Ainsley Giddings folded her dust cloth in quarters and rubbed along the windowsill
next to what would have been Dan's side of the bed, had she not broken
up with him. She retrieved two Eagle Patna HB yellow pencil stubs from
behind the blind and tossed them into the middle of the room. Danâ€™s. Sheâ€™d
clearly transported them over to the island by mistake. She herself preferred
4Bs. So much easier to erase. Dan liked putting the occasional exclamation
point in the margins of a book as he read. For whom? Sheâ€™d never known
him to reread in search of his markings later. Not a retracer of steps,
Dan. She couldn't imagine writing in the margins of any book she was reading.
That amounted to defacement. Or was it defilement?
She lifted the blind away from the window and pfttzzz-ed the glass with her
spray bottle of environmentally benign household cleaner, wiping it clear of
prints with her cloth. She wiped the sill once more and noted with satisfaction
the fresh discolouration on the cloth.
A bit of a dust machine, this cottage. She straightened the blind and climbed
onto the bed to wipe all traces of hair oil, scent, skin dust, off the headboard.
This was her dust now. Sheâ€™d been here over five weeks.
The day her lease began, she came across on the ferry staggering under a backpack
of cleaning materials, bedding, towels, her books and her first installment
of clothes. She flipped the mattress, put on her own sheets, took down the
ownerâ€™s framed artwork and hung a photograph of her own beside the bed, a black
and white balcony shot of Paris in the forties.
It wasn't hatred or revulsion towards Dan that propelled her to give up her
apartment and sublet a strangerâ€™s cottage for a year on Wardâ€™s Island. It was,
though, about making a clean start â€” and using the year over here as a sabbatical.
Brilliant stroke of luck getting it. One smart thing sheâ€™d done of late, one
sensible course correction.
Despite all her therapistâ€™s smarts, her Gestalt therapistâ€™s smarts, for godâ€™s
sake, sheâ€™d missed every sign, one after another, every last one, and tumbled
down the rabbit hole after Dan. She was crispy now, no good as a therapist
to anyone until she figured out how the hell she had let this happen to her,
she of all people. A year of solitude and journaling â€” and absolutely no clients.
Yes, that was essential if she was to excavate herself to the core. Maybe she
could write her retreat year up into some sort of cautionary tale for her fellow
professionals. A wounded-healer essay at the very least.
She finished the bedroom dresser and moved on to the bookshelf tucked behind
the door, reallocating the ownerâ€™s books from the top shelf to the bottom.
Her handpicked collection of poetry and psychology reference texts fitted nicely
on the one shelf. Dan had earlier winnowed out his own books. Heâ€™d also somehow
packed up her signed copy of a rare west coast poetry journal and carted it
off with his stuff. An honest mistake. Whatever her feelings, she would never
have considered him a thief. Except of her time, perhaps.
Sorting and cleaning are finite processes. Surfaces are finite. This little
cottage is finite. Since grief is a subset of life and life is finite, then
grief is finite. Thus sayeth Ainsley.
She pitched her cloth into the hall, dragged the vacuum canister across the
room towards the bed and kicked it on again. She plucked a pair of shoes aside
and gave the open space of rug in the middle of the room a quick pass with
the wand before running it over the floor register, under the window and along
the wall. The vacuum pitch rose to a squeal. She dropped the wand and turned
it off. Damn. Something was stuck in its throat.
Bertolt Brecht stood a few feet away from the knot of people waiting for their
ferryboat to pull into the dock in front of them. He brought the back of his
hand close to his face and tilted it to catch more of the moonlight. Down to
the dirt in the cuticles, the perennially split thumbnail, it was definitely
his own hand.
How can this be? The cuff of the jacket was his own, bought last spring at
that Berlin open-air market â€¦. What was it called? Never mind. The trousers
were his. The coat, his. He sniffed the sleeve. Hint of cigar smoke.
How in hell did I get here? He reached inside his jacket. A wallet. No money
inside but there were two receipts. He had bought a notebook, two pens and
a pencil on the 18th of the first month of the year 08 and a stamp-sized ticket
marked TTC. He reached tentatively into his pants pocket, pulled out a wad
of colourful paper and fanned it for inspection. He turned a bill over.
Kanada. Ach. But how did he get here? He studied the numbers in the corners.
Ten. Ten again. Twenty. A rust-red fifty. Two blue fives, the colour of a cafĂ©
curtain. What might all this buy? He hoped at least a couple of good meals
and possibly some cigars.
He stepped up to read the broad signpost ahead of him: Ward's Island. City
of Toronto. He listened to the voices around him. Flattened vowels, odd vocabulary,
English, rising in mushroom puffs of vapour. Christ. I'm in England. His heart
sank. He squinted at the people standing about on the dock. Or Scotland. Except
the accents were wrong.
If not Scotland then, that country above America, maybe? He could see its
shield shape vaguely on a map. Cluster of lakes drooping like testicles.
As people around him shuffled forward, he slipped two fingers inside his shirt.
His fingers found the ridged scar across his heart, a tiny horizontal slit.
Heli hadn't failed him.
Except I'm alive. He felt a sudden urge to urinate.
The ferry banged against the bumper tires and the crowd surged forward. Just
then, he heard a tiny whine, coming from somewhere behind him, onshore. An
industrial machine. Brecht leaned into the wind to listen, pricking up his
ears like a dog. This was for him, this sound! The whine rose and fell, the
machine straining at its task. He must track it to its lair.
He stepped away from the ferry dock and walked rapidly towards a black clump
of cottages tucked back among the trees along the curve of shore. The sound
was coming from one of the distant cottages. Reaching a tree, he unzipped and
emptied his bladder soundlessly into the grass.
The whining sound stopped.
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