305: A short story

Starring a gender neutral protagonist. In workshops I was asked why the non-binary character, as though being non-binary should be a plot point and not just the reality of a person’s life. I opted not to edit out the NB-Ness of Max. People exist out of the binaries and so do their stories. Enjoy.

Passengers on the 305 stood, crammed shoulder to shoulder, except for those fortunate enough to find a seat. Max always in the third window seat from the back, boarded first and exited last. They had forgotten their headphones at home in their rush to the transit stop. Max usually used this time to catch up on procrastinated reading on the way to class. Today that would be impossible. Reading in a space this crammed with chatty people would be like watching a movie with your eyes closed. All sound track and no comprehension.

            Today’s passengers were the usual mix of students, seniors, and minimum wage earners. The bus was so full at this point Max was surprised when a sticky small boy squeezed through the sardined commuters. The child’s excitement propelled him to the rear window seat—red raincoat a blur. His blue gumboots dripped muddy water on the seat untill little tea coloured pools formed beneath his toes.

            “Mom,” he said. “I can see our house.” 

            “Charlie. Sit down.” His mother appeared, toting a large duffle bag in one hand and a dripping umbrella in the other. Max turned their head to follow the action. The mother simultaneously yanked on her son’s elbow while taking a seat and stowing her belongings between her feet—the way only a mother could. “Sit down before you fall down,” she said. Charlie sat.

            “My bum’s wet,” he said.

            “What’s what you get for climbing on the seat,” she said.

*Next stop Burlington Avenue*

            Traffic didn’t whiz by Max’s window so much a sludge. Cars were bumper to bumper and barely moving as if caught in thick bog mud. Morning rush hour, where no one rushed at all. At this time in the day is seemed to Max that everyone was out of the house three hours before they needed to be anywhere.

*Ding*

            Twelve passengers exited at the main exchange allowing fresh rain laced air to mingle through the stuffy damp interior of the bus. Charlie and his mother remained engaged in some conversation about lady bugs and hot wheels cars. Max stretched a leg out into the aisle for some momentary relief. Traffic lightened as the 305 made its way out of the downtown core towards the university.

            “Wow Mom,” Charlie said from behind Max, his voice very loud, “We’re super-fast.”

            “I won’t say it again. Sit down before you fall down.” The mother’s tone reminded Max of their own mother.

            Max watched the rain pelt the window. Through the droplets, taillights danced like tiny faeries. Vehicles now zipped in and out of traffic, occasionally cut off the bus, but the driver was skilled and barely nudged the breaks. 8:35, Max put their phone back down. Late again. It never matter how early they caught the bus, they were always late, might as well sleep at school.

            Did the smell or the sound come first? Metal on metal snapped biting into one another. Hot acrid smoke filled the bus and people were piled on each other in a heap. A blue boot landed in the seat next to Max. A woman shouted. Glass tangled in Max’s hair, rain water mixed with blood seeped towards the partially opened side door. Whose blood?

            Max searched their own body for signs of injury, beyond strained muscles, they were okay. Where was the blood coming from? Max grabbed the boot and stared blankly for a moment. He stood up and looked for Charlie. Charlie’s mother lay lumped over, her head had hit the cross bar on the seat in front of her, crimson dripping down. She was unconscious, but her shoulders still moved up and down. At least she was breathing.

            “Charlie,” Max said. No response. “Charlie, I have your boot. My name is Max, where are you?” Max heard quiet crying in the chaos, almost like a puppy whimper. Wedged between a seat and the metal rear door guard, Charlie sat curled up in a ball. His knees pulled to his chest, one blue boot and one sock foot, the boy seemed relatively uninjured. “Charlie?” Max said.

            Charlie looked up, tear stains on his face. “She told me not to.”

            “Not to what?” Max said, reaching for the child who reluctantly crawled out inch by inch.

            “Not to stand on the seat.”

            “Charlie, this wasn’t your fault. It was an accident on the street. Some car probably wasn’t looking and crashed in front of the bus.”

            “No.” Charlie puffed, his face turned red, his lip quivered. “That,” he said pointing at his mother who was still unresponsive. “I, I, smashed her.”

            Max crouched down and reached arms out for Charlie. The boy instinctively mirrored the gesture and tucked into Max’s torso. Max closed their arms around the tiny damp body and gave Charlie a gentle squeeze. Charlie’s hair smelled of dirt and rain water. “It’s not your fault Charlie, it was an accident.” In the distance, Max heard the sirens approaching. 

