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| The Chronicles
Salt Spring Tales (I wrote this story, in 2006. Enjoy!)
Goto Chapter :
The rumour started about one p.m., on a sleepy Saturday in the sleepy month of January. It
was Casey Thompson who first reported it to Emmy Springer, and then it went like wildfire.
On February 14th, it was definite, Mick Jagger was going to be on Island, and he was
looking for property.
His helicopter would be landing at the Harbour House Hotel, he'd be staying at Hastings
House, and he'd be looking at that 160 acre property with the creek and the lake.
At the Roasting Company, several people claimed insider knowledge. They'd heard from
someone who'd heard from someone else that Mick had already bought a property, that he'd
been here for three years, at least, and someone had seen him on a motorcycle, heading up
Beddis Road, and someone else had seen him licking an ice-cream cone, waffle cone at that,
on the Boardwalk, outside Oystercatcher.
Vera Bolton, with her hair pale purple this week, told her friend, Martha Creske, that she
had an appointment for an interview, for the school paper, on February 15th.
Martha snorted her disbelief, and continued with her quest to braid her horse's mane with
silk and straw ribbons. Martha only cared about winning each and every competition she and
Queen Juliana entered. So far, there was an entire wall of trophies.
Mikey Harris, though, was struck at the thought that his chance had arrived. He had won
the Rock Star Look Alike Contest two years running, with his rendition of Can't Get No
Satisfaction, and he craved an introduction to his idol, Mick.
His Dad, Kevin, laughed, and then flicked on Star Choice, to catch Larry King on CNN.
Rumours flare, like spores, flying off in all directions, landing, taking root, and
fluffing into full bore continents of interpretation.
After awhile, no one checks. It's been said, at least forty times, and so it must be true.
Mick's coming, by helicopter, by sailboat, no, it's on a B.C. Ferry, he wanted to sample
the Sunshine Breakfast, no, no, he's on his own floatplane, he's shooting a film, and the
Island is in it, what, the whole Island? Forget it! It's all a joke, it's not April Fool's
yet, but this isn't real, it's all a joke....
Meanwhile, the swans at Fulford Harbour glide in a serene line, up one side, across, and
down the other, waiting for their daily feeding, the same pick-up truck arriving, at the
same time, to spread grain for them. Meanwhile, the donkey, the two goats, the llama, and
the horse, plus three geese and several ducks, wait at the blue farmhouse, to be fed.
Meanwhile, the meals-on- wheels volunteers make their rounds. Meanwhile, the tarot card
reader holds court at the metaphysical store. Meanwhile, reputations are scissored and
repasted, at the three coffee houses in town. Two people decide to weed the park, because
it needs it. Someone drops off a spray of roses to a deserving hospital volunteer. A
developer paces the hallway of the Trust office, hoping that his plan will be approved. An
artist raises his brush and stares at the tree he's just delimned on the rice paper
backdrop...when it works, it's "there". Cars line up at the ferry terminal, while an eagle
Just another sleepy day in sleepy January, with fields fallow, and an expectant pewter
glow over the Island's world.
Mick's coming, though, on February 14th....
Florence Foster opened the letter at eight-thirty in the morning, over her second cup of
coffee, and just after she'd waved goodbye to her two children, Kelly and Morton.
The ticket was enclosed.
Who could have sent it?
To Buenos Aires, gratis, from an admirer of her Tango.
To take lessons from the master, in Argentina, because of her soul on display, with every
step. A pressed rose petal fell from the folds of the letter.
Florence hugged the letter, and did a small dip and swirl around the kitchen. Dance was
her passion....first, the line dancing, and then the ballet, and now the Tango, with all
its smolder and innuendo.
Florence the fiery, Florence the passionate, Florita the intangible, the soulful, the one
and the only...she couldn't go, of course. Who would make sure that Morton took his shots,
and looked after his diet? Juvenile diabetes, unresolved, led to death via blindness and
amputation, everyone knew that. Who would make sure that Kelly did her homework and kept
her eye on the future, the path to university, to success and a way out of this household
of single mother with two children and never enough money.... Who had sent those tickets?
Who had watched her dance her life into existence?
She dialed Kathie's number. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. There!
"You'll never guess!"
"Florrie, I'm in the middle of something here...I'll call you back!"
"Right away. Emergency!"
One, two, three, four...ring, ring, ring. "Hello!"
"Ok! What is it! The ewe is lambing!"
"I have a ticket."
"A ticket? For what!"
"Are you all right? What do you mean, Argentina?"
"It's for the dance classes, with Julio Moreles, the ones the instructor talked about...I
have a ticket, and instruction with him. It's all paid for!"
"Are you kidding? I didn't know that you could afford this!"
"I didn't buy it! That's what I'm trying to tell you! I just opened the envelope, and
there it was!"
"Wow! Look, I'll have to call you back, we're in the middle of things right now, with
lambs dropping all around us. We'll talk!"
"Please, please, I know you're busy, but call...I'm going to go nuts here!"
"So who's your benefactor? Is it that cute doctor that you talked about, at the last
"Don't joke! It can't be...he has a girl friend."
"Yeah, but that doesn't mean he can't dream...maybe you're girlfriend # 2. Look, I'll call
you later...I have to go!"
Florence stood, staring out the window at the dead stalks of the lavender, at the birds at
the feeder, fighting for the seed, at the probing fingers of the crocus bulbs and the
daffodils, pushing out of the earth below the kitchen window.
Argentina. The name evoked passion and sun and incredibly handsome men who all danced the
Tango, the dance of love, with rhythm and passion not known on this sleepy northern
climate Island...isla pacifica...passive island...her blood drummed and dreamed...she must
go, must go, must go....the future beckoned.
Meanwhile, the eagle brooded from the fir above Grace Point Square, and the seal rippled
across the Harbour in front of the Coast Guard dock, and the geese flew in formation above
Sisters Island, and the tide rose and fell,slopping against the pilings off Moby's Marine
Pub. Isla Pacifica...brooding in the pearl gray light of very early Spring, very late
First, there was the fencing to finish, up on the third pasture.
The rhythmic percussion of the posts, slapping into the earth, lulled his mind. The
regularity of movement, going beyond thought, propelled his imagination.
What would happen, here, if he left?
Behind him, in the valley, smoke tendrilled from the kitchen chimney. Mattie would be
there, elbows on the table, overseeing the homework for Bobby and Chris.
Home schooling had become her passion, and she was determined that the twins would not be
stifled by any teacher's insistence on the bare bones of the curriculum. Enriched learning
was her watchword.
Peter was worried about the social side, but Mattie insisted that going to the children's
theatre group, and to the soccer matches, and to the riding club would make up for not
attending the local elementary school.
A hawk rode the air above him, catching a downdraft, gliding across the mountain and
disappearing... easily...suddenly gone.
Sweat pooled at the small of his back, and his breath puffed white in the morning cool.
How had he ended up here, with his mortgage payments, and this family dependent on him,
and these manual chores that sounded great, from the city, but which had just turned out
to be dull hardship and plodding work.
Today, the light shimmered around him, but it was just as likely to have been a sodden
rain, cloud on the ground, further isolating him on this sliver of a farm, pushed into the
hills above the Valley.
Mattie was happy.
The kids were in good shape, he had to admit that.
Mattie belonged to the fibre artists group, totally absorbed in the carding and spinning
of her wool, the dying and the creating of toques and sweater vests, and this whole thing
of sheep to sweater, the "natural" way.
She was a beautiful knitter and had won a prize at the last Fall Fair.
Leaning on a post, Peter stared down the hill, towards the newest vineyard on the opposite
hillside, and past it, across the lower valley, towards the sea.
He wondered if Stefan was still moored at the government dock. Now there was a
life...Stefan, living on his sailboat, casting off whenever he felt like it, and moving
on...only the chores of the sea, brief interruptions in an endless day of whatever time
would deliver...yes, there was a life, a life of a gypsy...not this endless round of same
old/same old, trailing endlessly behind him, never finished, never different..."I've
turned into a maintenance man", Peter mulled. "I'm like those sheep, following each other
in a single line to the butcher's knife".
A bell tolled him to attention.
Mattie had separated their day into neat segments, "so we don't lose track", she'd said,
and, true to her word, their day was organized in predictable portions, all the more
Peter spat, his saliva disappearing into a clump of moss.
The hawk had it right...he'd gone, already, over the other side of the hill, where it
might be day, it might be night, but it wouldn't be decided ahead of time, each minute
could still be a surprise.
If this went on much longer, he'd be crazy...he'd be like the hitchhiker no one would pick
up, muttering to himself at the sides of roads, walking the Island, ceaselessly
walking...he'd have to talk to Mattie. He couldn't remember when he'd said he'd be a
farmer, but it had to stop, and stop now.
Look at that...all of the undone things stared back at him, mute and accusing, as he
plodded the muddy trail back to the turn of the century farmhouse that Mattie had
described, in such detail, over the phone, and he'd bought into her dream, her vision, her
desires...she'd always been able to talk him into anything.
