Chapter Two

Today – Mavis

This was getting annoying. “Downright annoying” as Granma Beth would have said. The Sobieskis had planted dill in their front flowerbeds and put little gnomes on both sides of the front steps. While not as annoying as the Granger’s solar lights along the driveway and sidewalk, this was still an affront to what was normal in Pierce Meadows.  Mavis and her neighbour Jill considered and debated over the back fence whether they should “just march over there and set them straight.” In the end, they just complained to each other but the disregard for what was expected kept nagging. “Why couldn’t things stay the same.” There is safety n sameness.

Mavis was up every morning at 6 and out for a brisk half hour walk in the neighbourhood before 7, except Sunday when she used 30 minutes to read her Bible and get ready for the early mass at Blessed Virgin Anglican. She walked alone, without headphones, taking in her community. She was keenly aware of the slightest changes to the homes, yards and boulevards along her route. “Paying attention was important, paying attention to detail even more important” she reminded herself almost every morning.

The Victorian on King still had a for sale sign – “they are probably asking way too much.” The Benson’s had a new car – “did they leave the BMW in the driveway so everyone would notice?” The community association had flyers up about street cleaning next week – “I need to remind old Mrs Grauer to make sure her car wasn’t left parked on the street. Remember the mess last year.”

Today – Joan

As the sun came up Joan had an inkling that today meant something different, she felt a bit unsettled. She got up at seven and plugged a cartridge into the Kuerig and went to her front door to pick up the morning paper from the hallway. “Two minutes, that’s what the advert said, two minutes to a perfectly brewed coffee.” The Seattle Times said it was May 6, “what was it about May 6?.” She couldn’t recall. Flipping the paper on the counter, she grabbed her coffee and popped the canister into the compost bin. “Those flowers need to be changed” she thought. Spinning to pick up the vase, her housecoat sleeve clipped the edge and sent vase and flowers flying. Almost in slow motion she thought “that is the vase that Roy gave me for our 25th; he bought it when we were on the Isle of Skye, just before we took the ferry back to Scotland and the train to Fort William. Why did he choose that one with the teal and mauve blending together, it didn’t match anything in the –Crash” “How could something that solid shatter into so many pieces? Watch your bare feet. Where is the ‘crazy glue’?” A blur of teal and mauve jumbled with anger, grief, confusion creating a black smear across her kitchen and her life.

Before she knew what was happening she was sobbing, wracked with tear heaves, sprawled on the floor. She couldn’t stop. The flood gates were opened and the flow didn’t cease. Her breath was  trapped inside the sobs and a puddle was pooling under her face. “ my arms won’t  work. I can’t breathe. What is going on. Am I dying? May 6th..May 6th? That was the day that Roy left. “Fishing up north” he said. “ Be back tomorrow”

Tomorrow didn’t come. They didn’t find his body – just an empty boat and an empty truck. “How could he not come home?” Four years ago, “I waited and waited. We couldn’t have the funeral for more than a year.” I didn’t say goodbye that morning. I didn’t thank him, I didn’t tell him.

The tears flowed, the heaving continued, Joan’s world splintered into memories – memories and hopes.

They had planned to go back to Scotland and then tour the fjords of Norway and Sweden. The condo was supposed to be a perfect home as they saw the world together. Six more years and Roy was eligible for full pension and Boston, New York, New Orleans, San Antonio, San Diego and San Francisco was on the circuit for that summer. Great books, artsy movies, museums, flying kites, long walks going nowhere…

Almost three hours later the phone rang and she found herself passed out from exhaustion, still lying on the floor. “This is Sears calling, we are in your neighbourhood”  was all she heard and  Joan gently placed the handset back in the cradle.

The day passed and the sun came up. May 7 – a new day, a new beginning but a lingering uneasiness persisted. “ Keep busy. There is always something that needs doing.”  Joan never used the Kuerig again and the Times piled up in the hallway until she cancelled the subscription. The million pieces of the vase were gathered together and put in a Tupperware container. She would find the glue and piece it together – “as good as new”.Grandma Gert would have said. “ Good as new” “Spilt milk” “Let it out girl” “This too shall pass” But Grandma Gert wasn’t here anymore nada neither was Roy. That was the new beginning that came from the exhaustion and release of yesterday.



Annie claimed to have no ties. “Nothing holds me down. Nobody tells me where to be or who to be” she as matter of factly told Mavis and Joan when they happened to share a table on a patio three summers ago. They had been out prowling their favourite shops and peeking in windows – not really shopping; more walking, talking and gawking. The sunshine was a gift that they hadn’t seen for more than a week and the patio at Beyond Juice had been too inviting. Annie had sat down, uninvited, and struck up a conversation that quickly became personal. Usually, Mavis and Joan would have been taken aback by her forthrightness but she ‘had a way about her’. They opened up about their current situations and their hopes and dreams, at least those that they had shared with each other.