Max stayed with Charlie through the entire ordeal. Close to Max’s chest, Charlie wrapped his legs around his new friend’s waste and rested his face on Max’s shoulder. He remained that way when emergency services arrived. The first responders had set up a tent to keep victims with less threatening injuries out of the rain while they dealt with more serious issues first. 

            “Caucasian woman. Unresponsive. Pulse steady. Breathing Shallow. Ready for transport.”

            “Mommy!” Charlie yelled, as the medics rushed his mother past on a gurney. One of the responders approached Max.

            “Are you family?” She asked. 

            “Charlie is,” Max said, frantic. “I mean, this is her son. Is she going to be okay?”

            “We’re taking her to St. Anthony’s now to assess her injuries. Unfortunately, I don’t have room for the both of you in the ambulance.”

            “How are we supposed to—I don’t even know her name,” Max said. Charlie started to cry. 

            “Where are they taking Mommy?” He asked.

            “To the doctor,” Max said. “Wait!” They shouted at the attendant who had already loaded Charlie’s mother into the ambulance. “How do we get there?”

            “You can either call a taxi or wait for the shuttle. It will take whoever requires non-immediate medical attention to Emergency. Should be her in ten minutes or so.”

            “Charlie, don’t worry. We’ll see your mom again in a few minutes okay.” Max wasn’t sure if that was true. It didn’t look very good. What if this little boy’s mom never woke up? How would they find Charlie’s family? What if Charlie didn’t have any family? 

            “Charlie?”

            “Yeah?” Charlie wiped snot on his bare arm as he sniffed.

            “Do you know your own phone number or address?”

            “Yeah, but sometimes I write my numbers backwards.”

            “That’s okay. Numbers can be tricky.” Max walked back over to the tent where a water station had been set up alongside some chairs and a table. “Let’s get a drink while we wait for our ride. When we get to the doctor’s, I’ll get you a pen and you can write me your address okay?”

            “Okay,” Charlie said. “But, can I have juice instead?”

            Max laughed. This kid should be terrified, and he wants juice.

The hospital was just as crowded as the bus had been, except now Max and Charlie were wedged in between patients with ailments ranging from coughs to cut off fingers. Max, with Charlie still in arms, approached the nurse’s desk.

            “Excuse me,” Max said. 

            “Just a minute,” the nurse said as she typed on the computer. She wore purple scrubs with small lollipops printed all over them. Her name tag said Sarah. “Alright, what can I do for you?”

            “Um, we were on the bus that crashed. This little boy’s mom was brought in. I’m wondering if there’s any information.”

            “Are you family?” Sarah’s face looked kind.

            “No. But Charlie is,” Max said.

            “Unfortunately, I can only release medical information to immediate family members over the age of 18. If you take a seat, I can get someone to come talk with you about Charlie,” Sarah said.

            “Um, sure. Do you have a pen and paper we can borrow?” Max was disappointed but there wasn’t much they could do. Maybe if Charlie could remember his phone number or address Max would be able to notify family.

            “I’ll call you when support arrives,” Sarah said and handed Max a blue ballpoint pen and yellow sticky notes.

            “Thanks.” Max took Charlie and returned to the waiting area. A seat next to a table had cleared. They placed the note pad and pen on the table. 

            “Charlie, can you try and remember your phone number for me?”

            “Okay,” Charlie said. The distraction seemed to electrify the little boy. He was excited and eager to help. He picked up the pen and held it awkwardly in his fist. Max watched over Charlie’s shoulders as he tried to write something legible—his tongue gently pinched between his teeth in concentration. “There!” Charlie smiled and held the note up for inspection.

            “Well done,” Max said, with a fake smile. The numbers barley made any sense. There weren’t even enough to make a complete phone number, but at least Charlie could write the number 4 perfectly.

            “Excuse me,” a voice said.

            Max looked up to see an older woman, maybe fifty, holding a clipboard. “Hello,” Max said.

            “I’m here to ask Charlie some questions,” she said. Max felt concerned. Why did they need to talk to Charlie? He’s just a kid. What could he possibly tell them that they didn’t already know from the grown-ups at the accident?

            “Hi Charlie, my name is Jane. May I ask you about your Mommy?” Jane said.

            “Mommy?” Charlie said, his eyes shining. “Is she okay?”

