Getting Ready

Chapter 2

Kathy Larson
Feb. 22, 2022

Sadie stood at the sink, her right hip leaning against the edge of the counter. She was looking out the window into the backyard, but wasn’t really seeing anything. Her mind was stuck in a memory from four decades previous; the day she and Stan had moved into this house.

The apple trees in the back west corner were waving gently in the breeze, their new leaves and newly-formed buds seemed to glow almost incandescently in the bright light of this fresh spring morning. If there wasn’t a late frost, there’d be a bumper crop of apples this year. Sadie sighed. They had bought the trees at that little nursery where they had ordered the topsoil for the garden. Stan wanted a big vegetable garden, better and cheaper to grow your own food, he’d told her. She had looked at him in wonder, and with true adoration; this man she was about to marry was such a surprise.

He had grown up on a farm where everything you needed was either raised, harvested or made. Sadie had grown up in the city and the only garden she’d ever tended was the small flower bed her mother had kept. Her mother’s flowers had been the only bit of joy and colour in her world, and when she had died the flowers died too. Sadie had just turned 17 the week before her father finally put an end to her mother. He went to prison and she went into care. She’d never been back to the little house with the peeling blue paint and the sad patch of earth nestled beneath the front window.

She met Stan while she was working as a waitress at a little restaurant in a strip mall close to where she lived. By that time she had moved out on her own and had a small basement apartment in a three story walk-up. The apartment was cold in winter but lovely in summer. She had furnished it almost completely with things she’d found in thrift stores and on the side of the street. If something was at the curb and it looked serviceable she’d drag it home. The library provided her with all the how-to she needed in order to fix things up, and she soon discovered that she had a love and a talent for painting and refinishing furniture. Her little home was bright and airy, filled with colour, and, best of all, peaceful and safe.

The day Stan walked into her life everything changed. He was big, loud and had a laugh that carried her along with it. He’d been coming to the restaurant for a little over a week before he stopped her on his way out after lunch one day and asked if she’d be interested in going out sometime. Until that moment she’d thought she was invisible to him, just the mousy little waitress who brought him his club sandwich with extra fries, large water and a slice of apple pie every day at 11:45. Him, and the crew he was with had established a standing reservation with Gino, the owner of the restaurant, and everyday they trooped in and headed to the large table at the back where it was Sadie’s job to take care of them.

She was a good waitress; attentive, quick and anticipatory of their needs. This came, she knew, from living in an environment of terror. Her mother had taught her early how to read her father’s moods and silences and how to appease them when possible. This also meant, though, that she was constantly on alert for any signs of anger or discontent; she made herself as small and unobtrusive as possible trying as best she could to do her job and get out of their way. Most of them had given up trying to make small talk with her after the first couple of days, but not Stan. He always had a big smile for her, called her darlin’, and left her a decent tip each day. She found herself watching out for him and made sure that it was him she always served first when the orders were ready.

If only she had known, she thought now.

Their courtship had been fast and they were married within six months. During that time he had only ever been patient, kind and indulgent with her. The few times he had stayed at her apartment he had praised her on her ability to make something worn and destined for the garbage look new and usable again, but he wasn’t crazy about her ‘wild’ use of colour. Things were better painted neutral, everyday colours, he said, that way they didn’t stand out, they could fit in anywhere. She saw the wisdom in this and soon began painting things in shades of white, beige and pale grey only. They were still lovely, she thought, but they lacked a sense of life, of vibrancy, but if it meant pleasing him then it was a small thing.

They found the house a month before they were married. It was in an older part of the city, a real fixer-upper — completely neglected, the real estate agent had said — but it had a huge back yard and the price was right. Secretly, she was disappointed that they weren’t going to buy a new house in one of the new neighbourhoods that had sprung up on the outskirts of town, but Stan was adamant about not throwing his money away on crappy construction just to line the pockets of shyster councilmen and their crony business partners. He convinced her that they could make the house look new again with his carpentry skills and her knack for painting and decorating. It would be a solid investment, one they could make a good profit on, and someday they’d build their own new home in the country on an acreage. It was such a convincing argument and she could see how excited he was at the prospect of redeeming this shoddy, worn little house that she couldn’t help getting swept along by his enthusiasm.

