Creative writing contest winner (short fiction)
The house had a makeshift feeling she should have grown out of a long time ago, her scattered belongings littering the floor like residue. She liked to feel as though she could leave at any moment just by throwing a few things into a bag. The truth was it would take her as long as anyone else to pack up and move, but the makeshift feeling made her feel one step closer to escaping – the walls, the house, the city – and she liked that.
Ester’s home, her real home, was among the black spruce. She missed the Labrador tea that edged the mossy bogs, the night sky that danced. Like many people from the bush, work had led her to the city, and, like those same people from the bush, she wasn’t motivated by money, only by responsibility.
The phone rang, and she stumbled to find it, tripping over toys and clothes heaped on the floor. Remembering simpler times when receivers were attached to walls, she answered.
“Aanii Ester! Niin Clarence.”
Clarence was taking language classes at the band office and never missed an opportunity to practice his rudiment-ary Anishinaabemowin.
“Aaniish na my beautiful sister?”
“I’m fine, Clarence. What’s up?”
Clarence launched into his news report from home, rhyming off fact-based stories in his best radio announcer voice like she wasn’t on the other end of the phone. She half listened while she dressed.
“… and Nosh and Wilma have called it quits. Wilma’s mom’s got the kids until she gets back on her feet again …” His voiced trailed off, waiting for some sort of acknow-ledgement from Ester. Ester wasn’t listening, but Clarence was undeterred. She only ever listened for one thing, and since sightings would have made the lead story, she felt safe in assuming there had been none. Another week with no detection.
“Holaaa Clarence. That’s a lot of stuff for one week,” she said.
“No kidding, sis. I don’t miss a thing.”
“But I gotta go. I’m going out tonight. The sitter is already here.”
“You? Going out? Holaaa, hot date or what?”
“Just an old friend coming through town, no big deal.”
“K then. I’ll keep you posted.”
Ester gave the sitter her number, hugged the kids, and walked out into the cool summer air wearing an army jacket, a black T-shirt, and jeans. She rarely left those kids, protecting them like mama bears protect their cubs.
She walked down the front step feeling too exhausted to be leaving the house, much less meeting her friend, but she knew that staying in wouldn’t answer her questions. Plus, this was her only chance to see him. His band was only in town tonight, and then he’d be gone again for goodness knows how long. It was now or potentially never.
He wasn’t actually a friend – not yet, anyway. She’d never met him in person. His day job was as an editor for a left-leaning arts and culture weekly in a city too small to appreciate it. She was a contributing editor. He only knew her through her writing. She knew him through editorial comments and the album his indie band had released. But she knew him well enough that her suspicions had been aroused, first, from his gentleness and, second, from his honesty. He framed everything in the good, so gentle with whatever changes he thought she should maybe make. His quiet stillness endured even when her piece was a mess, hours before the deadline. But she had to be sure.
She walked the three blocks to the bar where he was playing. There was no lineup to get in, which was a relief because waiting in a line at this point in her life would have seemed like a failure. She told the bouncer she was on the list. He looked surprised but found her name and let her in. She headed straight for the bar to get a pint, in hopes that it would both warm her up and calm her down.
He found her.
“Hey. Are you Ester?” he said softly.
“Oh, hey. Hi. Nice to meet you in person,” she said, shaking his hand.
“Yeah, yeah. Nice to finally meet you in person.”
“Maybe we can hang out a bit after the gig. I know I’ll be late …”
“That sounds wonderful.”
“OK. Wait for me.”
She got another beer from the bar, waited for the opening act to finish and for the stage to be reset. A half-hour later, he appeared on stage, guitar in hand. From the opening song, he seemed to focus directly on her. She tried to remember the last time she’d even been at a live music venue. Maybe the lights made everyone think the band was singing directly to them. Maybe the performers couldn’t even see the audience. Maybe they could.
Although he appeared to be in his late thirties, he’d been on Earth for much longer than that. In the old days, when only the Anishnaabeg were here, he had a different name, a gentler, kinder name. He lived among them, but he rarely revealed himself. His job in those days was like his job now; he looked after people who had gotten lost, both physically and metaphorically. His inner nature was so sweet and gentle. His fur so soft. His strength so quiet. He walked with the Anishnaabeg to teach them about both sides of honesty: the power of being forthcoming with another being and the art of cherishing another’s most naked truth.
Now things were different. Sasquatch. Bigfoot. Yeti. Sightings, like he was a UFO.
She waited for him after he’d finished playing. Past last call, past the crowd of fans surrounding him as he tried to make it to the bar to get the last two of his free beers. The roadies started packing. The rest of the band headed for the bus to relax and get high. He patiently spoke to every fan, thanking each one of them with a mixture of humility, genuine surprise, and embarrassment that only growing up in Manitoba can instill in a person for the rest of their lives. Then he quietly sat down on the bar stool next to hers.
“Hey,” she responded, meeting his eyes and then dropping hers to the floor.
“Thanks for coming. Sorry it was an off night for us.”
“It was lovely,” she answered. “Lovely.”
“Ah, thanks, thank you. That’s really nice. I’m still sorry. I dunno what happened.”
What happened next was the kind of rare thing that happens only when certainty melts fear into nothingness. Their eyes met and no one looked away. Relief and breath poured into the space between their bodies. She pulled his body into hers, into an embrace of complete knowing, of profound acceptance. He let go of everything that he had to carry and fell into her arms. He had recognized her immediately.
Although she appeared to be in her late thirties, she’d been on Earth for much longer than that. In the old days, when only the Nishnaabeg were here, she had a different name, a gentler, kinder name. She lived among them, but she rarely revealed herself. Her job in those days was like her job now; she looked after people who had gotten lost, both physically and metaphorically. Her inner nature was so sweet and gentle. Her fur so soft. Her strength so quiet. She walked with the Nishnaabeg to teach them about both sides of honesty: the power of being forthcoming with another being and the art of cherishing another’s most naked truth.
Now things were different. Sasquatch. Bigfoot. Yeti. Sightings, like she was a UFO.
They sat together, each unable to see themselves fully, but basking in the power of the other. They talked. About how hard it had become, and about how easy it had been in the coniferous trees of the North compared to the concrete of the cities, back when they didn’t even know it was easy. They talked about the loneliness of their lives, so commonplace now that each hardly noticed. They talked about the last time they had run into one of their own.
When they finished their beer, he asked if she would walk with him. They left the bar and headed west toward the river, the one that bubbles like a beating heart. They walked beside each other, feeling the energy of the other resonating, but being careful not to touch or brush arms. Why, neither of them was sure. When they got to the river, he put his arm around her and gently circled her forehead with his finger as if to mark her with his affection. A tear fell from her eye, hitting the ground like a heartbeat. He told her 10,000 years of everything. They held each other.
The light of their Nokomis rose and then cascaded onto the water spreading out before them. She bathed them in her warmth and watched over them as they kissed, as their love echoed out from the riverbank in concentric circles. A nighthawk flew over the water, diving suddenly and dramatically toward the ground. With intensity and without hesitation, two metres from the water and at the bottom of his dive, he flexed his wings upward. Air rushed through her wing tips, making a thunderous sound.
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