            “Your Mommy had a bug bump on her head and is with the doctor right now. They are trying their best to fix it. I need to ask you some questions okay?”

            “To help?” Charlie said.

            “Yes. It would be very helpful.” 

            Max didn’t like where this was going, but they barely knew the kid. Surely professionals knew how best to care for a random toddler than a twenty-something stranger.

            “Do you live alone with your Mommy?”

            “No,” Charlie said, “we live with Jack too.”

            “Who is Jack?” Jane said, making notes on her clipboard.

            “Jack is my puppy!” Charlie said, proud of himself.

            “How old are you Charlie?”

            “I’m this many,” he said and held up four fingers.

            “Thank you, Charlie. I’m going to talk to your friend for a minute. We will stay where you can see us, is that okay?”

            “Yep. Can I keep drawing Max?” Charlie said, his eyes big and trusting.

            “Of course.” Max said. Max followed Jane across the seating area just out of earshot from Charlie.

            “I’m with social services,” Jane said. “Do you have any information about Charlie’s extended family? There was no information in Ms. Parson’s personal belongings.”

            Ms. Parsons.Charlie’s last name was Parsons. “Um, no. I’ve never met them before.”

            “Oh, sorry. Charlie just seems to trust you so well. I thought—never mind. Okay then. I’ll take him with me. Thank you, Max, you’re free to go.”

            “Wait. What?”

            “Charlie needs to be placed in care until his family can be located. As soon as you’re cleared by a doctor, you’re free to leave. Thank you so much for your help. This could’ve been much more traumatic for Charlie had he been alone.”

            “Can I sit with him for a little longer?” Max said.

            “A few more minutes wouldn’t hurt I suppose. Tell you what,” Jane said looking at Charlie, “I’ll go make a few calls and pick him up in fifteen minutes.”

            “Thank you. It’s just, I feel like disappearing on him would be hard for him, you know?”

            “I appreciate your kindness. We need more young people like you. See you in fifteen.” Jane walked away. Max watched until she turned the corner and returned to Charlie.

            “Come on Charlie,” Max said.

            “Where’re we going?” Charlie asked.

            “For lunch. We’re going for lunch. Want some McDonald’s?”

            “Yes! Can I have nuggets?”

            “Of course, you can. Quick, we need to hurry,” Max said. There was no way Max was letting Charlie live with strangers. Max just needed to wait for Ms. Parsons to wake up. In the meantime, Charlie could stay with Max. How hard could it be? 

            When the automatic hospital doors opened, the sun felt warm on Max’s face. Charlie stomped his blue gumboots in a puddle. They both laughed.

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Breaking the Silence: The Resistance.

I’ve been trying to think of what to say in the wake of events over the past six weeks. The world is a messy place right now. At times it can feel overwhelming and even pointless to add to the volume of dissenting voices.

It can feel like the sound of my objections, my values and my heartache will be drowned out by the rhetoric of hate. Yet, I speak, I write and I march.

Maybe this is you.

Perhaps you’ve been scrolling through social media and noticed people you’ve loved and respected are telling you to quiet down. Perhaps they’ve posted “let’s make Facebook cuter” posts to draw attention away from the horrors happening around them. Don’t let their denial discourage you.

I hear your voice. The world hears your voice. If you’ve any comfort at all that you make a difference, look to The Women’s March. Worldwide women, men and gender non-binary folks stood side by side in solidarity with those losing their rights and freedoms. They marched for the voiceless. They marched in mourning for democracy. They marched. They weren’t passive.

Again, in light of the terror attack in Quebec City against Muslims peacefully worshipping, we march. This hate, it needs to end. We must not ignore it. I refuse to lose myself in cute cat videos, in personality quizzes, in Netflix binging. I also refuse to lose myself in engaging in comment wars. Protest is not about fighting the opinions of others on social media, it’s about action.

Put your mind and body into action however you can. Don’t feed the trolls but don’t let them silence you. If you have a story to tell, and nowhere to tell it, I am here for you. Visit the contact us page and tell me your story. Your story of hurt or your story of hope. Stories move people. They fuel revolutions. Welcome to the resistance. We’ve got your back.

A Story about a Cat?

Hey there friends!

I am currently enjoying a rainy weekend away from home and the troubles that lay in that area. I needed to come up with a clever and original story this weekend for next week’s short fiction class.

My friend suggested I write a story about his cat, so I did, and I’d like to share it with you. Hope you have a laugh and a smile.

