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Authors: Lynda Simmons

Island Girl (9 page)

BOOK: Island Girl
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“Sure.” He set his empty cup on the table and pointed a finger. “Jocelyn, you be nice.”
The girl dropped her head back, muttered something about hell on the water, then smacked the puzzle book Grace was holding out to her, sending it flying across the floor.
“Pick that up,” Mark said on his way out the door. I followed, hoping that daughter of his didn’t decide to pitch coffee or hair dye or anything else that would make me have to kill her.
Mark walked across the yard to the birdbath. I followed and smiled up at him. “Your daughter seems like a nice girl. Who does her hair?”
He sighed and looked back at the house. “She did that when I told her about Seth’s place. I don’t think she’s completely comfortable with her new look, but I’m going to buy her some fishnets this afternoon, let her know I’m okay with it.”
“Will you take her for piercings too?”
“Fortunately, she’s still too young. No one will do it.” He glanced over at me. “You probably find my parenting methods odd, but her mother died when she was six, so it’s been just the two of us for a long time now.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. It’s hard to lose your mother when you’re young.”
He shrugged. “We’re doing okay. And I find that the best way to diffuse a rebellion is to embrace it. Find out all I can about the movement or the phase and then encourage it. Last summer, I developed a real appreciation for gangsta rap, but now she refuses to listen to it.”
“Mission accomplished?”
“And I’m hoping the fishnets will work as quickly. Once she adjusts, I think Island life will be good for her. Let her be a kid a while longer. She starts junior high in the fall, and to be honest, I’m worried.”
“As you should be. But be honest, are you really here because of me?”
“Maybe a little. Okay maybe a lot.” He gave me a sheepish grin and for a moment I caught a glimpse of the young man he used to be. The one who taught me how to laugh again after Eric left. “You scared the shit out of me the other day, okay? I couldn’t get you off my mind. Couldn’t say, Oh well she’s going to kill herself, what’s for dinner? Life is precious, Rube. You can’t throw it away like that.”
“I’m not throwing anything away. I’m merely helping nature along. Speeding up an inevitable process, thereby saving us all a lot of time, money, and heartache. And I don’t need interference from you.”
I looked back at the kitchen door, saw Grace watching us and started walking, leading him away from the house and the possibility that she might hear. Heading out the gate and down toward the bay. Nodding to neighbors and picking up speed as I went, making him hurry if he wanted to keep up. He was out of breath in seconds. “If I’d known you’d go this far, I wouldn’t have come to see you in the first place,” I said. “All I wanted you to do was talk to Liz. But you can forget that too. I’ll find another way. Maybe hire a hit man. Get him to wing her and bring her home in a sack.”
“That’s crazy talk and you know it,” he said between breaths.
“So what? I am crazy and
you
know it.”
He took my arm, tried to make me slow down, but I shook him off and kept going. “This is exactly why I’m here,” he called after me. “You’re not thinking clearly. You need me.”
I took a quick look around and then hurried back to where he stood. “Keep your voice down. I don’t need this all over the Island. And I don’t need you.”
“But you could have years ahead of you,” he said.
I started walking again, heading back the way we came. Going slower so he could keep up this time. “Years of what?”
“Life.”
“No, Mark. What I’ll have is years of existing, not life, not living.”
“But there are always advances. That’s why I brought the crosswords and brainteasers. Studies show—”
“That crosswords can combat loss of memory and improve brain function. I do keep up. But the fact is that there is no cure. My brain is deteriorating, rusting over as we speak.”
“So until they find a cure, there are people who love you, who will take care of you—”
“Please. I refuse to be
tended to
, or
lovingly cared for
, or anything else in the Alzheimer’s handbook. I want to take care of myself. When I can no longer do that, I want out. End of story.”
When we reached Channel Avenue, a blast from the ferry had me turning around, heading back to the house. My clients would be at the dock. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t remember who was coming anymore. With luck, I’d remember when I saw them.
Mark was still beside me when I reached my gate. “So you’re saying that any day now I could come over and find your body on the floor.”
“Don’t be dramatic. It’s not like I’m going to off myself tomorrow. The neurologist changed my medication and I think it’s working, slowing things down a little. As long as that’s happening, I’ll be around. But once the illness starts progressing again, then I’m out of here.”
I opened the gate, but he took hold of my shoulders again, turned me to face him, and this time, I couldn’t shake him off. “Ruby, you have to give me time. You have to let me try and change your mind.”
“Why?”
“Because I love you. I always have.”
I pushed at him. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’m not ridiculous, I’m pathetic. There’s a subtle but important difference. And I can’t let you go without trying to help. It’s not in me and you know it.”
He was right. I did know that about him. He was the man who ran legal aid clinics, volunteered at food banks, and held free ESL classes on his lunch hour. Mark was a helper, a do-gooder, a man who believed in the greater good and never could leave well enough alone.
“I should never have contacted you.”
“But you did, knowing full well that I’d fight you. Which means you don’t really want to die. You want someone to stop you, and here I am.”
He looked so happy, like he actually believed what he was saying. Like
I
should believe what he was saying. Proving once again that there is no saving some people from themselves.
I patted his hands and gently removed them from my shoulders. Turned away and was relieved that I did indeed recognize my clients when I saw them.
“See those two women coming toward us?” I said to him. “The one on the left is Betty Jane Parker and the other is her daughter Chloe. I’ve been doing Betty’s hair every Friday for thirty years. She likes lots of back-combing and lots of hairspray. I’m the only one who can do her hair the way she likes it, only she doesn’t know that anymore because she has Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t know who I am or where she is or why she’s here. See how she’s clinging to her daughter’s arm? See how her daughter is talking to her, showing her the flowers and the birdies and the cat that has come out to greet them? She wasn’t always like this. Betty was a teacher with a wicked sense of humor, the kind that comes from insight and wisdom and cuts straight to the core of the matter. She’s traveled extensively and was passionate about children and learning. It was a privilege to know her. And now her daughter points out the birdies to her.”
“Looks to me like she’s enjoying them.”
“Enjoying them? Mark, she’s not even seeing them because she’s not there anymore. Her body is just a shell going through the motions, and that is what I am determined to avoid. I do not want anyone to take me for a walk and show me the flowers, the cats, or the goddamn birdies. I just want to go while I’m still me. Is that so hard to understand?”
“Suicide is a sin, Ruby.”
“So is inflicting suffering and torture.”
Betty and Chloe continued toward us. Chloe waved and pointed, but Betty kept her eyes on the ground, her feet shuffling forward, no idea where she was going or why. An hour from now her hair would be shampooed and back-combed, and she’d be on her way home for another week. And my heart broke for her.
“I won’t give up,” Mark said softly. “I’m determined to change your mind.”
“Then you’re going to need a miracle,” I said, and stepped forward to greet my 9:00 A.M.
LIZ
 
