,” George said, and there was a thread of some other mood than dismissal. 

Mmhmm, thought Jesse.

“Oh, I’m not saying there’s not a rational explanation,” Jesse said with a calmness he didn’t feel.  After all, if he was right, there was no telling how George would respond. “Quit squirming, I know you’re not human.”

“Of course I’m human,” George said, in a tone that implied that any other suggestion was ludicrous..

“No, you really aren’t,” Jesse said.  “Ya see, one of the things about my childhood is that my mother gaslighted me about damned near everything, but my aunt and sister prevented me from completely losing my mind, and my keen observation, especially when I’m sensing I might be in danger.”

George gazed at him, motionless.

 Jesse continued. “I have no idea why a puka or magic sasquatch or temporarily embarrassed vampire would want to live in Vancouver –“

Here George tried to interrupt, but Jesse wasn’t having any. “– And whoever you are, you’re certainly welcome here, seeing as how you appear to be performing heroic tasks to make fat stacks.”

George quit trying to interrupt, with a sharply exhaled sigh.

Jesse continued. “I don’t really care what you are. All I care about, and all I’m ever gonna care about, is how you behave.”

“So I could be a vampire or some kind of magical creature and you’d be okay with that,” George said.

“I would be as accepting as I could manage, and as curious as I could get away with. I find it interesting that I had a massive cognitive reset and you could immediately tell, but not what happened. So I know you’re not spying on me.”

George made a noise.

“Anybody who has the power of invisibility can spy on people.  Humans find it almost impossible not to spy if they have the capacity. Do you?”

George thrashed in his seat quietly.

“I do spy on people,” he said. “But I don’t spy on you, because anything I want to know about you I can ask, and you’ll tell the truth.”

Jesse grinned. “Not everybody does.”

“You have no idea,” George said in a voice that seemed to have blown in with an arctic outflow.

“Shit! Of course I do.”

“And you’re prepared to never know what I am.”

“George,” Jesse said cheerfully, “I get the impression sometimes that you don’t know what you are. And you keep talking about people who don’t exist, like your ‘mate’ and Michel.”

George chuckled.

“Oh, I assure you, they’re real. In fact –“ George said. He pulled a phone out of his pocket and checked it. Jesse shot his eyes over it; even upside-down he could see it wasn’t George’s usual phone, and the lettering on the text was Greek. If George kept multiple phones, he definitely had a double life. He remembered what George had said once, offhandedly.

My people speak medieval Greek as a common language.  Keeps people out of our business.

“Michel is here. He should be joining us for the move,” George said, and put the phone away.

“What?” Jesse said. He’d been fantasizing that George was the last of his kind, making up imaginary colleagues and friends so that he wouldn’t sound so lonely.

“Yeah,” George said.  He brightened. “Michel and I have a complicated history.  He tried to kill me once – it was more like several attempts over one short span of time – but we got over it pretty quick.  Now if I have a close friend in this world, it’s Michel.”

“You also have a mate,” Jesse said.

“True, but one relaxes with friends, and one never relaxes with Kima, there’s too much at stake,” George said, almost to himself.

“You’re trying to get her pregnant,” Jesse said, “You’ve mentioned that. Isn’t that relaxing?”

“Whatever you do,” George said, trying to laugh but not managing it. “Don’t say that to Michel, I’ll never hear the end of it. Mating is not relaxing.”

“You’re doing it wrong,” Jesse said thoughtlessly.

Whatever bad temper George had vented was not coming back. He laughed merrily and said, “Definitely, definitely do not not say that to Michel. He’s only here in town for Kima.”

“He wants your mate? And you’re okay with that. Are your people poly?”

George laughed again. “In ways yet undiscovered by humans, I suspect.  It is unusual, and socially suspect, to have long-lived attachments.  My parents did.” Abruptly he stopped talking. Like Jesse’s mother, George’s mother was a sore subject, although he’d been evasive about why.