Not this time!
He opened the door, pulled off his boots, and dropped them beside the woodstove. The twins
looked up, then went back to their workbooks. Mattie was stirring one of her pungent home
made soups. A log snapped and sparked in the stove. The CBC announcer was giving the
weather reports, for the province. Another lunchtime, another day. He'd speak to her
tonight, after the twins were in bed...this couldn't go on.
Meanwhile, an Orca pod was steaming and blowing its way up Trincomali Channel, and only
five people were looking seaward, to see the whales on their journey north.
Meanwhile, a weather system from Hawaii was blowing across the Pacific, to soon deliver a
"pineapple express" to the Coast, pummelling with monsoon rains.
Meanwhile, the cast of the radio theatre show were rehearsing their parts, and looking for
1950s clothing, for the one night performance.
Meanwhile, the construction crew at the townhouse development were breaking for lunch, and
the waitress at Oystercatcher was setting a surprise table for a birthday celebration.
Meanwhile, the jazz group was practicing for their Friday night gig at Treehouse South,
and, up at the North End, lambs were frisking in their farm field, while a man with three
dogs, all on leashes, a Jack Russell, a Corgi, and a Lab, stood at the road's edge,
staring at the lambs abandoned joy.
Meanwhile...the Island drifted, in sun and fog and rain and January calm, awaiting
Spring's rowdy emergence.
Billie decided to go blonde. It was just one of those things, a dare, really, and, she was
as surprised as everyone else, when she saw her reflection in the salon's mirror.
At the same time, the short hair cut released the tangle of curls from the weight of all
that long hair.
She didn't look like herself.
She felt the same, though.
The outside was more like her younger sister had come to stay, and, instead of the heavy
coil of brown hair, stripped back from her forehead, neatly plaited next to her skull,
there was this froth of platinum blonde, tangling and fuzzing outward, like an auriole
around a sun.
She would catch a glimpse of this head reflected in store windows, almost disembodied,
above the familiar winter jacket, and the shock of it would make her recoil.
Without these sightings, though, her thoughts were the same, tumbling around the usual
track of her daily routines, until, there, right there, the hair caught her attention, and
she stopped, literally, and a blankness settled over her features.
Why had she done it? What on earth had she been expecting?
Yes, she had watched with fascination the t.v. make-over of a young mother, someone so
inured in her routine that she had lost herself somewhere over the high chair, feeding her
child. Afterwards, the husband had taken her dancing, and it was clear, from the glint in
his eye, that there might be another high chair before long.
No, that couldn't have been it.
Mike was never going to take her dancing, no matter what she did.
He was too busy creating whatever it was he did on that computer...he'd tried to describe
it to her once, but she hadn't understood, and it was too tiring to keep going over the
It was like learning bridge, she'd tried to explain to him, and four different and patient
people had given up, finally, at her inability to master the game.
He had shrugged, and gone back to his hunched position, over the keyboard, staring fixedly
at the screen, as if he might climb through it and be lost to her forever.
So, how did all that anxiety, that followed her through her minutes and hours and days,
end up becoming blonde?
Maybe it was the quote she'd seen in a newspaper, someone called Montaigne, who had said
that length of life wasn't life, or something like that, and she'd just walked in and made
the appointment and walked out, someone different, if not on the inside, then, where it
counted, where the outside would see her.
Did the viewing of another, staring back at her, make her different?
Was it true that blondes had more fun?
Well, she'd have to stop filling in these hours and minutes, with self- inflicted chores,
and go home. What would Mike say?
How long would it take to go back to normal?
She sat in the car, the dog, Buster Brown, jumping and hopping around it, confused as to
why she didn't get out, and go inside, throwing him a dog biscuit from the pail on the
Maybe she should just drive away, and come back later, much later, when it had all grown
Would Mike still be here? Would the house wait? Would Buster remember her?
Clearly, change was a bad idea, but she'd already known that....Buster's frantic barking
had brought Mike to the door, and his shadowed bulk peered from the screened porch.
Well, now or never. She almost reversed, and drove away again.
Slowly, she climbed out, her toque mashed to her head, the straying curls hidden. That was
it, she'd just wear the hat for the next several months.
Meanwhile...two guard geese at the farm down the valley patrolled their hedgerowed garden.
Meanwhile...the wraith of cloud cover peeled from Mount Bruce, and feathered across the
Valley. Meanwhile...two children in blue overalls jumped in and out of puddles, splashing
mud and rainbow water over themselves. Meanwhile...Polly, at the north end, poured a
stream of pink paint in icy rivulets over the canvas she'd stretched between four
clotheslines, and the trailing splotches solidified into thick veins...yes, she muttered,
yes, exactly that, and turned to the pot of blue/green sultry paint. Meanwhile...Carter
strolled his vineyard, grapevines stripped to stalks of sleeping sap, sun stored in the
roots, awaiting Spring's engine of growth....
Meanwhile...the Island swam in that middling wave between winter's death and spring's
genesis, with mists and rainbows and icy mornings and false warmth of late
afternoons...brooding and flooding into a new year....
"Did you hear?"
"Florrie's met someone. In Argentina."
"Someone? You mean a special someone?"
"Very special, if you listen to Billie!"
"Is she going to live in Argentina?"
"No, he's from San Francisco, and they met at the class with that famous dancer that
Florrie was always talking about."
"No kidding! It's like that movie that was playing last week, "Under the Tuscan Sun", or
something. Maybe we should all go somewhere else, and meet someone!"
It's true, though, Frannie thought, waving Cynthia on her way. Maybe we should all go
somewhere else. That makes the third person, this week, who's met someone new, someone
exciting, someone just for them.
Frannie pushed the clay from the wheel, and dipped her hands into the muddy water in her
lucky blue plastic bowl.
It had been a long time since she'd thought about Paul. Paul of the shocking blonde hair,
of the blue eyes that were more green than blue, in a certain light, Paul of the
His death in the fishboat sinking, off the Queen Charlotte's, had sent her reeling into
several blind alleys, fetching up, at last, on the tranquil shores of Booth Bay, an
inhabitant in an old friend's Salt Spring guest cottage. There, she had begun to play with
her past life, in fits and starts, beginning with simple coil pots and evolving slowly,
with the spiralling rhythm of the wheel, into thrown vessels, rimed with leaves and
pebbles and smashed bits of quartz, Paul's fractured eyes glinting out at her from the
finished firing of each vase or bowl.
Her mantra, now, was to share, to care, to do for the "other". Each time there was a need,
she would write a cheque from her small savings and post it on its way...doctors without
borders was her favourite. She loved the way they were always first, ignoring the chaos
they descended into, dealing one to one with each person that presented in front of them.
Brave, she would think, pressing down the stamp, taping the envelope shut for good
measure. Each pot she threw would have a name, after that, with the most recent debacle as
It was a way of obliterating the hole that Paul had left for her, his only bequeath to her
being this constant craving for his closeness, his listening soul. Soul mate. Soul
companion. Was it possible to meet one's other half without having fully appreciated who
it was? This halfling wraith she had become did try to get through each day, and it was,
on the whole, possible.
Sometimes, wrapping her Mexican shawl closely around her, swathing her shoulders in its
rough wool warmth, as she walked the gravel road to the mail box, she fought off the
longing for companion footsteps at her side, tried to ignore the welling longing for
another's voice, another's smile...it was the inability to share that caught at her, and
always in unexpected ways.
This time, no sooner than Cynthia had gone on her way, the gossip falling easily from her
lips, Frannie had tried to settle back on the work stool, the unfinished pot drying on the
wheel, the very thought of an Argentinian sun frying her into immobility. The interrupted
work was ruined, though, and she had pulled the fractured clay into the slop bowl.
"In my ending is my beginning", had promised the poet, T.S. Eliot. Frannie had studied
poetry at college, and Eliot had been on the curriculum.
Well, there had been a lot of endings, and a lot of circular meanderings in her life, to
date, and she couldn't see where she recognized any map points on the way.
It was more like lurch and destroy, not search and enjoy.
Billie had once told her that Cynthia found men on the internet matching services, and was
constantly going off Island to have coffee or dinner or indepth evenings called "dates".
A date....how odd. She must have dated Paul at some point, but she couldn't remember that,
How could one trust an internet date meeting? she'd asked Billie. Anyone could say
anything, over the internet...there was no checking up, that was for sure!
Billie had shrugged; it wasn't important. She had Mike, after all.
Frannie scowled at the new lump of worked clay, dripping and solid, awaiting her pliant
fingers and the rhythmic whine of the turning wheel.
Maybe she should join Florrie at the tango classes in town? The paper had printed a new
class roster. Florrie had described it like being reborn...the sinuous turns on the dance
floor might promise seduction and allure.
Frannie closed her eyes, her fingers probing the sleekness of the clay, and dreamed her
dream of sunshine and fields and ocean glitter, a summer sound and smell, a past so
distant, now, that it was kept from tattering by the scotch tape of her memories.
