The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Confronting the Lemonade Issue Once and For All

By Antonios Maltezos

“Do you think Lemonade is still alive?”

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked that question, I’d buy me a case of Molson Dry so I could drown my guilty conscience once and for all. If one of my children is asking, I’ll say that he was probably taken in by a family like ours. “You know Lemonade,” I’ll say, “He loves people.” When my cruel sister first asked, I whispered back that he most surely was knocked out of the air by a blue jay, or a blackbird. As she continued asking every couple weeks, her voice almost loud enough to reach the kids, my answers became progressively more heartless. “His hollow little bones have turned to dust by now, sister. Must you keep asking?”

Whether Lemonade is still alive, or not, is a question I have a hard time dealing with as a dad. As a writer, it serves as a steady reminder of how we should be fearless when approaching our stories.

Lemonade was a budgie, a fragile little bird with a soul and a character that was all his own. He preferred walking on the floor rather than fly across a room. At the pet store, I almost picked an all-white bird, but changed my mind because of the yellowish stain beneath its tail feathers. Boy, did I make a good choice. Lemonade was as yellow as a… well, a lemon, and he was the coolest bird ever. When my daughter, Zoe, would come home from school, he’d immediately start harassing her, playfully, of course, hovering just above her fair head, chirping like a mad fool. Though she can run like the wind, Zoe also seems fragile to me. She’s gentle and has a way of getting lost in games so she doesn’t notice the hustle and bustle of the big people around her.

***

I don’t know which I like better, the extra-long tongs I use to flip the steaks, or the six-pack I lovingly chill before I even light the barbeque? Either way, this is a happy time for dad. The radio is outside and the mind is free of clutter. The children can always sense my good mood.

***

Zoe still draws pictures of Lemonade. I love that about her. She asked me again just the other day if I thought Lemonade might still be alive. It’s been two years since we lost him, and she seems unable to let him go. She still has one of his feathers. It’s glued on a picture frame she made at school. Guess whose picture she has in that frame? That’s right. For a fragile little girl, she shows surprising strength when it comes to confronting her grief.

“You know Lemonade,” I told her, “He probably landed by a well-lit patio door and waited for someone to let him in.”

***

When I heard the unmistakable sound of the screen door sliding on the runners, I had an open bottle of beer in one hand and the extra-long tongs in the other. Zoe had an exasperated look on her face. She was being distracted by Lemonade, who was chirping like crazy just above her head. “He won’t leave me alone,” she whined. I yelled out for her to close the screen door, but it was too late. They were both outside, both frightened by my voice. I tried guiding him back into the house with the bottle of beer, and then with the tongs, but he must have thought I was trying to hurt him, because he finally took off like a shot over the neighbor’s tree. I’m convinced he would have found his way inside on his own had I not intervened.

***

We’re taught, as writers, to write what we know, but what does that really mean? Some of what this idiom implies seems kinda obvious. I shouldn’t try and get into the mechanics of any profession I’m not at least a bit familiar with. Same goes for religions, cultures, landscapes. I studied literature in school, but that’s the same as saying I read the paper daily, therefore, I’m educated. We are to write what we know, but we should also be prepared to explore uncharted territory, confront those issues and questions we so naturally shy away from.

***

Within the space of a few seconds, the rug was pulled out from under my feet. The look on Zoe’s face was heart-breaking, a sure sign that I was expected to jump in as a dad and make things better. I did what I could, though I knew it was pointless. I climbed over three fences, trampled gardens, and scratched up my legs pretty good, all the while looking up at the empty sky. My next door neighbors were out on their deck when I climbed back into their yard and tip toed across their flower bed. “The children have lost their bird,” I said as I pulled myself up and over the fence.

We spent the remaining daylight hours walking the streets, calling out his name.

Lemonade!

Lemonade!