25. Jesse the trickster

 

Ten minutes later, with much less suavity than he normally showed, he was at it again.  Jesse kept fending him off and George kept trying to understand just what it was that could have happened to him to make Jesse so different. Jesse switched tactics, and threw himself across the front seat onto George. He did so in the expectation of three things.

1. George wouldn’t grunt or make any noise.

2. Whatever George did with his body would not match what Jesse saw with his eyes.

3. Jesse, no matter how hard he threw himself at George, would emerge unhurt.

George, who could sense Jesse was winding up for something but did not know what, fell back, said, “Oof!” and prevented Jesse’s head from hitting the inside of the passenger window with his hand.

“What are you doing?” George said in irritation.

“Sorry,” Jesse said automatically, and shoved himself back behind the steering wheel again. Jesse was surprised, and not surprised.  George sounded like a man who’d gotten the wind knocked out of him, so scratch that. He couldn’t say that what he saw, heard and felt was mismatched, although it seemed that George got a little blurry.

“You can predict what I’m going to do next, right?”

George didn’t answer right away.

Then he said, “You are one of the hardest people to read I ever met, even though your body language says you are an honest, open person.”

“You didn’t answer the question,” Jesse said.

“My people are not fond of the inquisition as a social form.”

“My people are not fond of evasive clownbags,” Jesse said.

“If I promise not to mock you, or laugh, or bring it up again, or tell anyone else, will you tell me what happened?”

“If you tell me why you want to know, when you generally don’t give two shits about my personal life, will I promise to consider it? I doubt it,” Jesse said. 

“Why is it so important?” George shrugged. “Idle curiosity.”

“Nope,” Jesse said.

“Nope,” George repeated blankly. “I’m telling you to your face it’s idle curiosity!”

“And I’m telling you to your face you’re lying, though I know I can’t prove it,” Jesse said, triumphant.

George looked at Jesse, frowned, and said, “Fine. Why do you think I’m asking?”

“Because you want to predict my behaviour,” Jesse said. “And did you just admit you were lying?”

“No,” said George.  Jesse smiled his three-cornered toddler smile and looked away.

“It’s okay, George,” Jesse said. “I know you can read minds.”

“No,” George said, with suppressed fury, “I can’t.”

“You can read something. C’mon, George! – you can smell human blood at 30 paces behind two doors! – what other tricks have you got up that fancy sleeve of yours?”

George threw open the passenger door so hard it nearly came off the hinges, slammed it so the truck reverberated and swiftly walked out of sight.

After about ten minutes he returned, got in and sat down. He stared directly ahead and didn’t speak. Jesse counted to thirty.

“Never saw you lose your temper before, George,” Jesse said.

“I don’t like being called a liar,” George said.

“Even if it’s true?” Jesse asked softly.

There was a short pause.

“Especially if it’s true,” George said.

“You’re obviously not like other people, what with your upbringing and your funny clothes and all,” Jesse said. “Do you know how strange you are?”

“Compared to what?” George asked. He almost sounded despairing.

“Just about everyone,” Jesse said. “But I like you, so it doesn’t much matter to me.”

There was another pause. Then, as if he really couldn’t help himself, George said, “What happened to you?”

Jesse said, “You’re not going to like it.”

“I know that already, from how resistant you’ve been.”

“Er, no. You sure have a high opinion of yourself. It’s because you’re an atheist.”

“How would that make a – oh, you’re kidding,” George, for once, looked nonplussed.

“Yup. Met a god. But that’s not the best part,” Jesse said.

“You did not meet a god,” George said, voice dropping into incredulity.

“Just one way of putting it.  The technical term is theophany.”

“If you think Lark turned into a god in front of you, you’re crazy.”

“Oh, it’s far worse than that,” Jesse said. “I was the god.”

“Humans have the most incredible capacity for self-delusion,” George said. “Every time I think I’ve plumbed it, the bottom drops out yet again.”

“While he was passing through,” Jesse said, as if he hadn’t heard this, “He told me to keep a very close eye on you. He specifically told me that you don’t belong here.”

George appeared to lose the power of speech. He looked at Jesse, his brown eyes stricken, and then got out of the truck again. He didn’t come back for half an hour, said nothing, and hardly spoke during the move.