Did she dare to begin again? Isn't that what Dr. Methuen had asked, at her last session?
Did she dare?
She opened her eyes, and pushed the wheel into action, excess water and clay flying off
into the corners, splattering her canvas work apron with smears of mud. The elongated neck
of a pot began to swoop upwards, too narrow, up, up, up...it folded suddenly, gone, and
the collapsed lump was swept off into the slop pot at her feet.
This was stupid. It wasn't working today. She would go for a walk, a walk all the way down
to Fulford Harbour, and she would concentrate on the path, on the pebbles, on the silvered
strands of dead grasses, until she was on the beach. The swans would be there, gliding the
length of the Harbour, beautifully unaware of anyone's anguish back on the shore.
She would call Florrie when she got back from the walk, and find out the truth of
Cynthia's tales. Florrie would tell her if there was room in the next class, if it was
possible for short and square people to dance like acrobats, across a polished floor,
bending and swaying like cobras to music.
Meanwhile, the clouds at the north end began to lower, almost touching the farm below
Southey Point, brushing past the sheep and the large pig...more rain on its way.
Meanwhile, the floatplane from Vancouver arrived at the Ganges Village dock, and two
people clambered out, slipping a bit on the wet rungs, one of them clutching a bulging
attache case, two paper cylinders scrolled up under his arm. Meanwhile, the otters on the
beach below Hastings House slithered into and out of the water, fishing in the outgoing
tidal currents. Meanwhile, two seagulls patrolled Ganges Harbour, catching a wind current,
gliding out past Powder Island to Goat Island's spectral trees.
Late winter or early spring...whichever...a blurring of one season into the next.
Frannie paced her way to Pattison's Store, at the Harbour's mouth, ignoring the
lengthening lineup of cars for the ferry back to Victoria.
Maybe it could start with the dancing. In this year of the dog, maybe anything was
possible. Even shutting Paul away in the closet of memory was possible, to be dusted and
fluffed out, every now and again, when needed. For high days and holidays. Right now,
though, she needed another voice.
What was that refrain from long ago? If you can't be near the one you love, then love the
one you're with?
Yes...that was it.
Frannie mused and dreamed and plodded her way there and back, forgetful, in the end, why
she had left the wheel and why she had ended up outside, in the tussle and hum of
She sat on the scarred and nicked stool, scarf still wrapped around her throat, her hat
pulled tightly to her head. She sliced off another slab of clay, and worked it, like
dough, until she felt its slippery call.
The wheel and the clay and the hands and the body pulled forth the elegant line of a bowl.
She lost herself, the process in charge, and woke up, much later, staring at what she had
Meanwhile, the Island dreamed around her.
No one could remember when the disappearance happened.
At first, there was no sense that Old Sol had gone.
One day, you'd see him, walking from the store at Fernwood, up to the trail onto his
property. The next, you'd see him down at Fulford, waving at the line of cars weaving onto
the Island, the ferry steaming at the dock.
Or, maybe he was picking up the power bar wrappers flung at the road side, by cyclists, on
one of those Salt Spring to Pender to Galiano bike tours, stuffing the litter into green
bags, tagged and left at the road's edge, awaiting pick-up.
Sometimes, you even saw him taking a breather on the picnic table at the edge of Ganges
Village, staring at the docks, watching the floatplanes coming in and out of the Harbour;
he'd always said he'd been a pilot in the war, but no one had ever asked him which
war...world war 2? Korea? Viet Nam? It was always just "the war". Generic. Maybe that's
what war was; who was to say?
Billie was the first to comment, over a latte at the Roasters, "so, haven't seen Old Sol
around lately... have you?"
That started it, right there. Suddenly, everyone noticed his absence.
Peter agreed, only because Martie kept carping at him, to check out Old Sol's cabin on the
trail to Musgrave. Nothing. Place was cold, woodstove didn't show any embers, just cold.
"Looks like he's been gone for awhile", Peter pronounced, over a beer at the Fulford Pub.
His drinking buddies nodded, as if it was just a usual thing, all of them thinking that
some time or another they might just do their version of that famous Australian custom of
Go walkabout...disappear...reinvent...recharge...no responsibilities.
Freedom, maybe? Unanswerable.
They all stared into their Salt Spring Pale Ale, their Pender Porter, their Mayne Stout,
as if those amber liquids could give them the answer.
No one could remember, either, when Old Sol had turned up on the Island. The real
old-timers said he'd arrived in the 60s, along with that group on the commune by Ruckle
Others said he'd only been on the Island a couple of years, someone who had once run a big
company, and had had a nervous breakdown, then escaped to the rural peace of the Island.
Someone else said that he'd been born on the Island, then lived away, returning when his
marriage broke up and his kids were grown.
Lots of stories, and no particular pattern to any of them.
An Islander, through and through.
Someone who helped out, and did his bit.
Florrie thought she remembered him walking onto the ferry at the Long Harbour terminal.
Maybe he'd gone to Vancouver for the day? Maybe he'd gotten off on Pender, or Mayne, or
Galiano, to visit a friend?
Did he have any friends?
No one knew, for sure.
The R.C.M.P. asked questions, and put the tracker dogs onto the trail leading from his
cabin, but nothing turned up.
Someone else thought they'd seen him on Galiano, hiking to the north end, somewhere out
past Dionisio Marine Park and past Spanish Hills. This turned out to be a rumour, and soon
After awhile, everyone kind of forgot that he'd been there, and had disappeared...forgot
to keep thinking about it, as days lengthened into weeks, and they became immersed in
their own thoughts and rhythms.
Florrie and her dance ensemble gave two recitals, and one workshop, proving the value of
going to Argentina for those special lessons. Don, her friend from San Francisco, spent
some time on the Island, and Florrie went to visit him, taking her kids, too.
Mattie found a new supplier for her pottery, a gallery in Sidney, which opened up the
Victoria marketplace, and her specialty orders began to climb. This meant that she didn't
have the time for the home schooling, too, and Peter finally prevailed that they should
send the twins to the Salt Spring Centre School, and stop all this nesting instinct.
Mattie watched him, thoughtful, knowing that there was more to this than concern about the
twins social development, but unable to ask the right questions. She remained silent, her
thoughts in a tumble, uncertain for the first time, ever, where Peter was in this marital
equation they'd created.
It didn't seem possible, right now, to ask. She turned away, and stared at the order book.
It was easier to contemplate decisions about colour and texture and shape and size, to
narrow her vision to the demands of her clay, and to let her fears about Peter's evading
of her, except in the night, to dissipate. Maybe Peter could wait....
After awhile, something else popped up in the Island's chat mode, and Old Sol's
disappearance became background noise, diminishing to something that only dogs and deer
could hear...people even forgot he'd been there on that picnic table, overseeing the
unfinished boardwalk, the floatplanes regular gliding into and out of the Harbour, the
traffic snarl as two ferry arrivals at the same time disgorged lines of cars into Ganges
Village, within five minutes of each other (when is that traffic light coming, muttered
the lineup, until they were through the bottleneck and on to their destinations).....Old
Sol was ancient history.
Meanwhile, lambs cavorted in newly green fields, daffodils pushed snowdrops and crocus
bulbs out of their way, tulips began to unfold, and gardeners put in Spring potatoes and
lettuce, under plastic coats.
The earth smelled new.
People stood, sniffing like wolves, as Spring burrowed up from under their feet and burst
into bud and early camelia and rhododendron florets, and early flowering magnolias
whispered into being.
Everything felt stale, from behind grimy car windows, and spirits lifted, dissatisfied
with winter's hibernation, desperate to be out and about....
Meanwhile, baby eagles tested flight patterns, and fawns docilely followed, single file,
their skittish mothers, and seagulls screamed over Chocolate Island, and seals smacked the
Harbour, fishing for herring and rock cod, and the crab fishermen checked their traps, and
kayakers went to sea on calm days promising summer....
The world came alive, and Old Sol's disappearance faded to something beyond background
music. No one had time, suddenly, to linger at the Roasters or to contemplate other's
An alarm from within. Quick, quick, quick....create and create and create.
The Island lifted from its winter dreams, its motor churning out of idle into first gear.
Frannie decided to pack at 6:30 in the morning.
The old leather valise, kept at the top of the crowded armoire, took two changes of
clothes, and her sketch book.
She locked the door to her cabin, shutting away the loom and its insistent call to stitch
and interlock, spooling up the wall of yarn into fabric creations that would sell at the
ArtCraft Summer Festival.
A Fran Siporsky creation carried resonance, and the sales reflected this. Usually, her
work had sold out before the end of the summer season's display.
Unfinished scarves, and vests, and fabric reincarnations of the views from her cabin
fluttered to the floor. Her key turned heavily in the lock, stiff from disuse.