***

I’m a coward as a dad. Zoe has been hinting at what I should do for two years now, and I still can’t bring myself to do it. I don’t want to see her crushed. I don’t want to see her carefree spirit go away, at least not yet. I lack the courage to navigate through those uncharted territories and trust in her ability to understand and move on. But I’ve made a quasi-career out of being a writer who prides himself on being honest with the issues and emotions within his stories. I hurt my characters, forcing them into painful situations so they can either prove their mettle, or self-destruct, somehow building on my own understanding of the human condition. When the story is done, though, I walk away. I can’t do that with Zoe. I have to be there and see her through. But to do that, I have to prove my own mettle. I can’t afford to be weak. I’m going to have to trust in her ability to help me deal with the lemonade issue once and for all.

The next time Zoe asks me if I think Lemonade is still alive, I won’t chicken-out. I’ll tell her the truth. It’s what she wants to hear from me, I think. “Maybe not,” I’ll say as gently as I know how, and then I’ll wait for her reaction.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anna McDougall, Canadian Writers Collective said...

I know that feeling, standing on the edge wondering what will happen when you let go. As a parent, I never know whether I can handle the reaction. As a writer, I am always relieved to get out the truth.

Thu Jun 08, 10:27:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I love this post. I've also written about the death of children's pets and gotten more feedback about that than much of the other stuff I've written. It is most likely that our first tragedies are our pets dying, unless you are unlucky enough to be born in a warzone or have some kind of catastrophy. But even in a lovely, gentle childhood, death comes. The first time we feel a cateogory of pain is the hardest- it has to do all the digging. Subsequent times curl quietly up into the space we've already had constructed. So these pets, these creatures we love so unreasonably and much, kill us when they die. I remember my father carrying our Shetland sheepdog, Lady, in his arms from the road, her head flopping sickeningly. She had lunged at the tire of a transport truck, the brave and stupid little warrier, and bitten into the rubber that whipped her round and crushed her body. My father came towards my sister and I, full of terror, eyes bigger than I thought eyes could get. Blinking tears. And we were welcomed into the world of pain.

Thu Jun 08, 12:26:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Patricia said...

Zoe is a lucky girl to have such a wonderful father...it is best to state the truth...in all things, and yes, it's hard...xoxo This is a beautiful post..xoxo thank you..xo

Thu Jun 08, 07:32:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Patricia said...

Zoe is a lucky girl to have such a wonderful father...it is best to state the truth...in all things, and yes, it's hard...xoxo This is a beautiful post..xoxo thank you..xo

Thu Jun 08, 07:33:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Patricia said...

Zoe is a lucky girl to have such a wonderful father...it is best to state the truth...in all things, and yes, it's hard...xoxo This is a beautiful post..xoxo thank you..xo

Thu Jun 08, 07:33:00 PM EDT  
Blogger craig said...

A very touching, and as the father of three I can say, a very true to life story.

A lot of us dads are just big softies. Thanks for this great post, Tony.

Sun Jun 11, 10:53:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Carol Novack said...

Oh Tony, my good friend -- I have suffered the loss of birds, cats and dogs, father, grandmother, youth, friends, memory and sense. Life is heartbreaking. Children learn that at an early age, but can't articulate and comprehend it.

But when you say we as writers should break from what we know, and I know what you mean, I think -- I say that whatever we say and write we know, even though we're unaware of our knowledge. If we let our selves breathe through our words, our writing will allow us to discover what we know through the process of speaking. Yes, we must not be afraid and we must never listen to those who see writing as as "craft" akin to stitching a needlework sampler.

Tue Jun 13, 11:12:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Thea Atkinson said...

wow. my daughter suffered the loss of a hamster and it was powerfully affecting for me. this lemonade piece brings back all the grief and --wierdly enough--joy of the moment I knew my daughter had gone through the horrible time of mourning and come out a little better than whole on the other side.

stunning writing!

Wed Jun 14, 09:41:00 AM EDT  
Blogger tamara said...

It must be especially hard for a parent to tell a child her pet is gone. I suppose I can forgive my mother now for her resistance in telling me ;) It wasn't my first pet death, but she knew it was the most significant.

This is a lovely post, Antonios. Thanks for posting it.

Mon Jun 19, 12:36:00 PM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home