They helped a woman after her roommate’s brother had drunkenly assaulted her in her sleep. The roommate was convinced it was the client’s fault, and the client was heartened that she didn’t have to listen to the same crap from the guys loading the truck.

Normally George came back with Jesse to drop off the truck. When they’d offloaded into the client’s parents’ place in Abbotsford, George said, “I’ll find my own way home,” and got out of the truck.

“Are you sure?” Jesse said, appalled.  “It’ll be a hundred bucks at least for a cab!”

“It’ll be worth it,” said George. As he walked away from the truck, Jesse watched him in the rear view mirror, and saw him vanish into thin air.

24 Numinous laundry

The next move went by in a blur, and the next.  George was obsessively keeping track of pointless details, and Jesse didn’t try to stop him.

For a week after his brief dip in the imaginary ocean of theophany, Jesse had seen representations of Hornèd Gods and Green Men everywhere.

It was faintly outlined on the bicep of the dark brown guy in front of him in the coffee lineup. He shook his head and peered harder, since it was so hard to see, and the guy caught him looking.

Inwardly dying of embarrassment, outwardly smiling and apologetic, Jesse said, “I’m sorry man, didn’t mean to stare.”

Still smiling, the man put his thumb on the switch of a little ultraviolet LED hanging from a buttonhole on his vest. Jesse jumped a little, since it could make him quite sick, but saw the outline. Other figures from Celtic mythology danced down his arm.  This being Vancouver, there was only one possible response.

“Cool!” he said. “I’ve heard of UV tattoos, but I’d never seen one in real life.” They chatted about it while they waited for their orders.

He was crossing Nanaimo on foot (against the light, of course) and a car with a Green Man painted on the driver’s side door went by. He was almost run down by another car when he halted in the street to look at it.

George pointed one out to him, after Jesse had mentioned he was seeing them non-stop. It was Mod Podge®d on the side of a mini-library a few doors down from a job they did in Kerrisdale.

A Cernunnos wooden mask with goat eyes looked down on him from a balcony on Broadway, most of its paint destroyed by the weather; another deer antler peeped out from behind a bra-strap, with Kwan Yin’s hand (or so he presumed) appearing with a lotus on the other side.

He opened a copy of the Georgia Straight. The band of the week was a posed in front of a poster of Cernunnos.

“Aaaagh!” Jesse said, at that. He phoned Lark and told her about it.

“Frequency effect and clustering illusion,” she said.

“We had a close encounter with a god, for god’s sake, and you’re telling me  about my cognitive biases?” he said in disgust.

“Do you think that’s what happened?” Lark said, sounding genuinely amused. “Our gods are present all the time, just like our cares and our blood and our biases. We made an effort to see him, that’s all.  The effort isn’t always rewarded, but you can’t stay in the liminal state.  There’s always dirty socks and cat poop.” She made a thoughtful noise in her throat. “You’re going to see Cernunnos here and there for the rest of your life. He is life and green-ness, renewal, the springing, sudden force of masculinity, the sheltering tree for the other critters. Pay attention when you see him.  Choose the light.”

“This is going to sound stupid, but did he leave anything behind?” Jesse said.

Lark chuckled. “This is going to sound like a hackneyed answer, but did he find anything in you that wasn’t there already?”

She had him, since technically the whole thing had been a shared hallucination.

“Not really.”

“Don’t make too much of it.  You’ve had an unsettling experience. Wind blew through parts of you that you thought were wrapped up tight.”

“You seem fine with it.”

“Appearance, belief, credibility, doubt, ecstasy, fear, grounding,” she said, as if she were reading from a book. “You never know what order the experience will come in, but you need to get grounded at the end.”

“Nothing like hauling buckets of other people’s crap around to keep ya grounded,” Jesse said.

“Well there ya go,” she said, mimicking his tone. “I don’t mean to be mean, but perhaps we can take a break for a couple of weeks.”

“Not permanent.”