For three years, now, she had tried to recreate this thing called life, had tried to
ignore the ache within since her husband's death. Fishing was a dangerous life, the way
logging was a job full of disasters, and no one seemed to care. One day there, the
How to plug this hole? How to allow the loss to dissipate?
She had thought that moving to Salt Spring, a cabin in the forest, looking out on a hay
field, sheep moving purposefully over their fields next door, and a weaving task that took
all of her ingenuity and attention, would be the solution.
Lately, though, a restlessness had attacked her, and she was unable to settle to her work.
She had tried to discuss this with the few guild members she had become friendly with, but
hadn't been able to articulate what it was she was truly feeling.
One of them had thought she might suffer from SAD, and had suggested that she should sit
under bright lights for an hour, early each morning. Desperate, Frannie had tried this,
but the restlessness and the ache within had persisted.
Then, just like that, she had wakened in the night, and the idea of moving to Pender had
struck her. She was on the wrong Island, that was all!
Pender would still allow her to fulfill these new obligations, with the gallery in
Victoria, it was still only a 35 min. ferry ride from Swartz Bay, Victoria's terminal, and
it might hold the gift of forgetfulness that she craved.
She wanted to let Paul go, to forget his crooked smile and his floppy golden hair. He had
persisted in going north, with the fishing fleet, and he had managed to elude her. Would
he have thought of her, as the boat sank in the sudden squall?
Would there have been too much happening? Was it a case of one minute here, and another
Once, she had looked down from a kayak lesson, with Mattie and Peter, and had seen the
yellow swirls of kelp beneath the sleek craft, tendrilling out like mermaid's hair, and
had immediately left the lesson...would she never get rid of this image of Paul sinking,
thrashing, calling her name?
The early morning frost crunched beneath her feet. She had to scrape her windshield. An
unexpected Arctic coldfront had swept down the Coast, chasing away early Spring promises
with a final reminder that it was still Winter.
Frannie loved the clarity of this cold snap, the waning moon still hanging in the west,
the pale pink and yellow and greeny-blue of the early morning eastern sky beckoning her
forward, as she nosed the car out of her driveway and onto the main road to the ferry.
The Valley was still asleep, lazy tendrils of smoke wisping from chimneys at scattered
farms, a lighted window showing here and there.
The Treehouse South cafe was open, and she picked up a warm from the oven cinnamon bun,
and a cappacino to go.
People in cars read newspapers, books, marked up job related paperwork, already at work on
the morning commute, ignoring the Island's stark beauty, just beyond the ferry railings.
Some few stared out to sea, savouring the mountains and islands and rippling pewter of the
early morning ocean. Frannie was one of these.
She brushed the crumbs of her breakfast from her anorak, and watched two Canadian geese
glide past, almost at water's surface, keeping pace with the ferry's slow procession out
of Fulford Harbour.
She'd worked it out, poring over the ferry schedule, that she could make the first trip to
Pender's Otter Bay, with five minutes to spare at the Swartz Bay terminal, between the
arrival of the Fulford ferry from Salt Spring and the departing Gulf Islands run from
Swartz to Pender and beyond.
She could do it all, in a day trip, returning to Salt Spring via the Twssassan to Long
Harbour route, which would pick her up at Pender's terminal and deliver her back to Salt
Spring, by ten p.m.
It was all easy, it would all work...it was clearly meant to be. The excitement of the
"new" caught at her throat. She remembered, though, that same excitement, when she'd first
arrived on Salt Spring, three years earlier.
This would be different. Paul had never been to Pender. Once, long before she had known
him, he'd helped with the water taxi business out of Ganges Harbour to the Outer Islands,
and so he'd known Salt Spring.
It occurred to her, for the first time, that she may have decided "for" Salt Spring on
this flimsy piece of ancient history. Had her choice, then, simply been this transparent
effort to hold a piece of Paul, even a piece that hadn't been hers to know?
She blinked away sudden tears, refusing to allow this meandering into emotion.
It was too much, all too much!
As suddenly as it had come, the rise of tears evaporated, and she relaxed back into the
car seat, watching the looming docks sweep into view as the ferry nosed and jostled its
way into the Swartz Bay terminal.
She knew the Islander's trick of keeping to the median, turning into the ticket wicket
line-up, while still in the terminal confines, & was just in time to go through to the
Outer Gulf Islands line-up, and onto its two storey ferry.
This route offered a coffee shop, and she bought another one, even though she didn't need
it, as her passport to a table and quietness, with a view that put Salt Spring on the
horizon, apart, in the other direction, and she almost laughed aloud.
Too bad that Mattie wasn't with her...Mattie was someone she felt at ease with, and who
seemed to have understood about the kelp that long ago day. Mattie appreciated an
adventure, and might have liked the day off, too.
Day off. Day removed. Day apart.
Salt Spring's mountains faded off to the west, as the ferry slowed for the Otter Bay
arrival. Only two cars got off, the rest of the ferry's passengers going further, to Mayne
or to Galiano, with maybe a sortie to Saturna.
These Islands were just names to Frannie...she had never thought of visiting them, and
knew no one on them. Summer places, someone had once said, but that could hardly be
true...the school boat regularly brought middle and senior students to the high school on
Salt Spring. Someone had to be living there, year round.
She followed the other car, a maroon station wagon, up the hill and out of the terminal
parking area, and pulled over to the side of the road. A large wooden sign, with a painted
map, loomed beside her. She pondered it, realizing that, just as on Salt Spring, there was
going to be more than one little community area...well, she had time, nothing but, and she
would "do it all".
Her heart lightened, with the sky, and she swooped around the corner and down the hill to
the Driftwood Mall, a tiny plaza at the road's edge. Another coffee, a map from the
tourist outlet, and she could subside into Pender's rhythm, and try to see if this could
be the place for her...just for her.
A new beginning...that's what she was wanting.
She closed her eyes for a moment, and then clambered out of the car.
Please work, please work, please work, she intoned, under her breath, and pushed open the
steaming door of the bakery/coffee shop....
When Carter McCulloch emerged from the floatplane, at Ganges Village's Coast Guard dock,
there were three separate reports of his progress up the gangway and into the Silver
Shadow Taxi service's latest purchase, a grey Ford.
The fact that he carried three rolled up documents, and a black attache case, and had only
one small bag as luggage, was duly noted in each report.
"Lawyer?" suggested one person.
"Developer, more likely!" answered another.
"Maybe both?" wondered the third.
None of them were right.
The taxi carried him up the hill behind the village, to the B & B which advertised the
best view on the Island, and, if it wasn't, it was pretty close to being so.
After that, the rumour mill churned the airwaves. By late afternoon, it was a confirmed
fact that he'd arrived to buy the old Shickley farm, and that he'd be subdividing it into
1/2 acre lots, and selling them off for over 400,000 each. Maybe 800,000, for that knoll
with the oceanview.
Oblivious to all this background chatter, Carter took the taxi back to Piccolo's
Restaurant, to enjoy an early dinner and a welcome evening on his own, relieved that he'd
been able to come without his partner, Alice. He loved Alice, or so he believed, as there
hadn't been any reason to have doubts, to date. Just the same, it was very relaxing to be
without her presence, beneficial though that presence was.
He stared at his menu, and gave a great deal of thought to the appetizer list, before
deciding to pass, this time. A 'piccolo' of champagne, a salad and the wild salmon entree
were served with a flourish and he sat, doodling on the pad of paper he always carried,
enjoying the feeling that always came, after a very good meal.
Some of his best ideas arrived after he had eaten and relaxed and before he felt sleepy.
For years, he'd been going to bed at exactly 9 p.m., and was always asleep, almost
Tonight, though, he felt restless. It was still fairly light out, when he emerged from
Piccolo's, the clarity of Sarah Brightman's voice, on the sound system, following him out
the door. Memory...it was pretty well under his control, and, so far, he had been able to
ignore any whispers of the past.
He strolled down Hereford, towards the boardwalk and the Harbour view by the marinas.
Leaning against the boardwalk railings, the village's shops and parking lots behind him,
the patterns of light shimmering on the evening grey of the water, he watched a seal glide
and dive. He kept expecting it to pop up in one place, and it would suddenly emerge, fifty
feet to the left or the right. He watched for some time, but never guessed correctly where
the sleek head would rise above the rippling waves. He felt himself smiling, as he turned
to acknowledge the voice behind him.
"What?...sorry, I didn't hear you."
"I think you might have dropped this notepad?"
Billie held out the heavily marked and scored paper, her dog sitting, for once, docilely
at her feet, just observing the stranger. His run in the park had tired him out.
"I don't...oh, yes. It is mine. Thank you." He patted it into his jacket pocket. The
lopsided smile was still on his face, and Billie thought he looked sadly out of place.
Impulsively, she asked him if he'd like to join her at the Glass Onion, for a coffee...she
knew the group playing there that night, and they were good.