It was a familiar sight—my mother and her cronies lined up along a patch of grass across from the airport ferry terminal, banging a drum and waving signs at passing cars and taxis.
 
Close the Island Airport
People Not Planes
 
And my all time favorite,
 
Honk If You’re With Us!
 
Watching Ruby give the finger to a driver who clearly wasn’t, I knew I was in for a treat. Just a few more steps and I’d have a front-row seat for this afternoon’s performance of Close the Island Airport, the city’s longest-running protest, brought to you by Ruby and the Diehards—those fun-loving rascals who still believe they can stop the planes, make a difference, even change the world if they just keep on picketing.
Maybe one day, someone will tell them that the war has been over for a while. But until then you can catch all the action every Friday right here at the foot of Bathurst Street, where the land meets the lake and the airport ferry leaves every fifteen minutes. Admission is free, so bring the kids, the dog, the whole fam damily! It’s tons of fun for everyone!
I hadn’t intended to be here today. But when I finally rolled out of bed at noon, my room was already hot and stuffy with the weatherman promising more heat as the afternoon wore on—the kind of day Great-Grandma Lucy would have called a
bloody scorcher.
My bumping head and sour stomach insisted on fresh air—or at least air that smelled better—so I went for walk.
It’s always cooler by the water and that’s where I ended up, heading west on Queen’s Quay. When I hit Bathurst Street I thought, what the heck. Why not have a look? It would be good for a laugh if nothing else. Now, creeping closer through the trees, staying out of sight, I was glad I’d made the stop and more than pleased with my seating choice. I knew from experience how hot it would be on that sorry patch of grass across the road. But here among the poplars and the scratchy scrubby bushes, it was shady and cool and only a little buggy.
Swatting a mosquito out of the way, I hunkered down with my backpack and parted the branches. Other than the protesters there wasn’t much to see. Just a warehouse, the terminal, and a long line of taxis waiting for the next flight to arrive. Behind me, a baseball game was getting under way in Little Norway Park—red shirts versus blue. If you didn’t know, you’d never guess that this quiet, unassuming area housed the approach to an international airport.
Mind you, we’re not talking about a major transportation hub here. On the contrary, the focus of Ruby’s protest is nothing more than three short runways on the western tip of Hanlan’s Point, a mere 397 feet from the mainland. There are no jumbo jets, no flights after 11:00 P.M., and no bridge between here and there. Just a fleet of turboprop planes and a dedicated ferry trundling passengers back and forth across the Western Gap.
For all I know, it might be nothing but armed guards and sniffer dogs on the other side of that gap. But things have always been more casual here at the end of Bathurst, and no one minds a few protesters banging a drum within pitching distance of those runways. I love that about this city. But it still surprises me that no one has insisted on removing the copse of trees that shields the baseball diamond from the rest of the street, given that it makes a perfect hiding spot for someone like myself. Someone who wants to watch all the action without being seen.
“Close the airport,” Ruby hollered, and the Diehards took up the chant. “Close. The. Airport.” Drumbeat.
Their staging was the same as I remembered—a table with a banner, a petition, and a box full of flyers—as were the dozen or so marchers. Islanders all, people I’ve known my whole life, plus the two Bobs from Mississauga, friends of the family since the bathhouse protests of 1981.
Faithful Mary Anne was there too, occupying the spot on Ruby’s right now that Grace didn’t come anymore. Benny was on her left, where I used to be, the three of us competing to see who could get the most taxis to honk. Grace usually won, which wasn’t surprising. She was like a little kid out there, pressing an imaginary horn, begging the drivers to please, please press theirs. There was nothing political about it for Grace. She was just having fun. And the delight on that girl’s face whenever one of them honked was always enough to make another join in, just to see it again. And if it meant more attention for the cause, then Ruby was happy.
Watching her bang that drum, I tried to think of a time when we hadn’t been protesting something. A birthday party that hadn’t included an antipoverty petition. A Christmas when we weren’t kicked out of Eaton’s for handing out child-labor flyers in the toy department. But no matter how far back I went, I kept coming up empty. As far as I knew, the Donaldsons had always been rabblerousers. Great-Grandma Lucy marching for women’s rights when Ruby was little. The two of them marching to stop the Spadina Expressway when Ruby was grown
.
And finally Grace and me marching arm in arm with Ruby and Mark to stop police brutality or save the manatees or ban the ban against altar girls.
BOOK: Island Girl
6.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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