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” she said, with heartening emphasis.  “But if I tell you I need perhaps a month to let the energies settle….”

“It’s okay,” Jesse said. Being poly meant that conversations like this were way easier not to take personally.

“What happened to you?” George said when Jesse dragged himself into work the night after his encounter with Lark, and that other imaginary guy who’d come along for the ride. 

“None of your business,” Jesse said. He wasn’t going to breathe a word about it to George, the world’s harshest and most uncompromising atheist. (“My people have been atheists for generations.”)

“You’re different.”

“You, in your scorn for etiquette, are exactly the same.”

“That was uncivil.”

“I had a really, really good teacher,” Jesse said. He left it to George to figure out whether he was talking about his own mother – or George.

George sidestepped with ease. He came on very predatory at times, leaning in for the kill during conversations. “I’m serious.  What happened to you?”

“I don’t want to describe it, I can’t explain it, and it has something to do with Lark.”

“But it was good.  I can feel it. Something wonderful, surprising.”

“Excellent guesses, very accurate! – but it’s still none of your business.”

“Perhaps I should meet Lark,” George said thoughtfully.

“I was raised to have no hope of privacy, but there’s no fucking way I’m putting up with that from you,” Jesse said, and George sensibly abandoned the inquisition.

Unfriending

I have now unfriended Leslie Fish – one of the most prolific, talented, popular and namely of all the US filkers – in all of the social platforms I share with her. She has sent out a message that she supports and wants more funds for the US military; no because, no reason, just: she wants it. I remember Kevin Duane (who said many things, but this one stuck) once said to me when we were both living in TO “The thing about libertarians is that they only want to spend public money on cops and the army, and *maybe* insane asylums.” I wasn’t expecting to watch this jest turn into reality before my eyes. I am also aware that #notalllibertarians are fans of increased military spending, notably Sean Haugh, who is REALLY SERIOUS about getting the US out of foreign wars, but by Ludwig von Mises, that’s the way to bet.

I gave her money for her garden too.  It’s a pity that her little piece of libertarian paradise in one of the Western States is probably going to be a pile of dust in ten years; climate change is a right bugger.

23 A visit to the Summerlands

Lark froze.

Sensing a more formal response was required, he took both of her hands in his, looked directly into her eyes and said, trying to sound less stilted aloud than it felt in his head, “I thank and bless you for all your good gifts.”

Lark beamed, and led him by the hand to her kitchen table, where platters of food and carafes of wine and jugs of beer awaited him.

“Bless this household,” Jesse said. “This is a meal fit for a god.” He tried not to sound like Thor from the movies.

She said a short and heartfelt blessing over the food, and, after washing their hands in a silver bowl, they ate, while Celtic harp music played softly in the background. The food was a genuine treat for Jesse, who did not get home-cooked meals that often. Raven wasn’t domestic and he was indifferent to the study of cookery.

Lark was sparing in her alcohol consumption and did not consume illegal drugs, but wild gods do as they please.  After their meal, Jesse excused himself to stand on the balcony and gazed at the North Shore Mountains, where the lights from the ski runs and the moonlight pushed them against the darkened sky. While he admired he view, he vaped the Comatose he’d brought, until he nearly was.

Bleary-eyed, he slid the balcony door open.

She had used the time to clear the table, and had changed from a plain white gown into a short, fine linen robe of forest green.

“Cernunnos, Lord of all that lives in the woods, will you honour me and join me in our shrine?”

“I will,” Jesse said. Instead of being creepy, and everything he dreaded, it was all very sweet and loving and hospitable, and he felt his anxiety and uncertainty finally melt away.

Lark gently and carefully removed his clothing, and slid out of her robe. She wordlessly directed him to lie face down on a massage table. Jesse wagered with himself that whatever oil she applied was going to smell atrocious, but apart from frankincense, which he recognized because his sister had always had a weird thing for it, he couldn’t recollect what anything else in the oil might be. It was a wild and evocative scent. He smiled and said, into his forearms, “Thank you.”