Annie drew from Joan that she was lonely since Roy was travelling so much and she occasionally felt she needed someone else in her life and “a little bit crazy.” Annie countered with “loneliness is all we really have and when we learn to live with ourselves, we learn to live together and aren’t we all a wee bit loony?”  Amazing how a string of words can sound can sound profound.

Mavis, naturally more guarded, shared “I am in a rut, doing the same stuff today that I did yesterday, last week, and last year.” Annie laughed “a rut is a grave with the ends kicked out. If you don’t climb out, someone will bury you or you’ll bury yourself.”  Made sense but how? What do I need to do?

Over the next hour the girls (Annie called them the girls or alternatively the old girls or her girls) heard of the adventures she had been on. They suspected there was some embellishment and said so when they walked back to the train station. Regardless they were intrigued and listened in awe. Annie grew up in Seattle , Everett really, and had attended Washington State for one semester before flying to Prague with Andrew, who would become her husband, at a Paris wedding, for less than a year “I worked my way west across Europe, as a model, a waitress, a bookseller and a stripper before I was 25” (They both thought(wrongly) that the stripper was an exaggeration but listened anyway and feigned a tiny bit of shock). “ We ended up and split up in Glasgow. Haven’t seen him since. I guess technically we are still married- wow hadn’t considered that we would be celebrating – what would it be, our 28th anniversary next February.”

“Glasgow was a great place, gritty and real. Took the ‘Clockwork Orange’ every day, without paying, from the West End to Central Station to work at a Mark’s. Paid the bills and gave me a reason to want more.” It turned out that more meant setting up her own small boutique marketing company, “ even though I didn’t know squat” in a cheap storefront near the Museum of Modern Art. The quirky location provided interest and credibility and business walked in and later knocked down her doors to get on the client list. It also turned out that “her personality, passion and power of BS was all she needed.” It was all she needed until the real work started and through her connections she found some trained and talented freelancers to share the space and do most of the design work. Annie continued to coerce, corral, and convince clients that Common Scents Creation was the place to be. Twenty years later, burned out and past time, she sold the agency for “ a shitload of money” and left Glasgow heading east across Europe to Asia and landed back in the US 2 years ago.

She said what she meant, did what she wanted, owed nobody anything. Mavis thought “ that would be why she understands loneliness so well”

Over the next three years, Annie and her girls – all in their 50’s, met for furious conversations about politics, religion, money and anything else that was considered a taboo in polite company. Mavis and Joan waited for these times to be less concerned, less cautious, less conventional and more alive. “Conformity is the opposite of courage” Annie chided one Friday evening, six months ago, as they ate fish and chips by the water. “Too much salt. Too much fat. I will need to eat nothing but fresh vegetables for the rest of the weekend” thought Joan. “It takes so much work to follow the diet that Dr. Boehringer had prescribed.”

“Step out of the box and get on stage and sing your lungs out. Do another something for the first time – anything. Break out of the mold and create a new you” was easy for Annie to say and seemingly do but Mavis and Joan held positions in their communities and worried about what their families would think.