Francis

 

Today will be the best day. I know what you’re thinking—Francis, you say that every morning when you wake up. Seriously though, I mean it this time. Not only is it my favourite time of year, where the autumn leaves are various shades of fiery goodness, but they cascade in such a way that one cannot help but pounce on them. In my neighbourhood, the weather is a comfortable ten degrees Celsius with a gentle mist. This is magnified by the rejuvenating sleep I was blessed with last night. To accentuate my joy, it’s Saturday, which is the best day of the week.
            After a hearty breakfast of gourmet salmon and herbs prepared by Jack, I will spend today balanced between lounging at the viewing window and enjoying the general splendor of creation. This sounds like I’m lazy, excessively leisure, let me assure you—this is not the case. You see, this weekend I have a house guest. She’s been here once before, and though we did not get off to the best start, I quite enjoy her now. On her first visit, it was clear that her habits would disrupt my daily routine. She caused Jack to stay up later than usual, which delayed my bedtime.
            To understand the significance of this offence, I must explain mine and Jack’s relationship. He is my faithful and loyal companion. Each morning, he prepares my meal and makes sure that I’m doing well emotionally and physically. He’s almost like a personal assistant but we have a deeper connection. You see, in a way, he rescued me from a hard life. If one does not have the right people, it’s very easy to get lost down a dark alley or be attacked in the street—homelessness is a very real problem where I come from. I’m at an advantage over my peers to be so well off and taken care of. Over the years, Jack and I have become family. It makes sense that this unwanted house guest had me on edge when first she arrived.
I’ve been used to the peaceful quiet companionship that Jack and I have; she wanted to chat with me incessantly. She even put her suitcase in one of my favourite places to sit. The nerve! How is one to be hospitable when a guest so clearly disregards boundaries and civil propriety. By the third day, I realized that she was anxious to make a good impression and we stayed up late playing games in the living room. Regardless of her and Jack’s early morning the following day, we laughed and enjoyed one another’s company into the early morning hours.
            This week’s visit was much more acceptable. I greeted her as an old friend, though I’ve only known her a short while. She shared with me her newest purchases and I tried to model them for her—but our sizes are not at all the same. I fancy that I looked adorable in her turquoise snowboarding jacket. Ever the generous guest, she opened up her suitcase and allowed me to revel in its contents. Books, clothes, trinkets and gadgets, all neatly packed into a carry-on bag. I wondered to myself how long she’d be staying with a load like that, and she assured Jack and myself it was just until Sunday afternoon. She would spend today writing stories and scripts whilst I went about my business, but that’s not why she came.
She’d been invited to perform some of her art at a local place of worship. I, myself, do not attend. I don’t much like traveling beyond my neighbourhood. It’s far too much work and the anxiety of myself (and Jack trying to manage my anxiety), is really not worth it. I will get to listen to her practice today. Her musical ability brings me joy as I observe the coming and going of residents through the viewing window. Cars drive alternating in each direction, there’s a man with a wool jacket and a blue umbrella, behind him walks a grandmother with a toddler in a shiny red raincoat. The soundtrack of her soprano voice, accompanied by the brass strings of Jack’s borrowed guitar, lull me somewhere between waking and sleeping. I am content. I stretch and sigh and fall asleep for a short while.
“This is what Saturdays are for.” she says. “Lounging around and being creative.”
Silently, I agree with a sleepy nod and go back to sleep. As long as she continues to play, I rest. In a few hours, Jack will return and regale us of his adventures in town. Until then, this is my peaceful companion. She reminds me that people are not always what they seem. I remind her that neither are cats.

~Cheryl

p.s. Yes, I am the “she” in this story. And this is Francis.img_1515

 

 

Writer Wednesdays: Your Voice

Think of the stories that you tell your friends and family. What triggers you to share? I can think of three main reasons I share my experiences with others. Moving forward, I would like to formally invite you to consider a moment or some moments in your life that need to be share with others.

These moments could be tragic. These moments could be hopeful. They could bring laughter or they could bring tears. Most importantly, these moments are truthful.

What are the three reasons I share stories from my life?

  • I share stories to give encouragement

There are times in my life that have been straight out of a Law and Order: SVU episode. I grew up in rough circumstances. My choices as a teen were destructive. My young adult life has been plagued by trials, grief, illness and shame.

Yet, God has brought me through. I am an overcomer by nature and my blood type is resilience. If I can share who I once was in light of who I am now–my voice matters–it gives people hope.