The got married by a justice of the peace. There was no honeymoon. He got drunk that night and she cried herself to sleep. In the morning he went and picked up the rented moving truck and they piled her few belongings into it and they moved into the house. They had taken possession two weeks previous and had spent that time cleaning and painting walls, removing old, stained carpet, replacing broken fixtures and, as her mother had once told her, simply nesting. It had been fun working alongside him and he had been full of smiles and laughs and had grabbed her up in big bear hugs whenever they completed one of the projects they’d set themselves. What happened, she wondered. Did I do something wrong? Was he disappointed because their wedding night hadn’t been more special?

When he came back from returning the truck he had a bottle of whiskey and a two-four of beer. She had never seen him buy booze before and seeing this made her think of her father. An involuntary shudder ran through her.

Sadie had told Stan very little about her background, but she had told him her father was an alcoholic and that he had beat her mother to death. He had held her while she told him this and stroked her hair and kissed her gently and promised that he would never let anyone hurt her ever again.

Unable to stop herself from shaking she approached him carefully. “Stan?,” she said in as small a voice as she could, “why are you so angry?”

The look he have her was so cold and filled with contempt it stilled her breath. “I ain’t angry,” he said. “I’m tired. You’ve had me working like a goddamned dog and now I need a break.” He stalked to the refrigerator and put the beer inside. “You got what you wanted — a hardworking husband, a nice house — but this ain’t no free ride, sweetie. You got to earn your keep.” He pulled a glass out of a box, filled it half full with whiskey, added a splash of water from the tap. “I’m hungry. Make something to eat. I don’t care what it is.”

It hit her then. The inevitability of it. Everything, her childhood, her mother’s death, the group home, all of it had all been preparation for this day. She turned inward into the dull and dingy kitchen and began preparing his meal. He stayed outside and waited until she called to tell him it was ready.

A steady, loud beeping interrupted Sadie’s thoughts. Startled, she sloshed coffee over her hand and was mildly surprised to find that it was cold. With a rueful smile she placed the mug into the sink. The tree removal company she’d hired was here. She slipped into the new, bulky, bright yellow sweater she’d bought last week and stepped out into the sunshine, waving at the young man backing his truck into the driveway. Her smile broadened as she walked past all of the colourful plants and flowers spread out across the patio. She’d canned her last damned jar of applesauce.

Van Morrison and my heart remembers

by Kathy Larson

I asked Google
to play some music.

She chose
Van Morrison.
And a memory
of you pops like a tiny
iridescent bubble.
I see you, smiling,
that Mennonite rebel
farm boy
who swept me off the dusty streets
of our small prairie town
and into the front seat of his
souped-up ’67 Dart Swinger.
Oh, I loved you.
Loved your wild hair,
your cupid-bow smile,
your dusty, brown shoes
with the platform heels.

You were trying so hard
to break free,
be different,
but your plaid shirt
and dirty jeans
your sad eyes
and the weekends spent at home
on the farm:
you knew.
We both did.

At 15 I thought
I was a woman,
At 19 you thought
you knew what it was
to be mature. To be
a man.
Oh, I smile at that.
But never laugh, no,
never laugh.

I heard,
years ago,
that you made a life for yourself
on the farm.
Beautiful Mennonite bride
beautiful Mennonite children
to carry on the legacy
you thought you could deny.
As sad as that makes me,
I’m happy for you.

But, today
when I heard that familiar, raspy voice,
the one that you introduced me to,
I couldn’t help but wonder
how you are
and if your heart
remembers.


Lately. . .

by Kathy Larson

Lately I’ve been feeling the pull of the past; I get these odd tugs at my memory and for fleeting seconds I go back in time and my heart offers up fragments of bits and pieces of the many versions of me that I’ve been as I’ve struggled to become this woman, this person, this identity.

Snapshots of my childhood flit across my inner vision — fields of grain and candy red poppies swaying in the heat of summer; a feeling that if I could float across them, be borne away on dry, whispering oceans of delicate beauty my life would be . . .

Just the other day the breeze through my bedroom window brought with it a smell of damp earth and of dust heavy with the warmth of the sun and as I lay there, in my bed, contemplating the reasons for rising that day I relived another morning from many years past of sheets twisted around legs and drowsy smiles and an inkling of what might come and in that moment I lived such delirious happiness that when I thought upon it now, all grey haired, crows feet and papery skin I marvelled at how far I had come and smiled, because regret is such a silly waste of time.