Carter found himself agreeing, something he would never ordinarily do, and followed her
slow pacing to the restaurant. It turned out to be one block over from Piccolo's, and, he
thought, standing on its deck, while Billie tied the dog's leash to a railing, that it
would be interesting to sit out here, in the summer. He'd be back, of course, if he got
The music was loud and no one had to try to talk. When the coffee came, a cappucino for
Billie and an espresso for him, there was a pause, and Billie managed to get it out of him
that he was an architect, from Vancouver, though really from Toronto, and he was here to
do the preliminary design for a client who had just purchased a waterfront lot.
He waved goodbye to Billie, putting down a bill to pay for the coffees, at a particularly
raucous moment in the performance. He had no idea whether they were good or not. It wasn't
He had to walk almost a block before he could find a cell signal, to call the taxi to take
him back to his B & B. Bed was looking good!
Meanwhile, at half time, from the pay phone outside, Billie called Florrie, and she called
Joyce, who called Mattie, who remembered to call Jill, who then called Caroline, and she
always remembered to keep Frannie in the loop.
"An architect. He's going to be staying for awhile. The couple that bought the old Salter
place are going to build a new house. We should have a party, and make sure he's invited."
Frannie was in the middle of a double glazing process that had occurred to her, in the
middle of the night, and she had been desperate to try it out, all day long. Her attention
was only half on Caroline's words, and she just wanted to hang up.
"A party? Whose birthday is it?" Without waiting for an answer, she pushed the phone onto
its cradle, and returned to the slow wiping of the glaze. Caroline was used to Frannie's
ways and was already dialing Amanda's number.
Frannie had been in some sort of dazed state since she'd gone off for the day, without
telling anyone or inviting anyone for company. This had caused comment.
Carter, unconscious of the interest his appearance on Island had caused, snored gently in
the B & B's feather bed. Along with the best view on the Island, it also boasted it
provided the most restful sleep.
Meanwhile, the Island dreamed its way into real Spring, not just the promise of same, and
the days lengthened, the temperatures rose, and daffodils and tulips danced and swayed
into gardens, and the nurseries were busy selling fruit trees and some people had started
their vegetable gardens, with early lettuce and radishes, and new peas.
Meanwhile, the artists were organizing their studios for the "season", and store owners
were stocking up for the tourists, and realtors were driving prospective buyers around the
Island, and people were throwing open windows to the light and the sounds and smells of
Boaters were down at the marinas, making sure boats were ready, work parties were down at
the sailing club, repairing docks, and, on clear days, sailboats could be seen tacking out
the Harbour, carrying their skippers to a day's adventure.
The magic of the season beckoned.
After that first day of escape to Pender Island, Frannie had disappeared on three other
occasions; once to check out Mayne Island, then Galiano, and, lastly, the distant shimmer
There had been something on each of them that had caught at her attention, and, on
Galiano, there had been that unexpected & exhilerating meeting with a fellow potter,
someone who was clearly experimenting along the same lines, seeking to release the light
that the clay had ensnared.
It had eased something tight around her heart, to know that she had company out there,
that the ideas that had her waking in the middle of the night, to make rough sketches of
what had appeared, fully formed, in her dreams, weren't just a crazyness that had
momentarily possessed her.
Misery loves company, she'd thought, cynically.
Cynicism wasn't Frannie's mindset, though, and this stabbing at herself soon dissipated.
The work, as usual, caught at her whole being and swallowed up her attention, totally.
When Ann, who lived a mile away on a sheep farm, and who took tourists out on horses,
riding the trails around Burgoyne in the summer months, phoned to remind her to bring
something to the potluck party on Friday, she was at a loss.
Then she noticed her squiggling writing on the calendar by the phone, and, sure enough, it
said "party", there, in lopsided letters, and an 8 p.m. time.
She must have agreed to go and must have agreed to make her famous pavlova dessert. She
couldn't remember either promise, but there it was, in writing.
"What's the occasion?" she asked Ann, trying to appear sensible.
"Not sure. Billie's the organizer. Call her!" Ann was always taciturn, monosyllabic, not
great at small talk.
Frannie stared at the phone, but she didn't dial Billie's number. Instead, she drew a
looping concentric series of circles, around the date and the time, and propped the
calendar back against the wall.
She didn't always attend the various soirees that were organized, on a haphazard basis,
simple suppers to potluck gatherings, often to welcome a new arrival to the Island.
Maybe she should stop being so isolated? Isn't that what Florrie had said to her, the last
time they'd met for coffee at the Roasters, in Ganges?
"You have to make more of an effort, Frannie, or nothing will ever change for you. Running
off to another Island isn't going to change things. You're the one that needs changing!"
"Is that why you went to Buenos Aires, then?" Frannie had snapped back,
uncharacteristically goaded into a reply.
Florrie had ignored her outburst, slurping at her latte. Frannie had pretended to sip her
cappucino, which was too hot for her taste. She preferred lukewarm drinks.
So, maybe Florrie had been right. She could make a little effort.
She would make two pavlovas, and she would make sure that she added passionflower to the
She walked to the door, left slightly ajar, as she hungered for air these days. Beyond the
porch's overhang, the fields lay wreathed in early evening mist, the light growing, daily,
as the day's lengthened into true Spring.
She sniffed, tasting the freshness after the unusually warm day, the grasses, the earthy
odour of the fields, the scent of some wildflower closing itself up for the night.
What she hadn't said to Florrie was that she loved this space, this strange little wooden
house, with all its nooks and crannies, and so how could she bear to leave behind the
wheel and the clay spattered studio, with the view of the mountain framed so neatly in its
off kilter window?
Besides, she had buried that pearlescent stone, found on the beach near Cape Scott, where
Paul's fishboat had foundered. It lay, inches deep in the earth, under the cedar tree by
Whether she liked it or not, this was home, and Paul's ghost would have to stay out there,
by the gate, ambling and mooning through her thoughts and dreams. He was in her blood, and
that was that. She would have to accept his fitful presence and get on with things.
Florrie was right about that.
She did not, though, go to the wheel, or stare at the clay's inertness, waiting for her to
pound it into readiness to accept her visions.
Instead, she poured a glass of Billie's home made wine, a gift for her birthday, and sat,
feet up on the Moroccan hassock that Paul had bought her, at a long ago garage sale.
All this rushing about, lately. It had disoriented her. It had deflected her from her
work. What was behind all this restlessness? Too easy to say it was Spring Fever.
Well, she thought, lifting her glass to toast the photo of Paul, stuck haphazardly into
the edge of the mirror, above the round dining table that had come with the cottage.
So, I will go to this party, whatever it's about, and I'll take two pavlovas, and I'll
even dance, if anyone asks me.
She frowned, and set down the empty glass. Who was she kidding? All that was over for her.
She started for the bedroom, and veered off, without choice, to the cramped little studio.
She only felt alive in there, even without working. She leaned against the clay splattered
wall, and stared at the stars, beyond the high window on the west wall.
Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight...what was the rest? Oh, yes... I wish I
may, I wish I might, get the wish I wish tonight.
A tear dripped over her lip, falling into the blackness at her feet.
Hello, Paul, hello, hello, hello. I'm still here.
Meanwhile, beyond the window, a ewe dropped a lamb, in the fields beyond the house, and
the wind breathed through the grasses in the upper pasture, and the distant barking of a
dog echoed mournfully from the Valley and the whisper of cars from the last ferry for the
evening hissed along the Valley road, and the Island sank into its individual pods of
life, each to their own, while the night wrapped the Island in its net of peace.
Frannie wore her blue & silver caftan, and wound her hair into a turban of magenta silk.
She pushed her beaded silver slippers into the pockets of her anorak, and knelt to pull on
the old black boots she always left waiting at her back door..
Carefully balancing the cookie tray with its two pavlovas, she cut across the lower field,
a short cut of ten minutes between her cottage and Peter and Mattie's farm.
Maybe it was Mattie's birthday?
She couldn't keep all these little celebrations straight, and relied on Ann or Florrie to
remind her of these small niceties of friendship.
She was late, though. Boots of all kinds were already lined up, haphazardly, on Peter and
Mattie's back porch.
The twang of John Coley's guitar and Peter's banjo welled out into the night, as she
entered the steaming kitchen, pushing the tray of pavlovas, intact, onto Mattie's littered
"At last!" crowed Mattie, bursting through from the living room, evervescent and brittle
at the same time, definitely in party mode. "We thought you'd never get here!"
"It's only 9 p.m. Nobody ever arrives on time."
"Well, maybe not, but it's a special occasion. I began to think you weren't coming."
"You need to put those desserts into the fridge, Mattie, or we'll all get food poisoning
from the cream. It's too hot in here!"
Frannie leaned against the door for balance, as she slipped on her silver shoes, and
watched Mattie struggle to find room in her bulging fridge for the pavlovas, pale clouds
of meringue and cream and passionfruit.
"Well, don't just stand there! Put your coat over there, Frannie, and come in. You know
Frannie took the glass of wine suddenly thrust at her, and followed Mattie into the
crowded living room.