The massage pulled every vestige of pain and emotional discomfort from his body. After a long, contented, extended moment, which might have been an hour, Jesse stopped feeling the endorphin rush, and something else rushed into him instead.

“Can you feel that?” Lark said, lifting her hands from the backs of his thighs, startled out of her ritual. It’s one thing to invoke a god. It’s another to have him appear.

“Oh, yes,” said Jesse said, rolling onto his side. Forty-five minutes later, exhausted, triumphant and slightly perplexed, they looked into each other’s eyes and laughed.

The giggles and cuddling lasted a while. Lark arose and danced at one point, wearing only a belt covered in tiny tinkling bells which filled the room with a shimmering noise, and then she retook her place next to him, in her finely woven sheets, and he made a little groan of contentment as she slowly placed her head on his shoulder.

Then, as if his emotions had been loosened with his tendons, Jesse wept. He later told Raven it was like being a hailstone, driven up and down by natural forces, until finally he was too heavy to be buffeted any longer. He felt himself start, as if he literally had been thrown down onto the bed; sleep enfolded him.

He awoke to candlelight.

Lark was sitting next to the bed, sketching him. She wore a satin bathrobe, sky blue above the waist and grey and brown below, embroidered with designs like the mithril tracery of trees from the door of Moria. She looked roseate and relaxed, paint removed, although, smiling to himself, he saw one little speck of it on her cheek. She was a thin woman, but Jesse thought she seemed plumper somehow. He had a brief, somewhat pornographic flash as to why that might be.

“What time is it?” Jesse said indistinctly. 

“Four a.m., or thereabouts.” She frowned.

“What’s wrong?” Jesse said, sitting up.

Her expression cleared, and she looked at him with a gaze full of the love that doesn’t know how to possess, existing in the constant flow of offering and acceptance.

He smiled back.

“There’s nothing wrong,” she said. “But I have a few more favours to ask of you, as Jesse, rather than as my god.” Now her voice was teasing.

“More adult fun times?”

“Perhaps,” she said, again with that lilt. She set aside her sketchbook and went to an armoire, which she opened to reveal a horned mask and a bi-coloured robe of what looked like homespun and home-dyed wool.  It looked itchy.  “When you’re fully awake, I would like you to wear these, so I can draw you. And with your permission, take photos. Your face will be behind a mask.” She returned to the chair by the bed.

“Used to that,” Jesse said blankly. Then, realizing he hadn’t answered the implied question, said, “Of course.  It’s not every day a man gets that close to the Summerlands and returns whole.”

“One other favour, one you may not wish to grant.”

Jesse did not brace himself on the outside. He’d learned not to.

“It’s a question.”

“Oh,” Jesse said. “I don’t think I have any secrets from you, now.”

“Mysteries will always remain, and are to be honoured as the boundaries of human life on this world. But I wanted to know, out of simple curiosity, why it was you cried.”

Jesse felt himself tearing up again, and after a deep breath said, “I don’t know if I can give you a good answer to that, but I’ll try.” He pursed his lips, and sniffed, and said, “I told you my mother never loved me.”

“Yes.”

“The only love I got from women or girls was from my aunt and my sister. But knowing that your mother didn’t love you, didn’t put you to her breast, mocked and harassed and worked you like a donkey – you don’t get over that. You don’t grieve for a year and a day and find yourself free and clear.”

“No,” Lark said.

“You gave me peace from that.”

Lark bit her lip. She was nearly crying, but composed herself before the first tear escaped.

“Even if it never happens again,” Jesse said, lying back with a thump, since as tender as her gaze was, he could no longer meet it, “It happened once. Everything good and wild and loving, everything growing and green and fruitful, came to me from your hands.”

He sat up suddenly.

“Did I tell you I prayed to the moon before I came in?”

“Hell of a thing for an atheist to say,” she chided, laughing as tears fell.

“I think it worked,” Jesse said, with an almost childlike satisfaction. “Mind you,” he added, “I didn’t ask for anything.  I just praised her.”

“Well done,” Lark said. She rose and carefully snuffed the candles, returning through the scented darkness to his embrace.

