The wrong school bus

I know that I’m getting on the wrong bus. Another kid says, “Hey, didn’t you move?” She also knows that I’m getting on the wrong bus. The teacher who is putting me on the bus does not know. I try to tell her.

“I don’t take this bus anymore,” I say. “I think my bus is over there.” I point at the correct bus. She looks at me and then looks down at her clipboard.

I’m just a disheveled kindergartener. I look like I’ve been lost in the wilderness, just aimlessly walking in a circle for days. If I were to find a witch’s gingerbread house as I walked, I would absolutely stand on my tiptoes to pull a gumdrop off of the roof and pop it into my mouth, 110 percent.

The clipboard is neat and orderly, with the papers clipped in a specific way. It lists the bus numbers in numerical order, and then the names of the kids on the buses in alphabetical order.

The clipboard wins the credibility test.

“No, this is the right bus,” the teacher says firmly.

I follow the line of kids onto the wrong bus. My worry increases as the bus rambles along until I arrive at my old bus stop and get out. The other kids are greeted by their parents, but nobody is there for me because my mother is probably at the right bus stop.

I don’t know what to do, so I walk along the county highway to my old babysitter’s house, which is on the way out of town. The scariest part is crossing the road by myself. I wait for what feels like hours for the cars to stop coming before finally bolting across the highway. One car honks at me.

My old babysitter is surprised to see me when she opens the door. I’m panting after my impromptu sprint, dust is sticking to my damp skin. She calls my parents and they come pick me up.

My mother asks why I got on the wrong bus. When I tell her, she tilts her head up slightly, like she’s beginning to nod. Her head doesn’t come back down, though, it pauses as she surveys the situation with elevated eyes. If you know my mother, and I definitely do, you know that her anger is gathering and will be released in a torrential rainfall when she is ready.

My mother calls the school the next day to give them shit, but the same teacher still puts me on the wrong bus like six more times.

Quitter

2018 is the year I quit smoking for good. This time I’m going to try some medication to help, so I find a doctor and make an appointment.

The waiting room is empty. I can’t remember the last time I saw an empty waiting room. The nurse with the clipboard calls my name sooner than expected. She tells me to sit down and asks me some questions. When she checks my blood pressure, she looks at me in surprise and says, “You have beautiful blood pressure!” I think, That’s because I smoke.

The doctor is an old and kindly man with a gentle smile. He must like this job, certainly he would retire otherwise. He’s more than happy to prescribe a medication to help me quit smoking, and he’s willing to throw in an inspirational speech to boot. He used to smoke way back in the day, back in med school, but then he quit. He knows that it’s difficult, but he also knows that it’s possible. He also knows about all the benefits that come along with quitting.

He says, “You can take the five dollars a week that you would spend on cigarettes and save up for a trip.”

Silver monster

A young girl named Bessie is walking home from school in Forestville, Ontario in the early twentieth century. She steps from log to log on the corduroy road that cuts through the fields and trees, occasionally stopping to balance on one foot. In about ten or fifteen years, all of these fields will be full of tobacco, but for now, various vegetable plants stretch out of the ground, waiting to be harvested. The layers of cloth under Bessie’s dress make it puff out, making her look like a triangle with legs from far away. She carries her books and her slate tied up carefully with a piece of leather.

She hears a noise in the distance. It is the most terrible noise that she has ever heard in her entire life. It is a grinding, roaring, clanking noise. She turns to see what it is, but all she can see is a blinding gleam on the road, and it is bearing down on her.

She runs. The hollow sound of her footsteps on the logs is drowned out by sound of this horrid thing. As it gets closer, she throws herself into a field. A sleek, silver monster with an unnaturally wide and somber mouth full of enormous teeth rolls by. The terrible sound fades away with the cloud of dust. Birds begin to sing again.

“I thought it was a monster coming to get me,” my great-grandmother shares decades later when she tells the story of the first time she saw a motor car.

License plate

Sometimes you have to make a quick decision during a stressful time. Your brain throws several options at you when, really, two options would suffice. Is the option to wait a good one, or will you have an even worse problem two minutes from now? Is the second option too dangerous? Will the third option get you lost, making your stressful situation even more stressful? You can’t sit here weighing options, you have to make a decision right now, immediately.

“Oh no, I just cut that person off!” I say as I drive around with a friend in Ottawa. She tells me that it’s okay because I have a Quebec license plate.

Garden Star of the week: Whatever the fuck this is

Here is a tip for Montrealers with out of town visitors: take them to Jean-Talon Market. It’s sure to be a hit, and it will be very convenient for you because you can pick up a few things for dinner while you’re there.

This is what my husband and I did yesterday. As we were all leaving the market carrying our goodies, I saw a sign that said “anti-écureuil”* and I floated towards it like a sailor being drawn to a big pile of dangerous rocks by a murderous mermaid. And there it was, a display full of this plant. The market seller told me that all I had to do was leave them in their pots and place them about five feet apart, and my garden would become like a Bermuda Triangle for squirrels. I didn’t even ask what the plant was called, I simply paid the man immediately and went on my merry way.

I have no idea if it will actually work, but I can’t resist any possible opportunity to one-up those pesky rascals. And that is why whatever the fuck this plant is has earned the distinction of being the Garden Star 🌟 of the week. Congrats… you.