She did know everyone, even though she hadn't seen many of them for months. Maureen Coley
smiled shyly back at her. She and John always spent the winters in Mexico, but this year
Maureen had to stay behind, as her mother was in the local hospital, dying by inches.
John's bear hug of a welcoming embrace interrupted the music, and the room stopped swaying
to its rhythm, to pause in clumps of conversation.
"Here, Frannie. Come meet Carter McCulloch...he's going to be staying at the old Salter
place for awhile...he's designing a house for the new owners."
Suddenly, Frannie understood it all. They were trying to fix her up with the new person on
If it hadn't been so sad, she would have laughed.
She shook hands with the newcomer, who was finding it difficult to take his eyes off
Florrie, who, across the room, was fanning herself with a piece of lace.
Florrie was wearing that slinky black dress she'd brought back from Argentina, and looked
like she might suddenly give a demonstration of her latest tango lessons.
Frannie smiled hello, and drifted off to speak with Ann and Terence, knowing that she'd
barely registered on Carter McCulloch's radar. Terence built beautiful stone walls, and
Frannie had often wondered about creating a stone terrace outside her studio.
"So, Fran, how's it going these days?"
Frannie liked that Terence called her Fran. It made her feel grown up, somehow, and in
charge of her life. Frannie was that little girl who had run away from home, and married
"I heard you were presenting at that gallery on the Peninsula, now?"
"Yes. They invited me to be a part of their Spring show."
"Good. Do it. You're too big for the Island. You've got talent".
Terence had been with Ann a long time, and now spoke with her bullet precision, no wasted
words. Frannie found it a relief, and decided to stay put beside them. She wasn't in the
mood to mix it up. If anyone else wanted to speak to her, they could come up to her.
Salutory waves had welcomed her into the room, but most groups had already formed, and
were now embroiled in what looked like deep discussions. It was restful to stand with Ann
and Terence; they didn't care about making conversation.
"We're like the sheep in the fields", thought Frannie. "We're just standing and looking."
She giggled. They were even standing in a row, observing the rest of the room, their feet
neatly in a line.
This would never do. She should have stayed home, and she would leave, as soon as the
pavlovas had been brought out. After all that creating, she felt like a piece, too.
"So, Frannie, how goes it?"
Frannie swirled, her silver slippers sliding her round to face the voice that had
whispered behind her. It was Frank Roland, who raised horses at the north end, and
commuted between Vancouver and the Island. No one really knew what he did in the city.
One side of his face was mottled with a recent bruise. Impulsively, Frannie reached out
and traced the welted outline with her fingers.
"What happened to you?"
That was it. No further explanation. Frannie looked at him with interest. Maybe Frank was
another short talker? What a relief.
John & Peter had begun to play again, and some guests were dancing in the bare hallway,
furniture and rugs pushed out of the way for the occasion. Frank continued to wait beside
her, leaning slightly against the wall, and Frannie liked the way she only came up to his
shoulder. She liked to stand next to tall men.
She watched as Carter worked his way across to Florrie, trying to appear as if it was all
accidental, not noticing that everyone in the room was following his seemingly haphazard
route to Florrie's side. Florrie was blushing, but she agreed to dance, and Carter held
her firmly in a tango position.
Frannie was touched that her friends would have thought of introducing him to her, and
shocked at how little they understood her. There was nothing about Carter that had caught
at Frannie's innards. He could turn out to be a friend, perhaps, but that was all.
There had to be that spark. Without it, there was no point.
Suddenly, she wanted to escape from the stuffy atmosphere of Peter and Mattie's house,
away from the harsh twang of the music, and out into the calm of the night. Crowds made
her anxious. She found it difficult to draw breath.
"Are you leaving?"
Frannie jumped, having totally forgotten that Frank was still lounging beside her.
"Here, I'll walk you home."
"It's ok, you don't have to...I'll be fine."
"I know that. I'd like to, though".
Without being rude, which was something that Frannie found it difficult to be, it wasn't
possible to insist that she really just wanted to be alone.
"All right," she shrugged.
Outside, taking the long way back, by road, Frank began to talk about the stars that
splashed across the night sky, naming constellations and pointing out the feathery streak
of the Milky Way.
"I once thought about becoming an astronomer", he volunteered.
"How odd. So did I. Do all kids want to do that?"
"Maybe. Maybe it's because we came from out there, and, when we're young, we want to go
It wasn't a question. Frannie thought about his comment. Frank was a bit of a mystery. Did
he mean what he said?
She watched their feet, striding in unison on the gravelled roadway, and listened to the
frogs singing raucously from the pond at the bottom of her land. Something lifted, where
her heart had been lying, injured and faltering, for so long now. She was shocked to
discover that she was happy.
The stars pulsed away, above her, as she stood in the lee of her back porch, watching
Frank's back disappear into the night. It looked as if he had taken the same shortcut back
to Peter and Mattie's, across the same field path she'd taken earlier, but the darkness
had swallowed him up, and it was hard to be sure.
He hadn't asked to come in. He'd simply bowed, once, an oddly touching gesture, and
saluted goodbye. He really had just walked her home.
"Interesting", she thought.
She hoped he liked the pavlova.
She was surprised to find herself smiling.
Marcus quit his job on a Monday morning.
He'd worked at the forestry company for twelve years, and enough was enough.
He would see his reflection, when he passed store windows, and be shocked...all that
sitting in the office had created some middle age spread, there, looking back at him.
His vision of himself was still the Marcus of ten years earlier, someone lean and trim,
someone who wore jeans, and loafers without socks, and sweaters. Not this person in a
suit, two sizes larger than his earlier self, and with a receding hairline.
The reason he'd quit had had everything to do with the recent weekend visit to his sister,
who had left her husband and family, and gone to live at their family summer place on Salt
He'd gone over to talk some sense into her, after her husband, Sam, had turned up at his
condo, loudly complaining about Rita's decamping from the city. He'd found himself
promising to go over and visit, and to find out when she was planning to get over this
"woman thing", and get back to her responsibilities. Sam was too busy running the garage,
and making sure the kids had clean clothes for school...he needed Marcus to go over and
talk sense into his sister.
He'd found Rita very aggressive in her refusal to return. Her parting salvo had been to
point out to him the waste that his life had become. The ferry trip back to the city had
left lots of time for the sting of her words to settle into the wound, and fester into a
full blown depression.
Here he was, 43, overweight, balding, and with no prospects. He was a salaried desk
jockey, with no future for promotion, in an industry under attack by the
environmentalists, some of whom he found himself agreeing with. His days were numbered.
He'd always been in awe of Rita, and her mouthy antagonism to their parents' blueprints
for their futures. She was still the same, having told Sam where to put it, and had packed
two bags and disappeared on her whole life.
She thought it was about rediscovering her life. Finding it again. That's what she'd said.
Finding it, again.
After a sleepless night, and a day walking in Stanley Park, twice past Lost Lagoon, his
whole life to that point unravelling in his head, he'd resigned, and the impression left
was that he would have been fired, anyway, so he'd just put in his papers a little sooner.
Small mercies; self-esteem intact.
What then? He'd never felt comfortable with Rita, so no point in going to stay with her
A classified ad for a rental at Fulford had caught his eye, when he'd picked up the local
paper on his visit to Rita, and he'd called the number. It was still available, $950 a
month, one bedroom, a studio in the back garden, a six month lease. The owner lived in San
Francisco, and wanted a short term tenant, for insurance reasons. It was furnished.
"I'll take it". Marcus listened to the echo of anxiety in his voice.
The details were worked out; he would be there at the end of the month. He decided not to
tell Rita. It was entirely possible that he would not run into her; Rita had her own
rhythms, and they weren't his. Siblings weren't clones, he thought, not for the first
time, and put her out of his mind. Her life was her life, and his was his. Theirs had
never been a close family.
In the end, there were surprisingly few people to tell about his move. He'd easily found a
sublease for his Vancouver condo, glad, in a way, that he'd left a small opening for a
return, "just in case". Most of his friends turned out to be office acquaintances, and not
friends at all. They hadn't lasted beyond his two week hand-over, after his resignation.
On the way to the Island, everything he wanted to keep fitted into his car's trunk and
back seat, he'd stood out on the deck, the wind straightening his remaining wisps of hair,
like fine filaments, blowing straight back over his coat collar. He breathed deeply,
letting the stench of his sense of failure dissipate with the wind.
New beginnings, new beginnings...was it possible? Would it be the Island Spring of Marcus?
Yes...yes...yes...the propeller's rhythm hummed the beat of his heart. Surely, yes....
Salt Spring's hills relaxed into Long Harbour, and the ferry slid into its welcoming
embrace. He softened into his skin.
Whatever happened, it would be better than what had been.
He felt oddly expectant, oddly liberated, oddly...yes, happy.
The first thing he would do would be to buy a pair of jeans. And, chop wood. And, go for a
daily walk. And, try that vegetarian diet. And...search for the shadow that wanted to
sneak out from underneath this unwieldy carapace of the pretend Marcus, this shell that he
had so carefully constructed for all these years.