22. The God who dragged His feet

To be an atheist, as he felt he was, and hold the space in himself to acknowledge the pale goddess humans wrote on that slippery circle. To say goddess meant so much more than that. 

You are the polarized light that guides earth’s animals to mate, to hunt, to cycle in time.

                                      You are the calendar that brought us time and thus put science more firmly in our grasp.

                                                                           You are the far horizon of thought and the concept of distance and relationship to the sun.

You are the undiscovered country we can see and not touch.

You come by the cell window and through the palace door.

And I could give you names, my lady Moon, for all of time and in all the human languages, and still I would not have given you your due, for all you’ve meant to humankind, and how very inadequate and strange it is that I would even gender you.

That is how I experience you.

He recognized in himself a desire to please Lark, in how he was stopping to make space and get closer to her mindset. Even though she was crazy.  He didn’t like thinking the word, but the word demanded to be thought. He thought: The trick was not speaking it.  Yeah, that was the real trick. Crazy infests English like an earworm or a badly-remembered dream.

So many triggers were waiting for him in that room, her shrine / playroom, triggers forever associated with her building’s stairwells, and attached with neural glue to those strangely malodorous elevators, even though the building was less than two years old.

As he stood looking at the moon, a white guy about his age, with a laughing buddy trailing after him, walked up and said all snotty, “Fuck you looking at, asshole?”

I’m worshipping a goddess and you’re pissing in my ear. Okay –technically I was worrying about my PTSD, but I don’t think she’d mind.

He could think it; he felt no wish to say it.  Keeping his mouth shut was a habit, and George probably liked him that way; he certainly shut down questions with a smooth combination of misdirection, honest answers you didn’t want to hear, and still-bleeding hunks of snark.

He quickly walked away from the two men, wishing he had George’s confidence.  If George was here, he’d trip those fuckers and hog-tie them, but now ’tis time to deke into an alley and gain access to Lark’s building with the side door key.

As he slowly climbed the stairs, he tried to calm down by telling himself a funny story.

Lark had been appalled when it was learned the smelly elevators had been recycled from a bankrupt condo building. While Jesse was trying to figure out how they got the elevators out without destroying the building, Lark sounded off.  Her narrow face, with its mask-like wrinkles, seemed to pounce on her own words, something she only did when she was pontificating. How could, she had said, chewing on the words like a diva, such a direly incompetent thing as a bankrupt condo building happen in the Unreal City that is the Vancouver housing market? It seems beyond reason!

After that Jesse spun himself a tale about how the elevators got so smelly – well he did sometimes, you know, spin a tale to explain the elevators being smelly, or he’d tell himself a story that his dad was going to get him out of that goddamned house, or think his mother might just drop dead from being so sour and so sere, and god, she was like an emotional desiccant sitting in your face and climbing down your fucking lungs all the time, but really this tale he spun was a bit much, because he talked himself into believing there’d been not one but two mob hits in both elevators and there were little pieces of corpse tucked into various unseen crevices, slowly rotting and mouldering. 

Then you ass, he thought with mocking self-admonishment, you complete and total ass, Lark tells you that one of the other strata owners had illegally but effectively put up webcams, and soon viewed with horror that yet a third strata owner was releasing the contents of what was soon identified as a modified marijuana vapour bag into the elevator, although the contents did not appear to be pot. Jesse had six kinds of pot at home, and was confident he could distinguish whatever this smell was from any skunkweed on the market.

Oh no! said the unified voice of the strata council during a secret meeting that would have made a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order, had one been in the room, self-animate and flap out the door.  But wasn’t it possible, dreadful thought, that a noxious and potentially harmful gas had been released in a confined space? And while our feckless band of parsimonious asshats debated this, losing track for the duration of the whole ‘elevators-have-doors’ concept, no-one thought to check the footage if the man was still using the elevator, which would argue against it being worse than an annoyance.

Lark noted that the council found out later that he did, so whatever-it-was could hardly be toxic. The strata council, easily one of the weirdest and least effective she’d ever heard of, could have stopped the insanity right there. But no. It would be too easy to tell him they knew what was going on and ask him politely to stop.  

