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Jacqueline Baldwin

BART AND BRENDA

twenty years ago she was a single parent
living in Prince George
playing tennis, cross country skiing
trying to get a career going that would
support her in the future

two of her friends started up a new business
a dating service
asked her if she would be a sort of
trial client
a freebee on whom they could practise their service

there was this, well,
difficult prospective customer
he might turn out to be what they called
hard to place
would she help them?

not for dating thanks
I will have cups of coffee and chats and maybe, just maybe
a movie but I will pay my own way and I will not date
the thought of dating gives me the shivers
Iíll help you out seeing its your new business
and let you know what I think but dating?
no way

so they fix her up with this guy called Bart
coffee only
he describes himself as a teacher, a
professional who moves socially, he says,
only with the rich
the influential

well!
bore the you-know-whats off a brass monkey
she told them she didnít want to see
him again, ever
she was no longer interested in being a trial client either
not for the sake of their friendship
not even to help them get their business off the ground

count me out, she said

when Bart called she said
no, I am not interested in seeing you again
no, not even for coffee
three years later, on the grapevine, she hears that
he talks about her
as if
they used to go out

seven years after that she meets him one day in a bank
he greets her like a long lost lover
eyes narrowing as he says, smiling
we had good times, didnít we?

My God, thinks Brenda
this man must have me confused with someone else
or have I confused him with someone else?
or did I miss something?
he says to her:
could we get back together again?

she looks sternly at him and says no
we never were together Bart
really, we were not
I assure you

yesterday
twenty years since she first refused to see him
she runs into him in the deli
he is with a charming woman who wears a wedding ring
and he is no longer bald
did I mention bald?

Brenda had always wondered if stories about
bald men being sexier than other men were true
ever since she saw Yul Brynner in The King And I and
just last week
an attractive bald man had walked into her office
wearing a T shirt that said:

this is not a bald patch
it is a solar panel
for a sex machine

Bart though, now sports a red
yes, red
carrot top toupee
which does not sit well with his
heavy black eyebrows

reeling from this apparition, she says hello

he introduces the two women and tells his wife:
this is Brenda
we used to go out, years ago

Brenda is amazed
will this never end?

she ponders her current life
her husband of the past eighteen years
her fluffed out matronly feathers under which
nine grandchildren now spread their tiny wings
she thinks of all these people who inhabit her life
all of the years and changes since 1980
she thinks about her own ageing, her ailments
the long years it has been since she picked up
a tennis racquet

she looks at Bartís unlined, bland face as he
grins at her leeringly
never mind the fact that his wife is standing
right beside him

for some odd reason
she hears this voice
which happens to be hers

ringing out over the salads, the pastrami, the bratwurst

now Bart:
have you been running around on me?


GLADYS

Gladys
who lives away out in the bush
miles from Prince George
hangs out her one scott paper towel to dry

she grew up in the depression
can't get over them cutting down trees
to make paper towels

she has a grade three education
had to stay home to milk cows and help get food
for the family

but she has the same philosophy as
Winston Churchill
who said in 1921
while visiting Victoria
British Columbia

"imagine them
cutting down all these lovely trees
and calling it
civilization."


THE SPEED OF LONELINESS

she worked hard all her life
married at seventeen to a good man but he is poor
her daughter married and gave birth by fifteen so
at the tender age of thirty three
she becomes a grandmother
looking quite a bit like Demi Moore but heavier
also grumpier because of all the hard work
on the small farm twenty miles from town

they drive into town for groceries and she says Fred
letís go to the movies
I am sick and tired of work
I work all day at the school
all evening for the kids and grandchildren
the house is always full of people and I am tired
tired, tired, tired
school is out for the summer we can go to a movie
have a nice dinner afterwards and then go home

Fred says, no, honeybun
I am not going to the movies
we are going to the hardware store
then to the grocery store
we have to get two fifties of flour for bread at the co-op
some bags of sugar for when the berries ripen
then we are going home
we can have a good supper when we get home

Helen says look:
I went back to school to get my degree
worked my way through University
got a good job at the school
I grow an acre of garden every year
preserve all our food for the winter
I sew all our clothes and I am soon going to be
forty five years old and I am tired

if you wonít come to the movies with me
I will go without you

so off she goes with her cousin Cheryl who lives in town
goes to movies all the time
eats in restaurants
never opens a single jar that has
home made food in it because
whatís wrong with MacDonaldís for heavens sakes

on the way to the theatre
Helen and Cheryl stop at the bar
it is the first time in twenty five years
Helen has had a drink
one cooler and she is off to the races

she doesnít come to until Monday morning where she
finds herself the star of the show with not only one but two
new boyfriends vying for her attention
one of whom wants to marry her and take her back to Vancouver
because: the fragrance of her hair is like that of
wild mountain bluebells, he says

so Helen goes to Vancouver with him but excludes the
getting married, she already being quite firmly married to
Fred, who might raise some objections

she has now been there three months
it is fall and she knows mists are curling up from the
Nechako River near where she used to live
she can feel it in her bones, this mist,
and she longs for it
she misses the silence before the geese start calling
the intense blue of the northern sky
she misses the northern lights, and
her children and grandchildren, but

she has lost thirty pounds and now wears jeans with a
twenty seven inch waistband and bellbottoms
around which are colourful braids embroidered with flowers
just like the seventies
they make her feel good
like she used to when she was seventeen and first laid eyes on
Fred, the bugger
who was more interested in her bellbottoms being
off than on

she thinks of the garden
how lovingly she planted it this spring
it must be gone to weeds by now but still
there would be enough vegetables to put in the root cellar

she imagines herself filling the bins
carrots, potatoes, beets
the shelves with jars of preserves
and the comfort of seeing one of Fredís moose, quartered
hanging in the ice house

she thinks about her new Vancouver life
her boyfriend whose name is Jason
her size twenty seven inch waist jeans

she drinks a glass of chilled juice
mmmm-mango
wonders if mangoes would grow up north
decides no, they would not grow
no matter what kind of greenhouse you had
they would not grow in the north

she looks at her manicured fingernails
knowing what digging potatoes would do to their
acrylic tips painted a brand new shade called
rapunzel red
she thinks of her new job teaching in a private school
nine to five with a whole hour just for lunch
just for her lunch
eaten at a vegan restaurant
then her daily treat: English Toffee Coffee
size small in a brown paper cup with a java jacket
to carry back to the school for dessert

Fred has called and asked her to come home
come home for the winter, he said, we miss you

she brushes a speck of dust from her tan leather boots
realizing that these boots will never see mud
nor hard work

she stretches her now lean body and says:
no Fred, I am not coming home

you should have come to the movies with me

I told you


STARLIT NIGHTS AT THIRTY-FIVE BELOW ZERO

Elephants eat palm kernels which they
excrete
intact.

These kernels
drying in the hot African sun
become a form of vegetarian ivory
more accessible
much more valuable
than their own tusks.

Little mobile ivory factories
no labour problems
unions
management salaries
deaths.

Our cattle and horses grew extra hair this fall
they knew a ferociously cold Canadian winter
was on its way.