Chapter One

Joan and Mavis had stopped lying to each other ten years ago, or they stopped pretending they weren’t when both knew they were. Watching the crowd rush by from the patio at the market, they recognized how fortunate they were. Hundreds of people trudged by with shoulders slumped and eyes glazed, trying to get through another meaningless day. They didn’t seem to notice the smells and sounds of the water or the rhythm of the farmers and fishermen who were still stacking their wares and getting ready for another busy day. Every day for these two old friends, there were possibilities, not an extravagance but small moments of appreciation and wonder.
Mavis had three healthy children, all working in their chosen fields, which friends from the community auxiliary reminded her wasn’t usual anymore. James, her eldest, was a lawyer who was only slightly embarrassed by his mother because of impropriety he was involved in a few years ago. Robert worked for the government as an auditor and seemed happiest when he was on the trail of some accounting mischief. Finally, Elizabeth managed a team of designers who filled the homes of the nouveau rich with expensive artwork and bric-a-brac. Liz didn’t earn the same money as her brothers but always appeared to be the happiest of the three. Mavis didn’t have any grandchildren yet, but that would come, she hoped.
Joan was widowed and somewhat estranged from her children but enjoyed great friendships, the occasional date, and being the master of her own life. Her calendar was filled with volunteering for art organizations – mostly ushering for two theatre companies that allowed her to see all the plays in both their seasons without buying a subscription. There were days she felt lonely, but “everybody did.”
Oh, there were some minor ailments. Joan felt twinges of arthritis when the seasons changed and still needed to watch her diet because of problems with being regular. If Mavis climbed too many stairs or extended her morning walk, her irregular heartbeat seemed more erratic. But, all in all, they enjoyed good health.
As for the creature comforts, they both had more than enough money to meet their expenses and enjoy an annual vacation, usually together. They lived in simple homes. Joan’s downtown condo had two bedrooms, which gave her enough room for quilting or the occasional guest and allowed her to enjoy the bustle of the city. Mavis was still in the rambling bungalow that had been her home for nearly 30 years. It was a comfortable community where she knew some older neighbors, even though it was ‘changing.’
The current change resulted from those new people moving into the neighborhood. Joan had heard Mavis complaining for months about them. They had too many guests, too many cars parked on the street, didn’t put out their garbage bin on Tuesday night (like everyone else), didn’t cut their lawn on Saturday morning (like everyone else), and now they were painting their house – blue.
Mavis and her neighborhood friends didn’t like any of this. Everything had been fine until they moved in. “Why couldn’t they get along and go along with everyone else? Was there a language or cultural barrier? They did have a different accent and had only been here (in Canada) for about a year. But didn’t they have garbage pickup and grass in Poland? Didn’t they know that a blue house would stand out and they wouldn’t be like everyone else?”
This wasn’t the first time Mavis bent Joan’s ear about ‘those people.’ There had been a series of phone calls last April when they moved into the house down the block. “It looks like they have a huge family. There are always lots of cars in front of the house.” “Now they are having a bbq in their backyard with music.” “I saw him coming home at 3:30 in the morning. I wonder what he is up to.” She hadn’t brought it up, for a while, at their weekly lunch until a couple of weeks ago, and now Joan wished that she hadn’t asked: “how are things with the neighbors?” She treasured this time when they could enjoy a meal, a glass of wine, and casual conversation while watching the bustle of the city around them. This complaining was ruining the experience and the relationship for her.
Joan had suggested that “being different might be a good thing” the first time the subject was raised, but this was dismissed quickly, and the matter was changed. But, this idea of being different stuck with Mavis. She realized that, on her next birthday, in two months, she would be 55 – not an insignificant landmark. What had she done that had been remarkable? Raising two kids, entertaining her husband’s clients, keeping house, and volunteering at the bake sale once a year. None of this seemed remarkable. What had she done that was different from thousands of other middle-aged women? What would set her apart? What would be her legacy?
The itch to do something was irritable but hadn’t become unbearable yet. She was able to go about her life with the niggling thought that there could be more, without acting on it, until she saw the purple coat. It caught her eye as she passed Oneill’s Ladies Wear about three weeks ago. Her first reaction was, “who would ever wear anything that gaudy?” but the image stayed with her all day. She found herself standing in front of the window the next day admiring the lines, and within the first week, she had gone in and tried on the coat. The assistant said, “this is the only one we brought in, and it fits you perfectly; what luck.”
Mavis didn’t succumb to the sales pressure or compliments, at least not immediately. But on Friday, ten days later, she was at the shop writing a cheque for $929 (more than she had ever spent on a coat). She snuck it home and hid the box in the spare bedroom closet, embarrassed by her foolishness and excess.
Each evening, the coat came out, and the ritual would begin. The box was opened, and the bright purple shone against the white packing tissue. She would stand and admire the vibrancy of the purple against white and marvel at the emotions and yearnings that it stirred. Pride and shame swam together against a current of curiosity and disgust. Then the coat was removed and laid flat on the bed. The perfect human torso shape that called out as part of the seduction. Buttons, large, black, shiny buttons, begged to be opened. The coat screamed, “put me on, put me on, please.” Anticipation was part of the ceremony, so she gently lifted the garment, turned it, and observed it from every angle. Slowly, she absorbed how the sleeves fell like a soldier standing at the ready. The collar stood proud on the shoulders, almost lifting the coat into the air.
She turned to the mirror and held the coat in front of her body. Every time she reached this stage, her face flushed, accenting the purple serge against her steel blue eyes and grey hair. Then, a fleeting thought, “I am still beautiful; why hadn’t I noticed?” The realization emboldened her, and her left arm slid into the sleeve – a chill as the silk lining rubbed along her forearm, and then with a quick turn away from the mirror, the coat was over her, embracing her in luxury and lust. The real rush came when she whirled and caught the first glimpse of the finished product. Over the past week, she had learned that if there was an unbearable delay before the unveiling, the anticipation heightened the sensation.
A transformation happened in this small, defiant, bold act; Mavis was still Mavis but more. Paradoxes presented themselves; good versus evil, prim versus naughty, cautious versus carefree, and most importantly, assured versus curious. Her assurance that her ideas, life, and way were right seemed under siege. The scaffolding of her life shook- unexpected and uncomfortable but somehow exciting. Occasionally, the fear of change made the coat disappear quickly into the box, but more recently, the status quo keepers were kept at bay, and the purple coat worked its magic.
It was as if a trance overcame her, and Mavis found a voice, her voice, saying, “There is more. There must be more to life. What is it? How do I see it? Where do I find .. what will I find?” As the words flowed from her lips, they seemed to envelop her like the coat, gently, provocatively, and uplifting. These thoughts occupied her for hours after the ritual, not disturbingly but with lingering anticipation. Then, finally, the routine of the day began to fade the cloud of words, and Mavis, old Mavis, returned to her everyday actions – the same actions she had been taking for more than 30 years. But the purple coat waited.