There was still hope, after all.
Meanwhile, the eagles soared in pairs, above Sansum Narrows, and the lambs in the Fulford
Valley strengthened into sheep, and the vineyard owners on the Valley hill were out among
their vines, tending and snipping, and the artists were hanging out their studio signs,
all over the Island, inviting early tourists to drop by, and the Saturday Market in the
Park had opened for the season, and the floatplanes arriving in Ganges Harbour were full
of seekers, and the Salt Spring Centre was advertising yoga retreats, and the peace and
the fertility of Spring on Salt Spring was blooming into full measure.
It was Frannie who found Old Sol's remains.
Old Sol hadn't left the Island, after all, so everyone wondered who had reported all those
sightings on Mayne & Galiano Islands.
Frank was the first person Frannie phoned about her discovery. He was randomly on the
Island, that weekend, so was actually there to get her call.
Later, everyone said it was a gift, for Frannie to have connected with Frank like that,
as, of course, everyone knew that Frank's weakness was his desire to be needed.
Later, no one was surprised that Frank asked her to marry him.
Some people were surprised, though, that Frannie accepted.
Florrie wanted to give the wedding reception in her new dance studio, out in the back
garden of her village home.
Although Frannie wasn't so sure about that, Ann prevailed, and Frannie had to agree that
she wouldn't have time to be organizing a wedding, as she had to finish the Sidney
gallery's commission for a dinner service for twelve.
First, though, there was the slow descent of Old Sol's remains (better not describe what
was left of him, Mattie confided to Billie, over coffee at the Roasters) off Maxwell
The burial, at Ann's expense (Billie and Peter chipped in, when they discovered she'd
designated herself as Old Sol's kin, since he seemed to be what he'd always claimed: a
hermit, a loner), at the cementary next door to the movie theatre, was sparsely attended.
It was difficult for the few who straggled to the graveyard service to feel anything at
all, as Old Sol had kept so much to himself. No one had anything to share about why he
would be missed, on the Island. He had died as he had lived, on his own.
"I've always wondered why the cinema is next door to the graveyard", remarked Frank, who
came, and Frannie thought about that, too.
"Weddings always follow funerals", added Patricia, who had agreed to play the piano at the
Mattie thought the whole thing was like an Ingmar Bergman movie, but in colour, and that
there was some spiritual reality to the movie theatre's bulk, looming over the
Frannie woke up for a few nights, the shocking sight of Old Sol's carcase sprawled at the
bottom of a rock ("must have slipped on some moss", suggested Frank) shaking her resolve
to be in the present, to look to the future. In her dreams, Paul's shimmering hand,
reaching out of the dark water, a recurring nightmare since the report of his death (why
did she always imagine that his last thought was a plea to her, to save him?), had
awakened her into the longing for what had been. For a few nights, there, the lumpy corpse
of Old Sol, nothing left of his smile or his charm, had slipped in front of Paul's
Then it began to settle out and to become calm.
Work on the wheel always did that to her, and she spun and molded her heart into the
special commission, glad that the fee coming her way at the end of it supported her
How odd the way things had worked out. Did she deserve this?
Frank seemed to think so, and he left her alone, mostly, even suggesting that they
maintain separate residences, to start with, until they were used to each other.
Frannie had always thought that Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir had been very
intelligent to do this, in Paris, and it had been one of the things that had drawn her to
their existential philosophy, back in college. How daring, to admit that you only needed
each other for sex and intermittent conversation. The real business of the self being
exactly that: of the self.
"Well, of course, you're an artist," said Billie, helping to pack the finished commission
in the bubble wrapped containers. As if that explained anything, thought Frannie.
Still, Ann was right. It was ok to be happy. One had to give oneself permission, of
course, but why not?
"Just as easy to be happy as to be miserable", Ann had commented, tossing weeds into a
pile at the end of each garden row.
Frannie had thought about that for some time.
Ann did not have an easy life, and yet, there she was, choosing for happiness. Were the
sages right? It really was that simple? Either...or?
"Left or right, at Main Street?" Her mother had said that, a long time ago, at a traffic
light, maybe dropping Frannie at a music lesson...she had meant it as a joke, probably.
Her mother liked fun. Had she been like Ann? A single mother, not much money...thinking
back, Frannie remembered a lot of laughter and silly games. Yes, it was a choice.
A hand clutched at her heart. How lucky she was, then, that she had made those pavlovas,
and trudged through the fields to that distant party.
What if the architect hadn't come to the Island? Her friends wouldn't have tried to fix
her up with him, and she wouldn't have connected with Frank.
And Frank...he was randomly on the Island. If he hadn't run into Peter at the lumber yard,
earlier that day, he wouldn't have been at the party, either.
It was too much, all these "what ifs" and "might have beens", thought Frannie. The fact
that they might have missed each other shocked her into immobility. How lucky! How very
She stood for awhile, at the cottage door, and she could just make out Paul's ghostly
shape, drifting with the pale clouds in the night sky, over and away, feathering into the
clouds, no longer distinguishable, evaporated now behind Mt. Maxwell's bulk, and glad that
she had finally released him, no doubt.
She would have to struggle with this fearful shell, this quavering heart. She wanted to
meet Frank half-way. Lucky, lucky...she did not want to waste, to squander...she wanted to
hold that luck. She needed to come to him without all that past baggage.
Later, she got up in the night, and sat at her wheel till dawn, creating the ceremonial
bowl that she had envisioned, in a dream. It would be her gift to him, on their wedding
day. She stared at it, recognizing that it was the best thing that she had ever done.
She covered herself with the afghan and curled into the corner window seat. She slept
through for almost 24 hours, and, when she wakened, her heart felt light. She felt that
she had lost years, and been reborn. She could not stop smiling.
Meanwhile, the daffodils on Lee's Hill were replaced with elegant tulip globes in fiery
red, and the hawthorn trees were redolent with blossoms, and the apple and cherry trees
had sprayed their blossoms over the wind-tossed fields, and the eagles soared in their
mating rituals over Mt. Maxwell's peak, and the sun coaxed everyone out to the explosion
of Spring into Summer.
Florrie wasn't sure what had made her send her daughter to get a full check up.
The strange lethargy of Katie had been ignored, to begin with, as just one more teen-age
When Doctor Baker called her into his office, after the tests, a cold hand clutched at her
innards, and the strangling of her solar plexus tightened with his words.
A vision of her long ago friend, from high school days, loomed into her brain. Her
friend's brother had contracted this deadly disease, and he had wasted into oblivion.
How could this be? Where had this come from?
She could only take in some of the doctor's words, and kept asking him to repeat. He
passed across his desk literature on the disease, and quietly went over it all again.
There was always the possibility of remission, and there were things that could be done,
immediately. It was important to act quickly.
Florrie found herself standing beside her car, wondering how she'd arrived there, then
opened the door and sat for several minutes, watching cars patrol the parking lot for a
space, watching the traffic on Lower Ganges Road, heading off towards Vesuvius, watching
robins dance on the government office's well tended lawn, heads cocked, listening...for
This could not be happening. Katie was meant to graduate, the next year, and was already
planning where she would go, maybe to the University of Western Ontario, to do that film
course, maybe to Calgary or even to Vancouver, to the Film School...now it might be that
she would not make it into her final high school year.
This was not possible!
For the first time, Florrie wished she had a husband, that Carl hadn't left her for that
young secretary at his office. She needed help with this one, and Don, her dancing partner
from San Francisco, was too far away.
What to do? Where to go? Who to talk to? Her mind darted, like those robins, to and fro,
cocked and listening, but no worm of knowledge came writhing up.
Later, at Mattie's home, she wailed and screamed and carried on, over the top, while
Mattie plied her with herbal tea and stock wisdom.
There was nothing to say, nothing to do.
She would have to go home and be strong for all of them, more than strong...she'd have to
be a miracle worker and will Katie into health. Surely it could be done. Wish it, and it
will be so. Wasn't that the mantra of the New Agers? Surely, yes!
Be well...be well...be well, oh, please, god, be well!
Florrie thought about that. God. She had never been religious. Was this a curse? No, of
course not, that was crazy, no god would wish ill on people...it was, truly, random. She
believed that, but it didn't make it any easier.
She took the very long way round, leaving Mattie's house, so full of tea that she had to
pull over, and leap across the ditch, at the road side, to relieve herself. She found
herself doubled over, in the field, laughing at the absurdity of it. The laughter oozed
into tears, and she sobbed into the earth, the grasses tickling at her face.
This could not be.
In the midst of life, we are facing death. A truism, a part of every philosophy of life,
something read and spoken, without meaning behind the words.
This was the meaning, this crazy wrenching at one's innards, this desire to throw up into
oblivion, this anguish that would not be soothed...death...absence...gone,
annihilation...surely not, not for Katie, it wasn't possible!
