The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Year One

by Jennifer McDougall

If you change your mind about dinner tonight Dear, just call...

I’ll be home all evening, call me if you want to talk...even if it’s late...

Donya can hear them leaving messages - her mother, his mother, her sister, his aunt, a friend – but she doesn’t move to pick up the phone. Wrapped in the comforter she dragged from her bedroom, she sits in an arm chair by the front window. A person walking past the house might think she is waiting for someone to arrive though she is not dressed for company. Donya put on black capris and a pink t-shirt yesterday morning, wore them all day, and fell asleep without changing.

Everybody wants to comfort Donya today, the first milestone day. She realises now that the attention shouldn’t have come as a surprise since it is still early. Only two months have passed. Sensitivities are on high alert. Plus, Len always made a big deal out of his birthday: a ski trip to Fernie one year, a barbeque at home with friends the next. In late March, Alberta weather could go either way.

Donya is imagining how all the friends and relatives will behave when the most problematic date arrives, when a full year has passed. They’ll be retelling the tragic story to new acquaintances by then: I knew that guy. And his wife. It was a year ago Tuesday… She ought to take control of the anniversary herself. In advance. Plan something huge and distracting. Something the whole extended collective of well-wishers can pour their energies into. Then, maybe, they’ll leave her alone, or at least their compassion will arrive in contained measures.

Becky is at the neighbor’s house and Josh is in the basement puttering with race cars and Lego, both of them clueless about why today is special. Was special. Fortunately, they’re too young to appreciate calendars and clocks, but there will be no hiding the anniversary from them, no chance of her keeping it to herself. They will sense it as people Donya never sees start coming by again. The media will also call, to follow up on the widow of the freak accident victim. No, it won’t matter that Becky and Josh don’t understand what January 16th stands for, they’ll figure it out soon enough and then it will forever be a miserable day for them too.

Donya picks up her cup of mint tea and pulls Minou into her lap, the animal’s ginger fur warming her palm, the insistent purring barely audible. She regards the front yard where last fall’s dead perennials litter the garden. Yesterday’s Chinook melted nearly all the remaining snow. Becky and Josh will be thrilled to finally play outside soon after being cooped up for a particularly difficult winter. Donya briefly considers taking a walk herself. Instead she cuddles back under the checked blue and green fabric and closes her eyes.

Shortly after she and Len met, when Donya was in the midst of her articling program and preparing for her certification exams, she discovered Len outside her apartment one Sunday morning in his old blue car waking the neighborhood with his horn. Alarmed, she raced downstairs to find him laughing, insisting she come for a drive. She tried to beg off, annoyed and overwhelmed with consolidations and tax code, but he convinced her, eventually admitting that it was his birthday, joking that she had no choice.

They sped west of the city towards the Rocky Mountains to a place Donya had never been in the five years she had lived in Calgary. The earth in the farmers’ fields flanking the highway was dark with moisture and the bright sun struggled to warm the winter air, air one expected to be much warmer than it really felt.

As Len turned at Elbow Falls, Donya opened her window to let the sounds and cool air produced by rushing water fill the car, shrinking the space between her and Len. He pulled into a small parking lot hidden by poplar trees. Donya doesn’t remember there being any other cars, but back then, she felt like they were the only two on Earth most of the time. He turned off the car and leaned over to kiss her.

“Let’s walk,” he said. He popped a baseball cap onto his head and reached into the back seat for a blanket hiding the torn upholstery.

Donya closed the buttons on her bulky maroon-colored cardigan: her study buddy throughout the winter. She wanted to suggest that they sit in the warm car a while, but she already knew one thing about Len. He loved the outdoors.

Blanket over one arm, Len met Donya at her side of the car and took her hand. Together, they found their way to a narrow dirt path lined with tall hedges sprouting tiny new leaves. Cluttered beneath the growth was winter debris of mushy leaves, twigs, and smudged cardboard pieces from last summer’s picnics. This path opened up onto a meadow enclosed by overgrown bushes and small trees. At first, Donya wondered if it was private land. It appeared to have been taken care of personally, like the grounds of a country home. In the centre was a large pond hemmed in cattails and long grasses on one side and a clipped shore running into the gradual water level on the other. Len led her to one of the benches and dropped the blanket on the damp wood.

Later, the two lovers walked hand in hand around the lake until they reached the far side where the weedy edge narrowed so much they had to walk single file. Sounds of “chee chee” stopped them. A small indentation in a pine tree held a fist-sized nest of grasses and white fluff. Shiny dark green feathers swept across a cache of creamy eggs. A slender beak popped out from the tree in sharp determined motions eventually revealing a striking white band ringing the swallow’s neck and continuing down over her chest. Donya held still, trying to quiet her breathing in the hope of extending this curious moment of spying with Len. Her heart fluttered with exhilaration and a deep sense of contentment and peace all at once. After a few moments, Len closed his hand over hers and led the way onward past the lake.

They never returned to this park which through the years retained its mystery for Donya. Where exactly it was located, why Len had chosen that particular place, and how it was that he knew just what she needed so early in their relationship.

Absentmindedly, Donya stretches her arm towards the front room window. The cold shocks her fingertips as soon as they settle on the glass.

“Josh?” She rises from the chair and moves to the top of the basement stairs. Whining cartoon voices from the television answer her call.

“C’mon up Honey, let’s get your sister from next door. We’re going for a ride.”

Josh appears at the bottom stair with something attached to his belt loop. An action figure of some kind, unfamiliar to Donya, a toy his dad must have bought for him.

“Whhhhhhy? Beyblades is starting, Mom!”

“It’ll be good for you. Bring your…” she motions to the dragon or monster thing hanging off his pants “…animal with you, if you want.”

“Where are we going?” He’s dragging his little-boy body up to her like he’s an old man. Donya notices for the first time how long his hair has grown in the past few weeks.

“It’s a surprise. You’ve never been there before.” She crouches and forces a smile directly at her six year old, greeting him with a hug as he reaches the top step.

He pulls away immediately. “Is it far?”

“I’m not sure. We’ll know when we get there.” Gently, Donya slips her fingers around Josh’s reluctant hand.

He concedes.

This is a section of a story I'm working on that I hope will become a novel one day. Thanks for reading.


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Some lovely descriptions in this, Jen, and a very appropriate story for our theme. I'm sure it will evolve into a powerful novel. Thanks for giving us the first glimpse.

Tue Apr 17, 11:59:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger H.E.Eigler said...

YAYYYYY! I was so happy to read this! Great job, you definitely got me wanting to read more :)

Tue Apr 17, 04:24:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Thanks Tricia, thanks for the cheer Heather! You know first hand how tough it is to finalize a section (even an early draft).

Tue Apr 17, 08:21:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

OMG!!! you are so ultra cool!!! absolutly wonderful and so very fitting. So excited for you..xoxo

Wed Apr 18, 01:15:00 am GMT-4  

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