Mine is a poor memory, details have not been carefully curated and there are times when I’ve struggled to believe that my life has even been half of what I imagine it was, but where my mind fails my heart triumphs. One line from a song heard when I was sixteen can cause it to beat erratically and once more I am that young girl so sure yet unsure in my elephant-leg bell bottoms, platform shoes and pink plaid smock top striding down the dusty small town street of my youth wishing I was anywhere but there. A blue mustang pulls up, I hop in, Aerosmith blasts from an 8-track player, tires squeal, there is no better moment than the one I am in right now.

In reliving these moments past, these still-lifes, these clips and snap-shots of my life story I have come to recognize the finiteness of every hour that I have left and, consequently, I have wasted many of them thinking about all the mistakes I’ve made, the wrongs I’ve committed, the people I’ve hurt, the chances I didn’t take, the fears and prejudices I’ve allowed myself to be subject to, and then, in turn, I have used some of those hours to remind myself of the love I’ve given and been given, of the kindnesses I’ve shown and been shown, of the sacrifices I’ve made and of those made for me, of the successes I’ve enjoyed, and of the life I’ve lived, and though every hour may seem shorter than the one before I need only remember: these are my hours. And the heart will remember.

Ginger Shampoo

woman taking a shower
Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

by Kathy Larson
© 2019

 

I am in the shower, at my parents’ place. I left in such a hurry to get here that I forgot all the essential stuff — shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant — all of it. There hasn’t been time yet to get out and buy replacements, so I’m going to have to use theirs. Through the water running over my face and in my eyes I scan the shower caddy in the corner of the tub looking for shampoo.

Mom’s got some Vo5 that’s supposed to smell like green apples. Pass. There’s another bottle, nearly empty, of some dollar store brand I’ve never heard of, and then, I see it. Body Shop Ginger shampoo. Ah, that’s what I want.

It’s dad’s shampoo. He uses it because of his psoriasis. I remember telling him about it years ago.

I’ve got sensitive skin and an especially sensitive scalp, so I’m kind of picky about the products I use. When I told him about it, I remember, he was dismissive like I was trying to lay some kind of quackery on him. He was like that. You’d tell him about something you liked, or something you’d heard about that was a bit different and he’d say something like: “There’s probably no damn ginger in there. Just a load of bs. I like my _________, thank you.” And then, like with the ginger shampoo, you’d find that he tried it. And liked it. That was dad.

It makes me remember Neil Diamond and his album Hot August Night. I was fifteen or sixteen and was upstairs in my room listening to said album for about the zillionth time. Like most moody teenagers I spent as much time as I could shut up in my room whenever I could get it to myself. With seven brothers and sisters we all had to share a room with a sibling. I shared with my sister who was a year younger than me.

Dad usually gave me grief about whatever I happened to be listening to. He particularly hated Queen, couldn’t stand Joni Mitchell and just generally despised anything that wasn’t country music. And I mean country like Charlie Pride and George Jones. To this day I can’t stand either of them. When The Snakes Crawl at Night. Please!

So, when Dad came pounding on my bedroom door I readied myself for another fight about my music. When I opened the door he surprised me by asking what it was I was listening to. Being all prepared for an argument I didn’t know what to say right away. I guess I just gave him a blank look. This was confusing — he never showed any interest in anything that I liked; I just didn’t know how to react. Then I managed to collect myself and told him who it was and showed him the album. He stood there looking at the pictures of a wild-looking Neil Diamond and reading the liner notes for quite a while. We listened to that amazing record together and I played him a couple of my favourite songs. I really like this, he said. And I felt ridiculously, incredibly happy and proud.

Why am I remembering this now? While I dance around in a shower that refuses to stay one temperature — it either blasts me with cold water or scalds my boobs with hot. I want to scream. My heart hurts. It’s been an exhausting three days since we found out my mother fractured her leg. And that both she and my father are in the hospital.

I’ve come home because he is dying. He has end-stage kidney cancer. The man who was once larger than life, who in turns terrified me, frustrated me and, who, more than anything, I wanted to make proud is small and frail and frightened. He needs me and I’ll be here until he no longer does.

I pour his ginger shampoo into the palm of my hand and as I rub it into my hair begin to cry.