When she had sobbed to the point of exhaustion, the tears drying on her cheeks, she was
able to get back into the car, to sit behind the wheel, hands on the wrapped leather
steering wheel, to put the car into gear and to glide towards her driveway and the lighted
kitchen window of her home.
She had to get a grip.
It was important that Katie was on board for this fight. She would have to prepare the
way, to allow her daughter to be a part of her treatment, to desire to live, to beat that
blood decimation, and to recreate health. It would be the fight of her life. It had to be.
She sat for awhile, in the driveway, staring at the familiar bulk of her Island home, its
sloping roofline cosying around the square familiarity of the house...they had weathered a
lot of years here, together, after they had fled to the Island. Carl had kept the city
house. The children were too young to have really missed him...this quiet neighbourhood,
their friends, the Rainbow Road schools, within mere blocks of each other, had led them
from elementary to middle to senior classes. This was their world. Did they really even
remember their father? She had never asked, and they had never volunteered.
What to do? How to cope? What? How?
Somehow it would evolve, somehow she had to find the strength to perform this task.
She got out of the car, picking a random bouquet of flowers from the garden, as she walked
to the verandah style deck that wrapped her home, enveloping it in a country charm that
would suit a calendar, maybe for April or the month of May. It was picture perfect, and
she looked at it all, as if for the first time, everything sharper, totally in focus. How
had she ignored all this beauty, for all these years?
She opened the door and went through. Katie was sitting at the oval oak dining table,
propped on an elbow, leafing through a magazine, a cup of herbal tea in front of her.
"Hi, kid! Sorry I'm so late. Mattie had a lot to talk about."
Florrie's heart skipped, as Katie's small oval of a face looked up at her.
"Any tea left?"
"I'll make some fresh. Are you ok? You look funny. You have grass in your hair."
Florrie pushed her hands through her tousled head, and felt the mud and grasses from her
weeping fit, back in Mattie's field.
"I'm fine. I need to talk to you, though, Katie. Where's your brother?"
"He's over at Christopher's. They're playing that game."
"Right. Well, we'll talk to him, later."
Florrie sat, facing her daughter, willing herself to be strong and in control, as if she
had answers not questions, and felt herself enlarge to meet the demand.
And so began the months of treatment. Later, when Kate did go into remission, Florrie kept
repeating and repeating, how she could not have coped without the Islanders rallying
around her, even people she hadn't met before.
"It's amazing. Everyone is there. I can't believe it. If we'd been anywhere else, what
would have become of us all? I found money in my bank account, just "there", when I needed
it. People fed us, delivered food, cooked and ready to go, took Katie to her treatments in
Victoria, when I had the 'flu, and it's just amazing..." There were usually tears in the
telling, but the tears began to wash a soreness out of her heart and, finally, delivered
herself back to herself.
Florrie continued to dance her heart into the sky, but not the sinuous Tango, now...it had
become more of a stomping, blood beating, animal celebration of life, as she invented her
They were all still intact, and Katie was there, day to day, day to day, day to day....
Meanwhile, someone won a lottery contest, and gave the money to the Lady Minto Hospital,
for new equipment, and someone else won a prize for her garden, and gave it to the
ArtSpring fundraiser, and someone else donated a classic car to the scholarship auction
for the schools, and someone else anonymously gave to retain a first growth forest as
parkland, and...the Island hummed and flowered and sang its way from Spring into Summer,
and tourists arrived, alight with the beauty and the charm of the Island, their eyes
shining with the excitement of discovery. Meanwhile, deep below, the community hummed and
knitted and purled its way into a continuing web of connectedness.
Vera Bolton and Martha Creske had the chore, again, of putting up the posters advertising
ArtCraft. Vera's hair was pale pink, this year, in a long fall of ironed straightness.
Martha hammered in the tacks, as Vera held the posters taut on the telephone poles. The
next year, someone else would have this summer job, as they would be off to college, and
their own pathways.
ArtCraft was a signal of summer to the Islanders, who liked to go through the Mahon Hall
artisans display, just before the tourist arrivals, so they could buy the best things, as
their early Christmas gifts.
Katie, still in remission, had gone to Vancouver to start a summer semester program at the
Emily Carr College of Art. Florrie had confided to Mattie that she was relieved, in a sad
and haunting way.
Her joy at Katie's recovery was a good sign, of course, but the absence of her daughter's
heart-shaped face, looking up at her from homework or projects or sketch books was a loss
that she was unprepared for.
Chris had taken a job bussing tables, at the Oystercatcher, so was out always, it seemed.
For the first two weeks, Florrie found herself aimlessly wandering the house and garden,
not sure what to be doing with herself, now that no one seemed to need her.
Then Mattie decided, almost overnight, to open a stall at the Saturday Market, and to be
serious about selling her herbal teas. Florrie found herself agreeing to look after the
stall, while Mattie gathered and prepared her tea ingredients, and, next thing she knew,
Florrie found herself inspired to paint a heavy canvas garland, to wrap around Mattie's
Florrie had never really paid much attention to the Market, thinking it was really just
for tourists, and discovered, instead, an Island within an Island, as she met her fellow
vendors. She found herself with commissions for more canvas paintings, to decorate other
stalls, and was suddenly too busy to mourn the passing of her motherhood moment, or to
worry that Chris now spent more time away from home than in it.
Peter and Terence got together with Marcus, who had taken to building stone walls around
his rental home, as a way to keep busy, and the three of them worked out, after many
errors and a lot of direction from Ann, who was paying for it after all, how to create a
stone cottage, that would look, as Ann remarked, like something in Ireland.
When it was finished, and they'd all christened it with a new local vintage, Frannie
decided to rent its snug little space from Ann and Terence, and, finally, to dare to
showcase her pottery works on the Island's studio tour.
Carter, the architect for the old Salter property's new owners, who came to the studio's
opening, commissioned the three of them to build a stone guest cottage for him, which led
to more jobs, and they were suddenly all too busy to work at their other lives.
Mattie chose the name for their new company, "Salty Scape Designs", and Florrie painted
them a sign, which they stuck on the tree next to Frannie's studio. Marcus even had cards
Peter forgot that he hated the country, as he sweated and toiled to place the stones,
carefully, into their exactly right spaces, forgetting everything in his measured
movements, his heart pounding with the exertion of creating something stalwart from
Billie put flowers, for awhile, on Old Sol's grave, next door to the movie theatre, at the
same time that she would drop off food contributions to Fritz, the resident theatre cat.
Then she got busy, too, helping Mike to hay the fields, and weeds began to spring up,
feathering over the fresh grave look, and Old Sol's marker faded into an earth that seemed
somehow undisturbed, and no one remembered to think of him anymore.
Such was the rhythm of life, of course...here, and then not here. Life is, disappears,
continues...players change, but the story line is the same. Here...not here. Like light
and dark. Both necessary.
Mike, who had secretly been writing a symphony, much to Billie's shock, emerged from
obscurity to full page writeups in all the local papers, including in Victoria, and the
Island was astounded to find such talent in their midst. The ArtSpring was packed, for the
local production of his Salt Spring Symphonic Airs, and Mike's blush of confused triumph
lasted all evening, while people, mouths full of local cheeses and local organic fruits
and veggies, came up to pat him on the back, congratulations rippling through the
intermission food break.
Rumours and counter-rumours, so rife during the "off season" coffee house meetings, sank
to an underground murmur, like a summer creek, drybed with a trickle only.
Everyone was busy.
The artists were open at their studio tours, the Market vendors prepped all week for the
Saturday rush, the retail owners vyed for the tourist dollar, and the resorts were busy,
children playing in the lakes and on the beaches, and the marinas were full of boaters, en
route to or from their Desolation Sound journeys, and the musicians played at both Tree
House Ganges and Tree House South, and the bike and kayak tours between Salt Spring &
Pender took place, and the tenters at Ruckle Park wakened daily to a panorama of peace and
majesty, and eagles soared, seals and sea lions cavorted, fund-raiser salmon barbecues
took place in the Park, and B & B owners opened doors to tourists, and the chamber
volunteers handed out maps and information, and the restaurants needed reservations, if
you didn't want to wait in a lineup, and fireworks soared into the sky for Canada Day,
down at the Coast Guard dock, and the Island bubbled and sang through its summer warmth,
with the Islanders dreaming of a post-Labour Day calm, when the Island would return to
Meanwhile, the hills swam in greenness under the sun and soft wind, and fawns followed
their mothers along the deer trails, hikers sat on knolls and sank into peacefulness, and
the Island held open its arms of welcome to all who sailed into its harbours...Fulford,
Burgoyne, Vesuvius, Southey Bay, Walker's Hook, Long Harbour, Ganges...beauty everywhere.
Goto Chapter 1
Contact Li Read at Sea to Sky Premier Properties (Salt Spring), 4 - 105 Rainbow Road, Salt Spring Island, BC, V8K 2V5; Direct Tel: 1-250-537-7647