Today

Chapter 1

by Kathy Larson
Feb 17, 2022

“When I wake up tomorrow,” she said to the empty room, “I’m going to do two things that will get me closer to my goal.” Then, she looked around herself, took in the faded wallpaper, the fraying pillowcases and the dust that lined her dresser and sighed. What goal would that be, she asked silently.

The next morning, as she sat eating her usual bowl of oatmeal with trail mix, honey and a half a banana (which she hated) and a sprinkle of cinnamon, she thought about her proclamation of the night before. What exactly was the goal she had been thinking of? Truth was, she didn’t have any goals. Not a one. She spooned oatmeal into her mouth and asked herself when and why it was that she’d started eating the stuff everyday for breakfast.

Once upon a time she’d eaten other things for breakfast — eggs, Frosted Flakes, muffins, bagels and cream cheese — she’d kind of chosen her meal based on how she felt that particular day. Not anymore. It was oatmeal every day. Every single day. She put the spoon down as it was halfway to her mouth and oatmeal splattered on the placemat and on to the table. Why? She couldn’t get the ‘why?’ out of her thoughts.

With a heavy sigh she looked down at the mess she’d made then picked up the faded cloth napkin laying beside her bowl and wiped it up. I’ve had these napkins for over 40 years, she thought, and they’re still holding up. The flower pattern had dulled from the brilliant reds, blues and yellows they’d once been to a sort of uniform dull grayish-brownish taupe. She told herself that she was proud of the fact that they had lasted so long, but looking at this one, all gummed up with congealing globs of oatmeal she felt suddenly embarrassed. She gave these to guests to use! My God, what did they think? She stood up quickly, knocking her chair back hard against the wall and practically ran across the room to the drawer where she kept the rest of the napkins and grabbed them up. She hurried over to the garbage can and without stopping to consider what she was doing tossed them in.

Stan would have had a holy fit. “There’s nothing wrong with those!” he would have bellowed. “You wash’em after we use’em, don’t you? Too bloody bad if people think they’re dirty! They ain’t!” He would have fished them out of the garbage and flung them back at her telling her to not be so stupid and wasteful.

He’d been gone now for three years and lately she’d begun to forget what his face looked like. She’d begun to feel guilty, too, because, truthfully, she wasn’t missing him anymore. At first, it had been hard. Honestly, how could it not be after 38 years together? There’d never been any children, just the two of them, always. She had wanted a child desperately in the beginning, but Stan refused, saying the cost of raising a child in North America was enough to bankrupt a small third-world country and, besides, the government had taken away all rights from parents and he wouldn’t raise no spoiled, self-entitled brat who’d never want to leave home and they’d end up in the poor house supporting it. So, that was that. He’d made sure she took her birth control pills every day so that on those rare occasions he ‘felt like it’, she wouldn’t get knocked up.

She stood over the garbage can and looked at the pile of grubby cloth the napkins made. Her right hand moved tremulously forward as though Stan was somehow guiding it down to pick them out of the trash.

“No!” Her yell startled her and she pulled her hand back, stuffing it into the ratty, thread-bare pocket of her ancient house coat. A wedding gift from Stan. She’d been wearing this same house coat for 40 years! Her face crumpled and her shoulders shook as she struggled to untie the belt that held it closed. With trembling hands she pulled it off and let it fall to the floor. Tears streamed down her cheeks and dropped with fat plops onto the thin material of her nightgown. She looked down at herself and then around at the kitchen. Through the prism of her tears the room looked bright, looked fresh and new.

Sadie smiled. She knew what her goal was.

What Will Become of Us?

I was at the pool this morning, resting in the sauna following my aquafit class. As sweat poured down my face I looked out into the pool area. The place was full of happy, loud, exuberant kids — their year-end celebration at MacDonald Island Park. Seeing them made me think of my three grandchildren and I wondered what, if anything, they were doing today to celebrate the end of another school year.

Thinking of them made me suddenly wonder: what will become of them? Of us? Of this big, old, beautiful world?

Lately, I’ve been preoccupied with recycling, reusing and rethinking how I do things. How the things I do impacts the planet, impacts all the creatures I share it with. I try hard to recycle — have been for over 30 years. Sadly, I’ve come to find out that most of what I’ve saved from my landfill has simply made its way into someone else’s landfill. And, now, because there is such a glut of recyclable materials in the marketplace, companies are starting to refuse to take more. Municipalities are changing their recycling rules and reducing and restricting what can be placed in a blue box. I’m being forced to pollute.

When I shop I look for products that have minimal packaging so that I am not adding to the 8 billion tons of plastic that makes its way into the environment. I use cloth/reusable grocery bags, severely limit my use of plastic produce bags and when I do have to use them I generally reuse ones I’ve had forever. I try to make as much of our food as possible; try to remember to say “no straw, please”; carry my own water bottle, take my own travel mug when I’m on the road; wear my clothes til they’re rags, try to purchase clothes made from natural fibres, and on and on and on.

My point, now that I’m getting around to it is this: when I looked at those happy kids playing in this fantastic aquatic centre I saw how impossible it is for people to really change, to do what needs to be done if we are going to save our world for the millenia to come.

My bathing suit — and the hundreds of other bathing suits covering all those bodies in the water — is made of polyester and other man-made fibres. Billions of tiny microscopic fibres that will never break down were being shed into the water, then filtered out into the water system. Those tiny particles will make their way into our drinking water, our soft drinks, our beer. They will accumulate in our bodies. Maybe we won’t starve to death like the whales, seals, porpoises and sea-birds that we’re inundated daily with on social media, but one day all that gunk is going to wreak havoc on our bodies.

But what are we supposed to wear? Baggy, saggy cotton suits? Or, should we completely forsake things like public pools? There isn’t a square foot in the building that doesn’t contain something made of plastic. The slides, the lane markers, the flags, the diving platforms, the race stands, the nets, the life preservers, the whistles, the pool liners. It’s all made of some form of plastic. And if we were to decide that pools were verboten, then what? What do we do with all that stuff?

It’s not just public pools, either. It’s everything. All the advances that have been made to simplify our lives, to make them more enjoyable, more fulfilling, more meaningful, have contributed greatly to the slow and steady destruction of the very thing we wish to see and have more of — life.

Despite this gloomy outlook, I don’t feel completely hopeless. Everyday, people are waking up to the idea that this world and all it has to offer is finite. Entire countries are banning the use of disposable plastics like bags, cutlery and straws. Individuals from all over the world and from all walks of life are trying to effect change within their personal lives. They are writing companies and governments and manufacturers and demanding that changes be made in how products are packaged and sold. Entrepreneurs are starting businesses that are focused on cleaning up shorelines, trails and parks.

I hope, and I tentatively believe, that solutions to our pollution problems will be made. Probably not in what’s left of my lifetime, but not that far off, either.

Sitting there in the sauna, in my cute, but bad for the environment bathing suit, I thought I could envision a future where kids could still enjoy a day of fun at the local pool.