Lark made a siren noise.

So the cops got involved, and Lark considered this in poor taste. Jesse’s opinion was somewhat stronger.

Jesse, being big, muscular and ethnically opaque due to the mask, at least in daylight hours (although he’d not likely be mistaken for an Inuit man) had likely drawn more police attention since he’d lived in Vancouver than the equally white Lark had met with in her whole life, with her kids’ lives thrown in for laughs. Jesse had seen cops do right and had seen them do wrong, but good behaviour and clear speech or unnecessary roughness and profanity all made no difference in the end. It had always been in a situation when they were armed and he was not.

Cops were always creeped out by how his mask had to cover his mouth too, so he was swaddled like the Invisible Man.  His tongue and lips got welts just like everything else, and had to be protected. There’d been some talk of custom-making something just for his mouth that would signal he had a mouth, but the mockup made Jesse look ludicrous and the price was like the whistle of Viking broadswords. After discussion and out of necessity, the biomedical tech folks modified a custom order bondage hood by putting specially tinted and coated lenses in it. He’d really not wanted to order a beige mask, but he knew a brighter colour would pull in the Five-O like a burning cop car.  Black would make him look like a gimp escaped from a dungeon.

He was at the top of the stairs.  He had to use another key to gain access to the top floor apartments. He paused for a minute, telling himself the end of the story was worth it.

So a couple of days later two cops, both white, one apparently a woman, knocked on his door – the poor guy lived just down the hall from Lark – and while the down-the-hall neighbour was letting the cops in, her across-the-hall neighbour opened her door a crack and when the far door closed, took a drinking glass down the hall and put it on the door to eavesdrop, like something out of Fifties TV.

With embarrassment verging on terror, the ‘accused’ admitted to the police to having invented a device which captures all of his flatus so that he can squeeze it all out of the bag into the elevator, for that is how people will get to know him.  The cops, giving evidence they were some form of superhuman, maybe supernatural beings, did not laugh, but the across-the-hall neighbour did. She dropped the glass, which miraculously didn’t break, and scurried back to her apartment before one of the cops, hearing the commotion, whipped the door open.

Lark of course heard this breathlessly recounted the next morning over coffee with the neighbour.

The cops, with more respect for their duty to the public than one often credits them for, promptly left, and no further action was taken, except that everybody now wanted the Man who Bags his Farts out of the building except Lark, who said given a choice between living in the same building as an international banker and a guy with poor communication skills and a weird fetish, she’d take the farts every time.

Well, and why not.

Lark was waiting for him and likely starting to worry, since he’d already texted her.

He unlocked and pulled open the stairwell door.

For a moment he stood outside her door, but she’d heard the outer doorway make a scraping noise as it closed, and she welcomed him in.

He immediately took off his mask and shook out his hair, sighing with relief.

“I welcome you as an avatar of Cernunnos. Come share a Mabon feast,” Lark said.

“I could eat,” Jesse said.

Western idea

Sarah Howlett, forced by her family’s circumstances to emigrate to Canada in 1908, trades the factories of Birmingham for the lone prairie north of Saskatoon. Despite the weather, the privations and the unwanted attentions of no fewer than three remittance-men, all of whom are encouraged by mischievous relatives, she learns to train horses, shoot a rifle with accuracy and raise cattle. Correspondence courses and the companionship of a soft-spoken, sweet-tempered Quaker provide her with the moral and psychological strength to make her own way through the world and contribute to it as her strength allows.

More surgery for Paul

Man, to have dental surgery on your birthday.  I walked him home yesterday at his request (and Keith’s, the text I got from him was so nervous granny-like it was sweet as heck), and we hung around his place for the afternoon being lazy. Molars make damn big holes.  Now he has to wait a month to get the sutures out, and then be healed enough to get a post and implant.

140/82 is my blood pressure, I checked yesterday.  I won’t say what Paul’s blood pressure was since it was somewhere between ouch and boing.

I made pulled pork.  It is nommy.