*Anti-squirrel

Fireflies

The warm air is beginning to cool and the sky is turning a dark, navy blue. The first firefly blinks a hello. Soon small, soft lights are slowly blinking all around on a peaceful, lazy night. The fireflies are beautiful and magical, their lovely show makes their spectators feel calm and relaxed, just as they should feel on an early summer evening. If you’ve ever enjoyed a campfire or coasted a bicycle down a hill in the woods on a night during firefly season, then you know what I’m talking about.

Most people don’t know that the fireflies are using their special glow to lure smaller insects that are attracted to light, and even other fireflies who are looking to mate, to their vicinity so that they may slaughter and devour them.

Where are they?

My son is eating all the oranges. The bag becomes smaller and smaller each day. I hear the fridge open in the middle of the night and I say, “Eliot, what are you doing?” and he just says, “Orange,” before stuffing more into his already full mouth.

This is all fine with me. I am glad that he is enjoying the oranges. They’re good for him. He for sure will not get scurvy. The sharp juice floods his mouth when he cuts the orange membranes open with his teeth, allowing the nutrients and vitamins to get to work. This is a very good thing.

But where are the orange peels? They’re not in the compost bin. They’re not in the garbage can. Where are they?

(SPOILER ALERT: They’re in his pockets.)

Pickles

Once upon a time, my husband had a cat named Pickles who hated everyone but him.

When they met, Phil was still a child and Pickles was a traumatized kitten who had spent his life until that point living in some guy’s garage and getting beat up by other kittens. He wasn’t sure about his new home, but Phil carried him around in his shirt like a mother kangaroo until he finally felt safe.

They watched each other reach adulthood. Phil went away to university, but then he came back. Maybe Pickles was happy to see him, but it was hard to tell because he wasn’t generally a happy cat.

Pickles’ hobbies included sitting on laps (but not being petted), striking fear into the hearts of baby bunny rabbits, and biting people who were trying to be nice to him. He died many, many years ago and I think that my husband still misses him.

Sometimes I root for the squirrel

A squirrel rests on its haunches next to a dumpster in the elementary school parking lot one morning when my son is still small. It has found a cherry danish, and what a find it is. The danish is almost as big as the squirrel. It clutches either side of this special treat with its two front paws. Its paws are getting sticky from the sugary glaze, but it is an uncultured rodent, so the squirrel doesn’t care. It nibbles on the cherry danish happily.

We hear a “Ssssscreeeeeeeee!” from the sky, like a pterodactyl announcing its presence in a dinosaur movie. There is an answering chorus of “Scree! Scree!” I look up to see a flock of seagulls coming for the squirrel with the cherry danish.

The squirrel sees them, too. It pauses for a couple of seconds so it can look at the seagulls in terror, and then it drops on all fours and runs with the very in-demand pastry grasped in its teeth.

My son and I cheer the squirrel on as we watch it running for its life across the parking lot and school yard. The shadow from the flock follows menacingly. And they’re gaining, they’re gaining, and—

The squirrel runs up a tree.

Maybe you’re thinking that a tree doesn’t seem like the best place to escape from a flock of birds, but this flock of birds has webbed feet that cannot cling to branches. All the seagulls can do is land on the ground next to the tree and look around angrily while the squirrel enjoys its hard-won cherry danish.

Oh, deer

My father prefers fishing over hunting. It’s just more fun to be on a boat on the lake when the water is calmly reflecting the brilliant sun. Hunting, though? He technically can’t go anymore, but that doesn’t bother him. It’s probably been at least 30 years since he went and he doesn’t miss it. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t appreciate it when a friend goes hunting and brings back a treat for him, though. I’m just putting that out there in case any of his friends are reading this.

Today we set our scene in a townhouse in the late 1980s. Lunch time is coming up fast and my dad has been looking forward to the venison that his friend gave him. It is in the fridge wrapped in tinfoil. He opens the door and pulls the silver corners of the wrapping open and pulls a piece of meat out. He takes a bite.

Delicious. That’s what it is, deeeeelicious. He thinks to himself, Hey, you know who might like this? My five-year-old daughter.

There is really no way for him to know that I watched Bambi for the first time at Aunt Shirley’s house yesterday.

My father calls me over.

“Here, try some of this. You might like it.”

I look at the meat with interest. “What is it?”

“It’s deer meat,” he says.

I recoil and shake my head, frowning.

“Come on, it’s yummy,” he insists.

“No, I don’t want it.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t like deer meat.”

“How do you know if you don’t try it?”

I shake my head again.

My father is running out of convincing things to say. It’s time to pull out the big guns. It’s time to bust out his favourite Pink Floyd lyrics.

“If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding,” he says.

I stare at him. Tears are beginning to form in my eyes.

My dad puts on a silly accent and says, “How can you have any puuuudinnggg if you don’t eat your meat?”

That’s when I burst out with, “I don’t want to eat Bambi’s mom!” The tears are rolling down my cheeks and my eyes are glistening as I look up at him.

This is a plot twist that my father was not expecting. He quietly wraps the deer meat up in the tinfoil and puts it back in the fridge.