  • I share stories to bring abundant laughter.

I’m hilarious. It’s true. Sometimes, I forget how funny I am. People get used to me. Then, I’ll be out at an event or in public and I’ll say or do something that’s classically Cheryl–and people will choke from laughter.

When life tries to suck the joy out of you, when all the news is bad news, when people seem to be negative for no reason–humour aptly placed can bring life. Just think of how much time we spend (waste) laughing at memes or watching Youtube videos. Laughter is the best medicine for many things.

  • I share stories to create understanding.

“What’s the big deal?” & “Lighten up.” are two phrases you wouldn’t expect are spoken to someone as laid back and hilarious as myself. Fact is, I hear them more often than is comfortable. You see, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve had a lot of hurts and I’ve helped a lot of broken people.

We might not know why something is important until someone tells us how it impacted them. Casually mentioned atrocities can cause deeps wounds in those around us and retraumatize them without our knowledge.

This is where you come in. Your voice, your story, your humour, your experiences can make the differences in the lives around you.

If you’ve ever thought to yourself “you have no idea”, here’s your chance to give the world an idea–a new perspective. Who knows, you just might change a life.

~Cheryl

5 Things I Learned from Discussing Sexuality with a Pastor

Recently, I did something that I was afraid to do. I talked with a local pastor about LGBTQ people and their relationship with the church. I was scared before I went, even though I know this person and knew the content of the conversation, that it was going to be about trying to convince one another of opposing views. Here’s what I learned:

1) Bridging is bumpy.

One of the most helpful things we did for one another at the start of the discussion is define our terms and our lack of exhaustive knowledge on the material we were about to discuss. We laughed a bunch and admitted that it felt weird to talk this openly about being “not straight” (as I put it) and loving Jesus.

2) Something’s got to change.

The reason for today’s conversation was the recognition that when people come out as LGBTQ they feel, for one reason or another, they need to leave the church. LGBTQ Christians feel like they have to choose between fellowship with people who love Jesus and worshipping/serving together and their sexual orientation. We both recognize that conversations need to be had at an open table. This table needs to have listening ears on both sides–not to convince each other about theological ideologies but to listen to one another with empathy and understanding. There will be an “us” and “them” as long as we talk past one another.

3) People are hungry.

Pastors and lay workers within the church (read many churches, not one specific church) are meeting outside of Sunday services with LGBTQ community members to learn how to engage with people and begin ministering out of a place of love. What’s being discovered is the amount of people who were raised in church, attended youth group, and even went to Bible College who identify as other than straight and left the church. They desire greatly to worship alongside other believers without being seen solely for whom they love. They want to be seen as God’s children walking out faith.

4) We don’t agree on every sin.

In the course of our conversation, we discussed whether or not conservative and mainstream Christian churches would be able to understand that LGBTQ Christians do not believe that their orientation is sin. We talked about how wide the spectrum is within the LGBTQ community–where some hold to traditional male/female marriage teachings opting for celibacy as the way to honour God with a same gender orientation and others hold to same-gender long term committed marriage. Similarly, Christians don’t all agree on alcohol consumption, secular movies and entertainment, swearing and modesty.

5) One important question remained.

How can we remove the stigma, isolation and fear for those who come out in faith communities?

There’s a few ways to do this. All of them take a long time.

First, sexuality regardless of straight or LGBTQ needs to be discussed in the context of church teaching. How can we expect a conversation round sexual orientation and inclusion if we can’t even discuss sex in the context of marriage? It is astounding the amount of young adult Christians who didn’t know how their body worked…or why it worked that way when I was at Bible College–because it was dirty and taboo.

Second, we need to create a culture where someone disclosing sexual orientation, sexual confusion or gender related questions is met with compassion and not solutions. Thank them for sharing with you. Admit that it must have been scary and difficult to talk about. Let them know that your love for them has not and will not change. Maybe consider waiting until later to discuss they why and how they know or are questioning. First just hold them and tell them it will be okay.

Third, how can the church make space for LGBTQ people and families to participate in church? We discussed the various reformations in church culture: women in ministry, divorced leaders, children outside of marriage–and how the church has embraced and including those once marginalized groups (some better than others). In light of those revelations of grace, how can the same attitudes be applied to the LGBTQ people in our communities.

What about you? Did you feel at one time or another like you had to choose between living authentically and being accepted? How can we walk with you?